My undergraduate research thesis has been through more iterations than I care to admit. First, there was my application to the University Scholars program. Then my collaborative thesis proposal for the Marks Endowment for the Fine Arts.

The University Scholar thesis proposal lacked:

  • Cohesiveness of proposal
  • Research question: clarity, depth

#lessonlearned

So I rewrote that proposal, with the thought that I might revise and resubmit it for a summer research (SURF) grant. As part of the classwork for “Space in the Digital Humanities,” I created a (now-defunct) blog to house the proposal.

its-not-what-happens-to-you-its-what-you-do-with-what-happens-to-you-aldous-huxley

I revised the proposal, but not by the deadline. Instead of conducting research, I spent my summer in Ecuador as a participant in the Social Entrepreneur Corps and as a digital humanities intern at the American Antiquarian Society.

With regard to my thesis, I decided I would try a Collaborative Honors Thesis this time. I recruited the talented Erin Kaminski, whom I worked along side on an -ATION branding project for the grant-funded UConn Scholarly Communications Design Studio. Erin was also in honors. She was concentrating in animation and also seeking more direction for her thesis. Together we crafted a proposal for the Marks Endowment.

We never heard back from the Marks Endowment. Rather, somewhat mysteriously and with direct recommendation from the Dean of Fine Arts, an internship at the Charter Oak Cultural Center landed in my lap as it related to the Marks Endowment project’s proposal to work with youth in Hartford.

When I returned to my thesis in the Fall of 2016, I was without my collaborator, without a proposal, and I was sitting on a paper that I wrote in my writing-in-the-major course: critical perspectives on digital media. It was an analysis of the ALA’s Public Awareness campaign: Libraries Transform.

I reformatted and tightened the essay, and expressed my desire to expand the mediums of my critique to include a radio essay (or podcast), a photo essay, and a magazine or newspaper submission. My adviser, Dr. Tom Scheinfeldt, reviewed early drafts and met with me to discuss direction and next steps.

Without steady guidance or accountability, my efforts petered out.

In its final (*gasp) iteration, my undergraduategettingwhatyoucamefor_peters
thesis builds on research I’ve already completed under the wing of Dr. Clarissa Ceglio.

Dr. Ceglio provided a text (Getting What You Came For by Robert L. Peters) to guide the development of my final thesis proposal. The questions below were taken from that text to outline my thesis proposal.

How will my research contribute to the existing body of knowledge?

My research builds on the Museum and Civic Discourse Project initiated by my professor, Dr. Clarissa Ceglio, and her colleagues at the National Council on Public History.

Dr. Ceglio and her museum-loving team identified a research need: What is the nature of “civic discourse” in museums – past, present and future? At the encouragement of Connecticut Humanities, that research question was extended to include libraries.

In my work as a SHARE grant research assistant, I built a tagging schema for the project’s Zotero library (an online research bibliography). Then, in preparation for a statewide survey of museums and libraries, I generated a question set about civic discourse practices in humanities institutions and interviewed (~10) leaders in Connecticut museums and libraries.

My thesis project builds on this research foundation by generating and curating more unique interview content, explicitly in pursuit of a narrower research question and with the use of tactics including audio essay, photo essay, and magazine article.

Broadly, my project seeks to document civic discourse in Connecticut libraries circa 2016-2017. More specifically, my research examines the use of social media websites and applications, addressing a field-wide need to better understand the interplay of online and in-person engagement. More specifically still, I plan to research the information architecture of social media and web landscapes as it effects patron engagement with and experience of public libraries in Connecticut.

What literature has bearing on the topic?

  • Morville, Peter., and Louis. Rosenfeld. Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. 3rd ed. Safari Books Online. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly, 2007.
  • Carnegie, Teena A. M., and John Abell. “Information, Architecture, and Hybridity: The Changing Discourse of the Public Library.” Technical Communication Quarterly 18, no. 3 (2009): 242-58.
  • Horrigan, John. “Libraries at the Crossroads,” Pew Research Center, September 2015.
  • Abel, Jessica. 2015. Out on the wire: the storytelling secrets of the new masters of radio.
  • Careful study of the interview transcriptions from my SHARE grant work, paying special attention to mentions of social media, web, and information navigation

See more related literature in the project’s Zotero Library.

Major hypotheses to be tested:

  • Civic engagement – in libraries and on library web platforms – happens when the information is presented in a familiar, navigable way.
  • Social media’s strength lies in its familiarity to users. Its “back-end” is easily navigated by content creators and its “front-end” is effortlessly grazed for information. It’s weakness lies in its “Terms and Conditions”.
  • There are gaps, barriers, and innovative practices occurring with regard to libraries’ use of social media for purposes of promoting civic discourse.

What results do I expect, based upon prior studies by others?

I expect a compelling narrative about the “transforming library“. I expect testimony to the challenges of creating successful information architecture and good user experience on library web and social media platforms. Other studies have shown the importance of perfecting the art of online presence, as 22% of those ages 16 and older visited a library website or used a library mobile app in the previous 12 months (Pew Report: “Libraries at a Crossroads”).

What is my timetable leading to completion?

  1. February (name thesis & submit honors thesis plan, arrange interview follow-ups, test run photo development, attend reading group to review transcriptions, conduct audio review of preliminary interviews, clarify proposal as needed, begin early music sampling, continue lit review, write draft 1 of article)
  2. March (conduct interviews, build audio narrative and continue music sampling, begin developing film & printing photos, conduct first and second round of article revisions, continue lit review and reading group)
  3. April (continue interviews if necessary, draft 3+ of magazine article, seek constant critique and feedback for audio, photo, and written components)
  4. May (submit, graduate, apply to present research at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago)

Spring 2017 Calendar for Completion of Honors Thesis: In the Library and Online: Social Media, Information Architecture and Civic Discourse

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