Archives, Libraries + Databases, Take Three

Little Free Libraries, via the Architectural League of NY
Little Free Libraries, via the Architectural League of NY 

This coming week I’ll begin teaching my Archives, Libraries + Databases class for the third time (the embedded link will take you to our course website). Much remains the same from previous iterations, but there’s some new stuff, too.

Once again, we’re visiting the NYC Municipal Archives and the Morgan Library. We’re also going back to the Reanimation Library in Gowanus, Brooklyn — but this year we’re pairing that visit with another to the nearby Interference Archive. I’ve also incorporated some timely (and fun) blog posts from the NYPL’s excellent Archives Blog and the Library of Congress’s equally excellent Signal blog on digital preservation. I’ve added a bit on lifelogging; citizen archiving; digital art preservation; the New Museum’s XFR STN project, which explored format transfer; and the Library of Congress’s awesome Packard campus for AV conservation. I was never entirely satisfied with the readings I had chosen for our classification unit — so this year I’ve swapped in some next texts recommended by wonderful folks like Jefferson Bailey, Kari Kraus, Trevor Owens, and Miriam Posner (thanks to all of you!).

I’m also really looking forward to a forthcoming article by Scott Sherman in The Nation on the controversy surrounding the NYPL’s proposed renovation. Scott and I have been in contact on this issue for the past year — and I imagine his piece will help to provide my students (and me!) with a comprehensive and thoughtful approach to the debate.

I’m also excited to integrate programming at The New School related to the first Vera List Center Prize winner, artist Theaster Gates. My class will be exploring the library and archive at Gates’ Dorchester Projects in Chicago.

There are a few things I’m still mulling over: our last week in particular — on “database aesthetics” — has yet to take its final form. There are lots of interesting directions we could take this discussion, so I might just wait to see what the students are interested in before settling on an approach.

Finally, one of our big innovations this year is an extension of the fall seminar into a hands-on studio in the spring. Next semester, I’ll be teaching a “Digital Archives + Institutional Memory” course, in which we’ll build on the critical historical, theoretical, and technical foundation we’ll lay in the fall in order to put our theory into practice. As I write in a preliminary draft of the course description, we’ll be “working with The New School’s Libraries and Archives to develop the institution’s digital archives. The specific form of our hands-on project(s) will take shape through our discussions in the Fall class, and will respond to student interest and institutional need. Our work might involve:

  • creating interactive narratives that highlight already-digitized materials in TNS’s archives;
  • contributing to the Archives’ digitizing and cataloguing efforts;
  • collaborating with TNS faculty to piece together the histories of particular programs or departments – by gathering relevant documents, creating oral histories, etc.;
  • helping the Library understand how various users might engage with the institutional archive, and contributing to the development of user-friendly interfaces to the archival material….”

I’ll definitely be welcoming outsider input in the design of this spring class. If you have recommendations, please get in touch. I’m sure I’ll be contacting some of you to ask you to stop by in the spring to share your expertise!

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