Another year. Another chance to push the pause button for a bit and try and make some sense of what it is I’ve been doing. As I did in 2012 and 2013, I am taking a few minutes to try to sift and categorize. So if you are interested in a recap of things I’ve done this year this post is for you, if not, I imagine you have already decided to stop reading.
Digital Infrastructure for Libraries and Archives
The bulk of my work this year falls under the broad category of exploring/improving digital infrastructure for cultural heritage institutions. I published 13 posts on this blog, including pieces on the leadership roles that digital archivists should play, how research questions work in the digital humanities and a knowledge infrastructures in digital humanities centers. If you search for my name in the Library of Congress and restrict it to the year 2014 you find there are 74 things I’m associated with from the year. That includes a mixture of blog posts, reports, and in a few cases people mentioning me in videos of talks from the Digital Preservation conference I served on the planning committee for. Below I’ve tried to break up some of the things I worked on this year into a few different areas.
Improving National Capacity for Digital Preservation: I contributed to a series of projects focused on the state of digital preservation in the country and how to build national capacity for digital preservation. As a co-chair of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance Infrastructure working group I was part of the team which authored the second National Digital Stewardship Agenda. Along with several colleagues, I presented on the agenda in a session titled The 2014 National Agenda For Digital Stewardship: What Works In Digital Preservation, And What Is Needed at the Coalition for Networked Information’s Fall Forum. I also helped shepherd along some guidance on the best practices for how and went to check fixity of digital collection materials. In the spring, I gave an extended invited lecture on Digital Preservation’s Place in the Future of the Digital Humanities at the University of Pittsburgh’s iSchool.
- Building Out the Digital Preservation Knowledge Base: This point could well have been rolled up under the last one, but I think the professional knowledge base is important enough to warrant it’s own bullet point. Along with colleagues from the Open Preservation Foundation and the Innovation Working Group of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance I helped to launch Digital Preservation Q&A, a free and open knowledge base application to help foster sharing of knowledge and expertise in digital preservation. I also gave talks on getting started in digital preservation using the NDSA levels of digital preservation at the IMLS webwise conference in Baltimore and at the Computers in Libraries conference in Washington DC.
Crowdsourcing for Digital Collections: I continued to work on the role that broader publics can play in the work of cultural heritage institutions. In September I was invited to participate in the Inaugural Working Meeting of the Crowdsourcing Consortium for Libraries & Archives as a result of which I helped to co-author a forthcoming working document on Evaluating Crowd Contributions: Quality Assurance & Control for User Contributed Items and Metadata. Along with that, Crowdsourcing our Cultural Heritage came out, which ends with my essay titled Making Crowdsourcing Compatible with the Missions and Values of Cultural Heritage Organisations.
- Microscopes and Distant Reading of Collections: I continue to believe that computational methods for exploring relationships and trends in data sets, corpora, archives and collections have a ton to offer both scholars and archivist/librarian/curators. In December I gave a talk on Macroscopes and Distant Reading: Implications for Infrastructures to Support Computational Humanities Scholarship at the lengthy named Fostering Transatlantic Dialogue on Digital Heritage and EU Research Infrastructures: Initiatives and Solutions in the USA and in Italy summit. I represented the Library of Congress at a National Academies Board on Research Data and Information event focused on big data which I reported out on for the Library of Congress digital preservation blog. I also wrote a post on the reasons to prioritize offering bulk access to digital collections.
- Computer Aided Archival Description for Born Digital Materials: I was invited to share some of the thinking behind an experimental piece of software Ed Summers and I worked on that used topic modeling on born digital archival collections at the The Radcliffe Workshop on Technology and Archival Processing. The event prompted the Harvard Gazette to describe me as “a millennial who displayed affection for the word “awesome” during the panel.”
Cosmos Online Collection Launched
January saw the launch of Finding Our Place in The Cosmos, an online collection/exhibition that I spent the previous year curating and project managing.
As part of the launch of the collection I did a lot of writing about it for various communications channels at The Library of Congress. I interviewed astronomer David Grinspoon about his connections and relationship with his mentor Carl Sagan, I wrote about some of Sagan’s course materials for the Library of Congress science blog. I wrote about notions of technology and progress evident in primary sources for science teachers for the library of congress teachers blog. I wrote about Carl Sagan’s childhood writings on science and poetry for the Poet Laureate’s blog.
Along with writing on it for more general audiences, I also put together two reflective pieces about the process of working on the exhibition including a draft style guide for digital collection hypertexts, and a piece on the role that worked through how I used pinterest to open up the process of identifying and selecting items for the exhibition. I loved working on this project, the opportunity to explore the collections at LC, to dig deep into Sagan’s papers, to think through the best way to assemble the technology to tell the story and the chance to work with so many smart people from across the institution.
Becoming Dr. Owens and From Dissertation to Book
In February, I successfully defended my dissertation. I checked the box to provide my dissertation directly from George Mason University’s digital repository and that in no way held back in landing a book contract. So ends my continuous 23 years of schooling.
In spring of 2015 a revised version of my dissertation study is on track to be published as a book in the New Literacies and Digital Epistemologies series which Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel edit.
I’m thrilled. I’ve been following Colin and Michele’s work on new literacies for nearly ten years, and books in the series like Rebecca Black’s Adolescents and Online Fan Fiction played a significant role in informing the study. My dissertation research on the history, structure and ideology of software platforms enabling online communities was informed by this body of scholarship and I am excited to see that it will end up as part of this list.
After receiving some feedback on the state of the dissertation itself, I took six months of weekends and evenings to revise and further transition it into more of a book form. After receiving approval on the text by the series editors I recently reviewed a copy edited version of it and will likely be looking at proofs in the next few months. So it sounds like everything is on track for the book to come out in the middle of 2015.
Born Digital Folklore and Vernaculars
One of the best parts of working in NDIIPP has been the opportunity to connect with the various custodial divisions of The Library of Congress to work through their issues in particular born digital content domains. This year it was my pleasure to collaborate with some of my colleagues in the American Folklife Center to explore the role that cultural heritage organizations can play in collecting and providing access to records of digital vernaculars and folk cultures.
I was able to plan, host and co-unchair Curate Camp Digital Culture with Folklorist Trevor Blank and Tumblr’s Meme Librarian Amanda Brennan. The camp was both a ton of fun and enlightening. It was a distinct pleasure to help guide NDIIPP’s junior fellow, Julia Fernandez through her fantastic work conducting a series of interviews I had started off a few years back exploring these issues. All told, the 13 interviews we did on this topic are functionally a brief 35,000 word book on the subject. In them you can find serious discussion and exploration of everything from Bronies, to deviantArt, to an exhibit of animated GIFs, yelp reviews of restaurants and LOLCats.
Informed by the unconference and the interviews, I was able to help the American Folklife Center develop some new collections. Of the many ideas we explored, two seem to have really had legs so far. First, I’ve been able to make some significant contributions to scoping the Library of Congress Digital Culture Web Archive. So whatever else I do in my career, I’ve been instrumental in making sure that the a bunch of reaction gifs, meme images, creepypastas, and sites that document the meaning of various emoji and facebook symbols persist as part of the Library of Congress web archives. I’ve even helped contribute to the Library of Congress’ illustrious collection of bibles with the acquisition of The Lolcat Bible.
An Award Wining Year
Aside from all of this, I won two awards this year! The Society of American Archivists proclaimed me the Archival Innovator for 2014 and I won the C Herbert Finch Award for an Online Publication for my work curating/managing the Finding Our Place in the Cosmos Online Collection.
Looking back on 2014 I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunities I’ve had. I’ve been able to work with some amazing people, on a range of projects that I think are the right fit for my talents and interests.
To that end, I’m looking forward to the new adventures that 2015 has in store.