In the 1971 classic film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Gene Wilder’s titular character quotes Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s famous poem Ode as he begins the tour of his creative funhouse. “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams,” he tells Veruca Salt.
For better or worse, the University Libraries don’t have a chocolate factory as part our facilities. We do, however, have the Lower Level Lab—a hybrid makerspace and digital scholarship environment. And we have Ryan Clow, Digital Training Specialist, who is our own Willy Wonka, turning fantastic ideas into realities.
Ryan joined the University Libraries in July of 2019. His portfolio includes offering one-on-one multimedia consultations, providing instruction on creative technologies (audiovisual software, Adobe Creative Suite, and the likes), and increasing the Libraries’ digital scholarship presence. In a way, it’s a role he seemed destined to perform. “I was always something of a nerd,” he said. “I remember being a kid and playing games on a MS-DOS computer, back when the entire interface looked like a command prompt.”
He developed a passion for video games and anime, devouring them at lightning speed. He couldn’t get enough of them after he beat a game or finished a series. He would find their soundtracks and play them on repeat. Then he picked up a pencil and began to draw.
“I was always drawing characters from Cowboy Bebop or Dragon Ball Z or shows like that,” Ryan explained. This hobby morphed into a career path, as he pursued a BFA in 3D Media/Drawing from SUNY Purchase. He continued his studies here at UAlbany where he earned a MFA in Combined Media in 2016. Ryan works primarily in photography, a medium which he also teaches at the undergraduate level.
"Ryan has a way making students and faculty feel like they are his top priority when they approach him for help with digital content creation, and he encourages their success with a ’you can do this’ kind of attitude.”
At the Libraries, Ryan can combine his interests in art, technology, and teaching. His enthusiasm is contagious as you listen to him talk about it. “I love helping people. I love when I get to sit down with a student and show them a way to approach a project that they might have never thought of before,” he said. “And at the end, they get to walk away with something they made, a tangible output they can show their instructors or friends or family.”
Over the last three years Ryan has worked with students on YouTube essays, on photo collages, and on dozens of podcasts. He is also tuned into something of a digital scholarship sage, learning Python, QGIS, and other technologies. While outside of his formal educational background, Ryan took to the mediums with ease—and with remarkable results.
Last May, Ryan and a graduate student, Gyuri Kang, received the Martha Caroline Pritchard Award for the series of workshops they offered in the Spring 2022 semester. These include Python Basics, Data Cleaning and Management Using Python, and a GIS project map tracing the character locations in Ireland in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Elaine Lasda, Coordinator of Scholarly Communication, described the work as “interesting and fun,” as well as “an example of a Digital Humanities project that is possible to execute using the Libraries’ Digital Scholarship Services and tools.”
"I love helping people. I love when I get to sit down with a student and show them a way to approach a project that they might have never thought of before,” Ryan said. “And at the end, they get to walk away with something they made, a tangible output they can show their instructors or friends or family.”
Elaine isn’t the only one impressed by Ryan’s output. Kabel Stanwicks, Head of Access Services, had this to say about him: “We're extremely fortunate to have Ryan as part of the Libraries and the University community. He has a student-centered approach that he brings to his work and interactions, and he is focused on helping our students succeed. Ryan has a way making students and faculty feel like they are his top priority when they approach him for help with digital content creation, and he encourages their success with a ’you can do this’ kind of attitude.”
Not content to stop there, Ryan looks forward to expanding the Lower Level Lab as part of the Periodicals Room renovation. He hopes to secure permanent studio spaces for podcasting and video production, and looks to bring in-person instruction back. “There’s no replacing the hands-on learning,” he said. “Tutorials are nice, and they’re a good place to start, but you can’t beat having someone there with you to pick you up when you stumble and struggle and fail.”
The Libraries are excited to see what Ryan will do in the semesters ahead.