This fall I was hired by the Penn State education library as a documentary photographer to visually record the workflow of people in various academic departments throughout the University. It’s a fascinating project. I travel around to different offices with an anthropologist and sometimes another research librarian, and get to see how people do their jobs.
As a little girl I loved this Canadian TV show called “Harriet’s Magic Hats,” which was a low budget program about a kid who put on hats she found in a trunk and beamed into the job the hat represented. She could find herself at a butcher’s or a baker’s or a trucking company, and we learned about what those people did in their jobs. This job is a little like “Harriet’s Magic Hats.” I get a notice on my Google calendar saying where to show up, and I beam into different departments, sometimes several a day. I’ve already visited with a kinesiology professor, the assistant dean of liberal arts, a comp lit professor specializing in Japanese culture, a speech communications professor, and a physicist.
It’s fascinating how diversely and similarly people work – and very interesting to listen to the same shortcomings they find with how the university expects them to do their jobs. I love this project a lot and have been doing some good work. It’s out of my usual creative zone, but it’s given me the opportunity to really feel out the essence of someone’s workspace. My challenge is to take an interesting photo that reflects the interviewee’s personality, and that’s often expressed in how they do their work. When it comes down to it, these offices reflect the people occupying them. In some cases, their entire career is contained in that space.
It’s one of the aspects of academia that’s always fascinated me: how the office becomes an extension of your personality. Mine was bonkers. I miss my office space (although not the lack of natural light). Remembering how I did my work within a space that I tailored to myself, I think about those interesting little details when I glimpse into their academic worlds.
Check out our work here at Scholarly Workflow.