Aug. 9, 2013

Humanities students embrace multimedia in library program

Hannah Byland
Provided by Cornell University Library
Hannah Byland, graduate student in the field of medieval studies, is designing part of her first-year writing seminar with help from the library's digital humanities internship program.

For a handful of undergraduates this fall, the academic writing in their first-year seminar could be accompanied by the sounds of monks chanting and images of 16th-century engravings.

Medieval manuscripts will meet multimedia in a course taught by Hannah Byland, a third-year graduate student who is participating in Cornell University Library’s new digital humanities internship program.

Byland is designing a course that will allow her freshmen to augment traditional academic writing with the library’s audiovisual resources – which, she believes, will help her students “mine Cornell’s resources and add to their own understanding of the material.”

Byland had been using digital tools in her academic work for years. But before her internship, she’d never heard of Scalar, the online multimedia platform that she’s now testing and that her students will eventually use.

Scalar and other specialized tools, such as text mining, topic modeling and data visualization, are the focus of the library’s program, a six-week course that launched in June. It aims to expose a handful of Cornell graduate students to new frontiers in digital humanities work, which is one focus of the library’s Digital Scholarship & Preservation Services (DSPS).

DSPS’ experts lead the program, which is co-sponsored by the Society for the Humanities and Olin/Uris libraries.

“The aim is to have graduate students meet the librarians who work with digital projects every day, and also to give them some time and space to explore digital scholarship tools in a one-on-one setting,” said Madeleine Casad, curator for digital scholarship. “It’s about learning how to create an interactive digital collection or, for example, what the back end of Google Books or HathiTrust looks like.”

The pilot program’s small size – only five students – allows library staff to tailor their lessons to each student’s teaching or research projects. It grew out of an interterm immersion program at Olin/Uris libraries, which will run again this year, that offered students hands-on experiences and information about archiving, digital research tools and digital resources.

“This program also aims to increase the use and visibility of the library’s digital tools, resources and expertise,” said Oya Rieger, associate university librarian for digital scholarship services. “Long term, we envision this becoming a yearlong course or some kind of virtual lab.”

The program also goes beyond purely practical lessons about tools and specific projects, said Lynne Stahl, a fifth-year graduate student in the English Department.

“It’s amazing to be shown these things by people who know so much,” she said. “It’s definitely been a learning experience not only about the resources, but also about working with technology in conjunction with thinking pedagogically.”

Gwen Glazer is the staff writer/editor at Cornell University Library.