A patron at my own library: the view from the other side.

I’ve just started a six-month sabbatical to begin work on several projects. As I turn my attention from the daily responsibilities of my job to the professional projects I planned for this leave, I have the opportunity to look at my library from a quite different perspective. I am no longer building and providing tools and services; I am a potential consumer of many of the services that my colleagues and I have worked so hard to create.

So how do things look from this side of the fence? Well, the view is mixed.

Positive: For a research project related to libraries, I’m looking for articles and books and am obtaining lots of materials through our subscription databases, our catalog, from offsite storage, and through interlibrary loan. I use our SFX linking service to find full-text articles that I need. Our library has just rolled out a faculty paging service, which I love. I renew books online (not a new service, but still very convenient). I’m a happy customer.

Neutral: I also started this very blog during my first month off. As you can see, it’s hosted at WordPress. It was rather easy to set up my WordPress blog. The functionality was pretty much a snap; it was the aesthetics that took the most time! NYU does have a blog service — we’re running Movable Type — but we’re hosting an old version and, frankly, I’ve never been able to get my NYU blog working correctly (maybe I need more training. But how much training should I need just to set up a blog?) I just skimmed through the NYU blogs directory and most of them are either empty or have just a few posts and haven’t been updated in years. This is an opportunity for us to sunset a service that hardly is one.

Mixed bag: I’m starting another project that is related to my studies in French literature. It involves, among other things, creating a visualization (a map and/or a timeline) of travels, activities, and publications on my research topic from the 1500s through the 1900s. The visualization is meant to help me understand the development of my topic and I will publish based on what I learn.

At NYU Libraries we have a Data Service Studio where knowledgeable staff can help me with my mapping/timeline design. But what I really need is someone with a digital humanities background to help me think more holistically about my project — both the “digital” as well as the “humanities” sides. As someone who has worked for years in digital library initiatives, I could plan the project as if it were one of our own DL projects. But at this point, a DH perspective would be much more appropriate for my own research project. I want to start small and treat what I make as just a piece of the scholarly puzzle. I want to tailor my computing and non-computing work, at least initially, to my own individual needs. I don’t want to have to think up front about the wide world of interoperability, sustainability, curation, and preservation. I’d love for someone with experience bringing scholarship and computing together to help me think about my work.

Years ago when we were creating the Digital Studio, which I run with a colleague from NYU ITS, we deliberately designed it not to be a “Humanities Computing Center” (to use the lingo of the period), but rather as a service center that could accommodate a much broader and numerous clientele. This wasn’t a bad or unjustified decision. We had had our troubles managing and maintaining one-off projects for a select few, and we wanted to turn our collective attention to building robust, core services for the entire NYU community. But it did close the door on other possibilities, such as advocating for and supporting the kinds of exploratory digital humanities projects that I am attempting now.

It didn’t really take this sabbatical for me to realize all of this. But as a full-time scholar for the next six months, it affects me more personally when I’m making the complaint myself than when I’m simply fielding it.