Web of Thoughts

I had the opportunity to here Cathy Davidson’s talk last week titled “Now You See It: Changing Higher Education to Change the World.” and then subsequently attended the workshop she co-facilitated with Jeff McClurken exploring potential paths forward for Digital Studies at Davidson. In her talk Davidson alluded to 2013 being the 20th anniversary of the publicly accessible World Wide Web. While some might quibble about the absolute accuracy of that statement, 1993 was undeniably a watershed year for the Web. That year the code behind the web was publicly released, and the first widely used graphical browser, Mosaic, was made available. For an overall brief discussion of the history of the Web, this article in Wikipedia would seem to be an appropriate choice. This was a formative time for me as a librarian as I entered library school in 1994 and was part of the first generation of librarians where the Internet was part of our formal educations. I even remember using WAIS and Gopher, terminology that probably means nothing to anyone under 30.

In the afternoon session, part of the discussion around digital studies turned to an exchange of opinions regarding how important the quality of the production values in a digital project are in relation to a grade or evaluation in a class. I won’t repeat the whole discussion but will state that I am in the camp that thinks that the need for excellent production values is situational. A video made for a Film Production class needs high production values, a film made as an alternative to a paper in a political science might be more appropriately judged on content and organization over production. Of course the tools available to the video maker matter as well. In creating a digital project, understanding the audience, goals, context and limitations of the tools available are paramount for success.

Circling back to the web, my current digital project has been working on revamping the library’s website as part of the overall upgrade of Davidson’s website. Aside from making my eyeballs bleed, it has me thinking about the factors I’ve outlined above. So what are the goals of the new library website? There are a number of goals, but to try and be concise we would like to let students, faculty, staff, and prospective students (our audiences) know how we can help them, inform them on what resources are available to them, lead them to those resources when available and appropriate and provide some instruction on how to use them. In addition, being librarians, we would also like to model good information organization and metadata practices. Doing this can be complicated, as the divergent audiences may have different needs. So heading back to how our success should be judged, content and organization? YES. Production values? To some extent, but the Davidson design templates take care of most of this for us and to some extent restrict our choices. I for one am glad for the restriction, one less thing to worry about. Understanding our audiences and meeting their divergent needs? Have a look at the new site in a couple of months and let us know. We would love the feedback. Lessons learned from this digital project can be applied across a host of other projects we would like to do. They might even apply to some Digital Studies Initiative projects in the future.