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DLF2016 Presentation: Expanding DH Capacity Through Strategic Partnerships

Digital Library Federation Forum Liberal Arts College Pre-Conference Presentation 2016

Due to the evolving nature of scholarship and constituent needs in the digital age, many academic libraries are undergoing dramatic changes, including building renovations, new positions, and transformations in the materials, resources, support, and training offered therein. While such transitions can be difficult, liberal arts colleges and their libraries can draw on their values and strengths; the collegial ethos of liberal arts college libraries multiplies capacity and enables them to meet the changing needs of their users in creative ways.

This presentation outlines the ways in which the Claremont Colleges Library has collaborated with internal and external partners to provide multi-layered support for the Digital Humanities. These partnerships have enabled the library to establish a DH/digital scholarship center that is integrating new positions and spaces to advance the community’s knowledge, skills, and digital scholarly projects.  The Library’s Digital Scholarship Coordinator will discuss the unique organizational support structure for DH at the Claremont Colleges, which is now comprised of librarians, graduate students, and Mellon-funded staff. We will explore what occurs at the intersections of these positions and unpack

  • how our responsibilities overlap and complement one another;
  • how our physical spaces reflect our differences but work in tandem to meet our shared goals; and
  • possible future collaborations and plans to expand services and support.

The Claremont Colleges Library is a single library serving five undergraduate colleges and two graduate institutions with approximately 7,000 FTE and an emphasis on liberal arts education. Each of the colleges is unique with its own characteristics, but there are occasional overlapping departments and research interests. The undergraduate colleges are Pomona College, Scripps College, Pitzer College, Harvey Mudd College, and Claremont McKenna College. The graduate institutions are Claremont Graduate University and the Keck Graduate Institute.  It is a perpetually complicated, and highly stimulating, environment to work in and presents many challenges for the single library. The complex organizational structure lends itself to some natural benefits, however. Specifically, the library serves as the locus of intercollegiate grants and scholarship. Digital humanities finds a natural home in the library as a central point for all colleges to come together for interdisciplinary research support.  

In 2014, the five undergraduate Claremont Colleges received a $1.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for a project entitled, “Digital Humanities at the Claremont Colleges: Developing Capacity and Community.” This grant has four primary initiatives that it supports:

  1. Spring Symposia to showcase DH work at the Claremont Colleges and engage with the wider DH community beyond Claremont
  2. DH Summer Institutes to help faculty develop greater facility with various digital tools and methods
  3. Course development grants to support 25 new or redesigned courses that integrate technology in meaningful ways
  4. Digital Research Studio program in which undergraduate and graduate students work with faculty to build out and polish DH projects

The Claremont Colleges Library has become an integral part of the digital humanities (DH) and digital scholarship community at the colleges. Over the past year, I have worked to build capacity through professional development opportunities for librarians, faculty, and graduate students. Each year I offer a six-week introductory short course in the Digital Humanities concepts and methods for interested faculty and students. This past year, I added skill-building workshops for short course students and the wider Claremont Colleges community to complement each week’s topic. The new internal series of professional development workshops for librarians cover a range of digital scholarship topics, including a five-week course on DH (available at http://dhatccl101.com), DH project consultations, digital identity and security, author rights, copyright and fair use, and more. The five-week course explored how scholars engage in these research methods as well as how librarians, themselves, can employ DH approaches and tools in their own projects. Over one quarter of the library participated in the short course and developed DH project proposals. In July 2016, four teams of librarians and library staff members took part in one of the first “Library DH Maker Week” events and began building out these projects. All of the participants said that they would be highly interested in participating in a future DH Maker Week. In a follow-up survey, one DHer responded that their experience was

Excellent! This week accomplished a lot. It allowed us to actually spend some serious time with the skills we’ve learned over the past year and put them to use in a dedicated period of time. It allowed us to work with colleagues from other divisions and hear what they’re doing but also their take on various projects. It also improved morale, I think, by making the library feel more connected and showing all the neat stuff everyone’s doing here at the Library. And it kind of felt like summer camp – a nice reprieve from cyclical nature of library work.

A team of Claremont Colleges Librarians presented their DH project at the 2016 Charleston Conference, and others plan to present and/or publish in the near future. Our librarians are not only doing DH, but they have also become more comfortable fielding questions about possible digital research tools, and providing initial consultations to help faculty begin their projects. This has been an exciting development, but it’s not the only one.

The Library, as I’ve written about in other posts, has been committed to renovating spaces to support collaborative work and greater engagement with digital technology. I’ve been directly involved in the design and renovation of two of these spaces: the Digital Tool Shed and the Digital Research Studio. The former serves as an incubator, where students, faculty, librarians, and staff can experiment with various technologies, from software packages like GIS and Adobe Creative Suite; programming languages such as R and Python; and media production and visualization tools, such as DSLR cameras, a green screen, and a data visualization wall. Partnering with campus Academic Computing Technologists and the Intercollegiate Media Studies program was crucial in determining what technology and services this space would support. We wanted to ensure that the Digital Tool Shed complemented campus offerings without overlapping. Their input was invaluable. The Digital Research Studio is another renovation project that required close partnership with key stakeholders, especially librarians and library leadership because, while this space is grant-funded and primarily serves the needs of the Mellon DH team, it exists in the library and must be flexible to accommodate other uses. This is where professional learning communities meet to explore the possibilities of various digital research methods, such as text analysis. It is also where student groups work with faculty to develop DH projects, and where projects head for polishing and publication after development in the Digital Tool Shed.

We also have new positions to support engagement with digital scholarship. From a one-woman show a year ago, we now have nine team members! The grant provides salaries for myself, as Digital Research Studio Director, and a grant Project Manager, who is beginning to take on a larger role in terms of providing workshops and consultations. We also have a graduate assistant who helped to teach an undergraduate course this fall, and six “Digital Scholarship Fellows” with expertise in everything from R to Photoshop and Python. Three of the Fellows are paid by the Mellon DH grant, and three are paid by the Library.

In order to provide customized support, we ask our community members to submit a project intake form for our team to evaluate and select the person with the most relevant expertise to offer the consultation. The intake form can be found at http://libguides.libraries.claremont.edu/DigitalToolShed/Consultations. Our team of experts also facilitate a workshop series in the Digital Tool Shed. To begin with, only a few people participated in these workshops, until one of the Library student workers in the Research, Teaching, and Learning Services Division started publicizing the events on social media. She posted all of the descriptions and photos for the workshops, and within twenty-four hours, three of the registration-based workshops filled up completely, people began subscribing to our events, and we got fifteen new “likes” on Facebook!

Even though the grant specifically supports the five undergraduate liberal arts institutions, developing a close and supportive relationship with Claremont Graduate University has been one of my priorities. I have offered a number of customized workshops and seminars for CGU students and faculty in recognition that it is essential for today’s graduate students to have access to digital skill development opportunities to be prepared for the twenty-first-century job market, regardless of which path they choose post-Ph.D. The faculty at CGU have also been intrigued about integrating digital tools in their classes so students have the chance to apply their new digital skills to course projects. In the fall, for instance, I worked with one faculty member to develop a final project in which students would create their own digital archives and exhibits in Omeka. This project was particularly suited to the course, as the students were studying history through material culture. One of the students has already begun referencing her digital exhibit in job and funding applications.

In addition to the Spring Symposia and Summer Institutes that are grant funded, the Colleges have offered an advanced undergraduate DH course in which students worked with Faculty Director Dr. Daniel Michon to develop a 3D recreation of ancient Taxila and craft a digital, filterable, heat map of archaeological objects found at the site. As a professor at CGU, I also taught a graduate course in DH research methods this fall, using primary source material from my own historical research as the basis. Additional undergraduate and graduate courses will be offered again this next fall, and, thereafter, on a continual basis.

My current focus is strengthening the connections between various intercollegiate organizations on campus, partnerships with each college’s leadership as well as our librarians. This semester, we are also piloting a “clinic” in which undergraduate and graduate students will work together to produce a DH project of their choosing. Beginning in the fall, this clinic will be offered for course credit.

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