This study, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, uncovers the needs of today’s historians and provides guidance for how research support providers can better serve them. We explore areas such as content discovery, information management, scholarly analysis, collaboration, library use, the writing process, professional interactions, and publication, among others.
In the executive summary, the report states:
For archives, we recommend ongoing improvements to access through improved finding aids, digitization, and discovery tool integration, as well as expanded opportunities for archivists to help historians interpret collections, to build connections among users, and to instruct PhD students in the use of archives.
I completely agree with this finding because this is critical to support historians (as well as all fields related to archives) by integrating library and archival practices into research training. The report continually mentions the importance of archivists for historians’ research processes. This collaborative relationship is critical for the use of archival materials, whether physical or digital, and so it’s great to see this highlighted in the report.
Libraries and archives are working towards this support in many ways. At UF, one example is from the Special and Area Studies Department (which includes Manuscripts and Archives) which offers a course (HIS 4944: Internship in the Practice of History) for students to work in the archives. In the course, students learn about using archives, archival processing, and perform the work that supports better access to the materials. In spring 2013, I’ll be joining as one of the course instructors. The main course designer and instructors included me for digital humanities/scholarship support and because they’re considering expanding the course to better support undergraduate, graduate, faculty, and library/archive needs.
Another example comes from the collaborative international digital library, the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC). dLOC offers the myDLOC tools for users working with dLOC (see the user guides) as well as opportunities for embedding dLOC in courses as a resource and as a tool and forum for sharing primary and developing contextual resources. For instance, I’m currently a member of a three-institution team that is developing a course on Caribbean Literature. The professors at each of the institutions are including literary and historical resources, some of which are from dLOC. Then, the course assignments will include working in the archives at the local institution to identity a resource from the archive, create metadata, digitize, and share the resource through dLOC. The course assignments will also include creating some form of contextual materials (abstracts, teaching guides, annotated bibliographies, online exhibits) that will be available in dLOC and will enrich and provide better access to the primary sources in dLOC.
I have similarly enthusiastic thoughts for the rest of the report, but won’t detail those here. The entire Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians report is excellent and well-worth reading.