Development Team: Making Strides

The Development Team met yesterday to reinforce our understanding of how to use GitHub to share our code and to try implementing some of the recommendations we received from the Design team with regard to our site. We established a list of rules for using Git that we are all committed to memorizing (or else we risk breaking branches, destroying the site, and creating extra work for ourselves). The rules are:

1. Pull before you push- any time we sit down to work on the code for the site we should remember to pull the code on each of our branches to ensure that we receive all the changes our colleagues have made and that we don’t end up with conflicts.

2. Don’t pull another branch into the Master branch- we want to keep the master branch clean!

3. Always check what branch you’re on whenever you make any changes (so that everyone else knows which branch to switch to when they are pulling the updates).

4. In order to delete other branches, you must be on the Master branch.

5. We don’t pull files- we’re only pulling code.

6. Don’t use capital letters or spaces in file names.

We also discovered, thanks to Alex and another colleague in the libraries, Seth Robertson’s choose your own adventure guides to Git:,, and the one we’ll probably use the most (since it helps you resolve merge conflicts and committing errors):

Once we had nailed down this set of rules to live and program by, we moved on to editing the CSS for our site’s homepage. We were able to insert a title into the header and to create a background image for the entire homepage. Our next steps will be centering the title, changing the font and size, and attempting to insert a navigation menu toward the bottom of the page. This all may sound very cryptic or, to those who are very familiar with coding and with Git, very basic, but having these rules crystallized has been extremely helpful for our team as we move forward in building the site.

(Our abstract and slightly insane visual understanding of how each member of the development team uses GitHub and connects to the Git repository)

Collaborative Research

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, 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.


Project Management: Coordinating Progress

Our project is moving forward along two basic tracks. The first is team accomplishments, and progress here depends heavily on synchronization. For example, the Design Team needed to complete its designs and specifications for logo and home page before the Development Team could begin working on implementing them. The second track is individual accomplishments. Each individual has chosen an historic Morninigside site, and is required to create three exhibit pages, each of which explores some aspect of it. Each of us is also charged with uploading twenty documentary items, some of which should be integrated into the exhibits, while others can simply enrich the scope of the site as a whole. Within the overall deadline of December 2014, when our project is slated to have its initial launch, the timing of individual accomplishments is quite flexible.

Nevertheless, various group members have expressed the idea that further individual progress on items and/or exhibits would actually be helpful to give us all a greater sense of where the project is going. With this in mind, two open labs have been scheduled for this coming week in which individuals can work on any aspect of the project they choose. Bob Scott and Alex Gil will be on hand at the open labs to provide expert guidance as needed for matters such as the creation of bibliographies in Zotero and the uploading of documentary items to the project site. Near the beginning of the project, we all had training in both and we already have for each Morningside site an initial body of work to return to and expand upon. There is a lot of energy in the group right now, in these last weeks of summer; and we are all looking forward to the open labs.

Design Team update: logo, header, footer…process

Though we haven’t surfaced online in a while, the Design Team has been hard at work.  We have been perfecting logos and considering other sites to figure out what we wanted our design elements to resemble.  Here’s where we are so far.

We designed our logo to evoke a subway stop mosaic, using images found in Helvetica and the New York City subway system (MIT Press, 2011) as inspiration.  The logo comes in two sizes: one long and rectangular, with the full title, which will be on the header of the main page, and the other square, with only the acronym, for all child pages.  The color choices will be adapted when we finalize the palette of the site, but the general effect is this:



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Group Meeting July 15

We welcomed Micah Vandergrift from Florida State Uinversity to our meeting. Micah was in residence at Columbia for the week meeting with colleagues in the Center for Digital Research and Scholarship (CDRS) and other units. He expressed interest in our project as a model for involving more librarians in digital scholarship. Micah is Florida State University’s first Scholarly Communication Librarian. He manages the institutional repository, works with faculty and has a strong interest in the future of academic publishing.

At the meeting, Micah discussed his work at Florida State and how they are going about implementing and building services for digital scholarship. He pointed out that his long association with the university has been advantageous for him – he knows the culture, the faculty, and has been successful in anticipating certain needs. He also acknowledged the challenge in getting faculty to think about their own research in new ways and how best to make them aware of what services are available.

The agenda for the meeting focused on updating our project timeline and confirming our meeting schedule through the fall. We granted extensions to several deadlines for the design team and the development team – recognizing busy work schedules. We are hoping to have the logo refined, color selections confirmed, header and footer ready to go by September – which will give the development team the necessary content to begin implementation.

We are planning a few site visits to archives in the fall. We hope the first visit will be to the Municipal Archives to explore original documents that can help inform the history of Morningside Heights.

Design Team: The Steep Learning Curve

The Design Team has been grappling with both design principles and the complexities of Adobe Illustrator. We presented two options for website logos that we created in Adobe Illustrator to the larger group and after a democratic vote, one was chosen.

Before we got to this stage though, we first had to produce both logos in Illustrator. To help us learn the program we were fortunate to have a tutorial with one of our Columbia Libraries colleagues, Jeffrey Lancaster. Jeffrey gave us a tutorial that was perfectly geared to our skill level as well as focusing on our particular issues with each logo. He began by describing the difference between a raster image and a vector image. In the raster image each pixel is a unique color and the image is a grid when looked at up close. The vector image is flat color with points connected by lines. Each image scales differently. The raster image (used in Adobe Photoshop) scales by adding new pixels with new color attributes. The vector image (used in Adobe Illustrator) scales by changing the space between points so the image stays sharp. He also showed us how to manipulate type fonts and spacing. Jeffrey described the various file types for exporting the image and recommended we use .png, portable network graphic, since it preserves transparency.

Our team will be meeting next week to develop headers and footers for the website and to make some color adjustments to our new logo.

Group Meeting July 1, 2014

Our agenda for the July 1 meeting focused on our individual research projects and an update from the research team. Before we began our discussion, we welcomed a visitor — Anna Kijas from the University of Connecticut. Anna is interested in the Developing Librarian Project as a model for UCONN and a new initiative to support digital scholarship projects. We gave Anna the floor to hear more about her interest in our project and how they are moving forward at UCONN. She is involved with the Scholar’s Collaborative which was approved in December 2013 as a permanent service to help faculty and students with digital projects. Most of the projects have been focused in humanities disciplines but they also work with researchers in the social sciences and sciences. Anna helped to to set up a program for subject specialists to learn new skills related to digital scholarship. The format of the program included six workshops throughout the year. We look forward to staying in touch with Anna and sharing developments as we move forward with the Developing Librarian.

We moved to the agenda as planned and presented on our individual research topics.

Mary Cargill: I am researching the Leake and Watts Orphan asylum because I want to find out the criteria for identifying and the treatment of orphans in order for the reader to understand how New York treated the growing populations of needy children.

Nancy Friedland: I am researching St. Luke’s Hospital because I want to find out why it located in Morningside Heights and explore the hospital’s relationship to Columbia University in order for my reader to understand the role of a hospital to a community and development as a teaching hospital.

Alex Gil: I am researching the history of residential and business changes on 110th Street around the turn of the century because I want to find out the impact that Columbia and St. John’s had on southern Morningside Heights in order for my reader to understand to what extent these institutions shaped modern day everyday life in Morningside Heights.

Karen Green: I am researching the Lion Brewery because I want to find out how it operated, for how long, and by whom, as well as how it figured in neighborhood and city life
in order for my reader to understand the role of a major commercial/industrial entity in the development of Morningside Heights.

Meredith Levin: I am researching the history of Riverside Church, focusing especially on its visual culture, the Weekday School, and its involvement in WWII because I want to find out how the church’s relationship with the Morningside Heights community has evolved over time in order for my reader to understand how diverse groups of people are connected to the daily activities of Riverside Church, which has been important presence in the neighborhood since it was founded 80 years ago.

Anice Mills: I am researching the history of Riverside Park because I want to find out how the value of public parks (as sanctuary, open space) influenced urban culture in order for my reader to understand the development of the Morningside Heights community within the larger urban environment.

Nick Patterson: I am researching the IRT subway line’s history, because I want to find out about its history and development in Morningside Heights, from inception to 1950, in order for my reader to understand how this development impacted Morningside Heights, through a focus on the subway stops at 110th, 116th, and 125th streets.

Bob Scott: I am researching the history of the Bloomingdale Asylum, focusing especially on the positive and negative elements in its functioning as one of the leading psychiatric institutions in 19th-century America and on its role in shaping the early environment of Morningside Heights in order to give readers a clearer and more lively picture of this neighborhood in the “pre-Columbian” era.

John Tofanelli: I am researching the history of the Cathedral Church of St John the Divine because I want to find out how the significance of the cathedral was described and how its design was envisioned and realized from 1892 (when its cornerstone was laid) through 1946 (when Bishop William Thomas Manning retired) in order for my reader to understand how the cathedral was variously envisioned during the period in which most of its building was completed.

Sarah Witte: I am researching the Croton Aqueduct 113th Street gatehouse (1876) and the adjacent Engine Company No. 47 firehouse(1890) to learn more about the infrastructure development in the 19th century that supported the growth of our neighborhood in order for my reader to understand the the role that the aqueduct and the fire department played in the early development of the neighborhood. I am also very interested in learning how to parse census data for our neighborhood, so may also look at census data for the entire block of 113th Street from Amsterdam to Broadway before 1900.

Next on the agenda, Mary Cargill reported for the Research Team. She is available to meet with anyone as a consultation to review the literature in our individual subjects. She came prepared with excellent resources for everyone in attendance. She reported that she met with Anice to discuss Riverside Park and reported on a productive research session.

Mary will meet with Bob, Nancy and John to review Zotero as the best citation management system for arranging the bibliography for the final project.