PUL staff plan programming with Humanities Council Flash Grants

Four sets of Princeton University Library staff members received Flash Grants from Princeton University’s Humanities Council. The grants, which range in funding from $500 to $5,000, are provided to kickstart interdisciplinary, “outside the box,” initiatives by faculty and researchers. The Library projects span various topics, including walking tours, artificial intelligence-enhanced cataloging, workshops on prison labor, and a zine cart. 

AI for enhanced cataloging in Non-Roman scripts    

For a team of PUL staff working with non-Roman script languages, the Flash Grant will serve as the basis for a three-pronged approach to enhancing cataloging. The collective work of Lia Contursi, Hyoungbae Lee, and Joshua Seufert will “explore the efficacy of different AI large language models (LLM) in enhancing various aspects of cataloging processes.” 

The hope is that this work will then be more broadly applicable to the Library and Princeton University, including improving the cataloging processing of materials, as well as “establishing best practices for the use of AI LLMs in the creation of datasets for digital humanities research projects.”

“I have been working on a side-project that questions what material has actually been collected in Chinese archives,” explained Seufert, the Chinese Studies Librarian. “Currently there is no good information portal that allows researchers to find out about the collections of the almost 4,000 state-run archives in China.” 

Adding that most catalogs are only accessible from the premises of a given archive, Seufert began collecting physical handbooks of Chinese archives, of which PUL now has the largest known collection worldwide. 

Seufert wants to use this grant to use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to translate the printed books into a digital format and restructure the data in an “logical and accessible way.”

“I want to use AI to help me re-shape data that has been generated via OCR, but in its current format, it is too messy to be of use and needs enormous amounts of manual labor to clean,” Seufert said. “I hope that AI can be used reliably for this cleaning part of the process.”

AI for Cataloging

For Contursi, Non-Roman Script Languages Team Leader, her portion of the grant was inspired by the growing trend of incorporating AI into library work. “If we can use AI to carry out some very time-consuming and repetitive tasks in bibliographic description, then we can dedicate more time to other types of labor that require human judgment,” Contursi said. “It’s the typical conundrum, isn’t it? I believe that generative AI can help us in multiple areas of cataloging.”

Contursi wants to use AI models to both create extended content notes for cataloging large data sets, as well as convert Romanized titles originally in non-Roman scripts from one language to another. She also wants to create a means to automate the Romanization of Japanese and Arabic resources, a process that has been unsuccessfully automated thus far. 

“In my project I will not test generative AI tools to look for unknown answers,” Contursi said. “I already have my very specific inquiry and expectations. I will give exact commands, will provide a model to follow and raw data, and will expect that that raw data will be output in the way I want.”

AI for cataloging DVDs

Finally, Lee, Korean Studies Librarian, hopes to use the flash grant to streamline the Korean cataloging process for DVDs. Lee has already created a custom macro for cataloging materials in the past, but the method was limited, requiring frequent updates and being limited to Korean materials. Using AI, he’d be able to use prompts to generate bibliography records for DVDs of not only Korean origin, but also Chinese and Japanese. 

“Several years ago, I developed an application to automate the creation of bibliographic records for our rapidly expanding Korean DVD collection. I presented this work at the 2018 annual conference of the Council of East Asian Libraries and shared the methodology with peer institutions, including Columbia University, to help them address their DVD backlog,” Lee explained. “While the automation was successful, it had some limitations, which I noted in the grant proposal. I thought this grant opportunity allows me to explore new automation methods that go beyond those limitations of traditional programming.”

Wild Walks

Unlike her colleagues, Emily Wild, Chemistry, Geosciences and Environmental Studies Librarian is using her Flash Grant to step away from the computer. She devised a programming series, aptly titled “Wild Walks,” that will take participants on walking tours around Princeton University’s campus to discuss the chemical composition and geologic processes involved in the creation of the minerals and elements used in the buildings, paint pigments, and sculptures around campus. 

Pair of topiary tigers, stainless steel, 2000, by Ruffin Hobbs

“A few years ago, while on my weekly visit to the Princeton University Art Museum, I discovered ‘Stele of Vishnu and attendants, 10th–11th century’ and exclaimed in an overly excited manner ‘Vishnu Schist!!!’ That accidently startled students quietly sketching another sculpture nearby,” Wild recalled. 

After giving the students an impromptu geology instruction session, Wild realized there was value in creating learning kits and highlighting the chemistry and geosciences collections through walking tours that help showcase how the physical properties of rocks are used to “document human activities, express an emotion, and/or provide a new perspective of the human experience and relationship with Earth’s natural resources.” 

In addition to her series of tours, the Flash Grant will fund self-guided tours. “The self-guided tours, both for those with time conflicts and a virtual walking tour for those at a distance, will be available online from the chemistry and geosciences library research guide pages.”

Exploring Research in Prison Labor

With her Flash Grant, Labor Economics Librarian Charissa Jefferson proposed creating a program that explores research topics in prison labor through both humanities and social science lenses. Designed in collaboration with the Prison Teaching Initiative managed by the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learningand Jefferson’s colleagues in Digital Scholarship, the program will investigate digital analysis and visualization methods using a box of 31 reports and articles ranging from 1915-1940, with the majority from the 1930s, about “convict labor.” 

Jefferson’s inspiration comes from a variety of sources. “While participating in the inclusive teaching book club at the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, I had met one of the instructional specialists in the Prison Teaching Initiative,” she recalled. Around the same time she was reviewing publications for an annual book list of noteworthy labor economics titles, and came across a book that piqued her interest. 

Jefferson added, “When the Flash Grant call for proposals was announced, I pitched my ideas and it began to take shape into the design of a collaborative workshop to explore digital analysis and visualization methods using material from our industrial relations library, which is relevant to the newly published book on prison labor.”

The program will serve to broaden access to the aforementioned contents in the collection of the  Industrial Relations library, which prior to Jefferson’s digitization project, was only available for supervised physical use in Firestone Library. 

“Through inclusive pedagogy, participants will engage in a lively discussion on what we think about when we think about prison labor and how we interact with this information from a resources and research education perspective.”

Zine Cart

After leading a student workshop on creating their own zines, Makerspace Specialist Ariel Ackerly and Graphic Arts Librarian Molly Dotson are using their Flash Grant to create their own take on Carnegie Mellon’s zine cart. 

Five people sit around a table at the PUL Makerspace working on making a zine.

Molly Dotson, Ariel Ackerly, and three students sit around a table at the PUL Makerspace working zines. Photo credit: Brandon Johnson.

Zines, which are typically inexpensively produced, small run, independently created and locally distributed publications, are steeped in a do-it-yourself ethos. The cart, which would feature an electric typewriter, portable printer/copier, as well as other collage materials, tools, and books about Zine history, is an effort to “support participatory learning activities, self-expression, and access to bookmaking tools for students not specifically taking book arts-oriented courses,” Ackerly said. 

Dotson added, “Our hope is to see the zine cart used in courses of any discipline.” Dotson and Ackerly plan to survey the university’s instructors to determine which classes might be the best fit. “We think science communication, gender + sexuality history, and cultural studies courses could be good candidates,” Dotson said. “Of course, the cart is designed to be flexible so that zine-making activities and/or assignments could also be completely standalone, not requiring the use of PUL collections or spaces.”

Published on May 29, 2024

Written by Brandon Johnson, Communications Strategist

Media Contact: Stephanie Oster, Publicity Manager