In fall 2019, Laure Barbot, Quinn Dombrowski, Frank Fischer, Geoffrey Rockwell, and Lisa Spiro submitted the following proposal to the DH 2020 conference “Who Needs Tool Directories? A Forum on Sustaining Discovery Portals Large and Small”. As everything turned into virtual, this “forum” was also organised as a virtual forum, setting up a website to accommodate these exchanges: https://dh2020directoriesforum.hcommons.org/
Digital humanists broadly agree that tool directories are a good and valuable thing, worth building and maintaining, but there is no sustainability model. This forum aims to move beyond platitudes and interrogate the value of directories and possible models for sustaining them. For whom are tool directories valuable, and in what context?
Tool directories require ongoing attention in order to remain relevant — and more technically sophisticated directories face infrastructure maintenance costs as long as the directory remains online and functional. Some directories have adopted a crowdsourcing model to address content updates, translation, and other necessary functions once grant funding runs out. As unpaid labor increasingly becomes an area of attention and concern for digital humanities, one is left to ask, how ethical are directories, particularly when this volunteer labor is at particular risk of being lost through fragile infrastructure? At a certain point, time and funding are a zero-sum game: are directories actually worth it?
This forum is organized by individuals representing a range of DH directories, spanning from 2002 (Geoffrey Rockwell’s TAPoR) to 2020 (Frank Fischer and Laure Barbot representing the Marketplace developed within the SSHOC project), along with the defunct DiRT (Lisa Spiro and Quinn Dombrowski).
The forum will help the organizers grapple with the difficult decisions that fall out from the “directory paradox”, where the DH community’s praise of directories is wildly incommensurate with the interest or resources available for sustaining them. Similarly, they aim to help others running directories at various scales (including in forms such as Libguides or lists on GitHub pages) return to their projects with a clearer sense of what they’re doing, for whom, why, and for how long.
If you want to be part of this discussion, simply visit the site and leave your comments on the set of questions you will find there! An online discussion session will be organised later in August: stay tuned!