Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Oh the (Digital) Humanities!

As a new librarian, one of the joys of my work is finding new ways to learn about my profession. I am an avid learner, and I love to listen to webinars, attend conferences, and otherwise become more entrenched in my profession with every interaction.

So, of course, it was only natural that I would join COIL - The Community of Oklahoma Instruction Librarians. I attended my first meeting a couple of weeks ago, and was instantly reminded why I had decided to become a librarian. Librarians are my people, yo!

The meeting started with lunch at Stillwater, Oklahoma legend, Eskimo Joe's, which will be celebrating its 40th year in business this year. (That's a long time for a burger joint in Oklahoma.) During lunch, I chatted with the people around me, and heard great stories about OKGo, running, nail polish, and the agonies of moving a collection from one building to another. I enjoyed learning a little about the people who do my job in other places.

After lunch, we headed to the OSU campus to the Edmon-Low library, which is nice and imposing, as a University library should be.

And this is where the fun part of the meeting began. We had gathered to learn about Digital Humanities. Two of our colleagues from Oklahoma State University had compiled a great list of some of the digital humanities projects available on the web. I'd love to share some of my favorites here:

Mapping Emotions in Victorian London - This cool site creates pins all over London, with every time a place and emotion is mentioned in Victorian literature. In this park, melancholy; on this street, happiness; at this police station, fear. Very interesting!

Linguistic Patterns in Bestselling Book Series - This page looks closely at the patterns in Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones. The different types of data extrapolated is fascinating.

Voyeur - Far from being an inappropriate site, this one is related to the one above, in that you can get your very own word cloud from the text of your own blog, book or other document. For instance, check out the word cloud for this blog. On the site, you can actually hover over each word, see how many times it was used, and dive more deeply into each piece of your own lexicon. 

OSU Digital Collections - And, of course, it wouldn't be a complete list without throwing in a shout-out for the OSU digital collections. Of interest on this page is the access to the centennial series, which is a complete history of OSU from 1890-1990, and the Hugo, OK project, which recorded oral histories of the city where many circuses spent their winters. 

After sharing some cool projects with us, our fearless leaders, Sarah Coates and David Oberhelman, shared a project they had undertaken with one of their own undergraduate classes.

As an alternative to the usual research paper, the team had pioneered a project with one of the English faculty. Students were assigned a project, in which they did their research and uploaded their project to a Wordpress site. Each project was based on a rare book in the OSU collection - a 1587 edition of Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles, which is a detailed history of the UK in Shakespeare's time. It would have been the same edition of the book that Shakespeare himself had used for his plays. The project basically resulted in a digital companion to the book. You can view the final project here: OKStateShakespeare.

The project and the idea was so interesting. It's a risk, too, because if you're really interested in creating something to live on the internet permanently, you're putting the creation into the hands of students, and we all know that sometimes students get to that point in the semester where they are negotiating with themselves for their grades. (i.e. "If I just turn it in, that's at least 50 points, and I if I get 50 of 100 on this project, then I'll have an A for the class..") Still, the project would be a good jumping-off point, and the library could later beef it up and make corrections where needed. It would certainly take a lot of the work off the librarians themselves for creating such a project.

All in all, it was a fascinating meeting. I enjoyed thoroughly getting to hear about new resources and meet new people. I've spent an inordinate amount of time exploring the websites mentioned during the meeting. But it just makes me a better resource for our students, right??

Of course, the final highlight of my day was getting back to my car after not feeding my child or pumping for six hours, so I was practically BURSTING out of my clothes. Let me tell you, pumping while operating a car is not for the faint of heart. Also, I may have flashed more than one student in the process of getting connected. I guess this is what being a working mom is all about. 

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