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Rebecca Sutton Koeser

Lead Developer, The Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton University

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Digital Scholarly monographs, modes of arrangement and access to books in libraries, and experimental scholarly/artistic book-making. Notes from a long paper session at AIGA Converge Design Educators Conference on June 2, 2017.


User-Centered Design And Data Visualization Techniques To Reimagine Digital Scholarly Monographs

Jessica Keup, JSTOR [abstract]

JSTOR Labs is looking to do creative, interesting thing with the monograph. Have ended up working a lot in the DH space.

Reimagining the Monograph

Question: can we improve the experience and value of long-form scholarship?

User research. Followed historians, who still extensively use monographs. They saw four main activities: citation mining, extracting specific information, close reading (but generally this was a very small part), and reusing or revisiting a text. Choice of print or digital is a spectrum, depends on the work they are doing. (These user profiles look amazing - like a user persona, but based on an individual, real person.)

Workshop. What are people trying to accomplish with monographs, what gets in the way, what would they love to have?

One thing they’ve built so ar: Topicgraph (because indexes aren’t always enough).

Books, Robots, Algorithms, And Architectures

Anne Burdick, ArtCenter College of Design [abstract]

  • If the book is the primary unit of knowledge in the era of print, what are the digital equivalents for the information age?
  • Where do we “go” to immerse ourselves in the products of digital scholarship? The interfaces we have are anemic compared to the rich, physical interfaces of libraries in the past.

Not interested in romanticizing or simulating the past. Recover embodied aspect that’s been lost, take advantage of new computational possibilities.

Seattle Public Library main branch. The architect looked at the library contents and its arrangement. Key claim to innovation: continuous spiral of books. No interruption in browsing, having to go up or down stairs. Number markers on the floor can be moved as the collection of books changes. Someone doing inter-disciplinary work might end up running up and down, but they would have a sense of the physical size and arrangement of the books. The library website has a completely different (and fairly standard) arrangement nothing like the physical space.

Mansueto Library at University of Chicago. Lots of light and study space, books stored underground with fulfillment machines, storage algorithms, robots, and human workers. Physicality and scale of the collection is inaccessible to the reader. The library catalog has a conventional interface, but physical locations are hidden.

Sitterwerk. Small institutional library. Gallery, art library, archive. Inspired by the reading habits of the original collector. Can be mixed and remixed by the readers; each night a robot scans and records the locations of books. Tables with RFID readers allow for new arrangements. The website includes a visualization of the shelf. Collections created by other readers and spines of other books are visible.

Different ways of managing the journey from a search result on a screen to a book in hand.

  • Seattle Public Library. Categorical, hierarchical location, arranged by experts.
  • Sitterwerk. Location is contingent, subjective, requires interpretation. The human reader is priviliged.
  • Mansueto. Algorithmic black box. Library staff are no longer knowledge workers but distribution and fulfillment workers. The library is simply a holding facility.

In the Q&A, Johanna Drucker voiced concerns about content looked into a system with regard to the Mansueto Library; hard to imagine that being useful in 500 years, whereas we can still make use in old libraries in Europe.

Architectonics Of The Book: Form, Content And Media

Steven McCarthy, University of Minnesota [abstract]

(This talk was hard to capture in notes, as it was particularly visual.)

Books and meta-books. Collage works that follow rules and use authorial intervention to come up with a new work.

Books in terms of storage and mobility. Converting unused phone booths, closed gas stations into book storage. NY artist who leaves stacks of unwanted books in specific locations and photographs them. Is this sculptural intervention, peformance - or littering? Modular storage created by snapping books together on a form. Books by the Foot, purely by form - color, shape, size.

Intimacy of the physical book. Corpulent sculptural forms. Altered book in the artist book world. Texture and material.

Tracing. Some projects by McCarthy related to artist book making and the scholarship around it:

  • Unbroken Record: an “undigitizing” of family emails and text. Anonymized, collaged. Partially a commentary on concerns about the longevity of digital content and the extent to which it is locked into corporate, proprietary systems.
  • Book Art: The Information Electric Age. Remixed two books as a form of book review. Collages cited to their source; using the authors’ own text to review the book via sampling and context. Available on Lulu and as PDF, so digital/analog. Wrote a paper about it for the journal Visible Language.
  • wee go library. Traded books from 22 Little Free Libraries and remixed them, built a cabinet on a handtruck. Each book is remixed within itself and mapped to its source. Will be discussed in a forthcoming visual essay.