[Dhcenterstartup] Why a DH Center?

Eric Lease Morgan emorgan at nd.edu
Mon May 6 16:41:20 CEST 2013

On May 3, 2013, at 1:21 PM, Lynne Siemens <siemensl at uvic.ca> wrote:

> Hi all, interesting tweet today suggesting that DH might becoming too center-centric and potentially overlooking the work done by individual scholars operating outside a center. This got me thinking about the reasons why a center might be productive and add to the work that individual scholars might already be doing at an institution. So for you folks, why are you and your institutions thinking about a center?  What are the perceived benefits of bringing people together in this way?

Why a center? What are the benefits? Good questions!

We here at Notre Dame are in the same boat. We are in the process of creating a center called the Center for Digital Scholarship. Hammers have not begun to swing, yet, but the whole thing -- a space approximately 5,000 square feet in size -- is expected to be finished by the Fall Semester. (The University of very good at building things.)

We are building a center because we realize libraries are not about books but rather the things books contain. Libraries are about data, information, knowledge, and to some extent wisdom. Libraries are about collecting, organizing, preserving, and disseminating data, information, and knowledge for the benefit and improvement of their constituents including but not limited to: students, instructors, researchers, the general public, etc. Moreover, with the abundance of data, information, and knowledge the processes of traditional librarianship (collecting, organizing, preserving, and disseminating) are not quite enough. Those processes are being facilitated by many other groups, entities, and institutions. There is a much larger set of "information competitors". Consequently libraries -- in order to remain relevant -- need to go beyond these processes. In our case "going beyond" means providing additional services not provided by others.

Again, why? Because the information landscape has evolved. What are the benefits? Our center will provide specific assistance and services against our specific clientele. Google is generic. Bookstores are profit-driven. A lot of online content is full of distracting ads. We will provide tailored services. Costs will be an issue, but the "bottom line" is not all powerful. We will provide services rich in real content conducive to learning, teaching, and scholarship.

While things are still up in the air, our center will initially provide services against a number things, listed in no priority order:

  * digital humanities - "Help me make a website
    about my digitized data, and help me do some text mining."

  * data management - "Help me articulate a data
    management plan, and help me make sense of my content."

  * geographic information systems - "I've got this census
    data. Help me plot it on a map."

  * scholarly communication - "Tell me about copyright, open
    access publishing, and maintain my electronic journal."

The space will have a classroom, a formal meeting space, an informal meeting space, staff offices, and a bunch of computers equipped with software to assist in the things outlined above.

Again, why? Because content is increasingly digital. Benefits? We will be providing tailored services to specific audiences. But at the same time we realize few individuals possess all the talent necessary to thorough digital scholarship. Humanists need some of what the scientists have. Scientists need some of what the information technologists have. Information technologists need some of what the humanists have. Few of us can go it alone. Centers will facilitate this sort of collaboration. We will be bringing together multiple disciplines and different types of people from across the campus to a central -- common, neutral -- space where collaboration will be encouraged and communication fostered. All of this will assist the University in achieving its goals of excellent learning, teaching, and scholarship.

How's that for a Monday morning?

Eric Lease Morgan, Digital Initiatives Librarian
Hesburgh Libraries
University of Notre Dame


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