Libraries as Problem Shapers: some thoughts sparked by Brian Croxall (five things that we mean when we say digital humanities)

November 24, 2014, 2:58 pm

A few weeks ago I met Brian Croxall and learned about Emory’s Center for Digital Scholarship. I thought it was interesting that it began as a research commons for faculty and graduate students… but that it went underutilized. They re-worked the concept and built a co-working environment filled with experts in data, gis, digital humanities, pedagogy, educational technology, and other specialties. The team works together in shared space, but also offers open work areas for faculty to come in and collaborate with them.

Increasingly I’m hearing more about librarians-as-consultants: how we can help guide your teaching and research activities in new directions. Here is a snippet from the Center’s website:

 “…provides consultation and support for digital teaching, research, publishing, and preservation. We offer faculty and students the space, expertise, and project management assistance needed to develop innovative digital projects.”

Listening to Brian Croxall talk about their projects and processes, a theme emerged around a shift in libraries from places you go to find answers to places you go to find people. And these people (with various skills, abilities, perspectives, and domain expertise) can help you think about what you are trying to say and all the different ways you might consider saying it.

I’ve always considered Emory as being on the stodgy side of the spectrum, but this Center is inspiring. It blends R&D with incubation and consulting, wrapped around with programming and production capabilities.

Brian Croxall emphasized that there is much more than just technical support going on here. They work hand-in-hand with faculty on the goal of discovering something new. Maybe the real shift is libraries becoming places to help you find problems – new problems to solve, shape, and explore, new questions, new domains, and new disciplines? (If you’re into this type of thing download: The Art Of Problem Discovery.)

Digital Humanities


It was great to learn about Emory’s Center for Digital Scholarship but the real reason Brian Croxall was on campus was to talk about digital humanities. We hosted him in the library and his talk was insightful and entertaining.

The main takeaway for me was his five things that we mean when we say digital humanities:

  1. Humanistic examination of digital objects
  2. Digital scholarly communication
  3. Digital pedagogy
  4. Creation of digital archives and primary source materials
  5. Digital examination of Humanistic objects


5_DH @vtcath

This talk serves as a great primer for understanding (and decoding) digital humanities. For me the development of digital collections has always been my (limited) definition—so his talk helped expand my thinking.

Thanks to Quinn Warnick and Virginia Tech’s Center for Applied Technologies in the Humanities for bringing Brian Croxall to campus.


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