#citylis Student Perspectives: Louise Wallace on Digital Humanities, Python, and Raspberry Pi

Student Perspectives is our series of guest posts written by current #citylis students.

This post is by current #citylis student, Louise Wallace, and is discusses the impacts of Digital Humanities and coding on Library and Information Science.


As Dr Lyn Robinson discussed in her blog post from 2015, ‘Are the Digital Humanities and Library & Information Science the same thing?’, the two are closely related. There is a focus on documentation in both disciplines, for example through the creation of digital resources, and issues such as open access, metadata and linked data. I think that it is important for librarians to be aware of the work going in in Digital Humanities. This is not only so that they can better support students and researchers, but also because librarians are increasingly involved in this kind of work, through digitisation projects and digital libraries.

Beyond the creation of digital resources, an activity associated with Digital Humanities is textual analysis. In DITA we explored some online textual analysis tools such as Voyant Tools, Wordle and Tagxedo. These kinds of tools are easy to use for simple tasks, but if you want to have more control and carry out your own text or data analysis project, it would be helpful to learn how to write the code for this yourself.

A Word Cloud showing the most frequently used words on my blog, created using Tagxedo.

Learning coding (or writing a set of software instructions) may seem daunting, but there are many tools online which are aimed at beginners. Codecademy is a popular starting point as it has various free courses for learning different programming languages. Python is recommended as a good language for beginners, as it has a strong focus on readability, clarity and openness. There is a strong community around Python, which encourages open-source code and the sharing of ideas, and so if you have a problem the answer is probably already available online.

There is a library of over 90,000 Python packages available on PyPI (the Python Package Index). These contain code that other people have already created for a certain function and made available for others to download and use. An example that is useful for librarians is PyMARC. This is a module that can access, create and manipulate raw binary MARC record data. It can be used to extract, analyse, add or remove fields and subfields. (see Hill, Frank & Pernotto 2016, p. 22-25 for an example of how to use PyMARC to batch process MARC records.)

While looking into learning to program, I have been thinking about the importance of these skills to children and young people. There is a generation (in which I include myself) which has grown up never having to interact with computers without the help of a user-friendly graphical interface. Young people may be great at using computers, but do we really understand how they work? Coding has been added to the school curriculum in the UK, and so new ways of learning and teaching the basics of computer science are being explored all the time.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B (via Wikimedia Commons)

Eben Upton created the Raspberry Pi (a credit card-sized, single-board computer) in response to decreasing numbers and poor skills of incoming computer science students at Cambridge. The Raspberry Pi Foundation is a UK charity which aims “to put the power of digital making into the hands of people all over the world”, by providing low-cost mini computers and promoting the teaching of basic computer science. You can learn to code on a Raspberry Pi, and then the list of possible projects to use it for is endless. Astronaut Tim Peake even used special Astro Pis during his mission on the International Space Station, running experiments designed by school children (final Astro Pi mission update).

I am very tempted to get myself a Raspberry Pi and see what I can do with it (if ever I have time after writing all of my assignments), so watch this space!

Robinson, L ‘Are the Digital Humanities and Library & Information Science the same thing?’: https://thelynxiblog.com/2015/06/29/are-the-digital-humanities-and-library-information-science-the-same-thing/

Walton, D ‘Chapter One: Introduction’, p. 1-10 and Hill, C; Frank, H; Pernotto, M ‘Chapter Two: Python’, p. 11-26 in: Thomsett-Scott, B (ed.) (2016) The Librarian’s Introduction to Programming Languages, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield

Get started with Raspberry Pi: https://www.raspberrypi.org/help/

Raspberry Pi Education: https://www.raspberrypi.org/education/


You can follow Louise on Twitter.

This post is an edited version of the original which was published on the author’s blog, a library odyssey, on 3rd December 2016.

The Editor is also interested in the possibilities of Raspberry Pi but has still never got around to getting one (approaching fatherhood may change that in a few years, perhaps).  However, he would like to point the reader toward a couple of articles about the use of Raspberry Pi’s in Libraries:

Cooper, J.L. & Knight, J.P. (2014) Evaluating Possible Uses of a Raspberry Pi in an Academic Library Environment, D-Lib Magazine 20 (5/6), Available at: http://www.dlib.org/dlib/may14/cooper/05cooper.html (Accessed: 15th December 2016).

Schiller, N. (2013) Adventures with Raspberry Pi: A Librarian’s Introduction, Available at: http://acrl.ala.org/techconnect/post/adventures-with-raspberry-pi-a-librarians-introduction (Accessed: 15th December 2016).

If you are interested in studying Library and Information Science, our next Open Evening is on February 15th from 5.30-7.30pm – you can book your place here.

If you are a current #citylis student or alumni and would like to contribute a post, please contact our Editor, James Atkinson.

About James

Information Assistant (Academic Services) in the Library at City, University of London.
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