Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Modern Language Association in Los Angeles

The MLA annual convention has moved from its habitual, dreadful time of Dec 26-29 to the first week in January! Hooray! The date change was accompanied by some other much-needed shifts in the culture of this convention: wifi throughout the conference site, lots of tweeting and blogging, and a special day of sessions devoted to the theme of "The Academy in Hard Times."

I organized a round-table for this special session, aimed at bringing to the attention of language and literature faculty and grad students some of the library issues that impact them (whether they know it or not). Our round-table was called "Meeting in the Library: Academic Labor at the Interface." Five presenters gave "lightning talks" followed by 30-40 minutes of conversation. Our presenters covered a range of interesting topics: what faculty can do to support humanities monograph acquisitions in their libraries through the design of their classroom activities and assignments; what kinds of data humanities faculty produce that they need to think about preserving--and how working with a digital collections curator can help; what kinds of skills librarians need to develop to support the new library spaces that are being designed around changing faculty and student research needs and habits; how teaching with rare books revitalizes literature pedagogy (that was me); what it is like to be involved in a college-wide curriculum renovation project as a CLIR post-doc based in the library. During the discussion (in an audience composed of faculty, grad students, librarians, "alt-ac" folks and digital humanists), two salient points emerged: 1) some (many?) humanities faculty still do not understand the basics about the costs of scholarly communications and need to be educated about this issue in ways that speak specifically to their situations; 2) if librarians want to know what humanities faculty need as researchers and teachers, they should work with faculty as faculty, ie, teach in departments.

I also attended the inaugural meeting of a brand-new MLA discussion group, "The Library and Literary Research." After appointing an executive committee, we will be able to propose sessions at future MLA meetings and have an official voice in the organization. This group thus provides one avenue for continuing the conversation on the topics that our session raised.

In addition to attending quite a few MLA panels and talks, learning what literature scholars are thinking about these days, I was invited to participate in a day-long meeting about collaboration in the digital humanities, which was convened by a group of about 20 faculty, librarians and technology specialists from across the country. It is increasingly clear that faculty involved in the digital humanities view librarians as their best allies, but that everyone finds it difficult to pursue common goals because of traditional role restrictions that have been exacerbated by economic hard times.

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