From an Undergraduate Digital Humanist

21/01/2014 § Leave a comment

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Grace Thomas

“I am an English major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), with a minor in Computer Science.” After the initial eye-widening or eyebrow-knitting of the questioner, I am asked, “So…what do you, umm, hope to do with that…?” Depending on the person, I either launch into a discussion concerning the critical importance of digital humanities for the future of libraries, or simply smile and state: “Library school next fall.”

My decision to be an English major also came with a personal need to have a “hard skill” job. I needed to quantify my experiences and future career. So with my future set in editing and publishing, I sought out an internship at the Walt Whitman Archive held at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities. There, I realized I had somehow gotten onto the correct path, with the wrong intentions. My hard skill job was before me: digital archiving and librarianship. That same semester, I added my Computer Science minor and began learning how to program.

When I took into account the skill set I was creating for myself, I needed to decide how to utilize it. I was faced with the choice of a six (plus) year English PhD program where an alt-ac job with digital libraries constantly glimmered just beyond my grasp, or go straight for it by choosing the library science route. In the end, I realized that I want to work with special collections. I want to love books, but not study the content. I want to see a patron’s face light up when they hold an ancient manuscript. I want to improve digital access to collections and information. I want to help people efficiently find what they are looking for. I need to go to library science school for these ambitions to transpire. Beyond that, finances, job placement, and time were practical factors.

At the Digital Humanities 2013 Conference (DH 2013), which happened to take place in Lincoln, I discovered that library and information scholars were just as prevalent as English or History scholars. At first I was nervous because I had considered DH something at UNL and hadn’t realized the full extent of these digital initiatives. With starry eyes, I was humbled by the brilliant scholars surrounding me, but more importantly, inspired. I could see myself speaking at that very conference in the future hoping to contribute my own high-impact research to the growing initiative.

At the perfect library and information science program, I would learn the details of physically preserving rare books and managing special collections, but also learn digital preservation for future access. I began the search for my ideal program by consulting centerNet to find out which schools had ties with significant digital research facilities. Once I narrowed it down from there, I took into account research assistantship opportunities, strong curriculum, and specializations in both digital libraries/data curation and rare books/special collections. I also took the tech out of it and looked at the locations in which I could spend the next three years of my life, asking myself if I would truly be happy there.

My advice for undergraduates is to SEEK OUT an internship or job experience in your interest area. If you think something is interesting DO IT! Email or speak with faculty to see if they are willing to take on an undergraduate intern, even if they don’t have a specified program. These positions will show you a glimpse of your future career, or may lead you to a place you didn’t know existed. For undergraduates interested in digital humanities, LEARN HOW TO CODE, in Ruby, Python, R, (maybe not Java or C/++ unless you are very ambitious). Learn how to mark-up a book that you own in TEI/XML. There are many tutorials online, such as Codecademy, which features Monty Python references in every lesson of Python, and Learn to Code the Hard Way. Also check out Sam Winn’s recent HLS post A Liberal Arts Major’s Guide to Coding for more suggestions. By learning the demands of coding, you will have a more complete understanding of the discipline and will be able to participate in the DH discussion when you can write the programs yourself.

You’ve heard from me, now how about you! Are you a digital humanist heading to library school? If so, what does your ideal program look like and what are your ambitions beyond?

In May, Grace Thomas will receive her BA in English, with a minor in Computer Science, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She looks forward to focusing her education into Digital Libraries through a Library and Information Science masters program beginning in fall 2014. She also enjoys swimming, reading modernist literature, and attending dance performances. Find her on LinkedIn and follow her Twitter @gracehthom.

A 3-Step Introduction to Digital Humanities for Library-Dwellers

20/01/2014 § 2 Comments

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Ashley Maynor.

1. There is no universally-accepted definition for Digital Humanities and probably never will be.


 Instead, Digital Humanities (DH) is and will continue to be defined by the kinds of collaboration and innovation that occurs at the intersection of liberal arts & sciences, libraries & pedagogy, and computing & digital technology at various organizations and institutions.

Defining the Digital Humanities is slippery territory since even the so-called experts can disagree. Most accept, however, that it’s a “big tent”, not a single movement. One can also say of DH generally, that:

2. There is nothing to fear about DH except fear itself. (Also, feral librarians do not bite.)


Most of the fears and anxieties about the Digital Humanities, especially in library settings, come from a lack of understanding about what DH can be and how it fits in to a library’s long-standing values or mission. DH is to libraries what so-called hybrarians or feral librarians are to the LIS profession. These “skunks” in the library are sometimes seen as a threat or move away from true librarianship. (To be inspired by how one library is addressing this issue, see here.)

But, if you give them a chance, you’ll find that library DHers are every bit as collaborative, information-wielding, and service-oriented as their more “traditional” counterparts yet they also bring to the table mad technology skills, loads of creativity, and a desire to help libraries transform further into places that produce and make as much as they serve.

In other words, libraries and DH can evolve in common. Just as new breeds of librarians can help libraries to remain not just relevant but to thrive in the Age of Google, #alt-ac and #alt-lis librarians can equally help the Humanities become more visible and valued across our culture at a time when many are proclaiming the “death” of the Humanities.

3. One of the best ways to learn about what DH is, isn’t, or can be for your library or institution, is to see the wide world of practice that’s out there.


In addition to exploring the institutions above, you can begin to build your DH knowledge and tool kit through the following resources:


Our library is just beginning to dip its proverbial toe into the DH waters, so as the Digital Humanities Librarian at the University of Tennessee Libraries I have a number of responsibilities. Among them are:

  • Assessing the campus environment and advising on how the Libraries can support DH scholars;
  • Participating in planning and implementation of a “digital scholars’ commons”;
  • Developing and implementing an outreach plan for engaging faculty and students in DH;
  • Advising faculty on the creation of digital objects, assigning metadata, file naming, and preservation;
  • Offering training on the use of DH tools and techniques and providing limited technical support for DH research projects;
  • Being a generous, collaborative, and engaged colleague to my fellow librarians; and
  • Keeping informed about changes in scholarly communication, such as publishing and digital scholarship, copyright, open access, and data management.

Because Digital Humanities is an evolving field, I’m expected to adapt work practices to changes occurring in the discipline. That means, ultimately, my job is about adaption, flexibility, and staying on top of new ideas, technology, and trends. In other words, I am paid to be a nerd—it doesn’t get any cooler than that.

ashley4Prior to completing her MS in Information Science in August 2013, Ashley Maynor worked as a feral librarian for Roanoke Public Libraries, as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Cinema Production at Virginia Tech, and as an independent film producer and documentarian. She is the new Digital Humanities Librarian for the University of Tennessee Libraries where she combines her passion for storytelling and digital technology with old school librarian values.

Cat Image Source:

Digital Humanities Week, 1/20-1/24

15/01/2014 § 1 Comment

We’re excited to share that next week Hack Library School will feature an entire week of digital humanities-related content – we’re dubbing it “DH week.”

Here’s what you have to look forward to:

1/20 – An introduction to DH for library-dwellers, Ashley Maynor
1/21 – From an undergrad digital humanist, Grace Thomas
1/22 – DIY DH+LIS, Dana Bublitz
1/23 – DH and open access, Courtney Baron
1/24 – What you should know about HASTAC, Brianna Marshall and Anna-Sophia Zingarelli-Sweet

Don’t see a topic you’re curious about? Feel like you have something to add? We know we’ve only scratched the surface of possible DH-related content so we’d love to feature your ideas. Contact us at hacklibschool [at] gmail [dot] com to propose a guest post.

Defending your chosen profession to friends, family, and complete strangers

15/01/2014 § 6 Comments

Today’s post was supposed to be a fluffy list of librarian-centric movies you could work into a nice Netflix binge on your last weekend or two before the spring semester starts up. I had actually started to compile a nice little list for you. But then Saturday night I stumbled onto an article in The Guardian about an increase in volunteer-run libraries in Great Britain. The volunteer question is worth discussing (Anna-Sophia addressed it nicely a few months ago), but the thing that made me sit up and foam at the mouth for a few hours was the comment section. We had some defenders, but there were also a whole lot of people saying very blatantly that librarians aren’t real professionals, and not worth our salaries. Some were trolling but others seemed to genuinely believe that being a librarian is a simple job that can be taught with a few hours training.

I get a softer version of this attitude all the time. It’s constant and insidious, and rectifying these misconceptions without pigeonholing your listeners can be really difficult. I’d love to hold forth for an hour or five, but in the social situations where this question often comes up a snappy soundbite is all people really want.  Soundbites are difficult to create on the spot, especially if you’re like me and blind fury and/or nerves sometimes make it hard to reply coherently at a moment’s notice[1]. But it can be done.  Here are some of my standard fallbacks for fighting off the inevitable vultures: « Read the rest of this entry »

The (Other) Digital Divide

14/01/2014 § 1 Comment

When people discuss the digital divide, they are usually talking about how race and class differences contribute to one’s ability to access and use computers and the Internet. But in my opinion, there is another digital divide among professionals, one that separates those who make their living creating technologies and those who make their living using (and teaching others to use) technologies. And from what I’ve seen online,  if you want to make people angry fast, all you have to do is place them on one side of the divide when they (or someone else) believes they belong on the other. In a riveting post by Cecily Walker of the Vancouver Public Library, there’s hard Twitter evidence of just such instances. All you have to do is call a librarian who codes a computer engineer, then wait for the thunder.

But why is this such a hot-button issue? Why can’t we all just get along? « Read the rest of this entry »

Google and the Librarian: Best Frenemies Forever

27/12/2013 § 8 Comments

I hope each one of you have had a happy holiday season, and warm wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!

Perhaps it’s the end of the year, or the end of the semester, but I’ve been reflecting quite a bit lately on my work over the past few months and trying to get a clearer picture of what lies ahead for me in LIS. Although I’ve met many wonderful, smart, hardworking people in my program and beyond, I’m worried about a certain lack of vision and ambition. We also seem to thrive on anxiety about changing technology and society, and all too often our responses sound like something out of The Desk Set: Big Bad Business wants to replace librarians with machines! They nearly succeed! But machines are flawed, and librarians save the day with their special human touch!

More than fifty-five years later, this storyline clearly continues to resonate with us. Yet I’m concerned that we’re still on the crisis phase, and I think an important task for us right now is to direct as much imagination as possible toward creating new roles for ourselves — what, exactly, do we bring to the table that an algorithm doesn’t?

This semester, I’ve seen that professional anxiety directed especially toward Google. In my core introductory class, we were assigned a final paper on Stephen Levy’s 2011 In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes our Lives, and were asked to discuss the ramifications of Google for librarianship. Although the book has a positive spin, my class focused, almost to a person, on negative aspects of Google: privacy, poor search skills, and more. Google absolutely has its problems, but I believe we cannot continue to use it as a labor-saving device on the back end while decrying it as an evil empire devaluing our work on the front end. I have a lot of ideas about how we can think about our relationship to Google a bit more productively, but this post is really meant as a brainstorm-starter. I want to hear from you about how we, as a profession, can build off Google’s successes and add real value to the services they provide. Please add your thoughts in the comments — I’ll be checking in as often as my work schedule allows to foster the conversation — and please also note that my words, as always, do not necessarily reflect the views of Hack Library School as a whole.

After reading through Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s 1998 article introducing Google (it’s a good read, and surprisingly accessible — I recommend checking it out) I fundamentally believe that Google developed to tackle the exact same problems that librarians are trying to handle right now: information overload, reliability, discoverability, and neutrality. They’ve got exponentially smarter people on it (sorry, but it’s true), and they’ve figured out how to make gobsmacking loads of money from it. Whatever Google’s problems may be, it’s hard not to admire that.

« Read the rest of this entry »

A Library Student’s New Year’s Resolution List

25/12/2013 § 11 Comments

With the holiday season wrapping up (pun intended) and the New Year quickly approaching, do you have your 2014 resolutions list made yet?

I am a huge fan of making lists, so the New Year always gives me the perfect opportunity to make another. Since I will be graduating next May my list includes things I want to accomplish while I am still a library student — also because it is too scary to plan anything post-graduation. Other than applying for jobs and networking, I also want to spend my last semester taking advantage of student discounts and the flexibility of grad life. Below is a broad list of my library student wishes and goals, but feel free to steal and adapt as your own!

resolution list

“Resolutions” via puzzledmonkey, flickr CC

« Read the rest of this entry »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 736 other followers

%d bloggers like this: