Access, Books, and Digital Collections

On the things I’ve learnt from a few years teaching students how to ‘read’ a digital instantiation of a book is that without some knowledge of the wider context of that digitization – the platform, database, collection, or archive – it can be difficult to understand why the way digitized books look the way they do. This worksheet enables students to begin to learn what’s involved in the digitization of books. In particular, it aims to help students explore the various legal, technological, and economic factors involved in the creation of large-scale digital collections; and also the cultural contexts of representation and access against the hype of universal knowledge. The in-class task, a paper prototype of a digital archive, works particularly well to bring home the difficult choices between sometimes contradictory factors involved in real-life digitizations.  The session is part of a second-year undergraduate module entitled ‘Literature and Digital Culture’, following on from discussions in previous weeks about the digital medium, the digital divide and information privilege, and the representation of gender, race, sexuality, and intersectionality in Wikipedia articles. 

BookLab: Approaches to the Material Text

I am happy to share two syllabi prepared for the graduate level “BookLab” course I teach at the University of Maryland. BookLab itself is dedicated book arts studio and press, co-founded by my colleague Kari Kraus and myself, in a converted seminar room on the same floor that houses the English department. It affords access to four tabletop presses, a collection of metal and wood type, materials for bookbinding and papermaking, a 3D printer, and more, as well as a working collection of several hundred scholarly books about books, experimental artist’s books, chapbooks, and other printed matter.

So Now What? Lessons from a Year of Virtual Special Collections Visits

Like so many others, my introduction to remote teaching was an abrupt and rapid process of trial and error. I started as the curator of the University of Florida’s rare book collection in the summer of 2019. I spent the next semester and a half establishing connections with faculty and bringing courses in to do in-person instruction: single sessions per course, often a combination of show and tell and hands-on activities and discussion. In mid-March, as warnings became more dire, I had a group of thirty students coming in to the collections to see a facsimile of the Codex Murúa, a 16th-century Mesoamerican manuscript, and discuss its materiality. The instructor wanted the whole …

Book Materiality Exploration Kits

This classroom activity was a collaboration between a special collections librarian and a library and archives conservator, testing a new approach to engaging students with books as material objects. The conservator developed book materiality exploration kits that were individually paired to books from the library’s rare books collection. The special collections librarian used these kits with a graphic design class, which came to the special collections to explore historical (rare) books and contemporary artists’ books as inspiration for their own book design project later in the semester.