The Developing Librarian Team Launches Morningside Heights Digital History (MHDH)

Two years ago we announced a professional development program in the Columbia University Libraries for the Humanities & History Division. In our first iteration of the Developing Librarian project or, as we refer to it on social media, the #devlib project, our goal was to build a common project using an adaptation of the Praxis model for professional librarians. Today, the Developing Librarian team is proud to announce the launch of our site, Morningside Heights Digital History, or MHDH.

After an initial round of “introductions” to the technologies and skills needed to design our site, we divided into teams: design, editorial, management and development. For a more detailed breakdown of our different roles, please visit our credits page. The project was built on the Omeka platform, using the Neatline plugin for the interactive map and an interactive tour of the Butler Library Mural, and the Exhibit Builder for our different exhibits. We chose the Berlin theme, and modified it to suit our needs. The research was done individually, but we shared bibliographic and archival resources. We documented the process throughout on our Developing Librarian blog, where you are now.

When we set out to do this as a team, we wanted to accomplish much: to expand our ability to support and consult in digital humanities, to hone our research skills, to bridge the gap between IT and subject librarianship, and to bond as a team by sharing a common project. We feel we have accomplished all of these and more. In particular, we find all aspects of our work as a team have benefited from developing a project together. Learning to build consensus around difficult issues will have a lasting effect on all we do in the libraries and on campus.

We have many people to thank for this project: our technology team and library administrators in the Columbia University Libraries, who have seen the importance of flexibility in the technical infrastructure for our training efforts. We are also appreciative of all the conversations and feedback from colleagues at many universities, including the University of Indiana, University of Minnesota, University of Virginia, University of Florida, New York University, and Duke University.

Following this first phase of our project, we will continue our professional development through a series of targeted training sessions for and by our team and others at Columbia University Libraries. We will continue to share what we learn on our blog. We have grown as individuals and as a team during the past three years of this project. In the next phase, we will expand this model to enhance our own research (for example, one team member will be using digital tools to assess variant versions of an unpublished play by Tennessee Williams), following a model pioneered by Trevor Muñoz and MITH in their Digital Humanities Incubator for libraries. We will also be partnering with faculty to create and co-teach digital labs attached to traditional humanities courses, to improve our digital pedagogical skills. We have always emphasized process over product in this training, but we are excited to share our web exhibit and this model for future professional development at Columbia and elsewhere.

Humanities & History team, Columbia University

Developing Librarian 2.0

Fall is here and the second phase of the Developing Librarian training program has begun. We are scheduled to meet every other week (Tuesdays 9:30-11am) and will focus work and discussion on tools and methods appropriate to the digital humanities at Columbia.

Required Reading | Viewing:
Digital Humanities in the Library: Challenges and Opportunities for Subject Librarians

Miriam Posner, How Did They Make That?

The major theme of the 2015 fall semester will be text.


September 8
Basic hardware in the DHC Computational Center (Bob)

September 22
Basic software in the DHC Computational Center (Bob)

October 6
Text Mining Hathitrust I: Creating a sub-corpus (Alex)

October 20
Text Mining Hathitrust II: Analyzing your sub-corpus (Alex)

November 3
Introduction to data cycle; Data Retrieval: Outwit (Alex & Bob)

November 17
Semi-Automatic Data Cleanup: Google Refine (Ben)

December 1
Manual Data Cleanup: EmEditor/Text Wrangler/Oxygen (Terry & Bob)

December 15
Intro to text analysis: Voyant Tools (Alex & Bob)

N.B. In the spring semester we will wrap up the data cycle and leave the curriculum open for new directions that come out of our encounters in the fall, hopefully exploring other media. We are also open to on-demand workshops on any tool or method of interest.

Group Meeting, June 30, 2015

1) Review of Map
Project about development of Morningside Heights – historic map is more powerful because of historical context. Not all locations are on current map.

Cognitive noise on historic map. Leak and Watts is in foreground. Level playing field with newer map. Historical map misleading.

Historical map not compatible with Neatline.

Narrative Ian wrote describes the historic map. Could we link from the main page to the historic map via a tab?

Design team chose colors for the historic map.

Phase one of project never intended an interactive map. We talked phase 2 having a Neatline interactive map. Several weeks ago Alex offered to create an interactive map for his project.

Disagree that this map will make the site more interactive.

Aesthetic and technical issues with this map.

Site is about building a narrative about Morningside Heights. Preference for historic map that pre-dates Columbia.

Could we use a static historic map and list institutions on the the side? Is it possible to have interactive maps in the exhibits?

Could there be an interactive map tab with historic map on front page? Could historic map link directly to interactive map? Historic map on left with list of exhibits on the right.

Prototype of this solution by Wednesday, July 8

Use CUL/IS header but with no “My Library Account” or “Help” – get rid of

Use current logo with historic map

Also, would like to revisit color and spacing of chapter titles within exhibits

2) Where we are in terms of launch
We want to give a complete site (in terms to design) to LITO by Friday, July 10
One week to look code and give us feedback about site – July 17 LITO feedback

Morningside meeting on July 14 for last minute details and review/writing of DH+Lib launch

July 20 – on CUL/IS server

July 23 – Launch on DH + Lib

3) Dev Lib – Phase Two
August off!
Resume in September with new syllabus to be voted on in next few weeks. Compiled all the recommendations and will have a syllabus for review soon.

Action Items

  • Get map solution in place by Wednesday, July 8
  • Revisit all aesthetic choices on the site, i.e. chapter title color and spacing
  • Talk to LITO about next steps for server – get them a site for review by Friday, July 10
  • Finish exhibits
  • Begin writing DH+LIB launch text

  • Minutes taken by Barbara Rockenbach, posted by John Tofanelli

    Group Meeting May 19, 2015

    1. Creative Commons License for our Morningside History project site
    Near the start of our process, we discussed Creative Commons license options and settled on a CC-BY 3.0 US License. This is featured on the front page of our Developing Librarian process / blog site, which states in the bottom margin “This work is licensed under a CC-BY 3.0 US License.”

    In our meeting today we discussed licensing and terms of use issues for our Morningside Heights Digital History project site. Unlike our process / blog site, our project site contains a substantial variety of different types of content: for example, original exhibit text written by team authors, images used with permission of institutions, etc.

    Various things emerged clearly in the discussion:

    *We need two kinds of license, or terms of use statements–one covering our original content and one covering images or documents that we are using with permission or through public domain.
    We have authority to determine reuse conditions under a CC license for our original content. For images or documents we did not create, however, we need an appropriate statement in which responsibility for seeking reuse permissions, where needed, is left with the user.

    *The default when no CC license statement is included is that originally authored materials are covered under ordinary copyright. We decided, however, that we should select and apply a specific CC license to the original content on our project site. The CC licenses
    all share in common attribution, or crediting of author, as a basic element. There were varying opinions about whether or not we should select a CC license that adds ND (no derivatives) and/or NC (no commercial use) onto the basic CC BY license.

    In the course of our discussion, we found it very helpful to consider
    Omeka showcase
    which provides links to a variety of Omeka sites and their statements of terms of use conditions.

    Action Item:
    Bob Scott and John Tofanelli will draft and send to the group for approval a terms of use statement for the project site. Once the group has approved that statement, Bob and John will submit it to Rina Panatalony, Director of our Copyright Advisory Office for review.

    2. Libraries Information Technology Office (LITO) guidelines
    Our Morningside History project site will be moving to a Columbia University Libraries (CUL) server before it launches publicly this June. We therefore need to bring it into conformity with standards applicable to all sites housed on CUL servers. We looked at Columbia Univerity Libraries’ “Visual Identity & Website Guidelines,” which is the key document. Alex will bring our site into conformity with these guidelines in terms of incorporating Columbia banner, etc.

    Dr Strangedevelop, or how I learned to love the team

    A French librarian graduating from Enssib (the French National Library School), training and interning at Columbia University Libraries for three months, from February to the beginning of May 2015, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to join the Developing Librarian Project and to become part of the developing team.

    This experience has been very rewarding for a number of reasons and will reverberate on my practices and on the way I see librarianship and the role of libraries and librarians now and in years to come. What facets of the experience proved to be prominent for me? Many aspects are involved in this project, the goal of which is to reskill ourselves to support evolving modes of scholarship in the humanities (see the article published by Nikka Bakkalbasi, Damon Jaggars and Barbara Rockenbach in Library Management (Volume 36, Issue 3), entitled Re-skilling for the digital humanities: measuring skills, engagement, and learning). I would like to focus on the day-to-day experience: what does it feel like to be a developing librarian on a daily basis and to set out on this journey? In this respect, the few aspects of the Developing Librarian Project that especially stand out in my view are a special stance on research and scholarship produced by librarians as a team, the development of technical skills on the go, and the team building experience.

    Getting involved in A Digital History of Morningside Heights implies, of course, a fair amount of research and scholarship. I took over from Mary Cargill and chose to deal with the Leake and Watts Orphan House, the remains of which can still be seen appending the Cathedral of St John the Divine. It seemed interesting to focus on various aspects: first, the creation of the house itself, which stemmed from a strange will, the architecture, at the same time typical and strangely unrecognized, the rural feel surrounding the building that was considered as so pleasant, and the welcoming policies and living conditions of the orphan residents.

    What is left of the Leake and Watts Orphan House on the Morningside Plateau, April 2015

    What is left of the Leake and Watts Orphan House on the Morningside Plateau, April 2015

    Focusing on the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum, which was set up on the Morningside Heights Plateau in 1843, implied turning to 19th century newspapers to retrieve pictures and to understand how the mission of the Orphan House was perceived by the contemporaries. It also meant turning to material like censuses or, strangely enough, travel guides. Finding this material is, of course, a matter of thorough research through the databases. However, working in a team together focusing on different items with different approaches creates a seminal serendipity: going through a database for one’s own research, one stumbles on material that pertains to another item in the project that the team member has not noticed because their sources and approaches are different. Travel guides in the 1850s happen to mention the Leake and Watts Orphan House among other orphanages and along with the Bloomingdale Asylum as places to visit, for instance, an unexpected mention that came up through research but also through exchanges with the other team members using this resource. The bimonthly Morningside Heights meetings enabling every member to present their items are a means of creating a unity in the whole project, while respecting each and every member’s chosen angle: a common object is designed, which is not only the product of a community but which also creates a sense of community just through the way the library staff can appropriate the history of Columbia itself.

    Contributing to the digital history of Morningside Heights implies reskilling oneself and developing technical skills that can be learned from online tuition (html, css), but that also have to be practiced and mastered on the go, day after day. If online lessons are useful, progress comes from learning tips from your coworker in workshops targeted at building up the final Omeka website. It all amounts to learning by doing and to appropriating the tool step by step, and, what’s more, to appropriating it together and for a common purpose.

    More than from learning from an online learning platform, a sensible use of the tool results from building up the html and the css together, through trial and error. What comes as a surprise is that even the less advanced can contribute to building the final product. Answering questions also enables the respondents in the team to make sure that they master a set aspect of coding. To me, the main asset of this learning process is the way it contributes to building team spirit. Team spirit does not just come from any project carried out together: it stems from the sense of purpose that the learning process eventually acquires in this case.

    Becoming a developing librarian for a while also amounted for me to developing into a librarian proper and to contributing to a team intent on rethinking libraries as constantly evolving libraries.

    Group Meeting, May 5, 2015

    1) Development Team Update
    The Development Team showed our group the new home page for our Morningside Heights Digital History project site. This new page incorporates an historical map for Morningside Heights with its original colors restored (and slightly heightened for emphasis and clarity). The page surrounding the map was also revised to be in a color scheme that complemented the map. These color scheme revisions originated in decisions made in our Design Team. The revised color scheme represents a departure from our earlier plan of determining a desired color scheme for home page and altering the map coloring to fit that scheme.

    2) Transitioning to CUL Server, Current Status and Issues
    There were four outstanding questions which LDPD had addressed to our group. They needed to have these questions answered prior to transitioning our Project site onto a server administered by Columbia Libraries. We reached consensus for most of these questions. For example, we do want the project site cataloged. After considering the commitment involved in migrating the site again and again as needed, we agreed that we would: a.) keep it alive until a migration was needed and b.) make sure that it gets preserved as a frozen site. The Development Team was charged with discussing issues for which questions remained.

    3) Summer Schedule
    Various options for a summer schedule were discussed. It was decided, however, to table this discussion until we have understood more about what will be involved in Phase 2 of project. Phase 1 of the project, the Morningside History website, is still slated to be launched in June 2015.

    4) Phase 2
    The group considered that substantial time and effort had been required for Phase 1 of The Developing Librarian–the construction of the Morningside History project site. For phase 2 we agreed that we would retain the emphasis on developing and enhancing digital skills but abandon the idea of all contributing to a single digital project. Instead, we will work on individual digital projects of our own choosing. We will still dedicate group time to labs and meetings and we will educate one another about our projects.

    Action item: each member should send a description of his or her individual Phase 2 project to Barbara. The Developing Librarian blog will still be actively maintained to chart our progress in Phase 2.

    5) Friday open labs
    Barbara has sent out invitations to the group for a series of Friday open labs in May and early June. These are optional lab sessions in which group members can work together in finishing up work needed to be done prior to project site launch in June.

    Fair Use Week

    This week marks Fair Use Week in the library world. Fair Use affects all of us as librarians and scholars, but especially in the context of this project, as we are delving into researching various landmarks and buildings in Morningside Heights. Some of us are fortunate in that the published documents and images of our institutions pre-date 1923 and fall squarely into the public domain, while others (myself included), have to understand what constitutes fair use when it comes to newspaper articles, photographs, and other items published in 1930 or later. As such, I appreciate all of the freely available resources on Fair Use, so I’m sharing two that have been really helpful to me:

    caa-fair-use-cover  infgoraphic_image