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Celebrating 150 Spotlight Exhibits - Creating the Arizona Garden exhibit

Story

A gallery of photos of the garden highlight features of the exhibit.

What follows below is the edited text of an interview conducted by Cathy Aster, Spotlight Service Manager, with Jennifer Stonaker, PWR Advanced Lecturer on 1 February 2024. Jennifer is the creator of the exhibit: Arizona Garden - A historic garden at Stanford University. This interview was completed as part of a set of activities by the Stanford Libraries Spotlight Service Team to celebrate both the 10-year anniversary of the first Spotlight application launch and the publication milestone of 150 Spotlight exhibits.

Cathy: What was your impetus for wanting to create an online showcase for this content?

Jennifer: We like to give our students in the science communication program opportunities to practice work in different genres. A digital exhibit is a genre we had not used yet, so I wanted to explore the possibility for my Spring 2023 class. I was aware of the Spotlight platform because of previous pilot work I had participated in to help create student e-portfolios. 

Then I spoke with Christy Smith, who is the Coordinator for the Arizona Garden. She was on board with the idea of using the Arizona Garden as a basis for the exhibit. One of her requests was for us to ensure the content we created would contribute to the garden program overall. She also asked for the content to be archived or otherwise available for garden visitors into the future. Spotlight was a good fit for Christy’s foundational principle of longevity for all work produced on and about the Arizona Garden.

Cathy: Please comment on the value and ease of use of the Spotlight platform for showcasing this content.

Jennifer: What I love about Spotlight is how it supports the inclusion of multimedia content. It is easy to embed videos of the garden, and there is a wealth of different types of information that can be included in an exhibit. We uploaded several historic photos of the garden from the Stanford Digital Repository. We also added our own recent garden photos. Students created story maps for the exhibit such as the Garden Timeline, which we were able to embed as well. I also appreciate that Spotlight is Stanford Libraries-branded and contains no ads unlike a WordPress site or other commercial platform. It was easy to lay out different exhibit page options to help determine final choices. I was really happy with the final look of the site. 

Cathy: This is one of my favorite exhibits because it is so visually strong. It is a great exemplar. I am also hearing you say that this is an important part of your course pedagogy, right? You really want your students to have that visceral experience of what it is like to work in a digital realm, and how they might have to think about the presentation of information in a slightly different way.

Jennifer: Exactly. That is a very core foundation of what we do in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric. It is interesting to see how different communications can be viewed when in written versus spoken form. We want students to think about the audience and the affordances of different types of communication. This relates directly to how information produced in the class needed to be reconstituted in different ways for the exhibit. 

Jennifer: Back to our discussion of building the exhibit, I would like to add that working in a digital space really got me thinking about accessibility. You put me in touch with the Stanford Office of Digital Accessibility (SODA) which was such a great connection. I met with Sean Keegan and Claire O’Keeffe, and they advised me to modify the page text to include an explanation of when to look at or refer to a page image, and why the image is being included on the page. The Spotlight exhibit is very visual, and it was good to be reminded that a screen reader may not be fully sufficient to navigate through a page for people with disabilities. There are ways we can help with that navigation in the prose we write, too. The meeting with SODA was very transformative for me personally and caused me to think about information presentation in a different way. Finally, it is important to be teaching digital accessibility concepts to students. We are modeling what we want our students to go out in the world and do, so getting them thinking about accessibility and how they might meet those skill requirements in the future really matters.

Cathy: Do you have any more reflections or comments on what your process was for selecting images or other content for the exhibit?

Jennifer: It was hard. I had the foundation of the students' posters to start. When I was originally thinking about the exhibit, I thought it would be a gallery of all the posters. After talking with you and the SODA folks, I realized that was not going to be the most accessible presentation format due to all the poster text. That was when I concluded I needed to deconstruct the posters, to make sure the text and the images were on the exhibit page but presented in a way that could be navigated and understood by everyone. From there, I worked on figuring out the categories and organization of the feature pages, which took the longest amount of time. I like pen and paper, so I would sketch different options and try them out in Spotlight. I had to figure out which photos to include and where to put them, and I spent a lot of time selecting the right masthead image for the exhibit. I am a perfectionist, so ultimately it was very helpful that I didn’t have to make certain decisions because they were included as presets in the Spotlight template, such as type fonts. 

Cathy: I'm wondering what constituencies you feel the publication of this exhibit has impacted or could impact, and why? 

Jennifer: I know that Christy Smith, the Arizona Garden Coordinator, has been recommending to visitors that they use the QR codes for the exhibit posted on signs in the garden. Additionally, people contact her for more information about the garden, and she is now able to point them to the exhibit so they can learn more online prior to visiting. Christy is very appreciative, as this also streamlines her responses to various inquiries received.

My PWR colleague Emily Polk was teaching a class, and as part of their exploration of Stanford lands the students visited the Arizona Garden. Each student was required to give a presentation about the garden, and they used the exhibit as research material for preparing their presentation.

The garden is such an interesting place on campus; a lot of people have passed by it yet do not know anything about it. Now, we have been able to showcase this information in Spotlight in a way that is accessible to anyone who has access to a computer. I think that is really lovely. The history of the garden can continue to be told, and it feels good that my students had the opportunity to contribute to the documentation of Stanford history.

Cathy: Tell me more about the next time you teach this class. Is it going to be the same? Will you be adding content to this exhibit?

Jennifer: I think my goal initially had been that we would focus on a different location for every class. However, when we had the in-person garden event with the students, a conversation I had with the Human Biology Associate Director, Katherine Preston, made me realize we have many more stories to tell about the garden. So the next time I teach it, we will still focus on the Arizona Garden, and we will be adding pages to the existing Spotlight exhibit. We will probably be adding plant profiles, expanding on the wellness in the garden features, and maybe other content. The nice thing is that since the exhibit hierarchy is set, the next group of students will not have to spend time doing that. Then they can really play around with moving between the physical and digital spaces. I really do like having a Spotlight exhibit as a way of keeping that record of what the students have worked on. 

Cathy: I have gotten lots of great information from you, and I look forward to writing up an edited version of this interview. I will be selecting some wonderful nuggets that you have shared. We really appreciate you for your support of Stanford Libraries.

Jennifer: You all are amazing, including the fact that you are willing to jump through all of these hoops to support us and Stanford students. I do not know if you recall an activity I assigned to my students, for them to select different Spotlight exhibits and critique them. This was also good for them to see that there are multiple ways of presenting content. For people who are thinking about using Spotlight, I recommend they take time to look at several different published exhibits to help spark ideas for their own exhibit plans.

Last updated March 22, 2024