Part of my meta-DH series documenting DH/DS infrastructure: the hows & whys of treating a project team, lab, department, or campus as itself a DH project.

Caveat: This post consists of notes taken during my former DH Librarian role at Purdue (2015-2017), rather than my latest thinking at Scholars’ Lab. I’ll be sharing that updated thinking here soon!

DH Lab physical space

We have strong need for a space for project work (e.g. 3D scanning and printing), team meetings, class demonstrations, events, and the ability to livestream and record (e.g. for later DH website hosting, classroom watching, sharing with Archives & Special Collections [ASC] donors) project work, demos, and presentations. I propose we initially identify an interim location that could be used over the next 1-3 years while we pilot the projects outlined above and seek major external funding—preferably somewhere we could begin occupying with a minimum of renovation, cost, and time (the newly arrived 3D setup cannot be unpacked until we have a dedicated space). I’m calling this initial, low-cost space a “DH Lab” as we’ll be focused on research and development there.

DH Center (3-6 years in). We’ll also apply for external funding for a formal “DH Center”, which could increase the types of DH we nurture from Libraries-focused R&D to broader campus work such as classroom tours and one-off class visits to the center.

In the long run, there’s strong mutual interest from the ASC and DH in locating a more formal DH Center side-by-side with the ASC, turning the HSSE 4th floor non-ASC space into the DH Center. This would both ease our daily collaborations, and visually demonstrate to the campus the flow of possible scholarship from acquisition, processing, teaching, and research in the ASC through research, teaching, and diverse publication in the DH Center. Much of our initial DH work will develop from the expertise and collaboration of the ASC, and we should improve the DH conversation (where archival expertise and labor are sometimes left out of the conversation) by visibly showcasing the ASC’s critical partnership.

DH position in the org chart. I’m not advocating the DH Center being positioned within the ASC, to allow for autonomy and partnerships with other campus units. However, we discussed (in the DSC) exploring changes to the current department organization structure that make collaborations and reporting better represent our developing cohesion as partnered curation and digital creation spaces. In particular, I’d like to think about where we’d be placed as a potential research center with its own staff.

What a dedicated DH space provides

It’s important to have a space where work can be left as-is without needing to be secured or tidied away; to visibly associate a set location with our DH initiative, rather than using random campus spaces for different events; and where we can customize the space to specific DH needs (including video capture and live-streaming of project work and presentations).

A dedicated physical DH space would

  • provide a visible, fixed physical location for DH presentations, workshops, and teaching from which the audience would always leave aware of our Libraries DH initiative, and knowing where to return (or point colleagues) with any future DH needs of their own
  • include space tailored to digital project research and discussion, 3D equipment use, and both livestreaming and video-recording of project work and presentations
  • showcase our own Libraries DH (and related) research as both model projects and opportunities for collaborating with us, and model best practices for collaboration
  • develop space where interdisciplinary projects can grow and people across Purdue are incentivized to cross paths and locate shared interests
  • allow informal overlap among Libraries staff working or interested in DH, growing DH expertise in-department via drop-in times and informal reading groups and coffee sessions
  • provide the equipment necessary to DH presentation and iterative publishing needs (good projection monitors, demo’ing live websites and tools, supporting audience members downloading and tweeting, capturing a live video feed and better audio/video for later hosting on the DH website)

A dedicated/non-reservable space. If we convert the CSC to a DH lab, I would like to model the room on Swaim and make the space non-reservable. This allows us to leave leave our expensive 3D equipment out when in the middle of use (because of how hot the printer gets and potential for liquid filament to stain other areas), use the space for informal ASC+Press+DH work (in addition to formal meetings) without needing to schedule these impromptu sessions, and keep areas where we’ll be working with ASC collections and 3D prints free from food and drink.

A social and experimental space. Longtime DHer Stephen Ramsay has said, “I cannot think of a successful digital humanities center — anywhere in the world — that did not begin with a bunch of people who had found each other through various means and who were committed to the bold and revolutionary project of talking to one another about their common interests.” DH labs thrive on supporting collaboration, not service. To accomplish this, we need to leave unscheduled, unplanned space for unexpected opportunities to arise, designing a space where you can come to chat about DH, find partners and mentors, and get help jumpstarting your research. I’ll work with Libraries strategic communication, outreach, and marketing experts to publicize our work and these opportunities once we’re ready.

Floorplan and major purchases

Following approval, I would continue working with Candy on a proposed room layout, identifying furnishings we already have in the attic, and budgeting for any additional items needed from preferred vendors. I would also work with RaeLynn and Sarah to change the room’s scheduling status.

I have a more specific list of furnishings and proposed layout, but below is a summary of the work spaces I’m anticipating:

  • Individual work desks (4, pending additional DH staff and 2 post-docs, and can also be used by project collaborators)
  • A conference table and seating that can be re-arranged for large group meetings, demos, and presentations (and, if we have the furniture in the attic already, a separate informal area with armchairs)
  • Station for 3D imaging and printing
  • Station for livestreaming, video-recording work and presentations, and video editing; including a computer and monitor that can be swiveled for use at the 3D scanning and printing station, and two dedicated external hard drives for 3D and video file backup
  • And the major purchases anticipated:
  • Webcam for livestreaming
  • Video camera (and accessories speakers, microphone, tripods, disks, 2 HDs to store videos and 3D scans, video editing software; both cameras could be checked out by Libraries staff for non-DH events)
  • Computer stations: at least one dedicated computer for 3D imaging and video editing (plus accessories: keyboard, mouse, monitor, dock)
  • A presentation-size wall-mounted digital monitor (as an alternative to the projector screens that allow higher definition and better color fidelity)
  • Optional: 1-2 computer monitors facing through the glass walls into the library, for display of Purdue Libraries DH projects and other interesting DH projects and visualizations to passerby

DH Lab users

I envision our DH Lab as an R&D space for DH prototyping projects, teaching, and events, not as an open service space that can be booked by others. Its earliest users would be project work including experimentation with the 3D setup and formal meetings and demos (which can be livestreamed and.or video-recorded for teaching and publicity uses), a drop-in space for collaborators working on this year’s major grant proposals toward a DH Center and ASC+DH+Press/SPS co-evolution, and room for group DH consultations. If we begin to add DH graduate research assistants, staff, and/or post-docs, this will be space to work together (although retaining private offices for each staffer would allow for sometimes necessary focus or conference calls). In the near future, the space could support invited DH speakers and workshop leaders,a s well as Libraries-led intensive summer workshops for faculty and graduate students.

Future uses could include:

  • As a drop-in space, possibly jumpstarted by partnerships with student groups such as the English Department’s Graduate Technology Working Group, or by creating a new digital dissertations in Africana Studies cohort with Ron Stephens (AASRC director and professor)
  • Scheduled class visits for lessons and project demos
  • Hosting an experimental, Libraries-taught DH and ASC and/or Press class and associated drop-in space for students working on their class project
  • We need to exist in the Libraries to increase access and cross-disciplinary collaboration in ways individual departments cannot. An actual physical space associated with regular DH speakers and training opportunities fosters a community that’s both interdisciplinary and can reduce barriers among different university roles (student, staff, faculty, librarian).

Initial, basic physical space setup

  • Space rental cost?
  • Basic renovations & space cleanup
  • If possible, small rooms or cubicles (one director’s office, one huddle room for sharing by other staff; both with desks, desk chairs, computers, monitors, peripherals)
  • Large conference table and chairs (collapsible/rolling tables to allow for different room setups)
  • Lockable area for artifacts, 3D equipment
  • Basic furniture (chairs, tables)
  • Signage outside
  • Projector, screen, large monitors, livestreaming camera, conference phone setup, presentation podium with speakers, microphone
  • Cheap coffee maker (invite people to hang out and chat, rather than leave the space for coffee or chat in non-DH spaces like Starbucks)
  • Clarity on who can access the space, whether the space can be booked by others or used for after-hours events by others; generally no other use should be made of the DH space, with requests for use needing to come through the DH Specialist and uses that are actually particularly in need of what the DH space uniquely offers supported if/when they don’t interrupt normal work (e.g. class visits, speakers and livestreaming talks)

Ideal room setup, furniture

(After large external grant for renovation/model DH center.) We would need keys or key cards and a list of everyone with access to these spaces; ideally, we’d use IDs as key cards that could let people into the class/meeting space but not into offices or areas with equipment.

  • Twitter scroller/blink(1) setup for server/project use status, social media oversight
  • DH books and shelving
  • Waiting space armchairs and coffee table
  • Shelves/display for old books, old computing stuff
  • Etsy neon signs with DH terms
  • Window blinds
  • Framed posters of cool and/or Purdue DH projects
  • Door and over-door signs
  • In/out/ring bell signs
  • Security/rekeying of main doors
  • Locked space for 3d equipment
  • “This is an office; here’s how to sign up for a consultation” sign. If space is highly visible, this will deflect random walk-ins from interrupting work and inform those actually interested in DH to get in touch without interrupting work; we’ll probably have a mix of days with no sign/doors open (Mondays and Tuesdays, when consultations are scheduled or on days with visiting speakers), and days with doors closed so project team members can concentrate on their work. Will need further thinking to balance desire for a space that increases visibility and draws in passersby, with need for researchers to have interrupted focus.
  • Large digital screen (like at Brown) instead of projector+screen, for presentations
  • Podium, speakers, microphone, pointer, dongles
  • Conference table and chairs
  • Video camera + webcam
  • Demo computer and monitor and peripherals
  • Special ASC transport cart/checklist
  • Dry-erase boards and markers and erasers
  • Water, garbage, recycling, fridge, microwave, coffee maker
  • Branded stickers, bookmarks, mugs/shirts for presenters only
  • Office with door for director
  • Analyst office?
  • Cave/commons desk and 3rd huddle room with telephone and internet
  • Monitors for outside walls
  • Inside monitors (Big DIVA, IU, DH projects, Twitter)
  • Folding chairs/tables for events
  • Monitors and desk space for personal laptop hookups
  • Water/fridge/microwave and coffee maker, informal area for watercooler-style chats, snacks, eating lunch together