Category Archives: projects

Bringing rare books to a prison classroom

Just like I did for my recent rare book and beer pairing event, I wanted to share a few quick thoughts about the work I’ve been doing with incarcerated scholars in the hopes that it’s helpful for other rare books/museums folks who want to include prisons in their outreach iniatives. I have a million other thoughts about how amazing and challenging it is, but this post is just for quick outreach take-aways.

Why do this?

By now it’s no secret that my goal in life is to bring rare books (and museum artifacts in general) to people who want to learn from them but have never been given the opportunity (serving underserved populations, if you want to use field lingo). When I think about a population that is underserved in pretty much every possible way, I think of people who are incarcerated. Many current and former prisoners can’t vote, have limited access to educational resources in prison, and have trouble finding work or funding for an education once they are released. This is in addition to the fact that few prisons offer meaningful programming that discourages recidivism, even though such programs (like Common Good, or like this rehabilitation work) are effective and badly wanted by prisoners.

Capture

One of the books I used in my presentation. Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning Two Chief World Systems, 1641.

 

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Not so rare any more: Reaching new special collections audiences through unlikely collaborations

I just finished giving a presentation for NFAIS on building expanding audiences and empowering community members through unlikely collaborations. The audience, as well as Marcie who was the moderator/cat wrangler/problem solver, were all fantastic and I had a great time chatting with them. I wanted to offer a few highlights from the talk for folks who weren’t able to attend but who are thinking about their own outreach programs.

NB: I focused on rare books since that’s the area I work in, BUT these guidelines could be used for outreach with all sorts of artifacts across many cultural heritage institutions.

Why talk about this? Because outreach is critical for increased access and community empowerment

  • Special collections historically very exclusive
    • Often limited to those doing research or in academic/special library settings
    • Historically excludes those without access to education and other resources
    • Often we do not reach beyond these walls, meaning most potential visitors are not aware of what we have to offer.
  • Physical access is also an issue (e.g. can someone get to campus? Do they need a certain ID or enrollment/employment status to use your services?)
  • Even for those who have access, perceived access may be a totally different matter. Special collections often feel intimidating for the uninitiated, and concerns about whether one has access or what expectations are in a special collections environment can overshadow the desire to engage with collections and programs.  

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Dissertation Link + Updates

I defended my dissertation on May 29th (the day before my birthday!), and since then it’s been quite the thrill ride over here. I’ve moved to Atlanta and started a job as Rare Books Curator at Kennesaw State University, bought a house, and am doing tons of awesome work (as well as some fun travel). I have a new book in the works (two, actually) that deal with culinary history and Colonial England, exhibits, and lots of other things that I’ll share more detail about later. For now, here’s the link to my dissertation, now that I’ve graduated and it’s gone live. I also just had an article based on my dissertation accepted in Library Quarterly, so that’s great news too! It’s crazy to think it’s been almost a year since I defended (and about 10 months since I ended my panic-inducing job search). I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store for me!

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Cats in Space!

The Cats in Space app is a part of the Earth as Art Space Apps Challenge. You can read more about what our plans were for the project at its start using the first link, but now that we’re drawing to a close we wanted to share what the completed project looks like!

The Cats in Space Project

Our project includes several components that we’re bringing together to promote engagement and offer a fun (and hopefully educational) experience to users:

Social media
We’ve got a subreddit and a Flickr group set up and have included example images we’ve located to give users a sense of the kind of things they might find and to generate interest in participation. The subreddit currently pulls from images we placed on Imgur (which hopefully will increase the reach of our project as well), but eventually may include links to other sites as more user submissions are added.
Our project has received a lot of attention on other social media channels (namely Facebook and Twitter) as well, and we’ve heard from a variety of users worldwide (including, but not limited to, other Space Apps participants). It’s been a lot of fun, and a good number of folks have responded to our updates, retweeted us, and told us what a cool project we’re doing. I even got a PM on Reddit from one person at NASA telling me that he and a few colleagues were hunting for cats, which made me pretty excited.

The interest we’ve generated will hopefully be sustained through gameplay and through additional interactions on Flickr, Imgur, and Reddit as more people use the app, and find and add photos to the groups. We chose both these platforms as they each have different user bases, allowing us to further extend our reach across multiple audiences.

Web App
Using the idea of gamification, our goal was to create an app that would get people to engage with satellite imagery created by NASA. The Cats in Space web app (link coming soon!) presents satellite images of earth and deep space images to users who upvote or downvote based on whether or not the image looks like a cat. If they find a cat, the can share the image on the subreddit or Flickr group. Now that we’ve generated interest in our hashtag and are increasing our following online, we can embed the link to the web app in our image descriptions for easy access and to encourage play the instant someone sees and image and becomes interested in the project. The fact that new images are added regularly to the NASA Flickr accounts we’ve identified means that ongoing game players are less likely to encounter only the same images during repeat play.

User submissions 
People can definitely submit things to the photo pools using the web app, but we also encourage users to submit images they find outside of the app as well. We’ve already begun to see this happen on Reddit, and hope it’s a trend that continues!

Why do this?

NASA has huge stores of amazing, publicly-available imagery, but the folks who are going to actively seek it out are probably the ones who are really interested in that stuff to begin with. Creating a fun activity out of these images has the potential to bring in viewers who might not normally engage with the images, and even teach people who already love NASA images some fun new information (I love looking at satellite images, and I learned a lot through sustained engagement with them while hunting for sample images!)

Using a game that’s simple, appropriate for all ages, and encourages imaginative engagement with imagery is a good way to bring the images to nearly any audience (except maybe people who really don’t like cats), so it could be great to use in schools or as a leisure activity. Since the interface is simple, users don’t have to have much technical expertise to interact with it, which makes even more accessible to a wide range of people. Since our project (like all the Space Apps projects) will have publicly-available code, we’re hoping it might also be a resource for other developers who are looking to create this type of game.
Using a fun game to highlight the images will hopefully be an enjoyable educational resource, but will also help make users more aware of some of the great work NASA is doing to document our beautiful planet and universe.

We learned a lot doing this project, and I’m sure we’ll be blogging about that soon, but for now, we hope you enjoy the app and the photos—be sure to tell us what you think on Twitter, Reddit and Flickr!

 

Our team includes:

Abby Philips (@abigailleigh)

Jeff Chatham (@khhaaannnn)

Julia Skinner (@BookishJulia)

 

 

 

 

 

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My 100th Post, and a Big Announcement!

In honor of my 100th post on this blog, I’d like to share the announcement I just made about the topic of my second book! I asked readers to vote on one of two topics (early modern English desserts or gardening practices), and I would work on modernizing the one they chose. Well, readers responded, and they chose…

Gardening!

Thanks to everyone who voted–I’m thrilled to start working on it! You can read the full announcement here.

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Cat Librarian Calendar is now available!

Earlier this year, I posted about the Cat Librarian Calendar I helped put together. Well, now it’s available to sale, and all proceeds go to Project Gutenberg. Pick up your copies here in time for the holidays!

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