Amazingly I actually enjoyed this week’s reading and found myself pretty excited about it. As I read Palmer’s “Thematic Research Collections” (TRCs) I found myself contemplating what sort of collection I could put together, or whether my father who has an obsession with a very specific kind of antique would benefit from doing something like this. This is the way that digital advances should intersect with academic pursuits and the development of intellectual capital. It has many advantages and only two significant flaws.
The flaws, which of course I will begin with, are the weakness of some collections and the effort it will take to set up an initial network that will be truly useful to students and scholars of all sorts.
As instructed I chose a showcase in the Omeka website and perused it. HIV and AIDS 30 Years Ago caught my attention for several reasons, the primary being that as a junior in high school in 1994 I wrote my AP US History paper on how badly the Reagan administration fell down on the job of warning the public of the risk of HIV between 1984 and 1986. My argument was that had homophobia not played such a major role in the administration many lives would have been saved just through prevention.
Honestly this Omeka was disappointing. I was looking forward to this, looking to see what sorts of materials and documents had been gathered. It felt very superficial. Fragments of an interview that was not contextualized. Information that was not exactly inaccurate, but definitely incomplete regarding the timeline of the virus’ discovery. Hell, even the movie And the Band Played On had more depth to it. I’m not going to go as far as to say that my junior year of high school paper was better, but I’d definitely say it was on par with this Omeka. Sorry, it just disappointed.
However, the fact that it disappointed does not mean that it has to. I don’t think it is a weakness with the concept, just with the newness of it. And I would say the same of Women Writers Project. (Sorry to any of my friends who are involved in this.) Unlike the Omeka I explored this project has depth, but the layout of the site is counterintuitive and confusing. Were I an undergrad just poking around, I could see myself getting annoyed and giving up on this pretty awesome resource quickly.
Getting back for a minute to Palmer’s piece about these TRCs I agree whole heartedly with the argument that this is something that libraries need to get on. It’s a great concept, and it can be integrated without much difficult into pre-existing structures. Though I want to state very clearly that it should not be added to the already insane level of responsibilities most librarians have, this should be set to librarians who do only this.
I want to clarify my vision for how I see these TRCs integrating into the pre-existing structure. Take for instance the current set up when searching through databases at UNE. A user can go directly into a specific database available through UNE’s library website. Or one can go through a specific field. So one could click on ‘Sociology’ and end up looking at several databases that are useful to sociological research. And political science. And history. And marine biology. And a whole bunch of other things. I’m not critiquing, but the current system is not very targeted. This is where TRCs could be very helpful.
Under Sociology there could be another category called TRCs (there could also be a category in general on the side called TRCs under which there would general categories like sociology, psychology, literature, etc.). Under the TRCs in sociology there would a further subdivision into certain internal disciplines – sociology of medicine, sociology of religion, globalization studies, etc. – and under those subdivisions would be links to TRCs that would be applicable to those areas.
Of course the TRCs would be cross-listed, they would most likely be multi-disciplinary, and that’s a good thing. Users who create them could fill out a form to have them included under a certain category(s), the librarian-in-charge would evaluate whether there was sufficient depth to include it (or perhaps give it a rigor rating out of ten rather than a simple inclusion/exclusion ) and then create links to it in all sufficient spaces. This would create a hybrid system that would benefit all the parties involved.
If this system were to exist, I could imagine several courses where there would a collective class project to create specific TRCs, or to build and improve on pre-existing ones. Were I teaching Sociology of Medicine or Health, I might want to tackle that HIV and AIDS 30 Years Ago Omeka and charge each student to find five more sources that would improve the TRC. This would also have the advantage of getting them to do their work early, as the first person to email/post a source would be the one to get credit for it.
In closing, I really like this concept and I hope to see it grow over time. Yes, for once, I approve. Flabbergasting, I know.