Where Digital Projects Happen
Certain concerns emerge as we consider the physical spaces in which we do digital work. How much room is necessary? Some projects can be completed with access to a single computer. However, for some projects, the space requirements can be large. Even if a project exists primarily online for the end users, it might require a great deal of physical hardware for the researchers putting the project together, whether that includes computers, printers, hard drives, projectors, screens, or other technology. That equipment requires space, and there is also a need for space in which people come together to work. Whereas some projects need private, dedicated space, other kinds of work can be better done in open, collaborative spaces. Frequently these spaces are located in, or are closely affiliated with, libraries. Four common types of spaces where this digital humanities work can happen are private project labs, digital humanities labs, makerspaces, and general coworking spaces.
Private Project Labs
Some projects have a level of support that allows them to establish a private workspace. The setup can vary greatly. Some projects might have a large room with specialized equipment, whereas others might have a single desk with a dedicated computing station. In either case, space is often at a premium at universities, libraries, and other institutions, so if you are requesting or establishing a dedicated space for your project, you should take into account how long your dedicated space will be available to you and plan for the future in case you need to move your work. Such consideration is important with dedicated server space as well, as an eventual need to migrate servers can impact a project considerably.
Digital Humanities Labs
Digital humanities labs are generally associated with academic institutions, and they may be housed in academic departments, independent institutes, or research libraries. As Katy Kavanagh Webb points out, these labs are most often geared toward supporting faculty and graduate students completing digitally based research.2 The setup of each lab varies, but generally they are dedicated to the study of the humanities, providing computers and other appropriate hardware and software installed to meet the needs of a given project. In many cases, just as with scientific labs, they are reserved for authorized researchers and are not open to the general public. Sometimes one project can take over an entire lab space, but frequently these labs are shared by scholars working on multiple projects.
For students and scholars not affiliated with a research library, or who are not yet part of a team authorized to use a digital humanities lab, a makerspace might provide a useful workplace. A makerspace generally houses equipment that is open for a wide range of uses and experimental innovation. Often the equipment includes computers, 3D printers, scanners, and software that is useful for making digital and physical products. Both public libraries and academic libraries have moved toward establishing makerspaces for research and education.3 Rebekah Willett has identified key themes in discussions about library makerspaces: “the future of public libraries, DIY and maker cultures, and informal learning.”4 These concepts are helpful as practitioners think about the role of a makerspace and whether it is a location for sustained digital humanities research, or whether it is a space for learning and experimentation. An individual dedicated makerspace may place guidelines or restrictions on work done in the space depending on how it sets goals.
The concept of a coworking space is that of an office shared between workers from multiple companies. These kinds of spaces may be useful for researchers who are not affiliated with an institution or library that provides freely available meeting space. For digital projects that are mainly completed remotely, sometimes coworking spaces can provide useful locations for contributors to gather together on an as-needed basis. Of course, in the post-COVID era, much of this work is done online via Zoom or similar teleconferencing software. Nevertheless, there are often useful reasons to gather a group in person to complete work.