Transforming Survival Mode into Sustaining Mode

MLK Commemoration

Photo by Caro Pinto

During the fall semester, Mount Holyoke College commemorated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s campus appearance by playing a recording of the 1964 speech. Sitting in the campus amphitheater, I contemplated how King’s vision was as much about the discipline of everyday work as much as it was about dreams. My mind wandered back to a certain text that pushed me in college.

King wrote:

We Negroes have longed reamed of freedom, but still we are confide in an oppressive person of segregation and discrimination. Must we respond with bitterness and cynicism? Certainly not, for this will destroy and poison our personalities…To guard ourselves from bitterness, we need the vision to see in this generation’s ordeals the opportunity to transfigure both ourselves and American society. Our present suffering and our nonviolent struggle to be free may well offer to Western Civilization the kind of spiritual dynamic so desperately needed for survival.

In the book referenced above, Freedom Dreams, Robin D.G. Kelly wonders how social movements can transform the world in the face of challenging circumstances:

How do we produce a vision that enables us to see beyond our immediate ordeals? Who do we transcend bitterness and cynicism and embrace love, hope, and an all-conompassing dream of freedom, especially in these rough times?

Thinking back to Kelly, I thought about how much of a struggle it can be to keep the big picture in mind in the face of “immediate ordeals.” How do we push forward when there are naysayers suggesting the work of higher education isn’t worth it, that there isn’t enough money to do x or enough time to implement y or z is too much effort?

Kelly concludes:

Without new visions we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics but a process that can and must transform us.

An innovative future demands fresh vision. It is easy to get bogged down by the emails clogging our inboxes, the administrivia eating up our time, or the petty office politics sucking our souls. It is easy to get sidetracked and forget why we work in academic libraries and why that work matters. As winter turns to spring, I’m thinking about renewal and how to translate small habits into larger patterns for growth. After all, if we don’t think about ‘go for broke’ dreams, there won’t be an opportunity to transform our work in meaningful ways.

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.

C-64 Fun

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.

Dream Team Reunited (@caropinto & @_datalore_ 4-eva)

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.

Box of Floppy Disks

Intentional Directions for Inspirational Research

“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.

My Middle Name Should be Calendar: YouCanBook.me

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:

  1. It just works with Google Calendar without any muss or fuss.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

Via The Library of Congress on Flickr Commons

Via The Library of Congress on Flickr Commons

DPLA for you & me

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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?

(c) Thug Kitchen

(c) Thug Kitchen

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.

Edith Irvine, photographer, Lee Library, Brigham Young University

#5CDH13: Building a Community of Practice

Digital Humanities is a team sport. As libraries/information technology units develop programs and initiatives to promote and partner with faculty in digital humanities, it’s clear that our community hungers for best practices and inspiration to create and sustain a community of practice. What’s a group of librarians, technologists, and digital humanists to do?

In the Five Colleges, we will explore these issues in a day long event that will include a moderated panel and facilitated discussion that will will help our consortium build and sustain a community of practice around digital humanities. To that end, tomorrow we will welcome speakers from Colgate University, Haverford College, and Washington and Lee University to talk about their work in digital humanities in a moderated panel. During the afternoon, we will work small breakout groups to address the central question – what does it take to become an effective digital humanities community of practice?

The Five College Libraries Committee DEDCC (Digital Environment Development & Coordinating Committee) encourages participants to chronicle on social media using the hashtag: #5CDH13.

See you all tomorrow!

Automate Me

If 2012 was my year of the iPad, then 2013 is my year of automation. I credit ProfHacker for many things in my development as a technologist, and I am going to add automation to the list.

I started my automation journey slowly. Last year, I began using an online calendar tool called Lizibot to cut down on the number of emails I passed back and forth with students about arranging appointments. It changed my life in a small but measurable way. I wrote fewer emails, students knew right away when they could meet with me, and now – for the class I co-teach – I have a link right to my calendar, so there’s no more messing around with weekly, mercurial schedules for me. Following my foray into Lizibot, I began experimenting with text expansion tools, specifically by downloading TextExpander for iOS. Again, It’s a pleasure to be able to write drafts of emails without having to type my phone number, email address, or standard closing salutations for email.

The next automation wave crested after reading a Profhacker post about IFFT. IFFT is essentially “if this, then that” moderated by a third party. It’s dead easy. The Profhacker post breaks it down well. Since that’s been published, many more time-saving “recipes” have been added to the voluminous library. I especially like the “if I change my profile photo on Facebook, then it changes on Twitter, too,” recipe. But the recipe with the most impact on my working life is the once which states: “if @en appears on my Google calendar appointment, then a meeting note template in Evernote is created.” Thanks to this blog post, I now have a powerful tool to take meeting minutes easily.

Automation might make me sound like a robot, but it allows me work smarter. The meeting notes template is a great example of that. I realized that having a template for taking meeting notes wouldn’t just make me more organized, it forced me to take more effective notes, making the task of acting as minute taker less tiresome. By having predetermined fields like ‘attendees’ to fill in immediately and ‘action items’ to fill in throughout the meeting, I could listen more actively and my notes ultimately would make more sense. And I added a section called ‘to do’ that allows me to remember complementary activities long after the meeting is done. Gone were the panic moments when I didn’t know what was talked about or remember action items I needed to add to a list. Awesome.

Here’s my take on Rubin’s original recipe that I referenced in the first paragraph.

Automation saves me time, but it also gives me something else: headspace. By automating parts of my working life, I have the headspace to think; I have a few extra minutes to daydream, an ability to carve out an outlet to think about my work in new ways. By having those few moments to take a step back and reflect, I can actually think about what’s next, what’s coming, where I want to go, where we need to go. Automation allows me to sit back like the West Wing‘s president Josiah Bartlett and ask: what’s next?

What’s in a Name? DH vs. DLA

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.

Big Bang Disruption

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.