PhillyDH@Penn Takeaways

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Last Tuesday was the much-anticipated PhillyDH@Penn event, inspired by the recently formed PhillyDH group and held in the new Special Collections Center.  For me, the event was a wonderful way to round out my almost-one-year anniversary of starting my WIC internship. Last summer, I tried to articulate what DH is (or rather, how difficult this is to articulate) via my brief DH encounters in graduate school. From there, I’ve spent the year reading articles, attending events, writing blog posts, and playing with new tech tools, all of which has given me a much better sense of DH scholarship. So many takeaways emerged from Tuesday’s unconference sessions and workshops that I could create a laundry list (or, more appropriately, an interactive word map). Instead, I’ll share my favorite takeaways that helped me better understand my role in DH as a WIC intern and librarian-in-training.

1) Don’t force the DH. Undertaking new digital projects is by no means an easy task for anyone, let alone time-crunched college professors and students. Before you think about incorporating DH into your classroom, think about what your goals are for your students and what you would like students to do at the end of the course. Once you figure this out, find out whether there are any digital tools that would enable or enhance students’ learning experiences. From what educators discussed at this topic’s unconference session, this approach has proven more productive than building a class around a specific digital platform.

2) Use your libraries (and librarians)! Because people have little time to learn new technologies, the library can provide a significant training grounds to teach and learn digital tools. Today’s librarians have become more “blended” not only in teaching research skills but also instructional technologies; further, the library is a neutral space on campus or in the community where everyone can come to learn. It was refreshing to hear this message from librarians, educators, and information professionals alike. It also allowed me to realize how our WICshops and special WIC programs help to meet this digital teaching/learning need.

3) Metadata is your friend. I don’t know very much about metadata, but I do know that it has great potential to change the ways people search for and find various materials. Folks from the Penn Libraries spoke about the Penn Provenance Project on Flickr, which started out as a rare book cataloging endeavor and has now captured the attention of those all over the world as they recognize books’ signatures, titles, and authors. By tagging the Flickr photos, patrons help create the metadata that link these images to Penn’s library catalog, Library of Congress records, and even Wikipedia, making information more easily accessible and retrievable for all involved.

4) Social media can be overwhelming. But, making comparisons can help! We’re always looking for the newest social media tools to use here at WIC, but I haven’t really taken the time to see which ones are most effective for which tasks. Browsing lots of graphics, online materials, and “about” sections of social media websites helped me to create a social media comparison chart to sort out all of this. I hope this information will be helpful for both our WIC staff and for all those trying to make sense out of multiple social media accounts.

These are just a few ideas I took away from PhillyDH@Penn. The event initiated so many productive conversations among folks across the humanities in universities, libraries, museums, and archives (workshop materials and unconference notes are now online).  I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that I came out of the day with the challenge to not only think about new models of teaching and learning with digital tools, but also to keep up the conversation with colleagues in the Philly area and beyond, as collaboration in DH is key to getting successful projects off the ground.

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