Posted November 23, 2015

Library research meets the digital age

A stack of colorful books and an iPad.
iStock images
The new Digital Scholarship Center at Temple University is changing the landscape of humanities research.
Kaelin Jewell, Class of  2018, wants to see buildings that no longer exist. With the help of some nifty technology in Temple’s new Digital Scholarship Center (DSC), the PhD candidate in art history can.
Jewell specializes in the visual culture and built environment of late Roman and early medieval Mediterranean societies. She’s specifically curious about what monuments and grand structures can reveal about powerful patrons, such as an aristocrat who built a church in Constantinople in the 520s CE.
High-tech resources, such as a 3-D camera and a wall-sized touch screen display, and training opportunities available at the DSC enable graduate students and faculty members from a wide range of disciplines to use technology to investigate the problems posed in their research projects. 
Thanks to the DSC, located on the ground floor of Paley Library, Jewell is not only able to construct architectural re-creations of buildings that aren’t around anymore, she can also analyze complex data about the patronage networks that supported the building of those structures. 
Jewell describes the experience as transformative. “The interdisciplinary nature of the DSC, along with the hardware and software it houses, make it an extremely useful space for solving problems and coming up with new and creative ways to answer historical questions,” she said.
Changing the research landscape
The idea for the center began to form about five years ago in the mind of Professor of English Peter Logan, who at the time was director of the Center for the Humanities at Temple (CHAT), and now serves as academic director of the Digital Scholarship Center. 
“As Google and libraries across the country undertook projects to digitize books and collections, the landscape of humanities research began to change,” Logan said. “New ways of working had become not only possible but necessary.”
For example, about 60,000 English-language novels exist from the 19th century, but only maybe a few hundred are regularly taught, explained Logan. “We say we know the 19th-century novel, but we know only a little corner of it,” Logan said. “By running a quantitative analysis of digitized versions of those 20,000 texts, we may discover linguistic and thematic patterns that could reveal a much richer view of that century.”
According University Libraries Dean Joseph Lucia, the center fits in perfectly with the university’s plans for a new library. 
“We’re getting away from the notion of libraries as content providers and repositioning them as places to create new ideas and as facilitators of partnerships,” Lucia said.
The center’s robust schedule of events, including weekly, bi-weekly and one-off workshops to teach technology-based skills and research methods, allow any student to discover what’s possible when using state-of-the-art methods. 
“It has been wonderful seeing Temple’s researchers and scholars branch out of their usual skill sets and discipline-based study groups and collaborate on innovative ways to address their academic inquires,” said Matt Shoemaker, the center’s coordinator of digital scholarship service development.
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—Theresa Everline