Digital Humanities is 21st Century Librarianship

Kaetrena Davis Kendrick, M.S.L.S.

University of South Carolina Lancaster

This past May I presented at a Library and Information Science (LIS) conference to talk with my colleagues about how I am using my professional skills at KPK (and why they should do similar work). If you browse the KPK site, you will quickly come across the essays and Shout Outs pieces I’ve published, and my main projects –Digital Documentation, News Archiving, and KPK Intern training — rely heavily on the data mining, information organization, and emerging technology skills and tools I’ve honed and come across in my work as an academic librarian.

SHH! (It’s more than that): Librarian stereotypes

But first: what does academic librarian do, exactly? Historically (and even now), librarian stereotypes in Western culture include:

  1. Grumpy older Caucasian spinsters who are just itching to tell you to be quiet (Davis 2007);
  2. Sex kittens just waiting for the right moment to let down the brunette bun (Adams 2000); or
  3. Effeminate, not “real men” if they are male (Beaudrie and Grunfield 1991).
Going by these stereotypes, librarians work really hard at perfecting angry facial expressions, interjecting well-timed shushes, reclining provocatively in stacks and on circulation desks, or cowering from and stuttering to patrons – all this in between checking out the occasional book or taking fine payments.
Western librarian stereotypes: Grumpy Old Shusher, Sex Kitten, or Soft Man. (Sources:;; and

These traditional images and ideas are slowly but  surely giving way to the dynamic and engaging reality that many librarians experience. While it’s unlikely that the average academic librarian has yet to help a student slay a  vampire or locate and recover magical chalices, the daily work they engage in yields the same results, just on a smaller scale (helping a stressed out student locate an elusive article minutes before the first draft is due, anyone?!).  On any given day, academic librarians teach students, work with other professors, identify and purchase resources that support academic programs on campus, engage in social media and marketing campaigns, create and improve curricula and courses, write and publish original research, apply emerging technologies to expand teaching and learning, work on committees to create programs, and travel all over the United States and internationally to understand how people build, use, and improve their communities via libraries.

In addition to the American Library Association’s (ALA) Code of Ethics, librarians are bound to fulfilling these duties by a set of core competencies. Core competencies are a listing of knowledge, skills and abilities that a person should be able to execute in their career via education and/or advanced training. It’s similar to stating, for instance, that all nurses should know how to read a thermometer, recognize early signs of infection, and be able to stabilize a patient.

Digital Humanities and Librarianship

Luckily, ALA’s Core Competencies fit right in with the work of KPK, which falls under a discipline called Digital Humanities (DH). Brett Bobley, Director of the Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities, describes DH as “an umbrella term for a number of different activities that surround technology and humanities scholarship…includ[ing] topics like open access to materials, intellectual property rights,…digital libraries, data mining, born-digital preservation, multimedia publication, visualization…technology for teaching and learning…and many others” (Gavin, Smith & Bobley 2012).

Bobley says “DH.” I say “modern librarianship.”  Potaytoe, potahtoe…

Following is a short chart that shows some ALA Core Competencies and my corresponding KPK projects (this is only a partial listing). For some added DH context, I’ve included Bobley’s descriptor terms.

ALA Core Competencies

KPK Project

Bobley descriptor(s)

  • 2D.  Concepts, issues, and methods related to the maintenance of collections, including preservation and conservation.
  • 4D. The technologies and techniques necessary to identify and analyze emerging technologies and innovations in order to recognize and implement relevant technological improvements.

Digital Documentation

“born-digital preservation”
  • 2B. Concepts, issues, and methods related to the acquisition and disposition of resources, including evaluation, selection, purchasing, processing, storing and de-selection.
  • 3B.The developmental, descriptive, and evaluative skills needed to organize recorded knowledge and information processes.
Information Archiving (Kpop News Archive) “data mining,” “media studies,” “visualization”
  • 2A. Concepts and issues related to the life cycle of recorded knowledge and information, from creation through various stages of use to disposition.
  • 5B.Techniques used to retrieve, evaluate, and synthesize information from diverse sources for use by individuals of all ages and groups.
  • 6C.The principles and methods used to access the actual and potential value of new research.

Research & Information Clearinghouse


“open access to materials,” “humanities scholarship”

I use a great deal of free and open-source tools, technologies and social media channels to do my work for the KPK, including:

Evernote • Screencast -O-Matic • WordPress • GoogleDocs • Omeka • Join.Me
AnyMeeting • Prezi • Gimp • Youtube • Facebook • Twitter • Savevid

…and many more.  Since KPK members live around the world, we are always looking for better tools to use so we can work together, communicate in a digital environment, and present an engaging, academically rich, and complex side of Hallyu to KPK readers, researchers, and educators.

Bobley’s broad definition means that the DH field is ripe with innovation, fully supportive of collaboration, and applicable to infinite areas of study. Librarianship is a natural fit with these characteristics. If you are an information professional, consider finding a DH project that reflects your interests. Then, offer your skills to the project.  To be sure, whether you’re an information professional or a student, we’d love to have you on board here at KPK.

Sujeongjeon Hall, built in 1867 on the site of Jiphyeonjeon (Hall of Worthies). Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea. (Photo source:

Libraries are the building blocks of a democratic society and centers of refuge and learning for communities around the world. In particular, the importance of academic libraries is noted in the East and West: during his reign, King Sejong the Great (세종 대왕)  quickly created a library for scholars and protected it. Within that library, Hangul, one of the most scientific and efficient written language systems in the world, was created. In the West, decades before the United States were, well, united, Harvard University Library was established, and from there,  many more academic and public library systems as we know them today were formed. The tradition of scholarship is housed in modern academic libraries, and one of the ways that relationship continues is via DH.

If you would like to learn more about DH, browse the following links:

Office of Digital Humanities





Adams, K.C. (2000). The loveless frump as hip and sexy party girl: A reevaluation of the old-maid stereotype. The Library Quarterly, 70(3): 287 -301.

Beaudrie, R. & Grunfield, R. (1991). Male reference librarians and the gender factor. The Reference Librarian, 33: 211-213.

Davis, K. D. (2007).  The academic librarian as instructor: A study of teacher anxiety. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 14(2): 77-101.

Gavin,  M., Smith, K.,  & Bobley, B. (2012). An interview with Brett Bobley. In M. Gold (Ed.), Debates in the Digital Humanities (61-66). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. mariuswa says:

    Reblogged this on Marius Warholm Haugen and commented:
    This post is already a few years old, but it is still a fun read. The definition of DH offered here might be a bit too open to say anything concrete about how librarians can get involved in innovative humanities research. However, I do still agree with the assumption that the modern librarian skill set could and should be very valuable to DH researches. The challenges might more than anything be connected to institutional barriers and traditions:

    1. Nunee says:

      Hi Marius, thank you! Even now, you’re right, institutional barriers have a big impact on librarians’ ability to truly engage with DH. However, change is coming – this year, the Library Collective Conference focused on DH and collaborations a lot, and the ALA DH Special Interest Group is pretty active. Posner’s blogpost was great and I discussed my concerns on that post soon after she wrote it. Be sure to also check out her subsequent article, “No Half Measures: Overcoming common challenges to doing digital humanities in the Library”, here:

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