Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Dana Bublitz.
So, you’re interested in digital humanities as a library science student, but your LIS program (and maybe your whole university) doesn’t even have the slightest idea what you mean when you talk about “DH”–or maybe they just give you a funny look, but either way it becomes pretty obvious that there might not be much in the way of coursework focus on digital humanities methods and tools. What do you do then? How do you make a program without offerings in your area of focus work for your interests and gain the necessary experience along the way? It sounds like a daunting task, but a DIY DH+LIS path is a lot less terrifying than it might seem if you can put in the effort for some creative workarounds and take the initiative to do some investigating outside of normal coursework.
I came to digital humanities through my interests in technology and the humanities, as many people working in the field will share. As a teenager, I had built computers with my dad as a hobby and eventually began building my own websites. But in college I decided on a liberal arts degree and eventually went on to pursue a master’s degree in medieval studies. After finishing my first master’s, I decided that an MLIS was the next step. I relocated to Seattle and applied to the University of Washington’s iSchool, though I wasn’t totally sure what I would need to continue my interests in digital humanities work. When I began classes, it became clear to me that digital humanities was not quite yet “a thing” at the university. There were a few digital projects in the works, and a small–but passionate–grassroots community of faculty and graduates students, but there were few course offerings in digital scholarship or even digital libraries with my LIS program.
At first, it was a bit of a shock: here is this field I really want to work in, but my program offers little-to-no direct coursework! How am I supposed to make this work for me? However, I’ve come to realize that not having a larger, more active DH community has been a positive thing: I had to become very proactive in my search for relevant coursework and hands-on experience, and I’ve had to network across campus on my own initiative, meeting a lot of great people that I probably otherwise would not have met. (My colleague, Paige Morgan, gave a great talk on “DH microclimates” earlier this fall, and I highly recommend giving it a quick read!)
Not every LIS program has course offerings in digital scholarship–or specifically digital humanities. But the skills and knowledge to do work in both librarianship and digital scholarship are so similar–especially as librarians begin to gain more skills in working with technology–that I hope more LIS students begin to think of this as a field for which they are skilled. But as a LIS student in a program without a focus on digital topics, you need to be pretty proactive in finding coursework and opportunities that will give you the experience necessary to work with digital humanities projects.
Finding work experience or internships can be a great supplement to coursework, and is easier than you might think: connect with interested faculty and graduate students on your campus or nearby universities; see if local historical societies or museums have internships, or might let you design your own digital project you could do on their behalf–there can be a lot of options to gain experience if you’re creative in your approach.
Over the past year and a half, my DIY DH + LIS experience has focused on three major areas: 1) learning and working with technology; 2) understanding traditional academic library skills; and 3) engaging the wider DH community.
The Tech Side
Many LIS programs now offer some form training in technology: whether you’re taking a course in metadata, user experience and information architecture, or learning basic HTML and CSS, tech skills are becoming more and more required for new librarians. And even if your program doesn’t offer a specific course, it’s becoming easier to find online resources that will help you learn these skills. Code Academy, Code School, Lynda.com, Skillshare, or even just reviewing the free lessons at W3Schools–you can learn a good amount of tech skills with an internet connection and the initiative to learn. And of course, practice and experiment with these skills and tools as much as you can! Create a small website for a class project, ask your instructors if you could create a digital resource rather than a final paper, build an online portfolio for your work as you go through your LIS program; there are a lot of ways you can practice building your skills in using and experimenting with technology.
Some basics: HTML/CSS, WordPress, Photoshop, digitization and OCR, metadata standards (MODS, METS, DC, TEI) and XML/XSLT
A bit more: PHP, MySQL, Ruby, Python, Drupal, managing institutional repositories, User Experience (UX), Information Architecture
Traditional Academic Library Skills
LIS students traditionally take courses which touch on information management, curation/collection development, reference, copyright and intellectual property, and scholarly communications. Librarians help manage data, we digitize and curate, we preserve, and we understand the issues of access and discovery within scholarly settings, and most importantly, we are often involved in cross-disciplinary projects, collaborating with faculty, staff, students, and other librarians. These skills and knowledge sets are incredibly important for digital humanities projects, especially as librarians are often looked to as instructors in their own right–teaching new tools and methods for research both to faculty and students.
Courses to consider: Reference, instructional design/methods, collection development, information behavior, ethics/copyright/intellectual property issues in information science, information organization/cataloging, qualitative/quantitative research and assessment, and issues in scholarly communication.
Engaging the Community
Networking is becoming more and more necessary to find jobs these days, so it’s never too early to begin participating in conversations in the wider field. Also, there is no single way individuals and institutions do digital humanities work–finding out what other people outside your home university not only gives you a better look at the field, but also opens avenues for conversations, partnerships, and collaboration across higher education.
The community of scholars interested in digital humanities and digital scholarship is extremely active online, and in my experience, very welcoming to newcomers. There are some great blogs out there from scholars, instructional technologists, librarians, and graduate students writing about their experiences and projects. If you’re not sure where to begin finding digital humanities resources online, I highly recommend following the DH+LIB blog and Twitter. They post a lot of great DH-related content from across the internet and it’s an easy way to find out where the conversations are taking place in the LIS world.
If you’re able, unconferences offer an opportunity to participate in the field, networking and speaking with other librarians and #altac-types. THATCamp is the most popular among digital humanists, and they’re becoming easier to attend as new THATCamps spring up across the world. What if you can’t find a THATCamp near you? Talk with people in your program or at your university to see if there would be interest in developing an unconference based on digital topics on your campus! Unconferences are much less expensive to hold, and much more accessible to a wide range of scholars and academic staff, than traditional conferences. But bigger conferences such as ALA and SLA are also bringing in more and more presenters to discuss digital scholarship–and often you can find funding to attend these bigger events through your LIS program or through the organization itself.
One of the easiest ways to take part in the conversations around digital humanities work is by reaching out on Twitter: following both organizations and individuals doing DH work. When I first began looking into digital humanities work, I wasn’t quite sure just following people over social media would be all that helpful–but from the perspective of DIY DH+LIS, reading through my Twitter feed has become an invaluable resource in terms of discovering new tools, new projects, finding out what events are coming up that I should look out for, and what organizations are doing really innovative projects (sidenote: I also see a lot of job postings come through Twitter!).
Sometimes I really do wish my LIS program has more to offer in terms of coursework on digital libraries and digital humanities work, but it really has forced me to put myself out there and network across campus, tinker with technology on my own projects, and take the time to read widely in journals and blogs. The recommendations in here are by no means exhaustive, but by-and-large these are the skills and courses I’ve found most useful as I continue to explore digital humanities work within the world of academic libraries. With so many online resources and conversations taking place over sites like Twitter and scholarly blogs, I’ve often felt overwhelmed by how much information is actually out there that lends itself to a DIY DH+LIS education!
What tips do you have for cultivating a DIY DH+LIS education?
Dana Bublitz is a second-year MLIS student at the University of Washington Information School, having previously studied Classics & Religion at Reed College and Mediaeval Studies at the University of St Andrews. She works in the Research Commons at the UW Libraries and the Simpson Center for the Humanities, supporting interdisciplinary collaboration and programming for students, librarians, and faculty on campus. Inspired by her own experience as a student and researcher, Dana is especially interested in the ways digital humanities can foster cross-institutional partnerships between libraries, museums, archives, and universities to provide publicly accessible resources in support of education at all levels.
Categories: Digital Humanities, Education & Curriculum
This is the best description of how to hijack adapt your MLIS program to fit your particular interests/opportunities/passions I’ve ever read.
Amazing initiative and smart execution – can’t wait to recommend this post to my Alternative LIS Careers students. Thanks for sharing, Dana!
Thanks, Kim! Adapting an LIS program to meet individual needs and interests is something I’ve been thinking a lot about as I encounter more and more people who are in LIS programs, but who don’t necessarily want to be “traditional” librarians. A lot of people in my program are interested in UX/Information Architecture, so it remains a challenge for a lot of people.
As an early career librarian who faced similar challenges as a student, I can say this is spot on. Don’t be afraid to go outside your institution for training or to meet other DH people. I gained in both skills and connections through the DH training network, such as DHSI. Start creating your online presence while you are in school, whether you tweet, blog, etc.
The outreach abilities and creative thinking you develop in making your own program will serve you well in your career as well. It isn’t just about getting a job, but being able to contribute to the academic community once you are there! Digital scholarship is only part of the work that I do, but it is closely intertwined with my role as a subject specialist.
YES! In fact, I think we met at DHSI last year at the librarian meet-up!
When I talked to an alumni contact who’s very involved in DH the first things she told me were: 1) get on Twitter and follow conversations there, and 2) get out to events like DHSI or THATCamp. It has so far been the simplest, most valuable advice I’ve been given about breaking into the field.