Amanda Licastro

Interview with Digital Scholarship Librarian, Amanda Licastro

Today we chat with new Digital Scholarship Librarian Amanda Licastro. Even though she’s just started at Swarthmore, it’s already clear to us in the Academic Technology team that Amanda will be one of our real partners in the Libraries as we strive to make technology useful, accessible, and fun for the campus community. While not really part of our “Who is that?” series, we thought it a great opportunity to introduce her. Thanks for joining us Amanda!

Your title is Digital Scholarship Librarian, what is it that you *actually* do here?

My role supports the exploration, integration, and evaluation of digital tools across the curriculum at Swarthmore. I work with students, staff, and faculty who are interested in applying digital technologies to their scholarship and pedagogy by helping them find the right tool for their project, which involves assessing the practical and theoretical implications of the technologies they are considering. Simply put: I can help you do cool things with tech tools.  

In collaboration with the Digital Scholarship team and ITS at Swarthmore and in the Tri-Co, I also work to develop sustainable and scalable digital resources, and explore emerging and existing technologies which enable the use of digital content for the Swarthmore community and beyond. Currently, I am excited to launch an Immersive Realities Initiative (work with me!), help coordinate the DSRI, and to start planning the LibLab Fellowship for next year. 

Thinking about your previous experience, what brought you to this position at Swarthmore?

As a graduate student in English literature and digital humanities (DH) at the Graduate Center, CUNY, I studied the representations of emerging technologies in science fiction and their manifestations in the real world. As part of my doctorate, I earned a certificate in Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (ITP) and served as an Instructional Technology Fellow (ITF) for professors across the disciplines. This allowed me to apply the theory I was learning in my DH classes to real-life issues in the classroom. For example, if a class wanted to make an interactive map, or develop a public archive, or visualize a large data set, I would help them research an accessible tool and create a structure to share their work with the general public while considering issues of copyright and privacy. Through this position I found a passion for experimenting with emerging technologies and applying them to pedagogical contexts. In my first role as a faculty member in an English department, I was able to implement these skills in my own courses, but found considerable demand for workshops and further support from my colleagues and students alike. I realized I could share my knowledge more broadly. Luckily for me, this job allows me to do that every day! 

What do you think has changed the most about the way technology in higher education works in the past five years?

I am going to break this into good news/bad news. First, for the better, I think educational technology has become more accessible, with conversations about universal design and open access emerging as priorities. From my perspective there has been a shift from gate-keeping and walled gardens to democratization and knowledge sharing, which I am a huge advocate for and proponent of.

On the dark side, we have also seen significant concerns over surveillance and data collection that infringes, often in nefarious ways, on privacy. This is coupled with a lack of transparency from tech companies, especially about labor and environmental practices, which is and should be concerning in every industry.

Part of my job and my scholarly research is to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of digital tools to consider both sides, and to advise the Swarthmore community on how to develop flexible digital and data literacy skills. 

How are Libraries changing to leverage those technological challenges and changes?

Great question! Libraries around the world are considering how to make their collections more accessible while reevaluating how they collect and present data. For example, libraries are digitizing materials in a variety of formats, from static images with alt-text and descriptive metadata to interactive virtual reality exhibits. This philosophy, “collections as data,” offers an opportunity to reimagine the ways in which we present information, to make sure the language and platforms we use are ethical and equitable.

I also see libraries as taking on a central role in creating co-curricular opportunities to develop critical information literacy skills, including – or maybe especially – opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to learn about emerging technologies and their applications in higher education. 

Would you please describe your job in haiku?

As a fun experiment, I asked OpenAI to do this for me, and here are the top two results 😛

Emerging tech calls
Data ethics guide our way
Digital librarian

And this one:

The digital scholar 
Amanda guides us all to learn 
New tech, new skills, thrive

What are your work goals for 2023?

My first priority is to establish a clear mission and strong identity for digital scholarship on campus, in collaboration with ITS, the new TLC, and the Research and Instruction team at the library. To do this I am focused on getting to know the faculty, staff and students at Swarthmore, and am trying to assess the needs and gaps in support I can help fill. I am already delighted to be working with many brilliant Swatties to help them plan, build, and sustain digital projects in a variety of contexts, and am inspired by the innovative use of digital methods across campus. For example, we hosted Douglass Day this month, which many courses participated in, and a number of people attended, to help celebrate Black history and digitize under-researched materials as part of the Colored Conventions Project. We are hoping to make this an annual event.

As previously mentioned, I will also be developing an immersive realities initiative which is designed to support curricular engagement with virtual and augmented reality, as well as working with the Makerspace to explore scholarly applications of 3D modeling and printing. I am grateful for the opportunity to bring my expertise to a new area of exploration for Swarthmore, and hope to create dynamic events and engaging experiences for everyone to get involved. If you are interested in learning more about using emerging technologies in your research or teaching please reach out to me! 

What bigger-picture issues are you hoping to be most involved with here at Swarthmore?

I am proud to be a member of the accessibility group on campus, and am dedicated to creating equitable digital resources for our community. This team has already done really incredible work bringing awareness to accessibility issues and remediating digital course materials. For my part, I’d like to explore how we can implement emerging technologies to support alternative means to engage with previously inaccessible content. 

Is there anything you’d like to share about yourself that we wouldn’t know to ask?

I love to cook! Come chat with me about recipes, restaurants, and really anything food related. I’m always happy to meet over a meal or beverage to learn more about you and your digital project dreams 🙂