Digital Cultural Heritage DC Meetup: 4 Years in & Going Strong

DCHDC 2012
Folks at one of the first DCHDC meetups, September 2012

Four years ago, some of my colleagues in the NDIIPP program thought it could be neat to try and start up a monthly meetup for digital cultural heritage professionals in DC. Butch Lazorchak found a bar in DC that would give us free space upstairs once a month and signed up for a meetup account and we were off.

I love that we ended up sparking something that has become an anchor monthly event for folks from libraries, archives, museums, universities and related non-profits to share ideas and perspectives. I know it’s been a key element in various people finding internships and jobs and for sharing ideas and approaches to working in this area. To that end, I decided it would be worth looking back and checking in with folks who have joined the group. So a few months ago I put together a survey.

4 Years, 40 Meetups, Almost 500 Members

Jamie Mears talking about personal digital archiving at DCPL at a recent meetup.

Over the last four years the Digital Cultural Heritage Meetup group has hosted more than 40 meetups. It seemed like a good point to do some legwork to figure out how the meetup is working.

The meetup continues to draw anywhere between 20-30 some folks a month and I thought it would be useful to survey the 492 people who have signed up to follow the meetup. The loosely organized group of folks who organize the events are working to improve them based on the survey.

Along with that, I thought folks in other cities might be interested in the results too. For an event that makes use of free space and takes a bit of time each month from a handful of people to volunteer to organize I think it has been having a rather substantial impact on the scene in DC.

Info on the survey sample

68 people responded to a survey I put together. This is less than 10% of the total set of people who have signed up to the meetup, but given the way meetup works I would hazard to guess that something like 60 or 70% of the people who signup for the meetup don’t ever end up coming. This is to say, I think responses from 68 people likely give a good view into the whole of who participates.

In the interest of transparency, you can see survey results (PDF), download the tabular data an see what the survey form looked like. As an aside, I would love to see other people take a look at the responses and write up their own reactions and interpretations of the survey results. Along with that, I would love to get further discussion of the results of the survey in the comments on this post.

Who participates in DCHDC and to what extent? 

Survey respondents represented a range of different profiles of DCHDC participants both in how frequently they participate and in where they are at in their careers.

In terms of the frequency of participation, they represented a range of levels of engagement.

  • 19 had participated more than six times,
  • 12 had come at least 4 times,
  • 21 had come two or three times,
  • 14 had participated once
  • 1 respondent had never participated

In terms of their stage in their careers, the survey mostly drew in folks who were either established professionals or in the first five years of their careers.

  • 3 respondents were current students,
  • 25 were in the first five years of their career and
  • 38 were established professionals who had worked in their field for at least five years

There weren’t that many students, but I think that likely represents trends in who participates. What I would note here is that this underscores how well the meetup functions as a middle ground between established and emerging professionals. I would also underscore that the students who do come have clearly gotten a ton out of being able to network with established and early career professionals. So grad students, if you’re listening, I think there is a huge opportunity here for you.

How DCHDC Matters

Across the board, respondents to the survey were largely united on the positive aspects of participating in DCHDC. For those participating, it seems clear that there is consensus that it has become a community that plays an important role in their careers.

  • 97%  of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that through DCHDC they have learned about projects and issues that are relevant to their work.

  • 97% of respondents reported that DCHDC has become a community they value participating in.

  • 95%  of the respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that participating in DCHDC has expanded their professional network.

  • 80%  of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that Participating in DCHDC has made them more aware of career opportunities.

Examples quotes of how DCHDC has been Helpful:

The free text responses that respondents provided give some of the best specifics of what has been working about the meetup. I thought I would include some of those inline here.

  • Connecting with professionals at different stages in their careers: “As I am just now beginning a career as a librarian specializing in digital preservation, having the opportunity to hear presentations on related to this area in librarianship is really helpful, as it is still evolving (and will continue to do so). Furthermore, actually having the ability to speak with individuals about their workflows, the politics of advocacy, standards, etc. has enabled me to gain a better understand my work.”
  • Finding professional opportunities: “DCHDC helped me get an internship in my field and lead to a greater understanding of what kind of jobs were out there and what direction I’d like to head in. Beyond the networking and professional advancement aspects, DCHDC has given me the opportunity to learn more about technology and aspects of cultural heritage that weren’t touched on in my program. While I have been unable to attend DCHDC in recent months I speak highly of it and recommend it often.”
  • Getting perspectives from outside a particular field: “I’ve strengthened my digital humanities network outside of the museum sector, and I’ve been able to bring a digital humanities perspective to my museum work. (I also discovered that one of my DCHDC friends was living upstairs from me. :))”
  • Personal/emotional support in career pathways: “The breadth of my knowledge has been expanded. I’ve made friends that have helped me emotionally through some hard career-related stuff. DCHDC has also helped me maintain consistent relationships with key people in the community, and I truly believe this helped me get my last job.”

Common Requests for improving the Meetup:

Along with understanding what people were getting out of DCHDC, I was also interested to learn a bit about how to improve the event.

  • Shorter talks: Originally the idea was to do 5 minute lightning talks, but over time they have become longer. So we decided to shift back to short talks with a quick bit of time for Q&A.

  • Further planned out schedule: This is an entirely volunteer run and organized event series, so planning is a bit of a challenge. That said, if we can get better at lining up a schedule then folks can make sure they plan on coming to weeks that are of particular interest. I think it will also help to bring new folks into the fold who might be drawn in by a particular topic.

  • Recaps/notes/links from talks shared online: This was a request that came through from several people. I don’t have the bandwidth for it, but if anyone wanted to take on something like this it would be welcome and appreciated.

Example Suggestions from Survey: Below are some examples from the survey responses of particular individual requests.

  • “I think it’s great as-is! I’m happy with whatever meeting time/place. earlier was mentioned last time like 6:00 and that would be great too.”

  • “Back to the short talk format. An hour lecture that starts after 7:30 pushes the event FAR TOO LATE, and removes the opportunities for networking and socializing that the above questions address. 20 minutes socializing, 20 minutes max presentation (including Q&A), a few minutes for announcements, and 20 minutes to whenever for after-socializing and closer convo with presenters would make it much more valuable.”

  • “At the beginning dchdc had *very* short presentations bookended by plenty of time to meet people and have free-ranging discussions. It seems that over time the presentations have gotten longer and more dependent on power point. Since not every presentation is relevant to everyone in the community, some might be less likely to attend based on topic, whereas before they might come just for the excellent company.”

  • “Be clearer on the MeetUp about time to socialize vs. presentation time, so that people who want to chat know they either need to come a little early or stay later. When the only information is the time and who’s talking, it makes it seem like the talk is at that time or just shortly after.”

  • “Scheduling or at least soliciting ideas for presentations a bit further in advance could be a good step. A formal call for ideas/volunteers could help bring some new faces and organizations to the fore. That said, I really have no idea how scheduling works and don’t want to mess up a good thing.”

  • “Given the locations in which we’ve met over the past couple of years, a consistent audio-visual/computer setup is key. Ad hoc talks are valuable but are almost always enhanced with graphic examples.”

  • “A Facebook group or some other way to share information about jobs, events, etc in between meetings would be a good supplement.l, especially for when we can’t make it to meetings in person every time.”

Distributing Credit for DCHDC

I should note that while I’m one of the co-organizers for the group since the beginning,  I have not been one of the folks who have really carried the water on this. At various points I’ve missed big chunks of the meetups when I have had to teach classes that meet on the same night. On that front, Bill Lefurgy gets credit for scheduling and running the events for most of our run so far. This is a touch which has recently largely been passed to Atiba Pertilla.  There are also several other folks who have been involved almost all the time and stepped up to run events at various points, I’m thinking of Jennifer Serventi and Patrick Murray-John. There are probably about 5-7 more folks I could list out here, but this is just to say that I think the strongest part of the group comes from a core set of folks that are incredibly generous with their time and welcoming to anyone and everyone who we can encourage to participate.

Going forward

The survey largely confirmed the things I hear from lots of folks about what is valuable and useful about this group. I don’t think we had any clear expectations of what this would be when or how long it would run when we launched it. But here we are, four years out, having moved between three different venues and still going strong. I’m personally very excited to see how this keeps going into the future and always interested in talking more with folks about how it can be improved/enhanced. I’m also happy to talk with anyone who might want to set up similar meetups in other places.

The Insights Interviews: First Person Perspectives on Ensuring Long Term Access to Our Digital Heritage

Back when I was working for the Library of Congress I did, and helped coordinate, a ton of interviews with practitioners and thinkers working in digital preservation for the National Digital Stewardship Alliances innovation working group. At one point, there was discussion of making a book out of the then 33 interviews. As with many ideas, it stalled out at some point. In any event, I worked up an intro for that and a table of contents at one point. So I figured I would just post that here, as I think it makes the interviews a bit easier to navigate. Together they form a whole that is, I think, more useful than just looking at them as part of a serial publication. For context, I wrote the intro below in 2014 and the interviews range from 2011-2014.From the initial draft I also added a set of  9 additional fantastic interviews that Julia Fernandez did as a Junior Fellow focused on understanding, documenting and preserving digital culture. I also added in links to guest posts that Sharon Leon and Mackenzie Smith wrote about approaches to developing open source software that are slightly different in that they predate the focus on interviews as an approach.

I don’t claim the credit for this massive amount of work. A ton of people did a lot of work on running, planning and coordinating these. Off the top of my head Jane Mandelbaum, Martha Anderson, Abbey Potter, Erin Engle, Butch Lazorchak, Jefferson Bailey, Lori Emerson, Julia Fernandez, Ricky Padilla, Barbra Taranto, come to mind as people who either did significant work in running or coordinating interviews.  I know there are many others from the NDSA innovation working group who contributed to doing these as well. 

The Insights Interviews:First Person Perspectives on Ensuring Long Term Access to Our Digital Heritage

Innovation can be a terrible buzzword. It can be a stand in for flavors of the month, and trendy ideas on the upswing of this year’s hype scale. With that said, it remains a critical concept. Particularly in a field like digital preservation where the idea of even keeping up with the scale and deluge of digital media along with an ever changing series of new forms, formats, tools and platforms is often dizzying and overwhelming. In some of my first conversations with Jane Mandelbaum, the Library of Congress co-chair for the National Digital Stewardship Alliance Innovation working group we struck on the idea of focusing on how exactly people are making it work.

Across a range of disciplines and areas an amazing set of professionals have emerged to ensure long term access to digital information and were doing amazing things with that information. When we did our first interviews for the then new Signal digital preservation blog I had no idea how useful and valuable many of them would become as touchstones for our field. Some of these interviews were topical and primarily of interest in the moment, but many of them share important and profound insights (the term the then Director of NDIIPP Martha Anderson suggested for the series). When an NDIIPP colleague approached me about helping to shape a volume out of the best of these interviews I thought it was a great idea. In reflecting on them, I think there are four particular cross cutting reasons that these interviews organized as they are here, are particularly useful for emerging and established professionals in and around the work of digital stewardship.

First Person Perspectives from an Emerging Interdisciplinary Field

Everyone in this volume has launched or established a career in this new and interdisciplinary field of work. As digital technologies reshape work across every sector ensuring long term access to information now touches on nearly every sector. Our education and training systems are responding to these changes, but beyond that, it is invaluable to use these interviews as a point of entry into the work of individuals in this field. In this respect, every interview here is an opportunity to understand someone’s career trajectory and in many cases a chance to gain insight into the skills and knowledge required to take on the hybrid roles that many of these innovative individuals are engaged in. In this respect, the collection is of particular interest to young professionals and students looking to establish the course for their careers.

Practical Dispatches from the Front Lines of Digital Stewardship

A considerable amount of ink and pixels have been spilt over theory of digital stewardship. Models, frameworks and certification criteria abound. These are great resources, but given the rapid pace at which technologies and systems are evolving, understanding how individuals are working to ensure long term access to digital information provides insight into how people on the ground are actually making this work happen. In this respect, each interview in this volume is an illustration of how theory comes into practice. Each interview provides a firsthand frontline narrative of how the models and frameworks of the field are calibrated into the messy realities of resource constraints and practical limitations of the world.

A Cross Section of Work and Issues Involved in Digital Stewardship

Big picture strategy, perspectives of content specialists, exploration of issues in the design and maintenance of infrastructure and systems, needs and desires of researchers scholars and other end users. While the interviews were not done to create a comprehensive picture of the field, as they have accrued over time when we set about sorting out the best of them into different buckets I was thrilled to see how well they covered the waterfront of collecting, organizing, preserving and providing access to digital information.

Disaggregating Digital Stewardship and Preservation

It’s not as tidy as it would be if this all hung together from a single perspective, there is a lot of messiness in the different objectives, frameworks and perspectives which different participants come from. That is something which I think is a particular strength of the volume. The rhetoric of the digital often makes it seem like we should be moving into the clean lines and clear cut universe of a science of digital stewardship. But when we zoom in to the work at each layer of the infrastructure for digital stewardship we are building it becomes evident that the same professional values and approaches that made for idiosyncratic visions of preservation and access in the past are just as present in our digital future as they were in our analog past. Digital stewards engage in their work toward differing objectives through differing means. For instance, considerations about the authenticity of digital artworks are not the same as concerns about the authenticity of electronic records.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Digital Strategy

  1. Digital Strategy Catches up With the Present: An Interview with Smithsonian’s Michael Edson August 9, 2012
  2. Open Source Software and Digital Preservation: An Interview with Bram van der Werf of the Open Planets Foundation, April 4, 2012
  3. Solving Problems and Saving Bits: An Interview with Jason Scott, August 20, 2013
  4. Digital Humanities Connections to Digital Preservation: Interview with Brett Bobley of the Office for Digital Humanities at the NEH, October 11, 2011

Chapter Two: Understanding Digital Objects

  1. BitCurator’s Open Source Approach: An Interview With Cal Lee, December 2, 2013
  2. What’s a Nice English Professor Like You Doing in a Place Like This: An Interview With Matthew Kirschenbaum August 12, 2013
  3. Media Archaeology and Digital Stewardship: An interview with Lori Emerson, October 11, 2012
  4. Archives, Materiality and the “Agency of the Machine”: An Interview with Wolfgang Ernst February 8, 2013
  5. Historicizing the Digital for Digital Preservation Education: An Interview with Alison Langmead and Brian Beaton, May 6, 2013

Chapter Three: The Curator’s View

  1. Web Archiving and Mainstreaming Special Collections: The Case of the Latin American Government Documents Archive, June 6, 2012
  2. Crossing the River: An Interview With W. Walker Sampson of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, December 9, 2013
  3. ArtBase and the Conservation and Exhibition of Born Digital Art: An Interview with Ben Fino-Radin May 1, 2012
  4. Exhibiting Video Games: An interview with Smithsonian’s Georgina Goodlander September 25, 2012
  5. The Digital Data Backbone for the Study of Historical Places”: An Interview with Matt Knutzen of the New York Public Library, February 27, 2013
  6. Challenges in the Curation of Time Based Media Art: An Interview with Michael Mansfield April 9, 2013
  7. Insights Interview with Beverly Emmons, Lighting Design Preservation Innovator February 10, 2012
  8. Born Digital Archival Materials at NYPLBorn Digital Archival Materials at NYPL: An Interview with Donald Mennerich, April 22, 2013
  9. Curating Extragalactic Distances: An interview with Karl Nilsen & Robin Dasler, August 18, 2014

Chapter Four: Designing Infrastructures

  1. Engineering Digital Preservation: Interview with David Rosenthal, June 15, 2011
  2. Lessons Learned for Sustainable Open Source Software for Libraries, Archives and Museums, September 15, 2011 (From Mackenzie Smith)
  3. Hydra’s Open Source Approach: An Interview with Tom Cramer, May 13, 2013
  4. Digital Stewardship and the Digital Public Library of America’s Approach: An Interview with Emily Gore, October 28, 2013
  5. The Foundations of Emulation as a Service: An Interview with Dirk von Suchodoletz, December 11, 2012
  6. WWI Linked Open Data: An Interview with Thea Lindquist, July 29, 2013
  7. Toward a Library of Virtual Machines: Insights interview with Vasanth Bala and Mahadev Satyanarayanan, September 21, 2011
  8. Imagine What We’ll Know This Time Next Week: An Interview with Bailey Smith and Anne Wootton of Pop Up Archive, December 6, 2012

Chapter Five: Working with the Public

  1. Crowdsourcing the Civil War: Insights Interview with Nicole Saylor, December 6, 2011
  2. Understanding User Generated Tags for Digital Collections: An Interview with Jennifer Golbeck, May 1, 2013
  3. Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums with Wikipedia (GLAM-Wiki): Insights Interview with Lori Phillips, April 20, 2012
  4. The Metadata Games Crowdsourcing Toolset for Libraries & Archives: An Interview with Mary Flanagan, April 3, 2013

Chapter Six: Scholar and Researcher Perspectives

  1. Quest for the Critical E-dition: An interview with Leonardo Flores, March 20, 2013
  2. Machine Scale Analysis of Digital Collections: An Interview with Lisa Green of Common Crawl, January 29, 2014
  3. Sharing, Theft, and Creativity: deviantART’s Share Wars and How an Online Arts Community Thinks About Their Work, September 17, 2012
  4. Astronomical Data & Astronomical Digital Stewardship: Interview with Elizabeth Griffin, October 8, 2014

Chapter Seven: The Digital Vernacular and Digital Folklore

  1. Born Digital Folklore and the Vernacular Web: An Interview with Robert Glenn Howard, February 22, 2013
  2. Understanding Folk Culture in the Digital Age: An interview with Folklorist Trevor J. Blank , June 30, 2014
  3. LOLCats and Libraries: A Conversation with Internet Librarian Amanda Brennan, July 14, 2014
  4. Understanding the Participatory Culture of the Web: An Interview with Henry Jenkins, July 24, 2014
  5. Computational Linguistics & Social Media Data: An Interview with Bryan Routledge, August 1, 2014
  6. Networked Youth Culture Beyond Digital Natives: An Interview With danah boyd, August 11, 2014
  7. Netnography and Digital Records: An Interview with Robert Kozinets, August 13, 2014
  8. Research is Magic: An Interview with Ethnographers Jason Nguyen & Kurt Baer, August 15, 2014
  9. Studying, Teaching and Publishing on YouTube: An Interview with Alexandra Juhasz, September 5, 2014
  10. Archiving from the Bottom Up: A Conversation with Howard Besser, October 10, 2014