While trolling the Internet looking for science and technology news unrelated to either “The Martian” or NASA’s recent discovery of liquid water on the Red Planet, I stumbled across an intriguing post on digitalhumanitiesnow.org, entitled “Using Vine to disseminate library information: a practical guide.” The author, Antony Groves, works at the University of Sussex Library, specializing in using technology to help students develop information literacy skills. Evidently, his library capitalized on the prevalence of social media in modern society by creating its own Vine account, and using it to disseminate information ranging from tours of the library’s facilities to giving short examples database and reference collection navigation strategies.
While I originally balked at the absurdity of the idea – something as academic as a university library occupying a space as ridiculous and vapid as Vine – after a while it started to make a lot more sense. Vine is, like any other social media platform, merely a means of sharing content. That content might be low-brow, forced, or otherwise of dubious value, but that is a reflection on our culture, not on the platform itself. And organizations of all shapes and sizes, from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration all the way down to the W.E.B Du Bois Library have embraced social media as a means of connecting with the public and communicating information and useful resources. Twitter and Facebook are already widespread as means of accomplishing this type of communication, so why shouldn’t Vine? If anything, using short video over text should have a far greater impact – the success of YouTube is evidence of that.
Groves’ article opens up an undiscovered world of possibilities for work in the humanities, from outreach into research and generative study. Like the University of Sussex, Du Bois could create its own Vine account, filling the feeds of the UMass population with helpful examples and demonstrations of confusing topics like navigating the stacks, finding specific texts, or even something as simple as how to get to a bathroom. Elsewhere in the humanities, students could conduct quick interviews, facilitate interactive discussion, or even demo creative pieces like poetry or music.
Vine need not be the only platform, either. As I’ve already discussed, social media in general has been rapidly adopted at all different levels of the university, generally along the lines of information dissemination. But what if social media could be used not only relatively, but creatively? Authors have been experimenting with bite-sized serialized fiction for as long as these platforms have been around ( I specifically recommend Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box,” compiled here by The New Yorker from a series of tweets – one of the best short stories I have read all year in any format.) The potential these platforms have for creative and interactive expression has thus far remained untapped at an academic level. If the university in general could open up to the idea, social media platforms, even one such as Vine, could be incredible tools for accessing the questions in the humanities that remain unanswered in the Information Age.