Our Graduate Assistants: Abigail Sewall

This interview is part of a continued series introducing our graduate assistants to our online community. These are some of the people you will see when you visit our space, who will greet you with a smile and a willingness to help! Say hello to Abigail Sewall!

What is your background education and work experience?

Before coming to graduate school, I was working as an administrator in standardized testing for a few years. I am a fountain of useless knowledge on most national standardized tests such as the GRE, SAT, and LSAT. The aspect of my job that I liked the most was talking to people and guiding them through what was inevitably one of the most stressful days of their life. I feel like the unique customer service environment of that job oddly enough prepared me well for working at a reference desk, especially during those stressful times of the semester where people are in panic mode. Before I worked in standardized testing I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado in Boulder in Spanish Literature and Political Science. I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis in comparative politics on trust in the police in Latin American countries. Through this process I had to learn to do large scale data analysis using a large public opinion survey database. It was a challenging project but I got a lot of help from the library.

What led you to your field?

My love of libraries developed as an undergraduate. I loved working on research projects because it gave me an opportunity to talk to one of the librarians, explore the collections, and discover the seemingly endless resources available in the library. The library really enriched my academic experience in such a profound way I wanted to be able to share that experience with others and help make the magic happen. Librarianship is a great intersection of my interests because it is both an intellectually challenging field and performs a valuable service to the community.

What are your research interests?

Where to begin? I am currently really interested in Twitter data literacy. I use Twitter every day and I find it to be a rich source of political and social discourse. I like to see how text data extracted from the popular micro blogging platform is used to address a variety of research questions. I’ve done some research on institutional archiving of Twitter data, which allowed me to consider some of the ethical and cultural implications of collecting and storing social media data. I am now working on learning how to scrape data from Twitter using Python. Experimenting with Python has been interesting because I don’t come from a technical background but I am finding I make slow but sure progress with it. I am excited to see where it takes me and I may even try building my own Twitter database.

What are your favorite projects you’ve worked on?

One of my favorite projects I’ve worked on as a Scholarly Commons GA was developing resources for using US Census data for students and researchers. In the process of making our LibGuide on the Census I learned a lot about the census questionnaire and how researchers use census data. It was also a lot of fun to help my supervisor with the US Census workshop because I love instruction and it was a great opportunity to show my expertise.

What are some of your favorite underutilized Scholarly Commons resources that you would recommend?

Our LibGuides! We have dozens of guides on a variety of subjects such as software tutorials, data discovery, digital humanities, and more. Each guide has been thoughtfully assembled by one of our librarians or GAs and contain links to resources, advice, and information to suit all of your research technology needs. I taught myself how to use SPSS using our SPSS tutorial LibGuide and would highly recommend it to anyone! Check out all of our guides on our webpage!

What is the one thing you would want people to know about your field?

I think it is important for people to recognize that libraries are always a reflection of the community they serve. All the services we offer at the Scholarly Commons address a specific need of the scholars and students at our university. We provide a space for collaborative work, software and technology available no where else on campus, and instruction to supplement the resources in our unit. I hope in my career that I will be able to continue to serve the needs of my community, whatever they may be.

 

It Takes a Campus – Episode Two with Harriett Green

Image has the text supporting digital scholarship, it takes a campus with icons of microphone and broadcast symbol

 

 

Resources mentioned:

SPEC Kit No. 357

University of Illinois Library Copyright Guide

 

For the transcript, click on “Continue reading” below.

Continue reading

Our Graduate Assistants: Xena Becker

This interview is part of a series introducing our graduate assistants to our online community. These are some of the people you will see when you visit our space, who will greet you with a smile and a willingness to help! Say hello to Xena Becker!

A headshot of Xena Becker, a fair skinned woman with long dark hair wearing a green and blue scarf

What is your background education and work experience?
I graduated from New York University with a major in Comparative Literature and a minor in Global and Urban Education Studies. My focus in Comparative Literature was Archives and Library Science, which I personally tailored from classes available in the English, Comparative Literature, and Media, Culture, and Communications departments. Most of my work experience is in education; for a long time, I kept accidentally getting teaching jobs. I really enjoy teaching, though, and my experience as an educator ranges from theater to writing. When I was a junior, I started working in the special collections library at NYU and I have been working in libraries ever since. Now, at the University of Illinois, I work in the Scholarly Commons and the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which is a really good balance for all of my interests.

What led you to your field?
When I was a sophomore in college, I took a class titled Papyrus to PDF: An Introduction to Book History Now. That class was my first introduction to special collections and archives and I was completely hooked. It was taught by an English professor and a rare books librarian in the special collections classroom and focused on the history of books as physical objects, rather than just as pieces of writing. The content of the class got me to pay attention, but the intricacies I was exposed to of the operation of special collections libraries was what made the class so memorable. I knew I wanted to be involved in stewarding and making available texts and materials to researchers and students, and what better place to do that than a library?

Additionally, though, I want to acknowledge that I was invited to enter librarianship by other librarians. My professor for Papyrus to PDF saw that I was interested in libraries and invited me to apply to work for her the next summer; in research consultations with subject librarians I would ask how they became interested in library science. Everyone was very open and encouraging to my questions and interests, which was another defining aspect of what led me to librarianship.

What are your research interests?
I am interested in expanding learning opportunities in archives and special collections—this means both increasing instruction education for library staff and making library spaces and materials more accessible for learners of all backgrounds. Within special collections I’m a little more open with my interests—I am one of many special collections librarians who refer to themselves as “generalists.” I try to keep my interests as open as possible, but I have done some more specific research on queer archival history, special collections instruction, and data visualization.

What are your favorite projects you’ve worked on?
I have enjoyed collaborating with our Data Analytics and Visualization Resident Librarian, Megan Ozeran, on projects that cover all areas of data visualization. Before working with Megan on data visualization projects, I had never really considered academic librarianship as a career that utilizes creative and artistic expression or builds on visual forms of communication—I thought it was all about text. However, learning about data visualization quickly changed my perspective on this and introduced me to a whole new area of skills to learn. Some of the things I have done with Megan include writing monthly blog posts, Exploring Data Visualization, that showcase interesting data viz examples from around the web. Another project was creating posters of historical data visualizations to display at our Data Visualization Competition. That project was a great opportunity to bridge my roles at the Scholarly Commons and the Rare Book and Manuscript Library to show off the cool historic data visualizations out there.

What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend?
Our creative software! We have access to the full Adobe Creative Suite in the Scholarly Commons as well as some open source alternatives, and I love toying around with them and figuring out what we can do to make this software useful for our patrons.

When you graduate, what would your ideal job position look like?
My ideal position would be working in a special collections library doing instruction and outreach. I want to continue sharing what I’ve learned about libraries and collections with as many people as possible through classes, exhibits, social media, and other creative forms of outreach. I love working with the public either at a reference desk or through events and classes, so I want to work somewhere that focuses on bringing people and collections together. I would love to keep working at a college or university, but I’m open to working somewhere like a museum or public library as well. Finally, I’d love to work somewhere that has collections that cover areas that interest me or focus on representing diverse voices.

What is the one thing you would want people to know about your field?
That librarianship can look like so many different things—there’s no one way to be a librarian. Many people who work in libraries don’t consider themselves librarians, and many people who should be considered librarians aren’t. Working in libraries has taught me that I will always be able to learn new skills or try new things, all of which can still be librarianship!

Meet Spencer Keralis, Digital Humanities Librarian

Spencer Keralis teaches a class.

This latest installment of our series of interviews with Scholarly Commons experts and affiliates features one of the newest members of our team, Spencer Keralis, Digital Humanities Librarian.


What is your background and work experience?

I have a Ph.D. in English and American Literature from New York University. I started working in libraries in 2011 as a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Fellow with the University of North Texas Libraries, doing research on data management policy and practice. This turned into a position as a Research Associate Professor working to catalyze digital scholarship on campus, which led to the development of Digital Frontiers, which is now an independent non-profit corporation. I serve as the Executive Director of the organization and help organize the annual conference. I have previous experience working as a project manager in telecom and non-profits. I’ve also taught in English and Communications at the university level since 2006.

What led you to this field?

My CLIR Fellowship really sparked the career change from English to libraries, but I had been considering libraries as an alternate career path prior to that. My doctoral research was heavily archives-based, and I initially thought I’d pursue something in rare books or special collections. My interest in digital scholarship evolved later.

What is your research agenda?

My current project explores how the HIV-positive body is reproduced and represented in ephemera and popular culture in the visual culture of the early years of the AIDS epidemic. In American popular culture, representations of the HIV-positive body have largely been defined by Therese Frare’s iconic 1990 photograph of gay activist David Kirby on his deathbed in an Ohio hospital, which was later used for a United Colors of Benetton ad. Against this image, and other representations which medicalized or stigmatized HIV-positive people, people living with AIDS and their allies worked to remediate the HIV-positive body in ephemera including safe sex pamphlets, zines, comics, and propaganda. In my most recent work, I’m considering the reclamation of the erotic body in zines and comics, and how the HIV-positive body is imagined as an object of desire differently in these underground publications than they are in mainstream queer comics representing safer sex. I also consider the preservation and digitization of zines and other ephemera as a form of remediation that requires a specific ethical positioning in relation to these materials and the community that produced them, engaging with the Zine Librarians’ Code of Conduct, folksonomies and other metadata schema, and collection and digitization policies regarding zines from major research libraries. This research feels very timely and urgent given rising rates of new infection among young people, but it’s also really fun because the materials are so eclectic and often provocative. You can check out a bit of this research on the UNT Comics Studies blog.

 Do you have any favorite work-related duties?

I love working with students and helping them develop their research questions. Too often students (and sometimes faculty, let’s be honest) come to me and ask “What tools should I learn?” I always respond by asking them what their research question is. Not every research question is going to be amenable to digital tools, and not every tool works for every research question. But having a conversation about how digital methods can potentially enrich a student’s research is always rewarding, and I always learn so much from these conversations.

 What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend to researchers?

I think comics and graphic novels are generally underappreciated in both pedagogy and research. There are comics on every topic, and historical comics go back much further than most people realize. I think the intersection of digital scholarship with comics studies has a lot of potential, and a lot of challenges that have yet to be met – the technical challenge of working with images is significant, and there has yet to be significant progress on what digital scholarship in comics might look like. I also think comics belong more in classes – all sorts of classes, there are comics on every topic, from math and physics, to art and literature – than they are now because they reach students differently than other kinds of texts.

 If you could recommend one book or resource to beginning researchers in your field, what would you recommend?

I’m kind of obsessed with Liz Losh and Jacque Wernimont’s edited collection Bodies of Information: Intersectional Feminism and Digital Humanities because it’s such an important intervention in the field. I’d rather someone new to DH start there than with some earlier, canonical works because it foregrounds alternative perspectives and methodologies without centering a white, male perspective. Better, I think, to start from the margins and trouble some of the traditional narratives in the discipline right out the gate. I’m way more interested in disrupting monolithic or hegemonic approaches to DH than I am in gatekeeping, and Liz and Jacque’s collection does a great job of constructively disrupting the field.

Our Graduate Assistants: Michael Cummings

This interview is part of a new series introducing our graduate assistants to our online community. These are some of the people you will see when you visit our space, who will greet you with a smile and a willingness to help! Say hello to Michael Cummings!

What is your background education and work experience?
I earned my BA in anthropology and political science at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. During my time at Grinnell, I spent a semester working in the archives at the Drake Community Library, the public library in town, after which I was hired to work at the College library in Government Documents and Circulation. I also got some introductory instruction experience in my senior year, working as a writing mentor for a first-year tutorial course. I have been in my current position as a GA in the Scholarly Commons for the past year, and I plan to graduate from Illinois with my Masters in Library and Information Science this coming May.

What led you to your field?
I started to contemplate librarianship as a career path while I was in college. After working a few jobs in different parts of the library, and getting to know several librarians, I found that I really enjoyed the variety of work that goes into good library service. I had been interested in academia for a while, but I wasn’t sure if a traditional professor job was right for me. I’ve found that academic library work encompasses everything I would want from an academic job but is much more my style than professorship.

What are your research interests?
Combining my background in anthropology with library science, I am interested in how societies create, use, and understand information and what sociocultural factors go into those processes. The nature of librarianship is constantly changing as our society’s relationship to information changes, for instance with the advent of the internet age. I’ve also long been interested in mapping and cartography, in particular the politics of mapmaking and how maps, which are often thought of as neutral, actually represent the cultural biases of the mapmakers. (Check out this West Wing clip for more on that.).

What are your favorite projects you’ve worked on?
I’ve recently started doing a number of consultations getting researchers started with using GIS. There’s something really gratifying about one-on-one consultations; it feels good to be able to either help someone complete their work or get them started and then connect them with someone else who can. That’s one of the big reasons I wanted to be a librarian in the first place, so that I can provide that level of support to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get it. Sure, there are lots of books you can read and videos you can watch to help answer the questions people come to me for, but I don’t think there’s any substitute for one-on-one sessions.

What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend?
Our Lib Guides! The Scholarly Commons maintains guides on just about every subject area that we offer support on, and we’re constantly updating them to improve the quality of our service. Check them out on our website!

When you graduate, what would your ideal job position look like?
I would be good with a number of different kinds of jobs in an academic library setting. I’m definitely looking into lots of digital scholarship positions that would allow me to continue the type of work that I’ve been doing here in the Scholarly Commons, but I’m also looking into some good old-fashioned reference jobs as well! I’m currently taking a class on metadata, and the thought of applying for some metadata librarian jobs has recently been floating across my mind, but I think I’d better wait to see how I end up doing in that class before applying for any of those…

What is the one thing you would want people to know about your field?
We’re here to help! Even when students come to the Scholarly Commons with a specific question that they want help with, they often seem surprised at just how willing we are to provide support to them. But that’s what we’re here for! None of us would have entered the field of librarianship if we didn’t have a commitment to providing high quality help to our patrons, so please stop by and ask us all of your questions!

Our Graduate Assistants: Michael Tahmasian

This interview is part of a new series introducing our graduate assistants to our online community. These are some of the people you will see when you visit our space, who will greet you with a smile and a willingness to help! Say hello to Michael Tahmasian!

What is your background education and work experience?

I have Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Kansas and for a long time I had no idea what I wanted to do with that. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I moved with a friend to Chicago for “the next big adventure.” At first, I was a security guard at an art museum. Then I was a substitute teacher in the public schools. Eventually, I ended up as a CyberNavigator in two different branches of the Chicago Public Library, where I worked with patrons to help build their digital skills.

What led you to your field?

I’ve always loved teaching people things, but I struggled to see myself teaching in a traditional classroom. It just never felt right for me. When I finally realized the huge role that instruction played in librarianship—in small moments at the reference desk or through programming and workshops—everything clicked for me. I could see myself as a part of that space. There are so few places people can go to these days to get help learn new things without having to give something in return. I’m truly so excited to be a part of that.

What are your research interests?

My main area of interest is instruction, but to me that includes both those formal and informal settings; both workshops and one-off questions at a reference desk. Currently, I’m interested in how feminist theories can help us understand and improve instruction in both places. Our profession is focused on helping people get the information they need—and while I believe in that I think sometimes we lose sight of the people we’re supposed to help and focus solely on the information itself. Feminist theories allow us to challenge our field’s traditional values and focus on the people involved, patrons and librarians alike. These theories help us highlight the often-overlooked effective aspects of librarianship and the amount of emotional labor that goes into it. Not only do I think that this work should be acknowledged and celebrated, but I believe effective qualities like empathy need to be fostered within librarians through education and training. I think how we work with patrons and students is just as important as the content we’re trying to teach them and empathy is integral to that, understanding their emotional processes in using the library is integral to that. So really I’m interested in exploring how empathy and something like the ethics of care can be incorporated not only into our instruction at the desk or in the classroom, but also in the training of librarians.

What are your favorite projects you’ve worked on?

My ongoing work in the Scholarly Commons revolves around undergraduate research here at the University of Illinois, which has taught me so much about collaboration between academic libraries and other units across campus. I’ve worked a lot on managing intake of undergraduate research work into IDEALS, our institution’s digital repository, and creating education materials around that for both students and faculty.

Additionally, I was able to spend time over the year designing and piloting a workshop on editing podcasts with the software Audacity. The workshop served as a collaboration between the Scholarly Commons’ Savvy Researcher workshop series and the Media Commons in the Undergraduate Library. It was a wonderful chance to learn about designing a workshop and the challenges that come with that, especially one so focused on technology. The process challenged me to think about the availability of the technology and how we could work with what we had; the role attendees of the workshop would have in actively contributing to their own learning; the accessibility of my lesson and materials; and, how to market it all. Getting to test it out this spring was incredibly rewarding. Overall it went really well and I was excited to get feedback to help improve it for the next time around!

What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend?

My favorite underutilized resource in the Scholarly Commons might be the space itself! Although this will change sometime in the future, right now we’re tucked away on the third floor of the Main Library. I think people who use the space genuinely love it—we have a lot of regulars. The space is really open for people to make what they want of it. If they need a quiet hideaway, this is great. If they need a place to work collaborate with others, there’s room for that too. Physically being in the space also allows people to see some of our other available resources—like our specialized software or our collection of books on data, programming, and research.

When you graduate, what would your ideal job position look like?

After graduation I am hoping to work as a Reference and Instruction Librarian in an academic library. I just want to be able to keep teaching people things, keep learning things myself, and be comfortable enough wherever I end up to finally adopt a dog. That’s the dream.

What is the one thing you would want people to know about your field?

You should never feel bad asking a librarian a question! I know it can feel awkward or weird, I’ve felt it too and I work in libraries. But librarians truly just want to help you with your problems, no matter how big or small. Stop by, give us a call, or chat with us online! We’re here for you

Our Graduate Assistants: Billy Tringali

This interview is part of a new series introducing our graduate assistants to our online community. These are some of the people you will see when you visit our space, who will greet you with a smile and a willingness to help! Say hello to Billy Tringali!

 


What is your background education and work experience?

I graduated summa cum laude from Bridgewater State University with dual majors in Anthropology and English and dual minors in Gender Studies and U.S. Ethnic/Indigenous Studies. I was able to gain a lot of great research experience during my undergrad, completing over a half-dozen funded research projects and speaking at nearly a dozen regional, national, and international conferences, which really made me fall in love with research.

After I graduated, I started working for Ventress Memorial Library and the Osterville Village Library Reference and Children’s Departments.

What led you to your field?

I’ve been volunteering in libraries since I was in the 5th grade, starting with my hometown library back in my home state of Massachusetts. I actually co-founded my library’s first Teen Advisory Board.

As a Reference Assistant I was happy to serve the diverse populations of these different towns, and as a Children’s Assistant I was able to aid in managing and developing collections that met the needs of children from 1 to 17! They were amazing experiences, and why I moved out here to pursue my Master’s in Library and Information Science.

What are your research interests?

I adore instruction, especially working with undergrads! Teaching students from a wide variety of backgrounds and getting students engaged with library resources has been so rewarding. I love looking into how information is presented and taught. I’ve been lucky enough to teach in our Savvy Researcher Series, so I’ve been able to get a lot of great experience there.

I’m also very interested in scholarly communication and publishing, which I think ties in well with my interest in engagement! From open-access to copyright, libraries are on the front of line of getting students connected with research and making sure information is available to them. We have the opportunity to present information and make it accessible, which is such a powerful thing.

What are your favorite projects you’ve worked on?

Working with undergraduate research. Teaching classes on presentation and assisting with finding/pairing resources felt so rewarding. Part of my work includes helping undergraduates create and manage their own academic journals, which was such an incredible combination of working with undergraduates and publishing!

Libraries can and should be engaged spaces of connection across departments, and entire universities.

What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend?

My work in the Scholarly Commons has also extended into collection development – so I’d say our reference collection! We keep a well-updated library of works about everything from qualitative research techniques to the digital humanities.

Stop by and check it out!

When you graduate, what would your ideal job position look like? 

I’d like to continue to work in an academic library. Working for both the Main Library’s reference and instruction service and the Scholarly Commons as a specialized library has taught me that I’m most interested in positions that allow for teaching and engagement.

What is the one thing you would want people to know about your field?

Libraries are for everyone. Libraries are doing so many things that there really is something here for everyone!

Our Graduate Assistants: Kayla Abner

This interview is part of a new series introducing our graduate assistants to our online community. These are some of the people you will see when you visit our space, who will greet you with a smile and a willingness to help! Say hello to Kayla Abner!

What is your background education and work experience?

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Classical Humanities and French from Wright State University in Dayton (Go Raiders!). My original plan was to teach high school French or Latin, but after completing a student teaching practicum, I decided that wasn’t for me. During undergrad and after graduation, I always wound up in a job role that involved research or customer service in some capacity, which I really enjoyed.

What led you to your field?

Knowing that I enjoyed working on research, I considered going back to school for Library Science, but wanted to be sure before taking the jump. It was always interesting to see the results of the research I helped conduct, and I enjoyed helping people find answers, whether it was a coworker or a client. After a visit to an American Library Association conference in 2016,  I fell in love with the collaborative and share-alike nature of librarianship, and was accepted to this program the next year!

What are your research interests?

Library science has so many interesting topics, it’s hard to choose one. But, I like looking at how people seek information, and how libraries can use that knowledge to enhance their services and resources. I’m a browser when it comes to book shelves, and it’s interesting to see how libraries are succeeding/failing at bringing that experience to the digital realm.

What are your favorite projects you’ve worked on?

I have two positions here in the library, one in the Scholarly Commons, and one working with our (current) Digital Humanities librarian, Dan Tracy. In both roles, I’ve worn a lot of hats, so to speak. My favorites have been creating resources like library guides, and assisting with creating content for our Savvy Researcher workshop series. Maintaining our library guides requires some experience with the software, so I enjoy learning new cool things that our programs can do. I also do a lot of graphic design work, which is a lot of fun!

Completing some of these tasks let me use some Python knowledge from my coursework, which is sort of like a fun puzzle (how do I get this to work??). I’m really interested in using digital methods and tools in research, like text mining and data visualization. Coming from a humanities background, it is very exciting to see the cool things humanists can do beyond traditional scholarship. Digital humanities is a really interesting field that bridges the gap between computer science and the humanities.

What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend?

Our people! They aren’t underutilized, but I love an opportunity to let campus know that we are an excellent point of contact between you and an expert. If you have a weird research question in one of our service areas, we can put in contact with the best person to help you.

When you graduate, what would your ideal job position look like?

I would love to work in an academic research library in a unit similar to the Scholarly Commons, where researchers can get the support they need to use digital methods and data in their research, especially in the humanities. There is a such a breadth of digital techniques that humanities researchers can utilize, that don’t necessarily replace traditional research methods. Distant reading a text puts forth different observations than traditional close reading, and both are equally useful.

What is the one thing you would want people to know about your field?

Librarians are happy to help you; don’t let a big desk intimidate you away from asking a question. That’s why we’re here!