Digital Humanities in the Library: Challenges and Opportunities for Subject Specialists. Edited by Arianne Hartsell-Gundy, Laura Braunstein, and Liorah Golomb. Chicago: ACRL, 2015. 312 p. Paper $68.00 (ISBN: 978-0-8389-8767-4).

Abundant literature explores the nexus between academic libraries and digital humanities research and teaching, including major reports by CLIR, Ithaka S+R and OCLC, yet many aspects of the library’s role have not yet been investigated critically. Editors Arianne Hartsell-Gundy, Laura Braunstein, and Liorah Golomb have addressed this gap with this practical volume, written for the subject librarian, that covers a large spectrum of library activity in digital scholarship. Digital Humanities in the Library includes case studies, recommended readings and tools, sample course assignments, and strategies for focusing library contributions and keeping them aligned with the local mission and goals.

One of the strengths of this book is the diversity of the types of academic library represented. It is often the case that publications on digital humanities in the library focus on major public and private research universities with enviable staffing levels. Although the reason for the flourishing of digital humanities in these environments is perhaps self-evident, the participation of smaller institutions and liberal arts colleges is by no means precluded. Chapters by Caro Pinto and Christina Bell effectively demonstrate the particular strengths that small liberal arts colleges bring to digital humanities practices.

Several chapter authors stress the subject librarian’s advantage as a sort of threshold person, an intermediary who connects technologists, metadata librarians, scholars, and students. One common theme is the value of starting small and building on what already exists within the library. Borovsky, McAuley, Vedantham, and Porter provide fascinating observations about the influence of library spaces on learning, intellectual curiosity, communication, and understanding (chapters 5 and 10). And Golomb offers a warm account of her own experimental R&D work in text mining with the transcripts of the television series Supernatural (chapter 13).

In trying to capture some of the sparkle of celebrated research centers and award-winning digital archives, this volume occasionally loses track of the very real difficulties of working in an emerging area. Perhaps out of a desire to avoid a discouraging tone, several chapter authors deemphasize the “challenges” of the book’s title. These challenges can exist both inside and outside of the library. The enthusiasm of trying anything new comes with a risk, and the subject librarian who gets involved in digital humanities projects might ascribe the roadblocks she encounters to her own personal failings. But these barriers are often anything but personal. For this reason, the emphasis that Christina Bell places on “clear direction from library leadership about expectations and priorities” was particularly welcome (114). Likewise, Langan and VanDonkelaar provide apt observations regarding a lack of shared understanding within the library about the connection between information literacy and instruction in digital methods (33). Their findings point to a need for patience, as well as for transparency when reporting outcomes. In their discussion of a collaboratively taught course on the Ancient Near East, Borovsky and McAuley attempt to alleviate anxieties that digital humanities collaborations might displace the traditional subject librarian’s work. And with regard to external challenges, this reader particularly enjoyed the honest remarks by Rosenblum, Devlin, Albin, and Garrison about the occasional awkwardness of faculty-librarian collaborations (157), frustrations stemming from high expectations (159), and rampant impostor syndrome among librarians that is, in the end, not especially justified, as librarians often have more experience than teaching faculty with digital methods (165).

This book includes many insightful chapters from experienced professionals on all kinds of library-driven digital humanities involvement. It is naturally recommended for subject specialists, but also library administrators, technologists, metadata experts, and digital archivists—anyone in the library who has a stake in the success of a digital humanities program, including those librarians who have “digital humanities” in their job titles.—Francesca Giannetti, Digital Humanities Librarian, Rutgers University Libraries, New Brunswick, New Jersey


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