The History of the WLN: an interview with Dr. Muriel “Mickey” Harris (part two)

Editor’s note: Continuing our previous conversation about the history of the WLN, I asked Dr. Harris to comment on a few other writing center matters, including the history of the Purdue OWL, concerns for the future, and the future of the WLN.

HISTORY OF THE PURDUE OWL

We started the Purdue Writing Lab in 1975 on an experimental basis for a year, and next year, beginning in 1976, it was officially started. But that was long before email or the internet. We developed cabinets full of handouts for students to keep them from taking notes as we talked, and if we took out handouts, we’d mark them up so that they were personalized for the student to take home.

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Somewhere in the 80’s when email came along, I thought we should make those hundreds of handouts available when the Lab wasn’t open, so I managed to scrape bits and pieces of funding to get them up on an automatic system so that students could email a request for a list, then email by number which handouts they wanted (all in ASCII characters, of course), and it would come back immediately.

I don’t know how people all over the world learned about that looooong list of handouts, but we quickly realized thousands of requests were coming in. When Gopher became available, we moved to Gopher, and when web browsers came along, we moved onto the web, all the while watching increasing numbers, so that it quickly jumped to millions of requests from all over the world. It’s still well into the millions.

CONCERNS FOR THE FUTURE

Ah, that’s a long and complex question!

I worry greatly about the writing centers being folded into learning centers or student success centers and losing their identities, even though for some writing centers, it’s an advantageous move. But there are also large, endowed writing centers and writing centers that are part of writing research centers and communication centers.

And the writing center movement stretches all across the globe, on all continents (well, not in Antarctica, as far as I know), which speaks to the need and recognition of writing centers as integral to teaching writing.

Personally, I think writing centers are a superb learning environment for every writer, and if it were logistically possible, all writing instruction would include a space and time for the one-to-one interaction of writer and tutor, in a writing center environment.

FUTURE OF THE WLN

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 3.45.49 PMWe already have a website with open archives for all past issues. In addition to our international blog, Facebook, and Twitter pages, we are working on developing an online database, under the direction of Lee Ann Glowzenski, with links to resources for writing centers. The database will be called WcORD (Writing Center Online Resource Database) and will go public soon.

Beginning with the next volume, in September 2015, our format will change, along with our new name: WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship. It’s been an amazing—and gratifying—adventure to see those few sheets of paper listing 49 names of people in writing centers has grown into a peer-reviewed publication with subscribers all over the globe. It all happened because our authors are writing center people who write to share their knowledge with each other and our editorial staff is composed of dedicated people who volunteer their time, wisdom, and creativity to sustain this publication. It’s been an incredible privilege to be part of all this.

Has your school used the Purdue OWL website? What are your thoughts/concerns about the future of writing centers? Questions about the future of the WLN? Comment below!

One thought on “The History of the WLN: an interview with Dr. Muriel “Mickey” Harris (part two)

  1. I’m so thrilled to read about the upcoming database! I will mention it to my director if she hasn’t already heard the news. (I suppose I’d better start thinking about how to email the library faculty in charge of database subscriptions with an email more professional than one stating “WE NEED THIS RIGHT NOW.”)

    Cheers from the Florida Gulf Coast University Writing Center!

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