What I’m Reading This Summer: Rebecca Dowson

Note: As the dh+lib Review editors work behind the scenes this summer, we have invited a few members of our community to step in as guest editors and share with us what they are reading and why the dh+lib audience might want to read it too. We close out the series with a post from Rebecca Dowson, Digital Scholarship Librarian at Simon Fraser University Library.

My current reading list revolves around questions of sustainability and capacity for digital scholarship. A major focus of my work in the past year has been coalescing existing and emerging services, expertise, and institutional structures via our newly established research incubator, the Digital Humanities Innovation Lab. This summer I am taking a step back to reflect on the areas of strength for the lab and challenges to address in the coming year. The readings below have informed my thinking on several key elements of a robust digital scholarship program, including: institutional support, professional development, pedagogical practice, and organizational structures.

Building Capacity for Digital Humanities

Anne, Kirk M., et al. Building Capacity for Digital Humanities: A Framework for Institutional Planning. ECAR working group paper. Louisville, CO: ECAR, May 31, 2017. 

This joint paper from the Educause Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) and the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) “outlines a practical framework for capacity building to develop institutional digital humanities support.” The framework articulates benchmarks for early, established, and high-capacity stages of DH/DS support using the following measures: funding, governance, infrastructure (human, technical, physical), roles, communication, and engagement. In addition to the discussion of each measure and associated benchmarks, the authors provide many illustrative examples from institutions engaged in DS research support and actionable suggestions to move forward in building capacity locally.

I found the benchmarks very useful in considering my institution’s current strengths in support for DS, as well as areas that require sustained attention in the coming year. I also appreciate the care the authors took to write for a broad audience with varying experiences with DS. Growing institutional capacity for DS requires support at all levels of administration and across units that may not have previously collaborated. This paper serves as an accessible starting point to engage campus stakeholders and provides a solid foundation on which to build a strategic approach to supporting sustainable and robust digital scholarship.

Re-skilling for the Digital Humanities

Bakkalbasi N., Jaggars, D., & Rockenbach, B. (2015). Re-skilling for the digital humanities: measuring skills, engagement, and learningLibrary Management, 36(3). DOI:10.1108/LM-09-2014-0109  

Developing an approach to building capacity for digital scholarship often includes formal and informal training opportunities. In considering training models to support the DS aligned professional development goals of my colleagues, I find myself returning to the Developing Librarian project at Columbia University Libraries. This project, detailed here and previously in a dh+lib post, is a collaborative and project-based training program that provides librarians the opportunity to develop a digital humanities research project as a team and to “learn about new tools in a sustained manner that parallels the way other humanities researchers are likely to use them.” In this article, the authors provide an overview of the project objectives and design, as well as a discussion on assessment. The findings demonstrate that ongoing assessment captured incremental learning and shaped future stages of the project. Additionally the results played a significant role in “identifying and implementing appropriate training opportunities for librarians supporting emergent research activities and for understanding what skills and professional preparation are needed for new staff recruited into the organization.” The Developing Librarian project offers a model for sustained engagement of a community of practice interested in emergent DS research practices and tools. I particularly appreciate the project’s focus on learning in context, centering the role of librarian as researcher, and privileging the process as ongoing and generative.

Challenges of Collaborative Digital Humanities Pedagogy

Giannetti, F. (2017). Against the grain: Reading for the challenges of collaborative digital humanities pedagogyCollege & Undergraduate Libraries. DOI:10.1080/10691316.2017.1340217

In this article, Giannetti reflects on her own practice and reviews recent literature in digital humanities pedagogy and faculty-librarian collaboration to identify challenges in developing a collaborative approach to digital pedagogy. Giannetti addresses issues of navigating disciplinary barriers and organizational power dynamics, making visible the underlying labor involved in DH work, managing complexity, and balancing technical choices and theoretical understandings.

My professional practice has benefited immensely from colleagues sharing their pedagogical approaches to digital scholarship and collaborative teaching. However, as Giannetti points out, critical reflections on the challenges of this work have not yet been a focus of scholarship. This gap in the literature is a shame as I often learn the most  from experiences that presented unexpected difficulties or where things didn’t necessarily go as planned. I hope others will take up Giannetti’s call to share our failures with each other “to advance pedagogical praxis by building a foundation of shared knowledge upon which others can build.” One real-time mechanism to continue the discussion could be via the DLF Digital Library Pedagogy Group’s regular Twitter chats, using the hashtag #DLFteach.

Montoya, R. D. (2017). Boundary Objects/Boundary Staff: Supporting Digital Scholarship in Academic Libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 43(3), 216-23. DOI:10.1016/j.acalib.2017.03.001

Library-based digital pedagogy centred on special collections offers exciting opportunities for intra-departmental collaboration.  However, differences in platform functional requirements, departmental responsibilities and expertise, and incompatible workflows can present barriers to engaging in this type of work. In this article, Montoya introduces the concept of boundary objects, objects used in different ways by various communities of practice, to describe the networked digital resources developed through faculty-librarian-student collaboration. These boundary objects serve to connect a constellation of communities of practice represented by library departments and extended to the classroom. Montoya then invites us to consider how this concept could be expanded to address the challenges of intra-departmental collaboration via a new role of boundary staff, hybrid positions that operate within several departmental communities of practice to “central[ize] knowledge and implement[] policy that can meet the needs of these many constituents.” In my own position I often act in this type of role for pedagogical projects, negotiating between several departments to articulate project requirements and identify a path forward that builds on available library resources and expertise. I appreciate Montoya’s call to consider a formal staffing model that more fully integrates these boundary staff roles into the communities of practice with whom they work.
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Rebecca Dowson

Rebecca Dowson is the Digital Scholarship Librarian at Simon Fraser University Library. She works with researchers at all levels in the areas of open access publishing, scholarly communication, and integrating digital methods and tools into scholarly practice. She is also a founding member of the SFU Digital Humanities Innovation Lab.