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Re-skilling for the digital humanities: measuring skills, engagement, and learning

Nisa Bakkalbasi (Columbia University, New York, New York, USA)
Damon Jaggars (Columbia University, New York, New York, USA)
Barbara Rockenbach (Columbia University, New York, New York, USA)

Library Management

ISSN: 0143-5124

Article publication date: 9 March 2015




The purpose of this paper is to describe an assessment design for the Developing Librarian training program. The Developing Librarian training program created by and for librarians and professional staff in the Humanities and History division is a two-year training program to acquire new skills and methodologies to support the digital humanities. The program is based on the assumption that learning must happen in context; therefore the training is project based with all participants engaged in building a digital humanities research site as a team. This approach enables participants to learn about new tools in a sustained manner that parallels the way humanities researchers are likely to use them.


In order to measure the success of achieving this goal, program designers defined three objectives: learn tools and methods that support the emerging research needs and trends in the humanities; create a more interesting and engaging work environment for librarians and professional staff; and engage effectively with the humanities research community across the University. Three methods/instruments were: Explicit Self-Reflections to assess what participants learned in each training unit; the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale to measure how participants feel about their work before and after the training program; and the Skill Set, Knowledge and Attitude Assessment to be administered at completion to measure the effectiveness of the training program as a whole.


At the time of writing, the Developing Librarian Project is mid-way to completion, and implementation of the assessment plan is ongoing. Based on these self-reports, there is evidence that the training program has been effective, and participants have been successful in meeting most of the learning objectives identified in the units completed. While self-assessment of knowledge and skills may have its limitations, this technique is proving adequate and efficient for achieving the program’s goals. This method encourages experimentation and establishes failure as an important aspect of the learning process.

Research limitations/implications

An assessment approach such as this does not measure the impact of training and development on digital humanities research, but initiates a valuable process, highlighting skills gaps at the individual, and organizational levels. These data are important for identifying and implementing appropriate training opportunities for librarians supporting emergent research activities and for understanding what skills and professional preparation are needed for new staff recruited into the organization.


A successful training program should be benchmarked, evaluated in a substantive and systematic way, and improved continuously. A formal assessment plan, directly tied to clearly articulated objectives, helps assure that such a program is effectively evaluated, iteratively developed, and successfully implemented. The Developing Librarian Project provides a useful model of how an academic library can leverage assessment and evaluation processes to identify skills gaps and training needs and generate actionable data for improving staff learning.



© Bakkalbasi, Jaggers&Rockenbach


Bakkalbasi, N., Jaggars, D. and Rockenbach, B. (2015), "Re-skilling for the digital humanities: measuring skills, engagement, and learning", Library Management, Vol. 36 No. 3, pp. 208-214.



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