For humanities' sake

River Campus Libraries librarians aim to create a bibliometric system tailored for humanities scholarship.
Author: Matthew Cook
A magnifying glass sitting on a table next to some stacked books

When an article of clothing is described—often proudly—as “one size fits all,” it usually means there’s an adjustable element or elastic is involved. In either case, the item was made to fit an estimation of the “average” person, which amounts to a broad range of people, but still isn’t inclusive of everyone. So, in actuality, the one size fits some really well, some okay, and others not at all.

There is a similar one-size-fits-all structure in scholarly publishing.

In the world of academia, there are widely accepted metrics used for tracking and analyzing published scholarship. Yet, even though academia is a vast and diverse ecosystem, where scholarship—both in what it is and how it’s published—varies greatly across disciplines, the generally agreed-upon metrics are based on STEM-focused publishing practices. And that model doesn’t fit the humanities.

Under the current bibliometric system, the extent and value of humanities research are not always apparent. For instance, most citation tools do not index monographs or books, the primary publishing format for many humanities scholars. Also, since humanities researchers tend to produce single-author, long-form works, they generally publish less often than their colleagues in the STEM fields, further skewing the data. The primary concern here is data around humanities scholarship is being dismissed, misinterpreted, and possibly misrepresented.

A group of humanities librarians from the River Campus Libraries (RCL) at the University of Rochester aims to give humanities scholarship a clearer footprint. Eileen Daly-Boas ʼ00 (MA), Lara Nicosia, Pauline Schwartzman, and Kristen Totleben are building a humanities publication analysis toolkit (HPAT) to identify meaningful humanities metrics and provide a methodology for collecting and analyzing data for faculty publications.

“People want data,” Nicosia says. “And disciplines from the humanities are sometimes inadvertently omitted from important conversations because the data just isn’t there. So, this is about ensuring the humanities have a voice in the conversations that can be really important to services and collection-building.”

With support from the History Research and Innovation Award from the Reference and User Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, the HPAT team will examine the publishing practices and contributions of Rochester’s scholars in the humanities, starting with the Department of History. The ultimate goal is to create an open access toolkit that can be used for any discipline within the humanities at any institution.

The HPAT project will take quantitative and qualitative approaches. For the quantitative analysis portion, working with RCL data analyst Jieer Chen, the team will build a comprehensive list of faculty publications from which they will extract cited works for more in-depth analysis. Because traditional bibliometric data sources often overlook monographs, a large part of this process will focus on extracting bibliographies from print books. On the qualitative side, the team will scrutinize interviews with humanities faculty members.

“One of our faculty members told us they see the library in the same way a chemist sees a lab,” says Schwartzman. “That’s important insight because when the citation metrics fail the humanities, it can result in the libraries having inadequate representations of certain aspects of humanities research. This project will help ensure a humanist’s lab functions the way it should.”

Next month, the HPAT team will finalize their project planning and dive into the work. They anticipate producing and publishing the toolkit between April and May 2023. ∎

For more information on the HPAT project, contact humanities librarian Lara Nicosia at lnicosia@library.rochester.edu.

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