Matthew Butler of the Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio has been named the 2023 recipient of the Arthur Benton University Librarian’s Award for Excellence in recognition of his far-reaching contributions to digital librarianship. In his role as senior developer and research manager at the Studio, Butler has personally developed custom code to be used as a research tool by institutions worldwide.
Butler has served the Studio and the UI Libraries as a whole for the past 12 years, during which he has worked closely with the university community to develop and disseminate well over 100 scholarly research and digital humanities projects. His work is both creative and highly technical, embodying an interdisciplinary ethos.
“Matthew’s work has transformed the relationship between software development and the humanities, creating a necessary bridge from one discipline to another,” says Jack B. King University Librarian John Culshaw. “In doing so, he has furthered the University of Iowa’s reputation for cutting-edge digital scholarship on the world stage—and we can only guess at the vast potential his work will unlock in years to come.”
Peer institutions have taken notice of Butler’s innovative work, and his open-source code has already been implemented at Yale University, the University of Oxford, and the Library of Virginia. In his letter of support, Studio Director Tom Keegan calls Butler “a polymath whose technical expertise and research creativity have helped bring a number of faculty, staff, and graduate student projects into being.” He also emphasized Matthew’s integral role in “some of the most exciting and groundbreaking digital scholarly work at Iowa.”
Butler’s creativity is likely a reflection of his training in intermedia and video art, for which he earned an MFA from the UI. Each of his recommenders cited the breadth and variety of Butler’s work, which spans multiple areas of study. In partnership with recommender Bryce Dietrich of Purdue University’s Department of Political Science, Butler developed an application which was later used by the National Institute of Health to comb through audio data and predict depression in elderly populations with an accuracy rate of almost 90%. He’s also currently working with UI sociology professor Louise Seamster on a project to address the water crisis is Flint, Michigan, by mining data from emails.
One of his earliest achievements at the UI Libraries was developing the platform DIY History, which enlists members of the public for help in transcribing handwritten documents, including letters dating back to the Civil War. Since the platform’s launch in 2011, over 100,000 pages of archival material has been transcribed and is now searchable in the Iowa Digital Library. Donna Brooks, Butler’s nominator and program manager at the Studio, calls him “a rare talent, tirelessly dedicated to the development of original work product and custom solutions that enable UI scholars to work with data in their domain of expertise.”
Each letter in support of Butler’s nomination made mention of his collaborative spirit, which makes him a valuable partner in guiding faculty and graduate students in the pursuit of their goals. Dietrich said his professional relationship with Butler has been key to his success in research. “I have never been more enthusiastic about a nomination,” Dietrich says. “I miss many things about the University of Iowa, but working with Matt at the Studio is near the top of that list.”
Butler will be formally acknowledged as the recipient of the Benton Award during an event in the new year.
The Arthur Benton University Librarian’s Award for Excellence is awarded each year to a member of the UI Libraries’ professional staff who has demonstrated outstanding commitment and leadership in furthering its mission to serve the university community. In addition to formal recognition, the award includes a grant of $2,000 for professional development that will support Butler’s research projects or publications related to library services.
The late Dr. Arthur Benton, professor of psychology and neurology at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, established the endowment to make this annual award possible.