a skunk in the library

[This is the text of an invited talk I gave at the University of Nebraska in April. I’d like to thank my amazing hosts in the UNL Library and CDRH!]

I’m going to back into my talk today, perhaps in part to counter the way I have imagined all of you instinctively backing slowly away from the brilliant and hilarious and slightly horrifying posters I’ve seen advertising it.

My title is “A Skunk in the Library: the Path to Production for Scholarly R&D.” Now, why (oh, why) the skunk? It’s because I’ll be introducing you to the R&D unit within my department, the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia Library, as a quintessential “skunkworks” operation – and I’ll describe what I mean by that in just a second. It’s also because I am not unconscious of the wrinkled noses that can result from an airing of some of the ideas I want to share with you.

To that end, I plan to save plenty of time this morning for conversation, because above all that’s what my gestures here will call for. And I’ll be asking you to help us think together through something of importance to librarians and software developers and scholars alike – namely, the role of libraries and library-embedded digital humanities centers in helping to beat what we might call a “path to production,” both for innovative scholarship and for its supporting technical and social frameworks.

IT staff in the audience will hear that phrase, “path to production,” and think immediately of a set of well-established Web development and release practices. I’ll rehearse those a little bit here, so that we’re on the same page, before I complicate (or possibly just pervert) them. Continue reading “a skunk in the library”