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.

Research and editorial team

The research and editorial process is ongoing.  We have developed a working bibliography included below.  In addition,  we are available to help members of the team focus on their individual work in the broader context of the project.

For instance, we met with one of our participants to discuss and consult on sources in depth about Riverside Park.  The issues that we identified were:

1. the development of city parks in general: who they were for, how they were laid out, how they fit into the city landscape, etc.;

2. we located sources on the history of Riverside Park, specifically, including histories,  documents related to Park, contemporary discussions of it, pictures of it, etc.;

3. the focus has been to put the selected items in the context of city planning, public services, and clientele.

Mary and Elizabeth

Suggested Sources for Morningside Heights

Reference Sources

Civic bibliography for Greater New York, ed. by James Bronson Reynolds for the New York research council. New York, Charities Publication Committee, 1911.
Also at the Reference Desk R016.352 N48

French, John Homer. Gazetteer of the state of New York: embracing a comprehensive view of the geography, geology, and general history of the state, and a complete history and description of every county, city, town, village and locality : with full tables of statistics. Syracuse, R.P. Smith, 1860.
Also in Butler Reference R978 F88
Has a section on New York County (p. 418-448) with a lot of statistics and information about services.

Report on the social statistics of cities. New York, N.Y.  Norman Ross Pub., Year: 1991, 1886.  Issued as part of the 10th census.  New York is in part 1, p. 531-597.
Butler Stacks  HA201 1880 v. 18-19.


New York City, New York Online Historical Directories – Online Historical Directories List of New York city directories by decade.  Lists freely available sources as well as commercial ones (mainly

“Check List of World Relating to the Social History of the City of New York__its clubs, charities, hospitals, etc., etc.,__in the New York Public Library”  Bulletin of the New York Public Library, vol. V, no. 6, June 1901.
Reference Desk  R016.978N48 N4
The Bulletin is online in Hathi and Google Books

The New York charities directory. New York, Charity Organization Society in the City of New York, 1888-1920.
Most editions are in the stacks at HV99.N59 N5

This was also known for some years as the Directory of social and health agencies of New York City  Community Council of Greater New York. Welfare Council of New York City.  Hathi has both titles, but the years don’t always overlap.
Hathi has most volumes from 1890-1921.

Richmond, John Francis. New York and its institutions, 1609-1873: the bright side of New York. New York, E.B. Treat, 1872.  From the description: “A library of information pertaining to the great metropolis, past and present, with historic sketches of its churches, schools, public buildings, parks and cemeteries, of its police, fire, health and quarantine departments, of its prisons, hospitals, homes, asylums, dispensaries and morgue and all municipal and private charitable institutions.”

The charities of New York, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. By Henry J. Cammann and Hugh N. Camp. New York, Hurd and Houghton, 1868.

Other Online Sources; I found some material searching under “Morningside Heights” as well as more specific topics.  I didn’t list the standard full text sources like Historical newspapers and APS.

GoogleBooks, limiting the search to specific years.

HarpWeekHarper’s Weekly from 1857-1912.  It has a lot of illustrations

Group Meeting June 17, 2014

The Design Team had done additional work on proposed logo designs for our Morningside History Project site. Two designs were presented to the group for a vote and one was chosen. Both designs demonstrated considerable ingenuity. One key consideration in logo selection was scalability. Would the key idea of logo remain clear in small, medium, and larger versions?

The Development Team reported on its progress. In a phase of initial enthusiasm, more than one team member would work on the same file in GitHub. They discovered, however, that this was not the best approach. Files in GitHub are not like documents in Google Docs, which can easily accommodate collaborative contributions. Multiple contributions to the same file from different users in GitHub actually creates conflicts. Older versions are not overwritten, but users are alerted to differences. The team decided it will take a more coordinated approach to files in GitHub, assigning responsibilities for specific files to specific individuals.

In the open forum phase of meeting, it was suggested that the group revisit the project time line. Corrections and clarifications were made there. A question arose around individual research for our Morningside History project. How do you determine the scope of your research and exhibits? The amount of potential information available regarding any given location, building, or individual can be daunting. All agreed to devote a significant portion of our next group meeting to discussing such questions. Barbara proposed as an assignment for each of us the simple topic definition exercise that some of us use for students of the University Writing Program:

I am researching __________________________
because I want to find out ___________________________
in order for my reader to understand ________________________________

In preparation for our next group meeting, on July 1, everyone should have completed this exercise.

Group Meeting June 3, 2014

Our Design Team has been learning Adobe Illustrator and has been working in Illustrator on the creation of two logo options for our Morningside Heights history site. Today both logos were presented. One was relatively complete and the other was complete as a concept but had not yet been fully executed. The Design Team talked a bit about their process. They worked with guidance from Alex Gil; and when they encountered a question about how to accomplish something in Illustrator, they would typically enter the question in natural language in Google to see how it was answered in online forums concerning Illustrator.

The potential drawbacks of the online forum approach were discussed. It can take an expert eye sometimes to recognize when a solution presented for a problem is the most efficient option. Other approaches to learning Illustrator were also discussed. The program on Illustrator lasts 12 hours, and can seem at times too detailed and exhaustive. Bob has ordered a book on Illustrator to offer another learning option. Issues relevant to the presentation and/or stability of logo designs were also discussed. A logo designed in Illustrator 5 on a PC looks different when presented in Illustrator 6 on a Mac. (Does this mean perhaps that we should try out how the logo appears on different devices?)

Why did the Design Team choose to use Illustrator rather than the more accessible Photoshop?
1. Illustrator is grounded in mathematical approaches to images. Thus once a design is completed it can be easily and precisely scaled for different uses.
2. The point of our project is to learn new tools that library users working in the digital humanities might want to use.

Anice presented one design and Karen another. Both designs made nods to the historical past in their visual elements. The group was impressed by both. Rather than making a final vote today it was decided that the Design Team would aim to have both logos complete for our next meeting on June 17. Due to the inordinate amount of time involved in working in Illustrator, the Design Team is planning to recruit someone in the Libraries with Illustrator expertise to assist them in bringing both logos to a state of completion. The group as a whole will then vote on which of the logo designs will be used for the project site. The timeline of tasks for the Design Team can accommodate this extension. After the logos they will turn their attention to their next projects: the design of header and footer for project site.

In announcements and updates, Meredith mentioned that she had taken a tour of Riverside Church during which she had met a Columbia art history professor. He took an interest in our Morningside project when she described it, since he is having his students for a course this fall study two of the sites covered by our project: Riverside Church and the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.