Helen Shuster, one of WPI’s most distinguished library directors, who championed many digital scholarship firsts during her tenure at the George C. Gordon Library (1992–2008), inspired another first through her generous gift of $20,000—one of the largest cash gifts the library has ever received.
Shuster’s unrestricted gift made it possible for the library to create WPI’s first Digital Scholarship Lab, complementing new state-of-the-art academic spaces in the recently opened Foisie Innovation Studio.
The WPI community will be invited to three open house events so they can visit and explore the Shuster Digital Scholarship Lab, located on the first floor of the Gordon Library, prior to its formal dedication at 2 p.m. on October 25.
Supporting Digital Scholarship
Associate Director of Library Academic Strategies Lori Ostapowicz-Critz, and University Librarian Anna Gold consulted with Shuster on a vision, receiving considerable input from Humanities & Arts faculty and others on what they believed would be valuable for their own research and for curricular needs. As a result, the Gordon Library is creating an open, active space that promotes and supports digital scholarship across all disciplines.
“That input was a significant driver in determining the layout, equipment, and—most important—the services we are trying to offer in the lab,” Ostapowicz-Critz says.
Shuster’s generous donation to the library inspired and made it possible to create the space, Gold adds.
“The digital revolution really enhanced and changed the roles of librarians and the whole library. I see this Shuster Lab as a continuation of that effort." -Helen Shuster
Shuster herself, in collaboration with the Academic Technology Center, created the original two learning labs in the library, naming them in honor of Albert Anderson Jr., Gordon Library’s founding director who gave the library a generous gift when he retired in 1992, Gold says.
On the Forefront of the Digital Revolution
Shuster and her husband, Allan Johannesen ‘68, who retired from WPI in 2013 after a career in IT, collaborated in creating the E-projects and ETD platforms that began digitally publishing WPI student work for the world to see. Both were on the forefront of the digital revolution that transformed the roles libraries and librarians played.
“The digital revolution really enhanced and changed the roles of librarians and the whole library,” Shuster says. “I see this Shuster Lab as a continuation of that effort. I’m really excited about it and I think the work the staff has done collaborating with faculty for a vision for the lab has been excellent.
“I’m delighted that it continues the work I was involved in when this whole digital revolution was happening.”
She believes the space will help faculty and students work together on Interactive Qualifying Projects and other work.
The new Shuster Digital Scholarship Lab will include both large-format and high-output multi-page scanning equipment, 12 workstations, Solstice wi-fi screen sharing, large-format monitors at each station, a document camera, and two large (72- and 90-inch) presentation screens, Ostapowicz-Critz explains.
Lab software will include tools for visualizing data, manipulating digital data, and manipulating images—many of which will be open source/free software packages, she says. The full Adobe Creative Suite will also be available. “Immediately adjacent is the library's updated and expanded multimedia lab, with more than 20 workstations offering access to powerful media software and graphics capability.”
Workshops, Peer-to-Peer Learning
The lab will be ideal for small workshops: guided and peer-to-peer learning, hands-on teaching, and informal and individual work with digital scholarship hardware and software. It will be available for classes, for students in groups and as individuals (when not booked for classes), and for faculty research.
“Assistance will be provided by several librarians with expertise in digital scholarship, including expertise with some of the software and the equipment, who will be available for classes or workshops and also consultations—and our instruction librarians, who will be available to teach information-seeking/information evaluation type of sessions as well,” Ostapowicz-Critz says.
Gold envisions the lab as space for faculty to learn, too, with peer-to-peer workshops.
“Helen’s gift was what made this happen,” Gold says. “It was her seed gift and vision of an idea that inspired the whole plan. There is a great legacy here of brilliant librarians that we are building on.
“Helen is very excited about this. She understands the library is about creating spaces and systems where people can share ideas and develop new understandings in new ways. That’s what the library is. It’s not just the books … though, we love the books, too.”
Shuster saw and understood the magnitude of the impact the digital revolution would have, and she worked with all faculty, the administration and the community to make it happen, Gold points out.
“Our goal is to build on Helen and Al’s incredible legacy and bring it into a new generation,” Gold says. “As I learned about what Helen did when she was here, I immediately recognized she was a force that brought this library into the Internet era. She brought in original systems to help the library manage its own systems digitally. That was a big thing.
“She was right there when journals were transitioned to electronic publication, with tremendous implications for how scholarship is done. And, then, on top of that, she led efforts at WPI to digitally publish all student theses, dissertations, and projects in electronic form and share them with the world. That has become the foundation of what we’re trying to do now, with modern tools and platforms.”
-By Paula Owen