Digital Scholarship @ The Libraries

Inspiring innovative digital scholarship at the OSU Libraries and beyond

Category: Digital humanities

The HathiTrust Research Center at OSU

Yesterday, the Libraries had the pleasure of a visit by three representatives of the HathiTrust Research Center.  The HTRC exists to facilitate scholarly work with the large corpus of digitized materials in the HathiTrust repository. Their goal is to “to help meet the technical challenges of dealing with massive amounts of digital text that researchers face by developing cutting-edge software tools and cyber infrastructure.” Our guests – Robert McDonald, Miao Chen, and Zong Peng – provided a high-level overview of the Research Center, facilitated a hands-on session with some of the data and tools, and led us in a community discussion about local interest in text mining and the HathiTrust corpus.

Attendees at the hands-on workshop learn to access and mine data from the HathiTrust

Attendees at the hands-on workshop learn to access and mine data from the HathiTrust

There was a lot of information presented about how the HTRC came into being, its current architecture and projects, and plans for its future. I think the most useful thing for me, though, was getting a better sense of their current capabilities for – and attitude towards – working with researchers who want to use the data.

They want people to use the data and take advantage of the tool set they are building. It’s not only their primary reason for being, it’s also necessary to the development process to have users who can contribute to testing and requirements gathering. That said, the HTRC architecture and services are still very much a work in progress, and are not yet in a place where lots of unmediated, self-service research is possible. That means that most research projects will require an investment of HTRC staff time to facilitate, and staff time is, naturally, at a premium. So what do you do when you need people to use your services, but your services are still in development? You prioritize, of course. The HTRC is focusing on a small number of research projects where the researcher is: 1. at a HathiTrust member institution (which OSU is!), and 2. willing to partner with them on the necessary development. This is not to say that they aren’t willing to support other projects, especially if they can do so in a simple way – like a data dump that the researcher can manipulate locally.

The other really interesting thing for me was to learn about how carefully they are walking the line between facilitating research and protecting the copyrighted material in the HT from unsanctioned access and use. Legal action around the Google Books project and the HathiTrust has meant heightened scrutiny of security measures at all levels. As with other uses of copyrighted material, the focus seems to be on figuring out what is the smallest amount of access necessary to accomplish the research at hand, and on facilitating that access in a responsible way. It’s not an easy task, but I was impressed with how well they were handling it.

If you are interested in working with the data in the HathiTrust, I would encourage you to contact Miao Chen, the Assistant Director for Education and Outreach, at

Digital Humanities Lecture, October 20th, 12pm

Please join us on Monday, October 20th, from noon-1pm in Thompson Library room 165, for a presentation by our colleagues Brian Joseph (OSU Linguistics and Slavic) and Christopher Brown (OSU Classics):

Computational Humanities – Bridging the Gap between Computer Science and Digital Humanities (A report on the Dagstuhl seminar)

This summer’s Dagstuhl Seminar on Computational Humanities sought to boost the rapidly emerging interdisciplinary field of Computational Humanities by bringing together leading researchers in the (digital) humanities and computational analysis. We will report on our participation in the seminar, its projects and participants, and our own work both in the Dagstuhl working group on Lexicon and Literature and on the OSU Herodotos Project for Ancient Ethnohistory.

This presentation is sponsored by the OSU Libraries Research Commons.

Data Curation as Publishing for the Digital Humanities (link)

Data Curation as Publishing for the Digital Humanities (Journal of Digital Humanities)

The article linked above is an expansion of a talk given by Trevor Muñoz at the CIC Center for Library Initiatives Annual Conference last May. The theme of the conference was publishing, and in his talk Trevor argued for data curation as a form of publishing that draws on traditional librarian skill sets and aligns with library missions. The talk itself was thought-provoking, and I would recommend the Journal of Digital Humanities article to anyone looking to practice, or support, or understand data curation and/or publishing in libraries. The article takes the original argument a step further, however, in challenging librarians to transform all of our work to better utilize our unique skill sets and align with our mission as a profession. It comes in the context of advocating for the use of collection budgets to support curation/publishing activities. My favorite part:

The current situation in which libraries purchase subscriptions to large databases of, for example, journal articles, represents not only an unsustainable economic situation but also an unsustainable professional one in which libraries outsource the expertise and experience of collecting, normalizing, organizing, and making available scholarly information. Librarians should spend more time on creating metadata, building catalogs, developing and refining indexes, and building, organizing, and maintaining collections than on negotiating publisher contracts or teaching the details of interfaces created by vendors. Extending library, archive, and information science practices for data may include aggregating data sets, cleaning and normalizing values, and annotating data with controlled vocabularies and ontologies. The issues of description, organization, and access for data are still largely unsolved and libraries should demonstrate their expertise in solving these challenges through developing and sustaining data curation-as-publishing programs.

Read the full article. 

Engaged Librarians Support Digital Scholarship

We continue to have many discussions in the Libraries at OSU about ways in which librarians can engage with scholars during various phrases of their work. The idea of engaging with various parts of the scholarly process–whether through bringing original source materials or data to the attention of faculty, assisting them with specialized tools that make the scholarly process more efficient, helping them connect with other scholars as a way of deepening collaboration, or showcasing the results of their work on library-sponsored web sites or in physical exhibits -engaged librarians find opportunities to offer their knowledge of collections, archives, exhibits (physical or virtual), software tools, and self-publishing opportunities to faculty (and more advanced students as well).

However, engaged librarians will refine this basic pattern of interaction with faculty (and students) through more finely attuned attention to scholarly methods that employ digital technologies. They will offer assistance (with other experts) in specialized software tools for geospatial and textual analysis, in order to understand patterns of meaning across space and time; they will build virtual spaces (blogs, portals) which allow collaboration among scholars and sharing of emerging research ideas; they will participate in virtual communities of practice and virtual research environments, offering suggestions about data sources and options for data mining; they will promote awareness of rights issues involved in repurposing digital objects found on the Web; and they will make scholars aware of specialized disciplinary and interdisciplinary repositories of digital materials. The touchstone is  competence with research methods made possible by digital technologies and information resources. More generally, it is the construction of a collaborative landscape of scholarly method and practice, specialized techniques, appropriate software tools, and curated content that marks a *programmatic approach* to digital scholarship for engaged librarians.  When a programmatic approach to supporting digital scholarship develops, individual librarians become more expert with the entire lifecycle of research and the tools and resources that support it, and are proactive in collaborating with colleagues within and beyond the library in creating a suite of services that match the needs of a faculty member working on a grant proposal, a group of faculty mentoring a student research team involved in a service learning project in the local community, or an interdisciplinary collaborative conducting geolocation studies of historical sites across a region.  “Engagement” can take many forms, but in supporting digital scholarship, it is always seeking to expand beyond the known collection, artifact, or practice into an accelerated, more integrated set of services.


Service Learning, Digital Media, and Special Collections

In the fall of 2012, Dr. H. Lewis Ulman, Director of Digital Media Studies, met with representatives from Special Collections to discuss the idea of an English class that utilized Special Collections to engage students. Although the first course idea we discussed did not work out, the end result was English 2269, Digital Media Composing.  English 2269 is a service learning course where (from the syllabus):

students will read about and practice digital media composing, analyze examples of digital media documents, and compose digital media documents….Student teams will have the opportunity to work with curators of The Ohio State University’s Special Collections to develop digital media documents that highlight the collections.

Although the curators of the Special Collections often work with undergraduate and graduate students, this opportunity was unique. Whatever projects (photos, audio, videos and so on) the students create will be offered to Special Collections. The course is a win-win for all involved. The students have a chance to work with curators and rare materials, and Special Collections gains a wealth of digital and audio materials.

The curators of nine collections across campus agreed to participate in the class in Spring of 2013. The collections that the students had the chance to work with are  Byrd Polar ArchivesUniversity ArchivesRare Books and ManuscriptsBilly Ireland Cartoon Library and MuseumCharvat CollectionHilandar Research LibraryOhio State Congressional ArchivesTheatre Research Institute , and Historic Costume and Textile Collection 

I visited both of  Professor Ulman’s sections of the course to introduce students to all the Special Collections participating. I gave them a brief overview of the treasures different collections offered and some examples of what sort of projects were possible. After hearing the students’ preferences for certain collections, Professor Ulman separated students into groups, depending on the Special Collection they were interested in working with. I served as a conduit to introduce students to the curator they would be working with so they could set up their first meeting.

The assignments for the class (an audio essay, an audio slideshow, an interactive data vizualization, and a video essay) are small in scope. The challenge for the groups is to create appropriate projects without taking on too much information. Another important aspect of the course is learning about the importance of copyright and licenses. Professor Ulman worked with the OSUL copyright librarian to create the forms and permissions needed for the students to allow OSUL to use the material from the projects in our own promotional materials and exhibits.

A big challenge so far has been keeping communication moving between all parties involved. Dr. Ulman keeps Special Collections informed of assignments and activities in the class, but there have been problems with students missing appointments and hoping to make last minute appointments. The curators are positive about their experiences with the students and have been impressed with the enthusiasm and engagement of the students with the collections.

Although we are still considering the long-term storage and use of the projects, we are all looking forward to seeing the results of the students’ work. Dr. Ulman is planning a showcase event for the end of the semester where students and curators can watch highlights from the projects.

A curator steps from the analog to the digital…

Editor’s Note: This is the first of three posts on a new digital exhibit: ‘Translation… openeth the window to let in the light’: The Pre-History and Abiding Impact of the King James Bible. The second and third posts will explore the technical and strategic aspects of the project, which was a pilot for an ongoing digital exhibits program.

Today marks the public launch of the digital version of a traditional (read: physical, or analog) exhibition I curated from May-August 2011. “‘Translation… openeth the window to let in the light’: The Pre-History and Abiding Impact of the King James Bible” celebrated the 400th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of the King James Bible in 1611, tracing in broad lines the history of biblical translation and textual packaging from the Middle Ages through the “golden age” of English Bibles in the sixteenth century and on through to the early-twenty first century. Among the many items included in the exhibition were medieval manuscripts, early printed books, fine-press publications, modern Bibles, steel engravings, comic books and strips, and original artwork. From a curatorial standpoint, the diversity of materials on display afforded me a great deal of flexibility and creativity in terms of what types of items I chose to use in order to tell the story of the King James Bible and its centuries-long impact on religious practice, language, literature, art, and culture. This is not to say, however, that this diversity did not come with its own set of frustrations.

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