Frames within Frames

Frames within Frames

I recently gave a job talk at the University of Lethbridge.   I didn’t get the job, but the topic that I was given for the talk — challenges and opportunities in information literacy in an academic library — prompted me to take a closer look at the ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy and caused me to think deeply about the challenge of delivering information literacy instruction to an increasingly diverse student population.   Click here for the slides  and here for the handout.

Digital Humanities

Recently I saw a posting for position at Dalhousie that includes supporting “digital humanities” initiatives.  “Digital humanities” is a phrase that I’ve heard occasionally but never really understood, so I dug around a bit and apparently “digital humanities” just means people in the humanities using twenty-first century tools to ply their trade.  At first blush it would seem rather odd that there would be a special name for this, but the following comment from Cathy Davis of Duke University sheds some light on utility of it:

Someday I suspect the word “digital” will go away and simply be part of the apparatus of communicating humanist ideas, in the same way that one need not say “digital science” or “digital social science.”  For now, if we don’t use the word, we can lose the technology, and it is useful for designating a new kind and form of funding required for the new humanities since “humanities” once implicitly … meant “cheap.”

I engaged in the digital humanities back the nineties, when I was taking a Shakespeare survey course and a course in dialectology at the same time.  I loved Shakespeare, but hated looking up words in the dictionary.  One minute I’d be crashing through the woods with Hermia and Lysander, and the next I’d be hauling the compact OED down off the shelf and fumbling around with the magnifying glass as I looked up what “visage” meant.  And then there were the false friends – familiar words like “fond” and “excrement” that had completely different meanings for Shakespeare.  How was I supposed to know to look them up if I didn’t know that I didn’t know what they meant?

It puzzled me that I was being asked to read texts in a dialect so different from my own without some sort of direct instruction in that dialect.  So for my term paper in dialectology, I argued for a systematic approach to teaching the syntax and lexicon of Early Modern English and included a glossary of lexical items that occur frequently in Shakespeare but could not reasonably be expected to be familiar to a young speaker of contemporary Canadian English.

This process was only partly digital: I used an online corpus to figure out which unfamiliar words to include, but the definitions and examples had to be painstakingly copied from the the OED, which meant holding the magnifying glass with one hand and pecking at the keyboard with the other.  I don’t miss those days at all.

Data Management

Last week I attended the True North Science Boot Camp for the first time.  This year it was hosted by UBC-O and the theme was data management.  Before going, I worked through the MANTRA online course provided by the University of Edinburgh, which I would recommend to anyone interested in data management.

I learned a lot, not least about how to manage my own research data.  Did I have a data dictionary explaining my rather cryptic data headings?  No.  Did I have any sort of metadata that would enable someone else to use and credit my data?  No.  Was my data saved in a non-proprietary format?  No.  Was my data stored in more than one place?  No again.

In other words, I had managed to make every mistake in the book, a situation which I am now in the midst of attempting to remedy.  Currently, an anonymized version of my data, plus my data dictionary and my first attempt at (human-only readable) Metadata, are available on this website, which if nothing else means that they are stored in more than one place.

They are in an XLXS file because WorldPress won’t allow me to upload files in CVS or any other non-proprietary format, which is weird, since I can’t be the only person who wants to use a WordPress account as offsite storage.

The Copyright Conundrum

Several jobs that I am currently applying for require some knowledge of copyright, so I have set about reading up on it.  Fortunately, I’m finding it fascinating.  For one thing, it illustrates the weird sort continuity that we have with the past.  Take for instance, this quote from a judgement rendered in 1785:

[W]e must take care to guard against two extremes equally prejudicial; the one, that men of ability, who have employed their time in the service of the community, may not be deprived of their just merits, and the reward of their ingenuity and labour; the other, that the world may not be deprived of improvement, nor the progress of the arts be retarded. (Lord Mansfield in Sayre v Moor, 1785, as cited in Katz, 2013)

This was written at a time when slavery was legal in the British Empire, married women had no property rights, and hardly anyone questioned the fact that a tiny fraction of the population appropriated nearly all of society’s wealth.  Yet it was a concise statement of the problem then and (aside from the sexist language) it is a concise statement of the problem now.

Katz, A. (2013). Fair use 2.0: The rebirth of fair dealing in Canada, in Geist, M. (Ed.).  The Copyright Pentalogy: How the Supreme Court of Canada Shook the Foundations of Canadian Copyright Law. Ottawa, ON: University of Ottawa Press. Retrieved from

TRU Undergraduate Research Conference

Last Week TRU held its 10th annual Undergraduate Research & Innovation Conference.  That we managed to do so while our fearless leader, Elizabeth Rennie, was away at ACRL is a testament to Elizabeth’s organization skill.

After hearing several speakers say with regret that Elizabeth “couldn’t be here today” I took the floor at the closing ceremony to explain that Elizabeth was away at a conference — and not just any conference, but the ACRL conference in Portland, where she and a group of library technicians were presenting a poster on community outreach through promotional displays in an academic library.

The TRU Undergrad Conference includes posters, presentations, a theatre production, and an art show.  As always, I was impressed not only with the quality of the students’ work, but also with the enthusiasm and dedication of the students and faculty who volunteered their time, and of the opportunities the conference afforded for informal students/faculty interaction.

We know that face-time with faculty outside of the classroom is a major determinant of student engagement, but sometimes we don’t seem to know quite how to foster informal student/faculty interaction.  The students are busy. The faculty are busy.  So the best way to bring them together may be to arrange for them to be busy together!