UTSC librarians pay it forward in new chapter on collaboration and digital humanities

UTSC Librarian Kirsta Stapafeldt and new book cover


Work in the digital humanities improves when we pay it forward.

This is the message from U of T Scarborough librarians and faculty in a chapter for new book, Quick Hits for Teaching with Digital Humanities: Successful Strategies from Award-Winning Teachers.

Quick Hits for Teaching with Digital Humanities is a collection of 24 articles that provides rich examples of bringing digital techniques from the arts, humanities, and social sciences into the classroom.

In their chapter, “Pay it Forward: Collaboration and DH Capacity Building at the University of Toronto,” UTSC librarians Kirsta Stapelfeldt, Chad Crichton and UTSC instructors Christine Berkowitz, Anne Milne, Alejandro Paz, Natalie Rothman and Anya Tafliovich share how digital humanities (DH) can be embedded in UTSC courses, focusing on instances where faculty partnered with the UTSC Library’s Digital Scholarship Unit (DSU).

We sat down with our very own Digital Scholarship Unit Coordinator Kirsta Stapelfeldt to learn more about this collaborative chapter, how the library’s digital scholarship unit supports inclusive research at UTSC, and finally, to get a look at exciting upcoming projects.


Please share more about this incredible chapter, “Pay it Forward: Collaboration and DH Capacity Building at the University of Toronto.” What is this chapter about?

Kirsta Stapelfeldt (KS): The chapter provides a brief window into our work with faculty around pedagogy and digital scholarship. For example, we describe our range of assignment design and how we’ve embedded digital scholarship in the classroom in the development of an open educational resource with something like Hogarth in Context, an online project where students go and annotate large images by the artist William Hogarth.

This chapter represents the spectrum of things that you might do with digital scholarship in the classroom. You might develop a collection. You might develop a learning resource. You might create a practical experience for people in future-facing, interdisciplinary research teams. There's a lot you can do.

The reason that it's called Pay it Forward is that all our collaborators were invested in developing reusable strategies for digital pedagogy.  All research is unique, but our approach doesn't always need to be unique.

What makes the library’s Digital Scholarship Unit an important part of this work?

KS: In the DSU we have a very strong eye on how we build infrastructure. What we found in working on this chapter is that UTSC faculty are very engaged and interested in sustainable digital scholarship and in building local infrastructure for digital scholarship. They're open to approaches where they use resources that they have through grant funding or in the classroom, TAs and others build things that can then be reused for other classes. For example, we have a number of open modules on digital scholarship pedagogy that came out of our work in the classroom. Those are being worked on even now with an updated suite to be released this year.

That’s what Paying it Forward means, you know.  You're working in the classroom, you're trying to get a certain result, but you're also very open to sharing the infrastructure and the tools that you've built so that other people are better able to build digital scholarship in the classroom.

What do you find is most misunderstand about work in the Digital Scholarship Unit?

KS: There are two things. First, our relationship with the Digital Humanities – I see digital humanities as a subset of digital scholarship. People working in digital humanities saw the need for a broader term that was more all-encompassing, and ‘digital scholarship’ is a broader term that includes disciplines outside of the humanities – a term that is still used!  Most of the people that are in the chapter are involved in what you would call the humanities or the interpretive social sciences.

Secondly, some also think that digital scholarship is very different from other library work, when digital scholarship actually reflects the heart of our continuing academic mission in the library. We help students understand information, and a lot of it is digital. We help you understand the tools by which you gather access, analyze, derive information wherever it is.  Yes, there are websites involved and yes, the tools look different, but a lot of the underlying methodologies and approaches have been around for a long time. We can help the library figure out how our collections function on the world wide web, and how our traditional functions translate into digital contexts.

For example, libraries are increasingly interested in collecting what is special in their local communities. There’s been an increase in digitizing those special collections and making them available on a global stage so that people internationally can understand what makes your institution unique. I feel that when we take 7,000 images that UTSC’s Ken Jones [now retired] photographed and we make them available online, we're showing the whole world what it is to be from this place.

What are some other upcoming projects coming from the Digital Scholarship Unit?

KS: We’re working with the rest of the library on refining an Emerging Professionals Program. We’re being very conscious about bringing in people from the UTSC Arts & Science Co-op program, bringing in recent graduates through the Young Canada Works Internship Program. We’re also working on better integration with the  U of T iSchool Practicum Program. The idea is to increasingly create opportunities for interdisciplinary research teams based in the library, so that not only can students get experiential learning, which is a cornerstone of the UTSC approach, but recent graduates can also get excellent and enviable things to add to their portfolio. Our faculty also get the experience of having additional capacity brought to their projects, because a lot of these individuals coming in, they can get real life experience about what it's like to work with the researcher's data or to work with a digitized special collection.

We're also right now in the process of building a data set that represents a lot of digital tools as well as open educational resources that's going to be tightly tagged and cataloged and all that information will be made available.

Finally, I'm very excited about The Legend of Ponnivala and the exciting collections we have coming up that were donated by Brenda Beck. We are so grateful to our benefactor Brenda Beck, who’ve given so much to the university through funds and her research papers. There’s a series of very beautiful animations that are going to be coming out to coincide with the republication of her graphic novels. Overall, a lot of our Tamil collections are getting to the point where we're going to be able to release them openly. So look out for that!