DH Thoughts — Digging Deep with Text Encoding

In a 2014 CEA Critic issue dedicated to digital humanities pedagogy, Amanda Gailey’s “Teaching Attentive Reading and Motivated Writing through Digital Editing” offers a thoughtful discussion of how TEI can be integrated into undergraduate classrooms to offer students a new method of examining texts thoroughly and creatively. Gailey (2014) quickly outlines the “hyperbolic claims about the perils and promises of using computers in the study of literature” (p. 191) before launching into her own thoughts about the drawbacks and benefits of this type of study. Although Gailey (2014) recognizes that text encoding is “labor-intensive [and] time-consuming” (p. 191), and requires expensive software, it is invaluable for the teaching of literature; “students must pay careful, consistent attention to the text; they learn to understand the cultural record as malleable; they feel a clear sense of purpose, audience, and expertise when writing; they leave with transferable technical skills” (p. 191).

In this article, Gailey (2014) repeats what has become a well-known refrain in LIS 9372—digital humanities is a “broad term”, a “buzzword” (p. 192) and when it comes to pedagogy, there is “not a very clear indicator of what any class in digital humanities might entail” (p. 192). While students of LIS 9372 have been grappling with these same blurry distinctions, Gailey (2014) focuses on text encoding in her classrooms. Gailey (2014) outlines the differences between HTML and XML clearly and uses an accessible example to explain XML; Gailey (2014) suggests thinking about an XML-encoded text “as [being] divided into Tupperware containers” with bottoms and lids (p. 192). Reading this description that draws on everyday life instead of technical gobbledegook, I was impressed by Gailey’s approachable prose and suspect that she does not exaggerate when she discusses how students coming into her classroom with no previous coding experience are able to learn quickly and complete text encoding projects.

Gailey (2014) absolutely “nails it on the head” when discussing how TEI offers “a refreshing alternative to writing a term paper” (p. 194) and how traditional term papers give students the opportunity “to cherry pick textual evidence and wait until the last minute, circumventing the goals of extended, thoughtful engagement with the text” (p. 194). From personal experience in writing term papers about poetry and actually going through the process of producing a critical edition of a poem with peers, I can absolutely attest to the truth in Gailey’s words; editing cannot be done last minute and requires sustained and thoughtful interaction with every line. Gailey’s (2014) example of how students who came to a text with very different life experiences and produced a creative critical edition demonstrates how the collaborative nature of text encoding projects in the classroom give students an opportunity to combine their strengths and draw on their unique experiences of the world to create innovative projects.

Too often during open house events for prospective students and their parents, humanities departments come under fire with questions from parents such as “But what can you do with an English degree?” Gailey (2014) highlights how the inclusion of text encoding in her classrooms offers students transferable skills, as learning HTML and CSS gives “professional currency to students” (p. 198). As Gailey (2014) demonstrates through her article, although teaching students text encoding requires considerable effort, students benefit immensely from learning new skills and meticulously examining texts.


Gailey, A. (2014). Teaching attentive reading and motivated writing through digital editing. CEA Critic, 76(2), 191-199. Doi: 10.1353/cea.2014.0011


DH Thoughts – Darth DH

In a blog post for The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “On ‘The Dark Side of the Digital Humanities’”, Pannapacker (2013a) discusses the “growing backlash against DH” and outlines recent criticism of the digital humanities, summarizing these damning responses with the dramatic statement that “DH is an opportunistic, instrumentalist, mechanized response to the economic crisis…and, as such, it is the enemy of good, organic humanists everywhere”.

(Pannapacker suggests that a rousing rendition of the “Imperial March” be played at this point to enhance this dark characterization.)

Describing how DH’ers attending MLA panels were baffled by the mischaracterization of the digital humanities, Pannapacker (2013a) makes the interesting observation that these critiques responded to a constructed and “imagined” DH. Having just started my own DH journey, I found this comment to be particularly interesting. As a few of my peers have remarked, defining the “digital humanities” has been a tricky endeavour for us DH newbies. One peer, Lydia Thorne, has discussed her difficulty in defining DH in her review of Adeline Koh’s “A Letter to the Humanities: DH Will Not Save You”. We are just starting out in the field and are slowly dispelling the myths that we have heard about these “imagined” digital humanities.

One of the criticisms that Pannapacker (2013a) identifies is that some humanities scholars believe that DH “detaches itself from the rest of the humanities (regarding itself as not just “the next big thing,” but “the only thing”)”. The key concept for me here is the idea of detachment; if these mischaracterizations and feelings of separation stem from an unfamiliarity with DH, the DH community can work to bridge this gap.

In an article written a month after this blog post (“Stop Calling it ‘Digital Humanities’”), Pannapacker (2013b) claims that although the digital humanities have been presented as the playground of large, research-intensive universities, smaller liberal arts institutions should pursue the digital humanities. Offering suggestions on how smaller universities and colleges can build DH programs, Pannapacker (2013b) proposes integrating digital humanities into the curriculum, imagining that in the not-so-distant future, students’ use of “digital approaches [will become] as normal as expecting them to write a research paper”.

Rather than perceiving DH as a separate, elitist movement that pictures itself as “the only thing”, faculty members can slowly dip their toes into the DH pool by allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge of course content through assignments which incorporate DH tools. Only by encouraging others to explore how digital tools can contribute to classrooms (and by sharing successful examples) can the DH community help reshape these “imagined” digital humanities. As I am quickly learning from the variety of student-led workshops that I have attended this term, there are many easy-to-learn DH tools out there to help students engage with information in new ways. DH isn’t the “enemy”—it is an approach that opens up new avenues for creativity.


Pannapacker, W. (2013, Jan. 5). On ‘the dark side of the digital humanities’ [Web blog post]. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2013/01/05/on-the-dark-side-of-the-digital-humanities/

Pannapacker, W. (2013, Feb. 18). Stop calling it ‘digital humanities’; And 9 other strategies to help liberal-arts colleges join the movement. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 59(24). Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Stop-Calling-It-Digital/137325/

DH Thoughts: Taking a Look at Timeline JS


What is it? What is its purpose?

Timeline JS is an online tool (open source) that allows users to incorporate various media to create visually attractive, interactive timelines.

Great! I’ve seen some timelines with interesting photos…so what is so different about this tool?

With Timeline JS, users can add many different types of media, including Twitter, Flickr, Google Maps, YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, Dailymotion, Wikipedia, SoundCloud and more (Northwestern University, 2013).

The Spokesman Review

Take a look at some of the examples of how Timeline JS has been used. (I particularly liked the timeline about hats!) Here is a really short timeline that I whipped up.

What I appreciate most about this tool is that it has been designed for beginners such as myself. The Timeline JS motto, from my experience, is absolutely true: “Beautifully crafted timelines that are easy and intuitive to use” (Northwestern University, 2013). The “Help” section includes answers to frequently asked questions, from how to include links on timelines to how to use photos that aren’t hosted on Flickr. The simple language used throughout the Timeline JS website helps make using this tool seem feasible for the tech-shy. The presence of a community support forum and links to HTML tutorials for the ambitious newbie create a seemingly supportive learning environment. (However, the topics I looked at on the forum hadn’t been updated in a year, so the community support aspect is limited.)

That being said, experts do have the option to add in their own creativity; Timeline JS allows experts to customize their timelines with JSON (JavaScript Object Notation).

To proceed with making a timeline, users need to have Google account and feel comfortable navigating Google Drive. One of the downsides of this tool is that while users are entering data, they aren’t able to flip over to a preview of their timelines. I really love being able to preview my content as I go, so I missed that feature when I was creating a short sample timeline. Any missing required information is flagged through a tiny orange icon—if you aren’t paying attention, you may miss this warning!

Here is a tutorial for getting started with Timeline JS.

Who is its intended audience?

Although the tool’s website claims that “anyone” can create timelines, the examples that the website includes are mainly from news sources, suggesting that this tool was designed with journalists in mind; I can see how this tool could help journalists to provide historical context to a current issue or show the progression of a series of related events.

Who else might use it?

Anyone with a desire to represent historical data and the ability to use Google spreadsheets can use Timeline JS.

A few examples:

  • Teachers
  • Students
  • Local history organizations

Why should librarians know about it?

Librarians should definitely learn about this tool so that they can support faculty members who are looking to create engaging online content to enhance students’ learning experiences. History and English courses could definitely benefit from the inclusion of this tool.

Since users need to use Google spreadsheets, Timeline JS can be used for collaborative projects through the power of Google Drive! In an online history course, for example, an embedded librarian could collaborate with a faculty member to build an interactive timeline which includes links out to recommended readings and short lecture clips hosted on YouTube.

Website Cited

Northwestern University. (2013). Timeline JS. Retrieved from http://timeline.knightlab.com/

Making the Most of Your MLIS and Prepping for the Job Market

Taking five graduate courses at once can be a bit of a wild ride! I’m confident that any current or former MLIS readers can attest that it can be difficult to keep the bigger picture in mind when there are co-op interviews, three papers and a group presentation to worry about–all within one week!

Aside from working ahead and learning to do WHATEVER my day planner tells me to do, I try to glean words of wisdom from current information professionals about making the most of my time at library school and preparing myself for the job market.

For a course assignment, my class was asked to create blog entries about working in an information organization. I’ve decided to start at the very beginning and discuss how MLIS students can make themselves desirable job candidates. For great advice on cover letters and interviews, take a look at Elysha Ardelean’s blog.

For now, take a step back with me to “Before the Job Hunt.” Current MLIS students or other curious readers–check out the following two articles!

The Best Advice I Got During Library School: Forget About Library School

Kevin Michael Klipfel, a current faculty member in an academic library in California, discusses the piece of advice which helped him the most during his studies and beyond:

[W]hen it comes to applying for jobs, nobody’s going to care about what classes you took, or be wowed by your undying commitment to freedom of access to information; they’re going to care about the professional work you’ve actually done in academic libraries. This was the single best piece of advice I got during library school; get as much experience as you possibly can doing the kind of work you eventually want to do. This is what will matter when it comes time to apply for jobs.

1) From the perspective of someone who has not worked in a library just yet, “get as much experience as you possibly can” sounds like great advice. In fact, when I was gathering research about library school, several information professionals offered me similar advice. If you can find paid employment in your field during school, go for it! If not, volunteering still carries a lot of weight; it can help you apply the knowledge which you’ve gained in the classroom and demonstrates your passion for the field.

2) I’m pretty confident that the types of classes which you take will matter quite a bit, depending on your particular job interest. Taking a course in database management would be very helpful for a future prospect researcher. Likewise, taking an advanced course in cataloguing would make a future cataloguer more desirable to an employer. The key is to find ways to apply these skills to demonstrate that you understand how this knowledge works in theory and in practice.

5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Library School

Take a look at this article! Biblioblond discusses the following points:
-the importance of friendships with peers
-how library school can challenge your passion
-to buy or not to buy (textbooks)
-feigning an interest in cats
-learning to appreciate Facebook as a tool for MLIS survival

1) I definitely agree with Biblioblond’s points about building friendships and Facebook. Aside from providing future networking opportunities, the friendships which I have developed through the program have helped me to maintain a healthy perspective. We are a friendly, chatty group! Facebook has helped us to stay connected and to support one another.

2) Although many people adore cats in the library world, I feel that Klipfel’s words of wisdom offer a more practical approach to preparing future MLIS students for working in information organizations. Always keep the “end game” in mind!

I’ll conclude this post by reminding any MLIS readers not to get overwhelmed. Practical experience can come in many forms with varying time commitments. At Western, MLIS student are lucky enough to have a co-op option. Consider getting involved in student groups! Try volunteering at a local public library! Get out and see what kinds of learning opportunities are available to you outside of the classroom.

“Now, do you like people? And do people like you?”

For readers who frequent the blogs of MLIS students, you are probably well-acquainted with the following video. (Perhaps you ARE one of these MLIS students? Perhaps you have visited The Internet and Cat?)

For those who have not, grab some popcorn, get in your DeLorean and enjoy the trip back in time to 1947!

“Yes! Books are my friends! I have some people-friends too, but books are just swell!”

I like books. I like people. Sounds like librarianship is for me! But how has the “library workplace” changed since 1947? 

I can’t ignore the gender politics of this vocational guide, both in terms of how patrons are defined (see 1:18 for “professional men searching for special scientific information” and the “serious [male] scholars” at 2:05) and how men and women are slotted into different areas within librarianship.

See the female children’s librarian at 4:41?
Spot the male reference librarian working on a bibliography about radar research at 4:06?
Did you notice the “highly paid executive… [who needs] a great capacity for leadership…. [and] thorough understanding of all phases and procedures of his organization” at 6:29?

I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at 9:23 when our invisible tour guide paused on a boy’s face while he spoke about “opportunities for advancement.”

Flash forward several decades and it would be entirely possibly, perhaps likely, for you to see a female director occupying this leadership role. (Has the “glass ceiling” disappeared in libraries? Is there a “glass elevator”? Check out this blog post at The Nascent Librarian to learn more about this debate.)

Regrettably, there still seems to be quite a bit of stigma attached to the male children’s librarian.*  

This vocational guide offers a great overview of the types of roles available for librarians—it is surprising how many of these roles remain relevant in the twenty-first century! Cataloguers, reference librarians, circulation librarians, children’s librarians, academic librarians, subject specialists, public relations specialists and bears, oh my!

Lady Lazarus and I share a similar delight in the “extension librarian” who ventures out into rural communities with bookmobiles.

 Ottawa Bookmobile            Woodstock bookmobile


To return to the beginning of the video for a moment, let us revisit the “people” who use the library:

“Do you like all kinds of people, the old as well as the young? People in all stations of life?” (0:47)

Dear video, where are the people from “all stations of life”? I am seeing a lot of white, middle-class patrons. Does this represent an accurate reflection of this patron population? Or, is this video reflecting the producers’ version of a “desirable” workplace, hinting at a disturbing historical context?

At public libraries like the one featured in this brief clip, librarians serve patrons of various ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. In a twenty-first century context, it is their privilege to serve not only people who borrow video games for their own gaming systems, but homeless patrons who seek a quiet space to reflect and learn.

Regardless of changes in the “library workplace” over the course of sixty-seven years, I am utterly convinced of one thing: librarians of the twenty-first century will continue to face the heart-warming dilemma of…


“It’s a blue book…you know?” (3:17)

*See Wiebe’s article to learn about the stereotypes which male librarians face.

Wiebe, Todd. (2005). “Issues faced by male librarians: Stereotypes, perceptions, and career ramifications.” Colorado Libraries, 31(1), 11-13. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com

Super Conference

Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference
“A Universe of Possibilities”

Wow! What a whirlwind! From networking on Wednesday night to attending a luncheon with Chris Hadfield, I had a fantastic time at Super Conference. I had heard wonderful feedback from other MLIS students about last year’s conference and was excited to attend my first OLA conference.


Expo: So many free books! My arms were shaking by the time I arrive home on Thursday night–clearly I need to start lifting weights to prepare for next year! It was very exciting to see Eric Walters, one of my favourite authors when I was young(er).

Ran into Franklin at the Expo!

Ran into Franklin at the Expo!

David Usher and Chris Hadfield: Fabulous.

Fast Track to Management: How Four New Librarians Learned to Manage: This session was by far my favourite session of the whole conference! I felt inspired by hearing these young managers discuss their management styles and how they deal with generational diversity in their public libraries.

End of the Universe Party: THERE WAS A DELOREAN!

So...it's almost 2015, everybody!

So…it’s almost 2015, everybody!

I was thrilled to meet so many new librarians, both informally and through the various networking sessions set up by OLA. Hearing about the issues which librarians currently face allowed me to “take a pulse” on the profession and current work environments.

For any MLIS students who are considering attending Super Conference in 2015, I highly recommend doing so!


Welcome to my blog!
My name is Kristen. As of January 2014, I am one step closer to starting my career as a librarian!

Evelyn       I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr O’Connell, but I am proud of what I am.
Rick            And what is that?
Evelyn       I… am a librarian!               (from The Mummy (1999))

Look out, 2015! Future librarian heading your way.

Look out, 2015! Future librarian heading your way.

Well, I may not be a librarian quite yet, but I look forward to 2015, when I can recite “I am a librarian” with pride! Having recently started my MLIS degree at Western University, I am still learning about the profession. Strangely enough, not all librarians are members of the Watchers’ Council! While running away from a mummy bent on destruction is not my cup of tea, I look forward to all kinds of adventures as a future librarian!

While libraries have always been in my life, be they public, academic or special libraries, I began to think seriously about pursuing librarianship as a career after speaking with several wonderful public librarians and my friend extraordinaire, Natalie. Having started her MLIS degree in September 2012 at McGill, Natalie was able to tell me about her classes and her reference experience in Montreal and Ottawa libraries.

MLIS students...we're a bit batty!

MLIS students…we’re a bit batty!

Much to my delight, I learned that having a career as a librarian would allow me to develop programming, teach, research, interact with the community, manage a staff and much more! After learning more about the diverse possibilities offered by this profession, I decided to apply to library school, post-haste!

I was attracted to Western University’s MLIS program for several reasons. Alongside a vast array of elective courses, I was pleased to see that the core courses included a management component; one public librarian emphasized how important it is for librarians to learn to manage staff members. While I had gained management experience through work and volunteer positions, I wanted formal training to complement this experience. Additionally, I was excited about the co-op program option. Having the option to gain experience working in information organizations during my studies sounded ideal!

I am thrilled to be here at Western University and look forward to many adventures on my way to becoming a librarian!