Historians and personal digital archiving

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Note:  This post was contributed by Eric Novotny, Acting Head of the Penn State’s Arts & Humanities Library, and History Librarian.  Eric is one of the subject librarians participating in this project.

As the library liaison to Penn State’s history department I was eager to examine historians’ responses to our Personal Scholarly Archiving Survey.  With the invaluable aid of Alan Shay we isolated responses from forty scholars with historical research interests.  Comparing these self-identified historians (who may or may not be in a history department) to the larger set of responses revealed some interesting findings.

Not surprisingly, and like scholars in other disciplines, nearly all historians reported storing relevant research materials.

Survey Question 7: Are you storing (on a computer or online) materials relevant to your research and work?

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The historians in our survey were less likely to use Cloud Storage (Dropbox, Google Drive), and also less likely to use citation software such as Zotero or Endnote.

Survey Question 10: Do you use citation management software (Endnote, Mendeley, Refworks, Zotero, etc.) to create bibliographies and/or organize references?

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Survey Question 12: Do you use any software/online services for sharing your research articles/data with others?

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These findings present libraries with an opportunity.  A significant percentage of respondents expressed a desire for training in the areas of citation management, personal archiving, and asset management.  There is a role for librarians to play in highlighting the available productivity tools.

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There is also an advocacy role for libraries and librarians in spurring the creation of universal integrated solutions. Historians want tools that accommodate their unique needs, including support for citing unpublished primary sources. They want a seamless transition from source gathering to note-taking and writing[i].   The project team is planning to conduct focus group interviews this summer to further identify the needs of historians and will share our additional findings.


[i] For a good discussion of historian’s citation management needs see: “Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians,” http://www.sr.ithaka.org/research-publications/supporting-changing-research-practices-historians

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