Digital Scholarship @ The Libraries

Inspiring innovative digital scholarship at the OSU Libraries and beyond

Category: Engaged librarianship

Engaged librarianship: Learning through teaching Japanese manga

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two posts on engaged librarianship by Maureen Donovan, the Japanese Studies librarian at OSUL. In the first post (Digital scholarship as a tool for engagement), Maureen explored the ability of digital tools to increase engagement when used as part of active listening.

Developing a research collection of Japanese comics (manga), I was baffled by the sheer volume of these popular culture artifacts coming out annually. Not knowing how to choose among so many, I organized a freshman seminar, “Analyzing the Appeal of Manga,” to investigate which works are likely to have lasting value. My role was to organize the seminar, with students bringing questions each week to discuss with each other. Is it the art? The characters? The stories? What’s important in this work and why do we care what happens? As I listened to their discussions, criteria for determining quality (usually relating to great storytelling and character development) became clearer and I found myself pulled into further engagement in this field. Among other things, I learned how savvy students are at sharing and accessing these works online. In the context of global youth culture the students knew about a new Japanese publication or film within hours, while impressive online encyclopedias and bibliographies made it easy for them to research existing works. Of course, one cannot ignore such issues as copyright infringement through “scanlations” and other controversial aspects of global youth culture. Still, the information skills that these students had developed through interest in manga or anime prepare them for participation in the “global information society.” Meanwhile, I learned a lot about manga during the six times I taught that course, providing a foundation for my engagement in this field that continues to evolve.

With an eye toward developing the scholarly potential of the manga collection, I found myself drawn into investigating the origins of manga in Japan, because I knew that eventually people would want to delve into how these brilliant cartoonists learned their craft. Who were their teachers? Where did all this creativity come from? Inevitably those researchers have started using the collection I am building. As I meet with them, I hear about problems they encounter in doing research using manga as primary research materials, which leads me further into active engagement, building resources to support them. That’s how the project to index the issues of Jiji Manga, a 1920s newspaper cartoon Sunday supplement that I have been collecting, was initiated. Fortunately I had the assistance of a wonderfully talented graduate student, Hyejeong Choi, who actually did the work of indexing. That index is now one of the “most popular” pages on the library’s wiki, with over 73,000 views on the main page, in addition to thousands of views for each of the over 500 pages for individual issues. Researchers worldwide as well at at Ohio State use this index to study Japanese history, early manga, culture of the 1920s and many other topics.

Working with manga also brought me into greater awareness of the global flow of information, which led to developing a course on Understanding the Global Information Society with Miriam Conteh-Morgan, and teaching it in International Studies. That course is built around questions too: What is information?, What is a globally networked information society?, How are work and play being transformed in today’s global information society? As a teacher my role is to construct a learning environment where students explore those questions, but as they report on their projects my awareness grows apace. I find myself bringing what I learn about the evolving global scholarly ecosystem through teaching this course — and listening to my students’ reports — to discussions when I meet faculty and other researchers in the course of my work as Japanese Studies Librarian. There’s a continuum of engagement between teaching and research, all revolving around the new knowledge creation and sharing processes that form the basis of today’s global information society.

Digital scholarship as a tool for engagement

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-post series on engaged librarianship by Maureen Donovan, the Japanese Studies librarian at OSUL. The second post will focus on Maureen’s experience collecting, teaching, and creating tools for the study of manga (Japanese comics).

In his post about engaged librarians, Craig Gibson described a “collaborative landscape of scholarly method and practice”. I realize the key for participating in this for me always involves active listening. Of course when scholars discuss research findings or explain the subjects they are studying it can be fascinating, but I find myself pulled into more active engagement when they start mentioning things like the pitfalls they face, work-arounds they devise, or frustrations they encounter in the course of research. Active listening involves asking questions. I press for more details, want to know the circumstances, ask for their ideas about potential solutions, wonder how many others face the same problems. And, being the Japanese Studies Librarian, I often respond by developing resources for the Japanese studies wiki.

A specific example is a page on Japanese photography resources created when someone mentioned how hard it was to find such books in the library’s catalog. I collected some citations, thereby “curating” content held in different library collections at Ohio State. By responding to this specific need with an openly accessible wiki page — rather than a private email communication — the possibility of wider impact opens up. Lately there is a lot of interest in visual information; still, I am simply amazed when I realize that this wiki page has received over 19,000 views so far. Truly, my listening and responding to one scholar’s needs by collecting/curating some citations brought me into engagement (however superficial) with many others.

Does creating online resources like the wiki change or increase my engagement? Indeed it does! On a daily basis I use new technologies (especially wiki and twitter, as well as blogging) to bring library resources, databases, web resources to the attention of people who might be interested and this has really increased my engagement. In the past it might have been enough to select a book and let it wait on the shelf until someone picked it up. Now it seems that acquiring and cataloging resources are only initial steps that enable the possibility of engagement. But only by proactively pursuing opportunities to connect researchers with our materials, following up on careful listening during conversations, can it begin.

In 2010 Janice Mutz and John Dupuis gave a talk on “Our Job in 10 Years: The Future of Academic Libraries” at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference in which they threw out a question which is very relevant to the topic of librarian engagement. They asked, “When you see a great big room full of books, do you see it as something alive or as something dead?” I find that using wiki, blog and twitter to promote or curate content makes it come “alive” and brings me into active engagement with people, into connecting resources with researchers.

Engaged Librarians Support Digital Scholarship

We continue to have many discussions in the Libraries at OSU about ways in which librarians can engage with scholars during various phrases of their work. The idea of engaging with various parts of the scholarly process–whether through bringing original source materials or data to the attention of faculty, assisting them with specialized tools that make the scholarly process more efficient, helping them connect with other scholars as a way of deepening collaboration, or showcasing the results of their work on library-sponsored web sites or in physical exhibits -engaged librarians find opportunities to offer their knowledge of collections, archives, exhibits (physical or virtual), software tools, and self-publishing opportunities to faculty (and more advanced students as well).

However, engaged librarians will refine this basic pattern of interaction with faculty (and students) through more finely attuned attention to scholarly methods that employ digital technologies. They will offer assistance (with other experts) in specialized software tools for geospatial and textual analysis, in order to understand patterns of meaning across space and time; they will build virtual spaces (blogs, portals) which allow collaboration among scholars and sharing of emerging research ideas; they will participate in virtual communities of practice and virtual research environments, offering suggestions about data sources and options for data mining; they will promote awareness of rights issues involved in repurposing digital objects found on the Web; and they will make scholars aware of specialized disciplinary and interdisciplinary repositories of digital materials. The touchstone is  competence with research methods made possible by digital technologies and information resources. More generally, it is the construction of a collaborative landscape of scholarly method and practice, specialized techniques, appropriate software tools, and curated content that marks a *programmatic approach* to digital scholarship for engaged librarians.  When a programmatic approach to supporting digital scholarship develops, individual librarians become more expert with the entire lifecycle of research and the tools and resources that support it, and are proactive in collaborating with colleagues within and beyond the library in creating a suite of services that match the needs of a faculty member working on a grant proposal, a group of faculty mentoring a student research team involved in a service learning project in the local community, or an interdisciplinary collaborative conducting geolocation studies of historical sites across a region.  “Engagement” can take many forms, but in supporting digital scholarship, it is always seeking to expand beyond the known collection, artifact, or practice into an accelerated, more integrated set of services.