Spanish civil war photographs, Ottoman manuscripts, historic medical films and thousands of theses, journals and academic articles are among the digital resources that Europeana Libraries is working with. When the Project finishes at the end of 2012, it will have created:
- A valuable resource for scholars, with full-text search capabilities for written works
- A robust network of national, university and research libraries
- An efficient aggregation model that can be used by research libraries across Europe
10 Things That Humanities Researchers Want
The Research Information Network recently released a report on how humanities researchers do their work. The findings of this study are particularly interesting for Europeana Libraries, since we hope that the content gathered through our project will reach this key target group.
The report, Reinventing Research? Information Practices In The Humanities is available online (www.rin.ac.uk/humanities-case-studies). I also went to the launch event in London, and noted down some of the key points that Humanities researchers said they are looking for in a good web resource.
#1. Make It Easy To Use – Researchers will be turned off if they have to work too hard to find and access the information. They are accustomed to using sites such as Google (79% use Google as the starting point to locate relevant research, according to the study) and they expect the resources they find to be as intuitive as Google to use. In addition to making a basic search easy to perform, we may also want to consider some function to help make people aware of various spellings of words throughout history, for example.
#2. Make It Easy To Cite – There is still a reluctance to cite digital resources. Researchers will often use a digital resource but then cite the paper copy in their notes. However, researchers are much more likely to cite the digital resource if:
- There is a copy-and-paste citation beside the object
- The URL is short and sweet; don't let it stretch to 4 lines or be full of garble!
#3. Put It In Their Workflow – We can’t expect researchers to check in regularly to see if an object has been digitised or added to our collection. We must go to them; ensuring that our resources are indexed by Google and listed in library catalogues. We may also want to consider using social media as a way to reach out to humanities researchers.
#4. Provide Clarity on Objects and Processes – Researchers want to know exactly what they are looking at, and current online research resources don’t always make this clear. They want to know, for example:
- The version of the object and ideally be able to directly compare between versions (DIAMM http://www.diamm.ac.uk was mentioned as a good example of a resource that allows comparison).
- How it was created. In particular, they want to know if texts have been digitised using OCR techniques. If there were editors or translators, they want to know the identities of these people.
- The physical details of the object. If it is a manuscript, for example, what type of paper is it printed on? Is there damage to it?
- Why something was digitised or, perhaps more importantly, what could have been digitised but wasn’t? Why was one object or collection included in the digital resource and not another?
#5. Build A Community – Bricks and mortar libraries are not simply a place to conduct research, but also a place to network. The same can be said of conferences and seminars. “It’s not just the resource, it’s the community,” said one participant. There was general agreement that research websites should include some kind of community aspect; perhaps discussion forums or a way for people to link an object with a finished paper. Providing a way for researchers to link to their work has several functions:
- It gives publicity to the researcher.
- It allows other users to see work that has already been done on that object.
- It helps to build a network.
#6. Provide Research Support – Websites often give technical support and guides for using their resources but fail to show how their material is actually being used. Humanities researchers at the conference said they find real-life case studies as helpful as technical guides. We should interview and feature people using the site, showing the step-by-step process of how they did their research, and the resource they put together.
#7. Make The Information Easily Reusable – Researchers want to reuse and analyse data in the format that suits them. The research resource http://www.zotero.org was mentioned by one professor as a critical link in the researcher’s workflow. Students especially want the ability to export data from a resource to Zotero.
#8. Offer Ways To Visualize Collections – A simple search should be the overall priority, but to do a search you have to know what you are looking for. Some researchers want to start by exploring and conceptualising a collection through features such as maps, timelines and word lists. We need to provide ways to go beyond the simple search, while still using methodologies that researchers know and trust.
#9. Think About Linked Data – This is still a relatively new concept for Humanities researchers but there is interest in it. We need the ability to link data and we need senior researchers to take the lead and show us how to do it (perhaps tying into the need for case studies; see point #6).
#10. Provide A Critical Mass of Content – To really engage researchers, we need a critical mass of content in our chosen subject areas; not just scattered objects.