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INTERVIEW
SCANNED AND
DELIVERED
How the DHLab made remote research work
I would like to start this conversation on researc...
tion and resources, whether that's a print book on the
shelf or a conversation with a history librarian. Every-
body withi...
image assets in the arts library, data sets, even historical
African American newspapers from Philadelphia over
30 years a...
example, The Digital Humanities Conference will take
place this weekend and will follow a similar open policy.
In a way, o...
YALE HISTORICAL REVIEW
In terms of disciplines within the academy, I think this
crisis creates really interesting opportun...
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Scanned and Delivered: How the DHLab made remote research work

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This interview with DHLab Director Peter Leonard, Program Manager Catherine DeRose, and Director of Communications for the Library Patricia Carey comprises The Stacks, a conversation series published by The Yale Historical Review.

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Scanned and Delivered: How the DHLab made remote research work

  1. 1. INTERVIEW SCANNED AND DELIVERED How the DHLab made remote research work I would like to start this conversation on research during COVID with a simple question. How did you navigate the transition from residential to remote learning in March? (Peter Leonard) Back in March, we paid close attention to the messages from Peter Salovey, Scott Strobel, Susan Gibbons, and other members from the community. At the time, everybody just tried to keep up with the news and predict the next steps. And we didn't always get it right. As a student, you probably did not expect that you would not return after leaving for Spring Break. We actually had a couple days to think about the libra- ry space before the shutdown. We discussed some new guidelines about social distancing and de-densification. We also collaborated with our facilities team to spread the tables out and to take some of the chairs out of cir- culation before the shutdown. Of course, the library has never been completely empty. Security and facilities staff ensure that the building is safe. I'm sure this is also true of the medical library, and all the other branch libraries. These are enormous com- plex buildings that are never unattended. We're trying to think about how to safely reopen library spaces. We already have restarted library services, and of course many library services never stopped. For exa- mple, subject librarians have built upon internal expe- rience and work with faculty and students. Everybody in the library has volunteered and has tried to step up these consultations over Zoom. Since June, you can get books instead of coffee at what used to be Thain Cafe. In addition, we can scan and deliver to the limits that we were able to do before. Many students will not be in New Haven. For this rea- son, the library will try to equalize access to informa- he folks at the Digital Humanities Lab have been working through the pandemic to provide remote research to Yale students and professors. DHLab Director Peter Leonard, ProgramManagerCatherineDeRose,andDirectorofCommunications for the Library Patricia Carey spoke with Editor-in-Chief Henry Jacob about their efforts this summer. T 1YALE HISTORICAL REVIEW Interview by Henry Jacob, SY ‘21 Transcribed by Sharmaine Koh Mingli, SC ‘22JULY 23, 2020
  2. 2. tion and resources, whether that's a print book on the shelf or a conversation with a history librarian. Every- body within the library is committed to doing whatever they can to smooth over the challenges that will arise in the virtual semester. Above all, we focus on health and safety. I hear the words “environmental health and safety” all the time. Normally we think of that as a bureaucracy which helps out in wet labs. But in the current moment, “environ- mental health and safety” has helped us to think about material safety. You mentioned the complexity of the libraries at Yale in their managerial and physical organization. Is there any part of the library that you used to see and love every day that you miss now? (PL) We just finished a great renovation of the Bass Library under- ground space. Everybody feels that Bass isn't the same without Yale students in it. We want undergrads to be at home in the library again as soon as possible and make use of these beautiful spaces, whether it's a dusty book stack from the 30s in Sterling, or a new study table in Bass. I definitely wish I had a few more dusty books on my shelf at home. That being said, I can access plenty of materials from my computer. How has the library managed to provide these resources to the commu- nity? (Patricia Carey) I should mention the HathiTrust emergency temporary access, which was a major win. Under this agreement, we can provide temporary ac- cess, through the HathiTrust Digital Library, to the e-book versions of almost 5 million volumes that are on the shelves in Sterling, Bass, and elsewhere in the library system but couldn’t be accessed because of the pande- mic. I also found it really interesting talking to librarians who are doing instruction online and are seeing more students in their workshops than would have attended in person. Cathy [Catherine DeRose], maybe you can speak more about this. (Catherine DeRose) Yes, that has been my experience too. We had to retool workshops for a Zoom universe. In person, you can get a sense for the pacing of the workshop. You can see on people's faces and in their body language whether you need to speed up or slow down. It’s a little harder to get that information via Zoom. So we've had to think about new ways of tea- ching. In the DH Lab we have expanded our GitHub repo- sitory. We have long used this space for tutorials. But we usually post them after the tutorial happens. Now, we've been adding more workshop materials and pos- ting them before the workshop begins, giving students much more flexibility. (PC) And Cathy, you have participated in the Yale Young Global Scholars Program for several years. And this was the first year that it was conducted online. Do you want to say anything about that? (CD) It goes back to Tricia’s comment— when we turned everything to Zoom, we were actually able to admit more people into the workshop than we had in years prior. Before, we taught the Yale Young Global Scholar sessions in one of the Bass computer classrooms. Back then, we had to cap the number to the space. But in a remote environment, we could open it up to more stu- dents. (PL) It will be really exciting for our team to think about the diversity of material in the collections at Yale. I wrote my dissertation on literature; if you're like me, you spend your time reading novels. I think of books in the most traditional sense, hard-bound and on the shelf. But, of course, the Special Collections make Yale stand out in the world. Faculty are passionate about gaining access to those sources again. We can actually get some of those tra- ditional novels, hardcover books, special collections, “How do we minimize barriers to collections, [...] How do we provide access to that material for people who can't come in physically?” 2 DHS LAB
  3. 3. image assets in the arts library, data sets, even historical African American newspapers from Philadelphia over 30 years ago. We can get raw data and original scans, not just a website to browse those old newspapers. Last week, I processed 94 million files of ProQuest historical newspapers from the United States, England, and Chi- na. What's really exciting and challenging about what the library can do is to think about how to provide access beyond those hardcover books. How do we get people access to datasets if their Internet at home isn’t very fast? Digital surrogates can go a small amount of the way, but they can't go all the way. How do we minimize barriers to collections, whether it's books, data, special collections, images, or micro- film? How do we provide access to that material for people who can't come in physically? This will be the real challenge. Zoom provides the answer to the question of individual access to personal knowledge. What we don't quite have the answer to yet, is the distribution of the wealth of collections. What can we do to minimize the disruption and ensure that eve- ryone has access to all this material across digital and physical aspects? (CD) On Peter’s point about finding electronic re- sources, I should highlight one library initiative that started before COVID that has been especially helpful during these times. A team led by a cross-departmental task force in Technical Services worked to create new tags that make it easier for people to discover large- scale data—from historical periodicals to government documents—that the library licenses for text mining. The group has even sent a proposal to the Library of Congress to get tags such as “Data sets” and “Text data mining” officially recognized. Yale has really been at the forefront of thinking about how to make resources available for text and data mi- ning. With these tags in place since the fall 2019 semes- ter, the library was already in a good spot for what en- ded up being a remote spring. These comments on Yale’s pioneering efforts to demo- cratize information bring me to our next topic. Peter and Cathy, you have taught me how to use Tropy and ArcGIS over the past months. We have all mentioned various ways the library has adapted. Now I want to discuss how you three have shifted into the COVID research landscape. Have you developed any skills du- ring the lockdown that you wouldn't have otherwise? (CD) The DH Lab has a Digital Humanities Teaching Fellows Program. In this program we work with gra- duate students who are teaching fellows in classes. Our cohort convenes every semester to think about how we can integrate digital tools into classes. We found that lot of collaborative tools translated really well to the virtual classroom. One of them was Hypothe- sis, a tool for crowd-sourced annotation. With Hypo- thesis, students can engage with each other's comments on the document online. This way, our DH fellows kept their classes connected despite the circumstances. We also used Story Maps. This platform lets you com- bine any visual, textual, audio, and spatial information. Story Maps is free, but also offers an enterprise version that Yale has purchased. With the enterprise version, we could set up a folder where students could share mate- rials with one another. As you mentioned with Tropy, we have tried to figure out what tools we can use to help people work together from a distance. (PC) In general, people have recognized the value of GIS at a new level throughout this pandemic. The GIS libra- rian Miriam Olivares has just done some really, really interesting consultations with research groups, and she has worked with the Medical School to create dynamic maps to show different aspects of the pandemic. (PL) There's definitely a lot of focus on what some call “the spatial turn in history”. [Associate Professor of the History of Science] Bill Rankin is a wonderful cartographer. Bill is a great example of somebody who is incredibly skilled and he knows how to do so much, and so we actually don't see him too often because he doesn't need our help. He's always building amazing maps that talk about race, class, and space. I think he is a great example of work that is deeply rooted in huma- nistic inquiry. He's not using GIS to look for oil and gas. It's a kind of humanistic GIS. (CD) I want to pick up again on that “silver lining” point you raised earlier, Henry. Esri holds a massive user conference every year. They made it entirely virtual this year and free for anyone to attend. Remote living has made these meetings more accessible. To give another 3YALE HISTORICAL REVIEW
  4. 4. example, The Digital Humanities Conference will take place this weekend and will follow a similar open policy. In a way, our conversation has followed two threads, one of excitement and one of concern. We have plenty of reasons to look forward to the fall. But worries still linger about the reopening process. How do you balance these emotions as we near September? (PC) I serve on two of the reopening task forces. I spend a lot of my day immersed in questions about whether we need to quarantine materials and how to maintain COVID-appropriate distance between people in library spaces. How do we communicate and manage expecta- tions for this different kind of experience in the libra- ries? What are the most essential pieces of that expe- rience to preserve? The university as a whole is doing this in a really careful and thoughtful way. There are lots of uncertainties, so we have to communicate what people can expect when they get here. We focus a lot on how to reopen the libra- ries. In one of the meetings the other day, we started to talk about, “Okay, what happens if there's an outbreak? How do we walk this back? Are there steps we can plan now?” I’m pretty optimistic, but the complexity is daun- ting. (PL) We've definitely seen some universities rethink their opening plans, some who hoped to go totally on campus, and some have had to become more flexible. I think that's what we want to see — response to the local situation. We're still lucky in Connecticut. We'll see if that continues going forward. But of course, Yale doesn't draw only from Connecticut. It needs to invite people back from Florida, from Georgia, from all over the place, and California, where I'm from. No matter what happens in terms of the mix of residential versus remote, folks in the library will work as hard as they can to equalize access to materials, human resources, and staff expertise. That's about all we can do because we're not in control of the virus. We're not in control of its spread. We’re all very fortunate to work in an environment which has access to not just the Yale Health Center and its care, but also its affiliated major research hospital. In a sense, we're very well positioned for meeting this challenge. (CD) Now that we've had the spring semester and a half of summer of experience, we've gotten better at buil- ding in redundancy for the kinds of support that we offer. We discovered when we were working with the Yale Young Global Scholars, that Google and GitHub are banned in some countries. In order to make those materials accessible to students, we had to think about alternative formats. Sending them a PDF, for instance, was one solution. As a library, we have thought a lot about how we can offer our support in multiple formats. Yes, we can do Zoom Chat, we can also talk by phone or email, we can send video recordings. I'm trying to think about alter- native ways of presenting the material so that everyone can access it. This is a time for adjusted expectations and collabo- ration across boundaries. How have you established relationships with colleagues from divergent disci- plinary or institutional backgrounds? (PL) The folks that I work with include some people who think a lot about collection development, which is just a fancy word for buying material. Tricia brought up a great exa- mple about HathiTrust. HathiTrust grew out of the uni- versities that have scanned books as part of the Google Books project. Then they formed their own nonprofit to help manage information there. 4 “No matter what happens in terms of the mix of residential versus remote,folks in the library will work as hard as they can to equalize access to materials,human resources,and staff expertise.” DHS LAB
  5. 5. YALE HISTORICAL REVIEW In terms of disciplines within the academy, I think this crisis creates really interesting opportunities for people to think about issues outside their field. The last couple of months have seen a great deal of discussion around historical patterns of racial discrimination and conti- nuing patterns of police violence. And I think that most humanists that you speak to have recommitted them- selves to think about other ways of doing their work. But there are also more ambitious projects to work on the history of race relations in this country. At Rich- mond, they're working on a project in their digital scho- larship lab that connects redlining to public health, spe- cifically with COVID-19 infections in Richmond. There are opportunities, despite the uncertainty, despite the crisis, to put public health in conversation with urban history and structural discrimination. (CD) I will add that institutional partnerships around instruction have been springing up as well. The Ha- thiTrust Research Center, which is a branch from the HathiTrust Library, developed a remote four-day workshop series on using digital tools for text mining with the HathiTrust Library as their data set. We sub- mitted a proposal to be a virtual co-host for that and just found out that it was accepted! So you're getting ad- vance notice that we will be co-hosting that workshop series, along with the University of Maryland with the HathiTrust Research Center instructors. That'll be hap- pening in early October. Oh, that’s great! A little teaser, I guess. (PC) Hen- ry — there’s a really interesting project that’s going on that grew out of the fact that we had a lot of staff whose work cannot be done from home. People were looking for useful, meaningful things for them to do, so an ini- tiative was created to transcribe digitized archival ma- terial from Beinecke Library collections to make them full-text searchable. That group has now transcribed more than 3,600 documents, including material from the James Baldwin Collection, the Langston Hughes Collection, and the Edith Wharton Collection. Just the other day, I had the privilege of sitting in on a phone call with some staff who are working on this initiative. Most of these staff don’t normally handle archival materials. They talked about their experience reading these materials as they transcribed them. One person was transcribing letters from Alfred Sully, a Ci- vil War-era military officer. She talked about reading in these letters about the casual, callous mistreatment of Native Americans, and then extrapolating those injus- tices to what's going on right now in our society. I found it really moving. So I think this opportunity to make historical documents more accessible to researchers is a real silver lining! Thank you for bringing this initiative to my attention. On the topic of exploring new quarantine activities, what you are reading, watching, or enjoying during your free time? (PL) I think it's a cliché to say you're reading The Great Flu of 1918, but that's one book I'm working through. (CD) I have actually switched over from reading to a course on web development from Udemy. This has been a great way to help me get a better grip on some of the technologies that we use in the lab. When we can meet in person again, I'll be better equipped to talk about those things with students. (PL) Out of curiosity, do you have any friends who are deciding to take a semester off voluntarily? I would have given you a different answer in March than I will provide now. Months ago, plenty of my friends and I seriously considered taking time off from Yale. But my plans have shifted. Underclassmen — especially incoming first years — face a harder decision. Would you really want to start college under these circumstances? I’m lucky to have experience in the stacks and in the archives. In ad- dition, I have cultivated relationships with students, professors, and librarians over the last three years. Despite the uncertainty that lies before us, I am heartened once more by how people can connect on Zoom. I’ve never met any of you in person, but I have gotten to know each of you this summer. To end, I must thank you again for coming and talking with me today. I look forward to continuing these conver- sations in person. 5 HENRY JACOB is a senior in Saybrook majoring in History and pursuing a Certificate in Spanish. He is currently conducting research on Panama. When not responding to emails for the YHR, Henry tries to convince his parents to adopt a COVID cat.

This interview with DHLab Director Peter Leonard, Program Manager Catherine DeRose, and Director of Communications for the Library Patricia Carey comprises The Stacks, a conversation series published by The Yale Historical Review.

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