Senate hears about digital initiatives of Stanford Libraries

At Thursday's Faculty Senate meeting, University Librarian Michael Keller gave an update on new programs and projects. In addition, Provost John Etchemendy made a statement encouraging respectful campus discourse, particularly among students.

L.A. Cicero Michael Keller holding up papers

University Librarian Michael Keller addressing the Faculty Senate on Thursday.

Stanford University Libraries will celebrate Earth Day – April 22 – with the release of EarthWorks, its official online search tool for geographic information systems (GIS), maps and other geographic datasets, University Librarian Michael Keller told the Faculty Senate on Thursday.

The new search tool allows users to browse by institution – among the collections of eight universities and the Office of Geographic Information in Massachusetts. Users also can search by data type, place name and subject.

"Once you've retrieved a map from these sources, you can operate on the map, adding data, saving it locally, and using it in presentations in teaching and research," said Keller, who also is the director of Academic Information Resources in Stanford University Libraries. "I should say, by the way, that the development of EarthWorks and the development of SearchWorks [for browsing Stanford's library collections] have been possible due to a mighty fine grant from our president."

During his presentation, Keller also drew attention to several digital programs and projects of Stanford Libraries, including a $1.2 million initiative to publish interactive scholarly works in the digital humanities and computational social sciences.

The first interactive scholarly work to be published by Stanford University Press, a division of Stanford Libraries, will be Enchanting the Desert, created by Stanford postdoctoral scholar Nicholas Bauch. It is a book-length examination of 40 landscape photographs included in Henry G. Peabody's 1905 slideshow of the Grand Canyon, which creates a digital prototype for studying cultural and geographical history.

Keller said Enchanting the Desert should be available in early 2016. Stanford hopes to publish several more interactive scholarly works next year, and 15 more in the third year of the grant, which is renewable.

John Bender, chair of the senate's Committee on Libraries, and the Jean G. and Morris M. Doyle Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies at Stanford, said Stanford University Libraries is a hybrid of classic collections and publishing with newer, electronic forms, including e-books, search engines, databases, map searches and modeling.

"Most recently, it means the U.S. government mandate to archive research materials generated at the university, and that responsibility has fallen to the library," he said.

In introducing Keller, Bender said:

"A major issue for our library system is the transparency that the Internet allows. This is a virtue, of course. But many, even most faculty and students who are accessing proprietary databases, journals and search devices don't actually know they're using the library. That's why we put the term 'utility' in the title of our presentation, 'Stanford University Libraries: Invisible, Essential Academic Information Utility.'"

Essential feature of dialogue is listening

Provost John Etchemendy read a statement he had prepared for the meeting:

"In recent months, I have, as I'm sure many of you have, been increasingly distressed by the tenor of discourse on campus. Two meetings ago, the president made a statement calling for more civility in the campus discussion of one particular issue. But I'm sure it has not escaped members of the senate that the same turmoil that continues to surround that issue also infects the campus discussion of many others.

"Whether the issue is Israel and Palestine, sexual assault and due process, investment in fossil fuels, marriage and gay rights, black lives, or increasing disparities in wealth, we seem to have lost the ability to engage in true dialogue. Dialogue is not monologue times two. The essential feature of dialogue is not speaking but listening; listening with respect and then expressing, in turn, one's own view with clarity, rather than volume.

"Recent events surrounding the ASSU election have again brought these issues to the fore. It has become increasingly common for student groups to exchange candidate endorsements for what are, in effect, loyalty oaths. Here, I am not singling out any one group; although press coverage has focused on one, others do the same.

"I am deeply concerned about the outcome of this approach. I would like to ask our students which they would prefer: a senate composed of thoughtful, open-minded students representing the full range of student opinion, or a senate preselected to represent a filtered set of beliefs. If the answer is the latter, then I fear we have failed as a university. Our mission is to open minds through dialogue, not to close them by muffling opposition."

Academic Council address

On April 30, President John Hennessy will discuss "Technology in Teaching and Learning" in his annual address to the Academic Council. The event will be held from 3:15 to 5 p.m. in Cemex Auditorium in the Knight Management Center.

The address will be followed by a panel discussion with:

  • John Mitchell, vice provost for teaching and learning and the Mary and Gordon Crary Family Professor in the School of Engineering;


  • Candace Thille, assistant professor of education and senior research fellow for the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning; and
  • Amir Eshel, the Edward Clark Crossett Professor in Humanistic Studies, professor of German studies and director of the Department of Comparative Literature.

A reception will follow. It is a free event. No tickets are required.

The full minutes of the April 16 senate meeting will be available soon on the Faculty Senate website. The minutes will include the question-and-answer session that followed the presentations.