[live blog] #DHOxSS Lorna Hughes, Digital collections as research infrastructure

[live notes, so excuse the errors, omissions and personal perspective]

@lornamhughes, University of Wales Chair in Digital Collections, National Library of Wales

Ghosts of the digital humanities past. Early 1990s dissemination of DH… Floppy, CD-roms, software, hypertext, huge chunks of hardware, roadshows. And then the WWW was invented. Warnings over humanists needing to engage themselves in ‘computer assisted learning’ to ensure nuance captured since the 1970s. TLTP: ‘Courseware’ built from central models using double-keying and later OCR to transcribe corpora.

Web allowed research councils to fund projects which gave the public access to digitised resources

  • eg AHRB/C Resource enhancement fund 2000-6 > project based funding enabled researchers to work on problem focused methods
  • so no sense of common endeavour, no sense of joined up research creation (neither in terms of content nor tech)
  • work bespoke, maintained in silos. So have to digital content at all, just catalogues to printed resources.
  • few projects would could become part of an integrated humanities research infrastructure: national, baseline history, broad.
  • digital projects make possible liniking resources which as physically disperate: few did that.
  • lack of use, lack of sustainability. Hence plenty now show 404 errors. University departments not best placed to host e-content.

But this is all hindsight. But hindsight that shows a visious circle: Hard to find (poor metadata) > few users > little motivation to maintain and improve > harder to find > …

JISC gave us a more strategic approach. JISC e-content programme: real impact of digital projects when they make research faster and easier. Typically supporting traditional research not new ways of working with or across content.

Development of digital collections in Wales against the backdrop of devolved government. Digital Wales initiative: drive towards digital services which are digital by default. Difference of Welsh strategy supports digitisation, creation of digital content: create a digital public sphere in Wales. Nonetheless, National Library of Wales has chosen to use central funding to digitise, support content, and make it freely available in an enhanced way. Digitisation of course supports preservation. Growth in born-digital collections.

Digital projects also supporting change in scholarship, such as Welsh Newspapers Online. Once you deliver these projects, what to users want: more content! Welsh Experience of World War One, funded by JISC. Bringing fragmented and inaccessible collections together. Established a research programme in digital projects in 2011. Related to the digitisation beast and the need for more stuff, but also focus on users and how they use content.

Use DH to add value to the collections: what do we do with all the digital stuff?

  • Use, share, engage, enrich, sustain, advocate.

“Use digital content to transform scholarship is the absolute foundation of the digital humanities”

Content, methods, tools: putting these together transforms scholarship, enables scholars to ask completely new questions. This interface between DH and digital collections is in effect an extention of the digital public sphere.

Digital data has to be free to be useful. It also need to be (and to be able to be) shared, aggregated and linked. Partners such as TEL and Europaeana propels Welsh collections into an international audience. Thus both promoting the Welsh language (national goal) and enriching the data (library goal).

  • LIPARM (Linking Parliamentary Records Through Metadata) [now that is a horrible acronym…] Partners thinking both of existing content and future content.
  • Place name work to aid resource discovery allows clear engagement. Wales1900 (cymru1900wales.org) uses Galaxy Zoo to crowdsource place names. Place name important for local and language history. Project will in turn become a useful index for existing projects: Welsh Wills Online and Welsh Newspapers Online.

Digital humanities trendier than ever. At the very least, all scholars use electronic resources that point to analogue resources. But much work still uses the digital as print replicas. Focus on not theorising but the use of the digital will get us out of our projectitus and digital silos. DH is after all practice led, involves engagement in research infrastructure to develop new humanities questions.


Theory vs practice? https://twitter.com/thomasgpadilla/status/355619970782199809

Usage? Most hits from Google and Wikipedia for Welsh Journals, but family history sites too.

Metadata: quality or simplicity? Does general use need as high quality data as researcher use?
Of course! Nonetheless benefits of Europeana outweigh the time/effort spent working good metadata into simple Europeana model.


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