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On Librarianship and/with Digital Scholarly Practice

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This chapter argues that the new knowledge created by digital scholarly work needs to be recognized as collaboratively produced. Resulting from the expertise of both library professionals and academic scholars, work in the digital humanities is uniquely positioned at the intersection of different intellectual fields. Treating the economic and political issues that arise with the institutionalization of digital scholarship, Zafrin makes a case for greater recognition of the labor performed by librarians.

The author is grateful to Carol Chiodo, Quinn Dombrowski, Christina Geuther, Shane Landrum, and Brian Rosenblum for comments on an early draft of this chapter.

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  1. 1.

    While much of what I write is applicable across the field, the focus of this chapter is academic libraries.

  2. 2.

  3. 3.

    Metadata are descriptors of whatever is understood to be primary data in a specific context. Examples of metadata include column headers in a spreadsheet, hashtags and other tags on social media, and information included in a library catalog record, including an item’s title, publisher, date of issue, and subject headings.

  4. 4.

    For vivid examples of this history, see Buckland; Christen; and Anderson 2009.

  5. 5.

    Many such digital literary studies exist. I base my writing chiefly on those in which I have personally participated, including the Decameron Web (see “Methodology,” Zafrin 2007), Virtual Humanities Lab (Zafrin and Riva), and my doctoral dissertation RolandHT (Zafrin 2007).

  6. 6.

    For examples of contexts where these considerations might be relevant, please see Traditional Knowledge Labels, a tool that has conceptual application far beyond indigenous communities (Local Contexts). For more work around these issues, please see cited works by Anderson (2005) and Christen.

  7. 7.

    This situation is exacerbated by the division, within the libraries themselves, between professional staff (typically, those with specialized degrees) and paraprofessional staff (typically, those without such degrees). Despite the fact that the latter often find themselves on the front lines of intellectually challenging decisions, their positions within their respective organizations often lead to perceptions of them as line workers more than knowledge workers.

  8. 8.

    I hesitate to cite Brennan here due to the number of flaws in his analysis. Taken together with the comments on it, however, his article provides a decent and relatively recent point(s)-counterpoint(s) view of the issues involved.

  9. 9.

    For two gripping examples among many, see Hayden and Smith, respectively.

  10. 10.

    I realize that I write from the perspective of a person working, however under-resourced, in a wealthy US university. For many of my colleagues, having a four-person team to tackle these complex questions is an unthinkable luxury. But context is everything: most of my colleagues do not work at institutions the size of a small city.

  11. 11.

    In 2016, Columbia’s Digital Scholarship Librarian Alex Gil started an informal, Google-hosted spreadsheet titled “Open Directory of Miracle Workers.” Currently this directory contains 148 entries, an astonishing number given the still small size of the field.

  12. 12.

    I am grateful to Jonathan Williams, senior web developer at Boston University, for conversations that have clarified for me both the architecture needed and the language to describe it. For more discussion on this, see Anne et al.

  13. 13.

    Data portability is the degree to which produced and/or recorded knowledge is separable from the technologies within which it resides and transferable from one such set of technologies to another.


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Correspondence to Vika Zafrin .

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Zafrin, V. (2020). On Librarianship and/with Digital Scholarly Practice. In: Mizruchi, S. (eds) Libraries and Archives in the Digital Age. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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