Across Disciplines, Across Campuses: Fostering Digital Scholarship at Swarthmore College

Nabil Kashyap
Nabil Kashyap

This Member Update was provided by Nabil Kashyap, Librarian for Digital Initiatives & Scholarship at McCabe Library, Swarthmore College.

As we move forward in building our digital collections and shaping an emerging digital scholarship program, we are interested in exploring the space that connects libraries, digital stewardship, and innovation in research and learning. Which is precisely why we are thrilled to be joining the DLF community, one of the oldest ongoing conversations anchored in all three. After this year’s Forum we’ve already had the chance to engage with and learn from our colleagues, and we are excited to keep that momentum going.

Located about eight miles west of Philadelphia, Swarthmore is a small liberal arts college with an enrollment of around 1,500 students. In serving the college, the library has a dual charge both to support a community of leading scholars actively shaping their fields as well as to embody a deep commitment to the liberal arts in teaching and learning. And being a small school, it doesn’t hurt if we can do both at the same time.

At Swarthmore, digital scholarship does not happen in one unit; instead the library coordinates closely with academic technology, pooling resources and skills. As a result, we can offer a wide array of core services, from 3-D printing to metadata consultation, as well as a terrific store of combined expertise for more ambitious projects. Recent initiatives have ranged from data visualization to topic modeling, from collaborative digital exhibits to Twitter bots. Among other projects, this last year included: an interface for visualizing difference between translations of literary works not originally in English; an interface for crowdsourced tagging of digitized editions of our yearbook; and a student-curated digital archive of college records, newspapers, FBI files, and alumni interviews surrounding African American activism at Swarthmore in the late sixties.

Other highlights include collaborations with Art History, Peace & Conflict Studies, and English Literature. We worked with faculty and students to apply 3-D modeling to ancient Roman cities and in doing so contributed both to new research and to digital pedagogies in the liberal arts. We helped faculty visualize years of fieldwork through an interactive map of political murals, documenting trauma and memory in Northern Ireland. Finally, we worked on visualizing disciplinary histories, including network maps of citations across disciplines, through collecting and mining metadata from hundreds of course syllabi. In pursuing these projects, we had the opportunity to work not only across disciplines but also across campuses, partnering with institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, and the Library Company.

In addition to making things, we’ve been busy with outreach. This year we continued a series of events and workshops for faculty, staff, students, and beyond. We hosted workshops on tools and methods that range from Git and GitHub to topic modeling to reusing data through APIs. We have also begun to bring digital humanities scholars onto campus, including luminaries like Mark Sample and David Mimno, not only to speak about their work but also to lead hands-on sessions. At the same time, we are interested in engaging a range of audiences. We have been able to host and help coordinate events not only for our campus but also for the Tri-College community (including Bryn Mawr and Haverford) and for the greater Philadelphia community of librarians and digital humanists.

Swarthmore College Libraries takes part in several innovative mechanisms for fostering and supporting new digital scholarship. Two such structures worth mentioning are Swarthmore’s Special Projects for Educational Exploration and Development (SPEED) and Tri-College Digital Humanities (Tri-Co DH). SPEED offers opportunities for faculty to submit proposals for concrete projects that can be completed within, at most, an eight-week cycle. Based largely on the principles of agile development, teams of student interns learn new skills, from media production to programming, and apply them to a fast-paced, intensive development environment over the summer. Students are able to participate in a tremendous learning experience and walk away having contributed to tangible products that can be used in the classroom the following semester. Tri-Co DH, on the other hand, is much broader in scope and, among other functions, provides resources in the form of grants and paid student assistantships for larger digital humanities projects. It also helps support re:Humanities, a yearly digital humanities conference run entirely by undergraduates.

At the same time, we are continuing to expand our digital collections; we believe providing good digital objects is the bread-and-butter of digital scholarship. Much of our infrastructure actually spans the Tri-College Consortium and is shared equally by all three colleges. We host material across a number of platforms including CONTENTdm, DSpace, Embark and BePress, though we are in the process of auditing our systems and rethinking our digital preservation strategies. We have thus far approached digitization on a project-by-project basis, sometimes imaging in-house, sometimes working with vendors, and sometimes partnering with other institutions such as the Internet Archive. Our collections range widely. We host more than a century’s worth of student newspapers as well as those published by the borough. We are in the final stages of publishing a trove of student publications that spans nearly the entire 150-year history of the college. Located within the college library, Friends Historical Library stewards a huge swath of Quaker history, selected collections of which also appear online, including thousands of pages of broadsides, journals, and letters. Finally, we have two repositories preserving and providing access to faculty publications, data sets, student theses, and video recordings of events and performances.

Digital scholarship at the Swarthmore College Libraries is still taking shape, but we feel heartened by what we’ve been able to accomplish so far. At the same time, amid this flurry of activity we feel compelled by the questions that inevitably come up around issues like scholarly communications, permissions, pedagogy, and sustainability, questions that we’re sure sound very familiar to DLF members. All the more reason we are glad to be part of a community of institutions of varying shapes and sizes grappling with similar concerns.

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DLF Digest: May 2024

A monthly round-up of news, upcoming working group meetings and events, and CLIR program updates from the Digital Library Federation. See all past Digests here. 

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