Are Digital Humanists Relevant?

On October 7, Distinguished Visitor Dr. Howard White presented “Defining Information Science” as part of the SLIS colloquia.

He began his presentation by offering the several traditional definitions of information science (Rubin, 2004; Hawkins, 2001; Borko, 1968), as well as Wikipedia’s definition as an illustration of how difficult it is to pin down, before offering his own much simpler definition:

[Information Science is] The study of literature-based answering.

Given that he was speaking to a room full of future librarians, White elaborated what that meant in the context of reference librarian.  the reference librarian should be able to provide relevant answers to “relevance-seekers” (library users) by giving truthful, novel, on topic, specific, understandable, and timely answers (in that order).  Librarians should be better equipped than Google to filter relevance for a given question; their “equipment” is “literatures”– that is, the library collection.  It’s possible to shorten White’s answer down even more: information science is the study of relevant answers, or simply relevance, given that relevance implies (a) a system (“literatures”) and (b) requirements for answers (truthfulness, novelty, on-topic-ness, specificity, understandability, and timeliness).

What struck me as most interesting, however, were the parallels between White’s librarian/information scientist and the digital humanist.  A digital humanist is, after all, essentially interested in seeking and supplying relevant answers by searching ‘literatures’ with the use of computational methods (Hockey, 2004). Does that make the digital humanist an information scientist?  And does that make the information scientist a digital humanist?

Works cited

Borko, H. (1968). “Information science: what is it?” American Documentation, 19(1).

Hawkins, D.T. (2001). “Information science abstracts: tracking the literature of information science.  Part 1: definition and map.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 52.

Hockey, S. (2004).  “History of Humanities Computing.”  A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth.  Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

Rubin, R. E. (2004).  Foundations of Library and Information Science. 2nd ed.  New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers Inc.

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