Bethany Nowviskie

supporting practice in community

Tags: , ,

[Here’s a cleaned-up version of brief remarks I made in a panel discussion on “Cultivating Digital Library Professionals,” at Tuesday’s IMLS Focus meeting in Washington, DC. The day-long conversation was meant to help shape a priority project at the Institute of Museum and Library Services: funding support in the United States for what is being called the “national digital platform.” (As in: we need one.) See the full agenda and archived webcasts, and learn about future #IMLSfocus events here. My message to the assembled group was pretty simple, and we’ve cross-posted it on the DLF site.]

We should put as much energy into connecting and building up people—into developing and supporting motivated, skilled, diverse, and intersecting communities of expert practitioners—as we do into connecting the services, systems, and corpora that are the other pillars of a national digital platform. The first thing needed in many institutions is not another technology component to support, but a functioning social conduit to a broader, supportive culture that values digital library workers and the various communities they inhabit and are inspired by.

I see the continuous renewal and expansion of expert practitioner communities as our most fundamental sustainability issue: the one on which all the others depend.

And I am consciously using the word “community” here, rather than calling this our digital library “workforce” or similar, although there’s some danger that such a happy-sounding word could make us elide difficult, (often gendered) labor issues in this discussion. Read the rest of this entry »

lazy consensus

Tags: , ,

[This is a roughly-edited version of a keynote talk I gave last month at #code4lib, a fantastic annual conference for software developers and systems folks working in libraries. If you want to hear my bad jokes and attempts to pander to the crowd (or at least to let them know that I was conscious of the back-channel), or if you’d like to see what happens when I indulge my nerdiest tendencies in slide production, I recommend the archived livestream. I’m skipping a long pre-amble that included the Super Friends, hostile IRC bots, and a description of my own professional background – in which I slowly moved from literary and bibliographical scholarship to working with independent DH projects in scholarly think-tanks and projects that sat alongside libraries, to working in and for a library, and as a part of the blended digital humanities/library community that many of us inhabit now.]

The biggest surprise I had about my emigration to Libraryland will be of no surprise to those of you who have been here longer, or who came out of an I-school, or otherwise basically grew up in the culture. And that is that the shift radicalized me. Coming to the Library woke me up: on matters of privacy, on labor conditions and class issues in higher ed, on the sucky practice of training of humanities grad students for non-existent jobs, on free & open access to information, and (especially for those of us who work at publicly-funded institutions) on the rights of taxpayers to expect quality work for the public good out of what they help pay for.

So it may sound like I’m going to give an activist talk. That’s true to some degree, but I’m mostly going to give an impatient one — a talk that comes from where I am now. Although I used to be on the design and development side of things, I am now a soulless administrator, and therefore I thought the most useful function I could perform at code4lib would be to bring something back to you from that perspective. My title will therefore not immediately suggest an activist agenda.

Welcome to… “Lazy Consensus.”

Read the rest of this entry »

a skunk in the library

Tags: , ,

[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. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Published: Oct 24th, 2009
  • Category: higher ed

collaborative work: links & kinks

Tags: , ,

This winter, I’ll join an MLA conference panel sponsored by the discussion group on Computer Studies in Language and Literature.  I’m among friends! and am looking forward to talking with Laura Mandell, Jason B. Jones, Timothy Powell, Jason Rhody, and our moderator, Tanya Clement.  Our panel is called “Links and Kinks in the Chain: Collaboration in the Digital Humanities.”  Here’s what I’ve offered for my bit:

New modes of interdisciplinary, tech-enabled research and production drive us to collaborate across an array of boundaries in the digital humanities.  It is no longer unusual for a scholar to lead a tight-knit, interdepartmental research group or function as part of an ad-hoc team that may include faculty colleagues, graduate students, designers, programmers, systems administrators, and librarians or other instructional technology and information specialists.  This is a good thing, and (in my experience) the most productive and interesting collaborations are grounded in a kind of professional and intellectual egalitarianism, or openness to the contributions of all team members.  But not all of the social boundaries inherent in digital humanities project-work can or should be ignored.  Read the rest of this entry »

  • Published: Jul 10th, 2009
  • Category: higher ed

graceful degradation

Tags: ,

Graceful Degradation: Managing Digital Humanities Projects in Times of Transition and Decline

First announced at the Digital Humanities 2009 conference, the “Graceful Degradation” survey is now open at:

This is a survey of the digital humanities community — broadly conceived — on project management in times of transition and decline, and what we see as the causes and outcomes of those times. We invite participation by anyone who has worked on a digital project in or related to the humanities.

Read the rest of this entry »

Creative Commons License This site uses a heavily modified version of Bryan Helmig's Magatheme. Work at by Bethany Nowviskie is always CC-BY. Want to know why? The falling letters are by Wayne Graham. He kindly made them to replace a set I designed in Flash in the late 1990s and had in place for more than 17 years. Not a bad run! Ave atque vale.