Curating the Non-Digital Digital Bookshelf

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Curating the Non-Digital Digital Bookshelf

It’s a tricky question, building a non-digital library on digital themes. We could use some help.

You’ve read in earlier posts about our previous efforts to think BIG about how we might outfit our workspace, the new Digital Scholarship Lab, which is shared by a number of Fellows and projects under the rubric of Digital Initiatives at the GC. Our most recent interior decorating task has been to choose a small selection of books for the Lab– just a shelf or two of items that we would like on hand. It seemed a simple directive– what books might we like to have in the Lab?– some technical/”how-to” books to help us stumble along, I assumed, along with some crowd pleasers (Edward Tufte? Planned Obsolescence by Kathleen Fitzpatrick?) and some texts that speak to the broader field of digital studies… which is, admittedly, broad, but collections and anthologies can cover a lot of ground. This would be our new library.

When the first wave of books (see photo above) arrived last week, however, a few of us were surprised by the sum total of what we had curated. In some lights, it seemed to reveal just why some scholars are hesitant to claim a full understanding of what digital scholarship is, or what it is not. To try to find the essential, must-have reference or scholarly books for a Digital Scholarship Lab? In a field that prides itself on following many traditions and facilitating many new ways forward, to pull together a small library of “representative” texts would surely mean to misrepresent it.

To be sure, this first wave delivered an excellent mix; HTML and CSS resources mingle with handbooks on usability testing, digital pedagogy, and interface design. From another vantage point, however, the books in our first round could also establish a dangerous precedent for a digital library that leans towards DH-theory compilations and a design-heavy approach to what the digital in graduate education might be. But if it’s not that, what is it? What are the texts that we should embrace in the space of our Lab, a meeting area for Digital Fellows who work with faculty, develop and create web sites, design and lead workshops, initiate projects, and reflect on the role of the digital in graduate education?

Maybe a Digital Scholarship Lab library opens up opportunities to apply interdisciplinary ideals, for example. Most digitally-themed books will have likely germinated in a variety of disciplines. But if “the Digital” excites us in part because it represents a pathway through academic silos and new opportunities for scholarly communication, when do we reach towards other texts, the ones that might only show up on field-specific reading lists? Should Steve Dixon’s Digital Performance be there, or would the Theatre Ph.D be the only one requesting it? Digital Ethnography: Anthropology, Narrative, and New Media by Natalie M. Underberg and Elayne Zorn? How do we know which texts have emerged in disparate fields as the water-carriers of digital exploration? (Or do we require the texts that have “crossed over” in dynamic ways, in a test of their durability?) How about more defensive postures, like Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper? Which Lawrence Lessig book deserves inclusion, and why? Perhaps some texts breaking down “the digital divide” or technology and exclusion?

There’s no right answer, of course. But there are gaps and blind spots, and they can be filled and avoided. What would be on your digital lab library shelf?

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