We the Humanities: Library and Information Science and its Relevance for the Humanities

We the Humanities

We the Humanities


“…the world we live in is surely a world of information.”

-Tom Wilson (2010)


I am pleased to share that I will be curating @wethehumanities (http://www.wethehumanities.org) between Monday 29th June and Sunday 5th July 2015.

@wethehumanities is a rotation-curation Twitter account showcasing the creativity and diversity of the humanities and reiterating the fact that the humanities are more widely important than current public funding suggests. It began with a seemingly innocuous tweet. On 5th January 2014 @academicjess tweeted:

and the rest is history…

The project is currently just being administrated by Jessica Sage, Kristina West (@krisreadsbooks) and Emma Butcher (@EmmaButcher_).

Co-founder Jessica Sage comments:

The We the Humanities project engages with people from around the world, exposing them to humanities research, experience and ideas they perhaps didn’t know existed. Each week a new academic or practitioner takes over the account, tweeting about their work and provoking conversations about the diversity and importance of the humanities. We really look forward to [insert your name] running the account this coming week, and in particular [his/her] take on [add areas of interest].”

We the Humanities, which is now in its second year, has attracted tweeters from across six continents, ranging from professors to Masters students and from museum curators to musicians. The discussions engages with more than 2400 followers from across the world, including everyone from lifetime specialists to the mildly curious. The account has developed to include a blog and events listings, housed at http://www.wethehumanities.org.

Kristina West, co-founder of WtH, adds:

We encourage anyone working within the humanities who might be interested in curating the account to get in touch through the website. We aim to create a vibrant, international community to raise awareness of the diversity, relevance and challenges that encompass what is called the humanities.”

My interest in curating @wethehumanities is manifold. Personal and professional reasons intertwine, both sets including my interests in humanities advocacy, social media and library and information science. I have been on Twitter since December 2008 and I have been a blogger since 1999. As a lecturer in Library Science my research and teaching interests are centred around the “human communication chain” (Bawden and Robinson 2012), specifically looking at how the mechanisms with which we produce, disseminate, collect, preserve, discover and give access to information.

Though I have developed a keen interest in coding, computing and data science, my background is fundamentally a humanities background; my BA is in English literature, I did an MA in culture and communication studies and my PhD was on Library and Information Studies, which I did in what would eventually become the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities (UCLDH). Some of my work advocating for the humanities has appeared in platforms like HASTAC  and 4Humanities.  You may want to take a look at this infographic from UCLDH and 4Humanities that I contributed to.

My particular take curating @wethehumanities seeks to promote awareness and knowledge exchange about the role that library and information science (LIS) plays within the humanities in general as an academic discipline, and in specific in facilitating the understanding of and production, collection, preservation and access to information resources that make humanities tasks possible.

On the #citylis web site LIS is defined as

…a long-standing academic discipline, with its own set of theories and perspectives. It focuses on the study of the communication chain of recorded information, and supports the practice of librarianship, information management, archiving and records management and other collection professions.

Although it makes full use of technology, LIS is rooted in the humanities and social sciences. Its origins are in bibliography, the attempt over several centuries to make published information organized and accessible, and in the documentation and special libraries movements of the early twentieth century, which sought to make specialised knowledge retrievable at a detailed level. It is therefore centred around an understanding of documents and the ways in which they are managed; particularly the new forms of digital and immersive documents now becoming available.”

(See also Bawden and Robinson 2015).

Some of the questions I thought it would be interesting to pose from @wethehumanities would be

  • What would humanists do without libraries and librarians?
  • How do humanists (academic and alt-ac staff, students, independent researchers) understand the role of LIS within the humanities?
  • In which ways is LIS a humanistic activity (as practice) and humanities research (as methodology, theoretical framework) and in which ways is LIS perhaps more than that, crossing boundaries or making the relationships with other related fields more explicit?
  • Library and Information Science: What kind of science? Are the sciences and the humanities really that far apart? What’s in a name?
  • How much is Digital Humanities LIS and how much is LIS Digital Humanities? (Robinson, Priego and Bawden, 2015)

There are of course many other questions that can of course be discussed, bearing in mind as well at all times that we are constrained by the specific framework (opportunities and limitations) of Twitter. I can think for example of the role of libraries (personal, public, academic)  in our everyday lives, in the past and ongoing transformations of the materiality of humanists’ objects of study, of how humanists prefer to read, take notes, communicate, archive, delete…

I am looking forward to my days behind @wethehumanities. Logically I won’t be able to be online at all times (on Monday for example I’ll have very limited online access) and I may have to schedule some Tweets.

Hopefully you will be able to join me during the next week. Many thanks in advance!


Bawden, D. & Robinson, L. (2012). Introduction to information science. London: Facet.

Robinson L, Priego E and Bawden D (2015). Library and information science and digital humanities: two disciplines, joint future? In: Pehar F, Schlögl C and Wolff C (eds.) Re-inventing information science in the networked society. Glückstadt: Verlag Werner Hülsbusch, 2015, pp 44-54.

Bawden D and Robinson L (2015). Library and Information Science. In: Encyclopedia of Communication Theory and Philosophy, Jensen KB and Pooley J (Eds.) Wiley.

Terras, M., Priego, E., Liu, A., Rockwell, G., Sinclair, S., Henseler, S. & Thomas, L. (2014). The Humanities Matter!  London, UK: 4Humanities, University of Alberta. Available at http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/7450/.

Wilson, T. D. (2010) Information and information science: an address on the occasion
of receiving the award of Doctor Honoris Causa, at the University of Murcia, September 2010, Information Research, 15(4), paper 439 [online] available at http://InformationR.net/ir/15-4/paper439.html.

Disclaimer: The views expressed at the @wethehumanities Twitter account are those of the weekly guest editor and not those of the administrator or previous/subsequent curators, nor do they represent the views of the guest editor’s employers, colleagues, students or affiliates.

Ernesto is on Twitter @ernestopriego. His personal blog is here.

If you are a current #citylis student, alumni or member of staff and would like to contribute a post, please contact Ernesto Priego at ernesto.priego.1@city.ac.uk

For current and future Library and Information Science news, opportunities and events follow the #citylis blog on Twitter @citylis.

About Ernesto Priego

A lecturer at City, University of London. My research interests include digital humanities, library and information science, human computer interaction design, comics scholarship, scholarly communications, open access, open data and open educational resources.
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