Representing Others: Challenges in Developing a Database of Research in the Humanities
The Cornell University Library recently developed a database describing research in the life sciences at the university, based on an entity-relationship ontology model. A curated index to research, facilities and instruction, it had enormous outreach potential both within and outside this large, multi-campus university. Following an extremely positive response to the system within the life sciences community, the Cornell administration supported the database, further mandating its adoption across the disciplines. The database would need to be re-imagined to appropriately convey information about work as varied as, for instance, poetry, nanotechnology, crop science, and landscape architecture. This paper describes the librarian-faculty collaborative process, which engendered policies that adapted the database for the work of the humanities while maintaining its appropriateness in widely disparate research areas. Although the first objective of the humanities project was to encourage faculty members to use the system, broader goals included fostering interdisciplinary partnerships, developing a robust directory of people, facilities and events, and creating a powerful public relations tool. Of particular concern was crafting a system that would allow faculty members to assert their privacy while still contributing to what was planned as a public venue. Database engineers designed methods for humanities faculty to edit their own records, and note (by choice) their publications, theoretical approaches, subject interests, courses taught, and historical or geographical focus. Ultimately, it is hoped that the database will grow to be as central to the humanities as it has become in other academic areas, fostering collaboration and contributing substantively to humanities scholarship.
Keywords: Knowledge, Internet, Humanities, Research, Teaching and Learning
Dr. Susette Newberry
Outreach Coordinator, Humanities Curator, Library, Cornell University