Exploring Digital Worlds

The fellowship DC 3D Imaging: From Your Imagination to [Augmented] Reality came to mind for Digital Commons Interim Director Cazembe Kennedy while thinking of ways to expand the virtual/augmented reality learning community at Vanderbilt. Given the wealth of resources and expertise in the digital imaging lab, 3D imaging was a natural fit for responding to student and faculty interest. 

Mentors Cazembe Kennedy, Zach Johnson, and Connor Gilmore shared their expertise in guiding students through this collaborative knowledge-building process. “One of the best things about this fellowship,” noted Kennedy, “was getting to hear the students’ ideation process for using 3D scanning and image augmentation and giving the students a chance to work together as a cohort. They bounced ideas off each other, shared resources and made suggestions to creatively problem solve.” Fellows created 3D image scans using image augmentation technologies. Some of the students focused on creating animations from scratch while others focused on creating image files using found objects. Both approaches enabled fellows to make the experience their own.  

Final projects served as a proof of concept for how to teach emerging technologies in a nontraditional classroom setting. Students infused limitless imagination and individual personalities into each finished object, showcasing their growth as creators and technologists. One fellow transformed a galaxy of stars into a sombrero-shaped animation sitting atop the “head” of an astronaut, an image built from the three-dimensional scan of a real-life figurine. This display was superimposed on a visual representation of a moon. With each layer, the fellow showed a sophistication in thinking through imaging design and how it functions in augmented reality.  

This fellowship sparked creativity in students with technical backgrounds and provided a conduit for exploring those interests in depth. As the Digital Commons plans out future curriculum offerings, Kennedy noted these efforts are ripe for collaboration through partnerships with other innovation centers on campus and in support of the research and teaching efforts of the departments of Computer Science, Engineering and Visual Arts/Graphics.

Tackling misinformation with podcasts

Flush with the spirit of techno-optimism, the internet promised liberation by eliminating barriers to information and enabling its spread instantaneously and globally. Events in recent memory, however, make it clear that misinformation spreads just as rapidly, generating profound social repercussions. Bolstered by mid-term elections, fellowship applicants felt a strong personal connection to the topic. In response, three library staff mentors led fellows on a journey in search of credibility in this information wilderness. To better understand the current moment, fellows interviewed misinformation experts and produced podcasts featuring their conversations, resulting in We the Lonely and Slap Hoax.  

Fellows met weekly in a seminar course format and discussed a series of readings related to the topic. Fellows selected a related current event each week and socially annotated it with the open-source software Hypothis.is, providing opportunities to extend their learning outside of the library classroom. Students used the software to annotate news articles, highlight relevant sections, ask questions, or otherwise draw connections to the readings. This asynchronous annotation created a foundation on which mentors and fellows could develop in-person dialogue at each meeting, increasing student engagement with scholarship on misinformation and allowing them to contribute their own voices to a wider conversation. 

Several of the fellows had previous podcasting experience while others learned how to use Audacity, an open-source audio software. Fellows learned how to identify the copyright status of media and make ethical choices about when and how to use audio materials found online for educational projects. 

The choice to use podcasting as a teaching object was intentional. Mentors Melissa Mallon and Andy Wesolek have written extensively on the librarian’s role in creating diverse and open learning environments using fellowships and non-traditional engagement opportunities. By giving students something (podcasts) both personally familiar and academically foreign, fellows engaged in peer-to-peer learning outside the classroom and their work took on a transdisciplinary approach.  

“While I typically and almost exclusively work with graduate students, the Buchanan fellowships afford an invaluable opportunity to connect with the undergraduate immersion experience and to leverage my own research and writing in digital scholarship and information literacy,” Divinity Library Director Bobby Smiley said about his experience as mentor. 

This fellowship is one of a series exploring the impact of social media on society. Previous Buchanan fellowships in this series focused on information ethics, privacy, surveillance, and intellectual freedom. Fellows produced podcasts as their final projects. By encouraging fellows from a wide variety of academic disciplines, this fellowship affords the opportunity to explore phenomena from ontologically distinct perspectives and learning from one another in the process. 

You can learn more about this fellows initiative and listen to these podcast episodes here at Vanderbilt Libraries Buchanan Fellows Media & Society  research guide which documents the fellowship series on media and society focus of the Buchanan Library Fellows.

Student performance brings jazz instrumentalist’s legacy to life

Archival fellowships launch Vanderbilt students into previously unexplored territory with sensory detail deserving of a second look—or listen. Director of the Anne Potter Wilson Music Library, Holling Smith-Borne, and Cataloger Jake Schaub recently transported students to The Diverse World of Yusef A. Lateef, through a semester-long Buchanan Library Fellowship that delved into Vanderbilt’s newly acquired collection of the genre-defying, multi-instrumentalist and jazz musician. On December 7, five fellows performed musical scores selected from the collection and showcased the experience of their archival discoveries in stunning, unexpected ways. These archival expeditions will continue to serve as iterative benchmarks in knowledge production, discovery, and legacy-building that will evolve with the libraries’ growing collections.   

Under the auspices of the university’s ongoing initiative with the National Museum of African American Music, the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries recently acquired the collection of the prominent musician and educator Dr. Yusef A. Lateef. Over the course of the semester, students engaged in a deep dive into Dr. Lateef’s papers and compositions with a few goals in mind: to select and research a performance in preparation for a lecture or recital at the Blair School of Music; to immerse themselves directly in working with primary source materials; and, lastly, to enhance their social media and public outreach expertise, a skillset that will prove beneficial throughout students’ performance careers. 

This project was conceived to be accessible to both performers and non-performers alike. The five student fellows had the option to focus primarily on performance or on the lecture component, with four choosing to explore elements of both. This inclusivity won the support of a wide array of both performance and musicology faculty from across the Blair School of Music. As Lateef was also active in the visual art world, staff at the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery shared their expertise with the students regarding the musician’s drawings in the collection. Mentors encouraged the students to take ownership in the program while working with the materials and in their interactions with guest speakers.  

Unexpected experiences arose as the semester progressed. One student received the unplanned opportunity to perform on Lateef’s tenor saxophone, while another was afforded the rare experience of playing the historic but nowadays rarely heard oboe d’amore. 

Unique collaborative opportunities like these will stay with our students well into the future and represent the blending of what the Vanderbilt Libraries and the Blair School of Music offer to those well into their careers, whether in the concert hall, the seminar room or the teaching studio. In many ways, this archival fellowship follows the example of Yusef A. Lateef himself, a singular artist who mixed all aspects of his music, words, artistry and faith into a dynamic, ever-evolving exploration of the experience of life. 

Designing global resources with student voices in mind

During fall 2022, fellows Qihan Gao, Sanghee Han, Greta LaFrentz and Michelle Kwon built and administered the first substantial visitor survey about the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and developed Open Educational Resources based on the gallery’s Asian art collections as part of the Buchanan Library Fellowship Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery: Collection Research and Outreach. As the Fine Arts Gallery’s new leadership acclimates to its audiences, understanding what the university knows about our collections, programs, and exhibits is an important baseline for planning future outreach and engagement both on campus and in greater Nashville. 

Fellows surveyed more than 500 respondents at the university and nearby about their knowledge of the Fine Arts Gallery: its location, programs and more. Survey questions evolved from discussions with gallery director, Amanda Hellman, and gallery staff, in addition to reviews of existing visitor feedback. We now have a baseline to better meet visitors’ interests and needs and we will build on that with the next round of new visitor studies in fall 2023. 

After the survey, each fellow then researched a group of collection objects to create a multi-faceted Open Educational Resource space on the gallery’s website, which includes materials for teaching or learning that are either in the public domain or have been released under a license that allows them to be freely used, changed or shared with others. Topics included Korean and Japanese ceramics, Japanese tsuba (sword hilts) and Japanese woodblock prints. Each resource provides classroom activities aimed at grades 6-12 as well as an overview of recent scholarship about the topic. As the gallery promotes educational resources to new audiences, these tools offer more ways to interact with collections as they will be available to all patrons on the Fine Arts Gallery website. The fellows’ work exceeded our expectations and will be a template for future guides for our collections.   


Qihan [Hans] Gao, (A&S’23, Economics & Asian Studies major; Business, History of Art and Architecture minor) wrote: “I plan to attend graduate school in art history here at Vanderbilt. This fellowship really lays a solid foundation for my future learning!” 


In building the Fellowship, mentors wanted to address two important areas for the Fine Arts Gallery: what visitors know about the gallery and what they know about accessing the collections. Both projects offered the fellows insight into museum work. Surveys will continue to inform future fellowships to address collections, exhibitions, and programming content, while also improving outreach through the website. 

Students bring university history to life

Since 2012, archival fellowships have been uncovering Vanderbilt’s special collections and bringing them to life. These archival expeditions put rare and unique materials in the hands of students to read, watch, and in some cases, listen. In the Building a University fellowship series, students complete close readings of historically significant university documents and place them in context within American history and the university’s legacy. This is the third installment of this fellowship, a multi-year effort to purposefully center student perspectives of university history and connect pivotal moments to contemporary issues.   

In summer 2020, University Archivist Kathy Smith and Curator of Special Collections Teresa Gray began to discuss projects to support the upcoming sesquicentennial anniversary of the founding of the institution. Fellowship students would learn how to do primary source research using the University Archives, manuscript collections, and university publications to create an exhibit while also doing secondary research to provide historical context to their findings. By taking the approach of examining one decade at a time, fellows are able to pull out patterns in culture and history, beginning with the first semester of classes in 1875. 

In November 2022, Special Collections library staff offered the third version of this fellowship, Building a University: Vanderbilt’s Third Decade, 1895-1905. Students built a physical exhibit in Central Library and a virtual exhibit hosted on the libraries’ website. Students located historical objects which best illustrated the story they wanted to tell. Working with library mentors, they wrote object descriptions and case summaries. Chosen topics included the beginnings of student financial aid, the growing role of female students on campus, and the importance of early staff members to student life. Finally, students filmed short videos about their cases and their experience as fellows. Virtual exhibits will remain online after the physical exhibit closes, providing an ongoing resource for students and faculty curious about the university’s history. 

View the current exhibit

Celebration of Learning

A collegial mood settled upon the guests of the Celebration of Learning for the Buchanan Library Fellowship Program on December 8, 2022. The afternoon gathering in Central Library’s Community Room brought together 23 fellows, their mentors, faculty, friends, library administration and Vanderbilt community to celebrate their work and show off their creations. Almost every fellowship engaged some form of multimedia to tell the story of their research journey. After a warm welcome from University Librarian Jon Shaw and Associate University Librarian of Teaching & Learning Melissa Mallon, fellows presented their semester’s work to an academic audience. Guests caught a glimpse of the themes, concepts and methods that guided the fellows’ projects.   

Fellow Danni Chacon, Class of 2025, shared about her experience: 

“I plan on utilizing the knowledge and skillset gained through the Buchanan Fellowship throughout my remaining time as an undergraduate student at Vanderbilt, as a grad student elsewhere, and one day as a practicing professor myself, teaching these topics to future generations of students.” 

 Not jazz, Autophysiopsychic 

The showcase started with a live performance of Lateef’s “Meditation,” by fellows and current students at the Blair School of Music, a piece intended to underscore Lateef’s efforts to push the definitions of the jazz genre. His suggested attribution? Not jazz, but Autophysiopsychic, from which his 1977 album draws its name and inspiration.  

“How to deconstruct art without throwing soup at art?” 

Tennessee Triennial fellows then took us on a tour of how active and functioning galleries can engage with scholarly practices. Students provided video and images of a students responding to Emily Arthur prints in the Fine Arts Gallery, following by pointed conversations about the dissonance between contemporary critique and traditional art pieces.  

“Bad game of telephone” 

Next, Misinformation fellows offered a spirited look into the medium of podcasting as a lens for telling stories of academic significance. Students presented their podcast episodes and talked about the sometimes-conflicted connection between their personal passions and their professional goals. This Buchanan fellowship on misinformation created a path forward in blending the two together.  

A sombrero galaxy and a virtual pumpkin 

Fellows working in the Digital Commons and Visual Resources Center then took guests on a journey through the realm of virtual reality, 3d printing, and the augmented world where the future of design and animation are taking shape. Students presented different methods of production by demonstrating animations designed from scratch and scans of found objects. A pumpkin produced using a 3d printer was shared with the audience.  

Digging into university history 

Fellows then took us back in time to present on their findings on university life from 1895-1905. Students curated three exhibition cases featuring pamphlets, photographs, hand-written accounts, and other university memorabilia in what the fellowship deemed the university’s “coming of age” decade. The exhibition will be available to visitors in the 2nd floor Gallery of the Central Library Building through the winter and early spring.  

Citing 500 students and 7,000 pieces of art 

The final presenters of the day shared what they learned during their Fine Arts Gallery fellowship which focused on assessment and access to collections.  Fellows conducted a survey of over 500 students to help the Gallery better understand the needs, preferences and expectations of their student audience. Additionally, Fellows expanded access to collection objects to online audiences by creating an open-education resource for teaching with objects from the Fine Arts Gallery.

A note from the Buchanans 

After the celebration, attendee and daughter of Fellowship benefactors Dr. Richard and Poppy Buchanan, Lizzie Buchanan, noted of the event:

“I continue to be overwhelmed by the brilliance, creativity and passion of the Buchanan Fellows and their mentors. My father would be so pleased by the stewardship of his and mother’s gift to the Vanderbilt Library. He believed the search for truth and knowledge is followed in importance only by the willingness to share that knowledge with the community. Buchanan Scholars exemplify the best of those practices, and our family is so honored to be included in celebrating each student’s journey and success.” 

 The fellowships program is actively seeking faculty mentors and partners. To learn more about how to get involved, contact Associate University Librarian of Teaching & Learning Melissa Mallon.