Book Reviews

Emma Annette Wilson. Digital Humanities for Librarians. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2020. 248p. Hardback, $115 (ISBN: 978-1-5381-1644-9). https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781538116449/Digital-Humanities-for-Librarians

Book cover for Digital Humanities for Librarians

Emma Annette Wilson has pulled together a very approachable and packed resource for aspiring Master of Library Science (MLS) students and those new to digital humanities (DH). The book is as easy to follow as it is informative, providing a balance between the practicality of various digital humanities methodologies, the development of those methodologies, and approaches to engage with them. The author does, at times, assume that, while you may not have a traditional library degree from which to draw, you have a cursory understanding of MLS-specific disciplines (such as cataloging). Yet, there is still ample discussion of relevant areas like metadata and insights into other types of librarianship activities that will be useful to DH project leads who are new to academic librarianship.

The book makes explicit the labor of project management, collaboration, and outreach and provides practical strategies for developing those skills as part of a team structure for DH projects. The author usefully addresses relevant training gaps in MLS degree programs. Wilson guides the reader through potential scenarios where one may insert their expertise and contributions into DH projects, an essential (and often a new) skill for librarians who are contributing equally as collaborators. Each chapter follows a template. First, the author offers a background of a particular digital humanities methodology. Next, she shares the basic needs and understanding required to engage with the methodology. And, finally, the book offers practical approaches for librarians new to DH to use each methodology while making potential inroads for greater understanding. This is a helpful and consistent format that will lend this book to be used as a reference, even for those who are more seasoned DH librarians like myself.

While informative on topics such as Text-Encoding, Digital Mapping, and Digital Archives, this single-author textbook finds its limits as an introduction to DH. Contrary to what the text-focused topics would suggest, Digital Humanities goes beyond text-bound humanity. Other DH methodologies crop up as examples of DH concepts, but they do not receive the same treatment as text-based methods. Supplementing this textbook with other resources will be beneficial for the reader to gain a better understanding of other or newer forms of DH like data visualization, 3D modeling, or audiovisual DH projects.

The author also fails to fully acknowledge radically innovative, subversive, and wild DH projects and methodologies. The movement and methodology of countermapping. The Remix culture made possible by public domain digital content and collections. The immersive and increasingly haptic scholarship offered by 3D, augmented, and virtual realities. The increased development of community archives and digital collections—by and for the people—which stretch the normative “public humanities” approach to be more inclusive while also swapping the roles of the “expert” in academia. These are huge components of what makes DH so interesting and rewarding. If you fall within this “rebel” camp of DHers, then you’ll have to find community and their cultural expressions elsewhere. In this textbook you will find a buttoned-up version of DH that lends itself more easily to institutionally supported approaches that are more commonly slotted into traditional librarianship.

For the sake of introduction, Wilson presents a traditional picture of DH (the typical small, academic collaborative projects), and the projects and further readings are reflective of that. Indeed, much DH rests outside the realm of Eurocentric research and monographs (as you might imagine) and instead lives on social media feeds and hashtags (some of which are thankfully catalogued by amazing librarians!) or as blogs and as community documents (à la Nikki Stevens’ HASTAC Blog post that is a nonexhaustive list of DH projects1 or Black Digital Humanities Projects and Resources List2). These scholarly outlets fall outside of the scope of the book or perspective of the author. Thankfully, Wilson accompanies the textbook with a website listing the projects and people mentioned in the book so students can explore on their own.

The website is a wonderful and welcome companion to the book and facilitates easier updating and inclusion, which aligns much better with the rapid development of DH. As it is, the website provides a explore-at-your-own-pace or pause-and-play approach to studying DH in addition to providing more dynamic content in the form of interviews with project collaborators and direct links to the DH projects that are threaded throughout Digital Humanities for Librarians. The website is a clean compromise to the evolving nature of DH and presents the author with an opportunity to continually update and include additional voices that were excluded from the textbook.

Even for the relative lack of project diversity or diversity of voices in this book, I found much to be useful and the prose engaging (a feat for a textbook!). The author is both open and candid about their experience as a new DH Librarian and is able to pose questions that many of us in the profession have asked in our beginnings. By providing these prompts, often as exercises or available resources at the end of each chapter, the author sets up a generation of DH Librarians with firmer footing than many of us had getting started—and if not firmer footing, then at least a sense of solidarity. I only wish this single-author tome had delivered a more inclusive, future-looking perspective of DH and gave me the fire to build my own DH project rather than simply giving me the grounding to support someone else’s.—Hannah Scates Kettler, Iowa State University


1. https://www.hastac.org/blogs/nikkistevens/2018/01/19/list-dh-lists

2. Started by @CCP_org. | Short link: bit.ly/Black-DH-List

Copyright Hannah Scates Kettler

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