Monthly Archives: March 2013

Graduate Assistantships, Next-Gen Scholars, and Alt-Ac

On this Day of DH, I am on vacation. Some aspects about one’s job don’t go on vacation, though, and that is when one’s outfit is hiring. And while, of late, the Penn State Libraries are hiring for a variety of positions, it’s not those I refer to here. I’m actually talking about the graduate assistantships we have open in the Libraries. One is in the digital humanities, based in the Arts and Humanities Library, and reports to a liaison librarian colleague, Dawn Childress; another is based in a new department, Publishing and Curation Services (PCS), and reports to me. The PCS grad assistant will also work on projects with my colleague, Linda Friend, with whom I co-lead PCS.

In blogging about these openings, I hold up the two graduate assistantships as one example, of many, of building capacity in digital scholarship services overall at Penn State. These openings are intended to facilitate, for instance, investigation of new approaches to humanities research; consultation and assessment activities for library-based journal publishing; expansion of repository services for preserving and sharing research data and scholarship; and increased understanding of author rights and copyright and fair use issues, particularly in the context of scholarly publishing. Graduate students are especially valuable in these efforts, since they constitute an important subset of library users. So, to engage them via assistantships is to engage users – in effect, the next generation of scholars.

But why point to these in the context of Day of DH?

It’s not every day that a subject library and a library department have two assistantships available that are complementary in key ways and offer much potential for collaboration, community building, and coherence in program and service development. As Mike Furlough, our Associate Dean for Research and Scholarly Communications, suggests, these positions are akin to a “cluster hire.” These are also positions that are not easily categorized, or classifiable. They’re boundary breaking. They implicitly call on a willingness to explore, tinker, and experiment. They are as far from a teaching assistantship as one can get, probably, and yet the kinds of abilities critical for successful teaching are central to both.

Sound familiar?

The graduate assistantships Dawn and I offer this semester arguably reflect an “alternative academic” (alt-ac) spirit. It makes sense to bring alt-ac into the fold on the Day of DH, since the DH realm – and its affinity for generating positions that are the first of their kind – has played a significant part in launching the idea of alt-ac, providing examples of it, and, to a certain extent, assessing it. As a former humanities doctoral student who often wondered whether the life of a tenure-track faculty member was really all that, I am beyond glad that the Penn State Libraries are providing opportunities to help graduate students gain skills, knowledge, and experience they wouldn’t ordinarily obtain by continuing to tread familiar waters. Testing new waters, ultimately, is what these assistantships are about. And, I’m happy to say, it’s increasingly what our Libraries are about, too.