My dear readers, it’s been an intense few months. I traveled to Indianapolis to attend ACRL, I taught classes, I tweaked my slips plan, and, most notably, I accepted a new position at Mount Holyoke College, where I will begin work as a library & instructional technology liaison on 13 May.
In 2009, I started work as a project archivist at Yale University. It was a
collections-focused job, with some outreach and teaching thrown in, too. That experience inspired me to look for positions that were more student-facing, ultimately bringing me to Hampshire in 2011. While at Hampshire, tThe work that I’ve done in digital humanities inspired me to think about positions where I could have a greater hand in the back -end technologies that fuel digital humanities projects. Working in a merged IT/library organization like LITS at Mount Holyoke College will provide me that opportunity.
I don’t have a dream job; I continually seek out positions that challenge me to grow as a librarian, whatever that will mean as the years go by. For me, stasis isn’t an option, because the goal posts keep changing – the landscape in higher education is evolving to meet new demands, and libraries are moving in new directions. I’ve said this before and I will say it again; the job I want in five years doesn’t exist yet , something that is both terrifying and exciting to me.
I remain committed to working in higher education. I love working with students and faculty. College campuses continue to energize me, especially the ebbs and flows of the academic calendar. And I want to be part of the solution to push higher education in new and exciting directions. I am lucky to have worked in the dynamic environments that I have since 2009, with amazing colleagues who support, inspire, and challenge me. I have no doubt that will continue in my new role in South Hadley.
Happy end of the semester!
Since February, I’ve been wrestling with William Pannapacker’s Chronicle piece about digital humanities, in which he suggests we should call it digital liberal arts.
On the one hand, I am all for inclusivity: if we want to thoughtfully integrate technology and digital projects into liberal arts classrooms, we need to think across disciplines, between disciplines: all over the curriculum. On smaller campuses, with smaller staffs, it makes sense for all teaching librarians/instructional technologists to be fluent in the digital.
On the other hand, digital humanities is a THING, a discipline, a frame of reference. For students who want to move onto graduate school, understanding this THING, this discipline becomes more important to participate in the conversations underway at centers like CHNM and Scholars’ Lab. Digital humanities as a THING has particular grant opportunities; it’s a discipline in its own right. It is also has a history we can trace back to the 1980s and to humanities computing; this history, this heritage impacts how conversations happen, who gets included in these conversations, and shapes important debates like #transformdh to trace back structural decisions that impact what has been digitized, what gets recognized, and how the current debates get framed. That context, that backstory is equally value, and extremely important. As a [recovering] historian, this backstory matters; to understand where we are, we need to know where we’ve been.
I work at a liberal arts college. I graduated from a liberal arts college. I need a button that reads ‘I <3 liberal arts colleges’; they are high touch educational experiences for the lucky students who attend them. In our current age of pronounced market segmentation within higher education, it’s important to realize that the context in which we practice librarianship is important and impacts what’s possible, what we can do, and what we should do. Many liberal arts colleges represent the best of higher education; small, interactive classes, summer research opportunities, diverse student bodies, generous financial aid, and dynamic communities. And given the particular organizational strengths and values that liberal arts colleges possess that Pannpacker points to in the piece, "…DH is not a "disruption"—it is an enhancement of the core methods of an ideal liberal-arts education."
I agree that liberal arts colleges need not create smaller, ‘scaled-down’ versions of a digital humanities centers found at places like UCLA; liberal arts colleges have an opportunity to build on their successful educational experiences of small classes and close collaborations with faculty to produce original research. Keep doing more of that, I say, just in the digital context.
Liberal arts colleges struggle to find ways to sustainably support these digital initiatives, but I am confident that we will forge new paths leveraging collaborations with faculty, technologists, and librarians While pushing scholarship towards the digital, I also hope that these collaborative teams can consider the history and the context what makes these ventures so exciting, and participate in the conversations that are happening in the digital humanities at research institutions to broaden the field/discipline’s horizons towards the next phase after ‘digital humanities,’ just as practicionters pushed humanities computing into new realms. Who knows what how ‘dh’ as we know it will be identified in five, ten years, but I do think ‘digital liberal arts’ can and will inform the path towards the next horizon.
Either way, in my practice, I will toggle between ‘dh’ and ‘dla’ with equal enthusiasm and care, as the terms of digital scholarship change and evolve into the next big thing.
What a spring it has been! Between teaching intro to Digital Humanities and participating in energizing committee work, I’ve only begun processing some of my recreational reading.
One Saturday morning in Febuary, I spent the better part of the morning alone in my office at Hampshire going through my pile of periodicals, which included one of my favorites, the Harvard Business Review.That might seem strange coming from a librarian, but HBR has given me a lot over the years, knowledge that I leverage everyday. This month’s issue included an exceptional article about big-bang disruptions. Talking about disruption in the context of higher education almost feels like aphorism, but thinking through the implications of ‘disruptions’ like MOOCs and digital humanities are not to be ignored at the community college, the research university, nor the liberal arts college. The authors define ‘big-bang disrupters’:
“But the strategic model of disruptive model of disruptive innovation we’ve all become comfortable with has a bling spot. It assumes that disrupters start with a lower-priced, inferior alternative that chips away at the least profitable segments, giving an incumbent business time to start a skunkworks and developed its own next generation products…That kind of innovation changes the rules. We’re accustomed to seeing mature products wiped out by new technologies and to ever-shorter product life cycles. But now entire product lines-whole markets-are being created or distorted overnight…We call these game changers “big-bang disrupters.” They don’t create dilemmas for innovators, they trigger disasters.”*
What happens in business is not necessarily what does or should happen in higher education, but I will draw a parallel to higher education. While I don’t think that big-bang disruptors (DH, MOOCs) in the context of higher education will necessarily trigger disaster, I do think they are harbingers of creative destruction. DH or DLA and MOOCs will radically change old paradigms about what students learn in college, where they learn it, and how they learn it. With governors in Florida, Wisconsin, and Texas accelerating development of MOOCs while simultaneously cutting spending for higher education across the board, Pannapacker’s call for liberal arts colleges to embrace the digital liberal arts – and the White House’s call to for accountability for colleges and universities higher education as we know – is about to change broadly. Big-bang disruption is here. But how do we respond to these changes? How do we continue to create spaces where active learning can happen, where we not only focus on what students are going to be doing for the first two years of their lives post-graduation and then arm them with the tools that they can lean on for the rest of their lives?
I am skeptical about many of the new trends and developments in higher education. Personally, I don’t view MOOCs as cost saving saviors for the problems facing higher education. But I do think they might well have a place in a flipped classroom, continuing education, or a way for people who are not in school to try their hand or move towards transitioning back into a degree program. I don’t think Digital Humanities or Digital Liberal Arts will make every graduate the perfect candidate for next-generation jobs. I do think Digital Humanities and/or Digital Liberal Arts can make for interactive classrooms and give students an opportunity to build, to think about how to imagine a tool or new framework for studying images. There is no panacea, no easy fix, no fast reform. The transition from the higher education of yore and today into the higher education of tomorrow and the future will not be easy and not without casualties or collateral damage. But changes need to be made if there’s going to be a higher education landscape in the future. Rather than react defensively to these big-bang disruptions, I’d like to shift my practice to work within the new landscape, to find new ways to compromise, innovate, and ensure that higher education remains an exciting realmin which to practice librarianship.
I met one of my most trusted professional collaborators and dear friends at an orchestra camp when I was 16 years old. I hated high school and was generally dour, a surprise to those who know me post-college. Trying to make sense of my identity in a community that was not accepting of difference didn’t give me much to smile or laugh about. Playing classical music was my outlet and I met wonderful, supportive friends through that venture. But no one made me laugh quite like Carla Martin did between rehearsals in the middle of Maine in 1998.
We lost touch when we went to college, but thanks to a Mark Zuckerberg production called Facebook, we reconnected when we were both working in Cambridge in 2008. We talked a lot about teaching and higher education since we were both in graduate school, me in library school, Carla in a ph.d program at Harvard. As our responsibilities shifted towards classroom work, we both noticed on Twitter that we were experimenting at the intersection of humanities, social science, and technology. We started talking more about what works in classrooms and what doesn’t, what types of tools are available and how to recast products in an academic context. Talking about our work in the context of the digital humanities community has only put the uniqueness of our relationship into focus.
Last week, we presented a flipped session about faculty-librarian collaboration at Digital Humanities: The Next Generation. As Lindsay Whitacre noted in her presentation on Saturday, “DH is not just a new set of tools and methods, it’s a new set of relationships.” I and many others have said before that Digital Humanities is a team sport, a collaborative venture that cannot be sustained by lone wolves or solitary geniuses. Digital Humanists must be as serious about building and sustaining relationships as they are about building tools.
My relationship with Carla is one of those important ones. I am a better librarian for knowing her, for listening to her talk about the logistics of scaling up digital projects to larger classes, for asking questions about how to support first generation students with skillfully crafted assignments and syllabi, and for helping me better understand how librarians can support junior faculty with their institutional knowledge. She’s forthcoming with examples of assignments that work, for thinking about new ways of marketing courses, and for hands-on activities in classes that I can talk about in my local community. We don’t work for the same institution, so our conversations are casual collaborations, but we can practice communication strategies we can bring home and use in our local contexts.
Our presentation dealt with miscommunications between librarians and faculty. It’s an elephant in the room when we talk about how to thoughtfully incorporate technology into classrooms. Some faculty may have an expectation that librarians and technologists passively will enact whatever they want. Other librarians may have a fear that faculty don’t value them professionally. Some faculty may feel like librarians can be passive aggressive with them when talking about workloads. Other faculty may feel like librarians can be dismissive of their technology skills. Bad communication patterns are also reinforced by higher education hierarchies that put faculty at the top and librarians towards the bottom. In my experience, librarians and faculty have excellent, complementary skills that when put in service of students, learning and research can be a powerful force for good. Librarians are masters of process; the research process, increasingly in many cases, how to manage technology projects or experimenting with technology in their practice. Faculty are masters of the content, experts in their field. I read a quote on the Feral Librarian’s blog this week from Deborah Jakubs:
“…librarians are learned and talented and bring skills and attitudes and services to the university that most regular faculty both admire and need. So rather than constantly trying to compare ourselves to faculty, and often coming up short, let’s celebrate the differences and complementarity.”
Why not leverage these complementary skill sets to build a relationship to enable digital humanities, whether it be in a research or classroom setting?
In addition to providing tangible benefits to our students and to our faculty, I think individual faculty and librarians themselves can benefit from working in teams and from participating in engaged professional relationships. Beyond doing my job better, my relationship with Carla and other faculty members enrich my life and work generally, especially since we still laugh as hard together as we did in 1998.
Last week, ISIS hosted an online seminar about bake-offs, processes through which individuals and institutions decide what new tools or technologies to purchase. Generally an activity in the purview of Information Technology departments, we had the pleasure of hearing a presentation from Sarah Oelker, a librarian from Mount Holyoke College, who talked about how a group of Mount Holyoke librarians applied bake-off principles to the process of sourcing technology solutions for the College. Here’s a look at Sarah’s awesome venn diagram:
It’s a great visual to help us think about how libraries and technology departments can contexutalize making decisions about our resources, and how we should try to meet our community’s academic needs through our purchases and services. As we embrace a ‘just in time’ collecting model – one that allows us to purchase that book a faculty member needs on a moment’s notice or to have a cache of power cords for students to borrow to charge their laptops in the library – how do we think about software as not just a tool, but also as something to collect?
Which brings me to a larger question: should libraries collect software now? As digital humanities centers proliferate and as heated debates come up about whether 3d printers should be in libraries, the nature of our collections is also shifting. How does/will/should that impact our collecting strategies? As libraries and information technology departments scale up to meet new demands for ‘digital’ scholarship, how do we balance the needs for ‘just in time’ and ‘just in case’ acquisitions with tools that have utilitarian value now and historical value later?
From where I’m sitting, the answer is that yes, we need to collect software, but the what and the how are other questions for which I don’t think profession yet has a cogent answer. For collection development librarians, the ground is shifting away from bibliography and toward patron-driven acquisitions for monographs and journals. I believe this shift provides an opportunity to work closely with our colleagues in IT to map out strategies for successful collection and stewardship of software, especially as librarians increasingly support classroom technologies. In any case, it represents another step towards utilizing the library as incubator of new ideas and practices, instead of just as a repository for the old.
Five College Committee work is one of the highlights of my job at Hampshire College. I am lucky enough to serve on a few committees and task forces including one called DEDCC (Digital Environment Development & Coordinating Committee). One of our goals this year is to raise awareness among librarians of Digital Humanities and how librarians can get involved. To that end, this committee is organizing a program in the Five Colleges later this year. Below is the call for proposals along with a link to submit proposals, as well as some context about who we are in the Five Colleges:
The Five College Consortium is exploring a June program introducing Digital Humanities to an audience of librarians and IT staff at our institutions. The Consortium in western Massachusetts includes Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, four liberal arts colleges and one ARL. We are interested in identifying speakers who can discuss digital humanities vision or digital humanities work in liberal arts settings targeted at undergraduate teaching and research. We are open to a variety of interpretations on/definitions of the phrase “digital humanities”’ and its intersection with other initiatives around teaching with technology in the undergraduate curriculum. We envision a panel followed by breakout sessions during which we will ask our panelists to participate in small group discussion. Possible topics for discussion include:
- What does it mean to do work in this field in liberal arts colleges?
- How to help faculty navigate shifting technologies
- Mapping out new collaborative relationships (inside our institutions and across the Five Colleges)
- Where should conversation around research/teaching/technology be happening?
- Content mashups and the development of new kinds of “collections”
- The library’s role in a supporting digital culture
- What professional skill sets are needed to support digital humanities work?
If you have interest in participating on our panel and in small group discussion, we would like to hear from you! Please submit a brief proposal online at http://bit.ly/dhproposals by March 8th, describing your interest in the areas outlined above and your interest in speaking to our audience. We are looking towards mid-June for the program itself and will confirm dates with the identified speakers. Please direct questions to:
Chair, Five Colleges Consortium, DEDCC; firstname.lastname@example.org; 413.538.2228
For further information on the Five College Consortium., please see: https://www.fivecolleges.edu/
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:
- 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.
- 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! You can check out other images from the transformation here: http://t.co/WnJmbwoF
When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in 2010, many people bemoaned it as just a consumption toy aimed at dilettantes who were interested in gaming and viewing cat videos. No one would use the iPad for any meaningful creation, tweeted angry internet users. The hype built; zealous Apple fans slept outside stores to buy the first generation iPad. Personally, I wasn’t ready to spend the money or brave the crowds to purchase the device, but I was also unwilling to write it off. I read reviews and critiques, marveled at the iPads I encountered in the wilds of Yale’s libraries. The introduction of the iPad came at a point in my career when my technology confidence was at a low; I was trying to figure out what I needed to learn, where I needed to go to advance my young career. I knew something needed to change, I just did not know what quite yet.
I soon found my answer in that September when I broke down and bought an iPad. It was love at first swipe.
At first, I primarily used iPad as a reading device; I replaced paperbacks at home with ebooks and furtive reading breaks at work with saved articles in Instapaper to read at night. I wrote email and tweeted at conferences. It became my constant companion at work and on the couch. However, my first generation iPad wasn’t a device I used to do any meaningful writing beyond emails and social media updates. Was I a dilettante? However, I began experimenting with the iPad in classrooms and random office hacks where few other people in my places of employ necessarily were. I gained confidence and when I started my new job at Hampshire, I ran with mobile devices and pedagogy at warp speed.
Last year, I purchased a third generation iPad. The purchase coincided with me traveling and blogging frequently. My adventures in technology let me to work with Markdown and PlainText. Digital Humanities became a core part of my job. Writing took on renewed importance in my life. During the fall semester, I began writing exclusively in PlainText and publishing my blog in Markdown using the nifty iOS app, Poster. I began writing in the app Drafts. Slowly but surely, I found that I began using my iPad more frequently than my laptop and that I was using my iPad to write more than to read. I suppose the consumption palace was giving way to creation after all.
I became a more thoughtful creator with the iPad as I gained more confidence with technology, which might seem counterintutiive. Apps like Poster and Drafts helped me wade into Plaintext and Markdown. As I gained confidence and learned more, I became a more educated technologist. My writing benefited too; I love being able to follow up on fragments of ideas, or on a photograph. Writing in Drafts made that possible. I always hated writing in long-hand, my handwriting too awful to bear going back to, I loathe writing in Word with all of its buttons and foibles. I love the distraction free interface of writing in Plaintext. I love how flexible it is, moving from Drafts to my Plaintext editor on my Mac and then then into iOS apps like Poster to publish these missives on WordPress in Markdown.
What if the iPad is a trojan horse of sorts; a machine so simple and intuitive that it makes people comfortable enough to push themselves to use technology in different ways? To experiment with new ways of working, writing, thinking, and connecting? In classrooms across higher education, tablets are en vogue. At ISIS, we often talk about the next big thing in educational technology or how we are using existing tools in resources in new ways. What if tablets are the conduit to more successful adventures in technology that can push our students (and us!) into new directions?
Teaching with technology has made me consider how to introduce students to new situations, how to learn about technology, how to use different tools. Borrowing from my own experience, it helps to start small, with discrete tasks and tools as opposed to unattainable goals like ‘build a photography repository.’ I find that working with iPads in my own technology practice gave me manageable goals and tasks to gain new competencies, but it also gave me the confidence to take new risks.
I think part of that stems from the fact that there were expectations already built into the laptop about how I could or couldn’t use it, assumptions that drive many women away from technology. I think students might have similar feelings regardless of gender. They think they know what to expect of themselves with their laptops, what if tablets are a clean start for them, too?
I – and what felt like everyone and their mother – have read the Ithaka S & R Report about historians. After reading it, I had some back and forth with librarians and archivists on Twitter as well as a few face to face conversations. The findings were not controversial or surprising to me; I think Sharon Leon put it best when she wrote on her blog that “The report characterizes history as a discipline in transition, and it is-both in human and institutional senses. Historians, graduate students, archivists, and librarians are each in their own way coping with the “problem of abundance” created by the digital turn.” I think that is fair for all parties. Historians are trying to make sense of how to best utilize a wealth of new digital materials, and librarians and archivists are trying to make sense of how to make those assets more accessible and what they need to do to provide effective outreach and research support. I am no longer a practicing historian, so I won’t comment on that aspect of the report, but as a librarian who supports historians and as a trained archivist, there are some things I want to say.
- Librarians and archivists need to better articulate what types of services they offer. Librarians and archivists have tremendous value far beyond ‘I have access to this cool stuff, come find me.’ Last week, I went to a NISO webinar on Libraries and Start-Up culture. The biggest takeaway for me is that libraries and librarians need to stop thinking about themselves as content collectors, but as agents of content creation and publication. This report is a call to arms to librarians and archivists to move from the model of ‘we have those documents and these books’ to ‘I want to partner with you to publish this open access article’ or ‘Let me circle the wagons so we can create this digital project’ or ‘yeah, I can help you work up a data management plan.’ We understand the research process and we can be really helpful sherpas to our faculty as well as our students. In order to do that, we must shift how we conduct outreach and position ourselves as collaborators as opposed to just support people. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s possible. I live that reality.
- Scholarly Communication is changing. This report reinforced to me that librarians are poised to help faculty get from monograph publishing to a new place where digital projects and new types of output reign. Of course, this is easier said than done since the tenure and promotion process is not to the point where DH and alternative forms of publishing reap the same rewards as traditional monograph publication. But as research sherpas, we can help guide the process; librarians can create a new publishing environment, for instance by using collection development money to support open access publishing or creating collaborative creation/hacker/maker spaces in our libraries can push the issue forward.
- If we [librarians, archivists] can be replaced by a computer screen, we should be! Cathy Davidson’s blog post frames much of how I think about my work these days. If the work I do can be replaced by a computer, then it should be. It can free me up to do other, new things in my practice to the benefit of my students, colleagues, and faculty. It’s creative destruction, but in 2013, our year of community engagement in libraries, we need to be mindful about how we allocate our valuable human capital in libraries. If we can automate aspects of our work that is better left to computers, then we should. For me, automation frees me up to teach more classes, develop meaningful content for our research education program, provide better service to my school, do technology, and have the headspace to think about what is on the horizon in libraries, archives, and higher education. Not only will this help ensure the survival of academic libraries and librarians, but it also makes us more accountable to our students who pay increasingly steep tuition and fees to attend college in the United States. By leading with the idea that we are going to do more, make decisions to meet our users’ needs then we can be more sure of our success.
Naysayers might suggest that I want to kill off some of the artisanal aspects of librarianship, that my goal is to rise in the ranks to shut the lights off in my colleagues’ offices and usher them out the door. That is not the case. If higher education is going to continue to be meaningful, if we want to see a profession of smart, dedicated librarians in the future, we have to make sure that the work we are doing resonates with the academic curriculums we support. We want to prepare today’s students to earn living wages and hopefully to foster their lifelong learning. My call to my fellow librarians and archivists is not to take everything the Ithaka report suggests and implement it to the letter, but to think of it as a call to action. Let’s make ourselves relevant by working with faculty and researchers to become valuable collaborators in the research process and guides them through a rapidly changing technology environment. Let’s work towards educating our users about data management, open access, and copyright so they can create new types work, as the report advises us to do. Let’s use this opportunity forge a new path for libraries and archives for the twenty-first century. While many people would point to the contrary, I believe our future is bright, if we are courageous enough to carve a new path to get us there.