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

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: https://dhs.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/digital_hipsterism.png

Categories: Digital Humanities

5 replies

  1. Great introduction. I feel like we are all dipping our toes in that pond and the more resources and help out there the better. Thank you for this informative article.


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