The HASTAC 2015 conference, held at Michigan State University, was an apt place for a mini-CLIR Fellows reunion. The conference (and HASTAC in general) is a welcoming space for non-traditional scholars, creating opportunities for librarians, postdocs, instructors, graduate students and technologists to lead alongside tenured faculty. HASTAC’s commitment to recognizing new modes of doing scholarship is evident in the invitation of two early career scholars to give the Keynote addresses. (It’s worth reading and revisiting both Scott Weingart’s “Knowledge Uprooted” and Roopika Risam’s “Across Two (Imperial) Cultures: A Ballad of Digital Humanities and the Global South” to see where Digital Humanities is as a field RIGHT NOW and where it will be going.)
Thanks to support from the UCSC Library and CLIR, I was able to attend the conference and present on a panel with fellow first year CLIR fellows Emily McGinn, Charlotte Nunes, and Alicia Peaker. Our panel, “Tales from the Library Basement: Doing Digital Humanities as CLIR Fellows,” was designed to explore the role of CLIR fellows in libraries and on campuses focused on building Digital Humanities communities. To keep it all in the family, Daniel Chamberlain, a former CLIR Fellow and Director of the Center for Digital Liberal Arts at Occidental College, served as our moderator and framed our discussion as a series of productive tensions. The goal in presenting together at HASTAC was to explore these tensions, as well as the challenges we each faced in different settings, serving as bridges between library, faculty, and administrative interests.
We each offered a case study of this kind of work, based on our own experiences over the past year. There were, not surprisingly, overlaps in the stories we told about our work lives – we took on numerous roles, offering support, translation, and digital consultation for faculty members on our campuses; we served as community builders, event planners, and “collaborator-in-chief”s. We struggled to navigate between the appeal of experimental, unique digital work and the need for scalable, sustainable support models. But, there were unexpected overlaps as well; for example, we each mentioned working with Omeka (an online publishing platform), suggesting an interesting role this particular tool has in integrating Digital Humanities methods into college classes.
But, what struck me most was the local particularity of the jobs we did. Emily, at Lafayette College, is part of a Digital Scholarship Services team, where her work is well supported by a team of programmers and developers. As a part of this team, she worked with faculty to create new – and very successful – digital assignments for a range of classes and initiated an internship in the library that is giving 7 students the opportunity to develop their own digital research project over the course of six weeks. Charlotte, the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Scholarship at Southwestern University, described a range of projects she coordinated – both class based and grant supported – that connected Digital Humanities work with the archive and allowed students to create public facing scholarly products.
Discussing my work as the Digital Humanities Specialist at UC Santa Cruz, I focused on the hidden nature of digital work in the library and the challenges in connecting faculty with the kinds of expertise hidden away behind locked doors in the basement. At the same time, Alicia discussed the challenges she faced in working in such an open space that she had a hard time focusing on the intellectual work of scholarship – both digital and otherwise.
The opportunity to discuss the day-to-day tasks and larger goals of my work alongside those navigating similar paths was exciting and provocative, but the biggest takeaway for me was Alicia’s paper that sharply articulated the challenge of identity that perhaps all CLIR fellows face: how can we integrate, combine, and understand our personal research ambitions and our fellowship goals? How can we resolve the diversity of responsibilities that come with these kinds of positions and in a short period of time meant only to spark interest or community? And, how can we better express and formalize the value we bring to the kind of mixed cultural work that successful DH projects demand?
These questions – of identity, labor, responsibility – also sparked a lively Q&A session in which the very nature of libraries as a place where books are held, the role of librarians and the digital in the future of scholarship, and the sustainability of temporary positions were raised. It seems that CLIR fellows cannot gather without inciting a debate about the changes in library cultures that speak to the future of digital scholarship.
Thank you to Daniel, Emily, Charlotte, and Alicia for this opportunity to interrogate and explore what we all do every day. And, to CLIR for making this kind of work possible and for supporting us as we find our way through the often uncharted terrain.
For more about the conference and the panel, read Charlotte’s killer write up about her HASTAC experience.