That Time I visited my Book IRL 2015 Edition

Last year, Digital Humanities in the Library: Challenges and Opportunities for Subject Specialists was published by ACRL Press. I was very proud to contribute a chapter of my own. It was the very first time I saw my published work in print; quite a humbling experience.

I visited my book at ACRL 2015 in Portland, Oregon
I visited my book at ACRL 2015 in Portland, Oregon

Now, I am pleased to share that my chapter is available through Mount Holyoke’s IR.

J-Term: Team Engagement Developers

“Personalized virtual communities for teaching and research are primed to be one of the next big things for librarians and academia. It’s part of the transition we face from content providers to engagement developers.” -Brian Matthews

I thought about this post in the Chronicle excerpted above when I was organizing content for the J-Term course I co-taught this month with the awesome Shaun Trujillo.

Our course, Media Archaeology, Digital Humanities & The Archives, experimented with a humanities lab, a concept/practice I’ve long wanted to explore. As a libarchivist/instructional technologist, I work towards meaningful integration of technology into teaching contexts. Digital projects require skills and relationships not often available in traditional humanities seminars. This is not to say that the content embedded in digital projects isn’t essential; Shaun and I are not swept up by ‘pixel dust;’ we committed to thinking about media and artifacts both conceptually and practically.

The Humanities Lab is not new. In the introduction to the recently published book, Comparative Textual Media: Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era, Hayles and Pressman talk about “a major development in integrating a media framework into humanities disciplines is the advent of the Humanities Lab. Among the early pioneers was Jeffrey Schnapp. When he was at Stanford University, he envisioned the Humanities Lab as providing space for collaborative work on large project that he calls the ”Big Humanities“ (by analogy with ”Big Science“)…Humanities Labs also lead the way in offering new models of pedagogy.” (xvi)

There are many rewards and opportunities for these types of classroom experiences, extending the tradition lecture and seminar into hands-on-digital projects. Hayles and Pressman offer a wonderful example from Duke University art history course. In our case, we did hands on work appraising digital photos, took apart an iMac, used software from 2001, and ran programs on a C–64.

Three photographs of of a video conference, students working with an iMac and a close up of a C 64 console.

As librarians, working with digital forensics and new media, our role as content providers is given, but our role as engagement developers is an emerging one. In order for complex assignments and experiences to be scaled undergraduate classrooms, faculty, librarians, and technologists need to team up to make these projects sustainable realities. Librarians are primed to collaborate meaningfully in these teams not just as “content providers but as engagement developers.” I am excited to continue collaborating with Shaun as we refine and extend our work together on media archaeology and digital forensics in the future.

My College Years: a Snapshot of the Class of 1917 to Welcome the Class of 2017

This is the summary page of the digital exhibit 'My College Years' about the Mount Holyoke College Class of 1917

This semester is one of those semesters where I literally cannot believe how fast time is passing. The summer and the start of the semester were extremely busy, but for wonderful reasons. Our merged IT/Library (LITS) overhauled our orientation programming considerably to ‘radically welcome’ new students to Mount Holyoke. A significant part of orientation was also curricular; on the first Saturday of orientation my colleague Leslie Fields and I led the first session of the first year connections course (CUSP). Asked by the organizers to present a session about college history that brought the magic of the archives to about 500 entering students during six concurrent sessions. The question of scale immediately came to mind: how would we think about sharing the wonders of primary sources to so many students during 50 minute sessions?

We decided that the most expedient and perhaps AWESOMEST way of sharing some of Mount Holyoke College’s traditions and history with students was the create an online exhibit using materials from their great-grandmother class of 1917 to compare and contrast their experiences. Above all, we wanted to give the new students a sense that they are part of a larger community, the larger Mount Holyoke Community that thrives and endures beyond graduation and over generations. As the college song refrains, “Mount Holyoke forever shall be.”

So, how to build a site that would both communicate college history, make curricular connections, engage first year students AND look cool?

The four-legged stool of Archives & Special Collections (the goods), RIS (curricular connections), Archives & Special Collections Student Ambassadors (awesome engagement) and Digital Assets & Preservation (technical prowess & keen design sense) decided that we would build an Omeka site collaboratively. DH aficionados love talking about Omeka and there is no shortage of posts talking about its usability and extensibility, but what I wanted to share the link to our site and say some things about the process.

Students Need Context: Over and over again when I work on digital projects with students, just saying, ‘go do this thing!’ never helps. Providing context, instruction, and measurable goals can help students realize their curation potential. I met fairly regularly with our main student to scaffold the process from idea, to research, to storyboarded exhibit towards a proof of concept before we even talked about Omeka itself.

Better Together: Omeka’s extensibility really shines when you work with a variety of stakeholders. I alone in Research & Instructional Support could not have created this successful exhibit without the students’ insight/enthusiasm, special collections’ golden content, or Digital Assets & Preservation’s technical know-how & design moxie. With roles for curation, design, and technical support, we were able to do much more than slap some images onto a site. We created a narrative that leveraged plugins downloaded from GitHub and enjoyed a custom designed inspired from our own archival collections.

Digital Project Outreach Matters: This site was an important step for our team not only in terms of delivering content for a particular class, but also get ourselves better acquainted with a tool that we hope to use more broadly in the curriculum. It’s so easy for successful projects and processes to get lost in the shuffle which is why Sheila Brennan’s post about Digital Project Outreach continues to ring true for me. She writes that “outreach is intentional, is integral to a tools/project’s success…is not only about publicity, the job includes testing and making the tool accessible to targeted audiences; is user advocacy.” We kept our users at the center of this project, not only in terms of the content, but the process, how can we make digital curation scalable to the undergraduate classroom? How can this project be used as model for future projects? We shared our success on social media and found that our community responded with sustained engagement with the site beyond the concurrent sessions during orientation. I also hope that students will also see themselves in the process of creation; that knowing other undergraduates were at the heart of curation will inspire them to ask bold questions and dive into digital scholarship.

You can visit our exhibit here.

Trading Spaces / We Overhauled Print Reference

Sometimes, I love watching home improvement shows on TLC and HGTV. I like thinking about how to make spaces more useful, more beautiful. I think functional spaces inform and inspire good work. My office at Hampshire has been an evolving project towards functionality and beauty, or as much beauty as concrete and Styrofoam walls can offer. And those home shows inspire me to think about low-cost solutions to dysfunctional spaces. Discussions about space informed much of my thinking about my work and teaching during the past year. From decisions about teaching with my iPad rather than my laptop, to visiting our new classrooms in Emily Dickinson Hall, to the ISIS session we recently hosted about classrooms, space remains at the forefront of my thoughts about the library.

At Hampshire, we don’t have a lot of money to make major changes. However, that’s not to say we couldn’t make any changes, something I realized after the ISIS session where Nick Baker from Mount Holyoke College talked about the pop-up media lab he created in the art building. That space was built on the idea of flexible, transient spaces that meet immediate needs as opposed to long term and possibly unknowable needs. With all of this percolating in my mind, a couple of things transpired simultaneously at Hampshire:

  1. It was time to weed print reference. It was clear from the amount of dust on the books in our reference collection that it was time to do some weeding. And those texts took up valuable real estate on the first floor; space that can eventfully be used for student study space.
  2. Our outer office was a mess. Over the course of my first year at Hampshire, I sometimes wondered if the dysfunctional outer office made students less likely to come into our space to ask questions. In addition, the space was dysfunctional for the librarians. We didn’t have a place where the team to could sit together and meet. We didn’t have a functional space to sit with students if they needed advice from more than 1 librarian at a time. And it was sad. We needed to do something with that space.

At some point during the summer – probably while putting books on trucks and coughing up dust – we decided that the core reference books that will help us help more students should live near our offices. When that decision was made, we put in work orders for shelving (wouldn’t you know we had extra ones in the storage closet in the basement?) and to paint the walls. Our director ordered some Eames chairs over the summer to replace old carrel chairs, and we threw in some spare chairs and a table we commandeered from other parts of the library. The Facilities staff removed the door to our suite. Voila! Instant interdisciplinary consultation space!