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Taking on someone else’s job (or, Hey look, I’m in charge of the Digital Humanities Associates now.)

As of today, I find myself in charge of the Digital Humanities Associates on our campus, seven exceptional student workers who partner with faculty on digital humanities projects while they also help build the digital humanities conversation, community, and infrastructure on our campus. It’s a temporary assignment until we hire a new librarian, but it’s a weighty one for me. There are so many hopes and expectations riding on this program, so many practical and political, technical and interpersonal aspects. So much room for excitement, engagement, and success. So much potential for failure.

Dutch Boy and Dike

“The Hero of Haarlem” from Hans Brinker; or, the Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland, by Mary Mapes Dodge (1865)

My good friend and outstanding colleague Heather Tompkins built the program from scratch (not alone, of course, but centrally important), and now she’s moved on to work her magic at St. Kate’s. Walking up to work this morning, everything felt slightly unreal, slightly fractured, as I realized that there’s a Heather-ish hole in our library now, and that I’m supposed to be able to patch one portion of that hole – keep the dike from bursting – while doing some semblance of justice to Heather’s vision for the DHAs and the digital liberal arts at Carleton.

Taking over from someone who has built a program from scratch is a daunting thing. You’d think that with a young program, now entering its fourth academic year, it’d be easier to pick up and move forward. There’s less history to learn, for one thing. But with less history comes fewer people who know that history who can support you as you find your way, more things that lived solely in one person’s memory, fewer stable pieces of infrastructure to cling to.

So today I’m going to pour over the documentation and notes that Heather left for me and the notes I took while she told me about her work, and I’m going to begin the process of wrapping my head around this new project.