Thoughts on the Digital Humanities

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

I just came back from a lunch-time session sponsored by the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), a research unit housed right here in the main library at UMD, about their latest NEH-funded undertaking, the Shakespeare’s Quartos Project. (You can view the announcement for the talk, or read the University’s official news release.) It’s a pretty exciting pilot grant to “create a technical proof of concept ‘working model’ for the project by digitizing all 32 pre-1641 versions of Hamlet held by [six] participating libraries.” The eventual goal is to create a “freely-accessible, high resolution digital interactive archive of William Shakespeare’s pre-1641 quartos.” Scanning for the project has been under way for a while now, and you may already be familiar with the British Library’s Treasures in Full: Shakespeare in Quarto, which currently has the BL’s 93 copies of pre-1642 quartos, and which will eventually house the completed project.

The talk was part of MITH’s “Digital Dialogues” series, weekly talks on all sorts of interesting electronic issues and projects, usually attended by a mix of arts & humanities and computer science faculty and students. I attend when my schedule allows, but usually I’m the only librarian in the room. All of which got me to wondering… How much do you (as a humanities librarian) pay attention to and/or participate in developments in the realm of “Digital Humanities” (sometimes aka “Humanities Computing”)? If you do pay attention or participate, what are your reasons for doing so? What kinds of things interest you, and how do you keep up?

For now, my primary motivation is to learn about cool projects, like Shakespeare’s Quartos, (or the Dickinson Electronic Archives or the Walt Whitman Archive), that will help me to help my students and faculty. I think that down the road I’d be interested in participating in some sort of digital humanities project or scholarship, but I have yet to figure out how that would occur or what it would look like. As for keeping up, I feel a bit spoiled having a vibrant organization like MITH in-house, as I know there will always be interesting things going on right under my nose. But I’ve also recently become a fan of the blog Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, which is a great way to eavesdrop on some of the conversations going on in the field and learn about new resources. (Their three-part entry on Digital Humanities in 2007 offers an excellent overview of recent developments.)

I think the realm of Digital Humanities offers a natural venue for collaboration between librarians, researchers and computer scientists, and the best projects combine the technical proficiency, subject knowledge, and information organization skills and end-user focus of all three groups.

Digital, Virtual, Irish


Last week I was flying to a state consortial meeting–a puddle-jumper kind of flight–no more than an hour or so. Perfect time to break out the new Kindle and do some reading. One of the books I bought for the Kindle was Ulysses. I got it for next to nothing. How is it I managed to get two degrees in English, studying primarily the authors of high modernism, without having read Ulysses? A puzzle indeed. But the Kindle to the rescue. Continue reading Digital, Virtual, Irish

The LES Bibliography and You

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

One of the tasks of the Publications Committee is to maintain the bibliography of Studies of Interest for Literatures in English Librarians. Currently the bibliography “resides” at the Central Michigan University Libraries and is cared for by Publications members Aparna Zambare and Michaelyn Burnette.

According to Michaelyn, “This bibliography was started by an LES member some years ago as a way of drawing together journals and books of interest to our section; its origin pre-dated many of the widely available resources which ease the strains of research.” Currently it includes several hundred items in four categories: English in Higher Education; Reference, Research and Instruction; Technical Services; and Collections.

As we consider how best to update this list and make it available to LES members, we thought perhaps it would be best to take an informal poll first. Do you use (or have you ever used) the bibliography? Are the kinds of items listed “of interest for Literatures in English librarians?” Does it foster research being done by LES members? Are there categories we could add or delete from the list? If you have opinions or experiences of the usefulness of this resource, leave us a comment! Your feedback will be valuable in helping us re-shape the professional bibliography for the 21st century.

Getting Up to Speed

I’ve been thumbing my way through a couple different volumes in the Oxford “Very Short Introduction” series. (I only thumb these days, no actual reading!) They are quite attractive and useful works. We’ve bought quite a few volumes in the series. In fact, our head of reference has been keen for us to get the entire series. I’m not sure they warrant that much devotion, but it does strike me that they are a pretty good resource for librarians to learn more about literary genres and critical practices that they may not be familiar with. Brief, [fairly] authoritative, entertaining. Increase your reference skills and your collection development acumen at the same time. I am also a fan of Routledge’s “New Critical Idiom” series. I am less familiar with “Edinburgh Critical Guides,” but they look pretty good too.

PostmodernismOxford Very Short Introductions

ModernismRoutledge New Critical Idiom

GothicEdinburgh Critical Guides

Review of C19

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

By hook or by crook, I convinced the other humanities selectors at Hopkins that purchasing access to ProQuest’s C19 Index was an imperative. And it was. The academic strength of Hopkins’ English faculty lies in the period from the 1750 to 1920, although that is shifting with a few new hires, and I am fielding an increasing array of questions from graduate students interested in online resources from the long nineteenth century.

C19 Index
certainly does that job and does it well. ProQuest calls C19 “the bibliographic spine of 19th century research, providing integrated access to the most important finding aids for books, periodicals, official publications, newspapers and archives.” Users of C19 Index can simultaneously query the Nineteenth-Century Short Title Catalogue, Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature, and The Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, and others. Certainly, my patrons are appreciating improved access to these resources, in one, easy to navigate location. And they no longer have to use that notoriously clunky Nineteenth Century Masterfile.

Continue reading Review of C19

The Care and Feeding of Student Assistants

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

So another semester is under way, and with it comes the first few weeks of very…um, uneven service from the new student assistants at our reference desk. While they are learning the ins and outs of photocopy cards, printer servers, food and drink policies and the like, the student assistants expect to turn to their supervisors and peers for help with questions to which they don’t know the answers. But when it comes to reference and research questions, it seems to be a different story. With some exceptions, it seems that students are almost physiologically averse to referring questions to a librarian, even when one is sitting at the same desk! I have witnessed the following exchange innumerable times:

Patron: Do you have any books on my obscure English 101 topic?

Student (typing a few keywords in the Catalog): No, we don’t. Sorry.

Patron: Oh, ok. (Goes back to the dorm to cut and paste from Google results)

Granted, you’d think the patron would ask to speak to someone else about their question, but maybe they’re in a rush, or maybe they don’t want to hurt their fellow student’s feelings. (Graduate students and faculty seem to be less shy about asking for someone else’s help when their needs haven’t been met.) The ideal situation would be for our student assistants to know when a referral is needed, and to follow through appropriately.

Short of shock collars or Facebook-deprivation chambers, how can we better train our students to make referrals? One approach we’re considering at my institution is to employ more graduate students from the library school, who are a little more motivated to learn “the business” and to provide good service. But this can stretch the budget, and obviously isn’t much help for those universities without library schools. So what other suggestions do you have for approaching this problem? What sorts of training or guidelines have you implemented? What has worked well (or even not well, but maybe could be improved with some tinkering?) If you use a tiered (aka “Brandeis Model”) reference system, do employees at the first tier really make referrals like they’re supposed to?

Who Wants Yesterday’s Papers?

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

I had my first library instruction session of the semester last week, and it was a doozy! The 400-level English course was called “Victorian Bodies,” and the focus is the ways in which discoveries in science (and pseudo-science) influenced Victorian literature. The students’ assignment was to find some articles from Victorian periodicals on things like phrenology, mesmerism, evolution, etc. Let me tell you, undergraduates are NOT enthused when you tell them they may have to become familiar with that Victorian-era beast, the microfiche reader.

I did come across a handful of electronic resources that proved useful for this class’s assignments. The databases 19th Century Masterfile (Paratext) and Periodicals Index Online (Chadwyck-Healey) are terrific resources for finding citations, and it’s relatively easy to copy and paste periodical titles over to WorldCat or your library’s catalog to find holdings. Periodicals Index Online also includes some links to JSTOR, so you may get lucky enough to find full-text that way.

A couple of excellent (free) web resources: the Internet Library of Early Journals has digital images for six periodicals, including the Annual Review and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. Science in the Nineteenth Century Periodical has no full-text, but provides excellent indexing for sixteen 19th-century titles.

And taking the quick-and-easy route (which undergraduate students would never do), there’s the Undergraduate Victorian Studies Online Teaching Anthology at the University of Minnesota Libraries, which has done everyone the favor of scanning some Victorian-era articles in three topic areas: “Condition of Women,” “Empire,” and (lucky for my students) “Science, Evolution and Eugenics.”

If you’re interested in the other resources (electronic, print and microform) I identified from my library, here’s the course web page.

How ‘bout you? Had any difficult instruction sessions lately that led you to interesting resources? You can leave a comment, or send your story to a Publications Committee member to be posted to the blog.

ALA Midwinter Conference Update #1

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

Greetings All–

Exciting news from ALA Midwinter! The Publications Committee’s own Linda Stein presented the reports of the blog and wiki task forces to the LES Executive Committee, and we passed with flying colors! We have approval to further develop these two tools for communication among LES members. Be on the lookout for more information from Publications on how you can contribute to the blog and share your insights with your colleagues.

Read the LES Blog Task Force Report

Welcome to the LES Blog!

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

Greetings fellow LES’ers, and welcome to the brand-new LES Blog! We hope that this blog will provide a forum for timely information sharing among LES members. Unlike email messages, which are easily deleted or misplaced, items on the LES blog will be archived for future reference and easily accessible to all.

To this end, here are some of the things we have in mind for future blog entries:

  • Information on print and electronic resources of interest to literature librarians and researchers;
  • Profiles of new, current, or retiring LES members;
  • News from ALA or other organizations (e.g., MLA) of interest to LES members
  • Notice of upcoming conferences, calls for papers, employment postings, grant deadlines, etc.

Through the “Comments” feature, we also hope that the blog can provide a space for lively interaction between LES members. Feel free to use the Comments section to suggest topics for future postings, or ideas on how you’d like to see the blog developed. What would make it most useful to you? What kind of content and discussion would make you most likely to visit regularly? We hope to hear from you!