Dr. Danelle Moon, Project & Presentation Collaboration
Isa Hashim, Video Editing Collaboration

On June 21, 2012, Danelle Moon (Director of Special Collections at SJSU King Library) represented our collaborative efforts to bring undergraduate education into the realm of rare materials. Our presentation, “Original to Digital Surrogates: Using Rare Books in Student-Driven Digital Projects,” was one of two presentations at the Rare Book & Manuscript Pre-Conference Panel, “Future of Discussion and Outreach.”

Though I come from a library background, having worked briefly in Fales Library and, more importantly, fostered a lifelong love of rare books and manuscripts, presenting with Danelle Moon at the major conference for libraries seemed to be especially relevant to my scholarship and teaching. When our paper was accepted, I thought I would be able to take a brief trip to San Diego (just down the state), give half of the presentation, see the plenaries by notable Digital Humanists Bethany Nowviskie and Matthew Kirschenbaum (pdf), carouse with archivists and librarians, and jet home.

But, with the crisis in funding here in California (and, let’s face it, everywhere), I’ve had to make some hard decisions. With only $500 per year allotted for travel over the last seven years, I’ve been funding my own conference and research travel for long enough that it has caused a strain on my personal finances. In addition, after receiving tenure last year, I realized that paying to play in this field is not really a good practice, and it sets a bad example for future academics.  (We all pay for some things, but funding 4-5 conferences per year on my salary is not really feasible.) This also means that I spend a majority of my disposable income on work-related endeavors…hmmm. Over the last 6 months, I’ve paid close attention to articles on academic burnout and creating a work-life balance. When I return to teaching 4-4 in the Fall and the maelstrom that is the budget crisis, I’m going to need all the balance I can muster. After all, if I’m struggling, how can I be a good mentor to my students who are inevitably struggling with their own work-life-school balance?

BUT! There are wonderful solutions. And Digital Humanities offers such remedies. So, for the RBMS presentation, I sought alternatives, and quickly – video mashup of screencasts, screen captures, and voice-overs. The result, engendered by a lack of Internet connection at the conference hotel or I would have just Skyped into the entire thing, was what could be produced over the space of 4-5 days.  Since I live and work in Silicon Valley, I can’t walk 2 feet without stumbling upon software engineers, designers, and a bevvy of the technologically talented. It’s odd, though; industry doesn’t really mix with the academics, except at Stanford, I think because as academics, we don’t often ask. My local triathlon club is filled with these knowledgeable people who are happy to answer questions and lend a hand.

In academia in general, we give credit for all work, especially where it concerns public presentations. In Digital Humanities (my main field) we’ve been pushing to credit the work of technologists and collaborators to demonstrate that academic work is generated through a collective effort, not simply by an individual. It’s become increasingly important to acknowledge creative technology skills to demonstrate that technology can mediate the scholarship in ways that haven’t been explored in traditional Humanities. For that help, I asked Isa Hashim, a local software engineer, a few questions and suddenly a two-day, bloom and fade (a la Bethany Nowviskie) collaboration was created. Once he mentioned that certain things could be done with screen capture and splicing and then fixed the other issues with sound and visual consistency, the presentation itself became less about my reflections on teaching and more about the student experience — something that needed to be highlighted.

Indeed, when we were struggling with a video capture of student Pollyanna Macchiano’s and my bootcamp for THATCamp Pedagogy, I noticed during that presentation that I filled the pauses. Consequently, the video has a long interlude of me talking off mic/camera, totally usurping Pollyanna’s voice. Point taken. Keep m’ mouth shut (<–difficult for all teachers!).

The final version of my RBMS video demonstrates a move away from our normal type of conference presentation: a presenter reading a paper to an audience for 20 mins in person. With shrinking budgets and a need for better collaboration, the video also demonstrates that a scholar doesn’t need to physically attend all conferences in person (and pay for hotels & airfare) and, more importantly, seeking help on the technology can result in a fruitful collaborative product.

By crediting Isa Hashim, I want to reinforce that 1) Isa’s contribution to the video, even as a non-academic, was incredibly valuable to the ideas generated in the presentation; and 2) naming a collaborator signals the importance of technological skills even in the Humanities.

I narrate the above not as justification for my absence, but as a call to attention that sustaining the present situation for conference travel is untenable. And, I have to admit, there was a critical tweet during my video presentation stating that replacing live presenters with video is never engaging or interesting — I, of course, responded because I was monitoring Twitter, and explained the situation and then stayed on Twitter to answer questions from the audience. It was quite fun in the end, and I learned some lessons about video composition, performance, and technological mediation that I can now take to my students next year. What was the difference between video performance and my live performance? I would have been funny, of course.

…and with that, my portion of the RBMS video with nods to the Beard-Stair Project group, Stephen Ramsay, Julie Meloni, Bibliotech 2011, student projects, Re:Humanities 2012.