Originally published on HASTAC.org. (As of 6/12/2020 this blog post attracted 256 page views and 105 likes on Hastac.org.)
On February 5th, 2018, the Michigan State University Digital Scholarship lab held a grand opening reception attended by scholars and students from a wide variety of disciplines. This new lab was introduced as a ‘transformative space for teaching and learning.’ From work spaces including digitization equipment, meeting rooms, and computer labs with dozens of software packages available for free, to VR systems and an ‘Igloo’ 360 visualization room, the space is brimming with capability.
What/How/Why – Approaching DH spaces and tools thoughtfully
The chatter throughout the reception centered on questions like ‘this is so cool, but how am I going to use this;’ ‘who can use the space;’ and ‘what kind of work will come about because of this.’ While these questions about technical capabilities are important, and should be critically examined by each scholar as they approach any project, I felt that there were larger questions to be addressed. Questions like: How will this space affect the intersection between different forms of digital humanities scholars? Or how might it affect DH communities which exist solely online or otherwise?
In order to answer these questions, I asked Dr. Bill Hart-Davidson, associate Dean for graduate students in the College of Arts and Letters, to sit down with me so that we might work through them.
The first thing that Bill established was a distinction between the qualifiers capable and capacious, in his mind a space is not defined by its technical specifications but by the ability of the space to host people. This capaciousness, according to Bill, stemmed from the shift in purpose that the Library has undergone in the last few decades. Every year we shift further from the idea of a library as a space where collections and items are stored and closer to a framework which emphasizes in person collaboration. Students especially need neutral places to conduct their studies, and libraries are changing their approach to answer this call.
Lab/Lib – Education experienced, collected, distilled
When new tech was introduced in the past, it would only be available in one faculty member’s office, or in one classroom, or in one laboratory. Now, with this tech in the Library where everyone can access it, it’s so much more exciting because there are no barriers. The idea of laboratories being the space for experience in education, and the library being the space for densely accumulated knowledge about those experiences, has become outdated. Instead, as we rely less and less on physical space in the library, it has been repurposed to host experiences. That is what the DSL represents, said Bill, the capacity of the library to not only chronicle the accounts of education but to accommodate learning experiences as well.
As a first year master’s student the nagging question I had to ask was—any advice? How do we best use this space? What can I do here and now while I have the chance? Bill’s answer was this: Don’t be shy now! In other words, we cannot afford to be hesitant to take advantage of all that is available to us. This applies to the Digital Scholarship Lab, the HASTAC network, and any other online or physical space where we can collaborate and learn interdisciplinarily. As with all tools, we have the ability to invent on the fly, to visualize what was once invisible, to problem solve, and to innovate. We should capitalize on the opportunities we are given, and we should be trying to prompt others to say ‘look what we can do.’
To find out more about the Digital Scholarship Lab, visit http://digitalscholarshiplab.msu.edu/.
Photos by Shelby Kroske, courtesy of the MSU Libraries.
Thank you to everyone at the DSL who helped me find what I needed, and to Bill Hart-Davidson for making the time to talk.