Last week I attended the Digital Library Federation (DLF) Forum. This week I’ll be attending the Berlin 9 Open Access conference, so I’ll have something to say about developments in e-science, data curation and open access publishing when I’m back next week. Before I go, I’d like to recap a few of the publishing and digital humanities (DH) talks from DLF & highlight a few interesting things to read.

Getting a grip on DH
Librarians from Emory and NYU led Tuesday’s DLF session ‘Supporting the Digital Humanities in the library.’ Alain St. Pierre (Emory) gave a brief preview of the Association of Research Libraries survey of digital humanities offerings. Jennifer Vinopal (NYU), Monica McCormick (NYU) and Miriam Posner (Emory) talked about their planning and project intake processes. I’ve struggled both to find a bite-sized definition for digital humanities and to define our support structure for doing DH projects. Hearing how NYU and Emory break things down was really eye-opening. To me, DH has always seemed a pretty wide continuum, with infrastructure-intensive, large scale text analysis projects on one end, small, curated web sites at the other, and lots and lots of stuff in between. We work on all sorts of DH projects at Northwestern, but trying to scope and plan services, so that we can be clear about what we can support and where we should be heading, has been a challenge. NYU is proposing three tiers of digital humanities support: tier one will offer standard research services such as online collaborative workspaces, online exhibits, database-driven websites, secure long-term storage, video capture, and so forth. [ed. note: see Jennifer Vinopal's clarification of  'standardized services' in her comment below. 2011-11-7 , 2:09pm.] Tier two will be ‘configured standard’: custom web site skinning, bulkloading data or special processing, etc. Tier three will be reserved for applied research & development projects: experimental projects, research projects, and (this was my favorite term from the conference) first of a kind ventures.  Not one of a kind, first of a kind. Tier three will typically require more funding, probably in the form of new grant support.  It’s a very simple but powerful way to organize services thinking, both so that they can be defined and so that we can get talking with our campus partners about how to design and support them.  DH conversations seem to be picking up steam at Northwestern; hopefully we’ll have more to say on this topic soon.

Before I leave the digital humanities to talk about publishing, have a look at some of the DH links we’ve recently accumulated over on delicious . University of Michigan’s Introducing the Digital Humanities is particularly good as a primer. And the Chicago Colloquium for Digital Humanities and Computer Science is coming up later this month; registration is free but limited to 150 participants.

Library-based digital publishing
Another topic that got a lot of attention at DLF was library-based publishing services. Research libraries like ours have been busy with large digital repositories for the past several years, and some have also been starting up publishing services. A draft report from SPARC, ‘Library Publishing Services: Strategies for Success‘ examines a library-based journal publishing service, a conference support service, and an online monograph publishing project. Some of these are library-press collaborations, others are collaborations with other campus groups. Not surprisingly, the report finds that these new ventures can get to be expensive, often require new skills (including skills that university press staff have in abundance), and that collaboration will be critical to sustaining and expanding them. DLF had a special THATcamp (THATcamp = The Humanities And Technology camp) publishing preconference, and the conversation continued in a DLF session on Monday afternoon — see notes from the session in Google Docs. In a week or so, we hope to gather some NU people together to talk about the report and about some publishing explorations we might undertake (drop me a line if you’re interested in joining in).

But isn’t it all just stuff?
Jenn Riley tweeted this during the discussion following Jennifer, Monica and Miriam’s DH presentations:

Jenn Riley tweet on DH as non-object-oriented activities

and it helped uncover for me an assumption I didn’t fully realize I’d been making. Whether an article from an online journal, a digitized photo or a massive collection of TEI-encoded texts, I’ve always assumed that, at their core, DH projects and digital publishing enterprises are just aggregations of digital stuff to be managed, with specialized interfaces on top of them. Repositories are really, really good at managing stuff. I think this ‘stuff’ is the objects Jenn refers to, but it’s definitely true that the more interpretive and interactive and mutable your DH environment is, the more complicated the stuff-managing bits get. A TEI text can be a single repository object, but stacking crowdsourcable part-of-speech tagging tools or annotation tools, version- and provenance-tracking each individual edit, and presenting it all in a coherent interface sure gets to be a tall order. Mulling this over on the last day of the conference, I read this piece: Google Engineer Accidentally Shares His Internal Memo about Google + Platform (h/t to Stu Baker for the link). It’s long, but there’s a point to it: the engineer is exhorting his Google colleagues to think of everything they do as building platforms, with services to do all the work of putting stuff in and getting stuff out. In a nutshell (and glossing over a LOT of technical detail I’m in no way qualified to speak to) this is how I’ve always thought of the digital repository, and where we’re going with digital humanities, digital libraries, digital publishing, data curation, digital archiving, what-have-you : we have a lot of stuff, we need to keep it secure and safe, but we are going to have hundreds, if not thousands, of people and their bots and databases and applications wanting to put their stuff in and read it out again, so we’d better get really really good at that services thing. Not a new idea, of course–it’s what’s behind the microservices movement and other SOA projects.  We’re diving deep on our repository architecture planning right now; hopefully I’ll be able to invite some of my extremely talented colleagues in the Library Technology Division to guest post here and kick the tires on this repository/platform/services idea a bit. How far can we take this? Are all our digital publishing and digital humanities projects just consumers of repository services that move stuff around?

Things are shaping up in our new space
We had a fantastic set of events to celebrate Open Access Week (they deserve–and will get–their own posts soon) and renovation of the new Center space in 2East has progressed far enough that we had a lovely opening reception there on Wednesday afternoon. We are still waiting for our new collaboration table, work surfaces and chairs, but the digital lab is open for business again, and the last of the furniture will be here on November 11. Stay tuned to this space for pictures, it really is starting to look sharp!

updated 11-7-2011, 7:04am, links fixed and edited for clarity


Featured image by Martin Kalfatovic.