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VRA 2014 The Teaching Turn, Strasbaugh

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Presented by Chris Strasbaugh at the Annual Conference of the Visual Resources Association, March 12-15, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. …

Presented by Chris Strasbaugh at the Annual Conference of the Visual Resources Association, March 12-15, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Session #4: The Teaching Turn: From Static Collections to Dynamic Learning Centers

ORGANIZER: Heather Lowe, California State University, San Bernardino
(on behalf of the VRA Emerging Professionals and Students Group)

MODERATOR: Jasmine Burns, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

PRESENTERS:
• Stephen Cardinale, University of Colorado, Boulder
• Anna Bernhard, Colorado State University
• Molly Schoen, University of Michigan
• Chris Strasbaugh, Vanderbilt University

Much of the business of creating and disseminating images has moved away from individual academic departments and isolated image collections toward centralized cross-discipline departments. This has left many visual resource centers looking for new ways to engage users and support the educational goals of their institutions. One way centers are meeting these new challenges is by transforming from being a storage silo for physical slide collections to being a collaborative learning space where students and faculty alike can come to work on projects and refine imaging and videography skills. As many resource centers make this move toward more teaching and learning, the physical spaces and skill sets of employees have also shifted. This session will examine case studies of visual resource centers programming that is directed to teaching imaging skills and how this new role is shifting their profile within their institutions.

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  • When I arrived on Vanderbilt University’s beautiful campus in April of 2010 I had an idea of what was ahead of me. Interviews are helpful in highlighting successes, opportunities, and the various viewpoint of future directions but you never get the whole story until you take to job. Personally, I really enjoy exploring, planning, and problem solving. I knew the slides were moved to archival storage and that the important ones were digitized. What I wasn’t anticipating was my chair setting me down the first day and saying “you inherited a disaster”.
  • Disaster is a pretty strong statement but what I did discover was there was a distrust of the VRC among the faculty that we support, a Digital Asset Manager that displayed 40 search fields, and a cataloging tool created/supported by the library that they desperately wanted to kill.  Deep breath. Good news, we have a new building that is amazing. Bad news, no one but our faculty knows we exist because we are on the opposite side of campus.  From that moment on I put on my hat of the eternal optimist knowing that I had a fresh canvas to work with and anything that we could accomplish would look tremendous in the eyes of those watching.
  • So, how do you address a disaster? The most important thing I learned from this experience is before pushing into the future or charging through the past problems, is to stop, look, and listen to see what emerges as priorities. For me, I had mounds of scratch paper that I would make various to-do lists and then periodically combine and sort those ideas.  In the first few months I was easily able to see what had to be done ASAP and what could or needed to wait. I had to create a long-term vision of where I would like to be, have a dream list to keep on the lookout for, and focus on the small things to build a foundation. 
  • I had to do is start small. I had to began by making the VRC as a helpful and productive place. Start with the things like imaging workflows, abolishing the unspoken idea of “that’s not my job”, teach little tech trainings, bake cookies, make pancakes and coffee for students during finals week. Basically, change the VRC into a place that people felt comfortable approaching. The VRC was foundation #1.
  • I used to say in undergrad that the people you needed to befriend on campus were the administrative assistants who knew everything, the cafeteria staff who fed everyone, the mailroom which was the lifeline to the outside, and security to let you into the art building during the weekend. They were the keys to making your experience more pleasant.
  • That principle remains true now though the entities have changed. For me it has been IT and the Library IT. In order for me to be successful in my job and for my VRC to continue to move forward, I have worked at being a responsible, responsive, understanding, and a helpful partner to those happiness key holders on campus. Now, many of you understand completely how difficult this can be since often they speak a completely different language and “have no idea what we do and why we need this”. All I can say is that those thoughts don’t change overnight but everyday find ways to make the other person’s job a little easier. Let me show you what I mean.
  • There has always been a partnership with the Library and their IT department. They designed our first database, host our images in MDID, and have collaborated on a number of past projects. Obviously it is a very important relationship to foster because server space is often hard to come by. During my interview, they asked about my opinion of Filemaker Pro, which opened up their desire to move to something more sustainable based on SQL and PHP.
  • While we shared a common goal they had little time for database creation so I was on the wait list. To make matters worse, they needed to kill the old PERL-based database server which official ended our old/current database. While the thought of being without a database was hard, I knew that I needed their cooperation in the future so it was time to move on to Google Spreadsheet. By making the sacrifice for now I was strengthening the second foundation.
  • With IT, they are always over-worked and under-staffed. They have classrooms to care for, faculty with broken computers, new computers to install, servers to manage, and it seems no one likes them or is satisfied with their level of service.
  • It is amazing the level of service you can receive and the collaboration that can be achieved when you abandon the idea of “that’s not my job” and try to fix a projector that just died before an exam or answer the 1 millionth copy-and-paste question that faculty member X was just about to pass on to help desk. Is it convenient? Not always. Is it a little much? Many times. Did I know how to do a PRAM reset on an early 2009 iMac? Google did and now so do I. Does it build trust and collaboration absolutely.   I was building foundation #3.  
  • I want to be clear, this is not about placing IT or library IT in my debt but when you have proven to being a team player and wanting to help them, it seems that they are much more willing to help you. By helping IT with classroom support and library IT with their various server and usage concerns I was building the foundations of collaboration for future digital projects. Be patient and consistent and see where it takes you. That’s the background. Now, allow me to now focus on the how we were able to go from nothing to DIMLI with nothing more than a Swiss army knife and duct tape…or a cataloger and a few short years. 
  • What I needed was cataloging that could drive searches and make it easy to discover our resources. I needed something to be the backbone for all our digital humanity projects including GIS, 3D modeling, or video. To do that I needed a cataloging tool that would not be tied to something proprietary but something that was open-source that I could share with others. It needed to be so efficient that the Getty was even built right in. That was the need, vision, and dream. Next I needed steps for the short term.
  • Step number one was to secure the past for a future migration but move forward in a way that everything we did was for migrating into a future database. Google Spreadsheet was what we did so that we could have multiple catalogers cataloging the same sheet at the same time and all new records could easily be exported/imported to MDID and future database via CSV. It was tedious and annoying at times but it provided flexibility as we periodically tweaked the available fields to prepare for the inevitable export to a future home. This path continued to run alongside as we experimented and failed multiple times.
  • As this interim cataloging was moving forward, meetings continued with the library and other local groups like the university fine arts gallery. It helped to have these initial meetings to discover that there were many entities on campus that had similar problems that we did; antiquated databases housing a collection that no one knew about. From this discovery and view that robust data drives powerful search results (which also drives user satisfaction) I knew that if we could create a central interface around VRA core that was efficient for cataloging, easy to add or connect to vocabularies, and that was not stuck on “that one computer in the corner that runs FileMaker or what ever software” that we would be on to something. What has made our project become very successful on-campus was to focus on something that was perfect for us but could work for many other entities. Through this I created goals for a project that I didn’t know how to build or have the resources to have someone else build.  What I had now was a vision, a dream, a foundation, and specific goals to get started.
     
  • I would like to think that many of you have strong institutional support and that people say “sure here is a developer and a pile of money for you to get a database or a project going” but I have a feeling that you share my problem of good ideas but very little way to make it happen. So, how did I get a database developed and partnerships nourished?  Luck. One day one of my talented staff members was VERY bored cataloging in Google Spreadsheets and asked if he could try his hand at making something better. Did I think he would be able to learn programming for web applications when he had a MA in Art History and a few Graphic Design course in undergrad? I didn’t know but I am happy I gave him resources to learn (Lynda.com), time, and direction. I think that was the secret to the whole process; optimism and the willingness to risk failure/setbacks.  It may have turned into a loss of cataloging hours but I saw a motivated individual that needed a challenge and was the perfect person to developing a cataloging database because he was a cataloger himself. This was in February 2012. Almost two years from when I started.
  • So let’s fast forward. In one year from that time, we created the cataloging interface built on SQL, PHP, HTML, and CSS that had the Getty Authorities built directly in. We went from what was originally going to be a Google Form that would write to a Google Spreadsheet to a robust, relational database that was based on VRA Core. Matt Isner the developer went from being an Art Historian to a professional Javascript developer whose product and practices received praise by the library IT staff.
  • We went from DIMLI 1.0 to DIMLI 2.xx which added AJAX to speed things up. The foundations that we built with IT had brought us an early upgrade of our programing computer and our Library IT collaboration had brought us an install on their server and an in-depth check of the code to be sure we were on the right track. Most importantly we went from being the needy to being in a position to help others that had a similar problem. It was now time for the collaboration to begin!
  • Collaboration took two paths and a lot of patience. Again, I had a foundation of support of my department, IT, and the library IT which assured that we were able to continue moving forward. We had the support of the Getty to use their vocabularies as long as we give DIMLI away for free. We had built a robust workflow and cataloging tool. Lastly I still had dreams of what DIMLI could be. In order for there to be a need for a DAM, there needed to be content. In order for there to be shared cataloging, there needed to be partners who needed something stable and were willing (or desperate) to try new things. What I needed to do is be excited and start talking about it.   What I discovered was I had dreams but what I needed was to dream bigger.
     
    I started to look outside for other visual resources centers that were needing a stable cataloging platform but did not have the funding for a commercial product. At this point, DIMLI was still in beta and was more or less stable enough for people to explore the potential. We had a number of conversations with various curators or library professionals that led to a lot of interest but no one able to commit the time to beta testing. However, what it did do is generate a lot of ideas and conversation of what DIMLI would need to be in order to be useful. We learned how people named their files, what we would have to be able to imported, what types of systems universities are interested in, what features are must haves. One question that we had been focusing on was hosted services vs local installations and these conversations really helped us to move away from hosted but to not close the door completely for possibilities in the future. Although there were no installations created, it gave us greater directions into prioritizing.
  • On campus, the last year has been a very exciting year for DIMLI and it all started with the library running the security check on DIMLI. About 9 months ago, administrators in the library were encouraging a change away from creating custom and new products for various digital projects but instead focusing on commercial and open-source products already available. At this time, we had just put DIMLI 2.0 up on Github to make it readily available for anyone. So when the library IT group had requests from special collections and the exhibition committee to find something they could use for cataloging their cultural objects, the best choice was to adopt DIMLI which they were already familiar with. Thus began the DIMLI conquest of Vanderbilt University. Each of the meetings over in the library I was able to hear what projects where going on, what needs existed, and highlight how DIMLI could fit the bill. With each meeting, more people became excited and the more potential was unveiled.

    By the start of 2014, we had four installations in process. There was the VRC installation, an individual installation for one of our faculty members, one for Special Collections, and one for the Library Exhibition Committee. While each of these projects were very different, they were all able to take advantage of same VRA cataloging core. From the central core each of them have brought specific features that made it on to the list. Exhibition committee needed legacy filenames, which we have been able to complete and apply to all the installations. Special Collections needed a flexible import, which is in process. Our History of Art professor is focusing on Chinese medieval Buddhist temples and needed to have specific GIS data, Chinese characters, custom fields, and export to ArcGIS. And I always have a wish list for my installation that include better admin analytics, more robust DAM, and better interactions with built works/related works, etc.

  • What this initial wave of installations did was widen my ideas of what DIMLI could do, how to keep the central cataloging component VRA Core 4 compliant yet flexible enough for these different types of installs, and how to ask for help. Remember, DIMLI was created by our cataloger from scratch. I needed help when Matt left to be a Javascript developer and to work freelance. In his absence, we hired a term programmer that has a library background while we attempted to reclassify the position to a programmer. That means, that I had lots of items on the checklist but not enough skilled labor to get it accomplished. But with the library was invested, I could ask for help on specific programming tasks that were central to their installations. Through the support of the VRAF we have freelance development from Matt to complete features like the legacy filename, DAM shopping cart, and flexible import. That freed the library to focus on bugs, security, and fine-tuning installation steps. The interest and needs drove the features while the quality of DIMLI and potential allowed for others wanting to help with development.
  • Starting in January, I was contacted by the Curb Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt to see if I wanted to come to one of their show-and-tell lunches which brought together others from around campus with similar interests. Turns out in previous meetings, one of my faculty member was talking about her project which resonated with other attendees. From this introduction, I now had the campus architects wanting an installation for all of their image and video, the medical center art collection wanting one, and a meeting was setup with the Vanderbilt Institute for Digital Learning. From the meeting with the VIDL we have been brainstorming of how house and transform the content in DIMLI through various means including embedded Google Earth API for location searches, mobile apps, crowd-source tagging by using the students., and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Like I mentioned earlier, I had to dream bigger.  

    In less than one-year, DIMLI has gone from being a single installation on a library server to fulfilling the unique needs of multiple entities around campus. For me it highlights how powerful and flexible VRA Core is because each of these entities can easily use the same common cataloging components. It also highlights how flexible a system using open-source products can be. Each installation can have custom fields to fulfill their needs but at the same time these customizations can be uploaded to Github to be an add-on or module that others might take advantage of in the future. Not everyone will need the fields that the Medical Center art collection needs, but if we build it with the gallery/museum field in mind by adhering to their standards and best practices, the fine arts gallery could use it and it opens up a whole new and relevant group.
  • So, where does DIMLI go from here? I still have my dreams. I still want shared cataloging to be added. I still want the DAM to get to the point where it allows for a one-stop shop. I still want other VRCs to be able to use DIMLI for free. My dreams are just bigger now. The collaboration that has brought me into contact with many people across campus and disciplines has not only showed me how to dream bigger but also that help is available and many things are possible. Now, I truly believe that the way I approached it was necessary. I had to have the strong foundation with our faculty and administration or else I wouldn’t have been able to push forward at all. I had to have IT support to allow us the systems we needed to work on this project, and I needed the Library IT group or else DIMLI would have no home and it would not have turned into something so flexible. Each additional collaboration strengthened the foundation even more. I had the foundation, dreams, and willingness to see potential and move in that direction. There was plenty of risk but the benefit has been great. Sometimes it was a bit overwhelming with the amount of items on the to-do list but prioritizing and focusing on how it fit the big picture made it manageable. Overall, DIMLI was created to fulfill a specific need for the VRC but through collaboration it has allowed us to be a partner and support digital humanity projects around Vanderbilt and beyond. Thank You.
  • Transcript

    • 1. A Case Study at Vanderbilt University Chris Strasbaugh: Director of Visual Resources Collaborations and the Building of dimli (Digital Media Management Library)
    • 2. Welcome to Vanderbilt University April 2010 Day One: “You inherited a… Disaster!” -New Chair
    • 3. April 2010 What I Did Have Distrust of the VRC MDID with 40 Displayed Search Fields Homegrown Cataloging Tool About to Be Killed An Amazing New Space That No One But Our Faculty Knows Exists A Fresh Canvas
    • 4. April 2010 How Do You Approach a Disaster? Stop, look, and listen to find priorities Create long-term vision, a dream list, And focus on building a foundation
    • 5. April 2010 DREAMS Vision Foundations
    • 6. April 2010 Start Small The VRC as a helpful and productive place Abolish the phrase “that’s not my job” Teach tech trainings Bake cookies Make pancakes and coffee for faculty and students during finals
    • 7. April 2010 DREAMS Vision Foundations VRC
    • 8. April 2010 Keys to Success in Undergrad Administrative Assistants Cafeteria Staff Mailroom Security
    • 9. April 2010 Keys to Success at Vanderbilt University Library IT Campus IT
    • 10. April 2010 Library IT Designed first image database Host our image archive and MDID collection Collaboration on past projects Interest in open-source database options
    • 11. April 2010 Library IT: Challenges Little time for non-library projects Needed to kill old PERL image database Google Spreadsheets
    • 12. April 2010 DREAMS Vision Foundations VRCLibrary IT
    • 13. April 2010 Campus IT Over-worked and under-staffed Classrooms to care for Computers to fix and install No one really likes them
    • 14. April 2010 Campus IT Abandon the phrase “that’s not my job” Fix a projector that died before an exam Save the help desk from copy-and-paste questions Learn to do a PRAM reset on early 2009 iMacs Build trust and collaboration
    • 15. April 2010 DREAMS Vision Foundations VRCLibrary IT Campus IT
    • 16. April 2010 Foundation of Collaborations Not about placing others in your debt Is about being a team player and wanting to help Be patient and consistent
    • 17. April 2010 DREAMS Vision Foundations VRCLibrary IT Campus IT Better Cataloging Stable and Flexible Database Efficient Open Source Shared Cataloging Location-Based Searches Inexpensive Hosting Embedded MetadataDAM
    • 18. April 2010 Temporary Solutions Google Spreadsheets MDID2 July 2010 .csv
    • 19. April 2010 July 2010 Discovering What Was Needed VR C Campus Partners Meetings highlighted similar problems and needs across campus Make something perfect for us that could work well for others
    • 20. Vision Foundations VRCLibrary IT Campus IT Better Cataloging Stable and Flexible Database Efficient Open Source Goals To Do Lists April 2010 July 2010 Cataloging in GoogleOrder Management Images to MDID2 DREAMS Shared Cataloging Location-Based Searches Inexpensive Hosting Embedded Metadata DAM
    • 21. April 2010 July 2010 Beginnings of dimli February 2012 Hey Chris, I’m bored with Google Spreadsheets. Can I build a database? Sure Matt! Have fun!
    • 22. April 2010 July 2010 Beginnings of dimli February 2012 February 2013 SQL, PHP, HTML, and CSS
    • 23. April 2010 July 2010 Beginnings of dimli February 2012 February 2013
    • 24. April 2010 July 2010 Beginnings of dimli February 2012 February 2013 April 2013 SQL, PHP, HTML, CSS, JSON, AJAX, JavaScript, JQuery dimli2.0
    • 25. April 2010 July 2010 Off-Campus Collaborations February 2012 February 2013 April 2013 Highlighted different workflow, file-naming, import needs, and other features Discussions of hosted vs. local systems led to focus on local for initial release but build for possible hosted. No installations created but assisted in prioritizing feature development
    • 26. April 2010 July 2010 VR C Campus Partners Library initiative to only use open or source commercial products dimli2.0 goes live on Github April 2010 July 2010 February 2012 February 2013 April 2013 August 2013 Possible Installs dimli Installs On-Campus Collaborations Library IT was already familiar with dimli so they started encouraging its use among library departments
    • 27. April 2010 July 2010April 2010 July 2010 February 2012 February 2013 April 2013 August 2013 October 2013 Transitions and Progress Loss of our programmer Hire of new programmer in a term position Received VRAF grant to freelance programming from original developer to build a flexible import, different types of filenames, and shopping cart feature in DAM Library invested in dimli and assists in development
    • 28. April 2010 July 2010 VR C Campus Partners April 2010 July 2010 February 2012 February 2013 April 2013 August 2013 Possible Installs dimli Installs On-Campus Collaborations October 2013 January 2014 New meetings and introductions New interest and partners New features and possibilities Much bigger dreams DREAMS Shared Cataloging Location-Based Searches MOOC Interaction Web Apps for Cataloging, Location Discovery, Crowd-Source Tagging Inexpensive HostingLinked Data Embedded Metadata
    • 29. DREAMS Vision Foundations VRCLibrary IT Campus IT Better Cataloging Stable and Flexible Database Efficient Open Source MOOC Interaction Web Apps for Cataloging, Location Discovery, Crowd-Source Tagging Linked DataShared Cataloging Location-Based Searches Inexpensive Hosting April 2010 July 2010April 2010 July 2010 February 2012 February 2013 April 2013 August 2013 October 2013 January 2014 Embedded Metadata DAM