The field of medieval studies has a long and established history of scholarship assisted by technology. The first person who we now call a digital humanist was a medievalist, Fr. Roberto Busa, who in the 1940s first conceived of the Index Thomisticus, a complete lemmatization of the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas, which was developed through the 1970s with the collaboration of IBM. Today there are dozens of digital resources aimed at medievalists: online collections of digitized manuscript images, full- text databases, online scholarly editions, and secondary sources such as books and journals. Much attention is paid to medievalists who actively contribute to the design and implementation of digital resources but relatively little attention is paid to ‘regular’ or ‘traditional’ medievalists who use these resources for their own research (for example, the Digital Medievalist Community of Practice is a community for medievalists who build resources, not medievalists who use resources). On the other hand there has been a fair amount of work done on the use of digital resources by other scholars in the humanities (see for example the series of studies by Diane Harley on the use of digital resources by humanities scholars) but very little specifically about medievalists. The only study of the use of digital resources by medievalists that I have found thus far in my literature search is my own master’s paper, cited below, which was undertaken in 2002 and is thus quite bit out of date.
In 2002 as part of my MSLS degree work I undertook a research project entitled ‘Medievalists’ Use of Electronic Resources,’ which surveyed a selected group of medievalists on faculty at universities across the US on their use of and attitudes towards electronic resources (http://ils.unc.edu/MSpapers/2807.pdf). The survey asked faculty how they preferred to access various different types of resources (journals, translations, facsimiles, etc.) and attempted to gauge preferences for using digital resources across the community (junior faculty vs. chaired faculty, preferences in different fields, etc.).
Much has changed since 2002. Google Books was first introduced in 2004. ACLS released its final report on Cyberinfrastructure, ‘Our Cultural Commonwealth’ in 2006. The NEH, which had long supported digital projects, awarded the first Digital Humanities Start-Up Grants in 2007, and founded the Office of Digital Humanities in 2008. In medieval studies, more and more digital resources are released every year, there is an established community of ‘Digital Medievalists’, and the International Congress on Medieval Studies has had a steady growth in the number and profile of presentations and events on issues relating to digitization. Digital projects in the medieval studies are ubiquitous. Are they being used?
Now is the perfect time to return to this project, to undertake the survey again, and to see just how (or if) attitudes and use have changed over the past nine years. Looking forward, this research can help resource developers design projects to best serve their audiences and can help librarians understand how scholars assess and use digital resources.
In September 2011 I distributed two parallel surveys, one ‘open’ and one ‘closed’. Both surveys include the same questions; the surveys are very similar but not identical to the 2002 survey. Updates made include asking about use of electronic books and clarifying some of the other questions with input from librarians and both digital and non-digital medievalist colleagues. The closed survey was sent to a selected group of 100 faculty drawn from institutions listed in the CARA database at the Medieval Academy of America (this is the same approach taken for the 2002 survey and will allow for a close study between the findings between the two groups). The open survey was distributed publicly, and announcements sent out to listservs, to my friends on Facebook, and posted to my network on Twitter. This project will compare findings from the open survey both with both the survey from 2002 and the closed survey from this year.
I will be taking research leave in December 2011 and January 2012 in order to undertake analysis of the survey data and to draft initial research findings for presentation and publication. I will be publishing several articles on this research, aimed at several distinct audiences, including medievalists, digital medievalists, academic librarians, the digital libraries community, and he digital humanities community. By July 2012 I will have completed all data analysis and I will have a least one article submitted. The poster session would give me the opportunity to present the findings to a digital humanities audience.
Harley, D., et al. Final Report: Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication: An Exploration of Faculty Values and Needs in Seven Disciplines. CSHE 1.10 (January 2010) (URL: http://cshe.berkeley.edu/publications/publications.php?id=351)
Porter, D. C. Medievalists’ Use of Electronic Resources: The Results of a National Survey of Faculty Members in Medieval Studies. UNC Chapel Hill (December 2002) (URL: http://ils.unc.edu/MSpapers/2807.pdf)