Digital Scholarship Grows Up

Jacob Heil


Mellon Digital Scholar, Five Colleges of Ohio, Wooster


PhD, English, Texas A&M University, 2009


@dr_heil (Twitter);;

Photo by Chelsea Carlson

LJ Mover & Shaker, Jacob Heil got his PhD in English Literature at Texas A&M, and his dissertation was on Renaissance drama—he’s got a working fluency in Old English. Yet he could not have imagined that his future employment would have little to do with the past. That’s because he’s backed his way into digital work. As a Mellon Digital Scholar with the Five Colleges of Ohio, in Wooster, he oversees digital projects under the auspices of this Mellon digital scholarship grant. In its fourth and final year, the grant aims to help faculty from humanities libraries to build digital projects that are tied into their curriculum. “I put together teams to work on those projects,” he says. “I facilitate the communication that occurs between faculty and librarians.” Heil has been working on nearly 30 projects, all in various stages, from large scale mapping initiatives to students using Content Management Systems (CMS) to curate library content. “Many of the projects are either using or creating what will become digital library content,” he says. “The librarians are on board as metadata specialists, or as content specialists, because they know the collections.” The main goal for the grant, he says, it so improve the lives of students. “And we do that by using every digital project, no matter the size, as an opportunity for pedagogical intervention.” Central to these digital scholarship projects is the understanding that the library as the academic center of the university is shifting. With more digital resources available, Heil wants students to be not just consumers of digital information but also creators of digital knowledge. “I think librarians are at the forefront of participating in that,” he says. “These projects are ways for us in the Five Colleges to try to figure out how librarians can be involved in that student-knowledge creation.” How can librarians be involved? Heil says that all of his projects have a librarian at the center of it. “We have a liaison system, and we’re advocating to departments, having conversations with faculty members about the viability of a given collection for a classroom exercise, for example. When someone comes and says ‘I need these slides digitized,’ we can take that and use it as a moment to say, ‘yes, we can do that, we can get it into digital repository, and also are there ways that we can help you think about having students curate exhibits from these pictures, or doing low-barrier-to-entry digital things with CMS?’” Heil says a lot of this can be achieved by librarians and faculty keeping up with what kinds of tools faculty members are using around campus, tying it to those conversations whenever possible, and having them think about themselves as collaborators and partners on these projects. “So, to use the previous example, it’s not just about a librarian or faculty member digitizing those slides, but how can they think about it in context of a digital platform that their colleague over in the English department is using?” After going to the Modern Language Association Conference (MLA) for years, Heil has noticed an increase in these types of digital humanities conversations. “There’s an increasing number of librarians going to the MLA conference as well, because I think that collaboration between the disciplines in my field—scholars of literature doing digital work—with librarians, thinking about metadata, thinking about partnerships, I think that is increasing.”

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