Our "Day in the life" series featuring early career researchers continues with Brandon Locke, an MLIS student at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He holds an MA in History from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is interested in Digital Humanities, scholarly communication, and data curation.
Q. What is your area of research and why did you decide to pursue it?
A. Broadly speaking, my area of research and interest is the Digital Humanities. I became interested in DH at about the time I was applying for grad school in History. As I looked at current research and programs that interested me, I learned about emerging digital methods for investigating humanities questions, interrogating sources, and circulating research, and I knew I wanted to learn more. I decided to stay at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for my MA, and grew interested in other facets of DH. I became captivated by the implications and potential for humanities research projects that are immersive, interactive, and openly accessible to everyone. I began to see the role of information infrastructure in the field, and the role of libraries and librarians in the creation and curation of digital humanities research. After completing my MA in History, I enrolled in Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to focus more on the infrastructure and service side of DH. I’m still interested in emerging methods of research of course, but I’m focused more on access, preservation, and education.
Q. What does a typical day look like for you?
A. Every day is a bit different for me, which is something I love about where I am. The composition of my day varies a bit depending on deadlines and my most pressing responsibilities. I have a graduate assistantship at Grainger Engineering Library, and that position is split between project work and time at the reference desk. There is also a lot of variability in the kinds of tasks required for my library projects - it can range from thesis digitization to web development to conducting research for the library. I also have an hourly research position on a large digital humanities project at Illinois called Emblematica Online. In addition to these jobs, I have readings, research, coding, papers, and presentations to prepare for my coursework. Most days include a little of each of these types of work, and include at least a few hours at a coffee shop.
Q. What has been the most challenging part of pursuing your MSLIS?
A. The most challenging part is balancing my time and learning to say “no.” There’s such a great community here at Illinois, and a lot of organizations working on social justice, technology and librarianship, and any number of library specializations. They’re all doing great things and sponsoring really valuable programming- it’s my natural inclination to join and help organize things. There are so many opportunities for research and collaboration, and I want to volunteer for almost all of them. I have had to be really careful about drawing the line on my activities and ensuring that I can give my full attention to all of my commitments.
Q. What has been the most rewarding or exciting part?
A. Answering reference questions at the library is definitely the most immediately rewarding part of my experience in LIS. I know that most of the work I do throughout the day is intended to contribute to someone’s research success now or in the future, but it’s really satisfying to be able to directly connect someone with the information they’re seeking. I really enjoy the service aspect of my work, and I hope that I can maintain these direct interactions with researchers throughout my career.
Q. What advantages do researchers of your generation possess?
A.Access to digital resources is a huge advantage for researchers of my generation. Journal article databases are a boon to researchers across disciplines, and make it much easier to find relevant content. Digitized texts and full-text capabilities enable much of the cutting edge research in the humanities, and digital archival collections, newspapers, and open datasets make research considerably better, faster, and cheaper. However, I think there’s definitely a danger in relying too much on what’s accessible online. Researchers really need to interrogate the collections to make sure they know what’s included and what isn’t. Historians still need to travel to archives or conduct their own oral history interviews, not only because there are gaps in the digital collections, but also because it’s a valuable learning process. However, being able to access millions of articles and archival objects from your living room is definitely a benefit.
Q. What are the obstacles?
A. Tenure and promotion for young digital humanities scholars is a major issue at the present time. Tenure and promotion committees, especially in History, are used to seeing single-author monographs, not digital projects and collaborative scholarly output, and the process is dependent upon those artifacts of scholarship. The American Historical Association recently formed a Committee on Professional Evaluation of Digital Scholarship by Historians, which will create guidelines for collaborative scholarship, and scholarship in all different formats. A related issue is that of embargoes on open access electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs), which caused a stir last summer. Because humanities presses are accepting fewer projects, newly minted PhDs are embargoing their dissertations out of fear that presses will reject their derivative monographs. Scholars should make decisions about scholarly medium and openness based on what’s best for their scholarly output - they shouldn’t be so beholden to the strict and sometimes anachronistic requirements of tenure and promotion. While the AHA committee shows some hope for the future, it’s likely to be a slow and arduous process.
Q. How do you see libraries and publishers evolving in the future?
A. There are obviously a lot of areas of overlap for libraries and publishers, and I think everyone benefits if they can work together and collaborate on common goals. Digital curation of scholarship is an area for mutually beneficial collaboration in the future. There are some recent developments with enhanced HTML versions of articles that I think will be much better for future use by scholars, and I think that conversation needs to take place with both libraries and publishers at the table. Data publishing and data curation are emerging areas for publishers - especially in light of recent federal data access policies - and I think publishers could learn a lot from the mature models libraries have created.
Open access is an area where there is some contention between libraries and publishers, but I think there is some middle ground beyond the dichotomous rhetoric. I don’t think anyone is entirely pleased with either Green or Gold OA, and there are a few projects out there, like PeerJ and Knowledge Unlatched, that illustrate potential models for sustainable open access publishing.
Q. What do you hope to do after earning your MSLIS?
A. I’m particularly interested in the infrastructure development, project management, and curation side of DH. I would like to work on a several projects at a time and collaborate with others across the campus, and those jobs are typically in Digital Humanities centers and libraries. I’m fortunate to be beginning a new position this fall in the Michigan State History Department as a Digital Social Science and Humanities Specialist. I’ll be coordinator for a new initiative, LEADR (Lab for the Education and Advancement in Digital Research), and will aid in curriculum development to enhance digital research for undergraduate and graduate students.
Q. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
A. Well, in stereotypical graduate student fashion, I don’t have much free time. I do manage to get out of the house every now and again and socialize with other students in my program. I like to cook. I play basketball and I run and bike when the weather cooperates. I’ve spent a bit of time tinkering around in Makerspaces, and I really want to pursue that more in the future.