DLF Forum 2015: Liberal Arts Preconference

Yesterday’s DLF Forum’s Liberal Arts Preconference was terrific, start to finish. There was food, community note-taking for sessions, and plenty of tweets to stay critically engaged throughout the day (despite the freezing temperatures in Salon A). Here’s my recap.

Interestingly the keynote was given by two folks not at liberal arts institutions, Chris Bourg, Ph.D. and Director of Libraries at MIT, and Cecily Walker, Assistant Manager for Community Digital Initiatives & eLearning at Vancouver Public Library. Their talk, Digital Library Matters, reminded us that the Digital in these initiatives we are are undertaking are actually about people – about communities and events and identities, individual and collective, that Matter. It was important to start a digital scholarship conference by immediately reflecting on the community, the community that the scholarship is about or for and the community that is doing the work to provide access to that scholarship. It set the tone for the rest of the day.

The first session I attended was The Professional is Personal: Reflections on Personal Digital Archiving Day in Four Liberal Arts Colleges. I hadn’t heard of this initiative that the Library of Congress so throughly documented for organizing your own Personal Archiving Day and was impressed with the success the speakers had at their own institutions. The speakers discussed workshops that were targeted to faculty and students. I really like the idea of working with student groups and in the classroom to educate students about how to curate and preserve their scholarship, regardless of format.

In the arts, more and more practitioners are wanting to both preserve their creative process (not just output) and more and more practitioners want access to other practitioners’ creative process. This may be a toolkit I could introduce to artists and designers. I am also interested in discussing these practices with students. Faculty may be given resources and support for preservation, but students frequently are not. This suggests we don’t value their work when often it’s some of the most innovative and transformational.

With students on my mind I next attended Beyond Grunt Work: Putting Students at the Center of Digital Scholarship. I think I’ve done ok with this for the digital project in which I’m involved and I wanted to hear what others were doing. I learned that some schools are going directly to the students. At Haverford, they have a digital fellowship program where students initiate, plan, and execute a digital project. An example is The Cope Evans Project. Sure, the projects are limited in scope and less ambitious, but perhaps this is more sustainable? And, in the long run, more valuable to both the students?

After lunch (where I met colleagues I’ll be seeing again at the Bucknell Digital Scholarship conference in a few weeks!), I listened to Barbara Rockenbach (and see tweet above) discuss the Studio@Butler in the libraries at Columbia. Rockenbach calls this space “a collaboratory for educators, scholars, and librarians.” No matter how many times autocorrect tried to change “collaboratory” I am completely smitten and will use it in conversation, regardless if relevant to the topic at hand. She also said, ahem, THIS IS NOT WORK FOR FACULTY, THIS IS WORK WITH FACULTY (screaming emphasis mine). I love that the Studio is about bringing people together, not technology. This echoes everything this conference has been about so far.


The next session had two presentations, Beyond a Cabinet of Digital Curiosities and Collaborating Liberally, Creating Critically. Both were about student digital projects in the classroom. Whitman College is using Omeka as a platform for students to engage with primary sources. At Smith College, students chose the appropriate platform to develop “tours” or guides to their scholarship question. The work the students did was phenomenal and critically engaging. As part of this conversation, Brendan O’Connell brought up Smith’s Design Thinking and the Liberal Arts framework that just melted my heart. This school is going to continue to be a leader in Liberal Arts DH!

Speaking of leaders, the day wrapped up with an interactive session, Lead, Follow, or Listen. A set of questions about when and how liberal arts colleges can (should) participate in DH were presented to both panelists and the audience. The comments were provocative, especially Kevin Butterfield who dubbed himself the “non cranky library director” on the panel.

It was great to end the day with renewed energy and motivation. Looking forward to the main conference today and tomorrow!