It All Starts Here: Digital Scholarship @ FSU

This semester I set to the task of conducting an environmental scan of digital scholarship at FSU, focusing specifically on projects, faculty, and researchers incorporating various kinds of audio-visual media, tools, and platforms into their work. This project, building off my previous research in digital humanities initiatives using audio-visual media outside the University and the growing interest in such projects in the DH field at large, attempts to identify new horizons and domains for DRS to explore.

The goals of this undertaking lie somewhere between generating a possible blueprint for preservation and access to such projects (a goal traditionally sought by archives or media labs) and making new connections for FSU’s Office of Digital Research and Scholarship (DRS) which is a goal aligned with this emerging entity in academic libraries we are calling digital scholarship centers (Lippincott, et al 2014). Over the course of the semester, I’ve spoken with ethnomusicologists, new media artists, choreographers, digital humanities scholars, GIS experts, digital archivists, and web developers (just to name a few) with the hopes of finding common threads to weave into a shared infrastructure of AV media-focused resources for library collaborations. Although daunting, the value of such an environmental scan has been concisely articulated by E. Leigh Bonds:

I was less interested in labeling [the research of faculty at Ohio State University] than I was in learning what researchers were doing or wanted to do, and what support they needed to do it. Ultimately, I viewed the environmental scan as the first step towards coordinating a community of researchers (2018).

Bonds’ mission of “coordinating a community” is especially apt considering the wide array of scholarship happening at Florida State University. Despite differences in disciplines, approaches, and aims, the use of digital technologies in working with AV media has become a ubiquitous necessity that requires distinct but often overlapping tools and skill-sets. The digital scholarship center, as noted by Christina Kamposiori, operating under a “hub and spoke” organizational model, can effectively serve as a networking node and site of scholarly intersections and cross-pollination (2017).

Such an arrangement, eclipsing traditional conceptions of the library as simply a book repository or service center, better positions library faculty and staff to exercise their knowledge and expertise as technologist partners in scholarly projects working with digital AV content while also enhancing the research ecosystem through developing shared resources. This setup, while dependent on many complex factors, is attainable if the digital scholarship center can effectively check and track the pulse of its community of researchers, identifying their areas of interest, needs, and prospective directions. For DRS, some observations drawn from my environmental scan seems like a good place to begin.

One genre of support DRS and other library units working with digital media can begin to cultivate is providing documentation, preservation, and data management frameworks for digital projects whose final form exists outside traditional “deliverables” of academic scholarship (i.e. print-based publications, and the like). These can be “new media” objects like e-publications and websites, or more complex outputs like performances and/or artworks incorporating many different layers of digital technologies. The work of Tim Glenn, Professor in the School of Dance, is a great example of this kind of intricate digital scholarship which blends choreographic craft and technical execution to create captivating performances. One piece in particular, Triptych (2012), relies on the coordinated interaction between dancers’ bodies, cameras, projectors, and pre-edited video to create what Glenn calls “a total theater experience.”

The amount of digital data and infrastructure that goes into such a project is a bit staggering when we consider the lattice of capture and projection video signals, theater AV technology, lighting control signals, and creating the video documentation of the performance space itself. Glenn’s website is a testament to his own stellar efforts to capture and document these features of the work, but as many archivists and conservators will attest, this level of artist-provided documentation is often not the case (Rinehart & Ippolito, Chapters 1-2, 2014). With this kind of complex digital scholarship, DRS can develop models along a spectrum, either directly with researchers on developing documentation plans and schemas from the ground-up (see examples of such work from The Daniel Langlois Foundation and Matters in Media Art) or serving as a conduit for depositing these digital objects into FSU’s scholarship repository, DigiNole, to ensure their long-term accessibility.

Of course, the other side of the coin is the maintenance, compatibility, and sustainability of such platforms and repositories at the University. DigiNole, built on the Islandora open-source software framework, is the crown jewel of FSU’s digital collections. It serves as the access point to the digital collections of FSU libraries as well as the University’s research repository and green OA platform for works created by faculty, staff, and students. An incredibly valuable and integral part of the library’s mission, Diginole has the advantage being built on an extensible, open-source platform that can be expanded to accommodate a wide variety of digital objects (not to mention that it is also maintained by talented and dedicated librarians, developers, and administrators).

As such, DigiNole can play an equally integral role in data management and documentation projects as a repository of complex, multifaceted digital objects. The challenge will be normalizing data into formats that retain the necessary information or “essence” of the original data while also ensuring compatibility with the Islandora framework. Based on my conversation with FSU’s Digital Archivist, Krystal Thomas, another, more long-term, goal to enhance the digital preservation infrastructure of the library will be implementing a local instance of Archivematica, another open-source software framework that is specifically designed to address the unique challenges of long-term digital preservation of complex media. Another step the University can potentially take in increasing this infrastructure across campus is to seek out a trusted data repository certification. For those of us working in digital scholarship centers, these kinds of aspirations will always be moving targets, as is the nature of the technological landscape. But having a strongest possible grasp on the local needs and conditions of the scholastic community we work with will allow both librarians and administration to channel resources and energy into initiatives that have the highest and most palpable impacts and benefits.

Ultimately, the kind of infrastructure DRS or any other academic unit wishes to build should be in response to the needs of its scholars and foster solutions that have cross-disciplinary applications and implications. Whether generating data management plans, developing scholarly interfaces, or building out our homegrown digital repositories, an R1 institution like Florida State University needs systems that account for the wide variety of scholarship happening both on-campus and at its many satellite and auxiliary facilities. Looking towards the future, we can glimpse the kind of fruitful digital scholarship happening at FSU in the work of undergraduates like Suzanne Raybuck. Her contributions to Kris Harper and Ron Doel’s Exploring Greenland project and whose fascinating personal research on the construction of digital narratives in video games represent promising digital scholarship that bridges archival, humanities, and pedagogical research. Hopefully DRS and its partner organizations can keep pace with such advancements and continue to improve its services and scope of partnerships.

Acknowledgments

Enormous thank you to the entire staff of FSU’s Office of Digital Research and Scholarship for allowing me the space to pursue this research over the past year, namely Sarah Stanley, Micah Vandegrift, Matt Hunter, Devin Soper, Rachel Smart, and Associate Dean Jean Phillips. Thanks to Professor Tim Glenn and Assistant Professor Hannah Schwadron in the School of Dance, Assistant Professors Rob Duarte and Clint Sleeper in the College of Fine Arts, Assistant Professor Sarah Eyerly in the College of Music, doctoral candidate Mark Sciuchetti in the Department of Geography, Krystal Thomas, Digital Archivist at Special Collections & Archives, and Presidential/UROP Scholar Suzanne Raybuck for your time, contributions, and conversations that helped shape this research.

WORKS CITED

Bonds, E. L. (2018) “First Things First: Conducting an Environmental Scan.” dh+lib, “Features.” Retrieved from: http://acrl.ala.org/dh/2018/01/31/first-things-first-conducting-an-environmental-scan/

Kamposiori, C. (2017) The role of Research Libraries in the creation, archiving, curation, and preservation of tools for the Digital Humanities. Research Libraries UK. Retrieved from http://www.rluk.ac.uk/news/rluk-report-the-role-of-research-libraries-in-the-creation-archiving-curation-and-preservation-of-tools-for-the-digital-humanities/

Lippincott, J., Hemmasi, H. & Vivian Lewis (2014) “Trends in Digital Scholarship Centers.” EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2014/6/trends-in-digital-scholarship-centers

Rinehart, R. & Ippolito, J. (2014) Re-Collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory. The MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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