LIBER presentatie: Challenges for Researchers in the Digital Humanities

Van 4 tot 6 juli vond in Lille de 47st LIBER-conferentie plaats. Een veelbesproken onderwerp was Open en FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) Data.  Daarnaast kwamen ook thema’s als het Semantische Web en Linked Data, Citizen Science, en Digital Humanities aan bod. Roxanne Wyns gaf in het kader van dit laatste thema een presentatie met als titel ‘Challenges for Researchers in the Digital Humanities. Custom development vs. sustainable research infrastructures’.

The digital evolution of our society is increasingly affecting and enabling research in  the  humanities where digital resources and cultural data sets are now being considered as valuable research  material.  This evolution has increased the need for infrastructures and web environments where  researchers from the humanities can collaboratively work on their data and even actively involve citizens.  In addition, policymakers and funders are strongly in favour of projects with such an IT  component. As a result, new tools, databases, and data models sprout from every research project; the original goal of sharing and collaboration surpassed by the conviction that there is a need for this particular software or that custom developed database.  This is not entirely a bad thing since it also drives innovation and brings new perspectives to the use of digital components in research. The problem  lies  more  in  the  sustainability  of  the  developed tools and databases after the projects’ lifetime. Neither funders nor universities are able to  maintain  all  the  infrastructures  conceived.  And  while  providing  storage  and  access  to  the  data  produced  is  more  manageable,  data  sets still often lack the information  needed to find, interpret and reuse them. Also  for  university  service  providers,  there  are many challenges to overcome when collaborating with humanities research groups in  the development of their research infrastructures.

At LIBIS, the library information department of KU Leuven  (Belgium),  we collaborate with multiple research groups from the Humanities for the development and continued support of their virtual research environment.  In these projects,  we experienced multiple challenges, the main ones being a lack of clear use cases and requirements, a sometimes-limited technical know-how of  the  researcher,  a too small development budget in comparison to the high expectations and especially a lack of financial means for the continued maintenance and support of the systems after  the project’s lifetime. Together with the research groups, we try to find the best solutions and  compromises. This has resulted in the use of tools that we traditionally use for our museum and  heritage partners such as CollectiveAccess and Omeka.  While these open source systems were mainly conceived for the management and display of heritage collections, both are extremely flexible in  the configuration and have a large user and developer community contributing to new plug-ins   and functionalities.  In combination with new open source software components such as Mirador (IIIF), we help them build a sustainable research  environment  based  on  open  principles  and web standards.

This presentation focuses on a growing number of Digital Humanities infrastructure projects in which tools such as CollectiveAccess and Omeka have been used in combination with other open source and proprietary systems in order to provide a sustainable and innovative environment for different  humanities research groups. We like to share our experiences on the active collaboration with the researchers in the writing of project proposals and the design and development of their infrastructures as well as provide a set of recommendations concerning the selection of tools and standards to guarantee a long-lasting collaboration. LIBIS is a service provider of digital information solutions  at  KU Leuven and a division of  Leuven  Research and Development (LRD) as well as a part of the University Library.

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