“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.
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.
Now that the holidays are over, I am excited to turn my attention to the January Term class I am co- teaching with Shaun Trujillo. Shaun is the Digital Collections & Metadata Lead in the Digital Assets & Preservation Department at Mount Holyoke College. Last spring, when I co-taught the Introduction to Digital Humanities Class at Hampshire College with Jim Wald, Shaun joined us for an exciting guest lecture. We had so much fun collaborating that we decided to teach together again this winter.
We collaboratively developed the syllabus over the last few months. We met in person to discuss our vision for the course, draft learning objectives, and brainstorm lab possibilities. We exchanged a number of links over email and Twitter, too. After many Twitter exchanges, we decided that we should make a hashtag (#mhcmediaarc) to better facilitate current issues and readings with our students in real time.
So, readers, if you see can’t-miss articles about media archeology, digital humanities, women in technology, neat coding how-tos, Git resources, other media studies materials, please feel free to share them with us using our hashtag: #mhcmediaarc
And, if you have any 5.5 floppy disks, we’d love to have them.
More to come: class starts Tuesday 7 January in the Media Lab at Mount Holyoke College.
“But more important, I am bothered because I think there is pedagogical value in getting lost in the stacks. When I was a student, the stacks filled me with fear but also with awe-they contained so much learning! Today we applaud students for not exploring the stacks but for being efficient, making research quick and easy.” -Julio Alves
I loved Julio Alves’ piece in the The Chronicle of Higher Education called “Unintentional Knowledge.” In it, he affirms the importance of serendipity in research and writing, how “most of the knowledge we possess is not conscious and intentional; it is incidental, or tacit, acquired as a byproduct of performing some other activity…Incidental knowledge continues to play an important role in our adult lives. The library stacks are a mine of incidental knowledge.” It struck me that sometimes librarians bill themselves as capable sherpas who can help students to save time in their research process by showing them optimal databases, better search terms to leverage, and the fastest ways to download PDFs. I often talk to students about not getting lost in the romance of research, the notion that research is taxing, requiring hours of futile searching before landing on solid sources and leads. I encourage them to be organized, to capture their work process, and to do research systematically. In spite of my organizational exhortations, I do think there is tremendous value in following questions into detours from a “systematic approach.”
This semester, I taught a two-session sequence about topic development and research for a Spanish class. I started the topic development session encouraging the students to think about inspiration; what are they excited about studying? What books or issues in class engaged them the most? I encouraged the students to follow their interests and consider how they wanted to invest their time delving into a topic and developing questions that would resonate with them. We talked about topic reality checks, ways of leveraging library resources like JSTOR, Project Muse, and the catalog to see if a topic is viable and whether it will translate into answerable questions. I asked them to experiment, to find articles that might support their topic, and encouraged them to follow the trails started by the sources they looked at through linked keywords and subject headings in the catalog. In the research session that followed, we explored those trails more thoroughly. Even though these are digital means, they are still opportunities for serendipitous browsing; by starting with their interests and following the questions that mean the most to them, it’s easy for students to think of research less as a series of transactions towards a final paper, but a quest towards answering meaningful questions. Inspiration and incidental knowledge can also come from the digital realm, we just have to find new ways of honing it with our students, a resolution for 2014.
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.
The semester is upon us!
My liaison team at Mount Holyoke had a semester ramp-up/psych up meeting a few weeks ago, in which we shared strategies for managing the start-of-term craziness. I demonstrated some of the curriculum and collection mapping I’ve been doing this summer in Coggle to learn about my new departments, and another colleague shared her favorite calendar management tool, YouCanBook.me. My struggles to manage email and calendar appointments is documented on this blog here. While I had some luck with lizibot last year, I also found that there were some bugs that gave me pause over the summer. As my colleague demoed YouCanBook.me, I realized it was time to make another switch for these reasons:
- It just works with Google Calendar without any muss or fuss.
- Customizable settings. It was easy to set my time zone and block off times for lunch and anticipate meeting heavy days that don’t make open hours optimal.
- Minimal steps for users to make an appointment. Lizibot had too many cumbersome steps.
The school year is always a time management battle; new projects occupy precious brain bandwidth; revision of my teaching materials is continual; meeting with as many students one-on-one is a perpetual goal; and back up on service points like the Research Help Desk can derail my best intentions to multitask. I am always looking for new ways to simply routine tasks like setting up meetings, responding to email, and managing my time. Resources like ProfHacker and Life Hacker inspire me to tweak my habits and workflows so I can spend my time wisely and not get lost in the roundabouts of administrivia. Here’s to a great semester!
Summer is coming to a close. Target is filled with bedding, shelving, and everything else incoming students will need to make their dorm rooms theirs. The weather is turning cooler at night, and my calendar is filled with meetings to ready our library for incoming students. If you’ve been following Mount Holyoke College social media outlets, you’ve seen our hashtags: #jorgeknows and #marysbag. I’ll have more to say on those in a few weeks as we roll out our programming. For now, I want to comment on one of my favorite start-of-term activities for incoming students: the common read.
Some might say: the common read, who cares? Well, I believe the common read is an essential component of orientation, especially at selective liberal arts college like Mount Holyoke and my alma mater, Smith College. In many cases, the book is one of the only commonalities students may share; no matter if they arrived to campus from New Jersey or Beijing, they read the same book. If nothing else, newly arrived students can reliably make chit chat about the book, whether they enjoyed it, whether it was too long, whether it was enthralling or pedantic. It is an immediate and common bond.
During my last semester at Hampshire College, I served on the college-wide common read committee, a group tasked with selecting next year’s book for incoming students to read. I knew going into the experience that I had warm, pleasant feelings about common read programs; I had such fond memories of my own experiences reading My Year of Meats / Ruth Ozeki before my first year at Smith in 2000. I loved reading the book that summer between my cashier shifts at Blockbuster Video. Reading the book as I readied myself to leave home help ease my anxieties about fitting into a new community; was I academically prepared enough? Would I have anything worthwhile to say? Would the students of Smith realize that I was an inferior interloper (IMPOSTOR SYNDROME!)? The book became my outlet. I think it read it twice that summer.
When I arrived on campus, the freedom to be out of the closet, to no longer be the person that hid underneath heaps of hair and quiet dourness in high school, was overwhelming. I was not accustomed to being honest about who I was or how I really felt. I almost did not know what to say or where to start, so I started with the common read. It was a low threshold to talk about a book most everyone read. It helped eased my transition. Finally, as orientation week came to a close, Ruth Ozeki herself come to John M. Greene Hall to give a talk about her book. It was a wonderful talk; Ozeki touched on her own experiences at Smith, and gave us first years a spirited go get ’em! Ruth Ozeki’s talk was the first time I ever heard an author speak about his or her work publicly; a direct connection between a published work and the person who wrote it. It was powerful and inspiring.
Afterwards, first year students were invited to follow Ozeki to the Alumnae House to get copies of her book signed. Many of us went; I remember waiting in a long line. Most of my cohort enjoyed the talk and we chatted amongst ourselves as we waited to meet the author herself. I made some friends, felt a sense of school community I had never felt before, and finally, when my turn came, I met Ozeki. She was friendly and warm and took my book, asked my name, and wrote an inscription on the cover page: “For Caroline-Have a great time at Smith! Ruth L. Ozeki.” This interaction gave me inspiration to try my best, to take big risks, and learn as much as I could at Smith. My dog eared copy of My Year of Meats moved with me to every room I lived in at Smith, every apartment I inhabited in Florence, New Haven, Somerville, and Northampton. It psyched me up; I can do this.
Of course, Smith was a challenge; my classes, classmates, and experiences in athletics, music, and college radio pushed me in all the right ways, but my years at Smith were not without their dark days. During those periods when I questioned everything, my direction, my intelligence, my ability on the crew team to pass a 2K test, or land gainful employment after graduation, I turned to My Year of Meats as a reminder of what brought me to the College. I thought about the opportunity to learn, grow, and evolve as a critical thinker, but also to have a great time, watch the sun rise on the Connecticut River, to find love, and come to terms with myself.
Caroline Pinto entered Smith College in 2000, but Caro Pinto graduated in 2004. Did the common read ensure my success? No, but it gave me inspiration and a sense of belonging at a moment when everything felt up for grabs. As the chips fell during my college career, the book remained on my shelf and in my heart. I hope this year’s Mount Holyoke students have the same positive experience with their common read.
Recently, there has been a slew of articles announcing and introducing the Digital Public Library, and its own outreach team has been tweeting out a roundup of the press coverage each week. I’ve been excited to learn more about DPLA and begin a conversation about how the archives and library community can begin to integrate into our work. This post is not meant to cover the ground others have done so well already. Below are links to the three (in my opinion) best pieces providing overviews to the DPLA:
- Micah Vandegrift’s article from In the Library in the Lead Pipe where he “concludes that librarians want four things from DPLA: Advocacy, Inclusion, Investment and Clarity.”
- DPLA Screencast Overview/Tour Linda Braun for the School Library Journal covers “how [DPLA] works, both good and bad.”
3.Lincoln Mullen’s Introduction to the DPLA on ProfHacker Mullen points to the range of overview pieces about the DPLA from the blogosphere and the mainstream media.
Over the last few months, I’ve spent some time playing with the DPLA by watching the hashtag #dplafinds that the Digital Public Library of America introduced in late April for viewers at home to share their finds. Additionally, one can browse the DPLA and share items of interest to Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter, but alas, no love for Tumblr and Pinterest, two excellent means of archival outreach (Please see Mount Holyoke Archives & Special Collections Tumblr & Pinterest sites as reference.) I would love for there to be a no-nonsense way for folks to get stuff onto Pinterest and Tumblr so bloggers scrolling through these image focused sites can discover dp.la’s treasures.
Outreach has been on my mind lately I prepared to give a presentation about manuscripts, digital tools, and research tools to support a digitization grant in the Five Colleges. In the session, we talked about best practices for description, who we aim to reach with our description, what kind of tone to strike in our writing, and one of the students talked about the struggles undergraduates face when they encounter ‘stiff’ library descriptions, unfamiliar vocabularies not yet accessible to them; why can’t we write for everyone, she asked?
It’s a reasonable question; when describing primary sources we need to serve many masters for provide ready access to the trove of materials in our repositories; the novice undergraduate, the harried graduate student, the experienced scholar, and the enthusiastic hobbyist. How do we serve this spectrum?
In our digital age, we have so many tools at our disposal to welcome a range of users into our materials, especially in terms of social media. In my presentation, I talked about those possibilities, making a joke that one way of building engagement around illuminated manuscripts might be a Tumblr called ‘Thug Manuscripts’ in the spirit of Thug Kitchen
HOW DO YOU LIKE THOSE 100 LEAVES OF SEMI HUMANSTIC SCRIPT, YO?
IS THAT PALIMPSEST VELLUM MAKING SENDING YOU INTO A SEIZURE OF AWESOME?
It’s not the simply the tone of Thug Kitchen’s annotated photographs that make it such an effective outreach tool for fresh, healthy cooking, it’s the explanatory paragraphs with recipes and health facts that are accessible to the foodie (Saveur Magazine gave it props!) and the shorter attention span of someone who might not be inclined to cook at all (ahem, me). There are multiple ways into the world of food just as there multiple ways into the world of special collections.
The DPLA coverage points out that this library is as much a platform for transformative uses as it is a portal to many rich cultural resources. To me, outreach, social media, and even fun memes need to factor into that conversation as much as scholarly literature if we truly want to generate interest and build community to a wider cohort of participants. It’s our history, it’s our future, let’s engage with it together.