digital humanities as quilting

Last week, Dean Rehberger, Director of MATRIX at Michigan State University was on campus to talk about digital humanities. Though I’m a librarian interested in new technology, I hadn’t yet jumped on the digital humanities bandwagon.

This is mostly because there is a lack of definition for digital humanities (sometimes broadened to digital scholarship or digital pedagogy) or how it’s fundamentally different from humanities (is it new because now we have computers?).

As an artist, I didn’t see a place for me within the trend. I don’t relate to historians or religion scholars. I don’t get excited about text mining. But, in his lunchtime lecture, Rehberger provided an analogy that is making me think twice about digital humanities.

He said the digital humanities is a lot like quilt making. The only art practice closer to my heart than quilt making is weaving, so he had my attention. Digital humanities and quilt making both:

~ require many hands (the quilting bee is similar to the MATRIX collaborative model)

~ foster making & building (small pieces joined together to create a whole)

~ are devalued (quilting is women’s work and still isn’t appreciated as art; technology in the humanities seems to confront traditional scholarship)

~ can be remixed (in quilting, recycling old clothing and linens is common; technology remixes history)

~ are both an art and a science (if my math skills were better, I’d be a better quilter; the humanities are an art, but the lens of technology to examine the humanities requires a scientific eye)

~ are public, transformative projects (if quilting wasn’t devalued, the social history would be well-known as transformative)

This was the first time digital humanities had been presented to me without talk of metadata or software or scanning archival papers. Comparing digital humanities to one of the fiber arts that grounded my art graduate practice was the exact entrance I needed into the DH scholarship. I may just find a second home there.


Yesterday Denison University Libraries participated in the Books2Eat. Books2Eat is formally called the International Edible Books Festival with over 20 countries participating in a day of literally eating your words. According to the official website, the festival takes place every year to honor the birthday of French foodie Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (there’s a mouthful) and take advantage of April Foolery.

Here are a few of my favorites from this year. To see more, check out my Books2Eat post from 2013.

the sandworm from Dune by Frank Herbert
the sandworm from Dune by Frank Herbert
The Pale of Settlement by Margot Singer (who is a professor here at Denison!)
The Pale of Settlement by Margot Singer (who is a professor here at Denison!)
James and the Giant Peach by Ronald Dahl
James and the Giant Peach by Ronald Dahl
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (even the book cover was classy)
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (even the book cover was classy)
The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin (won for humor, I think)
The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin (won for humor, I think)
and Best in Show went to The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
and Best in Show went to The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien








science & art at denison

Last Friday I co-presented Embracing the STEM to STEAM Initiative: The Library as Bridge Between Science and Art. This was the second time the Natural Sciences Librarian, Moriana Garcia, and I presented about science and art. Part of the presentation centers on what we are doing at Denison University to encourage and support cross-disciplinary conversation.

The STEM acronym has been around since the 1990s and stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Government bodies like the National Science Foundation and educational institutions believe that these disciplines hold the answers to many of our global issues. STEM careers are promising for students growing up in a troubled economy.

However, as K-12 and higher education started pushing STEM learning, many people were concerned about the disregard for the arts and the humanities. STEAM developed from this backlash, adding Arts (and design) to STEM. The Rhode Island School of Design is a strong proponent of the STEM to STEAM movement. One of the primary objectives of the STEAM movement is to “influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation.”

The emphasis in that quote is mine. STEAM recognizes that arts education teaches creativity and critical thinking, key components of innovation. The government is taking notice. The National Science Foundation has supported workshops on STEM to STEAM. There is also a Congressional STEAM caucus that “aims to change the vocabulary of education to recognize the benefits of both the arts and sciences and how these intersections will benefit our country’s future generations.”

So, what are we doing at Denison to support STEAM? As librarians, we are excellently positioned to foster cross-disciplinary dialogue. While we work independently as subject specialists in the sciences and the arts, we come together as librarians. The library is a neutral space – outside the studio and the lab – for scientists and artists to gather.

We’ve started small. Before I arrived at Denison, Moriana began creating library displays about science in the arts and vice versa. And, for science displays she’s always included works of art that echo the theme (i.e. a sculpture of a lizard for a display on reptiles). It’s simple and subtle, but it’s a start. Moriana has been on the committee that creates displays for many years. I have just joined…so who knows what’s to come!

Purchasing books and media that have an interdisciplinary approach is also easy. There are beautiful books on art and science; a few recent additions:

Bio Design: Nature, Science, Creativity (William Myers, 2012)
Artists in Labs: Networking in the Margins (editor, Jill Scott, 2010)
Imagining Science: Art, Science, and Social Change (editors Sean Caulfield & Timothy Caulfield, 2008)
Laboratorium (editors, Hans Ulrich Obrist & Barbara Vanderlinden)

And for those librarians wondering, Science and Art is a subject heading! Moriana is purchasing image-heavy science books. Moriana also started a Science@Dension blog and Visualization Gallery.

Like all good librarians, we created a subject guide on science and art. It’s geared toward faculty and provides resources on STEM to STEAM and the latest collaborations between scientists and artists. As part of this guide, I have a! page on Science and Art.

Last winter we initiated a Science and Art Interest Group at Denison. The group is made up of any faculty interested in the relationship and collaborative possibilities between the two disciplines. Our initial meeting had about 30 people. We have decided to take the group in two directions. There is a reading group for faculty who are interested in STEAM pedagogy and methods of teaching creativity. We hope to start an immersion group this year – where we hold hands-on workshops in studios and labs, learning how artists and scientists work in their spaces.

Our current project is an artwork proposal for the Green Revolution exhibition to be hosted at the Denison Museum in the spring. Green Revolution is a Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition that provides “education and inspiration for protecting our planet through sustainable living.” Six of us from the Science and Art group proposed (and had accepted!) and “eco-zibit” about fracking in Ohio. Stay tuned for more on that ambitious project.

Overall it’s been an interesting experience to work collaboratively with another librarian on fostering interdisciplinary conversation. The process is slow but the connections I’ve made with faculty have been wonderful. We are planning a November meeting with the Science and Art group to discuss 3D printing, a topic that is trending in science, art, and libraries!

forecasting next generation libraries – scenario planning

I’m participating in the online course-ference Forecasting Next Generation Libraries. We are already in week four but I wanted to back up and share what I learned in week one during a lecture by Joshua Morrill. He talked about the Four Futures Framework and how it can be applied to scenario planning for libraries. Here are my notes from his presentation.

“The library is a disrupted organization inside an institution – the university – that is being reconfigured.” ~ Jim Michalko, OCLC Research

~ why our attempts to predict the future often fail
systems are complex
we are bad at predicting the long-range future because we get fixated on one specific element or goal and miss the bigger picture

~what is scenario planning
“The task is not so much to see what no one has yet seen, but to think about what nobody has yet thought about that which everyone sees.” ~ Schopenhauer

Scenario planning is a tool for strategy, building stories and ideas around a framework to prompt an ongoing conversation. It’s about what could happen, not what will happen. There are two building blocks for scenario planning: funding climate and adaptability.

~scenarios for library future
This is about growth and reinvention. Funding is favorable and the environment (staff) is agile and innovative. Partnerships keep this library moving forward. The risk is that chasing after new technologies and partnerships do not always pan out.

great expectations
This scenario is about missed opportunities. Morrill described it as “swirling discontent.” The library is doing well financially but is slow to change because of inflexibility, whether internally or externally. Because of this, the campus community support may be starting to erode. The library may be receiving favorable reviews from the community but there has been a decrease in use of services. Lack of innovation may be caused by a lack of leadership or historically focusing on policy and staff preferences over the users’ needs. Complaints about not meeting student or faculty needs go largely ignored. While there is a good change this library can get out of its rut and become more utopian, it does risk having the bottom drop out as perceived value decreases.

origin of species
This is about innovation under stress. Financially, this library may be experiencing cuts or flat budgets but adaptability and promise are strong. There is vision, resolve and creativity within the library staff. The library is beginning to seek valuable partners on campus to help move them forward and maintain the campus perception that it’s a valuable resource. The staff are willing to change they way they have thought about work flow, space, and policies.

To me, Origin of Species is similar to Great Expectations but chooses a more positive perspective. I can see an Origin of Species library that doesn’t make changes quickly enough becoming a Great Expectations. If change is slow, the adaptability of staff will weaken.

Inferno is about stagnation and decline. Morrill calls it a “self feeding firestorm.” Fortunately, most libraries have enough of either finances or adaptability to keep them in less troublesome waters.

Weeks two and three of the course-ference were robust panel discussions about changes in student culture and higher education. Week four moved away from the university to look specifically at the future of libraries. In the coming weeks we’ll be discussing changes in technology and the future of publishing.

ala 2013 notes from the myth and reality of the evolving patron

The Myth and the Reality of the Evolving Patron: The RUSA President’s Program with Lee Rainie was held on Saturday, June 29th. Rainie is the Director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

The twitter hashtag is #rusapres13 and video of the presentation is now available from RUSA. You can also view the slides from the program (totally worth it!). Here are some facts that caught my attention:

The tech revolution changed patron experience through evolutions driven by: purpose of engagement and need; life stage; life stressors (time demands, urgency); demographics; and library innovation.

More education means more library use but minorities and poor are more likely to ask librarians for help.

Youth are most likely to use the library space as a hangout space.

Borrowing print books still the dominant use of the public library.

one of the many great cat themed slides from Rainie's presentation!
one of the many great cat themed slides from Rainie’s presentation!

68% of Americans have Broadband at home. Because of this, video viewing has become an important way to view content.

With the democratization of the media sphere, there are actually more arguments happening in our culture. Libraries are now functioning as commons or referees for these arguments.

91% of Americans have cell phones and 56% of these are smartphones. “Smartphones are for snacking,” Rainie said.

Libraries are now dealing with attention zone change – now at “continuous partial attention.” This means more desire for just -in-time searches.

61% of all adults are involved in some form of online social networking. Facebook is still the dominant social media site. However, the composition and character of people’s social networks have changed. They are now channels of learning, trust, and influence. People are using social networks as “The Daily Me” (news) and, in a sense, have created personalized information databases and act as the gatekeepers. Also, now everyone has an audience.

People like self-directed information seeking but they hate the noise and distractions that come with being your own gatekeeper.

“New scarcity is not information, it’s time,” said Rainie.

Rainie noted that because people’s needs change, libraries have the opportunity to be newly relevant to a new group of people.

ala 2013 notes from reference research forum

The 19th Annual Reference Research Forum was held Saturday, June 29th.

Research Guides Usability Study by Andrew Walsh, Information Literacy Fellow and Angela Pashia, Instructional Services Outreach Librarian, both at the University of West Georgia

Walsh and Pashia studied usability of their research LibGuides with focused testing and other user feedback methods. Common issues they discovered were:
~ students using the LibGuides search box to find articles (they’ve removed it);
~ confusion about the role of the guides in research process; and
~ ability to navigate to a specific guide from the LibGuides homepage.

Students commented on some aspects of the guides they did like, including:
~ the drop-down options on tabbed menu;
~ embedded search boxes (the catalog or specific databases); and
~ Virginia Commonwealth University’s subject guide home page (which they will now use as a model for their own).

Two Birds, One Stone: Using a Mixed Methods Approach to Measure Service Process and Identify Usability Pain Points in Virtual Reference by Christine Tobias, User Experience and Reference Librarian at the Michigan State University Libraries

Tobias examined virtual reference using an evidence-based model with both quantitative and qualitative assessment tools. She wanted to know what type of questions are asked during virtual reference and if it is a valid service point. Using the transcript for each reference question, Tobias applied up to three general codes about user need/confusion such as library resources, library services, tech help, local resources, etc. She found a dominance in questions asking about library resources. The top questions were in her assigned categories of research question, article known citation, and e-resources.

Tobias used transcripts to find common users’ pain points. She ran the transcript through Dedoose for text analysis. Her prominent findings were that users had issues with the library website’s presentation of access to resources and services and that navigation of the website is difficult. She can now work on fixing these non-reference problems and reduce user confusion.

i did a research project & it was good (aka show me the awesome)

Artwork by John LeMasney,
Artwork by John LeMasney,

 This post is part of Show Me the Awesome. Find out more from sophiebiblio and Stacked.

In July 2012 I spent two weeks in Cairo, Egypt interviewing young, Egyptian artists about their information needs. It was my first romp into the world of information science research. As a student, I thought I would do more academic library-related research (instruction, assessment) but my limited world travel just kept asking to be a part of my professional research.

Thus, Egypt and guessing my way through the research and publication process as I go. Here’s an brief (and truncated) overview of my research. At ARLIS/NA 2013, I presented a fuller report.

Cairo (This is me just saying, "Yeah, I did this. Booyah!")
(This is me just saying, “Yeah, I did this. Booyah!”)

I interviewed eight Egyptian artists living in Cairo – a photographer, a playwright, a fashion makeup stylist turned videographer, a graphic/textile designer, an author, a mixed media artist, and two painters. I talked with 5 men and 3 women; the median age of the artists is 33 years; the oldest is 38 and the youngest, 25.

The eight artists I interviewed had college degrees in: French literature & history (makeup & video artist); psychology (painter); business administration (two artists: author and photographer); management & information systems (mixed media artist); commerce & accounting (playwright); Faculty of Fine Arts (painter); and College of Applied Arts (fashion & graphic designer).

I framed the interview questions from Susie Cobbledick’s 1996 investigation into the information needs of artists:

sources of inspiration and specific elements of work
books (8 artists) – includes fiction, science, history, and Sufism. Fashion, philosophy, plays, and art; read in Arabic and English; prefer print

images (7) – Google Image, visually strong websites/blogs, taking personal photos as sources

personal life experience (5) – The author said, “What I write is inspired by this country, by me living here.” This category includes Arab Spring (5). A painter who splits his time between Cairo and New York City said, “New York used to be very stimulating as opposed to Cairo, but then, for the first time, when I was throwing rocks at the pigs and they were shooting at me and there were explosions…you were actually, literally doing the struggle of art in the streets against what’s holding you back.”

other – film (4), magazines (3), travel (3), television (2), and music (2)

sources of information about materials and technical issues
Finding sources of information to solve technical issues or getting feedback on work in progress varied for each of these artists. Most commonly, the artist speaks with other artists working in a similar media. Usually these conversations happen in person, however these conversations are moving into the digital realm. The graphic designer mentioned using Facebook and Skype to hold conversations with other artists. The photographer uses an online community of photographers where he posts for feedback on his work and to get technical questions answered.

graffiti in Cairo

sources of information about exhibition, production and sale
It’s rare to have an open call for visual or performing arts in Egypt. This means that artists must network in order to know curators, publishers, directors, and government-sponsored artists. These connections not only lead to more offers for showing work, but also residency and grant opportunities.

In the words of the makeup artist, “You have to know the right people to know the other right people.”

One outlet for marketing and publicity was dominant: Facebook. Six of the eight artists mentioned Facebook, and in particular Facebook’s Events application, as an important source for promoting their work. Additionally, all of the artists said they do most of their publicity in English. “If I didn’t speak English I would have lost at least three or four chances to work in the last few years,” the playwright told me. The other artists echoed this sentiment.

sources for keeping up with the contemporary, global art community
Facebook and email subscriptions to various art and cultural centers are the preferred choices for finding about new events and opportunities. Two of the artists mentioned a popular website, Cairo 360, for discovering what’s new in the arts. But the main source of information on the global art community is Google. All of the artists use Google in English because of the quality of the websites available in English.

use of libraries
Uh, there isn’t any. In brief:
“The libraries here are not good enough,” said the photographer, “because a lot of the books are outdated.” Every artist I spoke with echoed this comment. The makeup artist said she used to go to the public library for books on fashion but when she couldn’t find any, she stopped going.

Perhaps most telling about why libraries are underused in Egypt comes from understanding the educational and cultural systems. In their study of Middle Eastern information literacy challenges, Fahmy and Rifaat state “students in Arab countries are used to being ‘on the receiving end of information’ and that they are usually told exactly what to read, exactly what to study, and exactly how to do homework.”

One of the painters told me, “We as artists and students, we didn’t really get the chance to study or research the right way. Like when you go to the library and you read, read, read…but we don’t have this here in Egypt. Studying by going to the library, that doesn’t really exist. Which is really bad.”

Of course, I have so much more to share about my research and what I learned. That’s why I’m hoping to find an outlet for publishing this work as an article. As I’m again rushing in blindly and full of enthusiasm, wish me luck!

graffiti in Cairo
graffiti in Cairo

works cited & other reading
Cobbledick, Susie. (1996). The information-seeking behavior of artists: Exploratory interviews. The    Library Quarterly, 66(4): 343-372.

Mendelsohn, Henry. (March 2011). Civil unrest affects libraries in Cairo, Egypt. International Leads, 25(1): 1-4.

Rifaat, Fahmy & Nermine M. Rifaat. (2010). Middle East information literacy awareness and indigenous Arabic content challenges. The International Information & Library Review, 42(2): 111-123.

Steiner, Rochelle. (2006). Nilehilism: Is Egyptian art cutting edge or cut off? Modern Painters, 19(3): 104-5.

Thompson, Seth. (2008). Cairo’s Avant-Garde. Afterimage, 36(2): 2-6.

Winegar, Jessica. (2006). Creative Reckonings: The Politics of Art and Culture in Contemporary Egypt. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

notes from arlis pasadena

The first full day of ARLIS/NA Pasadena was rather busy! I spent the morning attend Rebecca Feind’s (Librarian for Art and Design, San Jose State University) and Kathy Clarke’s (Librarian, James Madison University) workshop Crafting Assessment Questions: Creating the Tools to Assess Information Literacy Objectives for Art and Design. The session allowed us to try developing our own multiple choice questions for assessing competency. The most valuable lesson of the workshop: assessment takes time and practice. Writing effective test questions is rather hard! Fortunately, Rebecca and Kathy created a LibGuide, ArtScore: Creating Assessment Questions for Information Literacy Competencies for Art and Design.

In the afternoon I attended the ARLiSNAP section meeting for Art Library Students and New ARLIS Professionals. It’s a great group for meeting young art librarians and the blog has helped many folks find jobs and internships. I’m hoping to become more involved in ARLiSNAP in the coming year.

Much of the afternoon was spent in the session in which I was presenting, New Voices in the Profession. Yvonne B. Lee (Research Assistant, Placa Project) was a terrific speaker. She presented on the Placa Project which is archiving Los Angeles gang graffiti, making the project easily accessible to street artists. Marsha Taichman (Visual Resources and Public Services Librarian, Cornell University) discussed her involvement in developing Visual Resources Talks (brown bag lunches) at Cornell. Amanda Milbourn (Assistant Librarian, Disney Consumer Products) presented her MLIS project on embedding visual literacy instructors into undergraduate classes. She won the Gerd Muehsam Award for this as the best graduate student paper!

I presented my research on and interviews with young Egyptian contemporary artists. In July 2012, I interviewed eight Egyptians living in Cairo about their information needs. My paper provided an overview of the higher education system in Egypt and the contemporary art community in Cairo. Then I discussed some of my findings from the interviews. I received a lot of positive feedback and interest in the work! This summer, I hope to find an outlet to publish this research as an article.

graffiti, Cairo, Egypt
graffiti, Cairo, Egypt