I enjoyed presenting about digital scholarship at Bethel and hearing about projects from other library colleagues at the University of South Carolina, and the University of Alberta, Edmonton. Stacy Winchester and Amie Freeman from University of South Carolina University Libraries Digital Research Services presented on assessing a digital skills workshop for graduate students, and Hanne Pearce and Lydia Zvyagintseva from the University of Alberta Digital Scholarship Centre, presented on Digital Literacy programming. The ACRL Digital Scholarship Section hosted this Virtual Professional Development session and it was a privilege to be included. The recorded session is available on the ACRL YouTube channel and the slides are available to download.
Below is the script of my portion of the presentation (which begins at 22:35 minutes) and a link to an organized list of all the resources and projects categorized by formative Library concepts, pedagogy, race, model projects, and some recommended Twitter accounts and hashtags to learn more.
Introduction and Some Foundations
Hello everyone, I am honored and humbled to have this opportunity to present today on some of the digital scholarship and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts here at Bethel. For brevity, I will use DEI for diversity, equity, and inclusion going forward.
Safiya Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression is a great model of combined digital scholarship and DEI and demonstrates the importance of understanding technical systems and critical inquiry. I also appreciated last year’s virtual discussion of this book hosted by Kristen Mapes and Heather James of the DEI groups within the Digital Scholarship and Rare Books and Manuscripts Sections of ACRL. We are all better off when harmful distortions of black women in Google results (or any system) are confronted and corrected. In direct relation to our profession, April Hathcock’s work is an important critique of systemic issues in librarianship and its whiteness.
A currently developing example of the combination of digital scholarship and DEI and how representation, visibility, and agency are matters of life and death is this pandemic. The Atlantic articles by Ibram Kendi, data projects like the COVID Tracking Project, and visualizations from Mona Chalabi reveal how Covid-19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color.
So how can we engage this at Bethel? This presentation focuses on the process of personal and professional relationships and resources that enable this at the scale of a mid-sized liberal arts university. There are a lot of great resources out there but I want to highlight a few that have been most helpful to me and relevant to this topic. Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly (and her other works) encourages me to grow by taking risks. Robin DiAngleo’s, White Fragility, (2011 article, 2018 book) and Beverly Tatum’s, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria and Other Conversations About Race, helped me to better understand aspects of whiteness, racial identity, and how to engage these conversations with resilience, particularly in the context of education.
We all have personal and social identities that influence how we see ourselves and others. I want to start by acknowledging the aspects of my identity that form my perspective illustrated by this Social Identity Wheel worksheet provided by Melissa Prescott in her Anti-Racist Pedagogy for Librarians workshop (source of worksheet is this Inclusive Teaching website). These identities such as being white, straight, Christian, middle-class, and male, place me in a social context with privileges, blind spots, or vulnerabilities. Having an awareness of them grounds me in order to have difficult conversations. I’ve found the book Difficult Conversations: How to Talk About What Matters Most to be an invaluable guide on how to recognize and navigate difficult conversations, personally and in the workplace, and it provides tools in recognizing how identities might be involved in the conflict and tensions.
Professionally, I’ve worked in libraries for a total of 15 years. My first few years were as a paraprofessional at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore and I’ve been in my current role, managing Bethel’s digital library collections of cultural heritage and scholarship for 11 years.
One of the principles that keep me focused as a librarian, even in times of rapid change, is the Mission of Librarians from David Lankes which is, “To Improve Society through Facilitating Knowledge Creation in their Communities”. I like how it connects the community we serve with broader society and “Facilitating Knowledge Creation” motivates me to be active and seek out opportunities to engage students and faculty in the whole research cycle.
Bethel University is a private, faith-based, liberal arts university within the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metro area of Minnesota, on the ancestral homelands of the Dakota and Ojibwe people. Bethel has an FTE of about 4,500 students, the majority consisting of around 2,300 undergraduates.
Bethel’s demographic has changed by 10 percent in the last ten years with the most current percentage of students of color in 2018-2019 at 16.7%. With an 83% white student body, Bethel is a predominantly white institution or PWI. Even with this growth, whiteness can still be seen as the center or “norm” and one way I can be an ally is to be intentional about informing myself of the broader issues and lived experiences of the community of color. This includes attending events and programs of the academic and co-curricular groups having these conversations and engaging in active listening, building personal relationships, and using platforms I have to amplify voices.
For the rest of my talk, I am going to feature two different projects that engage digital scholarship and DEI in different ways.
We were asked to focus on aspects of collaboration, challenges & opportunities, sustainability and best practices and the key to all of these is to actively listen and engage others with courageous curiosity and humility. I also recognize the power dynamic based on my identity and need to ensure that collaboration is truly done with people and not for them. None of these projects were done on my own and is due to the effort and labor of students, faculty and staff, and years of reading, listening, and engaging in conversations with collaborators.
First, I want to place both of these projects into a digital scholarship pedagogy framework and then I will explain the four aspects of each one. From a pedagogical point of view, I really like Rebecca Frost Davis’ scaffolded approach to digital scholarship projects and assignments. It reflects a progression of complexity and skills from consumer to creator and is helpful when considering what is required of students at a developmental level (and faculty too).
The first project, the Digital Archives module in the Introduction to Digital Humanities curriculum, involves the first two levels of consumers and contributors. I asked students to visit and analyze a Digital Public Library of America exhibit (as consumers) and participate in a crowdsourcing project from the Library of Congress (as contributors).
The second project, the Looking Back to Move Forward Timeline, involved one of my student workers working on an independent project and creating a digital exhibit based on his skill set and research interest (as creator).
Digital Humanities Curriculum
Information Literacy Frames
- Authority is Constructed and Contextual
- Information Creation as Process
The first project is a four-class-period module about digital archives where students are introduced to the overall process of digitizing items, describing them with metadata, and placing them in collections and exhibits.
Inspired by Melissa Prescott’s Anti-racist Pedagogy workshop, I committed to highlight digital scholarship projects that are made by or feature people of color in the digital humanities curriculum. To illustrate how they all come together I have them visit the History of Survivance: Upper Midwest 19th-Century Native American Narratives exhibit in the Digital Public Library of America which includes a majority of its material from the Minnesota Digital Library.
In addition to the technical aspect of how the exhibit is pulled together I also emphasize and ask them to reflect upon who is telling the narrative and make connections between where they live and Dakota/Anishinaabe/Ojibwe life and traditions.
For instance, wild rice, or manoomin, is a distinctive Minnesota food featured in restaurants and stores, but students might not know that it is an integral part of the continuing tribal traditions that have been in existence for thousands of years. Bags of rice like this one are currently for sale from the Ojibwe tribe.
The second part of this module, once they’ve had some experience, is to contribute meaningful metadata to an existing project. We were fortunate enough to be able to work on some of Rosa Parks’ papers with the Library of Congress crowdsourcing project in late February. Students needed to reflect on their experience with the technical aspects of the website and also what they learned about Rosa Parks as a person. My hope is that they learned to see her as more than just the woman who wouldn’t give up her seat on the bus. To model this, I shared how I learned, from transcribing her calendar, that she was involved as an organizer of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by keeping track of who she was giving rides to during the boycott.
The collaboration for this project is primarily focused on interaction with faculty and how it is based on the established trust and relationship that the Library has with the History department at Bethel. Two innovative and energetic history faculty members, Chris Gehrz and Sam Mulberry, invited me to join them in proposing the digital humanities major and hiring a digital humanities/history faculty member. Because I had an established role in digital collections, sought out ways to support them, and also actively researched, discussed, and presented about digital humanities and digital scholarship they were willing to invite me to the table. The digital humanities faculty member, Charlie Goldberg, and I meet weekly to discuss the progress of whichever digital humanities class is offered. This spring semester is Introduction to Digital Humanities – DIG200.
Challenges and Opportunities
The challenges and opportunities are that I have to plan and develop lesson plans for a four segment teaching session on digital archives. It is a privilege to have this much time but still challenging to find the right proportion of technology, content, and critical inquiry. The students are in a very formative time as first-years or sophomores and it is important to consider what I can reasonably expect from them in assignments due to their cognitive development and stages of identity formation.
The sustainability of this project is aided by collaboration with Charlie Goldberg and making sure to document all the decisions and discussions about assignments and learning objectives. It is also important to make sure that the course content overlaps with digital library program goals like adding content to the digital collections.
The best practices I can recommend that are more widely applicable would be to encourage you to build on your existing skills and relationships and try to stretch yourself personally and professionally. Be prepared to engage topics of DEI and on digital scholarship including voices outside of librarianship. I was invited in because I put myself out there beyond management of the digital collections to discuss and meet some faculty needs and ideas. Acknowledge and approach the ones who are interested in stretching themselves too by joining book discussions or invite them to events that relate to their teaching or research interest. Lastly, stay informed of projects that highlight voices outside of the dominant culture.
Information Literacy Frames
- Research As Inquiry
- Authority is Constructed and Contextual
- Information Creation as Process
The second project, the Looking Back to Move Forward Timeline Exhibit, was inspired by a challenge and a call to action. The challenge came from former Princeton archivist, Jarrett M. Drake, in his 2016 keynote at the Digital Library Federation Forum. He discussed how archives and liberal arts colleges can perpetuate systemic oppression and how archiving student activism on campus counters this.
The call to action came from my Digital Library student worker, Ammanuel Robinson, who chose to work on a project focusing on Bethel’s history of discrimination.
This project represents Frost Davis’ creator stage of the scaffold because Ammanuel created a new tool based on his interest. I always give my student workers some choice in what projects they work on based on their interest or skills which also helps with motivation and matching their personal interests and passion.
Ammanuel wanted to investigate the topic of discrimination to establish the past and current pattern of incidents and invite meaningful dialogue about it. We discussed the purpose and form of the project and decided together that to highlight existing articles from the student newspaper collection and highlight them using TimelineJS and a custom CONTENTdm page could achieve this goal. We were looking for a title and a theme when I introduced him to the concept of Sankofa which is used by some other Bethel programs as well as many in the US and around the world.
The word comes from the Akan tribe of Ghana, which roughly means “it is important to understand the past in order to move forward into the future”, and is accompanied by the symbol of a bird that is pointed forward and looking backward to gather an egg. He liked this philosophy and we named the timeline the Looking Back to Move Forward timeline in honor of it.
First of all, I want to acknowledge that more than half of the digital collections would not exist without the careful stewardship of Professor of History and Archivist, Diana Magnuson. She has been a staunch ally and steadfast collaborator from the beginning of my time at Bethel. Also, all of the digital collections are products of years of student work and I am grateful for their time and unique contributions.
In this project the main collaboration was with my student worker but it also required a great deal of conversation with other students, staff, and faculty. Choosing a critical theme like discrimination is challenging and it helped to get advice from the community including student groups like United Cultures of Bethel, faculty trusted by students who engage in conversations about race, the Dean of Diversity and Intercultural Engagement, and the Chief Diversity Officer.
Challenges and Opportunities
There were many challenges and opportunities and some early ones where decisions on what content to use and what technology will best achieve the evidentiary and invitational purposes. Limiting it to the student newspaper and choosing TimelineJS made the project achievable in a reasonable amount of time with an interactive exhibit. Some of the material is sensitive and even hurtful and that is challenging to be both historically accurate while framing the content appropriately. For this reason, we chose to pull out direct quotations rather than add commentary on the timeline except for the introduction to provide context. A great opportunity is that the timeline has already stimulated conversation with students and faculty and has been used as an assignment in an Educational Equity class. It will likely be the focus of an event next year with the United Cultures of Bethel student group and the Clarion student newspaper.
It is challenging to sustain a student project when they are only on campus for a few years. Communicating with other campus collaborators helps to mitigate the transience.
To make sure the project was sustainable I committed Digital Library resources to host the exhibit and supporting content. The TimelineJS timeline is embedded into the CONTENTdm collection as a custom page to give it a stable web location.
Best practices from this project would include making space for student workers to make choices about their projects when possible. They are a great source of collaboration. As before be prepared in multiple ways with technology tools, library expertise, and issues of race and culture within your area. Lastly, don’t go it alone. Seek wisdom from as many sources as you can so that you are prepared when an opportunity comes your way and so that you have strong relationships to build upon when the next digital scholarship project emerges.
Thank you, and here is a slide with my contact information and links to all of the resources I mentioned.