Librarianship around the world: A conversation with Linda Bréard

In December, Linda Bréard will be the final person to graduate McGill’s School of Information Studies with an MLIS. However, Bréard will not be new to the world of working as an information professional upon graduation: she has worked as a school librarian in international schools (in particular international baccalaureate, or IB, schools) in Mali, Morocco, China, and Vietnam since 2002. Last week Beyond the Shelf sat down with Bréard to talk about entering the field of international school librarianship, resources to find jobs, what the experience is like, other important things to know about international school librarianship, and the type of person who may do best as an international school librarian.

Entering the field
Even before becoming and international school librarian, Bréard knew a lot of teachers and had been interested in education, despite not having a background in it herself. She was also working on a BSc in Library and Information Technology from the University of Maine; in many international schools in Africa and Asia this is sufficient though in Europe you need an MLIS or equivalent.

Bréard emphasized that the schools looking to hire librarians are not the sort that take people on to teach English to local students, but are schools accredited by international bodies and one in their home country that offer a curriculum from their home country (most often the UK or US) and/or the IB curriculum.

While it is possible to be hired if you only speak English (generally at the British or American International schools), schools will ask what languages you speak and being multilingual is helpful in collection development and because the students at the school will often come from 40-60 countries, speak dozens of different first languages, and be learning multiple languages at school. You will often be given the chance to learn some of the local language.

Resources

Early in her career Bréard used The International Educator (TIE) to find and apply for positions. Most of the jobs advertised on TIE are not the top international schools, but they do hire new grads and those with little experience if you have enthusiasm. There is a US$39 fee for one year of online only access, which allows you to view job postings, put your resume online, and see articles.

Bréard now uses Search Associates, a recruiting firm that specializes in international schools. Search Associates is more expensive (US$225) for three years or until you sign a contract through them, whichever comes first), but provides more (including in-person job fairs), is targeted at professional staff with more experience, and hosts listings from top tier schools.

Other resources include International School Services-Schrole Advantage (US$75 for one year).

The Experience

In an international school you will often be the only librarian in a K to 12 school and professional development is hard as the chance to meet with other international school librarians from your region of the world only comes once a year for a few days. This is part of why Bréard chose to begin her MLIS in 2012: to get more recent information (such as implementing eBook collections) and get inspired in order to better support students.

Bréard says as an international school librarian you “work like crazy, but get a lot out of it”. You are expected to be at the school for extra-curricular activities and school events, may need to host an extra research class on a weekend, and will not only be in charge of but also do the collection development and cataloguing.

However, the community at the school from staff to students becomes like family when you work in an international school as people are often in the same situation of getting to know the country and moving often. You will also likely get a lot of time off for holidays as many schools give both local and home country holidays, which gives you a chance to travel.

Other Things to Know

Many of the positions will be listed as teacher-librarian positions, and while you don’t need to be a qualified teacher if you are a qualified librarian.

International schools have a hard time filling librarian positions (on par with chemistry and physics teachers)

The time to apply for jobs starting in August is NOW! You will need to provide police checks.

You may not want to come “home”.  Bréard has tried twice but found things to be more rewarding and exciting at international schools.

Who should you be?

Someone who wants to give everyone access to everything, but can deal with censorship based on local laws

Flexible and adaptable to change

Prepared to teach at least a research or information literacy course

Ready to deal with lots of bureaucracy

Have a really good sense of humour

 

Technically Sound

To this day, the wise words of professor Jamshid Beheshti ring clearly in my head (for all those who had GLIS601 with him in Fall 2017 or before, I will do my best to paraphrase him); ‘do you really think you are going to be paid the big bucks with your master’s degree to stock shelves or catalogue? No, you will be managers!’. As true as this statement is, it does raise another issue. If we are not the ones ‘stocking shelves’ or ‘cataloguing’, then who will? Where will these people come from and if we are to be managers, how are we to recognize them?

Here enters the role of library and information technicians. Information technicians are highly skilled and in high demand in information organization including document centres, archives, special libraries, and beyond. In Quebec, the training of these technicians falls under the responsibilities of CEGEPs and there are currently 6 institutions scattered around the province which offer a Technique de la Documentation program. Of those 6 schools, there is only one who offers the program in English and (surprise, surprise) it is right here in Montreal.

John Abbott College (johnabbott.qc.ca) is one of 8 English-language public colleges in the province and the only one to offer the Information and Library Technologies (ILT) program. It is a 3-year technical degree, however there is a 2-year intensive stream offered for anyone who already holds a CEGEP diploma (DEC). By the end of their time in the program, ILT students will have learned several hard skills and be more proficient in the day-to-day operations of a library than any of us in the MISt program. I had the chance to sit down with one of the program’s instructors, Esther Szeben (McGill, MLIS ’99), and talk about the program as well as her professional and educative journey.

MS: Can you tell me a little bit about the Information and Library Technologies program and your position in the program?

ES: Our program is very comprehensive. We are trying to prepare technicians to work in libraries or record centres to support information management and work in conjunction with librarians. Our students graduate with a lot of concrete skills. For example, they take three classification courses and two cataloguing courses… when they graduate, they really know where to place everything. They come out and they know tangibly what to do with a record, a file, a CD, etc. They know how to descriptively catalogue it, they know how to download the MARC record and integrate it into the library system. They get a number of computer courses. They know HTML, they can create web-sites, they can do advanced PowerPoint presentations, they know the majority of the large integrated library systems like Koha and Regard, they can create a relational database in Access, etc.

MS: Roughly how many students come into the program every year?

ES: This year I believe there were about 27 new students. It is a small program but growing. In the program they need to do their general education classes (English, French, Physical Education, etc.), and then they have the core program courses. Last year about 18 students graduated and half of them had job offers before graduation in June. Some are working in academic libraries at Concordia and McGill, they are working in school libraries, some are in special libraries (e.g. law libraries, the Federal Space Agency).

MS: What would the professional relationship be between a graduate from your program and a MISt graduate?

ES: You will work in parallel, you will work together. They will be your cataloguer and so on. The librarian will have to know the macro of how the library is set up while the technicians will know the micro. These students are specialists in the hands-on tasks of an information center. I couldn’t catalogue to save my life, but these students come out of this program having perfected the art of cataloguing.

Another thing we do teach is communications. Some of our students might have chosen this field because they are shy, but they will still have to effectively communicate with suppliers, sometimes with patrons, and for sure with the librarians. So, we feel communication skills are very important too.

MS: So, do you teach teaching? With information literacy being very important now, do you show your students how to teach others to use information services?

ES: It is covered in a few courses. Our program is currently going through a revision and I can tell you that information literacy is slatted as a new course. We have a consulting committee which meets twice a year and we meet with librarians from academia, special and school libraries, and other institutions to see what is happening; to get our finger on the pulse of what is going on. Through these discussions it has been resolved that IL and education instruction is going to have to be a focus for our program.

MS: Could you tell me more about your position in the program?

ES: I teach reference courses. I teach a class called “Documents and their Producers”. It is a third-year course which focuses on the publishing industry. We look at traditional publishing and now with the advent of self-publishing and open source we talk about those too. We also talk about the government as a producer of information. They understand the structure of the government, where to find information about the House of Commons and the Senate, once a bill becomes a law where do they find the consolidated statutes and all those very exciting things. They also learn where to find and how to use the various [Statistics Canada] products like the consumer price index, the census, and the daily bulletins so that they can manipulate the data that is out there which the government manages.

MS: You have had professional experiences in many information fields, what advice could you give to a MISt student?

ES: My advice is this: if you are able to, study part-time and work, in the field, part-time. Academia is good, but we do not want to only become a cog in the assessment machine (hear, learn, test, assess, write a paper, etc.). It is very difficult to absorb and integrate knowledge in such a system. My first year in MLIS I did full-time and then I went down to part-time and got to work in a pharmaceutical library. I got to put the theory which I was learning in class into practice.

Also, I wouldn’t have known that I wanted to work in a library and do reference until I tried it. I finished my undergrad and had some experience as an information professional but never in a library. I assumed my natural path would be continuing in research and knowledge management. But once I tried academic library reference, I fell in love with it and that is where I have spent most of my professional career. I guess I am saying, try everything and anything. Some people are really lucky and fall upon their dream job right away, but my experience is that ultimately it is a crap-shoot. If you see a position, apply and try it out. You never know. I have worked in public libraries, corporate libraries, record centers, fundraising, academia, and now here. When I saw this position, I knew it was for me and I love it here; but I have learned something from every professional experience which has led me to this place.

MS: Is there anything else to add?

ES: I miss my days at Thomson House…? Those were good times!

Where Are They Now? SIS Graduates in the Workforce, Part 2

SIS students have gone on to have a diverse and exciting array of careers. This week, Beyond the Shelf welcomes 2017 grad Rebecca Pothier to talk about her post-graduation experiences.

 

Tell us a bit about yourself: What’s your educational background, and why did you want to take the MISt degree? What area did you focus on during the program (library, archives, HCI, KM)?
I have a Bachelor’s of Arts in Public History from Concordia. This program had an internship component and after taking quite a few Irish history and Irish studies courses at Concordia I decided I wanted to go to Ireland for my internship. I ended up working at the Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum in Dublin, where I was introduced to archives and this is what inspired me to do Information Studies. I started in 2013 in the archive stream (this was before the streams were dissolved), then I went on a trip to southeast Asia over the summer, decided I was having too much fun and dropped out to move to Australia for a year. Finally when I came back I re-enrolled and after taking a few library courses realized I was more interested in the library side of the program.

 

Where are you working now? What attracted you to the position, and is it where you thought you would end up when you started the program?
I am currently unemployed and looking for jobs in the library field.

 

Take me through a regular day at work – what do you get up to on a day-to-day basis?

My previous job was at a non-profit library. I can give you a a run through of my typical day there: I would confirm that I had all my volunteers lined up for the weekly reading activities, reach out to the centres we worked with to make sure everything was running smoothly, research new centres in the area and try to reach out to them and explain our project, oversee the cataloguing process, and meet with my boss to discuss the activity’s progress.

 

How did you get involved while you were a student, whether with student associations or work experience?

As a student I volunteered with the Jewish Public Library for a couple months doing shelving. I also did the practicum at a public library which was the best experience and I would highly recommend

 

Do you have any advice for current students or recent graduates?

Advice I have is to try a bunch of different things. I was quite set on being an archivist and after being introduced to some library classes I realized this fit me much better. I am still trying to stay open to things beyond your typical library career. I really enjoyed the ABQLA mentor program, my mentor has been a really helpful resource!

 

Thank you to Rebecca for sharing with us!
This post has been edited for clarity.

Where Are They Now? SIS Graduates in the Workforce

SIS students have gone on to have a diverse and exciting array of careers, and this new series will showcase some of them. For our first entry in the series, Beyond the Shelf is pleased to welcome Liz Nash (a 2017 grad and our former MISSA president!) to talk about her post-graduation experiences.

 

Tell us a bit about yourself: What’s your educational background, and why did you want to take the MISt degree? What area did you focus on during the program (library, archives, HCI, KM)?

I did my undergraduate degree at Western in English Language & Literature and French Language & Translation (it’s quite a mouthful!). I really loved my time at Western, but I knew that I wanted to branch out and get my Master’s degree. I was attracted to the MISt program because it’s like a buffet – a little bit of everything is offered! I liked that I wasn’t forced into a particular stream, so I ended up doing libraries and KM.

 

Where are you working now? What attracted you to the position, and is it where you thought you would end up when you started the program?

I’m currently working as a librarian at Statistics Canada. I had a glimpse of being a federal librarian last year, when I did an FSWEP term at Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada (ISED). I love that every day I get to do something different. It’s also really upped my trivia game, since I’m learning a lot of interesting facts!

When I started the program, I had no idea where I would end up. I was very fortunate to discover the FSWEP program, which gave me an opportunity to experience a dream job that I never even knew existed.

 

Take me through a regular day at work – what do you get up to on a day-to-day basis?

My regular day involves a lot of research! I primarily research for government employees, but we do get reference questions from the public. Questions range from historical census inquiries to in-depth research on a variety of topics… so a bit of everything!

About twice a week I work on the reference desk, where I do everything from checking in books to performing reference interviews. I’m also on our division’s Social Committee, which is a lot of fun.

 

How did you get involved while you were a student, whether with student associations or work experience?

In my first year at McGill, I was the VP Internal for MISSA. I shadowed the President, ran events, and communicated news with students. In terms of work experience, I worked for McGill Athletics as part of the Hype Team. I finally fulfilled my life goal of throwing t-shirts into audiences!

In my second year, I was the President of MISSA and the Chair of the Info-Nexus Committee. I also worked part-time in Ottawa for ISED to gain more library experience. It was definitely a balancing act! I’m glad I got so involved, since it helped me network with students, professors, and other information professionals in Montreal and Ottawa.

 

Do you have any advice for current students or recent graduates?

When you’re in your second year, start looking for jobs around January. The hiring process can take a while, so it’s better to get started early. I’d also recommend checking out the Partnership Job Board, which lists Canadian library jobs.

One last piece of advice: Don’t panic! You can do it 🙂

 

Many thanks to Liz for sharing her experiences and advice!

An interview with Stéfan Sinclair

By Jacob Siefring

In a class or elsewhere in the vast field of library-and-information-science, you might have come upon a reference to digital humanities. Digital humanities is basically an academic discipline concerned with the application of computational tools and methods to traditional objects of scholarship (i.e. texts, artifacts, art works, historical data, etc.). The field is interdisciplinary and vast, and also highly collaborative.

Earlier this week, I paid a visit to Stéfan Sinclair, who is Associate Professor of Digital Humanities in McGill’s Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. Since he received his Ph.D. in French literature, Professor Sinclair has worked on numerous projects designing digital humanities text visualization tools, often in collaboration with other scholars. He was most generous and open in responding to my questions as we sat in his windowed office overlooking the intersection of rue Sherbrooke and rue University.

I noticed that it’s kind of common in the digital humanities to start giving a talk by stating how you got into it, because it’s kind of a hybrid field and everybody takes a kind of circuitous route or ends up there in a different way. I know you have a background in French literature. But were you drawn towards programming and computers prior to your work in the humanities?

Yes. What I can recall is that, during the early part of my undergraduate studies, I liked fiddling with computers and doing some programming. At that point, I was especially playing with Visual Basic. I was home-brewing beer, and I had built an application that would allow me to manage time, and various settings, and fermentation and so on. At that time, it was really about building things for my own interest. I had done my first couple of years of undergraduate taking courses from all over the place, everything actually except French literature. Then in my third year I decided that I would do French literature as something that seemed more specific, leveraging my background as a francophone, Franco-Albertan, and so on. I loved literature, but not enough that my first instinct was to know that I was going to go into undergraduate studies and take literature. I was more interested in philosophy and religious studies and all sorts of other stuff. There happened to be a course—I can’t remember if I was in my third or fourth year—on computer applications in French at UBC. That’s sort of the moment where it clicked. This very unusual, very rare course that was in the French department made me realize that I could combine these two interests that I had probably never thought of as merging at any point. There’s something very empowering and magical about getting a computer to do something that you build it to do. That I think was a big motivation for any of the programming that I was doing. I’d almost put programming in quotes, because it wouldn’t be programming by computer science standards, it would just be sort of hacking, scripting—except that it wasn’t really scripts, it was Visual Basic. Anyway, this course made a connection for me between literature and computing. From there I started thinking about and building tools where my work in literature would be supplemented, augmented by some of the tools that I wanted to build. And it sort of kept growing from there. Over time, the balance has shifted. Initially, I was doing a bit of programming and computers to complement the literary side. Over time, it’s sort of gone the other way, where I’m mostly doing programming and building stuff and relatively little literature, though I hope to do more. So I don’t know if that really answers your question…

I think that’s very interesting, because a lot of the time those narratives aren’t the ones that get relayed, and yet they’re so important in determining how we end up where we do.

It seems so natural now that this is the direction that I took, and yet I recognize that it’s really an enormous coincidence. I didn’t go to UBC because this person prof, Bill Winder was there. I didn’t know he was there. Part of the experience has also been not only that very serendipitous first experience that made the connection that I probably wouldn’t have made if this course hadn’t been there, but also a willingness to kind of ignore what… if people had given me academic advice at that point it would have been to not do computing stuff because that was just too weird, and too fringe, too marginal. But it’s what I was interested in. So it’s hard to say what lesson to pull out of this except that I happened to have been extremely lucky because I did sort of do what interested me and it ended up working out.

Can I ask what your dissertation work was on?

Sure. There’s a group of primarily French mathematicians and writers called the Oulipo and they’re interested in formal constraints in literature and the idea that all forms of literature—be it a sonnet, a play or theatre, whatever—what determines that it’s that genre are is a set of rules. And so by formulating new rules they think they open new forms of literature. It looks like a constraining act but in some ways it’s an opening-up act. I became interested in whether or not that formalized aspect might be a good foothold for computational methods, and so I became interested in the Oulipo and Georges Perec in particular. Georges Perec wrote a three-hundred page novel in French without the letter e. So my dissertation was primarily on La Disparition, on this novel; that was half of it, and the other half was using a text-analysis tool that I built called HyperPo that was meant to help me in examining some of the things that I wanted to examine about the text. So it was a very hybrid project, but again, I was fortunate to have support for it where I was so that it worked out.

Do you still follow contemporary French literature?

Umm… that’s a good question. I will say with some degree of shame and regret that not really. Except for the fact that I tend to still read contemporary French literature for pleasure.

Well yeah, that counts, that counts!

But I don’t turn my attention to analysing it and doing literary criticism, which is a big part of my intellectual upbringing. It’s just more for the interest of reading.

Wouldn’t reading be less fun if you had to analyse what you read?

Yeah, I guess in some ways it would be. I actually do find it a lot of fun to analyse texts as well, so it’s a very different kind of experience. But I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. As I did with La Disparition I thoroughly loved reading it as a novel, as literature, and I thoroughly enjoyed analyzing it as a piece of digital text.

I want to ask about Voyant Tools, which you developed with Geoffrey Rockwell. You’re probably able to see from the site stats what kind of use that tool’s getting, and maybe even where it’s being adopted, where geographic use is coming from. What does that look like?

Yes. I would say it’s gotten, for an academic project, moderate traction. It gets in the thousands of hits per week. The way it’s structured is that there’s a landing page where you can do some things, and it’s also a Web application, so that doesn’t really count the multiple pages that people might be consulting within the site. What it does count, though, which is misleading and also interesting in other ways, is that Voyant Tools has this mechanism where you can embed any of the tools into a blog or Web page, just as you would embed a YouTube clip on a blog or site. An example of this is a German site on Narratology that happens to have embedded Voyant. I know that a good part of the traffic comes from there. My own blog and various other sites that have embedded the tool contribute as well. Part of the traffic is people going to Voyant to use it as a tool, and that tends to spike whenever someone’s doing a workshop or something. That does happen increasingly, which I think is another way of measuring and understanding the traction of the project. Beyond that, it gets regular steady use but not an enormous amount of use, not yet.

As I mentioned to you in a Twitter conversation, I found it very helpful for a project I was doing which was in a class called “Knowledge Taxonomies.” The assignment was to redesign the taxonomy and the navigation tool for a website. So we selected one, 3QuarksDaily. It’s a large aggregator blog with probably over twenty posts per day. So we started with the word frequencies as a way to see what some of the hottest and most frequent topics were.

Cool.

I don’t know how we would have proceeded without that, but that was definitely the best way to start our content audit.

So what were some of the limitations and frustrations?

We applied the Taporware words, and then we manually went through the frequency list, and then clustered the terms… what’s that process called, topic modelling?

Right, so you did topic modelling separately?

Topic modelling, if I’m not mistaken, would refer to an automated process. We were doing it manually in a group by consensus. So that consisted of accounting for stemming changes as well as ruling out insubstantial terms, like colors. That wasn’t a real challenge, it was just a bit of work that we had to do as part of our process. I think we didn’t go that far down into the word frequencies either. We were fairly satisfied that what we were seeing was comprehensive in terms of the topics at least.

Now, a skeptic’s question. Recently, Matt Jockers, who is a leader in the digital humanities in my opinion, tweeted the following message with the hashtag “overly honest methods”: “We deconstructed the text because we didn’t have any good ideas.” I wonder about this. We start playing around with texts with digital humanities tools, maybe without a particular question in mind, and it does end up yielding questions. But I wonder if having that really powerful tool kit at our disposal doesn’t in some cases impair us to have strong conceptual questions to begin with. Do you think that is ever the case?

I definitely think it can be. To say that it impairs us is also to say that we’re not willing to sit down at some point and work hard at trying to come up with the concepts and intuitions separately. Partly what it’s saying is, the tool and a certain number of methodologies are there, and it seems simpler just to start banging away at that than to really think about the text or whatever you happen to be looking at. And I don’t know how common that is. In a lot of cases you’re either working with text that you know already, and so you’ve probably gone through the process of thinking about it. What the tool does and can do very effectively then is to stimulate new ways of looking at and new representations of the text that you wouldn’t have thought of. It opens up new channels. In other cases, where you haven’t read the texts, and Matt will admit to this for some of the texts, it’s also a way of including and dealing with those texts that maybe you don’t have the time and the inclination to read. It’s an impairment in some ways except that maybe realistically you never would have sat down to read those texts and so it’s better than nothing. You know, at least you’re including them in some sense. It’s actually strangely, vaguely reminiscent of what Georges Perec says about constraints when he’s starting to write. He said that nothing scares him more than the blank page. In  other words, if he sits down and has to start writing something, he finds that terrifying. What the constraint allows him to do, when he sits down and he’s working on an Oulipian constraint like writing a novel without the letter e, that gives him a structure in which things can happen. It sort of removes that paralysis of the blank page. In some ways I wonder if in some cases with text analysis it can’t be similar. Sometimes you’re looking at a text and it can be very intimidating and paralyzing to say, now what am I going to do with this thing? In some ways working with text analysis methodologies allows for a breaking up of things and then you go back and you read it. It’s the reverse of how things are sometimes done. But maybe you start doing text analysis and then go back and start reading chunks of text more closely in a way that’s already been informed with some first observations that you’ve made or some intuitions that you’ve had. It’s a way into the text that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. I wouldn’t exaggerate that too much. I present that as one scenario. Another scenario is that you’re too lazy or too unmotivated to read the text and so you start deconstructing it, as Matt says, with the methodologies. In my experience the challenge has been that the more you practice some methodologies the more that can become a habit and a rut, and in some cases the challenge is finding variants of a methodology or new methodologies that would be more appropriate or more fruitful for a given text or corpus.

Yes, there are two really good metaphors that have come to me through you. In your interview with Adam Bluestein that appeared on Fast Company, you said something along the lines of, “When you’re holding a hammer everything starts to look like a nail.” The other is from Ted Underwood. When he was at McGill for a day of digital humanities presentations that you organised, he said, “You have to know when to get out of the jeep.” And he was talking about the limits of formal analysis and the toolkit. So those have stayed with me. I like that.

So do I.

What do you predict for the digital humanities in the next decade?

Hmm… I predict I’m a bad predictor of predictions. [pause] I think most people would agree that digital humanities has been enjoying momentum and administrative support and a willingness by some people to find out what it is, and so on. Some people think that has plateau-ed. I don’t think it actually has, but it will. I think what’s going to happen between now and then, though, is that some aspects of working with digital texts will just become more normalised, in the same way that most researchers will start googling and start looking in a library database and working with digital text. Maybe they don’t admit to that. I know that there are colleagues who would find quotations that are of interest to them in digital form, and then they’ll go look it up in the print version and cite the print version. What I would hope is that people don’t feel like they need to do that anymore, and that there’s a more gradual, iterative movement towards additional exploitation of the strengths of the digital text. Not doing things like topic modeling necessarily, but being able to search in a PDF for those words that you know are there, but would take forever to find in a print edition. That doesn’t seem like very interesting text analysis, but it can be a fundamental part of a research process. And it is significant in that maybe something that you feel like you wanted to say, and then you say, argh, it would take me forever to find that quotation that I was interested in, so I’m just going to drop it; what the digital text allows you to do is to go and look and to see if it would actually be that useful. So I’m actually not convinced that digital scholarship, the form it takes, will change all that much. But the process that leads to there will change. That’s sort of a behind-the-curtains kind of thing, so in some ways it may not seem like things change that much, but I think they really will. And especially the ability to try things out, to experiment. Malcolm McCullough, for example, writes about how the big breakthrough of spreadsheet programs for businesses in the late seventies was not so much in how quickly things could be computed. By the time you enter them it’s not that different from a calculator. But the speed at which you could try things—you know, what if I change this number, what happens to the worksheet number 18 in the cell 4A for example—is increased, and you can try things out very quickly, you can experiment. It’s an endless palimpsest that you can experiment with very quickly. And I think that maybe one of the most significant contributions from digital texts is the ability to try things out very quickly, that there’s a low cost to some paths that you might want to explore. I think that enriches scholarship in general.

I was recently reading a post that came out of the recent MLA digital humanities sessions about setting up a digital humanities lab, where there’s departments, or people from different departments, who say, let’s do this, it’s a great idea, can we do it? In digital humanities, McGill has you and Andrew Piper, and others. To what extent do you see it being practised, either now or in the future, among graduate students at McGill? I don’t want to ask whether or not it’s in McGill’s future to have what might be called a digital humanities ‘lab,’ because it’s so much of an ad hoc thing sometimes, and it’s not a physical space necessarily.

In this very exact case I can say yes, I really do believe it’s in McGill’s future to have a digital humanities lab, institute, centre, whatever. And that’s for various reasons. But you’re hitting on something more significant which is, how does that interact with existing programs, and how does that affect graduate and undergraduate teaching and that sort of thing, especially when you have at best a handful of people and it’s very difficult to build a program out of that. I think that the momentum in a university and an institution is a difficult thing to really predict, because some things happen very quickly that surprise you, and other things that you think would be quick are very slow. So in the meantime, I think the focus is to ensure that we’re starting to build a set of courses that have a strong digital humanities component, even if we don’t call it like that, but that do. That will build interest and a need, a desire for more. By filling my graduate and undergraduate courses, that sort of sends an indication that we could do more of these, and they would be well attended, that people are interested. When the English department, the grad society organises a panel or an event on digital humanities and lots of people show up, that’s sort of an indication that there’s an interest for it. There may be an interest in ways that warrant additional examination, you know, maybe there’s a curiosity, a sense of, what is this thing?, it’s not that I necessarily want to do it, I just want to know what it is; some students go because of that. So I think it’s a combination of things, where there are pure or primarily digital humanities courses that are taught—and I think there will be more and more of those—but also where more and more aspects of digital humanities manifest themselves in existing courses. I think that will happen. I think that some of our colleagues here are genuinely interested and would like to incorporate some of the methodologies. Truth be told, academics tend to be pretty busy and if it’s a prospect of learning a bunch of new technical skills, it may not happen. It’s not necessarily that it’s going to be primarily those people who teach it, but there’s a slow trickle-down effect where more courses mean that there are more students who have come through the system who have taught themselves as I did or who have courses that they take that help with the training. There’s the digital humanities summer institute in Victoria, there’s something similar in Maryland now, and there are things being planned in Europe. Some of those students may go on to academic jobs and those students will incorporate that digital methodology into their teaching. So we recognize that things don’t change as quickly in academia as they do in society. There’s a greater prevalence of digital aspects in society—the prevalence of social media—than you see in typical humanities courses. But there is a constant catching-up process that happens.

My thanks go to Professor Sinclair for taking the time to participate in this interview and for reviewing the interview draft.

Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.