Asynchronous and Digital Learning at the Library

Through our institutional repository and LMU Digital Collections, our students as well as scholars around the world can engage with other scholars’ research and the historical documents of our special collections, wherever they are. Moreover, our students and faculty actively contribute to the scholarly record through their contributions to LMU Digital Commons

Digital Collections: New Platforms of Discovery

In summer 2019, we migrated our digital collections to Adam Matthew’s Quartex platform. This new, cloud-based solution provides functionality that improves our capability to curate digital content and patrons’ ability to access and engage with our unique collections. As an early adopter, we worked closely with the Adam Matthew team to ensure a seamless user experience. We developed processes for all 10,000 asset files and corresponding metadata to create and apply standards-based practices for all filenames, descriptive metadata, and embedded metadata before migrating to the new system, to ensure consistency and improve discoverability through platforms such as the Digital Public Library of
America. Additionally, we are working with Quartex to expand our digital collections by including more video collections and enabling features that advance research for LMU faculty and students, such as making handwritten materials accessible through searches using Handwritten Text Recognition tools.

black and white photo of pep band students holding instruments
From our digital collections, the LMU basketball band circa 1975.

While the library building was closed due to COVID-19, the Digital Collections became even more useful for all LMU students to access the library’s digitized special collections for their research. We have even been able to quickly add personal photos taken while processing manuscript and other collections to help students access needed research material while staff couldn’t be on campus.

Class conversation about what is gained or lost through working with digitized images of objects has been particularly illuminating. For example, while discussing objects related to the ancient world, students examined photographs of our Chinese battle helmet from various angles in Zoom. It was not readily apparent to the students that the object was made of metal. Some reasonably believed it was made of leather, something one could easily assume based on the photograph. Therein lies one example of the limitations of online object analysis, but then something magical happened.

As the class began discussing the inscribed writing on the helmet, we pointed out that the writing is actually upside down. Now, in a normal face-to-face class, we would never turn the helmet upside down: it’s much too fragile. But in the Zoom session, the faculty member suggested flipping the image to read the writing as it was meant to be read (and a couple of Chinese-speaking students were able to decipher parts of the ancient writing). As our Special Collections Instruction Librarian summed it up:

“The magic happens when we make discoveries with students together in class. Deciphering the upside-down inscription on the Chinese battle helmet was one such exciting moment. While hands-on experience with rare objects is unique and irreplaceable, as we experienced… the online environment could facilitate new ways of looking, thinking, and connecting with students to build new knowledge. It was exhilarating to participate in this collaborative learning process.”

Digital Commons: Faculty Scholarship on a Global Scale

Map of the world with dots representing downloads
The global reach of LMU Digital Commons (number of downloads, 2020)

The Digital Commons is LMU’s institutional repository, holding open-access works of our students, faculty, and staff, including several hosted journals. These works are open to the public, allowing them to be downloaded from anywhere in the world, a total of almost 5 million global downloads across 236 countries.

We have digitized 2,000 volumes of bound theses and dissertations held in our collections written by LMU, Loyola University, and Marymount College graduates that highlight a rich past of student scholarship spanning 80 years. We also work with academic departments to obtain born-digital theses and dissertations from recent graduates. Student works, including these dissertations, saw over 98,000 downloads over June 2019-May 2020.

We support several LMU community journals through the Digital Commons, some of which are student-led. One of these journals, “First-Gen Voices: Creative and Critical Narratives on the First-Generation College Experience,” is a publication devoted to the art and scholarship of individuals who identify as “first-generation college” as well as those who support them. The journal is described as “a space where our community can celebrate the creative and critical scholarship that emerges from these experiences, where students, faculty, and staff can engage one another in conversation through a shared social identity, and where engaged academic citizenship can foster a sense of camaraderie and pride in
the accomplishments of pioneering students.” Sponsored by the First to Go Program at LMU, this journal highlights the intellectual and creative work of first-generation college students, celebrating their contributions to the LMU community. In total, LMU journals, including three law reviews published by the Loyola Law School, saw over over 462,000 full text downloads from June 2019 – May 2020.

Undergraduate and Graduate Library Research Awards

In order to encourage deep use of the library’s resources, we offer two awards for student scholarship: the Undergraduate Library Research Awards, started in 2007, and the Graduate Library Research Awards, offered beginning in 2020. The Undergraduate Library Research Awards recognize and reward LMU undergraduate students whose research makes expert and creative use of the services, resources, and collections of the William H. Hannon Library to produce a scholarly or creative work. Each entry includes the research project or paper, an essay explaining how the student conducted their research and used library resources, a bibliography, and a letter of nomination from the faculty member who had assigned the paper or project.

The Undergraduate and Graduate Library Research Awards were awarded in Spring 2020 to students in a variety of disciplines from philosophy and history, to education, theatre, and English. One 2020 Graduate Library Research Award winner won for a work entitled “Maori Pedagogy and Its Effects on Student Achievement,” which focused on Maori pedagogy and empowering communities while also striving to center Maori voices. Their reflective essay demonstrated “outstanding and expert use of library resources as well as dedication to the research process,” including a critical analysis of author and personal bias.

Both the Undergraduate and Graduate Library Research Awards promote intensive research and scholarly contributions to the student’s field while they are at LMU. Housed in our Digital Commons, the winning papers can add to the scholarly conversation and creative imagination of future LMU students and others worldwide.

The library works with faculty from LMU and the Loyola Law School, as well as staff from programs like First to Go, to showcase community excellence. Student and faculty publications reach a global audience and promote the campus as an active research institution. As a result of our work, students participate in knowledge creation, publicly contributing to the scholarly conversation, and engaging with emerging digital literacies.

This article was first published in our 2021 ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries Award dossier. For more information about the William H. Hannon Library, please contact John Jackson, Head of Outreach & Engagement.