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How to run a digital humanities shop

This post from Tom Scheinfeldt, and the post he links to gave me some food for thought.

First, it’s remarkable how much digital humanities shops have in common with startups. I did the startup thing for awhile, and now I’ve been doing the faculty projects / digital humanities development thing for awhile, and both attract workaholics, crazy deadlines, and continuously trying to to push the envelope. In fact, I hadn’t thought about it before, but my current job is everything I used to love about working at a startup (the camaraderie, the excitement of accomplishing something new) without the constant fear of going bankrupt.

Second, although the 17 tips article is about saving money at a startup, I would say most of his suggestions have more to do with increasing productivity and job satisfaction among programmers, which are valuable outcomes even if you’re not primarily motivated by your bottom line.

And lastly, given how many of these suggestions are really more about productivity and job satisfaction, I’m impressed with how much we’re doing right! We buy our folks decent machines and upgrade them at regular intervals, we all have second monitors (scrounged from IT surplus, but that’s okay), we sprang for decent chairs in the last office furniture upgrade, and we’re seriously considering ditching our phones for precisely the reasons he gives. We don’t have an in-office espresso machine, but we do have a samovar, and actually I find coffee jaunts to be a productive time to connect with folks from other departments.

Speaking of digital humanities shops, too, it’s been great to start connecting with the folks from George Mason’s Center for History and New Media. Doing faculty projects programming at the University of Alberta, and now at the University of Virginia has always felt slightly isolating in terms of my professional community. While of course I’m a code4lib devotee, I’m not actually a systems librarian, and it’s been rare to meet someone else who does what I do. I’m glad to see more of the digital scholarship support work that’s happening in libraries making its way into the foreground and I’m thrilled to see more of a community springing up around it.

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