Digital Humanities and Value Added Services

So, if the purpose of this blog is to explore the profession and my place in it — and it’s supposed to be — then, what I need to do is, well, that. I’ll begin, I guess not with the beginning (I’ve done that here and here), but with where I am today.

Today, I am again a student enrolled in an Online Educator certificate program and currently taking a class in Digital Humanities (DH). After my previous post about how crappy of a student I’ve been my whole life and my decision to buckle down and get serious finally, I’m finding that I’m really getting interested in DH.

I have a very retail-oriented approach to public service. I am just as likely to do a task for a patron as I am to teach him or her to do it themselves. It is my feeling that those who want to learn, will, and for those that don’t it is better to just do the task than to beat your head against that particular wall. This feeling is, in part, comes from spending much of my twenties in mall retail, and in part because I believe that academic libraries suffer from something I call “necessary ubiquity.” Necessary ubiquity (NU) is a problem in that every college or university needs a library to support teaching and learning and therefore it can be lost in the background of institutional overhead, much like building maintenance or grounds keeping, and lose it’s prominence in the spiritual life of the school. In other words, we all want clean and working toilets, but we don’t want to have to think about them.

At this point in my career, I feel that the best way for Access Services to fight against NU is to be more proactive in their service model. Access Services should take a more retail-oriented approach to their position and offer value added services (VAS). For Access Services, this means getting out from behind the safety of the desk and walking the library to see how people are using it and if anyone appears to be in need of assistance. In my ideal situation, this person is wearing some kind of identifying decoration (e.g. a lanyard or button) to identify themselves as a library employee, and carrying around a small tablet with the library’s app open to which to refer to library services and perhaps do some light reference right there in the stacks. In short, Access Services should be the first line in the function of librarian-as-information-concierge.

How does DH fit in to this vision? For this answer, you must understand that in the 7-8 weeks I’ve been studying it I’ve not been convinced that DH is a specific field of study. I, thus far, believe that DH is a research method  in humanities that can create opportunities for inter- or transdisciplinary study opportunities.

What does this have to do with VAS? DH and it’s associated skills are prime real estate for creative and tech-savvy librarians to claim territory and place themselves as partners and collaborators to faculty in new ways. Liaison librarians are not a new concept, but instead of focusing on serving faculty as teaching aids and collection developers the DH Librarian can become the facilitator, or even partner, in the creation of new knowledge and scholarship than previously possible. If the library has the technology and the librarian has the know-how, or at least the gumption. Then that work becomes a VAS for the library and builds its esteem and profile across campus.

Campus administrators are usually not librarians. They come from the business world or other academic departments. They usually do not understand problems like the crisis in academic publishing or why stacks are giving way to computer labs and collaborative spaces. Frequently, there is no good reason why a campus administrator has reason to ever think about the library other than in terms of budgeting. It is not reasonable to expect them to wake up and see the true value of the library spontaneously. It is up to us as librarians and staff to provide students and faculty with a reason to promote us to each other. It is up to us to make our own future by showing our users not only what we are, but what we are really capable of, and maybe nudge them further than they thought was possible, too. In this way of offering value added services we can not only justify ourselves, but create such a positive force for education and change that we become spiritually indispensable to the campus community.

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