NCSU exhibits an exclusive collection of beautifully captured photographic images that is shown in the James B. Hunt Jr. library.
But this particular exhibit isn’t an acquired photography collection from some hoity toity famous photographer. It isn’t featured behind a glass exhibition cabinet under lock and key, with a security guard watching your every move.
Instead, the library is showcasing Instagram photography created by their own library users, who are capturing images and sharing them via the hashtag #huntlibrary.
In turn, these photographs are uploaded to a digital photography exhibit that is beautifully showcased, and reflected back to the image’s creators and their peers (yes, the photos are vetted first to make sure there’s nothing… untoward… being showcased against a gigantic wall of the library. *Adjusts pearls*).
This initiative is so utterly beautiful, for a variety of reasons.
- Students’ creative works are celebrated in a highly visible campus space, which itself is a gorgeous, user-centered place.
- Students become invested in this installation, and they see the tangible ways in which their creative output is viewed, shared, and celebrated by their institution and their peers.
- By extension, they take ownership of the space itself, and feel a sense of commitment to, and investment in the library.
- The genre of creative work the library has chosen to showcase is incredibly democratic, so it’s easy for anyone to participate. No Fine Arts degree required. If you don’t have a smartphone, just check out a tablet device from the library, and snap away.
- The library becomes a space not just for learning, studying, and accessing scholarship, but for fostering student community.
- Oh, and the pictures are just plain gorgeous! Though that’s pretty easy when you’re creative muse is a place like the Hunt Library.
The library takes this thing SERIOUSLY. There’s a competition where images battle to be voted crowd favourite (go vote!). They’re also undertaking a digital archiving project to harvest and preserve social media output from this collection.
This is huge for students, and signals to library users the value their creative output has to the institution. By archiving and making available these images in the university’s special collections or archives, it empowers students to tell their stories and define what will become the history of the library, the school, and the student community, for time immemorial. It gives their contributions not only an immediate hit of celebrity, but legitimises these contributions by making them available in the long-term.
More beauty, all around.
Libraries are traditionally places where students come to have their brains filled up with the ideas of others: Scholars, experts, people who use fanciful writing and carry fanciful degrees. People who matter, people who’s creative output is legitimised by the fact that they’ve been published in academic journals and books. The gulf between novice scholar and expert scholar is vast, and the place of student output and student ideas is clear: They don’t *really* matter. If they did, they’d have a published book on the shelf too. Instead, they’re churning out papers that we demand get processed through Turnitin before they get marked and die a lonely death on an LMS somewhere.
Mercifully though, this is no longer as true (and really, was never ever truly true to begin with, I’m just being polemic guys, c’mon). Today, in fact, libraries are grappling more and more with scholarship that’s not on the shelves already, but which is being produced by our own communities. Mostly this focuses on faculty and grad student output, but there’s room for our undergrads too. Schools are providing richer experiential education opportunities across the disciplines, where students have the spaces to create new, original discoveries (in the most inclusive sense of the term “original”). It’s our job to support these initiatives and then celebrate the hell out of those discoveries.
The age-old student research fair. I was involved in organising our student research fair last year and it was so wildly fulfilling. Our. Students. Are Brilliant. Bet yours are too. It’s not new, and it’s not rocket surgery, but providing lots of opportunities for students to hone their academic and career skills in real-life ways, and then creating a venue in which to showcase and celebrate their works, is A Good Thing.
So too are installation spaces that showcase the creative output of project-based classes, be they visual arts, graphic design, or something less obvious like marketing or history, providing spaces in your library to exhibit student work signals to these students that they matter and we’re proud of them. And with emerging ways that faculty are teaching by leveraging the digital (i.e. digital humanities courses), being poised to showcase students’ digital projects and work will become increasingly in demand (see also: my rant about having fancy digital screens in your library).
And where I see libraries being very uniquely positioned to support student scholarship, is through services focused on support for students publishing their research findings (in student journals, academic journals, trade magazines, whatever), and through support for the creation of new student journals locally. Such opportunities provide ways and depths of learning that you simply cannot get in a traditional classroom lecture (I know this because I was foolish enough to do it once and my God it was a ton of work, but man did I learn a crap-ton about editorial content, peer-review, deadlines, and managing editorial teams). If legitimacy of ideas is acquired by being able to point to a fancy article with your name on it, well… that’s what we’re giving our students by supporting these initiatives.
And what about… Makerspaces!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
<cue collective eye roll because aren’t makerspaces the new Second Life> Maybe academic makerspaces will die on the vine. Maybe they’ll redefine higher education forever. I’m no Library Futurist, what do I know? And I GET it, I get it, you’ve got chunks of insulation falling out of your ceiling and all of a sudden your AVP can’t stop talking about how you need a 3D printer. I understand the eye roll, I do. The magpie approach to strategic decision making strikes again.
But through the lens of “student as creator of new knowledge and not just recipient of other people’s knowledge”, makerspaces fit beautifully, whether you like it or not, ya grump (maybe you’re a grump, maybe I’m just talking to the grump that lives in my brain, I dunno). The maker ethos of learning by doing, exploration through prototyping, and the empowerment that comes from making a thing and seeing it work is incredible. It’s empowering to learn about how circuitry works. It’s inspiring to see an object come to fruition from a CAD file you created.
I visited Portland Community College’s makerspace last summer on a roadtrip, and saw a vital space where students were hanging out, geeking out, breaking things, putting them back together, learning new skills, learning from each other, and taking pride in the outcomes of their work.
And though the PCC makerspace has had many successful curricular integration across the disciplines, I use the word “work” here loosely… one student was building an LED light-up bow tie to wear at his convocation ceremony. If memory serves, it was hot pink and lit up like a Christmas tree via a power pack in his shirt (If that’s not a #wearable strategy, I don’t know what is). I saw another student whipping around battery-powered paper airplanes but I ducked so no librarians were harmed. Providing the spaces, support, technologies and resources to facilitate that kind of passion and genuine enthusiasm in our students is enticing, even for grumpy curmudgeons like me and you, eye rolls and all.
Which brings me full circle: There’s a big learning curve in mastering a laser cutter, or launching a student journal, or presenting a research poster. All worthy, and noble, and needed things on a vibrate campus, no question. But what the NCSU Instagram project facilitates is another opportunity for any student at any time to become a creator of something new and original, and which is celebrated by their institution. It uses an app many students are already comfortable with, and one that makes creative photography an easy thing to share.
And that’s why I think it’s so beautiful.