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Report Examines Humanists’ Research Needs in Digital Environment

subject: scholarly work
scholarly information
humanities scholars
Scholarly Work in the Humanities Project

CLIR Press Release


For Immediate Release: December 12, 2001

Contact: Daniel Greenstein 202-939-4762

Report Examines Humanists’ Research Needs in Digital Environment

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Changes in the information environment have led to
changes in the needs, expectations, and behaviors of academic library users. Libraries
are trying to understand and respond to those changes, but assessing expectations
and changes in users’ behaviors can be difficult, and needs vary greatly among disciplines.

A new report from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and
the Digital Library Federation (DLF) looks at the changing needs and expectations
of humanities scholars in the digital environment. Entitled
Scholarly Work in the Humanities and the Evolving Information
, the report updates our understanding of how humanists conduct research. The authors, William S. Brockman, Laura Neumann, Carole L. Palmer, and Tonyia J. Tidline, began
extensive observation of selected humanities scholars in 1999 to examine in detail how
they work, how they are integrating technology into their work, and how
future technologies might offer new opportunities in line with the goals of
humanities research.

The study clearly shows that humanities scholars have adapted well to
rapid technical change. It demonstrates the extent to which scholars are able to
harness information technologies to tried, tested, and somewhat traditional
research functions. Such functions include, for example, keeping abreast of a broad
secondary literature that surrounds their fields of inquiry, and locating, acquiring access to,
and using primary resources that are relevant to a particular area of investigation.

The study also shows that humanities scholars are used to, and in some cases even prefer,
information that can be accessed from their desktops. This is especially true with finding aids; abstract,
indexing, and citation services; and online journals. Where primary research materials are concerned,
however, the scholars have yet to be convinced by digital editions. The scholar’s purview is so typically
broad that it defies the narrow boundaries that surround the current generation of digitally
reformatted collections.

The findings of the report suggest a number of points for the library to consider. For example,
the report reaffirms the importance of cataloging
first. It also underscores the importance of
developing virtually integrated services that allow scholars to search across and use digitally reformatted
materials from many locations as if they made up a single online collection. Because such services
require adherence to accepted benchmarks that ensure some degree of persistence and interoperability
among online collections, the study encourages libraries to develop and adopt such common standards as
a matter of high priority. Finally, the report points to the value of close cooperation between
librarians and scholars in forming digital collections to support specific research aims.

Scholarly Work in the Humanities and the Evolving Information
is available on CLIR’s Web site at Print copies will soon be available
for ordering through the Web site.

The Digital Library Federation is a nonprofit consortium of libraries and related organizations that
are pioneering the use of electronic-information technology to extend collections and services. It
operates under the umbrella of the Council on Library and Information Resources, which acts on behalf
of libraries, archives, and universities to develop and encourage collaborative strategies for
preserving and providing access to scholarly resources.

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