Panel 1: Perspectives on Digital Humanities Scholarship (2015)

SALALM 60 (Princeon)
Panel 1: Perspectives on Digital Humanities Scholarship
Moderator: Barbara Alvarez (University of Michigan)
Rapporteur: Cate Kellett (Yale Law School)
Presenters: Aquiles Alencar-Brayner (British Library), Thomas M. Cohen and Joan R. Stahl, (Catholic University of America), Patricia Figueroa (Brown University)

Barbara Alvarez, Librarian for Romance Languages and Literatures & Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, introduced and moderated the panel of four presenters from three institutions, who focused on projects they participated in involving digital humanities and Latin American collections.

Aquiles Alencar-Brayner, Curator of Latin American Collections at the British Library, presented Digital Scholarship and its Impact on Latin American Studies. He reported on his library’s use of digital humanities to expand access to Latin American resources in innovative and resourceful ways. Due to cuts in funding over the years, the British Library has relied on creativity and ingenuity to reach out to new audiences around the world.

The Endangered Archive Programme (EAP) supports digitization of content in archives around the world that are in danger of disappearing due to lack of funds, poor preservation, or other unfortunate circumstances. The program offers money and expertise, as well as equipment if needed. Mr. Alencar-Brayner noted that there are not many applications from Latin America, so please spread the news and encourage others to apply. While the EAP does provide for digital preservation, he stressed his library’s focus on broadening digital humanities projects extends beyond digitization.

British Library Labs, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is one project that encourages digital scholarship by opening up digital content and data to researchers on a large One million images scanned from books from the British Library were released to Flickr Commons to allow anyone to manipulate them. The partnerships formed between researchers and library experts encourage engagement with users and allow for exciting new experimentation.

Thomas M. Cohen and Joan R. Stahl, both from Catholic University of America, presented Crossing the Digital Divide: A New Direction at the Oliveira Lima Library. Professor Cohen outlined the history of the Oliveira Lima Library (housed at CUA in Washignton, D.C.), which consists of 60,000 books plus manuscripts, ephemera, art, and more covering such topics as Brazilian history, literature, and diplomacy. Mr. Lima was a journalist and avid book collector. His wife Flora actively collaborated with him, which was rare for women to do. He was generous with his collection because he wanted North Americans to learn about “Latin American soul.” As director of the library, Professor Cohen is particularly proud of the library’s art collection, which he hopes will form the basis of a small museum in the future. Do to the small space and lack of funding, for now many pieces are out of sight or on loan.

Ms. Stahl, Director of Research and Instruction at Catholic University, explained the challenges she faces in reaching users interested in the Oliveira Lima Library. Many researchers reside outside D.C., but there is no online public catalog to the collection. They have early descriptions at the collection level, but there is a large backlog of uncatalogued items. There is also no conservation and the lack of physical space makes it difficult to locate items and organize the collection. There is also limited space for researchers to sit within the facility. Faced with all these challenges, she said they decided to partner with Gale to digitize their pamphlet collection. Gale rehoused the pamphlets for archival storage, barcoded them all for inventory and made them accessible online. This type of project would not have been feasible for such a small library without the help of a larger partner.

Patricia Figueroa, Curator of the Iberian and Latin American Collections at Brown University, gave an overview of digital projects at her library. She often collaborates with professors to provide supplementary course materials online. Some of the work included having students provide additional content for companion websites to textbooks. You can find examples at

Ms. Figueroa described a particularly interesting project called Opening the Archives, which involved the joint effort of Brown, NARA, Unviersidade Estadual de Maringa, and the Brazilian National Archives to digitize and index 100,000 United States government documents on Brazil from 1960-1980. Professor James N. Green wanted to make this material available to people in Brazil who otherwise would not have access to such important information. Brown provided funding to pay students to go to Washington and digitize the documents. Librarians helped with logistics, including metadata standards, digitization standards, project management, and training students on how to carry out such a large-scale project. Ms. Figueroa demonstrated how to access the end product, which was a website in English and Portuguese. There are still edits to be made, more documents to be scanned, and they hope to create a mirror site at the Unviersidade Estadual de Maringa.

Ms. Figueroa also updated the audience on new additions to the Thomas E. Skidmore Collection. Professor Skidmore donated his personal library and papers to Brown in 2006 but more recently added Brazilian portraits to the collection. She noted that descriptions of famous Brazilians depicted in the portraits are often humorous.

During the question period, Jesus Alonso-Regalado, from the University at Albany, asked what it meant to be a curator at the British Library. Mr. Alencar-Brayner replied that the curators at his library are like the glue that bonds everything together. They facilitate access to digital collections by making it usable and relevant to users. They also promote those collections and ask the users themselves to add information to the catalog records.

Janete Saldaha Bach Estevão, from Universidade Federal do Paraná, asked Ms. Figueroa to elaborate on what kind of students helped out with the Opening the Archives project. They were a mix of graduate students in the history department and undergraduates from various majors at Brown who were from all over the United States. Some were of Brazilian descent. They collaborated with two additional students from Brazil to bring the project to researchers and other interested parties there. Shortly after they published an article on the collection in Brazil, there were an additional 10,000 hits to the website.

Michael Scott, from Georgetown, asked if there were other projects in the future at the Oliveira Lima Library. Ms. Stahl answered that they have many ideas, but their plans rely on what Gale prefers to digitize next. Professor Cohen added that they will definitely go forward with another project with Gale, but they are not sure which one yet. Without the partnership with Gale, they would not have digitized such a substantial portion of the collection, due to funding issues. The database is currently only available to those with subscriptions, but after an embargo period, the library will be able to upload the digitized collection to their website for anyone to access.

Katie McCann, from the Library of Congress, asked Mr. Alencar-Brayner how he promoted projects at the British Library that encourage users to manipulate data within their digital humanities collections. He answered that they use social media and put basic instructions online. They had planned a press release for their geo-referencing project, but after posting to twitter, all 2000 maps were geo-referenced by the next day, before they could put out the press release.

Ms. Alvarez closed the session by thanking the presenters.