Sometimes, you just need a moment of Zen; time to reflect while doing a more mindless task. Today’s moment of Zen brought to you by the Hampshire College Library Book Scanner.
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?