Teaching Librarians & Project Management: New Expectations for the Digital Age
Librarians have long been critical collaborators with their faculty in higher-education classroom settings, teaching research-education principles and providing one-on-one help with students to locate and evaluate sources for research projects. Until recently, most of these student projects have been research papers of varying lengths; each writing experience is a solo project that leads students to monkish behavior in solitary library carrels and dorm rooms. Today’s students have new opportunities to apply critical thinking and research skills in transformative digital and collaborative projects. At Harvard, for example, students in an African and African American Studies course recently created digital stories about music, language, and digital media in former Portuguese colonies.1 This type of venture requires a different level of support from and collaboration with librarians who work in classroom settings. The digital landscape demands new roles for teaching librarians and archivists as they shepherd and coordinate a range of projects, working with students and faculty from initial visions to implementation questions to final products.
As many courses begin to incorporate digital components, faculty must use course time to cover content and deal with the learning curve involved in utilizing new and unfamiliar digital tools. Faculty often do not have the time or capacity, for example, to teach students how to use blogging platforms or digital storytelling platforms. Teaching librarians and archivists are natural collaborators to facilitate digital learning in classrooms. Especially on liberal arts college campuses, it is increasingly common for teaching librarians to count among their responsibilities the teaching of digital tools and use of instructional technology. Librarians can provide one-stop support for faculty and students in classes with digital research and project components.2 Teaching librarians and archivists focus on process: how to use software, how to deploy archival sources, how to understand the finer points of copyright, and how to support and preserve projects and their accompanying data for the long term. We can leave the content to faculty; though we may be subject experts, one of our unsung strengths lies in project management, in the shepherding of student research from amorphous ideas to concrete sets of questions. We can collaborate with faculty to implement project guidelines that meet students’ learning goals and that can support digital projects on various platforms, including curated exhibits that engage a range of critical thinking skills.
Skills for Teaching Librarians & Archivists in the Digital Age
Teaching librarians and archivists are no longer simply bibliographers or collections experts. Now they are research and technology sherpas, guiding faculty and students towards meaningful learning experiences and successful projects. The digital age requires us to have a new suite of skills that prepares us to support digital scholarship in classrooms or to communicate effectively with teams of technologists and information professionals—instructional technologists, reference archivists, GIS specialists, and visual resources librarians—on a range of projects. Teaching librarians and archivists may also be:
- Digital Humanists who use the “methods of contemporary humanities in studying digital objects.”3 Projects like Around DH in 80 days provide an opportunity for seasoned DH practitioners and newbies alike to engage with the Digital Humanities in a global context.4 Other recent examples of successful Digital Humanities projects include Jen Rajchel’s senior thesis on Marianne Moore’s Bryn Mawr poetry, Harvard’s efforts to reimagine teaching, and the work of Emory University faculty, technologists, and librarians to build interactive maps to track lynchings in Georgia.5
- Trend spotters who scan the horizon for emerging tools and technologies, evaluate them, and introduce them in projects and undergraduate classrooms. Should libraries buy 3-D printers? How can libraries support MOOCs? Communities of practice like ISIS and THATCamp help support the continuous professional development of librarians and information technologists through online seminars and drop-in sessions, where they can discuss emerging trends and best practices.
- Adjudicators who understand comprehensively the copyrights of moving and still images and other archival materials in print and digital form. Using resources like the Association of Research Libraries’ Policy Notes blog and Nancy Sims’ excellent copyright guide blog, teaching librarians and archivists knowledgeable in this area can help faculty and students navigate the murky and shifting copyright landscape. These adjudicators can support exciting research and projects that blend old formats with new media.
- Project Managers who coordinate larger-scale projects and facilitate collaborative projects among groups of students in undergraduate settings. Exciting initiatives like the winter and summer Digital Humanities Institutes bring faculty, librarians, students, and museum professionals together to tackle project development and management through their curriculums. Project management encompasses far more than ensuring that timelines are met and workload evenly distributed among team members. Project management requires leadership and vision to empower teams and to deploy new tools for new goals.
While teaching librarians and archivists are uniquely positioned to help integrate student learning objectives with project outcomes and to create new opportunities for curriculum engagement, they are also facing a moment of creative destruction of some of the more traditional elements of librarianship. Embracing instructional work in the digital age means rethinking how teaching librarians and archivists spend their valuable time. For example, many teaching librarians are also selectors for library materials, so they could probably have more time for integrative teaching and digital project management if vendor-approval plans and patron-driven acquisitions automated collection-development work. While some might bemoan this as a loss of some of the “artisan” qualities of librarianship, it is an opportunity to reimagine public-facing positions to meet the needs of the rapidly changing higher-education landscape. As libraries move away from being simply content collectors to content creators, librarians and archivists must also make sometimes scary but necessary transitions.6
Together, faculty and librarians can collaborate to make meaningful assignments and learning experiences for undergraduate students within a new digital framework. Such partnerships ensure that students’ first forays into this area are successful, but can also help more advanced practitioners on more complicated projects. No student or faculty member can complete successful digital projects on their own; such projects require a village of librarians, archivists, technologists, faculty, and students to build, implement, and sustain them.
- Carla D. Martin, “Wikipedia, Storify, and Zeega in the Classroom,” Storify, n.d., http://storify.com/carladmartin/storify-the-classroom. This provides an overview of the work students undertook at Harvard University in Carla D. Martin’s fall 2012 course, African and African American Studies 114x: From Cesaria Evora to Dama do Bling: Language, Music, and Digital Media in the Former Portuguese Colonies. Martin reported that she met with librarians before the semester to discuss copyright issues and best practices for working with students on multimedia projects. The librarians also put Martin in touch with faculty who undertook similar projects. [↩]
- Barbara A. Rockenbach, “Archives, Undergraduates, and Inquiry-Based Learning: Case Studies from Yale University Library,” American Archivist 74, no. 1 (2011): 297. [↩]
- Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “The Humanities, Done Digitally,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 8, 2011, sec. The Digital Campus 2011, http://chronicle.com/article/The-Humanities-Done-Digitally/127382/. [↩]
- “Around DH in 80 Days,” Global Outlook::Digital Humanities, February 4, 2013, http://www.globaloutlookdh.org/around-dh-in-80-days/. This project grew out of an information-sharing project that Digital Scholarship Coordinator Alex Gill undertook in the Columbia University Libraries to showcase new digital humanities work around the world. [↩]
- Jen Rajchel, “Introduction,” Mooring Gaps: Marianne Moore’s Bryn Mawr Poetry, n.d., http://mooreandpoetry.blogs.brynmawr.edu. Rajchel reported that the director of library collections, the head of special collections, and the curator for rare books and manuscripts supported the project in terms of exploring collections, learning to use microfilm, and navigating copyright. “Lynchings in Georgia (1875-1930),” n.d., http://web.library.emory.edu/disc/projects/lynchings-georgia-1875-1930. “Projects | metaLAB (at) Harvard,” n.d., http://metalab.harvard.edu/projects/. [↩]
- Brian Matthews, “Think Like a Startup: a white paper to inspire library entrepreneurialism,” April 2012, http://hdl.handle.net/10919/18649. [↩]
Library and Instructional Technology Liaison – Mount Holyoke College