Digital Humanities in the Library, Second Edition

ACRL announces the publication of Digital Humanities in the Library, Second Edition, edited by Arianne Hartsell-Gundy, Laura R. Braunstein, and Liorah Golomb, offering ideas and strategies for cross-institutional collaborations and new approaches to digital humanities work.

Learn more about Digital Humanities in the Library, Second Edition,in this Introduction by the editors, licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.


The genesis of the first edition of Digital Humanities in the Library: Challenges and Opportunities for Subject Specialists was born from a need to explore more fully how libraries could support and engage with digital humanities and understand the role of the subject specialist in this work. There were many questions about how subject specialists could build effective relationships with functional specialists within the libraries and the larger university, learn relevant technology skills, effectively teach digital humanities related skills and concepts to students, and provide infrastructure and spaces as needed. Subject librarians are still navigating the roles they play in the creation, maintenance, and preservation of digital projects, but there are new questions to consider.

The field of digital humanities has expanded and evolved, and libraries and academic institutions have had to respond to global and national events that have had large scale impact, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the racial reckoning of the summer of 2020. New scholarship in recent years, such as Data Feminism by Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein, The Digital Black Atlantic by Roopika Risam and Kelly Baker Josephs, and Global Debates in the Digital Humanities by Domenico Fiormonte, Sukanta Chaudhuri, and Paola Ricaurte, point to productive new ways to interrogate and expand the meaning of digital humanities. There has also been a movement in digital humanities in the past few years from what we might call “project-based DH” to “infrastructural” DH; thus, we aim to especially investigate what kinds of labor arrangements, in the library and in universities more broadly, make DH scholarship and production sustainable.

This expanded second edition includes reprints of key chapters from the first edition, along with new chapters that explore some of these new issues. New areas of focus in this edition include diversity, inclusion, and equity; issues of labor, precarity, and infrastructure; scholarly communication and taxonomies of credit; long-term sustainability, such as that advocated for by the Maintainers movement; and library digital humanities in the age of institutional austerity.

We have chosen to divide this revised edition into two parts—Theory and Practice—to give the reader a grounding in the ideas and approaches influencing the work being done around digital humanities and then to follow that grounding with examples of how practitioners are supporting digital humanities in their everyday work. We also acknowledge that the boundaries between theory and practice can be permeable, and so some chapters disrupt that distinction. Just as in the first edition, our chapter authors come from a variety of institutions and work in many areas related to digital humanities, including subject specialists, digital scholarship center directors, UX experts, special collections librarians, and technical specialists. Though challenges and opportunities still exist, we have chosen to drop the subheading for this revised second edition to reflect how the conversations around digital humanities are evolving and expanding in libraries.

Part one begins with the reprint “Distant Reading, Computational Stylistics, and Corpus Linguistics: The Critical Theory of Digital Humanities for Literature Subject Librarians” by David D. Oberhelman, which addresses the need for subject librarians to understand the theoretical implications of DH. David passed away in January 2018; this edition is dedicated to his memory, in honor of his friendship and his many contributions to humanities librarianship.

Part one continues with “What Do Librarians Need to Know about Quantitative Methods in Digital Humanities?” by Heather Froehlich (University of Arizona). In her essay, she shows how librarians offering support to quantitative digital humanities projects are meeting humanities researchers where they are, which is often without a lot of underlying technical or mathematical knowledge. In chapter three, “Relearning Digital Humanities,” John Russell (Pennsylvania State University) provides a chapter reflecting on his experience teaching an introduction to digital humanities course for librarians and how his understanding of the field has evolved over time. Pam Lach (San Diego State University) calls for academic libraries to be values-centered, as much as user-centered, when engaging in digital humanities work in chapter four, “Centering our Values: A Framework for Digital Humanities in the Library.” This chapter demonstrates how being intentional about the values that guide our work helps build equitable partnerships, meet community needs, manage institutional challenges, engage in critical digital inquiry, and strive toward ethical praxis. The final chapter of this section, by A. Miller (Middle Tennessee State University), “Inclusive Design: A Method and Craft of Transforming DH with UX,” examines how understanding user experience and design thinking can yield better insights into DH users’ behaviors, wants, and needs. By applying this human-centered thinking, DH researchers can better create and connect with their users.

Part two includes nine chapters. Chapter six is a revised chapter from our first edition by Mark Dahlquist, Katie Gibson, Jenny Presnell (Miami University). In “Into the Mix: Subject Liaisons Librarians and Digital Humanities Research,” they examine the relationship of subject specialists to researchers and digital humanities centers. The authors identify the needs and skills of both researchers and digital centers and suggest a variety of roles that subject specialists can play in the development of a digital project. Chapter seven, “Collaboration and Co-Teaching: Librarians Teaching Digital Humanities in the Classroom” by Brian Rosenblum, Frances Devlin, Tami Albin, and Wade Garrison (University of Kansas Libraries) is a reprint that describes efforts by librarians with subject, instruction, and digital scholarship expertise to provide instruction and training in DH to graduate students and faculty. In chapter eight, “Construction and Disruption: Building Communities of Practice, Queering Subject Librarians,” Caro Pinto examines in a reprint the possibilities of organizational change and the roles liaisons, archivists, and metadata specialists play. Chapter nine is a reprint from Elizabeth Lorang and Kathleen A. Johnson called “A Checklist for Digital Humanities Scholarship.” It provides practical advice on beginning a project, describes librarian participation in University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, and includes valuable practical points to consider throughout a project’s life cycle. Chapter ten’s “Moderating a Meaningful DH Conversation for Graduate Students in the Humanities,” by Kathleen A. Langan and Ilse Schweitzer VanDonkelaar (Western Michigan University), introduces us to the possibilities of using digital humanities to work with graduate students. This reprint is a case study of subject librarians helping to train graduate students in digital humanities, thus increasing both librarians’ and students’ professional skills. Chapter eleven is the final reprint of the volume. In “Spaces, Skills, and Synthesis,” Anu Vedantham and Dot Porter describe how the creation of library spaces can facilitate collaboration in digital humanities. The authors describe the evolution of support for DH work at University of Pennsylvania through the library’s adaptation of spaces, facilities, technical support, and faculty advising. Chapter twelve from Ginny Moran, Aisling Quigley, Brooke Schmolke, and Louann Terveer (Macalester College) is “Sustaining the Digital Liberal Arts: Institutional Challenges in Looking Beyond Grant Funding.” It focuses on the institutional challenges of creating a sustainable support and innovation model for digital humanities, or, as they define it more broadly on their campus, digital liberal arts. In chapter thirteen, “The Digital Humanities Summer Scholars (DHSS) Program: Opportunities for Change During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Providing a Space for DEI in the Library,” Angela Perkins (Lafayette College) discusses her experience of converting her library’s Digital Humanities Summer Scholars (DHSS) Program from an intimate, in-person process where she guided students through a journey in six weeks of original DH-based research to a completely virtual experience, in a little over two months, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Emma Annette Wilson, Russell Hugh McConnell, Johanna Pang, and Maria Katsulos (University of Alabama) finish the volume with “The Restorative Potential of Library-Based DH: Reconnecting Learning Communities in The Age of COVID-19,” which examines the realities of teaching DH in the library in the age of COVID-19.

As many academic libraries transition from a subject-specialist model to a functional specialist model, some may ask if the discipline-specific librarian role will become obsolete. Our work on revising this book resoundingly suggests that subject librarians are not, and will not become, obsolete. There are opportunities for new cross-institutional collaborations and new approaches to the work being done. We hope that this new, revised edition continues valuable conversations about the future of our profession.