Information Professionals Going Beyond the Needful User in Digital Humanities Project Collaboration

  • Engerer, Volkmar P. (Department of Communication, University of Copenhagen)
  • Received : 2019.07.18
  • Accepted : 2020.01.08
  • Published : 2020.03.30


When information professionals deal with other disciplines in the course of digital humanities projects, they often assume that they are dealing with 'needful users' who have an 'information gap' to fill. This paper argues that the traditional view that information/knowledge is transferred from an information specialist donor to a domain specialist receiver is no longer appropriate in the digital humanities context, where the gap-and-search (or gap-and-filler) approach to information has given way to more direct, explorative engagement with information. The paper asks whether information science and the practising profession are ready for this paradigm shift and examines information science conservatism in two common collaboration scenarios, library support and digital development. It is shown that information science theory still assumes a traditional donor role in both scenarios. How information scientists deal with conservatism in practice is discussed in the example of the Prior project, in which the information science team exerted an ambiguous, hybrid approach with both conservative and non-conservative elements. Finally, two rather hypothetical answers are offered to the question of how information professionals should approach scholarly collaboration in the digital humanities context, where users have ceased to be supplicants. From a purely pragmatic perspective, information scientists need to shift their focus from information needs to research practices and the implications of these practices for digital information systems. More fundamentally, the emergence of digital humanities challenges information professionals to transform information systems designed for searching into digital objects that can be explored more freely by the digital humanities community.


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