How to build a digital scholarship lab – inspiration, dialog, organization and skills

I believe that the succes of creating a digital scholarship lab builds on a lot of different things but working with this for some time now I find that four are essential:

1) Inspiration

2) Dialog with faculty members and students

3) A solid organization around the lab

4) Skilled people who can connect digital tools and methods with academia – both as an expert and as a facilitator

In our work with the creation of Digital Social Science Lab (DSSL) at Faculty Library of Social Sciences / Copenhagen University Library we have been using 6 months on the first two and now also have a plan for organization and skills development and that feels kind of awesome. So here is some sharing on the four pillars – obvious it’s not fit to work on every library lab ever build but take what you can use.

The Inspiration

The world of libraries, learning and higher education are packed with good people with great ideas and experiences. Whenever you need to start something up find those people and give them a solid brain pick. I always find it amazing how delighted people around the world is to share there knowledge and experience with you.

I think that an important note on the ganing inspiration part is not only to get the stories of succes but also the stories of failure. It’s oftent from the things that went wrong you learn the most.

In our work with DSSL we went to New York and visited 5 different labs working with incubating digital tools, skills and academia in different ways. Some of them were located at libraries – others were not. Great input and inspiration is often found in places that has nothing with libraries to do.

Bonus spin-off on the brain picking process: You get a valuable network out of it.

The great Ashley Jester of Columbia University Libraries welcomes the brain picking danish Fellowship of Data Labs

The dialog

The dialog as part of creating a digital scholarship lab – or anything else for that matter – is important for two reasons:

1) To get relevant input from faculty: what do they think of the idea, which software and hardware could be relevant, which kind of service level would be appropriate, could they see themself use it and could they see them taking there students to the lab etc.

2) To create awareness and ownership of the lab within the academic community early in the process. The DSSL is not a library playground of digital tools and methods – it’s a workspace for students and faculty and they should very much feel that it is there for them.

I must admit we haven’t been that structured in our dialog process. The meeting with faculty members has been coming more or less like pearls on a string – or tweets in a feed more to say since many of our connections has been established via different kind of Twitter activities on the subject. The process has been so great and rewarding. Faculty members have really connected with the idea, given us tons of relevant input, pointed us to other people and organizations to talk to and all the coffee chat’s has also lead to action in form of two events held at the DSSL already and two more planned – 5 months before we open.

The lab boys Christian and Michael – ‘wonna drink some coffee and have a chat on NVivo, Python and Gephi?’

The organization

I might have a directors point of view on this but I think a clear and sound organization is important in many things we do. Sure I like a little chaos from time to time, but a transparent organization that makes sense for those who work in it and supports the goal makes me all happy.

The organization of DSSL will be build up around one coordinator and three teams.

The role of the coordinator is to run the lab on a daily basis, make sure that the core functions and use of the lab runs smoothly with a high level of quality and that the development of the lab is driven in a right direction.

The three teams are:

1) The instructional team

2) The facilitating team

3) The IT support team

The role of the instructional team is to directly connect faculty members and students with digital tools and methods. This is done mainly by instructions, teaching and guidance and through a platform of both bigger classes, smaller workshops and one-on-one sessions. Some of the instructions will be carried out within the lab but a lot will also take place in other sites on campus (e.g. integrated in lectures) and as e-learning activities.We find it important that the activities around DSSL is not limited to the physical space only – the further reach, the greater value.

The facilitating team has a different role. There job is to create spaces were other experts or relevant people can connect faculty members and students with digital tools and methods. A good example of this role carried out is our first event and pre-opening of DSSL, Digital tools in social sciences, were we – in collaboration with Department of Political Science – had the awesome Dr. Christina Silver to give a three hour workshop on use of qualitative software within social sciences. So basicallay it’s about networking and setting other people up to create value to the academic community. It could be a ph.d. student in sociology that knows a lot about GIS-software and gives a workshop on a project he/she is doing or peer to peer sessions were students within different areas share knowledge and help each other on various projects.

The IT support team is the herotic trouble shooters of everything messed up with hardware, software, login’s etc. I believe it’s really important to embed this function closely to the rest of the lab to secure a solid base for the core activities of DSSL. No access to software, no use – it’s that simple.

The organization of Digital Social Science Lab – it’s a happy organization even though a few of the lego heads looks grumpy

The skills

The skills that connects the digital tools with academia is key to succes I believe. When we talk about creating the intelligent study environment the intelligent part dosen’t live in the software, the hardware or the decor of the lab – it lives in the people, the librarians, information specialist and peers that gives instructions, guidance and creates great events. If you dosen’t hold the right skills to bridge tools, methods and academia there is a high risk that your lab will be a cemetrary for computers and fatboys.

There is different skills on the line here. Obvious you need some know-how on the different kinds of software that you offer access to in the lab. Then you need some pedagogical didactic skills for the instruction part and you also need some networking skills to facilitate the events of others than those working in the library.

At the faculty library we are good covered with both pedagogical didactic and networking skills but in the fall we will get some serious skill development cooking on the following software packeded which will be our starting point.

Qualitative software: NVivo and ATLAS.ti

Quantitative software: Stata, SPSS, R and R Studio

Mapping / GIS: QGIS, Gephi and Google Fusion Tables

Audio, video and presentation: iMovie, Prezi and Haiku Deck

Bibliographic tools: Zotero, EndNote and Mendeley

Study tools: EverNote, OneNote, TagPad and SurveyXact

The first digital tool menu of Digital Social Science Lab



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s