The digital humanities pulls books from the shelves and archive collections from their boxes and puts them into digital forms, allowing the remix of these known items and produces new discovery. Computers can collect common elements faster and in greater detail than has been previously possible. One excellent example of this comes from the Smithsonian Institution. Different data sets from through their multiple museums have been culled and can now be remixed. This tool takes known items from art, history, natural science and zoology and finds new relationships when data elements shares common traits. Employing metadata principles, thesaurus vocabularies and customized technology, the Smithsonian search engine leverages their special collections, opens scholarly investigation to a global internet audience and promises educational discovery in novel ways unimagined before the leveraging of metadata computerization (http://collections.si.edu/search/).
The University of Washington pulled out their box of old photographs, and then using a sophisticated list of vocabulary, applied these descriptive characteristics to their J. Willis Sayers portrait collection of theatrical figures from history. The use of a common set of descriptive words allows the photographs to be mined for commonalities between these historic figures and discover new relationships by leveraging this data (http://content.lib.washington.edu/sayrepublicweb/index.html).
Academia finds this discovery process in many forms. A novel pioneer is Smarthistory ((http://smarthistory.org), a digital textbook initiative investigates the discipline of art history. Databases are a more common form of exploration. The electronic collection academic journals, JSTOR, allows searches based not only on the text of the articles, but this vocabulary can also be applied to mine the captions of the images contained within the articles (http://www.jstor.org/). GeoRef explores the journals of science and has expanded search to figures, charts and tables within the articles (http://www.agiweb.org/georef/index.html). Now the trend of e-books are fast becoming a significant library investment and this is just the tip of the iceberg for new tools. The current level of detail and the breadth of materials that can be simultaneously searched, produces a new era of discovery for academic communities.
Librarians have a great responsibility to stay abreast of electronic resource collections. Daily the electronic publishers make database search changes, as well as add new technological services. These job responsibilities are in addition to the review of new database products and collection development functions. But there is much more to the job than just keeping up on the electronic publishing world. Librarians must also face the increasing distant between the reference desk and bridge the learning gap being created in the self-service cyber world. New responsibilities include the need to publicize, promote, educate and train not only students but also the faculty and other library staff. At face value the single search box seemed so simple and many assumed it would create self-service in an electronic library world, but that conclusion would be ignorant of the digital resource complexities and new research methods.