CIVIC X Brown University “Theory to Practice: Context-Aware Systems Symposium”

Photo by Daniel Öberg on Unsplash

Over the course of two days — Friday and Saturday, March 10 – 11, 2023 — CIVIC X Brown University will offer the Theory to Practice: Context-Aware Systems Symposium in the Patrick Ma Digital Scholarship Lab at the Rockefeller Library. Additionally, the keynote will be made available to the public via live stream. Registration is required for both (see program below for registration links).

The CIVIC X Brown University “Theory to Practice: Context-Aware Systems Symposium” is sponsored by Data Science Initiative, Department of Africana Studies, and Brown University Library.

Context-Aware Systems

Context-Aware Systems is an active practice that considers how infrastructure can contain and evolve situated knowledge, and seeks to more deeply understand and clarify embedded assumptions which can distort the structures, interpretations, and impacts of data. 

The purpose of the Theory to Practice Symposium is to reach beyond discourse and criticism of the current landscape of data and ethics to offer tangible principles, methodologies, and frameworks while building a multidisciplinary collaboration environment for participants to experience what more equitable approaches to technology creation feels like in action.

Structure 

The Symposium will span two days, comprising four in-person sessions of three hours each. Sessions combine lecture presentations and applied lab activities which ground theories of contextual technology development through curated learning examples. Examples of learning material may include case studies, real datasets, dataset imaginaries, schema samples, simulated project environment elements, and hypothetical or gamified scenarios. 

No prerequisites are needed to participate in any workshop, and they are designed to create the most value for multidisciplinary faculty and graduate students interested in both conceptual and practical approaches to centering equity in data and technology initiatives.

PROGRAM

Friday, March 10 – Register for this day [link coming soon]

  • 8:30 to 9:15 a.m. – Continental Breakfast
  • 9:15 – 9:30 a.m. – Welcome and Opening Remarks
  • 9:30 – 10:15 a.m. – Keynote – Register for the online keynote [link coming soon]
  • 10:15 – 10:30 a.m. – Break
  • 10:30 a.m. -12 p.m. Session #1:
    • Lecture: Architectures of Friction and Flattening  
    • Lab: “Les Deliverables” 
  • 12 – 1:30 p.m. – Lunch 
  • 1:30 – 3 p.m. Session #2:
    • Lecture: Data Constituent Engagement
    • Lab: “Data-Driven Gaslighting” 
  • 3 to 3:15 p.m. – Break
  • 3:15-3:30 p.m. – Closing Remarks
  • 5 – 7 p.m. – Dinner offsite

Saturday, March 11 – Register for this day [link coming soon]

  • 9:30 to 10:15 a.m. – Continental Breakfast
  • 10:15 – 10:30 a.m. – Opening Remarks
  • 10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. Session #3:
    • Lecture: Beyond Performative Dashboards
    • Lab: “Dashboard Glow Up”
  • 12 – 1:30 p.m. – Lunch 
  • 1:30 – 3 p.m. Session #4:
    • Lecture: Remediating Bias With Contextual Metadata
    • Lab: “Hansel and Gretel Bias” 
  • 3 to 3:15 p.m. – Break
  • 3:15-3:30 p.m. – Closing Remarks
  • 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. – Closing Reception

Full descriptions of the sessions:

Session #1: Architectures of Friction and Flattening 

March 10 // Friday Morning (Kick-off) 

Lecture Abstract 

This workshop challenges assumptions of techno-solutionist narratives while presenting alternate ways of thinking about technology that embrace intersectional representation and lived experience. Shifting from the mindset that data are objective and neutral, we recognize that cultural and environmental factors can have profound impacts on how we perceive information. 

Framing “context” as a learned discipline and set of core competencies connected to every stage of the data lifecycle, this session will present strategies for leaning into constraints and limitations of data and bring attention to what is lost in the gap between reality and what can be captured by information structures. We will invite participants to imagine (and experience) how processes that center equity and impact not only improve industry-standard models, but are intrinsically necessary to break barriers and achieve the next stage of modern innovation. 

Interactive Lab Component: “Les Deliverables” 

An experiential game which simulates the experience of building an equity-based software product. The scenarios (dramatic, thrilling, and sometimes treacherous) are based on composites of real case studies and projects, inviting players to make choices and allocate resources at pivotal moments along a technology development lifecycle while balancing conflicting priorities and emerging developments. Participants will work in teams to “win the game” by completing their project on time, on budget, with positive community impact while avoiding catastrophic mistakes that can make a deliverable fail. 

The goal of the game is for participants to: 

  • Notice how seemingly abstract principles show up tangibly in action 
  • Ground an understanding of how equity and ethics are bedrock practices, not optional or last-minute add-ons 
  • Have fun while covering a wide variety of examples and strategies in a storytelling format 

Objectives 

Participants who are new or skeptical to conversations of an equity-bedrock technology approach: 

  • Acknowledge that data is inherently limited, and understand that examining blindspots and documenting constraints makes data more valuable 
  • Consider how identity and representation can be fractured and flattened by datasets and underlying structures 
  • Perceive how purposeful or unintentional decisions within technology infrastructure can contribute to surveillance and/or conditions of selective oppression
  • Critically examine the “build fast and break things” model and expand perspective on the impact of technology beyond its creator 

Advanced participants with experience and expertise related to the subject areas: 

  • Gain new vocabulary and concepts that directly apply to their work and way of thinking
  • Be able to tap into context-competencies to make strides toward equitable outcomes
  • Feel validated and inspired that success is achievable with the friction required to do this work in the wild 

Session #2: Data Constituent Engagement 

March 10 // Friday Afternoon 

Lecture Abstract 

This workshop expands on concepts from traditional human-centered design to include the role of “data constituents,” defined as people represented in, or impacted by datasets or their lifecycle. This approach differentiates data constituent roles and value propositions from that of the “user” or “business stakeholder” and offers new participatory strategies that strengthen the integrity of technical systems and ethical impacts. 

This session presents examples and case studies which illustrate how strategic engagement with data constituents is not a marketing or PR strategy, and can measurably inform data structures, validation cycles, and interpretation of analytics. 

Interactive Lab Component: “Data-Driven Gaslighting” 

Participants will critically examine the human side of data pipelines and power structures, noticing who is included and excluded. Focusing on questions of information provenance, we investigate the culture of confidence in data-driven decision making with special emphasis on elusive ways that confidence may be misplaced when key constituents are left out of the process and the structures of accountability are not properly in place. 

Apply data constituent strategies to a curated set of data sources with realistic scenario prompts, to be distributed in breakout groups. This workshop does not produce a real-world production strategy but offers exposure to a range of critical thinking examples. 

Objectives 

For participants who are new to business strategy exercises and/or have had low exposure to data environments: 

  • Learn to identify constituents of various forms of data 
  • Become familiar with how to differentiate data constituents from users and stakeholders
  • Develop constituent personas, with consideration toward intersectional identities and relevant relationships to power 
  • Facilitate reflection on the potential for harm, impact, benefits, and opportunities across individual and collective constituent types 
  • Drive discourse on extractive v. respectful behaviors of engagement 
  • Prepare for concepts of data governance and data team workflows, which will support their learning in subsequent Context-Aware Symposium sessions 

For participants who have experience working with data stakeholders and are comfortable applying business strategy frameworks: 

  • Build upon best practices from human-centered design workflows to understand where data constituent engagement can be adapted in technology life cycles 
  • Gain insight on how to structure feedback from data constituents in order to improve the quality and accountability of data sources 
  • Consider value propositions for how investing time and resources in constituent engagement can lead to higher quality outcomes

Session #3: Beyond Performative Dashboards 

March 11 // Saturday Morning 

Lecture Abstract 

This workshop illuminates reductionist behaviors in data visualization that can unintentionally contribute to mischaracterizing analysis or reinforce marginalization. We’ll showcase why metadata is necessary as a component of information design and lean into the controversy of how the effort and investment required to create context may be inherently destabilizing to the essential nature of what people tend to want from data — predictability, certainty, and objective groundtruth. 

There is a direct connection between the popularity of dashboards and a global tech economy optimized to celebrate founders and reward products which promise greater scale, decreased friction, and promote acquisition of information as a means of omniscient advantage. In this way, it’s become normalized to overprescribe data as a source of power in and of itself. 

In this session, we position data visualization as the fruiting body of a larger complex entity and tap into its roots to deconstruct various decision processes influencing what gets prioritized, obscured, or made hyper-visible. Placing special emphasis on “equity” dashboards, we see how cookie-cutter practices and constraints of the genre can perpetuate harmful distortions without proactive awareness. 

Interactive Lab Component: ”Dashboard Glow Up” 

Participants will break out into teams and be assigned a dashboard visualization to analyze and redesign. The sample will be a real screenshot from an open data dashboard available online, printed from the internet, and enlarged onto a posterboard like a piece of art. Along with the visualization, groups will receive a package of all metadata publicly available to describe the data used in the dashboard. Following CIVIC’s Context Data Communication guide (not yet publicly available), teams will use paper, scissors, tape, and Sharpies to reimagine and reform components of the visualization interface. Importantly, they will not be able to change the data visualization itself, but they can completely alter everything around the visualization container to build clarity and reduce bias in the information display, including reauthoring labels, changing colors, creating visibility for key metadata, etc. 

Teams will come together at the end to present their changes “before and after” style, and share how their decisions impact the narrative and perceptions of the data.

Objectives 

For participants who are new to design-strategy frameworks or have had low exposure to data communication environments: 

  • Recognize misleading information constructs 
  • Expand literacy skills to assess and understand data visualizations in the wild
  • Gain experience in accessibility design practices 
  • Learn how the use of color, word choice, and other presentation features can significantly influence impressions of data 
  • Increase confidence working with metadata and begin to appreciate documentation in a new way 

For participants who have high data literacy and experience building visualization frameworks: 

  • Permanently alter the perceptions of industry-standard data visualization dashboards
  • Build competencies to recognize and avoid damaging practices that can cause harm to communities 
  • Integrate Context Communication methodology in their own work to improve equitable and ethical data communication 

Session #4: Remediating Bias with Contextual Metadata 

March 11 // Saturday Afternoon 

Lecture Abstract 

This workshop introduces methods to uncover and critically assess inferences and unexamined judgements which can present measurable distortion within datasets. Often the conditions which create bias can be sneakily embedded, nearly invisible, and start small. Unnoticed or unaddressed, misplaced assumptions can compound into big problems — rendering your data unusable or actively inflicting harm to a constituency. Particularly when those assumptions are deeply rooted in a legacy system and amplify race, gender, or historic marginalization factors, action can feel unclear and overwhelming. While it may be difficult, it’s important to find ways to shift this issue from abstract to tangible. 

In the session, we’ll crank up the magnification on metadata structures and demonstrate how it’s possible to gain traction through incremental operations. Providing an overview of the CIVIC Contextual Metadata schema, the presentation provides a granular approach to reviewing data lineage and methodology with an emphasis on discovering bias. Going further, the session will explore archivist-inspired techniques to annotate datasets to increase provenance and integrity of future use cases.

Interactive Lab Component: “Hansel and Gretel Bias” 

Participants will use an abridged version of CIVIC’s Structured Context Schema (not available to the public) as they navigate a series of questions and prompts in order to author inputs for metadata fields. Working in teams, each group will receive a curated data imaginary which includes a scenario, sample data, and workshop facilitators role-playing data custodians, stakeholders, and/or constituents. 

Data imaginaries are selected to highlight unique aspects of embedded bias which should be discoverable by “following breadcrumbs” through a guided investigation of the material and responses from facilitators. As teams generate documentation, they will recognize opportunities for data to be remediated through additional fields and make strategic decisions about how to handle gaps in knowledge, problematic methodology, and ethical governance questions. 

Objectives 

For participants who have not been actively engaged in discussions of bias and/or have little hands-on experience with metadata schemas and documentation: 

  • Shift thinking bias from an abstract issue to a tangible workflow 
  • Learn an inquiry framework which can help reveal where bias may exist in data
  • See how bias shows up in a variety of forms in realistic settings 
  • Reduce intimidation of data (especially if they don’t consider themselves a “data person”) by working with metadata as a gateway entry point 
  • Value collaboration with multidisciplinary team members 

For participants who have are immersed in discussions of structural bias, and/or are familiar with metadata and schema documentation: 

  • Expand understanding of what metadata is and the simple but powerful role it can play
  • Receive tactical training on CIVIC Structured Context Metadata Schema to support data provenance 
  • Learn practical strategies to improve data equity through structured remediation practices

Digital HISTORY AND THEORY, ​​​​an open conversation on the future of digital scholarship

This illustration featured in the poster above is by Khyati Trehan, an Indian graphic designer and 3D visual artist based in New York. As part of Trehan’s “Digital Biology” series, the illustration “uses scaffolding as a metaphor for AI’s quest in unearthing the underlying logic and structure of complex organic matter” (via Unsplash). For more about this image and to see Trehan’s other work, visit Trehan’s page on the Visualising AI website and Trehan’s website.

On March 3 – 4, 2023, History and Theory, partnering with Brown University Library, will bring the contributors to the December 2022 theme issue, “Digital History and Theory: Changing Narratives, Changing Methods, Changing Narrators,” together for an open exchange inspired by their contributions but focused on the ways to make that change happen now. Digital history has provided us with an incredible array of tools for acquiring and processing data, but critical theoretical reflections have been few and widespread imaginative historical innovations are scarce. The tools have changed, and the possibilities have changed, but the discipline of history is in danger of using them to simply replicate its old ways. Of course, in the end, it is not the tools that will lead to a change; it is ideas and imagination. 

At #DigitalHT2023, our contributors will reflect on their past work and offer concrete suggestions as to how the digital can change the way we research, write, and teach about the past—that is, the way we do history.

Registration – In-person and Zoom options

The in-person event will be held at the Digital Scholarship Lab (DSL), Rockefeller Library, Brown University (1st floor, 10 Prospect St, Providence, RI 02910).

Registration for in-person attendance required. We kindly request a courtesy registration for online attendance. Register here.

Presented by History and Theory and Brown University Library, with support from Brown University’s Department of History and Cogut Institute for the Humanities.

Full event details at History and Theory.

Library Services – Spring 2023

Featured

Welcome back to your Brown University Library!

Grass and accessible entrance to John Hay Library

Health and Safety

Operations are founded on the most up-to-date, reliable safety protocols to ensure a healthy environment for our patrons and staff. Please follow all Healthy Brown steps to keep yourself and our community well. If you aren’t feeling well, please make use of the Library’s robust slate of digital resources

Masking is optional in all Library spaces unless requested by class instructor or meeting host. Wearing masks is strongly recommended for all Brown community members when indoors with large numbers of people, regardless of vaccination status, including on the Brown University shuttle. For information on when masking may be required, see “Return to Campus: Health Precautions and Resources,” a message to returning students from Koren Bakkegard, Associate Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Students, and Vanessa Britto, Associate Vice President for Campus Life and Executive Director for Health & Wellness.

Locations, Hours, and Access

Visit Library Hours for the full, updated list of locations and hours.

A Carnegie Library, the John Hay Library is open to the public Monday through Friday.  Please note that reservations are required for the Gildor Family Special Collections Reading Room. Email [email protected] to make a reservation. You must also request materials through Aeon one week (5 full business days) in advance of your reservation. See Visiting the John Hay Library for more information.

Alumni and Other Visitors

Individuals who are not current Brown ID holders or current RISD students but who are affiliated with Brown University and would like to enter a University physical location, including all Library facilities, are considered visitors. Please visit Library Visitor Guidelines for complete information before heading to a library location.

The John Hay Library is open to the public. See Visiting the John Hay Library for complete information.

Obtaining a Library Card

Visitors who anticipate using the Rockefeller, Sciences, or Orwig Libraries on an ongoing basis must obtain a Brown University Library card. Alumni can use their alumni card to access the libraries.

Library Support

In-person

Patrons can schedule in-person (and online) consultation appointments with a Library expert by contacting the relevant expert directly. Not sure who to contact? Email [email protected]u for general inquiries and [email protected] for Special Collections inquiries.

Online

Please continue to request materials online through BruKnow. Requested materials will be held at the service desks. Patrons will be notified when the item is available and where it should be picked up. The Library is providing document delivery through the ILLiad system. 

Self-checkout

Self-checkout of circulating materials is available at the Rockefeller Library and Sciences Library!

Graduate and Medical Student Carrels

Study carrels are available to graduate and medical students. Interested persons should inquire at the Rockefeller Library service desk.

Graduate Teaching Assistant Rooms

Graduate TAs may also access a limited number of small study/collaboration rooms to conduct online sections. Registration is required through 25Live

Library Tutorials

Guides and videos with information about how to use the Library, conduct various aspects of research, and more are available online.

Feedback

Your Brown University Library is committed to providing all patrons with the best possible academic library experience. Throughout your engagement with Library collections, physical spaces, patron services, instruction, and web-based tools and content, you should be welcomed, valued, and respected, and be provided with equal opportunities to pursue scholarship in a spirit of free and open inquiry.

We encourage your feedback about any aspect of Library services, resources, and facilities. Feedback can be made through this anonymous form, which has an option for inputting your contact information, or you can email [email protected]

This Is Your Library

You belong here.

DH Salons – Spring 2023

audience watching presentation in digital studio

The DH Salon series is a regular, informal presentation series bringing together digital humanities work across the Brown University campus.

Spring 2023 Schedule

Select Tuesdays at 3 p.m. on Zoom or in the Digital Scholarship Lab at the Rockefeller Library.

February 14 – Register here

“Using Scalar to Illuminate the Fragments Controversy”

  • Jonathan Fine, Lecturer in German Studies

The Fragments Controversy was the most significant theological conflagration of the German Enlightenment. This Scalar project is the first introduction to the controversy that pairs commentary with digital copies of the main texts. It features texts digitalized previously by European libraries as well as digitalizations especially commissioned for this project. It takes advantage of numerous features available to users of Scalar to display the many intertextual networks in operation. It additionally includes visualizations such as timelines and maps that show the longevity and wide dissemination of Lessing’s polemics.

Jonathan Fine is a lecturer in the German Studies Department at Brown. He studied German, comparative literature, and critical theory at New York University and the University of California, Irvine. He previously taught at Gettysburg College and Pacific Lutheran University and held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Freie Universität Berlin.

February 28 – Register here

“Digital Herbarium Project (HerbUX)”

  • Patrick Rashleigh, Head of Digital Scholarship Technology Services
  • Rebecca Kartzinel, Lecturer in Biology, Interim Director of the Plant Environmental Center, Director of the Brown University Herbarium

The Herbarium User Experience (HerbUX) project is designing an interface to critical digitized herbarium collections with non-expert audiences (such as students, museum visitors, and the general public) in mind, for use in classrooms, museums, and other public spaces. This interface will be easy to use, encourage non-directed exploratory browsing, directly support pedagogical methodologies and learning outcomes, and be aesthetically engaging.

March 14 – Register here

“Unsettling Boundaries: Envisioning a Database for Caribbean Feminist Creative Writing from the 1990s”

  • Warren Harding, Diversity in Digital Publishing Postdoctoral Research Associate (2022–2023)

In this discussion, Warren Harding will share insights and progress on creating a digital database of Caribbean feminist creative writing from the 1990s. He will reflect on the central questions, structure, scope, and challenges to coordinating this collaborative project.

Warren Harding (he, him) is currently the Diversity in Digital Publishing Postdoctoral Research Associate at Brown University Digital Publications. He holds a Ph.D. in Africana Studies from Brown, and is working on his manuscript tentatively titled, “Migratorial Reading: Black Caribbean Women Writers and the Work of Literary Cultures.” In Fall 2023, Dr. Harding will begin his appointment as an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, General Literature, and Rhetoric at Binghamton University.

April 4 – Register here

“Building GeoPACHA, A Collaborative Digital Platform for “Virtual” Survey in Archaeology”

  • Parker VanValkenburgh, Associate Professor of Anthropology

The Geospatial Platform for Andean Culture, History and Archaeology (GeoPACHA) — see geopacha.org — is a tool developed in collaboration with Dr. Steven Wernke of Vanderbilt, designed to facilitate the identification of archaeological sites and features over extensive areas of South America through “virtual survey” of satellite and historical aerial imagery. In this presentation, I will briefly discuss the project’s problem orientation and design, before moving on to reflect on how its implementation during the global pandemic created both new challenges and opportunities for collaborative research and pedagogy. While virtual archaeological survey is no replacement for conventional field-based methodologies, it offers new possibilities for collecting data at scale, while also scaling up international collaboration and student learning in ways that are nearly impossible to emulate in the excavation trench and the laboratory.

Parker VanValkenburg is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Brown. His research and publications employ archaeological methods to address anthropological research questions, with a particular focus on the long-term impacts of colonialism and imperialism on Indigenous people and environments in Andean Peru. In this work, he draws amply on digital methodologies, including the tools of geographic information systems (GIS), to map and analyze social, political, and environmental change in space and time. He also applies a critical lens to the study of digital media and methodologies, asking not just how these techniques facilitate archaeological scholarship, but how digital mediation transforms the ways we work with collaborators, research subjects, students, and public audiences.

April 18 – Register here

“New Frameworks to Preserve and Present on Born-Digital Multimedia Art”

  • Ashley Champagne, Director of CDS
  • Patrick Rashleigh, Head of Digital Scholarship Technology Services
  • Cody Carvel, Digital Scholarship Technologist
  • John Cayley, Professor of Literary Arts
  • Hilary Wang, Digital Archivist
  • Andrew Majcher, Head of Digital Services and Records Management

This project is developing new frameworks for the long-term preservation and presentation of born-digital art with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Preserving born-digital work can be challenging because platforms, hardware, and software are often updated or replaced, changing and even degrading how the original art is displayed. Through “containerization” — a portable, low-cost method of preserving and presenting the code, operating system, and text for experimental, born-digital art — future readers will still be able to view, distribute, collaborate on, and experiment with the original work even if its infrastructure has been altered or discontinued. In this presentation, we’ll share a project update on the models we’re drafting to preserve innovative, experimental born-digital and born-computational art.

May 9 – Register here

Roundtable: “Artificial Intelligence in Humanities Research”

  • Lindsey Caplan, Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture
  • Holly Case, Professor of History
  • Kiri Miller, Professor of American Studies
  • Sydney Skybetter, Senior Lecturer in Theater and Performance Studies

New AI tools hold out the promise of new techniques for research, writing and presentations in the humanities, as well as new challenges to originality and ethics. A group of Brown faculty will consider some of the history and future of AI in the humanities.

Fall 2022 Library Operations

A student studies on a wall outside of the Sciences Library SciLi in the fall weather.

Welcome back to your Brown University Library!

Health and Safety

Operations are founded on the most up-to-date, reliable safety protocols to ensure a healthy environment for our patrons and staff. Please follow all Healthy Brown steps to keep yourself and our community well. If you aren’t feeling well, please make use of the Library’s robust slate of digital resources

Masking is optional in all University spaces, including the Library. For information on when masking may be required, see “Approach to Academic Instruction for Fall 2022,” a message to the Brown community from Provost Richard M. Locke.

Locations, Hours, and Access

Visit Library Hours for the full, updated list of locations and hours.

Please note that reservations are required for the Gildor Family Special Collections Reading Room at the John Hay Library. Email [email protected] to make a reservation. You must also request materials through Aeon one week (5 full business days) in advance of your reservation. The Hay’s visiting webpage has more information. A Carnegie Library, the Hay is open to the public Monday through Friday. 

Alumni and Other Visitors

Visitors must abide by the policies on the Healthy Brown website.

Obtaining a Library Card

Visitors who anticipate using the Rockefeller, Sciences, or Orwig Libraries on an ongoing basis must obtain a Brown University Library card. Cards will be issued upon receipt and approval of a completed Brown University Library Visitors request form. The Library must approve requests for visitors, excluding those with IDs sponsored by a department or program at Brown, Brown alumni, and visitors attending a Library public event. More information.

Library Support

In-person

Patrons can schedule in-person (and online) consultation appointments with a Library expert by contacting the relevant library expert directly. Not sure who to contact? Email [email protected] for general inquiries and [email protected] for Special Collections inquiries.

Online

Please continue to request materials online through BruKnow. Requested materials will be held at the service desks. Patrons will be notified when the item is available and where it should be picked up. The Library is providing document delivery through the ILLiad system. 

Graduate and Medical Student Carrels

Study carrels are available to graduate and medical students. Interested persons should inquire at the Rockefeller Library service desk.

Graduate Teaching Assistant Rooms

Graduate TAs may also access a limited number of small study/collaboration rooms to conduct online sections. Registration is required through 25Live

Library Tutorials

Guides and videos with information about how to use the Library, conduct various aspects of research, and more are available online.

Feedback

Your Brown University Library is committed to providing all patrons with the best possible academic library experience. Throughout your engagement with Library collections, physical spaces, patron services, instruction, and web-based tools and content, you should be welcomed, valued, and respected, and be provided with equal opportunities to pursue scholarship in a spirit of free and open inquiry.

We encourage your feedback about any aspect of Library services, resources, and facilities. Feedback can be made through this anonymous form, which has an option for inputting your contact information, or you can email [email protected]

This Is Your Library

You belong here.

Library Services During Winter Break 2022 – 2023

The SciLi in the morning light, snow on ground. Credit: Nick Dentamaro

Extended Winter Break

Brown University administration has generously planned an extended Winter Break from the close of business on Thursday, December 22, 2022 through Sunday, January 8, 2023. In order to maintain support of students, faculty, and researchers during this time, while giving dedicated library staff members well-deserved time off, the University Library will be offering limited building hours and services. Please take note of the time-sensitive services listed below so that you can plan ahead and obtain the materials you will need in advance of the break.

Please consult Library Hours for up-to-date hours for each location.

Place orders for Annex, Borrow Direct, and Holds by Dec. 20

Please place orders for materials from the Library Annex and through Borrow Direct by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, December 20 for pickup on Thursday, December 22. We will be unable to place items on hold during the break. Note that delivery of Borrow Direct materials may vary depending on the operations of our partner libraries.

Which locations will be open? Who can use the buildings?

The Rockefeller Library will be open (without services) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (see exceptions below) with swipe card access for current Brown ID holders only. Visitors without a current Brown ID will not be able to access the buildings. Please see the Library Hours and Locations page for details.

The John Hay Library, Sciences Library, and Orwig Music Library will be closed during the break.

Will you close completely for some days?

All University Library locations will be closed with no on-site or online services on Friday, December 23, Christmas Eve (Saturday, December 24), Christmas Day (Sunday, December 25), and New Year’s Day (Sunday, January 1).

Self-checkout

Self-checkout of circulating materials will be available at the Rockefeller Library and Sciences Library during break and continuing with regular operations.

How can I get help from a library expert?

Limited support for the Brown community and researchers working on time-sensitive projects will be available on the days when we are not fully closed via email at [email protected]. Please allow 12 – 24 hours for a response.

Will Interlibrary Loan be available?

You may continue to place orders through Interlibrary Loan for electronic journal articles. Note that delivery dates and times will vary depending on the operations of our partner libraries.

Can I view special collections material?

Requests for special collections material can be made at any time through Aeon. John Hay Library staff will respond to requests that come in over break beginning the week of January 9. Thousands of items have been digitized and are available for view at any time through the Brown Digital Repository.

Who will be on-site when the buildings are open?

The Library will have security guards in the buildings when they are open by card swipe access. Please note that security guards are not Library employees. They are not able to answer research questions and cannot retrieve library materials.

Happy Holidays!

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and restful winter break from your Brown University Library!

Four New Projects Selected for Brown University Digital Publications 

The University Library and the Dean of the Faculty, together with the Digital Publications Faculty Advisory Committee, are pleased to announce the selection of the next four scholarly works to be developed by Brown University Digital Publications.

Rebecca Louise Carter

Going through the Motions: Animations of Black Being in the Breaks by Rebecca Louise Carter, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Urban Studies, is a meditation on Black death and its transformation, exploring the shift to Black aliveness in both scholarly work and everyday practice. A project of Black Study inspired by ethnohistoric and ethnographic fieldwork in New Orleans, this short-form digital publication will consist of several connected essays accompanied by a series of visual and moving portraits of Black people who grapple with conditions of precarity and death but also find ways to conceptualize and embody Black aliveness as an aesthetic, orientation, or other mode of being. The animated scenes are crafted from interview recordings, archival materials, photographs, and sound, set in motion through new drawing, painting, collage, and stop motion photography. Together with the essays, the book presents a narrative arc and multimodal experience through which readers/viewers/listeners can witness and follow Black ways of being, knowing, and doing. 

John Cayley

In Networked and Programmable Media: Language Art with Personal Computation by John Cayley, Professor of Literary Arts, will feature over fifty of the pioneering author’s works in “language art with computation,” dating from the late 1970s — when personal computing began to be possible — down to the present time. More than just a digital anthology, the project will be integrated with an original theoretically informed commentary, offering critical, discursive pathways around and about the selections themselves. The constituent works will be published digitally, as far as possible in the manner that they were conceived to be read. Saying as much will further establish this publication as another first because Cayley’s writing, his language art work, was composed to be dynamic and time-based, sometimes generative and self-modifying, not necessarily the same “text” each time the work is encountered. In Networked and Programmable Media will bring early and recent programmed language art to what are now both crucial and everyday real-world networks for both readers and scholars.

Christopher Grasso

The Chisolm Massacre: Reconstruction and the Politics of Violence by Christopher Grasso, Professor of History, is a case study at a hinge moment in American history: 1877, when the nation backed away from its first great experiment in racial justice. In a small town in Kemper County, Mississippi in the spring of that year, a political mob murdered five people, including Republican Judge William Wallace Chisolm, former state senator J. P. Gilmer, and two of Chisolm’s children. To ask why the “Chisolm Massacre” occurred is to plunge into a complex web of local, regional, and national causes and effects, motives, and consequences. National press coverage and two quickly produced books demonstrated that the meaning of the event was and is embedded in the larger moral history of Reconstruction. Politics was violent and violence was political in ways that linked this small place to the nation. Grasso’s historical narrative is based in part on an extensive private archive of Chisolm family papers. The digital publication will feature thematic document clusters, enabling readers to explore a variety of primary sources, surfacing epistemological issues and the practice of historical interpretation.

Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg

Grounds for Reclamation: Fascism and Postfascism in the Marshes by Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg, Professor of Comparative Literature and Italian Studies, focuses on the reclamation of the Pontine Marshes south of Rome during two phases of its existence: first, under the fascist regime; second, in the content of recent populist phenomena in the Italian political and cultural landscape. Through an interdisciplinary lens (critical geography, ecology, landscape architecture, urbanism, architectural history, media studies, literary theory), Stewart-Steinberg considers “grounds” in wide terms, as they are invoked both literally as the making of a physical space and metaphorically as the making of a political or intellectual argument. “Reclamation” as a project and a concept becomes a useful conceptual tool to understand the many ways in which fascism has surfaced and continues to return in Italy today. The digital publication will be organized around the concept of the “grid,” and will feature excerpts from fascist films and documentaries on the region.

A collaboration between the University Library and the Dean of the Faculty, generously launched with support from the Mellon Foundation with additional support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Brown University Digital Publications creates exciting new conditions for the production and sharing of knowledge. Widely recognized as accessible, intentional, and inclusive, Brown’s novel, university-based approach to digital content development is helping to set the standards for the future of scholarship in the digital age.

Projects that are selected by the program’s Faculty Advisory Committee are developed as enhanced digital works that draw on the capabilities of the Library’s Center for Digital Scholarship. These scholarly works are then submitted to leading university presses that have corresponding academic interests and the infrastructure for peer review and digital publication.

The program’s first born-digital monograph, Furnace and Fugue: A Digital Edition of Michael Maier’s Atalanta fugiens (1618) with Scholarly Commentary, co-edited by Tara Nummedal, Professor of History, and Independent Scholar Donna Bilak (University of Virginia Press, 2020) was recently awarded the 2022 Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History by the American Historical Association. The second and third faculty-authored digital monographs were published earlier this year to wide acclaim and already enjoy a global readership: Shadow Plays: Virtual Realities in an Analog World by Massimo Riva, Professor of Italian Studies (Stanford University Press, 2022); and A New Vision for Islamic Pasts and Futures by Shahzad Bashir, Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Humanities and Professor of History (MIT Press, 2022).

Other digital works currently under development include: 

  • The Sensory Monastery: Saint-Jean-des-Vignes co-authored by Sheila Bonde, Professor of History of Art and Architecture and Professor of Archaeology, and Clark Maines, Professor Emeritus of Art History at Wesleyan University; 
  • Standing Still Moving: Arts of Gesture in Lateral Time by Rebecca Schneider, Professor of Modern Culture and Media; 
  • Chika Sagawa, Japanese Modernist Poet by Sawako Nakayasu, Assistant Professor of Literary Arts;
  • Travels in Search of the Slave Past: Monuments, Memorials, Sites of Slavery by Renée Ater, Provost’s Visiting Professor of Africana Studies.
  • Imperial Unsettling: Indigenous and Immigrant Activism Toward Collective Liberation by Kevin Escudero, Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies;
  • Art, Secrecy, and Invisibility in Ancient Egypt by Laurel Bestock, Associate Professor of Archaeology and the Ancient World & Egyptology and Assyriology;
  • Trojan Women in Performance by Avery Willis Hoffman, Inaugural Artistic Director, Brown Arts Institute, Professor of the Practice of Arts and Classics
  • The Ruin Archive: Art and War at the Ends of Empire by Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar, Associate Professor of History; and
  • Border Assemblages: Re-collecting Moria by Yannis Hamilakis, Joukowsky Family Professor of Archaeology and Professor of Modern Greek Studies.

In addition to developing the Mellon humanities portfolio, Brown University Digital Publications produces university projects such as the revised and expanded edition of Brown’s Slavery and Justice Report and the 13-volume Race &…in America digital series. With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Brown University Library has established a training institute, Born-Digital Scholarly Publishing: Resources and Roadmaps, designed for scholars who wish to develop innovative born-digital publications but may lack the necessary resources and capacity at their home institutions.

To learn more about Brown University Digital Publications, contact Director Allison Levy ([email protected]).

New Way to Request Items from Other Libraries

Jill Wood, Senior Library Specialist – Access Services/Interlibrary Loan

We are updating easyBorrow to ReShare

On December 13, EasyBorrow — Brown’s integrated service for requesting items held by other Ivies Plus partners — will move to a new service platform.  This new platform, ReShare, will provide patrons with the same ability to request materials directly from our BorrowDirect partner libraries but offers greater integration with our ILLiad system.

What will change?

When submitting requests directly from BruKnow, the Library’s online catalog, you will be prompted to enter your regular University credentials and will then see your citation in a prepopulated ILLiad form.  You need only to click “submit.”  Your request will be sent to the Borrow Direct libraries for fulfillment, and will receive the same rapid and consistent delivery. This integration with ILLiad enables all requests to remain active should the Borrow Direct libraries be unable to fulfill the request. 

Why are we changing?

Our Borrow Direct partner institutions are migrating to ReShare, which provides additional opportunities to customize the service according to a library’s changing needs. ReShare is owned and governed by a community of libraries and developers, promoting collaboration across libraries and institutions, and creating more opportunities for future functionality.

What do you need to do?

Continue placing your Borrow Direct requests as usual.  On December 13, look for our new platform. At that time, all new requests will be placed through ReShare.  

Please return Borrow Direct materials

Help us clear up “legacy” requests by returning any Borrow Direct materials you no longer need. While this is not strictly necessary (your due dates will not change), it would be most appreciated.

Children’s Book Drive at the Rock

The Brown University Library is collecting new or gently used children’s books (baby through teen) to donate to Pawtucket, RI-based nonprofit organization Books Are Wings

Books Are Wings seeks to provide every child with regular access to books by collecting and distributing books to communities in RI where children often do not have their own books at home. According to Books Are Wings, “Research suggests that growing up in a home with at least 20 books is equivalent to three additional years of schooling for children.”

Please place donations in the bin in the Rock lobby by Friday, December 16. 

Thank you!

Digitization and Special Collections: Access, Equity, and Preservation

Virtual reality view of the Garibaldi Panorama

Providing digital access to distinctive scholarly materials in our collections continues to grow in importance as part of the Library’s mission. For example, as reported previously, recent grants are enabling us to digitize a significant portion of the vast Hall-Hoag Collection of Extremist and Dissenting Propaganda, which provides critical insights for understanding our times. Indeed, this may be the largest digitization project of contemporary Archival materials; when it is finished, we will have scanned around 900,000 pages of materials from 1950 to 1999.

Digitization allows students and scholars working in any location to view rare materials without incurring the financial and other burdens of traveling to consult them on-site. Moreover, where digital access to materials is available, it also helps reduce handling of the original objects and contributes to their preservation. In the last three years, scanning activity at the Hay has generated around a terabyte of data.

Patrons who need scans of particular collection items that are not already digitized may submit requests through the Hay’s Aeon system. (Any researcher can do this — as a Carnegie Library, the Hay is open to the public.) Generally, we try to limit scan requests to a maximum of five folders or 300 to 400 pages so that we can be equitable among patrons. Depending on the material, a consultation with the Library’s Collections Care staff may take place to determine if there are preservation or handling concerns that may limit what is possible. 

The staff members who complete the image capture of the physical object in order to create the digital files possess a wide range of specialized skills including building custom supports for fragile materials and three dimensional objects as well as operating complex software and equipment in the Library’s camera room and on location. Lindsay Elgin, Senior Library Technologist, wrote “A more typical look at the camera room” about photographing an album of watercolor prints from the Anne S. K. Brown Military Gallery. Lindsay also photographed the narwhal tusk from the 2015 The Unicorn Found: Science, Literature, and the Arts exhibit at the John Hay Library (photo above). You can read more about that shoot in Lindsay’s blog post, “The Unicorn of the Sea Comes to Brown.”

To facilitate greater access to our materials, we have removed any fees associated with digitization or scanning.

We ask patrons to allow four to six weeks for scanning requests to be completed, but we often turn them around quicker than that. Material requested by Brown instructors for their courses are given priority. To facilitate greater access to our materials, we have removed any fees associated with digitization or scanning. This allows researchers of all backgrounds to begin their research without having to incur costs and also allows researchers to start doing preliminary research without needing to travel to Providence. Over the past 12 months, the Hay has scanned over 50,000 pages for patrons. The Martha Dickinson Bianchi papers (Ms. 2010.046) collection and the Hortense J. Spillers papers, 1966-1995 are examples of collections from which numerous researchers have requested a significant amount of scanned material over the past couple of years.  

The Hay also digitizes material at high resolution to meet preservation needs or in response to requests for exhibitions. Such requests have generated about 3.5 terabytes of digital files. In both cases, high-quality scans provide substitutes for original materials that are too fragile to be handled directly or displayed. 

High resolution scans also serve the needs of scholars creating digital projects requiring the display and study of collection items. For example, Hay staff are currently assisting with the “Sounding Spirit” project being developed at Emory University. Approximately 200 items from the Hay’s collection are being digitized, and the scans will ultimately be hosted on the project’s website and will also be available through Brown’s own digital repository. Scanning is not simply a mechanical process. The Library’s staff experts process and review all of the digital files for quality and edit them to create master files of all of the images. 

Indeed, staff members at the John Hay Library are involved at every step of the digitization process, lending their expertise to researchers in need of consultation about the materials to transporting material to be digitized from the Library Annex to photographing fragile materials and non-print objects and scanning print materials to reviewing and delivering digital files to our patrons. We are dedicated to supporting scholarship at Brown and beyond and recognize the importance of extending the reach of Brown’s incredible special collections materials and look forward to continuing our work to make these items digitally available to researchers around the world.