From our Digital Bookshelf: “Embedding Creativity into Digital Resources,” by Christina Kamposiori, Claire Warwick, and Simon Mahony

Kamposiori, Christina, Claire Warwick, and Simon Mahony. “Embedding Creativity into Digital Resources: Improving Information Discovery for Art History.” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities 37, no. 2 (June 1, 2022): 469–82. https://doi.org/10.1093/llc/fqab088

In the Digital Bookshelf series, the Artes Research team shares with our readers an academic work we have been enjoying recently. This time, I’ve chosen a recently published article co-authored by Christina Kamposiori, Claire Warwick, and Simon Mahony. The article, titled “Embedding Creativity into Digital Resources: Improving Information Discovery for Art History,” takes an ethnographic approach to examining how art historians find and engage with their resources. It builds on established research on information behavior models and contributes to these on the basis of the authors’ own ethnographic research, including not only interviews with but also observations of twenty art historians’ physical and digital workspaces.

The article’s focus is two-fold: first, it lays out the methodology and results of the ethnographic research, arguing that art historical research is a creative practice; and secondly, it suggests what an ideal digital platform for this target group might look like based on the results from the ethnographic study. In this way, it brings together insight not only from the art historians who participated in the interviews and observation process—a group with varied research experience and research interests—but also from the authors’ own areas of expertise as Digital Humanities scholars.

Based on their interactions with art historians, the authors draw the conclusion that there is often an element of serendipity related to research in the field of art history, particularly in the beginning stages of gathering resources and finding inspiration. By relying on existing information behavior models like Carol Kuhlthau’s Information Search Model (ISP), the authors make the case for a broader conception of the gathering phase in this model, incorporating “Exploratory Gathering” as a distinct phase. This type of information acquisition is part of what the authors argue is a “creative” practice germane to art historical research, and as such, it should be taken into account when designing digital platforms and resources.[1]

The article puts forth a number of considerations for developing such resources: (1) the interface should be easy to use and should facilitate multiple search methods; (2) the platform should enable visual exploration, including the ability to get an overview of the resources, but also linking resources in a way that lets users jump to similar content; (3) it should incorporate intuitive interaction like zooming or flipping through pages; (4) it should include metadata alongside digital materials; and (5) it should enable access through various means, including viewing and downloading material.

This article was interesting for me for multiple reasons, including its consideration of how accessibility of materials affects research focus and outcomes, the differences between objects in their digitized and physical forms, how libraries can better feature their digital materials, and how researchers in the digital age grapple with the amount of information within (or without of) their reach. These aspects of the article resonate with much of the work Artes Research does, especially in the context of teaching the Digital Scholarship module for the first-year PhD candidates at the Faculty of Arts. A key focus of the article, even though it remains implicit, relates to research data management and how this can be successfully incorporated into the (creative) research process in an iterative way. Indeed, the notion of “serendipity” can be relevant for many researchers in the humanities and for all who are researching in the digital age but remaining critical about how we access sources and what impact the medium of the resource might have on our results is also a worthy consideration.

The authors are transparent about the fact that the recommendations for building ideal platforms remain quite general, but they offer a starting point and some good practices for further development. It would be interesting to know which platforms specifically the authors examined in arriving at their conclusions and which, if any, they consider to be already-existing ideal platforms. The issues they raise about critical thinking when it comes to sources incorporated in research as well as the need to include researchers in the development of such digital infrastructure are central and will remain so in the future. In this way, the article provides several key considerations for researchers, library professionals, and digital humanists alike.

[1] Christina Kamposiori, Claire Warwick, and Simon Mahony, “Embedding Creativity into Digital Resources: Improving Information Discovery for Art History,” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities 37, no. 2 (June 1, 2022): 476, https://doi.org/10.1093/llc/fqab088.

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