Back to top

Learn About a Lecturer: SIS Alum Ashley Maynor Dives into the Nontraditional World of Digital Humanities

Ashley Maynor with service dog CardamomLecturer: Ashley Maynor ('13)

Location: New York City, NY

Academic Background: I was a college scholar, which is part of the “design your own major” program for undergraduates at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I mostly focused on French literature and cultural studies but took courses across many curricula—from anthropology to cinema studies to international relations! I also have an MFA in Film and Media Arts from Temple University and an MSIS from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Work Background: I’m the digital scholarship librarian at NYU Libraries. I like to think of myself as kind of a digital concierge or consultant embedded in the library. I meet primarily with faculty and graduate students to help them plan, create, and disseminate digital scholarship projects¬ –¬ anything from interactive websites to digital storytelling projects. As opposed to a traditional subject liaison, I’m what some people in the library world call a functional liaison: I have an area of expertise, but it’s not confined to one subject. Instead, my skillset can be used across disciplines and fields. The shift towards hiring functional positions is a big trend happening over the past few years in libraries.

How did you become a lecturer at SIS?

I became a lecturer for SIS almost from the very beginning of my librarian career. I had a prior teaching career (as a professor of cinema) and I started in SIS as a last-minute fill-in to teach Management of Information Organizations while working as the digital humanities librarian at UTK. When Diane Kelly came on as director of SIS, I proposed some new classes in digital humanities and scholarship that I felt passionate about, and she said yes to offering them!

What class do you teach at SIS?

I teach Digital Humanities, which you could loosely define as anything that isn’t a traditional journal or book but is still a product of creative or scholarly research. It can take on many, many forms. Sometimes what makes something digital humanities is contextual, sometimes the defining element is who’s making it. Digital humanities can be anything from an interactive map to an annotated digital collection or exhibit; it can be a web documentary or video game; it can be a scholarly blog. It’s a super vast field. What we cover in the class and what we do day-to-day spans the full range and spectrum of digital humanities praxis.

Questions I prepare future librarians to answer range from, “How do I publish in open access journals?” to “How do I reimagine my book as a web exhibit with audio and images that are triggered by mouse hovers?”

What was the reception to your class?

From what I can tell, students seem excited about the content of the course. I try to create a very hands-on environment even in an online course. We do talk about theory and we read about what digital scholarship is and the controversies in the field, but we focus heavily on learning how to effectively use different apps, tools, and platforms from a technical and conceptual point of view. I like to think that the course offers life skills, with the most important one being how to teach yourself new skills. The tools themselves come and go – something I teach you one semester could be obsolete the following semester. Instead, I’m teaching students how to be lifelong learners and how to deal with the bumps and frustrations that come with learning new technology. I think most people have a lot of fun because they get to experiment and explore and make some silly mini-projects! By the end of the course, they make a more serious final project that they’re proud of and leave with a portfolio piece.

What are your long-term goals for teaching this class?

I like to reawaken students’ creativity and to empower them to fail. Those are my two primary goals. A lot of education tends to stifle student creativity and train them to follow directions and stay within guidelines.

A lot of being a librarian, however, is improvisation. So, coming out of years of life as a student to a job as a librarian is like going from learning classical music to performing jazz every day of the week. It can be disorienting and confusing if you’re not comfortable with it. So, being comfortable with failure and prototyping are really important skills for students to have; it’s a kind of workplace culture for them to become familiar with and competent in.

How did you end up in libraries?

I started out as a filmmaker and film professor. I have always had a passion for storytelling. I felt compromised, though, teaching film; it felt like I was promising students a successful career as filmmakers, which is quite rare and difficult to accomplish, no matter how good your education. Around the same time, more and more of what I was doing film-wise had a strong archival component, especially my documentaries. So, I found myself drawn back to libraries and to wanting to have a way to interact and engage with students and faculty without promising them something that might not come true. One of the great parts about becoming a librarian is you’re helping people gain skills that can help them in life not just in a degree program and, of course, you don’t have to give them a grade!

Within librarianship, there’s also a lot more room for interdisciplinary work. I once had a professor tell me as I was applying to grad school that I had too many interests. In traditional studies, that might be considered a weakness. As a librarian, though, this is a strength. It’s a great field for people who want to become a short-term expert in lots of different things—for those who want to make frequent deep dives into something new. There can be a lot of freshness and a lot of variety but still a lot of rigor. I get to create scholarship across disciplines in a way that might not be possible in a traditional academic department.

I actually was a so-called “feral” librarian before getting my MSIS. After I finished my MFA, I worked for a year as the oral history archivist at Roanoke Public Libraries before I joined the Cinema faculty at Virginia Tech.

I think this helped me to transition so quickly upon graduation with my MSIS from being a film professor at Tech to being the first digital humanities librarian at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I worked at UT for four years and got a lot of programs off the ground and bootstrapped a program with very little resources. Then, I had the opportunity to go to NYU and work with a larger team and build a liaison skill development program. I’ve been at NYU for about a year and a half and I love working with so many colleagues across the libraries to build digital humanities capacity.

What kind of academic work are you currently doing?

I do both traditional scholarly writing and I publish and create digital scholarship projects and those have a multi-media or film component to it. For instance, a few years ago, I completed an interactive web documentary about the role of libraries and archives in responding to tragedies like the shooting at Sandy Hook. More recently, I’ve created a multi-media essay about innovative librarians in the American South that will be published in the Journal of New Librarianship in 2019. I’m also heavily invested in professional development for academic librarians. Five years ago, I co-founded The Library Collective (thelibrarycollective.org) and have published a few articles about collaboration and designing skill development opportunities for academic librarians.