Nick Dease has been the Digital Learning Librarian at the Pratt Institute Libraries since 2018, working on improving the online user experience for patrons of Pratt Institute Libraries, developing innovative uses of library technology, and serving as the Library Liaison to the School of Information. He took some time out of his busy schedule to tell us more about how he got here and the projects he has worked on.
Illustration of Nick Dease, Digital Learning Librarian
Tell us about your background and how you got interested in working in libraries.
I’ve always been drawn to libraries and service oriented work. When you get down to it, solving problems for people is really rewarding– even if it’s something as small as troubleshooting a printer or pointing someone to the right article. In high school, I had a part time job at my local public library where I circulated books and assisted with public programs. It wasn’t that intense, but it was enough to spark my passion for the work.
When I came to Pratt in 2013 for the MFA in Digital Arts program, I got a job as a Graduate Assistant here at the libraries and somewhere along the way I realized that this was what I wanted to do full-time. From there, I transitioned into the MSLIS program and eventually took on the role of Digital Learning Librarian. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to contribute to a lot of great projects and work with some truly amazing colleagues.
Your masters from Pratt was a joint degree with Digital Arts and Library Science. Tell us about your final DDA project.
My thesis project explored the relationship between virtual environments in video games and the concept of the Absurd. I was really inspired by 20th century existentialists like Albert Camus. He wrote about these ephemeral moments when we recognize the strangeness of things, perceiving life as a kind of theatrical production. This sounded a lot like what I thought experiencing glitches in games is like (breaking outside of prescriptive game environments/behaviors, ruining the illusion, and exposing the artifice of it all.) The result was a series of prints and a first-person exploration game centered around glitches.
Screenshot of Nick's first-person exploration game created for his Digital Arts Thesis Project, Noumena
How do you incorporate digital arts into your work as a librarian?
There are a lot of crossovers. As a librarian, I’m very interested in information; how it is produced, manipulated, validated, and preserved. As an artist, I think the issues that surround information and knowledge are aesthetically interesting and worth expressing visually (and not just in the data visualization sense.) That said, the better answer here is that digital arts prepares you for creative coding, media creation, and problem solving. These skill sets are really helpful when you need to build a library website, integrate learning tools, or produce a video tutorial from scratch.
A print from Human Error, Nick's 2015 series exploring superseded theories in science. It features digital scans of incorrect information composited in Photoshop with errors highlighted.
What’s a Digital Learning Librarian?
I always struggle to come up with a good elevator pitch! The best I can do is to say that a digital learning librarian builds online interfaces, applications, and integrations to enhance learning, reference provision, and access to library resources. This means doing a lot of User Experience (UX) research, web development, and content creation. Libraries have a lot of digital interfaces and tools that usually aren’t designed to work well together and the research process itself is really complicated.
I see my role as working to remove the barriers for our patrons so that research is more focused on the information they’re seeking and less on learning and navigating interfaces. This is accomplished with a two-pronged approach: we try to reduce the complexity of our systems through development and we create learning objects to teach the essential principles and practices of library research.
What are your favorite projects you have worked on in your role as the Digital Learning Librarian?
Oh, there are so many to choose from! My favorite has to be the big redesign/development of the libraries’ website and online catalog (cat.pratt.edu) in 2018/19. Prior to taking on this role, my coding experience was generally focused on making small games, art applications, and portfolio websites. It was really fun and challenging to put together a working group and try my hand at solving some of the unique problems associated with library websites (there are many!). And because websites are never done, improving it and measuring the impacts of our improvements is a constant source of inspiration.
Other really fun projects all have to do with collaborating with others. The ones that immediately come to mind are creating/planning video tutorials with my faculty colleagues and graduate assistants. When the pandemic hit in 2020, we found ourselves in the difficult position of having to deliver our information literacy curriculum to a community distributed all over the world in different timezones. As a result, we decided to develop a broad range of instructional videos that could be consumed asynchronously. We expanded our catalog of library tutorials to cover a wide range of topics such as Keyword Brainstorming and Citing Sources. As of this writing, we have 29 full-length tutorial videos!
You are a gaming enthusiast. What are some of your favorite video games and why?
Ha! I could write a whole blog post on this, but I’ll do my best to restrain myself. My history with games goes all the way back, but these days I spend most of my time playing indie games and shorter, more digestible experiences. The three recent-ish games below are some of my current favorites.
Celeste by Maddy Thorson
This is an old-school platformer game where you play a girl struggling to overcome her life challenges by literally and figuratively climbing a mountain. It’s hard, but the game mechanics are really fine-tuned, the art is magical, and the narrative is a beautiful roller coaster! Also the soundtrack by Lena Raine is superb!
The Beginner’s Guide by Davey Wreden
Wreden’s Beginner’s Guide is a game about rifling through a game developer’s unfinished work in the hopes of better understanding them. It’s a short first-person ‘walking simulator’ game that explores some really interesting philosophical ideas.
Hollow Knight by Team Cherry
This is a tough-as-nails metroidvania game that borrows mechanics from Dark Souls. It’s also a game where you get to play a cute beetle knight in a fantasy kingdom populated with all manner of weird but still cute bug characters. I’m generally not a fan of insects, but this game is gobsmackingly beautiful, it’s characters are so charmingly rendered, and the gameplay is so smooth! Like Celeste, Hollow Knight’s soundtrack by Christopher Larkin is fantastic!