Local Digital Humanist Amy Vecchione Makes Your Life Easier!

When trying to understand a new field of study, it is helpful to interview a person well-versed in the discipline. Consequently in my journey to explore the rapidly growing field of digital history I found the opportunity to interview a digital humanist quite enlightening. I spoke with Amy Vecchione, a Digital Access Librarian at Boise State University whose duties include providing web content for the Albertsons Library website, facilitating the creation of user content, and eliminating barriers to information access. Her self-described goal is to “make it easy for students to access information.” For example, if a student is perusing the website looking for a journal article or e-book, Vecchione wants them to be able find it within two to three clicks of the mouse, as opposed to nine to ten. A typical day for her could include meeting with students in order to assist them, creating web content, or designing and running workshops. Clearly this is one digital humanist who knows how to stay busy.

Vecchione entered college wanting to do archives, specifically digital archives. She holds both a B.A. and a M.L.I.S. in Library and Information Sciences from the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Washington respectively. While at Berkeley as an undergrad she digitized the free speech movement papers, which documented the 1964-65 student-led movement arguing for the right of students to form political clubs and practice free speech. Vecchione performed the digital markup, building the infrastructure architecture of the website that digitally displayed the data contained in the papers. She is proud of her work in this endeavor, proclaiming that the digital archiving of this important movement helps those studying it to better understand what happened intellectually on campus during those tense years. During Vecchione’s time at Washington she learned much about digital architecture, as it is emphasized strongly in the college’s curriculum. Digital architecture involves both the theoretical and practical know-how of how users search for and locate information. For Vecchione, an understanding of digital architecture is vital to her current position. She also studied several theoretical frameworks, including “user experience,” the study of how a user perceives the utility of a particular website or other product. She says Aaron Schmidt’s book Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to Your Library has been very useful for her.

Vecchione’s education has prepared her for a career in the digital humanities, a career that has sent her to many places and has her working with all sorts of people. Before her current position at Boise State, she worked in many different libraries, primarily in archiving work. Most recently she held a position at the Idaho State Archives. Currently, Vecchione is working with the city of Boise to transform data into open access content via the Open Boise project. The goal of this project is to link citizens with data they might need, including crime rates, historical information, business listings, and much more. Vecchione says that Boise is behind the curve in this field as compared to other cities in the U.S. She adds that it is important to complete this project because cities that link citizens with data are better able to retain their high tech work force. For Vecchione, the hardest part of her job is generating consensus among work partners. She says a digital historian must learn to be flexible and can not get stuck doing just one thing.

Vecchione was very helpful in suggesting resources to assist the aspiring digital humanist. Among the digital tools that she says help to get the job done are the text editing website Edit Pad Lite, Skype, Google Drive, and the remote file backup service Drop Box. She also suggests learning how to code in multiple computer languages. She says learning how to read HTML, CSS, and Bootstrap is a vital skill in this field. Vecchione suggests taking as many coding classes as you can and, barring that, at least messing around with websites geared toward teaching code like Code Academy. She also suggests checking out Atomic Learning, a self-help website geared towards technological training. After achieving the technological know-how from these helpful websites, the digital humanist can turn to the DML (Digital Media Learning) Hub. This multi-faceted site focuses on civic engagement and digital histories, but also engages users to connect with the world through amazing, inspiring, and captivating projects. Vecchione says the DML Hub is always a wellspring of good ideas. When it comes to marketing tools, she suggests using Google Analytics.

I found Amy Vecchione to be an affable, engaging woman, eager to help an aspiring historian better understand the rapidly changing world of digital history. She told me that she has done her job well when students don’t notice the process of searching for a library resource because they find it so quickly. So the next time you find what you need at Albertsons Library, remember what an asset Vecchione is to this university.