This paper will discuss lessons learned in the first 18 months of release of Gale Digital Scholar Lab; a ground-breaking tool designed to make digital scholarship methods more accessible and vastly reduce the time needed to run digital humanities projects. By taking a global view of the users of the Lab, this paper will illustrate regional trends in use, as well as highlighting the key lessons from researchers and academics around the world.
Since 2011, Gale have been working with academics globally to provide access to the OCR and metadata of its world-famous digital archives, including ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online) and the Times Digital Archive.
In 2014, following the decision to make this data available more formally on drives, Gale has kept in touch with many of the researchers in receipt of this data to understand their projects and ideally, the challenges they face in using this data in digital humanities projects.
As a result of this research, Gale identified three common challenges faced by researchers around the world when conducting digital humanities projects. Firstly, the time taken to bring together a significant corpus, clean it and prepare it for analysis often stretch to many months and proved to be prohibitive for many researchers. Secondly, hosting data was an expensive and labour-intensive process, requiring significant institutional infrastructure that proved to be an obstacle for many. Finally, learning the coding languages necessary to create analytical tools was a challenge for many, especially when considered in the framework of the undergraduate classroom.
Subsequently, Gale began building a tool to meet and ideally, mitigate these challenges. Creating a tool that would be as useful to researchers in Beijing as those in Birmingham proved to be a significant undertaking, and took over four years of development, including one year of active development, at a cost of $2 Million.
In September 2018, we released Gale Digital Scholar Lab, a cloud-hosted text and data mining environment, bringing up to 166 Million pages (to date) of Gale’s leading digital archives together with powerful text mining and natural language processing tools. With an aim of drastically reducing the time needed to construct a research corpus, clean large sets of data, customise and run analyses and teach sophisticated digital scholarship methods, Gale Digital Scholar Lab proved to be an extremely popular product.
The launch of the Lab proved a significant evolution in Gale’s relationship with academia, as we found ourselves more frequently partnering with academics on projects related to digital humanities. One area of common focus involved collaborating on pedagogies and working together to construct curricula to widen the teaching of digital humanities, with a specific focus on the undergraduate classroom. Increasingly, institutions around the world looked to Gale to assist them in using the Gale Digital Scholar Lab to teach digital methods to humanities students. Not wishing to insert ourselves unnecessarily into the academic process, this proved a great opportunity to collaborate with leading institutions on methods of using the Lab, as part of a suite of tools and techniques, to spread digital humanities methods throughout the HSS department. To this end, Gale began employing academics to collaborate with institutions on creating curricula and teaching.
Alongside this, there proved to be significant and frequent opportunities to partner with academics to create open tools that could be adapted for inclusion into the Lab. This not only allowed us to support valuable research, but also to ensure that tools were created that allowed all users of Gale digital archives to make discoveries and explore them in new and potentially interesting ways.
Working in these new, collaborative ways with academics proved to be both stimulating and challenging for those of us at Gale. It has been particularly noteworthy that the rise in Gale data being used in digital humanities has caused us to ask questions of OCR, metadata, structure, provenance and framing of archives. There is no question that digital humanities has asked challenged the way in which we present archival material and has changed the way we think about putting archives together and presenting them for research.
This paper will break down the first 18 months’ usage of the Lab globally, highlighting regional trends and tendencies. Allied to this, the paper will discuss the most common requests for future development and explain Gale’s ongoing commitment to evolving the Lab to meet the needs of the global DH community by presenting the development roadmap. By discussing the various partnerships and collaborations, we will show Gale’s commitment to growing and amplifying digital humanities research and supporting the values of openness, breaking down barriers and furthering the cause of humanities and social science research.