In Service? A Further Provocation on Digital Humanities Research in Libraries 7

Editor Barbara Rockenbach has assembled an insightful collection of perspectives on the current “digital humanities moment” in librarianship. There is, however, one crucial perspective missing: a historical one. In her introduction to a special issue of the Journal of Library Administration (JLA) devoted to the topic of digital humanities in libraries, Rockenbach highlights several themes she considers significant for her intended audience of “library leaders involved in, or considering support for, [digital humanities] or digital scholarship.” One of these themes is what Rockenbach characterizes as “tension between traditional notions of library service and new models of user engagement.” Her choice of heading for the discussion of this theme‚ÄĒ”Service as Disservice?”‚ÄĒperhaps hints at her own feelings. The choice of how to frame the issue, with ‚Äútraditional notions of library service‚ÄĚ on one side and ‚Äúnew models of user engagement on the other,‚ÄĚ is more consequential and more problematic. One side of this opposition is merely a stand-in. There is no such thing as “traditional library service.” Deploying this term as though it had some stable meaning obscures rather than illuminates a long and complex history of information work relevant to this new moment.

[pullquote]There is no such thing as “traditional library service.”[/pullquote]

To impute this problematic move solely to Rockenbach would be to blame her unfairly for what seems to be a common reflex in the library literature. In the same issue of the JLA, Stewart Varner and Micah Vandegrift refer to “traditional library work” as they attempt to make an affirmative case for librarians to expand beyond such work. Even a cursory search of the wider library literature will uncover numerous examples of some notion of “traditional service” being deployed in contrast with new endeavors (audiovisual librarianship, distance services, preprint servers, open access, etc.). A particularly interesting reflection on the “traditional library” appeared on the¬†In the Library ¬†with the Lead Pipe¬†blog while this post was in preparation. Unfortunately, accepting such a framing device will likely limit the possibilities for fully exploring digital humanities in libraries. A richer library history offers a less problematically normative account of how librarians might interact with such new methodological and conceptual endeavors.

This post is offered as a contribution to a broader framing of the issues around “service” that Rockenbach treats in her introduction and about which Miriam Posner has many incisive things to say in her contributed paper. There are sure to be different approaches to a subject as broad as “digital humanities or digital scholarship,” but to consider what these might be and weigh their relative merits will require clearing away assumptions that have accreted in the terms of the debate.¬†In her paper, “Skunks in the Library: A Path to Production for Scholarly R&D,” Bethany Nowviskie articulates what is at stake for librarians in embracing the digital humanities “as true intellectual partners.” She argues that “naturalized assumptions about how libraries best serve scholars” can inhibit full participation in “collaborative R&D [research and development].” Building up an alternative vision of library engagement with the digital humanities through R&D work, Nowviskie suggests that the true onus on librarians is “to experiment; to iterate; to assert our own intellectual agendas as part of the DH research landscape,” and perhaps even, as she wonders, “[T]o play? To play in public? To make the things we want to see made? To collaborate like mad, with local scholars, other librarians, and the wider, public open source and open access community that encompasses them both?” As I have also argued (in an earlier post that several authors of the JLA special issue generously cite), librarians have much to gain by embracing roles not only as active collaborators in digital humanities work, as both Posner and Bethany Nowviskie advocate, but also as project directors and leaders. The appeal to “traditional library service” as a unitary concept blunts the generative potential of alternative proposals like Nowviskie’s, mine, and others (such as Jefferson Bailey’s here on the dh+lib blog) through a suspect history that collapses into claims about identity.

A Unitary Concept of Service is a Disservice

After summarizing some of the arguments against framing digital humanities work as service to faculty, students, and other campus constituencies, Rockenbach counters that “moving wholesale away from the notion of service in a library would be a mistake. The service ethic in librarianship is one of its defining features.” There are several problems with this claim and the line of argument that follows from it. First, among the included contributions, there is no evidence of any suggestion to move wholesale away from “service.” The real ground of debate is narrower‚ÄĒno one suggests that digital humanities work will be the sum total of library activity‚ÄĒrather, the vital question seems to be: when libraries do engage in digital humanities work, how should they best go about doing so? Second, even setting aside this creation of a straw man, the second half of Rockenbach’s formulation‚ÄĒher suggestion that “the service ethic in librarianship is one of its defining features”‚ÄĒintroduces a strain of discourse about library identity into a discussion that is, for the most part, about library practice. The deployment of the empty, ahistorical construct of ‚Äútraditional library service‚ÄĚ seems to act as a cover for advancing unacknowledged arguments about identity. That is, the move to stabilize the notion of service can be read as an attempt to stabilize a particular vision of what libraries are or ‚Äúwhat librarians do‚ÄĚ (or don‚Äôt do). The identity argument lurks in the discussions around ‚Äúthe service ethic‚ÄĚ but needs to be directly addressed. Third, the discussion that follows this claim about ‚Äúdefining features‚ÄĚ conflates terms that need to be understood distinctly: namely, a “service ethic” and a “user-focused set of services.” In both cases, to treat the idea of “service” in librarianship as stable or uniform across even so short a period as the modern era of American librarianship (less than 150 years) is a historical fallacy that must be addressed in order to work productively on “the role libraries are playing or could play” in digital humanities.

[pullquote]to treat the idea of “service” in librarianship as stable or uniform across even so short a period as the modern era of American librarianship (less than 150 years) is a historical fallacy that must be addressed in order to work productively on “the role libraries are playing or could play” in digital humanities.[/pullquote]

Rockenbach’s own summary of the argument for “service” suggests the instability of the notion. After beginning with ‚Äúthe service ethic,‚ÄĚ Rockenbach describes “the user-focused set of services that have traditionally been offered in a library ‚Ķ [s]ervices such as one-on-one research consultation, research education, and technology support services.” A reading of this list should prompt the conclusion that these things are not all alike. In fact, it would seem difficult to generate a single, coherent definition of “service” from this list. These examples echo an earlier catalog of “service-oriented activities,” which included: “training, software and hardware support, search and discovery assistance, the creation of disciplinary portals, and collection building.” Certainly “technology support services” (hardware and software) requires parsing the term “traditional” in a non-traditional way. The argument here is not that libraries and librarians cannot do any of these things. Rather, it would seem that a category of activities (with different origins and histories) is being assumed as a unitary, stable, and definite concept.

The space of a blog post only allows for a brief sketch of the history of libraries and librarianship that complicates any notion of “traditional library service.” The following three vignettes will have to suggest possibilities¬†that may be developed at greater length elsewhere: the history of reference work, the fortunes and influences of the “documentation” movement, and recent history from the last decade related to the idea of “information commons.” Even in miniature, the opportunity to unpack the meaning(s) of “service” in a library context is an invitation to improve the profession’s critical self understanding.

[pullquote]Even in miniature, the opportunity to unpack the meaning(s) of “service” in a library context is an invitation to improve the profession’s critical self understanding.[/pullquote]

On Reference

In an article for Library Quarterly and in a doctoral dissertation later published in the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) monograph series, Samuel Rothstein offers an extensive history of “the development of the concept of reference service.” In his history, Rothstein recounts how, until the emergence of a public library movement allied to progressive social movements in the second half of the 19th century, the constitutive activity of librarianship (certainly in “academic” libraries) was custodianship and preservation of book collections. Rothstein identifies the paper given by Samuel Swett Green at the epochal 1876 conference of librarians as the first proposal for a programmatic “service” to users of the library. In its first incarnation as “assistance to readers,” the concept of “service” in libraries refers to a campaign of moral improvement. Green writes “It is a common practice ‚Ķ for users of a library to ask the librarian or his assistants to select stories for them. I would have great use made of this disposition.” He counsels libraries to place an “accomplished” employee (read: an educated woman) “in the circulating department” and thereby “a great influence can be exerted in the direction of causing good books to be used.” The benefit of Rothstein’s detailed history is the way it illuminates the changing referent behind the term “service.” In American librarianship, “reference” is the original service and reference evolved from first a progressive moral campaign, next to the provision of different varieties of catalogues and published aides, then to the staffing of “information desks” and other activities that users of present libraries might recognize.

[pullquote]the idea of what is meant by “service” evolved and changed over time; there is no stable set of practices here to be set as a norm against the new activities that Posner, Nowviskie, and other authors from the special issue propose that librarians take on in “doing digital humanities.”[/pullquote]

The particular evolution of reference service is worth understanding in more depth, but the salient point for the discussion of digital humanities and libraries is the fluidity of the concept. If there were a true candidate for “traditional library service,” in the sense of programmatic activity on the part of libraries, reference work might be it. Yet, even in this context, the idea of what is meant by “service” evolved and changed over time; there is no stable set of practices here to be set as a norm against the new activities that Posner, Nowviskie, and other authors from the special issue propose that librarians take on in “doing digital humanities.” Studies about perceptions of (academic) libraries, like the triennial¬†faculty survey conducted by Ithaka S+R, suggest that norming can become a trap‚ÄĒ‚Äúif x is what the library is, do we need that anymore?‚ÄĚ

Even taken together, the two parts of the original argument (service ethic and service activities) do not find support in the available history of libraries and librarianship. To the extent there is a “service ethic” in librarianship it is too complex to expect that it could be expressed in and thus, reliably mapped to, any particular set of “user-focused services‚ÄĚ (even one as miscellaneous as that offered). This is not to say that the profession does not have values; a service ethic is as much of a contingent, historically-constructed multiplicity as service practice. In the case of reference, the ethic behind the first reference service‚ÄĒthe suggestion of “good” books to readers‚ÄĒwas, as library historian Kenneth E. Carpenter writes “a means of elevating the lower classes … help[ing] the working man in his trade, … keeping peace between the classes, [and] inculcating democratic values in immigrants.” Later appeals to a service ethic referred to a librarian who “serves as an efficient mediator between men [read: upper-class, scholars] and books.” This version has persisted though it is no longer so specific to either “men” or “books.”

Recourse to sociological definitions of the idea of a “profession,” which are often invoked in debates about the status of librarians relative to other academic professionals and include notions of a service (versus a self-interested) orientation, does not help very much. This is because, there too, “service” is glossed several different ways, and also because, as Michael F. Winter points out, professional librarianship managed to get on for 60 years without a code of ethics; this basic chronological problem should cast doubt on a strong definitional claim. As the next section, on the “documentation” movement, will suggest, in the case of libraries after the period of early reference service there were yet more formulations of a definitive “service ethic,” with different accompanying programmatic services. For the “documentalists,” the service ethic was service to goals such as “the advancement of science.”

On Documentation

The history of the “documentation” movement and, to an extent, special libraries also argues that the concept of a “service ethic as one of [librarianship’s] defining features” needs to be expanded, and that, once expanded, “service” does not stand in contrast with research or related modes of engagement with endeavors like digital humanities. Documentalists and special librarians concerned themselves with topics like document formats, reproduction, data processing, and retrieval‚ÄĒtaking “service” to the (expanding) information needs of science and industry as invitations to explore new technologies and engage in research and development. The work of federal librarians working in institutions such as the¬†Library and Reports Division of the Office of Technical Services at the Department of Commerce after World War II, evaluating, organizing, indexing, and disseminating technical reports from classified military programs as well as from Nazi Germany exemplify how the documentation movement can be read as an alternate history of “library service.” That is, documentalists’ commitments to a librarian “service ethic” manifested in a quite different set of “service activities” from those pursued by early academic reference or public librarians.¬†W. Boyd Rayward has framed the history of this kind of work within libraries and other information organizations as “a series of disciplinary incorporations, transformations, and continuities ‚Ķ that has created a rich tapestry of speculation, systems development, and institutional expression that has led to what we now call library and information science [LIS].”

[pullquote]Documentalists and special librarians concerned themselves with topics like document formats, reproduction, data processing, and retrieval‚ÄĒtaking “service” to the (expanding) information needs of science and industry as invitations to explore new technologies and engage in research and development.[/pullquote]

The genesis of the documentation movement, one of the forerunners of modern LIS, is usually credited to Paul Otlet, whose career spanned from the last years of the 19th century to the 1930s. In chronological terms, the notions of “service” from this tradition are only twenty years more recent than those from the public librarianship tradition described by Rothstein. They are nearly contemporaneous. In historiographical terms, what is significant about Rayward’s narrative of this history is the claim for its continuity and coherence. In his account, documentation, and later information science, is also part of the history of librarianship, not something separate. Some introduction to information-service-specific data processing and document retrieval is still part of the training of most librarians. (This is particularly true for those who come through Masters of Library Science programs.) Rockenbach’s opposition of traditional service against “new modes,” including more direct collaboration in digital humanities work, threatens to disappear the present work and the history of many systems librarians and other library technologists descended from the documentation paradigm. Shouldn’t work practices and concepts from documentation/information science count in a truer understanding of “traditional library service”?

An account that includes the history of the documentation movement breaks down the opposition from Rockenbach’s introduction as a way of marking “librarian” work against other kinds of digital humanities work‚ÄĒsuch as programming, data development and design, or project leadership. Work on microphotography, early networking, indexing, and information retrieval were legible as librarian activities (though not uncontested or undebated), and cognates in digital humanities research and development should be likewise.

On Management

Recent history‚ÄĒfrom the first decade of the 21st century, a hundred years after the work of Samuel Green, Melvil Dewey, and Paul Otlet‚ÄĒalso needs to figure in framing the discussion around libraries‚Äô engagement with digital humanities. Specifically, the history of the idea of ‚Äúinformation commons‚ÄĚ as part of an interest in revitalizing ‚Äúthe library as a place‚ÄĚ is relevant to this discussion. The history of ‚Äúinformation commons‚ÄĚ is part of a history of ‚Äúadministration‚ÄĚ as an activity and then a specialization within library work. This history of administration of libraries intersects with the history of (American) business and business management. The purpose of acknowledging the history of “information commons” in the debate over digital humanities and libraries is to attend critically to the context of accounts like Rockenbach’s rather than, as with the other historical accounts, to disrupt and expand a too-neat definition of “service” in libraries.

[pullquote]To varying degrees in different eras, borrowings of business terminology into the discourse of library administration have shaded into borrowing of business concepts and perhaps also business values (to good and ill).[/pullquote]

Attending critically to this context means noting that this very welcome special issue on digital humanities and libraries was published in journal devoted to library administration. Over the 20th century, as libraries grew both in number of volumes held and also in number of departments and branches, management and administration became important specializations of library work, even library ‚Äúservice.‚ÄĚ American libraries before the late 19th century did not have complex management structures or the need to worry much about organizational charts and efficient work practices. Perhaps because librarianship was a professional rather than scholarly endeavor, there is a history of influence and borrowing between business management and library administration. The career of Frederick Winslow Taylor and ‚Äúscientific management‚ÄĚ overlaps with the early era of professional American librarianship. Papers were given on ‚ÄúTime and Motion Studies in Libraries.‚ÄĚ The plans of prominent library leaders like Melvil Dewey echoed “scientific management” ideas. To varying degrees in different eras, borrowings of business terminology into the discourse of library administration have shaded into borrowing of business concepts and perhaps also business values (to good and ill).

The enthusiasm for ‚Äúinformation commons‚ÄĚ is but a more recent example of the influence of business management ideas on library administration, and because it involves management of ‚Äúinformation technology‚ÄĚ it is specifically germane to the discussion of digital humanities in libraries. Donald Beagle’s seminal article on the “information commons” model in academic libraries explicitly credits business management theories, specifically information technology management, as inspiration. In the original paper, the information commons “denote[s] a new type of physical facility specifically designed to organize workspace and service delivery around [an] integrated digital environment [consisting of many databases accessible through a single interface].” Beagle cites a strand of management theory from the 1980s known as “strategic alignment” in explaining the shape and genesis of the information commons idea. Strategic alignment, according to Beagle, “was developed in response to the unique management challenges and demands of information technology (IT) and relates the articulation of vision in strategic technology planning to the actualization of vision in infrastructure, process, and implementation.” (Of course, this framing was not universal‚ÄĒa contemporaneous position paper by Martin Halbert, then at Emory, does not explicitly align itself with the same management theory.) However, the approach that Rockenbach singles out for praise in concluding her discussion of ‚Äúservice‚ÄĚ is the “four-tier service model” at New York University. The NYU model, as described in the contributed paper by Jennifer Vinopal and Monica McCormick, seems to be a very close translation of the “information commons” idea to the realm of digital humanities.

Vinopal and McCormick speak of ‚Äúenterprise-level‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúcommodity tools,‚ÄĚ of ‚Äúinfrastructure‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúscalability.‚ÄĚ These terms could come from the annual report of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or Chief Information Officer (CIO) of a major corporation. In light of Beagle‚Äôs vision described above, it seems plausible to suggest that the development and promotion of ‚Äúinformation commons‚ÄĚ is an intellectual forerunner to digital humanities initiatives shaped like NYU’s, and that these approaches reflect values from business, and specifically IT management. ¬†Again, Vinopal, McCormick, and Rockenbach cannot be uniquely identified with this trend. Among the other JLA contributors, Nowviskie‚Äôs ‚Äúskunk works‚ÄĚ comes from the corporate culture of Lockheed Martin, the giant aerospace and defense contractor, and Ben Vershbow describes the work of the New York Public Library (NYPL) Labs as ‚Äúa kind of in-house technology startup.‚ÄĚ At the least, this attests to the growing prominence of ‚Äúthe corporation‚ÄĚ as a powerful shaping metaphor in American life and suggests that further investigation of recent business management history might be a fruitful avenue for understanding the frames (in a neo-institutionalist sense) that libraries may bring to the digital humanities.


The narratives that librarianship tells itself about its history and mission are important in determining how the profession engages new opportunities such as digital humanities. To find a place for research and development in libraries relies on critically examining framing assumptions. Three small contributions from library history‚ÄĒreference service, the documentation movement, and the information commons‚ÄĒopen up the narrative of librarian roles, practices, and competencies in ways that may allow fuller consideration of the place of digital humanities work in libraries. The goal of offering these quickly sketched histories is to question the idea of “traditional library service” as a coherent, meaningful concept that can be set against new activities, such as those identified with digital humanities. Rather than being a definitive concept, library “service” is an unstable category that contains diverse and complex histories. The connotations of “traditional” suggest that a historical argument is being advanced, but in fact “traditional library service” is a purely rhetorical gesture. Without careful attention to the actual histories of library work, “traditional library service”¬†can be used to subtly cast new activities as “other” in ways that foreclose real consideration of how libraries and librarianship might productively adapt.

[pullquote]I would like librarians to take up the intellectual provocations and new tools of digital humanities in service to the profession.[/pullquote]

Part of the project of digital humanities in libraries can be to derive energy for more and better work from abandoning the false security of ‚Äútraditional library service‚ÄĚ and embracing the unstable, multiple meanings that lie behind that phrase. Can the playful R&D of Nowviskie‚Äôs ‚Äúskunk works,‚ÄĚ the ‚Äústartup‚ÄĚ-inspired approach of the NYPL Labs and Maryland‚Äôs own Digital Humanities Incubator, as well as the well-planned and deeply fair-minded organizational approach of NYU all catalyze each other? I would like librarians to take up the intellectual provocations and new tools of digital humanities in service to the profession.


This essay has benefited enormously from conversations with Jennifer Guiliano who read several earlier draft of the piece, and from the perceptive and probing comments of dh+lib editors Roxanne Shirazi and Sarah Potvin. I am grateful to all of them. All remaining shortcomings are solely my own.

Selected References

Beagle, Donald. “Conceptualizing an information commons.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 25, no. 2 (1999): 82-89.

Carpenter, Kenneth E. “A library historian looks at librarianship.” Daedalus 125, no. 4 (1996): 77-102.

Casey, Marion. “Efficiency, Taylorism, and Libraries in Progressive America.” The Journal of Library History (1974-1987) 16, no. 2 (1981): 265-279.

Goode, William J. “The librarian: from occupation to profession?” The Library Quarterly 31, no. 4 (1961): 306-320.

Rayward, W. Boyd. “The history and historiography of information science: some reflections.” Information processing & management 32, no. 1 (1996): 3-17.

Rayward, W Boyd. ‚ÄúLibrary and Information Science: An Historical Perspective.‚ÄĚ Journal of Library History 20, no. 2 (1985): 120‚Äď136.

Rothstein, Samuel. “The development of the concept of reference service in American libraries, 1850-1900.” The Library Quarterly 23, no. 1 (1953): 1-15.

Wilensky, Harold L. “The professionalization of everyone?” American journal of sociology (1964): 137-158

Winter, Michael F. The professionalization of librarianship. No. 160. University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 1983.

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Trevor Munoz

Trevor Mu√Īoz is Assistant Dean for Digital Humanities Research at the University of Maryland Libraries and Associate Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH). Trevor holds an MA in Digital Humanities from the Department of Digital Humanities at King‚Äôs College London and an MS in Library and Information Science from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He works on developing digital research projects and services at the intersection of digital humanities centers and libraries. The Digital Humanities Incubator (which he directs with Jennifer Guiliano) is a joint initiative of MITH and the University of Maryland Libraries aimed at developing local leadership capacity for digital humanities projects through a program of skill development tailored to librarians, library staff, and library graduate assistants. Trevor‚Äôs personal research interests include electronic publishing and the curation of digital humanities research data. He currently serves as the Principal Investigator for the Digital Humanities Data Curation Institute project, supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

7 thoughts on “In Service? A Further Provocation on Digital Humanities Research in Libraries

  1. @perrycollins Jun 29,2013 3:01 pm

    Just as I was about to tweet it, @gworthey mentions @trevormunoz recent piece ?ing trad def of lib service: #ala2013

  2. elotroalex Jul 14,2013 11:50 pm

    (Disclaimer: I work with Barbara)

    Thank you Trevor for such a helpful piece. As you know I am a very junior librarian trying to answer the questions that bring us all here to DH+Lib. Your piece was the push and the road map I needed to get my butt in the archives of library history and explore the different genealogies that lead to the world I just joined as an “agent of change.” Heck, I want to know what I’m changing. Wouldn’t want to throw the baby with the bathwater. Wasn’t this the impulse of Barbara’s ‚Äúthe service ethic in librarianship is one of its defining features,‚ÄĚ not as an identitarian stake in the ground, but a reminder of the babies?

    At the end of your piece you offer that we can “derive energy for more and better work [that comes] from abandoning the false security of ‚Äútraditional library service‚ÄĚ and embracing the unstable, multiple meanings that lie behind that phrase.” Whether we derive our source of inspiration for what to do next from exploring the historical slippages of “traditional.library.service,” or the equally inspiring slippages of “digital humanities,” or an ahistorical appreciation for our other roles as we learn something new, or even just the call-it-what-you-will-it’s-what-we’re-doing-next school of thought, uncertainty and difference abounds. Shouldn’t we remain sensitive and eclectic in our approach? The “frame” can be skinned many ways, not all bad, and I think we need yours as well as Barbara’s depending on the audience.

    (To be honest, I prefer conventional over traditional when a distinction is necessary, though I’m still on the market for the sweet spot).

    Your third point about the difference internal to the way we use the word service in the phrases “service ethics” and “set of services” is brilliant and very timely (says the newbie). Thank you for clearing the ground for further distinctions. You cristalize a suspicion that’s been bugging me for a while. The phrase “a suite of services” gets bandied about around here like a company motto on training day, and I couldn’t for the life of me conceptually bend many of the things we want to do to fit what is already on offer or previously imaginable (cf. “What Doesn’t Belong?“). Of course, aporias don’t stop us from pushing through anyway (cf. Frogger).

    I’m still not sure whether you are suggesting that the DH thing we do should be a new service on the historical menu or whether DH+Lib can be imagined as a space that is outside of all possible connotations of service‚ÄĒthe case for leadership in DH projects, for example. I don’t ultimately mind trying to fit everything within the gaps of the word, even as we doggedly attempt to exorcise its demons (servitude, service industry, etc.) I’m game as long as we can nurture creativity, growth and professional dignity within and outside the library, and as long as the word ceases to be an alibi for admin goo.

    While we’re on the subject, can we start calling faculty research a service too? Sometimes they can be very helpful in DH projects.

    • Trevor Munoz Jul 17,2013 3:51 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Alex. I really appreciate being able to have a dialogue around this complex topic.

      With my post I was trying to open up additional facets of “service” to consideration. I was certainly not trying to throw out any notion of a service ethic in librarianship. My dissatisfaction with some of the framing of the original article stems from the fact that when we assume “service” or even “service ethic” have stable, shared meanings (when really as I argue, these are a complicated and diverse welter of things with different histories) we, as a community, hamper our ability to think and speak clear about either “service” or “not service” (whether that is digital humanities research or some other “new” activity). But I’m not attributing this solely to Barbara—the professional literature is rife with it. So, to take up your metaphor for a moment and then horribly mix it, I’m not sure it’s fair to think of “service” as the baby at risk of being thrown out so much as the 800 lb. gorilla in the room.

      There is, as you suggest, a dimension to this that relates to what terms librarians choose for local, political reasons. Perhaps a new thing is framed as a “service” because this is a way to get something started without running into or challenging established prerogatives of other community members. Examination of the power (and gender) dynamics around this question of “service” is another topic to take up. However, certainly in our own professional dialogues I would hope we could be clearer about what is and isn’t a service and the relative values of these different types of activities.

      To address your last point, I think there are aspects of libraries and librarians doing digital humanities that can’t and shouldn’t be fitted to the model of “service” except in the broadest sense that the research that other faculty do would also be considered “service.” The digital humanities as a field needs librarian-designed, -driven and -led research projects as much as the library community does. My concern is that trying to fit these to an unarticulated model of service will hold back some of the best creative thinking and making the field can do. I very much agree with you that what we’re after is “nurtur[ing] creativity, growth and professional dignity within and outside the library.”

  3. @seeksanusername Jul 16,2013 7:00 am

    “In Service? A Further Provocation on Digital Humanities Research in Libraries” #digitalhumanities #bibliotheque

  4. @trevormunoz Jul 17,2013 3:54 pm

    Took a quick break from #DH2013 to get down some thoughts in response to @elotroalex’s comment @DHandLib

  5. Pingback: Digital Humanities in the Research Commons: Precedents & Prospects ← dh+lib

  6. Pingback: Reproducing the Academy: Librarians and the Question of Service in the Digital Humanities | Roxanne Shirazi

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