v30#6 Biz of Digital — Out in the Library:  Digital Scholarship at an Art and Design School

by | Feb 18, 2019 | 0 comments

by Lisa Conrad  (Digital Scholarship Librarian, California College of the Arts, Meyer Library, 5212 Broadway, Oakland, CA PDF copy94618;  Phone: 510-594-3733) 

Column Editor:  Michelle Flinchbaugh  (Acquisitions and Digital Scholarship Services Librarian, Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 1000 Hilltop Circle, Baltimore, MD 21250;  Phone: 410-455-6754; Fax: 410-455-1598) 

Founded in 1907, California College of the Arts (CCA) is a private art and design school located in the San Francisco Bay Area, which educates students to shape culture and society through the practice and critical study of art, architecture, design, and writing.  Three libraries across the two campuses support faculty and students:

  • Meyer Library, on the Oakland Campus, focuses on fine arts, literature, and humanities and sciences titles;
  • Simpson Library, on the San Francisco Campus, caters to the architecture and design programs housed there, as well as to the graduate fine arts and comics programs;
  • The Materials Library, also housed in San Francisco, offers material samples for architecture and design, and reflects the current building and design markets with a particular focus on smart, emerging and sustainable materials and technologies.
  • A number of special collections — Artists’ Books, the Hamaguchi Study Print Collection, the Science Equipment Collection, and an Object Collection for Industrial Design, as well as the CCAC Archives round out our holdings.  

Studio classes make up the majority of course work at CCA, but academic courses provide a critical foundation for studio work.

As the first digital scholarship librarian for California College of the Arts, I’ve spent the past few years getting to know the programs, reaching out to faculty and program chairs, defining the Libraries’ digital scholarship offerings (https://libraries.cca.edu/services/instructional-services-technology/digital-scholarship), and engaged in discrete projects.  I have come to view digital scholarship, already an umbrella term (see What Is Digital Humanities?  here: https://whatisdigitalhumanities.com/), as a flexible, evolving space where the Libraries’ partner with faculty and students to engage with new technologies on project-based work.  In this column I’ll give an overview of the structures we’ve set up, software, some of the projects we’ve undertaken, and notions of the near future.

A few of my mandates entering this position were “to support and expand digital resources (with the Systems Librarian when appropriate), develop digital initiatives across the campuses, and collaborate with the Instructional Designer and Instructional Services Librarian…”

Early on I met regularly with our Instructional Designer Bobby White, who is based in the library, to understand the technologies they employ, ways in which they work with faculty, and the structures for working with faculty currently in place.  Bobby and I quickly discovered overlaps and grey areas between our positions;  over time, we’ve discussed and defined where the line falls between the instructional designer’s support of technology and the role of the digital scholarship librarian.

Leslie Townsend, an instructor in Visual Studies, approached us about creating an online pedagogical exhibition that first fall;  the three of us worked together on this project, choosing Twine, http://twinery.org, an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories as the platform.  Many weeks of work later, we arrived at African Art: A Pedagogical Hypertexted Journey (http://digitalscholarship.cca.edu/africanart/), which we displayed on an iPad in a kiosk in the library, along with African artifacts — learning objects used in Townsend’s classroom.  Bringing an iPad kiosk into the libraries to display online projects was one of my early initiatives;  I’ve continued to refine their use in the libraries. I am also the Exhibitions Manager for all of our libraries;  exhibitions and digital scholarship have dovetailed very nicely in a media-rich environment.

Bobby’s and my work together has evolved into our present formation as the Instructional Services and Technology Team (InST Team), with the addition of Instructional Services Librarian, Daniel Ransom.  The InST team offers a host of interconnected services, and is more easily identifiable to the community as a unit.  We offer a holistic pedagogical support package and can spread the word broadly about the range of services the team can provide.  We’ve also shifted from Google Forms to Salesforce, a more robust environment to track faculty engagements and share information with one another.

Graphic by Daniel Ransom

A multi-pronged approach guides our efforts:  faculty workshops, individual faculty consultations, single class sessions, embedded class support, cultivation of partnerships with some of the studio lab managers, such as with the managers of the Hybrid Lab (“a shared interdisciplinary space for making with innovative technology that is built around the principles of being open, fast, and inspiring.  Students have access to sensors, motors, and other digital fabrication materials.”).1

Faculty development workshops raise awareness of and teach new technologies but, equally important, let faculty know that the Libraries can actively partner with them in addition to the more traditional provision of resources.  I regularly teach an intro to digital scholarship workshop (the majority of our faculty don’t really know what digital scholarship is), and instruction on digital image resources and the use of ArtStor, and Scalar, an authoring and publishing platform designed to make it easy for authors to write long-form, born-digital scholarship online.

Through new-faculty orientations, faculty meetings, faculty-development workshops, one-on-one meetings with chairs, references from colleagues, and serendipitous interactions, I develop pedagogical partnerships with instructors, for both short-term and longer-term projects.  The Libraries’ spaces do not encompass a digital scholarship lab; CCA has many labs with a diverse set of equipment, from ceramic 3D printers to computer labs with ArcGIS installed.  The labs do, however, tend to cater to specific programs, and one of the goals that inspires me is to create interdisciplinary dialogue.

To give you a sense of the tech ecosystem here, following are some of the tools I use or plan to use in the near future in my work:

Digital-Scholarship-Related CCA and CCA Library Enterprise-Scale Software

Open-Source or Free Software


A Few of Our Digital Projects,
Both Completed and Ongoing

  • Digitization of our artists’ books collection and cataloging in VAULT  (https://bit.ly/2Kr1AI6) — a collaborative effort between the systems librarian, myself, one of our library technicians, who catalogs resources, and work-study students.  As part of the project, the systems librarian and I chose the Internet Archive’s open-source BookReader to integrate into VAULT to enhance the viewing experience.
  • Archiving of the Libraries’ exhibitions documentation in VAULT2 (https://bit.ly/2FBwL4z).
  • Digitization of faculty slides into ArtStor (and promotion of ArtStor at the college) — a small part of my work — on a project by project basis — though I promote the use of ArtStor in general as much as possible.
  • Spearheading the creation of an online exhibitions template in new Libraries’ website — a new project, currently in beta.  The exhibitions template will offer an enduring space to curate shows of special collections and showcase digital scholarship work.

A sampling of the projects on which I’ve worked:  a Digital Storytelling course in the graduate Writing and Literature program, where I taught Twine and Scalar to the students (they were introduced to a number of platforms), and hosted a showing of their final works in the library.  For a Craft Theory course, students were asked to curate online exhibitions of craft-based artists with social justice themes;  I introduced the students to Google Sites and hosted a show of their work on an iPad in the library.  For their senior thesis, Industrial Design seniors are required to spend a semester in intensive research;  one of their instructors and I experimented with Evernote and Airtable to capture and share their research.  The biggest endeavor I’ve undertaken is a pilot of iPad Pros and Apple Pencils with the Design Division, initiated by the Illustration Program, to augment their Digital Tools coursework.  In partnership with Apple, we demo’ed multiple apps, including Procreate, Adobe drawing and capturing apps, and Explain Everything.  This last academic year I project managed the pilot, as we rolled out exploration of the iPads into designated courses, collecting data, assignments, and student work, for learning objects and exhibition.  Over the summer, we transitioned the pilot into a service, which is in its first iteration this fall. What makes this project unique at CCA is the bundling of technology and pedagogy: when faculty seek to check out iPads and Apple Pencils, we ask that they meet with the Instructional Designer or myself to discuss their potential project, give them a toolkit of resources, offer an overview of the iPad to their students, and request their assignments and selected student work to continue building a repository for exhibits and reference across programs.

Near Futures (and Notes on Scaling)

One of the more challenging aspects of the job is one of scale;  since there’s just one of me, and the tech needs may change from semester to semester, I regularly find myself assessing what will be the most useful to the community.  If I focus on X, will it be at expense of Y? That said, the organic nature of collaborations has built strong relationships with both individuals and programs. Our library director, Annemarie Haar, has stepped into a new role as the Associate Vice President of Libraries and Creative Instructional Technologies;  already the Libraries’ relationship with Educational Technology Services is more integrated, which will support new ideas, bigger projects, and more streamlined collaborations.  


  1.  https://portal.cca.edu/learning/shops/hybrid-lab/, accessed November 16, 2018.  
  2.  We are in the process of digitizing a portion of each work, as allowable under Fair Use.  As of this writing, only one of the digitized artists’ books is freely viewable to the public, with the author’s permission.  A next effort will involve contacting authors and requesting permission to make the digital versions open and accessible.


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