Sparking the Datamagination: 2021 Digital Strategy Summer Intern Design Sprint part II

In a recent post, I interviewed Team Digivision about their work designing a conceptual solution for using 1000 PPTs derived from the Library’s web archives.

We pick up part II of the design sprint series by interviewing Team “Datamagination,” the second group of interns that participated in this summer’s design sprint in LC Labs.

Before we begin, please introduce yourselves!

My name is Maria Capecchi. I’m a fourth-year Ph.D. Candidate in the English Department at the University of Iowa, studying early modern poetry and drama. This summer I’m working under the supervision of LC Labs on a research project to improve digital literacies, helping older Americans find and connect to the Library of Congress’s digital collections.

And I’m Abigail Tick, an undergraduate student at Syracuse University studying Citizenship & Civic Engagement, Sociology, and Women’s & Gender Studies. As a Junior Fellow in the Digital Strategy Directorate with LC Labs, I have been researching how current users engage with the Library’s digital materials in innovative and creative ways while also discovering methods to connect with potential new audiences.

My name is Joshua Ortiz Baco and I’m a sixth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Texas at Austin. My work as a Junior Fellow in the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative has been surveying community-based cultural heritage work focused on racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. and identifying existing efforts by the Library of Congress to engage with underserved audiences.

In a previous post, team “Digivision” shared a bit more about the design sprint activity with our readers. Tell us how your team approached it!

As you know, this summer we had the opportunity to participate in a design sprint with the Digital Strategy Directorate that pushed us to explore ways to make Library of Congress datasets useful for a specific user group. We effectively learned how to create, test, and modify a pen-and-paper prototype while engaging in a fast-paced and collaborative experience.

First, we had to pick our user group. Our team, Datamagination, decided to focus on the needs of undergraduate students. We were motivated to connect novice undergraduate students interested a range of digital activities with one of the Library’s datasets. Our larger goal was to increase student confidence with digital tools through trial and error in a scaffolded environment so that they would come to see themselves as “digital scholars.” We worked to design a product that would lead students to return to the Library of Congress digital collections and resources.

When it came time to choose a dataset, we selected the Newspaper Navigator dataset to fuel this sprint. Created by Ben Lee, LC Labs 2020 Innovator-in-Residence, this dataset contains content from Chronicling America – a database of digitized historical newspaper pages – in the form of headlines, photographs, illustrations, maps, comics, cartoons, and advertisements of 16 million newspaper pages. Lee also built an accompanying search application, through which users can search the dataset visually by creating their own subsets of images and then training the search algorithms to find other visually similar images in the corpus.

It sounds like your team spent a lot of time researching and articulating the needs of an undergraduate student from a specific background. Can you say more about how you approached that process?

Seeing as the design sprint instructed us to foreground the needs of our potential user, we started by developing a “persona,” or detailed profile, that surfaced and captured potential barriers an undergraduate student would face when working in digital humanities. Specifically, we wanted to identify pain points so we could design a prototype that would increase their confidence and means of access.

With the guidance of one of the Library’s User Experience designers, we came up with the following profile:

Our target user is an undergraduate student enrolled at a four-year college/university. This student has a strong work ethic, is intellectually curious, and did well at their local public high school. However, this individual also faces barriers to their previous technology experience and current digital access. We have identified three overlapping identities that can create barriers to success: first-generation college students, English language learners, and limited financial capital. Despite their innate abilities and personal drive, these students are sometimes overlooked in the digital classroom space.”

Our prototype thus aimed to address the following “pain points” or barriers to access:

  • lack of cultural capital,
  • language proficiency,
  • limited financial capital

How did you attempt to include these pain points in your design process?

This analysis led us to keep in mind several design considerations. For example, we wanted to create a product that our user would have to be able to use without access to high-speed internet, or on borrowed devices. More potential solutions to pain points are included in the image below.

In order to meet the needs of undergraduate students in better understanding and accessing the Newspaper Navigator dataset, we thought it would be best for our final product to be a lesson plan that university professors could use in an undergraduate literature course.

Ah, so your “prototype” is not strictly digital at all! Instead, you created an educational resource. What are these lessons about?

We designed a series of exercises designed for undergraduate students with any level of digital scholarship experience to use the Newspaper Navigator search application. The lesson plan familiarizes students with Library of Congress digital materials, specifically the Chronicling America collection, while also increasing their ability and confidence with using Newspaper Navigator. Through hands-on experience, the lesson plans teach students:

  • the basics of metadata,
  • how to create datasets, and
  • how to make simple visualizations.

We began with an important glossary of terms:

And then created three corresponding lesson plans, each building on the one before. It was important to us that it was possible to complete all the tasks involved in each of the three lessons we developed on a phone or tablet. Furthermore, we made sure that each lesson would not involve data or tools that take up huge amounts of memory. Finally, our lesson plans encourage students through all steps and does not assume competencies that our users may not have.

The first lesson provides an introduction to using the Newspaper Navigator search application to create a unique mini-collection of images. The second asks students to download the metadata about the imagines in their mini-collection and place it on a map. The third and final lesson plan presents a series of guiding questions for understanding what kind of information may be contained in or missing from the datasets. Beyond basic technical competencies, we aimed to introduce the idea of bias and source positioning by emphasizing that all data is mediated, incomplete.

How does this work connect to other projects at the Library of Congress?

Our prototype was inspired by the Digital Scholarship at the Library of Congress Research Guide – a resource for users who want to engage with digital Library of Congress materials for a range of purposes. We believe in its utility and general applicability because we used it ourselves as a starting point to better understand our dataset. Like the research guide, we wanted to provide easy-to-follow instructions that would help our users engage with the Newspaper Navigator dataset.

The entire design sprint itself was a reflective and eye-opening exercise for us—we benefitted immensely from the information and tutorials made available through the research guide and on labs.loc.gov generally. One of our biggest takeaways and hopes for the future is to keep asking, if we learned all this in a mere five-day sprint, what are the possibilities for sustained classroom learning and instruction?

If you are a K-12 or university instructor and are curious about using Library of Congress digital materials in your classroom, please get in touch with us at [email protected] .

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