ASIS&T Webinar: “Information Practice in International, Collaborative, Publicly Funded, Data Driven, Digital Humanities Projects”

I attended the ASIS&T webinar, Information Practice in International, Collaborative, Publicly Funded, Data Driven, Digital Humanities Projects”  presented by, Alex H. Poole (PhD), and Deborah A. Garwood (MSLIS, PhD student) from the Drexel University Department of Information Science. Within the contents of this 50 minute long presentation observations and recommendations were issued about 5 key categories of analysis relating to the grant based program Digging Into Data Challenge. 

Those areas include:

  • Collaborative and Interdisciplinary work
  • Pedagogy and Researcher Skills
  • Librarians and Archivists
  • Project Management
  • Data Management

Before we delve into specifics lets establish an understanding of what the Digging Into Data Challenge is.

According to their own website the goal of DID is

“–to address how “big data” changes the research landscape for the humanities and social sciences. Now that we have massive databases of materials available for research…what new, computationally-based research methods might we apply? Digging into Data challenges the research community to help create the new research infrastructure for 21st-century scholarship” (About).

Along with this mission are grants which are “sponsored by several leading research funders from around the world” (About).

The participants that are awarded these grants come from varied disciplines, and areas of research like languages, linguistics, biodiversity, law, history, political science, and media/imagery studies. Poole, and Garwood decided to analyze the third round of funded projects in practice from 2013-2016 which they call DID3.  This round included 14  projects from 10 funding agencies, and 4 nations. A grand total  of 5.1 million dollars were awarded to the DID3 participants.

Qualitatively they assessed 11 of these projects utilizing  semi-structured interviews, documentary evidence, and scholarly output on the 5 key areas listed above.  The outcome was a clearer picture of the extent of information practice, adherence to mandates, and cross-discipline challenges unique to the DID3 cohort. All 5 categories exhibited fluctuations in weaknesses and strengths among participants. For the sake of this article I will focus on 2 points I found most provoking from Poole and Garwood’s analysis and what it could suggest for evolving information practices in interdisciplinary research.

Point 1:
“Pedagogy has an important yet under exploited role in publicly funded research, particularly in digital humanities”

According to Poole, and Garwood’s study participants placed strong emphasis on domain knowledge as fundamental to their research outcomes but coincidentally experienced “steep learning curves”  during the life span of their research. In fact, 21 new skills  (most of them technology related) were learned by the members of the DID3 group.

This is compelling because it points toward larger possibilities for pedological advancement along interdisciplinary lines. It also affirms strengths in fields like digital humanities where collaboration between human centered questions and technology are championed and heavily experimented with. As evidenced by this study we are still negotiating ” the implications of the multilayered literacy associated with computers” (Selfe). A literacy that may be fettered by exclusionary domain practices and inflexibility within specializations.

Pedagogy must respond to the swelling need for variable research. The future is presenting, and often demanding more opportunities for blended knowledge between technological and traditional modes of study. Departments that seek “collaboration across disciplines and institutions, working with primary sources and archives, strategically selecting technologies under financial constraints, and working within networks and connecting with local communities…will ultimately rise to an ethical level of civic engagement”(Alexander and Frostdavis). 

As Poole and Garwood suggest,

“We must imbricate domain types and computational expertise in data, as well as coordinate curricula among all stakeholders.”

If this cohort reveals anything  it is that by expanding our pedagogy in open and “multilayered” methods, especially those with computational focuses, future research will be more representative and more prepared for our society and its digital iterations.

Point 2:
“Apparent non-involvement of information professionals (librarians and archivists)  in these projects is quite deceptive as it was so foundational as to escape notice”

According to Poole and Garwood’s case study, only 5 of 53 participants in the DID3 are active librarians and archivists. What is glaringly obvious is their limited number of official contributions seem to be essential to the missions of  DID3  funded research. Those contributions are:

  1. Physical Hosting
  2. Virtual Hosting
  3. Visualizations
  4. fair use and copyright
  5. liaison work
  6. User Testing
  7. Translation Work
  8. Curation

Unfortunately it seems the tenants of librarianship are being  utilized regardless of their official inclusion in research.  According to Poole and Garwood most researchers admitted using core competencies rooted in LIS, but never consulted a professional. Particularly worrisome is that the  DID3 cohort rather inconsistently fulfilled their open data missions and opted for traditional publications which paywalled users from access, or developed websites which stopped being updated after research was finished.

One participant claimed he utilized information professionals as unofficial supporters and was simply unaware of their knowledge due to “miscommunication”.  Another participant with an MLIS degree said that researchers don’t ask about her prowess due to the stereotypes that fall around “librarianship” and its competencies.

Largely these assumptions of what librarians/archivist can and can not do are a part of a cyclical historical trend where the “quest for professional status has been an area of insecurity since the beginnings of the modern profession, particularly for those relying on local authorities or remuneration”(Luthmann). Some reports suggest the “stereotype still exists within the public perception and may act as a powerful deterrent to library use“(Luthmann).

It is urgent that researchers not be admonished, but rather provided with accurate representations of the librarians at their institutions, services they provide, and comprehensive explanations of their expertise. After all, how does one gain status and respect if the credit is rarely given, or opportunities scarcely offered?

Attaining professionals versed in curation, fair use, and liaison work in a research capacity will only help with open access, and longevity. One researcher in the study  admitted their librarian  “could do things with data visualizations that we couldn’t” and  functions like curation are “a really significant issue, otherwise your not going to be able to use this data yourself let alone make it available to anyone else.”

‘Miscommunication’ and negative tropes about librarianship will only be abolished by giving credit where it is due.  Seeking librarians, and archivists early on to be included in decisions in data’s retrievability and life cycle will have long lasting effects for accessibility. Developing  channels between information professionals and researchers will inevitably widen the currents of expertise, and result in a long overdue partnership of accountability and respect.


Poole and Garwood’s study is crucial in how we develop effective strategies for the humanities and its scientific infrastructure.

As they point out,

“We must engage funders and researchers in a process that facilitates ongoing liaison, tracking outcomes and supporting researchers subsequent endeavors”

Presumably we must also reach across disciplinary, and professional boundaries. The byproduct of this action could be one of inclusivity and expansion on topics that could shape how we understand humanity and its residues going forward.



Works Cited

“About .” Digging Into Data, Trans-Atlantic Platform,

Alexander, Bryan, and Rebecca Frostdavis. “Should Liberal Arts Campuses Do Digital Humanities? Process and Products in the Small College World.” Debates in the Digital Humanities, 2012, pp. 368–389., doi:10.5749/minnesota/9780816677948.003.0037.

Luthmann, Abigail. “Librarians, Professionalism and Image: Stereotype and Reality.” Library Review, vol. 56, no. 9, 2007, pp. 773–780., doi:10.1108/00242530710831211.

Selfe, Cynthia. “Computers in English Departments: The Rhetoric of Technopower.” ADE Bulletin, 1988, pp. 63–67., doi:10.1632/ade.90.63.



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