Library Collections as Humanities Data

Written by: Thomas Padilla

Primary Source: Thomas Padilla

Devin Higgins and I, recently published a paper [PDF] that argues for thinking about library collections as Humanities data. It instantiates some of the conversations we’ve been having at MSU Libraries around thinking about how we, and the general library community, might better promote and enable use of library collections for Digital Humanists.

I’ve said elsewhere that my work can be summed up as:

  • Collections (provide/augment the stuff)
  • Preservation (preserve and provide access to the stuff)
  • Pedagogy (teach how to use, share, preserve the stuff)
  • Capacity Building (create community that wants to use the stuff)
  • Research  (study and argue about the stuff)

Ill touch on a couple of these. With respect to research, I think its important that we as librarians study and argue about our collections in a manner befitting the types of use that we are hoping the data will see. It attunes us to problems that the data poses and it makes us more fluent in the conversation about what types of uses the data might be put to. To this end, Devin, Arend Hintze, and I have been working on a project to study the features of literary data that adapts an approach to studying information novelty in Twitter and genetic sequence data. With respect to collections we’ve taken  initial steps toward reformatting, redescribing, and making available library collections in a manner that might better support a computational approach. It was awesome to see recent use of this data in a Digital Humanities course here at MSU.

We realized early on that it can be challenging to communicate a reconceptualization of primary source objects in such a way that the latent potential residing in the data comprising the object becomes known and naturalized within the research process. To this end, Devin and I both give talks about data residing within the library collections and DH folks on campus writ large try to integrate library collections data into our instruction. We hope we have further bolstered our effort in this area with, “Library Collections as Humanities Data: the Facet Effect” [PDF]

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Thomas Padilla
Thomas Padilla is Digital Humanities Librarian at Michigan State University Libraries. Prior to his move to Michigan he was at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign working at the Scholarly Commons and the Preservation Unit of the University Library. Prior to that he was at the Library of Congress doing digital preservation outreach and education. Thomas maintains diverse interests in digital humanities, digital preservation, data curation, archives, History, and interdisciplinarity. His work and projects often map to these areas of interest.