Who needs tool directories? A forum on sustaining discovery portals large and small

1. Abstract

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). We will share in advance a brief white paper with case studies and provocative questions, and elicit discussion via Twitter and a mailing list. For the forum itself, we will briefly introduce the context for the discussion to accommodate participants who have not read the white paper (15 minutes). We will then organize the forum attendees into breakout discussion groups, each focused on 1–2 agreed-upon questions (15 minutes). These breakout discussions will last 30 minutes, and each group will have one participant report back to the larger group, which will lead into a general discussion (20 minutes). We will close the forum with a short synthesis and ask participants to suggest next steps (10 minutes).

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, we hope it will 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.


  1. How should we review tools?

    1. Validity of tools for designers’ stated purpose

    2. Usability in classroom

    3. Applicability to certain research questions

  2. Who are directories useful for?

    1. And to do what?

    2. Are directories the most cost-efficient way to do these things?

  3. Who should be responsible for creating and maintaining directories?

    1. What would a directory look like that you personally would be willing and able to contribute to? Does that even exist?

  4. How can they be sustained when the grant runs out?

  5. How can students use them?

  6. Do we need standardized ontologies?

  7. How can we involve volunteers?

  8. What are the different models for tool directories?

  9. Why shouldn’t we just let Google do it?

Laure Barbot (laure.barbot@dariah.eu), DARIAH, Quinn Dombrowski (qad@stanford.edu), Stanford University, United States of America, Frank Fischer (frank.fischer@dariah.eu), Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia, Geoffrey Rockwell (grockwel@ualberta.ca), University of Alberta, Canada and Lisa Spiro (lspiro@rice.edu), Rice University, United States of America

Theme: Lux by Bootswatch.