A Bold New Venture for the DPG: Our First Graduate Course

Your humble blogger in museum professor attire, ca. Spring 2012. (The goatee is presently on sabbatical.)

The Digitization Projects Group moved into our current digs – the Riley Digitization Center – in October 2008. Since that time, we’ve grown to a staff of five full-time employees, four graduate assistants and up to ten undergraduate student workers at any given time. Our collections have grown from 12 to 57, and an item count of 27,000 exploded to just under 200,000. In short, our growth in just four years has been tremendous, and new opportunities to impact the world of academic scholarship continue to present themselves.

Our newest initiative will take us directly into the classroom – or, more accurately, the classroom will come to us. The upcoming Spring 2013 semester will see the first graduate course at Baylor University to be offered in the Riley Center, where students will receive advanced, hands-on training in digitization, materials curation, contextual research methods and marketing for digital collections/exhibits. Titled MST 5327: Technology and Outreach for Museums and Libraries, the course is an elective in the Master of Arts program in Museum Studies (MST), one of only a handful of such programs in the state of Texas. To our knowledge, it will be the only course of its kind in the state, and the hybrid nature of offering graduate level education in library/archival digitization procedures is a first in the field of Museum Studies curricula.

Museums, Libraries, Archives … and Scanners?

The Riley Center: through these doors pass the greatest students in the world

Some of you may be wondering how this kind of partnership came about. It comes down to three things: demand in the  marketplace, opportunity for experience and a curator that works for a library. As a proud alumnus of the Museum Studies program, I have been fortunate to keep a foot in both worlds – graduate trained in museum techniques and practices, but working in a digitization center – and this has led to some wonderful opportunities to give current MST grad students access to our advanced digitization center. For the past couple of years, we have employed graduate assistants from the MST program in the Riley Center, and their training in collections management and materials processing is a great complement to our work creating digital surrogates for physical materials.

My association with both departments led to some excellent conversations between the administrators and faculty in each area, and a common theme began to emerge: graduates of the MST program are entering a job field where they are competing with people who have years of experience in museum work, so any advantage we can give them during their graduate work will provide them one extra leg up on the competition. Potential employers are increasingly asking newly minted grads about their experience in creating, managing or otherwise overseeing digital records. From internal database systems like PastPerfect to using Flickr or Facebook for outreach, museums of all sizes are entering the digital collections realm in greater numbers every year, and graduates with experience and skills in the area are in high demand.

Baylor’s unique position of operating an advanced digitization center and being home to a graduate program in the world of cultural heritage creates a perfect opportunity to offer MST students advanced training in this burgeoning field. And so, a combination of an increasingly integrated relationship between the University Libraries and the Museum Studies program gave rise to the new course.

What Will They Learn, Exactly?

I am very excited to have been given the chance to create this new course from the ground up. Thanks to the enthusiastic backing of Dean Pattie Orr, VP for the Electronic Library Tim Logan and Manager of Digitization Projects Darryl Stuhr, we’re working to create an educational opportunity for MST grad students – 15 enrolled at present – to digitize materials from an archival collection, do contextual research on that collection, create a digital exhibit and then create a marketing plan explaining how to promote the exhibit to a defined target audience.

Sounds like a lot to cram into one semester, doesn’t it? We feel it’s actually very beneficial for the students for a number of reasons.

  • Documentable scanning experience on a variety of specialized – but applicable – technologies like flatbed scanners, database management systems and Web 2.0 tools
  • Opportunities to do deeper research for background and context setting for an archival collection
  • A pair of tangible outcomes (a digital collection and a marketing plan) that graduates can use as resume enhancements and examples of relevant, real world experience in the field

The course lectures will take place in a newly opened “smart” classroom located near the Riley Center, with the scanning, metadata cataloging and other digitization work carried out in the RDC. By the end of the semester, each student will have hands-on experience with technology and materials they would be hard-pressed to gain in any other museum studies graduate program, all before they cross the stage at their graduation ceremony.

It goes without saying that we’re excited about the possibilities of this course, and we hope it will provide interesting new opportunities for the furthering of a partnership between the Baylor libraries and the Department of Museum Studies. Certainly, it gives DPG staff a chance to contribute to the “transformational education” imperative outlined in Pro Futuris, the strategic vision for Baylor University set out by our administration earlier this year.

As part of their course requirements, the students in MST 5327 will be contributing to a course blog; when they’ve begun stretching their authorial muscles, we’ll post a link to this blog so you can follow along with their exploits. And look for additional updates via the Digital Collections blog over the course of the semester, as we think this course will be a valuable new avenue for outreach and impact centered on the work we’re doing in the DPG.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a syllabus to polish, a midterm to write and 15 graduate students to schedule for scanning service. Next semester is shaping up to be busier (and more exciting) than ever.