[Humanist] 29.510 bibliographic wayfinding?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Nov 27 09:07:18 CET 2015

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 510.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 27 Nov 2015 07:58:46 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: bibliographic wayfinding?

A question better answered by many, I hope here, and with accompanying 
discussion: what do our bibliographic wayfinding practices look like 
now? (The word, 'wayfinding', is not yet in the OED, but the entry for 
it in Wikipedia is helpful, with some surprises, at least for me.)

Let me explain the basis of the question. My studies for an MA degree 
were unmemorable except for one course, in bibliographic methods for 
students of English literature. Our professor took us to the library as 
a group and showed us how to use its resources. We must have had 
follow-up exercises, but what I remember very clearly is the 
step-by-step processes from book to book he showed us then, by 
*doing* it, then and there. That stuck and has served me well ever 

Later, but still in the dark ages some here will recall, during which I 
did my doctoral research, I put my old professor's lessons into 
practice. There were, of course, the standard reference books and one 
very helpful reference librarian with a PhD in history. But typically, 
on my own, I'd find a useful book or article, then follow the references 
in its footnotes and bibliography to other books and articles, and so 
on, until I had a shortlist of items that kept turning up or that 
otherwise looked worth investigating further. I'd supplement this with 
items I found nearby in the library stacks, in the same special issue of 
a journal and so on. My topic involved several disciplines (chiefly 17C 
English, Classics and Biblical Studies), so I had to stray off the usual 
paths for a doctoral student in English. The library I worked in 
(University of Toronto primarily, 7 million volumes then) was up to the 
task and kept me very busy, but I don't recall physical or mental 
exhaustion ever playing much of a role in limiting my bibliographic 

Now it does play a significant role. It's so easy to find relevant items 
from a far larger stock of materials, and so easy to be made aware of 
unsuspected intellectual terrain, that giving up the search when it is 
still yielding good stuff has become something I must live with. The 
choice is between that and never finishing anything. How I handle the 
items I do access -- is 'read' the right verb here? -- I treat somewhat 
differently. The fundamental process of note-taking, compilation and 
assimilation remains much the same. But the mechanisms are different and 
doubtless make a difference I am too busy to study.

So let me ask a slightly more specific question: what would or does a 
(post)graduate-level digitally-aware course in bibliographic methods 
look like now? Who teaches it? Do research librarians play a role? Is 
digital humanities involved, and if not, why not?

I imagine a year-long course, required of all doctoral students in the 
humanities and interpretative social sciences, covering the above and 
adding in (given how much diverse data there are to manipulate) 
elementary programming skills. What better context for their introduction?



Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
Group, University of Western Sydney

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