Reinventing Research? Information Practices in the Humanities
A Research Information Network Report, April 2011
84 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2011 Last revised: 5 Apr 2016
Date Written: March 1, 2011
Researchers in the humanities adopt a wide variety of approaches to their research. Their work tends to focus on texts and images, but they use and also create a wide range of information resources, in print, manuscript and digital forms. Like other researchers, they face multiple demands on their time, and so they find the ease and speed of access to digital resources very attractive: some of them note that they are reluctant on occasion to consult texts that require a trip to a distant library or archive. Nevertheless, none of the participants in our study is yet ready to abandon print and manuscript resources in favour of digital ones. Rather, they engage with a range of resources and technologies, moving seamlessly between them. Such behaviours are likely to persist for some time.
This is reflected also in how researchers disseminate their research. The overwhelmingly dominant channels are the long-established ones such as journal articles, conferences and workshops, monographs and book chapters. We found only limited use – except among philosophers - of blogs and other social media. We noted the doubts expressed in other fields about quality assurance for users of such media, but also concerns about how best to present material that will be read by non-academic audiences.
A key change in humanities research over the past 10-15 years has been the growth of more formal and systematic collaboration between researchers. This is a response in part to new funding opportunities, but also to the possibilities opened up by new technology. Over recent years there has also been a shift from the model under which technology specialists tell researchers how to do their research to more constructive engagement. Like other researchers, scholars in the humanities use what works for them, finding technologies and resources that fit their research, and resisting any pressure to use something just because it is new.
But there is little evidence as yet of their taking full advantage of the possibilities of more advanced tools for text-mining, grid or cloud computing, or the semantic web; and only limited uptake of even simple, freely-available tools for data management and sharing. Rather, they manage and store information on their desktops and laptops, and share it with others via email.
Barriers to the adoption and take up of new technologies and services include lack of awareness and of institutional training and support, but also lack of standardization and inconsistencies in quality and functionality across different resources. These make for delays in research, repetitive searching, and limitations on researchers’ ability to draw connections and relationships between different resources.
Keywords: digital humanities, information use
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By Tim O'reilly