How Do Humanities Researchers Manage Information?

Humanities researchers don’t conform to the typical stereotype of the lone scholar, more interested in depth than breadth and collaborating only in dispersed networks. That’s according to a recent Research Information Network (RIN) report on how researchers in the humanities use, create and manage their information resources.

This is the second in a series of three sets of case studies across different institutions, research groups and disciplines. Rather than the traditional image sketched above, the report suggests that humanities researchers are increasingly adopting new tools and technologies to support their research as well as working collaboratively to a greater extent. That’s not to say they have abandoned physical texts, but they are using these in collaboration with digital resources, claims RIN, and in most cases transitioning seamlessly between the two.

However, dissemination of research in the humanities is still primarily via long-established mechanisms such as journal articles, conference papers and book chapters, with limited take up of blogs and social media, possibly because of concern over the quality assurance of these tools.

You can read the full report here [PDF]. Here is a section from the Executive Summary:

A key change in humanities research over the past 10-15 years has been the growth of more formal and systematic collaboration between researchers. This is a response in part to new funding opportunities, but also to thepossibilities opened up by new technology. Over recent years there has also been a shift from the model under which technology specialists tell researchers how to do their research to more constructive engagement. Like other researchers, scholars in the humanities use what works for them, finding technologies and resources that fit their research, and resisting any pressure to use something just because it is new.

But there is little evidence as yet of their taking full advantage of the possibilities of more advanced tools for text-mining, grid or cloud computing, or the semantic web; and only limited uptake of even simple, freely-available tools for data management and sharing. Rather, they manage and store information on their desktops and laptops, and share it with others via email.

Barriers to the adoption and take up of new technologies and services include lack of awareness and of institutional training and support, but also lack of standardisation and inconsistencies in quality and functionality across different resources. These make for delays in research, repetitive searching, and limitations on researchers’ ability to draw connections and relationships between different resources.