Taking the Humanities Online

Once again, we’re having student volunteers blog programs of interest from the ALA Annual Conference. This time, Jayna Ramsey covers “Humanities In the Digital Era: Mashing up Public Programs with MOOCS, Media, and More,” held on Saturday, June 29, at 1 pa.m.

Humanities are not dead. That is the message of the Library as Incubator project as well as the other presenters at “Humanities In the Digital Era: Mashing up Public Programs with MOOCS, Media, and More.” The way that libraries have taken it upon themselves to showcase and promote humanities is becoming more creative, both in the way that the humanities are being expressed, as well as the partnerships that are being formed to make it all possible.

The mission of the Library as Incubator project is to promote and facilitate creative collaboration between libraries and artists of all types, and to advocate for libraries as incubators of the arts. Co-founders Erinn Batykefer and Laura Damon-Moore presented at the session. The main point they emphasized in their presentation was that the library is a place to create and connect, and that we as librarians can encourage this through humanities programming, which can include more passive events, such as art shows, as well are more participatory events, such as performing arts programs.

Janie Hermann of the Princeton (N.J.) Public Library exemplified the ideals of the Library as Incubator project by using funds from the NEH Challenge Grant to produce programs related to the humanities. One of the projects Hermann discussed was the library’s Poetry Podcast Blog. Princeton Public Library brought in local poets and had them read a piece of their original work. They published one podcast a day for the entirety of April for National Poetry Month in 2007. From there they began to offer a Poets at the Library series, where local poets read their original work followed by an open mic session. Another project that Hermann talked about was the Page to Stage program, which allowed the library to produce dramatic readings of literature using the talents of local actors.

Lindsay Sarin, the MLIS coordinator at the University of Maryland, discussed MOOCs. What are MOOCs? Massive Online Open Courses, or online classes available in many disciplines, from math to philosophy and everything in between. Currently there are several big companies that offer free MOOCs: Coursera, edX, and University of Reddit. Coursera and edX offer courses from universities across the United States, including Harvard, Berkley, and Yale, and internationally from the University of Hong Kong, University of Edinburgh, and Tel Aviv University. University of Reddit offers courses from experts in several different areas, including fine arts, filmmaking, computer science, foreign languages, and even gaming strategies.

Sarin offered a couple different ways that programming could be designed that includes Moocs. First is to offer programming to teach patrons how to use online courses. Oftentimes patrons who are interested in or need to take online courses don’t have the computer skills required to execute them properly. Tech classes or tutoring sessions could be implemented to teach patrons how to use online course websites. Working as a reference desk assistant at my university, I often get asked by community members about MOOCs and how they can go about using them. I have found that MOOCs are a great alternative for these patrons to traditional classes. They appreciate that they can do them on their own time and at their own pace. They also like that the courses are free—as well all know, the cost of education just keeps going higher and higher. While I personally haven’t participated in a MOOC yet, I have had peers in my LIS program rave about the courses that they have taken.

The next suggestion that Sarin offers is to design a program around a MOOC itself. It could potentially be like a MOOC bookclub, with participants taking the course and coming together to discuss course material or to complete projects that relate to course material. You could also supplement MOOC course materials with nonfiction books from the libraries’ collection.

So keep the humanities alive and well at your library, and take advantage of all of the wonderful humanities content available online to help you plan your next humanities program!