March 20, 2018

Sarah Clayton | Movers & Shakers 2017 – Digital Developers

Sarah Clayton


Digital Scholarship Specialist, University of Oklahoma Libraries, Norman


MSI, University of Michigan, 2015


One of the first individuals on campus certified as a Software Carpentry instructor, Clayton gives basic programming workshops for faculty and students so they can organize and manipulate their own data sets


@sclayton29 (Twitter); (Presidential Dream Course)

Photo by Patrick Heagney



Sarah Clayton is fearless, says Carl Grant, the University of Oklahoma’s associate dean, Knowledge Services, and CTO. That’s fortunate, because a month after starting at the university library, Clayton dove into work on the “Presidential Dream Course.” This ambitious class combined the efforts of the library and the university’s history department and is built around the question, “What sort of class would faculty members devise if money were no object?”

Working on an offering called “Making Modern America: Discovering the Great Depression and New Deal,” digital scholarship specialist Clayton gathered a subject librarian, archivist, curator, and oral historian to help 48 students perform primary source research. She also designed and built an online platform that ended up hosting 950 student-created items in 11 online exhibits with videos, archival documents, interactive maps, and more.

Clayton draws connections between the Presidential Dream Course and her previous work in archives and special collections, as well as an undergraduate degree in history, and grad school curricula in GIS and web development, which ties in with the tech and mapping portions of the course. In turn, she notes, she was able to use some aspects of the Dream Course in a “Software Carpentry” course—short, intensive computing workshops—also turning them into teaching materials for workshops in the university’s ResBaz (Research Bazaar) event, which promotes digital literacy emerging at the center of modern research. According to Grant, “She has proven a tremendous role model for female students who may not realize they have the capability to learn how to program or master a new digital tool.”

Synergies among class materials are only the beginning, though. Clayton says she’s proudest of the collaborations that have resulted from her work, in addition to the library/faculty collaborative spirit her efforts have engendered. The library now receives multiple requests to integrate digital scholarship research projects into classes, says Clayton, and they come from all disciplines. This semester she’s working on an English and a microbiology class; geography and history are up after that.

Clayton’s office serves as a reminder of the teamwork she so values. “I have [a] Modern Times poster featuring Charlie Chaplin from a movie screening we did during the Presidential Dream Course,” she says. There’s a stack of titles from her Software Carpentry training. And she treasures an illustration of a zebra by Jacques Henri de Sève given to her by an incredibly talented student who has since died. “All these items,” says Clayton, “serve as small reminders that my work and my life are enriched collaborations.”



This article was published in Library Journal's March 15, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.



  1. Jack Henton says:

    Congratulations Sarah! Exciting work!