The digital humanities (DH): if this topic excites among librarians a buzz verging at times on rapture, there are perhaps good reasons for that. After all, the humanities, as I have argued, have for their omphalos the library (or some such metaphor). Librarianship, on the other hand, has traditionally been a bureaucratic profession, concerned with the construction of order by application of a rule, rather than with the work of reading and interpreting; with the cataloging and stewardship of works, rather than with the consecration or desecration of texts. The digital humanities (DH), however, promise a fresh symbiosis (according to a recent OCLC report) between categorization and interpretation, bringing the work of librarians and humanists into a zone of more intimate contact. From text mining, to the creation of digital scholarly editions, to the construction of new analytic tools, the DH represent a confrontation between the humanities and the concepts of data and metadata; the fact that these data and metadata often pertain to textual objects beckons to librarians’ expertise.
But there are larger bones to pick. Let us suppose that, in the oracular words of OCLC, “‘the Digital Humanities’ […] will soon be considered ‘the Humanities.'” Is this prophecy cause for unqualified celebration? Does the ascendancy of the DH herald a world of broader access and deeper appreciation — a world in which digital surrogates bring ancient papyri into middle-school classrooms, and algorithmic techniques explode the canon, letting observation and insight traverse the most obscure nooks and neglected crannies of the archive? Or as more skeptical voices suggest, does this ascendancy betoken “the managerial and bureaucratic imperatives” (Eyers — see below) that more and more permeate higher ed, targeting now even those slow and steady herbivores, those workhorses who require for their upkeep only a library card and a quiet corner — the readers of texts?