Digital Scholarship Lab: Thoughts on Laboratories and Libraries from MSU

On February 5th, 2018, I attended a reception celebrating the opening of the Michigan State University Digital Scholarship lab. It was introduced to me as a ‘transformative space for teaching and learning.’ From a glance through the website, it is easy to see that the DSL has a lot to offer. From work spaces including digitization labs, meeting rooms, and computer labs with dozens of software packages available for free to VR systems and an ‘Igloo’ 360 visualization room, the space is brimming with capability.


A group of people standing inside the Igloo 360 visualization room


What/How/Why – Approaching DH spaces and tools thoughtfully.  


The chatter throughout the reception centered around questions like ‘this is so cool, but how am I going to use this;’ ‘who can use the space;’ and ‘what kind of work will come about because of this.’ These questions were raised by scholars from all corners of the university, all proposing their unique approach to the tools and tech offered. While questions centered on technical capabilities are important, and should be critically examined by each scholar as they approach any project, I felt that there were larger questions to be addressed. Questions like: How will this space affect the intersection between different forms of digital humanities scholars? Or how might it affect DH communities which exist solely online or otherwise?


In order to answer these questions, I asked Dr. Bill Hart-Davidson, associate Dean for graduate students in the College of Arts and Letters, to sit down with me so that we might work through them.


The first thing that Bill established when I asked about what type of work he envisioned coming out of the lab was that the space is indeed as capable as those scholars from the reception thought, but not only is it capable—it’s capacious. Its ability to serve technical needs is equal to its ability to host. (Interestingly, as he said this I noticed that there were a total of three HASTAC Scholars from two different cohorts in the lab as we spoke, all working towards different ends but employing the space nonetheless.) This capaciousness, according to Bill, stemmed from the shift in purpose that the Library has undergone in the last few decades.


A depiction of blood vessels projected onto the Igloo visualization room.

Lab/Lib – Education experienced, collected, distilled.


When I asked Bill if this excitement about technology is a perpetual feature of academia, he gave two answers. The short answer was yes. The longer answer was that while these technological advancements have been happening for a long time, the accessibility of that tech was not always what it is today. When new tech was introduced in the past, it would only be available in one faculty member’s office, or in one classroom, or in one laboratory. Now, with this tech in the Library where everyone can access it, it’s so much more exciting because there are no barriers.


The idea of laboratories being the space for experience in education, and the library being the space for densely accumulated knowledge about those experiences, has become outdated. Instead, as we rely less and less on physical space in the library, it has been repurposed to host experiences. That is what the DSL represents, said Bill, the capacity of the library to not only chronicle the accounts of education but to accommodate learning experiences as well.


What now?


As a first year master’s student the nagging question I had to ask was—any advice? How do we best use this space? What can I do here and now while I have the chance? Bill’s answer was this: Don’t be shy now! In other words, we cannot afford to be hesitant to take advantage of all that is available to us. This applies to the Digital Scholarship Lab, the HASTAC network, and any other online or physical space where we can collaborate and learn interdisciplinarily. As with all tools, we have the ability to invent on the fly, to visualize what was once invisible, to problem solve, and to innovate. We should capitalize on the opportunities we are given, and we should be trying to prompt others to say ‘look what we can do.’


To find out more about the Digital Scholarship Lab, visit


Photos by Shelby Kroske, courtesy of the MSU Libraries.

Thank you to everyone at the DSL who helped me find what I needed, and to Bill Hart-Davidson for making the time to talk. 

One response to “Digital Scholarship Lab: Thoughts on Laboratories and Libraries from MSU”

  1. Dear Rebekah,
    Thank you for writing about what sounds like a really amazing new space! We have something similar at my campus (UCSD) called the digital media lab. However, it’s still fairly new and it would be amazing to have the 360 igloo visualization in the future!
    Thanks for sharing,