Fellow Reflection: Erika Weir

This post was written by Erika Weir, who received a DLF Students & New Professionals Fellowship to attend the 2018 Forum.

Erika Weir is an MSLIS candidate at the University of Illinois where she works as a graduate assistant with the Slavic Reference Service. Her interests include digital collections, archives, and special collections for distributed and marginalized communities.

In addition to providing reference services, she is currently working with the Slavic Reference Service on programs and digitization efforts occurring in the Baltic States: Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. She also interns at the Museum of the Grand Prairie, assisting with their cataloging and digitization efforts of the Doris K. Wylie Hoskins Archive for Cultural Diversity.

I was incredibly grateful to receive DLF support to attend this year’s forum. Overall, the experience was incredibly eye-opening to the breadth of work taking place in regard to digital libraries. The ability to speak to so many different professionals about their day-to-day was incredible and left me with the thought that “I want to do it all!” However, besides my boundless excitement for all of the new thoughts, ideas, and projects I was exposed to, I was also struck by the many ways the DLF community is tackling the notion of “neutrality” in GLAM institutions. From Anasuya Sengupta’s open plenary to the very last panels, the themes of decolonialization and self-improvement as a community ran deep. Moreover, I was particularly inspired by the ways in which members of the DLF community are addressing the history of underrepresentation and misrepresentation of marginalized communities in GLAM institutions through research and design.

Slide from Sengupta’s keynote talk

Coming from a Sociology background, I was struck by how much library community is drawing from the research practices that the social science community has adopted to work through their own checkered history marked by exploitation and ethical issues in research. Moving directly from the theory that characterizes many of the discussions about ethical library practices to actual research practices, the Developing a Framework for Measuring Reuse of Digital Objects Project spoke a great deal about their use of grounded theory to guide very important research. Although not directly related to decolonial theories, I believe our choice of research methodologies directly influences research outcomes and therefore to what extent traditional structures of power in our institutions are upheld. Not to mention, the Design for Diversity project provided very real guidelines and case studies for the use of participatory research design in the development of digital library projects, which also directly challenges traditional ideas of whose voice has power in the research process. I also found that their project provides very helpful resources of how to transition that research into the actual design of projects.

In terms of design, there were so many projects that were acutely aware of and accessible to the communities represented in their collections. The Radio Haiti project from Duke University directly challenged my own idea of a “digital library” through their use offline technologies to bring the digital collections physically to their community of users in Haiti without internet access. Even more impressive was their dedication to providing multilingual metadata which is no small feat in terms of labor. Imagining what could exist even beyond our current structures for digital collections, Scout Calvert’s Oikos Ontology project challenged my ideas of what ontologies can accomplish. I also found it particularly significant that they were addressing genealogies- a research topic that is incredibly important for community archives, often ignored by academic institutions, and can be a source of trauma for many marginalized communities. These projects (along with many others) provided much needed challenges to my academic perspective and inspiration as I think about my next steps entering the library profession.

More than anything, these sources of inspiration have reinforced my respect for the value of assessment. For without self-assessment, we cannot improve and there is obviously a great need for improvement in our institutions.

Leaving DLF, I took with me an incredibly long list of bookmarks for resources, case studies, and articles to add to my reading list. For me, the experience was marked by the exposure I had to projects and current research taking on Anasuya Sengupta to decolonize our collections.  More than anything, these sources of inspiration have reinforced my respect for the value of assessment. For without self-assessment, we cannot improve and there is obviously a great need for improvement in our institutions.

Want to know more about the DLF Forum Fellowship Program? Check out last year’s call for applications.

If you’d like to get involved with the scholarship committee for the 2019 Forum (October 13-16, 2019 in Tampa, FL), look for the Planning Committee sign-up form later this year. More information about 2019 fellowships will be posted in late spring.

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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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