TEI and Libraries: New Avenues for Digital Literacy? 2

In this post, Harriett Green looks at how libraries can use TEI to advance digital literacy. For further reading, the author has also provided a list of recommended resources.

A prominent theme of the TEI 2012 Annual Members Meeting and Conference was how to make TEI an even more viable tool for scholarly discourse and analysis. This theme was quite fortuitous, because this was the focus on my paper presentation at the conference: I am exploring how libraries should expand their involvement in TEI beyond applying it in their digitized collections, and I proposed that libraries can approach the TEI as a method of promoting digital literacy.

The Text Encoding Initiative, better known as TEI, is one of the longest enduring and core sub-specialties of digital humanities scholarship, and was first developed in 1987 by scholars who sought to make their digitized texts more flexible for computational analysis and mining.[1] Since the mid-1990s, the presence of TEI in academic libraries has largely been found in digital collections. There is a long and complex history of libraries creating rich digital collections with extensive TEI mark-up, contributing to research initiatives, and developing best practices on the use of TEI.[2]

But I believe that the current and future potential for the TEI in humanities research and scholarship can only be fully realized if TEI mark-up skills are continually taught in order to build a growing base of users. As such, I presented a paper at the TEI Annual Meeting that explored the questions: How have libraries and information professionals helped to sustain the TEI user community, and what are the possibilities for the future?

For the initial study presented in the paper, I interviewed five librarians from research libraries at the University of Illinois, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, and Indiana University who have been extensively involved in supporting and teaching the TEI at their libraries.  From their responses, I outlined three particular facets of library support of the TEI: Teaching, tutorials, and tools. In the interviews, I learned that librarians teach TEI encoding and XML to their campus faculty and students in environments ranging from graduate seminars to campus-wide workshops. Other librarians have created online tutorials that provide widely-accessible portals to self-directed learning of the TEI for their campus community and the larger scholarly community. And other libraries are developing databases and tools that facilitate text mining with TEI.

The teaching of XML and TEI can be a crucial way for libraries to make new inroads with their constituents in digital and information literacies.

In my analysis, these interviews began to reveal that through these research services for the TEI, libraries can promote digital literacy: The dissemination of TEI through instruction and research services can be critically linked to concepts of digital literacy. The librarian interviewed from Virginia strongly felt that “I feel that TEI is still an important thing for faculty and students to know, and I still continue to support it.” The librarian from Indiana University also noted that in the English graduate course she taught on applying TEI for the Victorian Women Writers Project, the way that students read texts was transformed: “It changed the way they read,” she said. “You could see it when they were encoding that they were reading every single word and noting every punctuation mark, and that they were reading in a way they hadn’t before.”  As such, faculty and students’ ability to translate texts into a format for digital use could be construed as a skill falling within the tenets of digital literacy.

Two definitions for digital literacy, drawn from among several working definitions, are most appropriate for this discussion. Education researchers Aharon Aviram and Yoram Eshet-Alkalai created a now widely-adopted 5-part holistic frame for digital literacy that contains the sub-areas of photo-visual literacy, reproduction literacy, information literacy, branching literacy, and socio-emotional literacy.[3] The other definition is a comprehensive framework proposed by the DigEuLit Project, which defines digital literacy as:

The awareness, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital tools and facilities to identify, access, manage, integrate, evaluate, analyse and synthesize digital resources, construct new knowledge, create media expressions, and communicate with others, in the context of specific life situations, in order to enable constructive social action; and to reflect upon this process.

In this light, the TEI is well positioned to be considered as a partner in outcomes for digital literacy. As more and more texts are digitized, TEI is a critical tool for digital publishing initiatives and facilitating the text mining research and distant reading of a corpus of thousands of digitized texts.  The teaching initiatives, learning objects, and educational tools for TEI profiled in this paper as well as other existing ones, all empower students and faculty to build digital literacy skills in creating, analyzing, and preserving digital manifestations of texts and textual data they study in their research.  As Jones-Kavalier and Flannigan articulate in an EduCAUSE Quarterly editorial, “Using the same skills used for centuries—analysis, synthesis and evaluation—we must look at digital literacy as another realm within which to apply elements of critical thinking”[4].

SGML, the initial mark-up language used for the TEI, was recognized early on as a critical tool for education and an 1996 Computers in Libraries article notes that “TEI gives students in today’s educational system access to historical and current information.” TEI, the article states, was among the types of SGML mark-up that “provide steppingstones to address issues of information access and reuse in education and research”[5]. Digital literacy strives to create learners who are critically thinking about the ways in which they engage and manipulate digital resources.

Melissa Terras notes in her study of the TEI By Example tutorials that “It is understood that much intellectual and temporal effort goes into marking up textual material with suitable granularity to facilitate in depth analysis and manipulation of textual material”[6]. Libraries are institutions that are committed to the promotion and teaching of information literacy, and the teaching of XML and TEI can be a crucial way for libraries to make new inroads with their constituents in digital and information literacies. Ultimately, I see libraries do have a role in helping educate users in the digital tools used for DH research, and ultimately, I believe we can help more and more scholars revise their research methodologies to adapt to digital scholarship.

[1] Richard Giordano, “The Documentation of Electronic Texts Using Text Encoding Initiative Headers: An Introduction,” Library Resources & Technical Services 38, no. 4 (1994): 389-402.

[2] See the recently-updated “Best Practices for TEI in Libraries,” Version 3.0, October 2011.

[3] Aharon Aviram and Yoram Eshet-Alkalai, “Towards a Theory of Digital Literacy: Three Scenarios for Next Steps.” European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning (2006).

[4] Barbara Jones-Kavalier and Suzanne L. Flannigan, “Connecting the Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century,” EduCAUSE Quarterly 2 (2006): 8-10.

[5] SGML Open Staff, “SGML in Education: the TEI and ICADD Initiatives,” Computers in Libraries 16, no. 3 (1996): 26-28.

[6] Melissa Terras, Ron Van den Branden, and Edward Vanhoutte, “Teaching TEI: The Need for TEI by Example,” Literary and Linguistic Computing 24, no. 3 (2009): 297-306.

Harriett Green

The English and Digital Humanities Librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

2 thoughts on “TEI and Libraries: New Avenues for Digital Literacy?

  1. Pingback: Digital Literacy and DH « Librarian on the DH

  2. Pingback: Addressing Interdisciplinary Digital Literacy | The Cengage Learning Blog | Stephanie L. Gross, MSLIS

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