This week we’ve scheduled two “Open Labs” in the Studio@Butler, the library’s collaboratory. Because of the modular furniture in the Studio we’re able to work individually or break into smaller groups to discuss shared research interests and resources. Since we are all struggling to find time to research our individual landmarks/buildings in Morningside Heights, we’re using these Open Labs as dedicated time to research and write outside of our normal training sessions and meetings. For me personally, it’s helpful to work in a room full of other people working, even if we’re not all doing the same thing. The energy and the buzz in the room definitely enhances my productivity, while taking short breaks to find out which resources my colleagues are currently exploring can be really inspiring! In Tuesday’s Open Lab, Bob and Sarah showed us some of the fascinating census documents they’ve been extracting from Ancestry.com, as well as underlying spreadsheets and data that give us a better understanding of the neighborhood’s changing demographics in the late 19th and early 20th century. John and Anice also spent some time investigating Gateway to North America : people, places, and organizations of 19th-century New York, a database that includes directories and travel guides among other primary sources.
These Open Labs follow a successful “researchathon” that Alex and I organized for a faculty member in the French department last week. She is compiling a bibliography on literature, colonization and slavery in the Atlantic so we got several colleagues together from across the libraries and spent a few hours researching and adding citations to a Zotero group. We ended up with a bibliography of over 300 sources, having split our time between working individually and in small groups concentrating on themes like “Early American Travel Narratives” and “Natural History and Slavery.” These sorts of collaborative initiatives have not only brought us together and helped us foster closer partnerships with our academic departments, but they belie the notion that humanities research is conducted purely by individuals working in isolation. We’re all still spending plenty of time independently researching our selected locations for this project but I (and my colleagues) are increasingly valuing these Open Labs and researchathons as opportunities to create an interdisciplinary community of researchers at the university.