800 Posts Later: Reflections on teaching digital history with a public course blog

This is a draft that has been kicking around for a while in a few different forms, wanted to see it out in the world so I’m putting it up here on the blog. 

Now that the novelty of academic blogging has worn off, what are we left with? A decade ago, it seemed blogging was emerging as a core practice of scholarly writing. I speak specifically about history and the humanities, but the trend seems true for a range of other fields too. In 2005 the History News Network began recognizing the best history blogs with a series of awards shared out at the American Historical Association’s annual meetings. In 2006, Dan Cohen’s made the case for academic blogging in “Professors, Start Your Blogs.” A year later, academic blogging itself would be explored and extolled as a new literacy in scholarly communications. By 2015, academic blogging itself had become a subject of in depth analysis as part of the infrastructure of scholarly communications.

In the resulting decade, blogging appears to have stabilized into a persistent form of public writing. However, it does not seem to be poised for substantial further growth. Some scholars, librarians, and archivists blog. Most do not. Of those that do blog, they largely seem to do so a lot less. Analysis of the growth of blogging in the digital humanities suggests that the peak moment of growth in the field was in fact in 2008.  Indicative of this change, In 2011, the History News Network made the seventh and last set of history blog awards. The lack of growth of blogging has been largely attributed to the mainstreaming of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

Using Blogs for Graduate Seminars 

When academic blogging was emerging as a new literacy and scholarly form in academia, it made a lot of sense for digital history, humanities and library and archives inclined educators to explore introducing blogging as a part of digital humanities pedagogy. In that context, in 2012, I offered a perspective on these issues in The Public Course Blog: The Required Reading We Write Ourselves for the Course That Never Ends. Notably, that contribution, like many of the original contributions to the first Debates in the Digital Humanities, began as an entry in a series of blog posts. In that blog-post-turned-essay, I reported on the results of teaching my first graduate seminar, a digital history course, through a public course blog. Now 8 years, 9 seminars, 818 student blog posts, and 2057 blog comments later, after the hype of academic blogging has faded, I thought it might be good to circle back and interrogate the extent to which the potential of this form of open public writing has lived up to its potential.

While blog boosterism has faltered, the practices around course blogging in the humanities in particular, seem to steadily continue. In this context of the stabilization of blogging as a form of public writing how do we understand the value of public blogging as a pedagogical practice in the humanities and social sciences? I’ve gone back and looked at some of my students reactions over time to my use of course blogging and thought it might be interesting to share them here. It seems somewhat natural to post about them here on my blog.

Functions of a Public Course Blog

In The Public Course Blog: The Required Reading We Write Ourselves for the Course That Never Ends.  I made three primary claims about what I saw as the central value of the public course blog as a teaching mode. As a starting point, it is worth fully articulating each of these concepts.

  • Blogging enabled a shift from teaching as knowledge dissemination to teaching as knowledge production: Where classes generally require students to produce writing read by the instructor, by implementing a public course blog students were instead writing for each other and also for others outside and beyond the course.
  • Blogging enabled extending courses through time and space:  Where courses function as discrete classrooms that persist for a fixed semester of time, a public course blog could both spatially and temporarily extend the reach of a course. Teaching using the same course blog allowed for students to encounter and engage with previous writing for the course and could enable students from prior classes to engage with current students.
  • Blogging enabled students to write for and connect with broader audiences:  Students participating in the course were not only writing for each other, but they could also interact with the broader digital history community. That is, through the blog students could interact with the creators of tools and scholarship via the public blog.

Positive but somewhat mixed reactions from students

Overall, all ten of the graduate seminars I have thought through the course blogging platform have been well received in student course reviews. Most of these courses have been a digital public history methods seminar (see the syllabus from 2011, 2012, 2015, Summer 2015 , 2018, 2019, and 2020 versions of the course.) I also used the same approach to teach a Digital Art Curation seminar in 2016, and a Digital Preservation seminar in 2016 and 2018. I decided not to use the same approach for an online Digital Curation Policy and Ethics seminar I taught in 2019 (I had internal course discussion boards for that in part to facilitate more candid discussions). I also decided not to use that approach for the online course I taught on organizational leadership for libraries and archives last semester, in fall of 2020.

For context, this blogging assignment has been part of work with face-to-face classes. That is until spring 2020 when my digital history methods course shifted rapidly into an online course. Of note, I’m about to start teaching the spring 2021 version of that course which will be all online.

The numerical scores from student reviews  for each of those courses rank them higher than the median values for both the departments and colleagues that the courses are taught in. That offers, at least preliminary support for the idea that the public course blog, a central component of each of these courses, can be part of an effective approach to teaching and learning. That noted, delving into anonymous comments from students offer a chance to explore some of the varied ways that students have responded to this as a teaching too.

Blogging kept it interesting

Over the last decade writing as part of online discussions in course management systems has become an increasingly routine part of teaching for college courses. To this end, one of the students reflected that they found, “blogging was an enjoyable way to get to know the class over the semester and the less formal tone kept it from being a chore.”

This student went on to observe that they “have come to loath the mandatory discussion board participation in all my classes over the semester” and that they were “surprised with how much I enjoyed writing for the public course blog.” In this context, the goal of writing for broader audiences identified in my original objectives for course blogging appears to have indeed made this form of class writing more engaging.

This kind of general positive response to course blogging largely fits with additional feedback I have received on course design. With that noted, those aspects of writing for a broader audience have also resulted in specific related negative feedback from some students.

Finding the right rhythm for blogging and reading

One student explained that they were “too time-crunched and overwhelmed trying to read and understand the material to try to engage in a public intellectual discussion about my own or others posts.” This observation is an important one that I have been working to reflect on and refine my approach to. On some level, asking students to process readings and then engage in discussion of the readings in advance of a class session in which we then further engage in discussion  can create  significant opportunities for redundancy.

This sentiment was shared by another student who noted that they found the requirement to “write/comment/discuss ad nauseam” made it “impossible to keep up.” Throughout both of these students comments it becomes clear that it is challenging to establish and manage a rhythm for the course between the function of the blog as a place for discussion and the function of the face to face situation of the class. Resolving this issue is challenging. Many of the graduate students in the courses I teach are taking multiple graduate seminars while also often working full time jobs. To that end, I’ve worked over time to try and pace the volume of reading better and to lower the total number of times I ask students to blog for the course.

Notably, I have consistently observed over the course of teaching various instances of these classes through the blog that different students participate to varying degrees in the online discussions and the face-to-face discussions. To that end, it does appear that providing the two, potentially complementary, spaces for discussion to occur are creating opportunities for students to engage in discussion in ways they find most comfortable. Still, the comments from students also clearly suggest that the multiplicity of places for discussion also promote a kind of anxiety about a course being always on.

Engaging with “the profession in the real world”

Accepting the challenges and issues that are presented by the integration of blogging as a form of public writing in the course, there are also notable strengths that come through in this form of teaching. One student’s explanation of the role of blogging in their learning experience underscores several of these points. In their words, “Trevor…was always looking for ways to engage us with the profession in the real world.”

As a specific example of how I supported their engagement with the “profession in the real world” they mention my “referring working professionals in the field to student posts on the class blog via social media.” In keeping with my objectives for using the public writing function of the blog as a means to connect students with professionals in the field I will regularly share out examples of particularly thoughtful student posts and connect them with others working on those issues over Twitter. This kind of direct interaction with the people behind the papers, the tools, or the platforms we are working with can have a really powerful effect in the classroom.

The student who wrote that comment ended by asserting that, “In Trevor’s class I felt that I was treated as a professional and expected to perform accordingly, a challenge that I very much appreciated.” Blogging wasn’t the only part of the course that they asserted supported that feeling, but they did directly connect the concept of public writing, writing for an audience and connecting with that audience beyond their classroom, as something that supported that.

A Future for the Public Course Blog

Dighist.org has come to present a significant collection of research and writing of students in public. While most student work in course discussion spaces is erased and overwritten shortly after it is created these posts, for the most part, persist. Given that the bulk of the courses taught on and through this platform are digital public history courses it makes sense that this platform functions as a way for students to engage in this for of public writing.

With that noted, part of my original concept for teaching through the public course blog was that blogging was an increasingly important form of academic public writing that it was significant for students to be learning. It appears now that even when I had started using blogging as a means for teaching in 2012 academic blogging had already reached its saturation point. Where at one point it appeared as if scholars of the future might each maintain and manage their own blogs as a kind of public research journal, it now appears to be the case that blogging has matured into a somewhat niche form of academic journaling.

In this context, and with these notes from students on the ups and downs of academic blogging, what do we make of the public course blog? I believe the strong positive reactions to the role of the public course blog suggest that students do indeed largely find value in this approach to teaching. With that noted, I am also sympathetic to the concept that an always on kind of course with considerable reading and writing isn’t particularly sustainable for all students.

Given all this, I’m still a believer in the value that public course blogs can offer to graduate seminar design. With that noted, I think a lot of my initial takes on why this would be useful don’t hold up. Blogging didn’t become a “new literacy” for scholarly communication. It’s a thing that some academics do but that most don’t. To that end there isn’t necessarily a general value for grad students to learn about blogging.

With that noted, if you want to do work in public history, or in libraries and archives, it turns out that blogging does persist as a valuable tool in the toolkit of social media communications. Organizations continue to use blogs alongside social media platforms to communicate with their audiences. In that context, learning how to use wordpress and thinking about audiences and public writing on history is inherently useful as a skill for folks that are interest in public history. I think that leaves me at the point where I’m going to continue to use public course blogging when it’s inherently relevant to the context and goals of the course.

To that end, in the last few years I’ve taught two courses that didn’t use the same public course blog platform. In one case,  the course is focused on digital curation policy and ethics, and I wanted to make sure that students felt comfortable discussing their own experiences with ethical and policy related challenges and dilemmas relating to digital curation and it struck me that this was not a great context for pushing students outward into public writing. Similarly, for the leadership and organizational theory course I taught, I wanted to make sure that students had a space where they could share candid reactions and reflections on their work experiences and on readings about workplaces. In both of those cases, I think setting up a more closed and temporary space for course discussions and student journaling worked a lot better then it would have if students were trying to filter things through what they would be comfortable saying in a more public forum.

Processing 2020: Going Inside, Supporting, and Learning

As the end of the year comes to a close, I generally make time organize and synthesize what I’ve been up to across different parts of my work each year. You can see my reflections at the end of 20192018, 20172015,  20142013, and 2012. I’m a big fan of metacognition, so I get a lot out of taking time to round up, reflect, and try and synthesize things at least once a year.

Going Inside 

Looking back at those blog posts from years gone by just draws attention to how dramatically different the world feels now. I also don’t think I’m really at the point where I can process the year. Marjee and I rang in the last New Year with hikes in the Torres del Paine, at the literal end of the earth. Then… so much of the rest of the year feels like a blur.  As the Pandemic hit and we both shifted into being in and around our home and our very local community. On multiple levels this felt like “going inside”, which also makes me think about one of my favorite John Fursciante songs. We ‘re inside our home far more than we have been in any previous year and I think we were inside our heads and reflective in ways that we haven’t been in previous years.

Growing as a supporter and facilitator

As the team at work shifted to an all online mode, I’ve been consistently impressed with how much I’ve seen folks help to support each other and find ways to grow and learn and get things done together. I’ve been increasingly transitioning my efforts in my work to focus on how to be a better supporter and facilitator for a team that continues to grow.

I was excited to interview some folks who joined our team this year about their work and goals. You can find those interviews here:  Web Archiving Virtually In Residence: An Interview with Meghan LyonDiving into Digital Content Management: An Interview with Mark Lopez10 Weeks of Digital Content Management at a Distance: An Interview with Junior Fellow Randi Proescholdt.

I taught two grad seminars, my Digital History Methods Seminar started out face to face and shifted online in the spring as the pandemic hit. Students worked up some really fun and creative projects and I was impressed by how they rolled with transitioning into an online format for the second half of the semester. My library organization theory seminar ran entirely online. It was the first time that I taught the library org theory course, and I found it really rewarding to engage in that kind of meta level discussion about navigating and working to improve library, archives, and museum organizations. In working on that course, I also read a lot more scholarship and work in management, business, public policy, and related fields which has been helpful in my own development of ideas about how organizations can better need the needs of both their constituencies and the people that make them run.

Reading and Sharing

While the year has been challenging, i’ve gotten a lot from the introspective space of all of it. I read a lot more than I have in previous years, we rode our bikes around the extensive trails in our community. I had a lot of fun talking about my digital preservation book on the Archives in Context podcast. Even before the pandemic, I was reflecting on my relationship with the end of the THATcamp era. I got pretty into TikTok, which, at one point sharing out a bunch of links to how people play with history on TikTok and also reflecting a bit on how folks told the story of the election in maps on the platform. Along with that, a few essays I’d collaborated with others on over time made their way into publication in 2020, one on digital sources and digital archives and another on studying digital culture in web archives.

I decided not to start writing a book, which feels like growth for me.  I’ve got a tendency to just keep piling up projects and it felt good this time to really try on the idea of a project and then just deicide I’d rather spend that time cooking, organizing my closet, and reading.

I enjoyed learning more about how to work with video editing and had a ton of fun helping Marjee work on her documentary film.

I was really thrilled to end up being a finalist for the Digital Preservation Teaching and Communication Award. I made this video about it for the review panel which I think underscores how meaningful that particular distinction is to me.

I was invited to contribute to the Biblioteca Nacional de México’s  Día Mundial de la Preservación Digital 2020 video series. Which will also ensure lasting documentation of my brief stint of having a goatee during quarantine.

Looking and Seeing

Thought I would leave off with some “How it started, How it’s going” run through photos. This is just a smattering of pictures from my phone in order.

MapTok: Watching the Election on TikTok

Collage of TikToks about the election

Over the last year I’ve come to really enjoy seeing the wide range of really creative things that folks are doing on TikTok. For example, I think it’s fun to see what folks do with history on the platform.

The platform is largely written off as something frivolous, but I’m routinely impressed by how people are using looping audio and video and green screen tools to create genuinely engaging stuff and thought provoking media.

As I was compulsively refreshing various online dashboard/election maps last week to see how the election was playing out, I was also switching over to TikTok a lot.

On TikTok, users were playing with those maps too, and I started thinking that by sequencing those videos you could see a bit of the emotional rollercoaster of the election playing out.

Below is the result of selecting and sequencing some of these. I included the text and hashtags that go along with each video to offer some context. I think it hangs together as a short documentary film about the election, data visualization, and storytelling on TikTok.

In these videos the states become characters with different personas. Memes like “I did it” and “what was the reason” become conversations between the states on the maps. A states teaches other states how to do a TikTok dance to a remix of a Russian Honey Nut Cheerios jingleLorde lyrics answer questions about why the map looks the way it does.

Looking at these reminds me a bit of some of the ideas that Dragan Espenschied was putting out in Big Data, Tiny Narration. That is, as we all kept refreshing these maps which pull together real time data, a whole cast of folks was sorting through what that data meant and doing creative storytelling about what it meant to them.

TikToks Included

  1. https://www.tiktok.com/@dancinchaz/video/6883907430225333510
  2. https://www.tiktok.com/@athanlau/video/6891198051642313989
  3. https://www.tiktok.com/@owenamooney/video/6891325484341234946
  4. https://www.tiktok.com/@conwilk/video/6891436701986606342
  5. https://www.tiktok.com/@n8yaz/video/6892560856945544453
  6. https://www.tiktok.com/@kaylabaumgardner2/video/6892147427181120773
  7. https://www.tiktok.com/@scoliosisth0t/video/6892141569374194950
  8. https://www.tiktok.com/@therealalisharai/video/6891947362978221318
  9. https://www.tiktok.com/@yasminghasiri/video/6891787644779433221
  10. https://www.tiktok.com/@lainabainaxo/video/6892197715942378758
  11. https://www.tiktok.com/@heyitsryanelise/video/6891987314487086342
  12. https://www.tiktok.com/@meliodas_jonn/video/6892427201053052165
  13. https://www.tiktok.com/@.devon.james/video/6892152160117591301
  14. https://www.tiktok.com/@marejonj/video/6892446640905440518

Achieving Organizational Excellence Course Syllabus

Achieving Organizational Excellence syllabus.

Over the summer I’ve been  developing a syllabus and plan for teaching LBSC 631, Achieving Organizational Excellence at the University of Maryland’s College of Information.  It is the leadership/management/organizational theory course, and it’s one of the three core courses for the UMD iSchool’s MILS program. I just sent the syllabus out to everyone in the class and I’m also posting the syllabus here for anyone who might be interested.

This is a new course for me. Over the last five years I’ve taught five other graduate seminars for the iSchool, but those were all digital curation, preservation, and policy courses.

My section of the course was originally intended to be a face to face course, so in transitioning it to an online course I ended up playing around with approaches to make sure that there is a lot of flexibility in the course design. I sent out a questionnaire  to students in advance of the semester which confirmed my sense that there would be some anxiety about both a desire for synchronous interactions from some students and concerns about how to make  synchronous  interactions work for everyones schedules during the ongoing pandemic. I’m hopeful that I’ve figured out some ways to build a lot of flexibility in on the course but it will be curious to see how it all plays out. I should note that a lot of my approach to the design of this course is anchored in a fantastic education leadership seminar I took in my Ph.D program with David Brazer.

Reading on How Orgs work and how to work Orgs

I’ve largely developed the course around Bolman and Deal’s Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership which I’ve written about before. I like how they approach work in organization in terms of competing frames; structural, human resources, political, and symbolic. I also really appreciate that their book is more about organizational theory than it is about leaders and leadership. In large part, I think the cult of leadership books on what leaders do misses out on how things really get done in the complex systems that are organizations. I’ve paired that book with some sections from Evans & Greenwell’s Management Basics for Information Professionals, which is great at being more directly focused on issues in libraries and archives but I think less strong as an overarching toolkit for understanding organizations.

Along with those two books, I’ve also assigned two other books that we will focus on for individual weeks in the semester. We will read Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, which I continue to find to be a really accessible point of entry into a lot of work in the psychology of motivation. We will also read Systems Thinking For Social Change: A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences, which is both a great point of entry into systems thinking and also a useful book in getting us to think beyond the boundaries of individual organizations to collectively enable social change.

I’ve tried to round out readings from those books with a mixture of articles. It ended up working out that I’ve got a lot of straightforward articles from Library Leadership & Management which I’ve tried to round out with much more critical work, largely from In the Library with the Lead Pipe.

Alongside the readings, I’ve built in a few situations where students need to go out explore some resources that I think everyone in library school needs to know about. Things like the Library Journal Placement and Salaries reports, the AFL-CIO“Library Professionals: Facts, Figures, and Union Membership” results from the IMLS annual  public library survey and both the ARL Salary data and general ARL library statistics. While all these reports are pretty dry, they are also amazingly useful resources for understanding how pay works in the field and how resources are located across and within library organizations.

Reflection, Introspection, and Engagement through Assignments

I spent a lot of time trying to think of what the right kinds of assignments are for a course like this. I think this kind of course really needs to support students in working to process and synthesize their own notions of how organizations work. To that end, I decided that a core part of the course would involve weekly journaling about course readings.

At the same time, I wanted to make sure that there were opportunities for students to connect with each other. This was originally intended to be a face to face course. Beyond that, there are actually two sections of this course this semester and the other one was an online course from the start. So functionally this section of the course is all students that had explicitly opted to take a face to face version of the course. It’s great that the course can work well as an online course, but I fully realize that this isn’t what students had signed up for. Beyond that it’s a seminar with 30 students, which presents challenges for having everyone do anything together in any situation. In light of that, I worked out a process where students are going to have peer learning partners that they set up time to check in with each week and who they will read and comment on each others journals. Over the course of the semester the partners are going to rotate four times, so everyone will have a few weeks with a different partner. My hope is that this helps scaffold everyone into some rich discussions and explorations of the issues that we get into over the course of the semester.

The last major set of assignments are focused on having each student do an interview with someone working in a leadership/management role in a library or archives who they will then write an essay about that connects that persons ideas about leadership with readings from the course. My current concept is that for all the students that opt in, I will go ahead and put out an open access book of all these essays on LISSA. My hope with this assignment is that it provides a chance for everyone in the class to do some networking and meet folks working in the field while also giving us a chance to make something together that everyone can point to after the semester as an outcome from the course. I’ll be curious to see how it goes!

On Digital History: Audiences, Archives, Tools, and Sources

I’ve been kicking around the idea of working up a proposal for a book about digital history for a few years. At this point I’ve taught digital history grad seminars for a decade. Through teaching that course I think I’ve developed a particular take on the subject. That said, every time I’ve started to sketch out ideas about it I end up running out of steam.

When I went back to review a lot of work that I’ve published about digital history as part of my most recent attempt to explore this idea I ended up deciding that the set of articles and blog posts I’ve written really cover what I want to cover and say at this point. So instead of continuing  to think about developing a book proposal on this I thought I would instead just share something that works as an index to a lot of the writing I’ve done on the subject. 

Engaging Audiences and Users around Digital Collections

The web presents new ways for historians to engage with audiences and communities. I wrote Digital Cultural Heritage and the Crowd as a piece to work out a series of frames for thinking about inviting user participation with digital collections through crowdsourcing.

Many organizations produce online exhibits or narratives to go along with digital collections, but there is not much guidance on how to go about that kind of writing. While working on an online exhibit a number of years ago, I wrote up and shared a guide for writing text for online exhibits. That same project prompted me to write Curating in the Open: A Case for Iteratively and Openly Publishing Curatorial Research on the Web. That essay was largely about the way that the research and writing process for an online exhibit could become more public and open up points of entry for others to explore digital collections. 

Approaching and Understanding Digital Archives 

As historians get more involved with digital collections that work increasingly blurs boundaries between work historians do and the work of librarians and archivists. Thomas Padilla and I work to lay out a lot of foundational and definitional issues around digital archives and sources in Digital Sources & Digital Archives: The Evidentiary Basis of Digital History. I also explored some of the connections between work archivists are doing with Jesse Johnston in Archivists as Peers in Digital Public History. 

Connecting back to the points about engaging with audiences and participatory aspects of work with history, in Archives as a Service: From Archivist as Producer and Provider to Archivist as Facilitator and Enabler I made a case for revisiting notions around archives as a product and focused on a range of ways that community archives and other explorations of participatory ways of engaging with communities to organize, preserve and interpret the past. 

Digital History Tools and Computational Analysis

Toward the end of my time at the Center for History and New Media I was working on a project to explore various text mining and computational data analysis tools for historical research with Fred Gibbs. The results of that work turned into a series of essays that came out in 2012 and 2013. In Building Better Digital Humanities Tools: Toward Broader Audiences and User-Centered Designs Fred and I reported out on a range of issues that illustrated a lack of user centered design approaches to many digital humanities tools.

In parallel to that, we worked up The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing, which largely focuses on ways that historians can integrate computational data analysis into historical narrative writing. While working on both of those projects I spun Defining Data for Humanists: Text, Artifact, Information or Evidence? which is a shorter piece that attempts to work across the various ways that historians can approach data. 

Engaging With and Interpreting Born Digital Sources

Over time, I’ve worked on a number of projects that explore issues with interpretation of born digital sources and historical thinning and argumentation. One of my first explorations in this area was Modding the history of science: Values at play in modder discussions of Sid Meier’s Civilization an essay that focused on how a popular video game represented the history of science and the way that its user community was imaging and altering the game as documented in online discussion forums. Rebecca Mir and I took a somewhat similar approach in Modeling Indigenous Peoples: Unpacking Ideology in Sid Meier’s Colonization but in this case focusing on issues in the representation of indigenous peoples in video games.

In Tripadvisor rates Einstein: Using the social web to unpack the public meanings of a cultural heritage I used some of the same approaches to doing research grounded in discussion in online communities but instead of studying a video game I was studying online reviews of a memorial on Tripadvisor and Yelp. While working on those projects I was also working on  Lego, Handcraft, and Costumed Zombies: What Zombies do on Flickr which is more about the way that Flickr and it’s discovery system for photos was enabling new ways to explore and study trends in vernacular culture. In The invention and dissemination of the spacer gif: implications for the future of access and use of web archives Grace Thomas and I dove into the kinds of historical research one can get into on the history of web design through working with web archives. 

22 History TikToks

I’ve been surprised to see how often historical topics or themes come up in TikToks. So I went ahead and pulled together this listicle of 22 history TikToks. Some of them are pretty funny. Some of them have gotten quite a few views.  I think it’s interesting to see the way that young people are fitting historical info into the rhetorical forms that play out on TikTok.

The French Revolution

@rose_freya_And that’s on the reign of terror ##history ##foryou ##fyp♬ original sound – kasey.smo

Zimmerman telegram

@meme_kaiserHey Mexico you trynna invade the US? ##fyp ##greenscreen ##foryoupage ##tiktok ##PlayWithLife ##writethelyrics ##petparent ##ChilisBirthday ##history♬ Let’s go! – kevwithin

Martin Luther 

@baileyelizajust 1517 tings (shoutout to my art history zoom class for the inspo) ##foryou ##fyp ##history ##zoomuniversity ##apeuro♬ original sound – kasey.smo

The Plague

@zeauxiehas this been done before ? i sure hope not ##history ##fyp♬ Original Sound – yungtubesock

History of Psychology

@slaviccaesarSome AP Psych ##appsych ##psych ##foryou ##history ##historymemes♬ This Could Be Us – Rae Sremmurd

 

 

WWII 

@daddythanosschmeetThese alliance systems in Europe can date back to the Austrian-Prussian war of 1866. ##fyp ##foryoupage ##History ##historymemes ##WWI♬ roped me – nibbavids

Peppered moths

@slaviccaesarThe amount of times I’ve had to learn about these moths ##apbio ##historymemes ##history ##foryou ##fyp♬ original sound – chaser

Francis Drake

@annemariehw##foryoupage ##history ##historymemes♬ original sound – annemariehw

Colonization 

@eboyavocadoThis deserves so much more love than it’s getting ##marchforsisterhood ##nativeamerican ##british ##spanish ##french ##apush ##history ##comedy ##fyp ##viral♬ original sound – jamesc_a

History of “Brah”

@reu3enbruh moment… hopefully this hasn’t been done yet ##getmefamous ##foryoupage ##fyp ##bruhmoment ##foryou ##inthecrowd♬ ear rape remix – ryleemgibson

German war debt 

@cavestripperMaking jokes about war reparations instead of lifting modern marks check mate buddy♬ original sound – adamcoil74

Treaty of Versailles

@toombraiderWTH tiktok took this down ##SpicySnap ##greenscreengaming ##SavingsShuffle♬ original sound – adamcoil74

Boston Tea Party 

@mattmoseleyOnly intellectuals will get this ##foryou ##foryoupage ##SpicySnap ##SavingsShuffle ##thatsrelatable ##tinymeatgang♬ original sound – adamcoil74

Louisiana purchase

@alana.luisaaI’m reposting this cause I think my APUSH TikTok was better than everyone else’s. ##APUSH ##louisianapurchase ##fyp♬ original sound – alana.luisaa

@jacksonnburnsGuys please come I need support ##foryou ##fyp ##foryoupage ##viral ##history ##louisianapurchase♬ original sound – jacksonnburns

Jefferson & States Debts 

@naayelydoes this count as studying for my APUSH test? ##APUSH ##history ##foryoupage ##hamilton ##SpicySnap ##SavingsShuffle ##thomasjefferson ##greenscreen♬ original sound – adamcoil74

Worst Presidents 

@mx_fannin##greenscreen part 3 (2/2) of 45 ##presidents ##usa ##history ##funfacts ##thomasjefferson ##xyzbca ##controvercy ##president ##fyp ##politics♬ Roses – Imanbek Remix – SAINt JHN

Andrew Jackson & the Trail of Tears

@empress_of_history##apushmemes ##apush ##andrewjackson ##trailoftears ##ushistory♬ original sound – jamesc_a

@basicallybillnye39Trail of tears:##fyp##foryou##history##historymeme##andrewjackson##school##morph##neverzero##nativeamerican##4♬ Back Up – DeJ Loaf feat. Big Sean

@aidenloya##greenscreen and that is on trail of tears ☹️##fyp ##apush♬ I HAVE MY OWN CHICKEN – aryamour_

The Civil War 

@_justindCivil war ##iykyk ##foryou ##peaceandlove ##southcarolina♬ Wait i have an idea – number_1_spongebob_fan

Protestant Reformation

@raguwuspaghettisauceHMU for addy ##fyp ##function ##martinluther ##reformation ##apeuro ##foryoupage ##protestant♬ Faneto – Chief Keef

Book.Files and the Inversion of Born Digital

Below are three images of my book, The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation. The first is a picture I took of a print copy of the book. The second is the book cover on Amazon. The third is from Johns Hopkins University Press page for the book.

One of them is not like the other. Can you spot the difference?

The first one, the print copy, is the outlier. It has a completely different picture than the latter two. It’s almost the same but not quite. The picture on the cover of the print book was taken by Jermaine Taylor and posted to instagram shortly after I got my floppy disk tattoo in 2017. The second is a photo I took of my arm, when I couldn’t source a higher resolution file of Jermaine’s instagram photo. I emailed both of them to the press as an idea for the cover of the book. I took the second photo because I was concerned that the instagram photo might not be at a high enough resolution to use in print.

The photo I took is, in all the places where book covers appear, the cover of the book. It is also the cover of the eBook version. With that said, all the print copies of the book actually have Jermaine’s photo on their cover. Which in all honesty I think is an objectively better picture. As far as I can ascertain, at some point whoever was actually doing the layout for the print book ended up deciding to use the photo from instagram instead of the photo I took. I think it was a good call.

I proposed that picture of my tattoo as a cover for the book because I thought it spoke to some of the themes in the book. The floppy disk is a medium on which we write digital content. Beyond that it’s now the save icon. Jermaine encoded an instance of that icon with ink in my skin. Much of the book is about how messy and complicated the world of digital content is, in large part, because it’s the result of the accrual of the work of people kludging together things on-top of the work of other people. The fact that there are now these variances in the book cover out in the world itself helps to further demonstrate that point. Online, and in its eBook form there exists one cover based on a photo I took. But based on decisions made in the workflow and process that created the physical copies of my book, the print copies all have Jermaine’s instagram photo on them. The messiness of the digital plays out through the workflows and processes that create digital books. Some of those files get printed out. I interacted with a ton of digital files in getting the book to the publisher and then a range of digital files had lives I don’t know about that resulted in the production of the tangible book.

I offer this anecdote as my own personal point of entry and connection to the Matthew Kirschenbaum’s m recently published report Books.Files Preservation of Digital Assets in the Contemporary Publishing Industry

Book.Files and the Inversion of Born Digital 

If you’re work has any connections to book publishing and production or collections in libraries and archives related to creative production you are going to want to make time to download and read Books.Files Preservation of Digital Assets in the Contemporary Publishing Industry. The report does an excellent job in providing an overview of the shift to digital workflows in the publishing industry. In this respect, it makes for a great companion to the 2011 report from CRL on digital workflows in the news industry Preserving News in the Digital Environment: Mapping the Newspaper Industry in Transition. I’m always interested to see work like this that involves in-depth engagement with partners in the creative industries. 

From the Book.Files report you get a great sense of the handoffs that occur in the production, transmission, tracking and management of books as digital files. From all the handoffs of word files with track changes into processes with Adobe InDesign, through to XML files and or PDFs that become the basis of printing books or creating eBook files.

Below are some quotes I pulled out that I found particularly striking and relevant for thinking about collections for libraries and archives. 

  •  “As early as 1999, an article in Publishing Research Quarterly observed that publishing “is coming to mean producing digital content which can subsequently be delivered in different media, rather than producing books or journals””
  • “there is at least one simple, uncontestable fact that obtains for any book produced with commercial press processes in the last twenty years, and which will continue to obtain for the foreseeable future. That fact is this: a book is a file, which is to say it is a persistent digital asset stored in a digital repository somewhere.“
  • “A “book” is thus the born-digital potential for a file to become a book first, and a physical, tangible object in our hands only secondarily. Every new book on our shelves has its shadow in a digital file, or more precisely a set of digital files consisting of the various assets needed to bring the book into being. A physical book nowadays is a surrogate for a digital master.”
  • “Increasingly, this means that the EPUB file becomes the version of record for the book. If the publisher wishes to retain a separate format-independent rendition of the book, any changes or updates in the EPUB must then be back-propagated to the original XML in order to keep versions consistent.”

I think these observations, along with the rest of the report, offer an opportunity for folks that work with collecting, preserving, and providing access to books and records of the history of the book. My sense is that the results this kind of study in nearly any other creative industry would produce similar results. So I think the results here are relevant to anyone interested in the production and circulation of creative works and their histories. 

Born Digital is the Norm, Born Analog is the Outlier

The report hits home that cultural heritage institutions interested in collecting and preserving contemporary cultural works need to be centering digital content in their approaches.  Increasingly the physical objects that come into collections are themselves the digital surrogates and it’s worth asking when the print surrogate for the digital asset is good enough given that the source for that object is increasingly a digital resource. 

History of Creative Industries is Increasingly Born Digital 

The report illustrates the ongoing major shifts relevant to the records of cultural production. This has huge implications for special collections work that involves acquiring the archives of creative industries. At this point books are a key case study in this shift, but the same is true for photography, film, the performing arts, music, etc. Creative production has become almost an entirely digital set of workflow process and the future of archives of industries and creators in these media will involve engaging with these increasingly born digital content streams. 

Variance Abounds Across Digital Instantiations of Works

The report includes a series of examples of how and where variances enter into the workflows and processes as various stakeholders “touch” book files over the course of their production and the varied output files that are produced. The example of my book cover is in this case not an outlier, it’s  another example of kinds of variances that enter into the management of books as digital assets. In that cloud of files, it becomes increasingly difficult to talk about a definitive or authoritative copy of a work. My sense is that this issue of variance is going to become increasingly important for libraries, archives, and museums to figure out. On that front, I think some of Cathy Marshal’s work and  Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito’s work is relevant for further exploring this issue.

In Digital Copies and a Distributed Notion of Reference in Personal Archives Cathy Marshal explores the various kinds of copies and derivatives that people produce in managing and sharing videos and photos. Below is a map of the kinds of variances she observes.

Ultimately, Marshal argues for the need to step back from thinking of their being a canonical instance of a work and to instead embrace that what we are going to end up with is varied copies that instantiate important differences as those copies take on lives of their own. Significantly, this means stepping bak from the notion of “derivatives” to instead see each copy of a work as contributing to a distributed notion of it.

I think Marshal’s observations are relevant for thinking forward about how we likely want to approach all kinds of digital creative workflows; “we will not only want to see copies, but we‘ll also want to harmonize them, to harvest their metadata, to select among them. Instead of relying on a simple notion—the truth is in the cloud, embodied as a single reference copy—we will want to expand our sense of what is entailed by the notion of a reference copy and turn to a distributed, social model.”

In Re-collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory  Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito also take a run at the idea of a canonical master file for any given work. They suggest that with digital media, in many cases instead of thinking about a master file it’s more important to be looking for what they call “mother files;” the editable files that enable a wide range of outputs. You can see more on their thinking in the pull quote from the book below.

Altogether I think the report makes for a great read and I think it helps to draw out some major issues facing libraries and archives for the future. More and more of the material of culture is digital from the start. The issues faced by the proliferation of variance and copies still something that we have a long way to go to fully understand and integrate into how we think about our work.

I’m curious for thoughts any and all of you have about the questions the report brings out.

 

Parsimony and Elegance as Objectives for Digital Curation Processes

I’m increasingly convinced that parsimony and elegance are key values for the socio-technical systems that enable long term access to information. This post is me starting to try and articulate what I mean by that and connecting that back to a few ongoing strands of work and thinking I’m engaged in.

Now that the book as been circulating around a bit, I’ve been able to both reflect on it and get to have a lot of great conversations with people about it. Along with that, I’ve been participating (or at least trying to participate when my calendar allows) in some ongoing conversations about the role of maintenance, capacity, care, and repair in library work.

My points of entry into these conversations have been Bethany Nowviskie’s  Capacity and Care, Steve Jackson’s piece Rethinking Repair, Hellel Arnold’s Critical Work: Archivists as Maintainers, and Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel’s work in pieces like Innovation is overvalued: Maintenance often matters more. As I mentioned in a pervious post, I think there is a ton more that I need to sort through in Nell Nodding’s line of thinking on an ethics of care, and that is all tied up in this too. So take those as trail heads to what I think is going to grow more and more into a major part of our professional discourse. Notions of capacity and maintain all implicate notions of sustainability.

Less is More Sustainable and Mantainable

The specific prompt for this post was one conversation where I ended up saying something I’ve said a few times before. Something like; “If you can do it with an Access database then don’t gather requirements for a software engineering project.” Furthermore, “If you can do it with a spreadsheet, don’t build an Access database.” Beyond that, “If you can do it with a text file, then don’t set up a spreadsheet.” The general point in each of these situations is that you want to use the least possible tool for the job and then when the complexity of the work demands it, you justify the added complexity of the next thing.

If when you get to the point where you need something more complex you are going to know a lot about what you really need. Sneakerneting your way through a workflow end to end is going to enable you to figure out what the process really involves and needs. The last thing you want to do is spend three years in meetings gathering requirements based on what you think you might need.

I often recall some smart stuff that the 37 Signals crew have avowed, namely that “Until you’ve actually thrown the ball at the wall, you don’t know how it’ll bounce back.” It seems to be true for software, for workflows, for procedures, for org structures. You name it.

Parsimony and Elegance

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that concepts of parsimony, elegance, and simplicity have a core place as anchors in the work of digital preservation and curation.

For some context, here I intend the definition of parsimony as;

“Using a minimal number of assumptions, steps, or conjecture”

and the definition of elegance as;

The beauty of an idea characterized by minimalism and intuitiveness while preserving exactness and precision

That is, our workflows, processes, and systems are parsimonious to the extent that they use “minimal number of assumptions or steps.” They are elegant to the extent that they are characterized by “minimalism and intuitiveness while preserving exactness and precision.” This isn’t to say that this infrastructure won’t become complex, but to say that it should only be as complex as it absolutely needs to be.

All Unnecessary Added Complexity is a Sustainability Threat

One of the core activities of digital curation and preservation work is imagining what happens when particularly things might go wrong. “What if this thing broke?” Or, “What if so-and-so took a different job, you know the one who built this really complicated piece of software?” Or ,”What if the the other organizations investing developer time in this complex application we are using shifted to invest their time in something else? Or, “What would happen if this company we are paying to provide this platform or service changed their business model?” In all of these cases, the more dependent you are on something the more risk you expose yourself to.

Significantly, you must expose yourself to risks. You’ve got to be dependent on a bunch of things, you just want to be deliberate about what you are being dependent on. You need exit strategies for your exit strategies. But in all of that you can take heart that the less complex the platforms, tools, services, processes you use are the easier it will be to move on to whatever the next thing of those is going to be. Believe me, the next thing is always coming. Whatever tools, processes, systems, methods you use today are just the things you use today. The shiny new thing of today will be the old crummy thing that you want nothing to do with tomorrow.

Relevant Axioms

Below are the axioms from my book that I think are most relevant/imply some of the points I’ve tried to make about parsimony and elegance.

1. A repository is not a piece of software. Software cannot preserve anything. Software cannot be a repository in itself. A repository is the sum of financial resources, hardware, staff time, and ongoing implementation of policies and planning to ensure long-term access to content. Any software system you use to enable you preserving and providing access to digital content is by necessity temporary. You need to be able to get your stuff out of it because it likely will not last forever. Similarly, there is no software that “does” digital preservation.

3. Tools can get in the way just as much as they can help. Specialized digital preservation tools and software are just as likely to get in the way of solving your digital preservation problems as they are to help. In many cases, it’s much more straightforward to start small and implement simple and discrete tools and practices to keep track of your digital information using nothing more than the file system you happen to be working in. It’s better to start simple and then introduce tools that help you improve your process then to simply buy into some complex system without having gotten your house in order first.

4. Nothing has been preserved, there are only things being preserved. Preservation is the result of ongoing work of people and commitments of resources. The work is never finished. This is true of all forms of preservation; it’s just that the timescales for digital preservation actions are significantly shorter than they tend to be with the conservation of things like books or oil paintings. Try to avoid talking about what has been preserved; there is only what we are preserving. This has significant ramifications for how we think about staffing and resourcing preservation work. If you want to evaluate how serious an organization is about digital preservation don’t start by looking at their code, their storage architecture, or talking to their developers. Start by talking to their finance people. See where digital preservation shows up in the budget. If an organization is serious about digital preservation it should be evident from how they spend their money. Preservation is ongoing work. It is not something that can be thought of as a one time cost.

9. Digital preservation is about making the best use of your resources to mitigate the most pressing preservation threats and risks. You are never done with digital preservation. It is not something that can be accomplished or finished. Digital preservation is a continual process of understanding the risks you face for losing content or losing the ability to render and interact with it and making use of whatever resources you have to mitigate those risks.

12. Highly technical definitions of digital preservation are complicit in silencing the past. Much of the language and specifications of digital preservation have developed into complex sets of requirements that obfuscate many of the practical things anyone and any organization can do to increase the likelihood of access to content in the future. As such, a highly technical framing of digital preservation has resulted in many smaller and less resource rich institutions feeling like they just can’t do digital preservation, or that they need to hire consultants to tell them about complex preservation metadata standards when what they need to do first is make a copy of their files.

Digital History Methods Grad Seminar Launching

Screen shot of digital history methods course siteI’m excited to kick off 2018 teaching my digital history course for American University again.

I’ve been increasingly interested in the methodological aspects of digital history (the how not the what of history).  Given that this course is on the books as a tool of research course for AMU history grad students it seemed to make sense to go ahead and slightly reframe it to focus explicitly on methods.

Like my previous courses, this course will run largely through a student written publication on the dighist blog. I’m always excited to have folks outside the class join in on our learning community. So please consider following along on the course blog and commenting if/when things pique your interest.

For some context, I’ve provided a rundown of the topics students will be blogging about below. I’ve also provided a full copy of the syllabus. Most of the readings are open access and the books are relatively inexpensive, so feel free to directly join in and follow along as we go.

Weekly Course Topics

  1. Becoming digital public historians (Jan 17th): This is our first class; we will introduce ourselves to each other and spend a lot of time reviewing the syllabus. I will make sure everyone leaves with an understanding of how to register, post and work with the course blog. By the end of class everyone will have signed up for the weeks they are blogging/presenting on. We will then take a bit of time to quickly read short posts about blogging as an academic practice.
  2. Defining digital history (Jan 24th): This week is largely about developing a perspective on what people mean when they say “digital history” and more broadly “digital humanities.” It’s also about what the stakes in all this are. Across all of the readings consider both the arguments and the genre of writing they are being presented in. Format and genre are critical components of our work this semester and the differences between blogging, books and articles are as much on the table for discussion as the points in these pieces. PhillaPlace is an example of the kind of projects folks are creating in digital history and Wordle is here as a kind of toy for starting to think about visualizing texts and the possibility of visualization as a mode of history communication.
  3. The Web: Participatory? Collaborative? Exploitive? (Jan 31): In history we work to connect audiences and publics with the past. In this vein, the participatory and collaborative rhetoric that surrounds the web fits many of the values of public historians like a glove. This weeks readings explore issues around crowdsourcing and public participation in history on the web. This includes both the potential to connect with the missions and values of cultural heritage institutions and opens questions about what constitutes participation and what becomes exploitive.
  4. Digital analysis: Distant reading, text analysis, visualization (Feb 7th); One of the most active strands of digital history and the digital humanities more broadly focuses on computational analysis of texts and the interpretations of abstractions of those texts. For the most part, “texts” has meant words, but we starting to get into computational modes of engaging with images and audio too. This week is about all of that, in particular, under the heading of distant reading. Throughout this week’s readings think both about the subject (visualization) and about the formats of the readings (blog posts, books, open review publications, etc.)
  5. “Project” as scholarly genre: Designing digital projects:  (Feb 14th): It’s likely that many of you don’t have experience with planning and developing projects, in particular digital projects. So, this week is about planning projects and drafting the documents involved in making a digital project, in particular a web project, happen. Brown’s book is our main text, providing a roadmap for what decisions get made when. The NEH guidelines contextualize the format for a project proposal in a humanities context. The section from Digital_Humanities offers consideration of “project” as a unit of scholarship. Kirshenbaum’s piece get’s at the vexing issue of sustainability. Scheinfeldt’s explores differences between common digital collection platforms.
  6. Proposal pitch week (Feb 21st): Everyone in class is going to give the elevator pitch for the project that they intend to finish. No slides or anything. Just stand up, and in three minutes present the elevator pitch. Answer what you are going to do? Why it’s worth doing? You’ll explain how it is like things before, but also how it’s different. It’s important to be able to give the “MTV Cops” level explanation of your work. So work on that. After discussing the proposals, we will use remaining time in this session to check in on how the course is going. Think of it as a formative evaluation of the content and process of the course. It is great to get this kind of information in the middle so that it is still possible to tweak parts of the course going forward.
  7. Digital archives: What are & aren’t they? (Feb 28th ): Public historians and other humanists have been exuberant about the possibility of providing broad public access to primary source documents and the contents of archives. In this context, the use of the term “digital archive” has become a bit fraught. With that said, there is some valuable productive friction in that fraughtness. Something useful is emerging in the blending of sources, analysis, and intrepretations. This week we figure out what different folks mean by the term in different situations and explore some exemplars of different notions of digital archives and their potential as modes of scholarly output.
  8. Understanding Digital Content: Media, materiality & format (March 7); To really do digital history, we need a very solid understanding of what exactly digital stuff is. This week we try to figure out more about what digital things are. We likely all have a sense of what things like documents, spreadsheets and digital photos and videos are, but it is essential that we go beyond their appearance on the screen to understand a bit about what bits, bytes, files, and file formats are.
  9. Digital exhibition, hypermedia narrative & bots (March 21): What does it mean to collect and exhibit/present/interpret digital objects? This week we explore this issue across new media art, source code and digitized materials. Along with thinking through issues of presenting digital objects we also explore the potential of turning our interpretations and exhibitions over to the machines themselves.
  10. Digital audio: Oral history and sound studies (March 28): A huge area of work in history is oral history and at this point that is basically entirely a digital affair. This week we explore what it means to do oral history in the digital age. Aside from the great work tied up in that particular program, we need to think about how computational approaches to working with audio can change what it is that we do in this space (bring in some pop-up archive links). Similarly, it’s critical to remember that all formats and media have histories and politics, hence why we are using this as an opportunity to better understand that through the introduction to Sterne’s MP3: The Meaning of a Format.
  11. Mobile media, place & mapping (April 4th): Increasingly, the screens people are turning their attention to are in their hands and their pockets. In this vein, there is tremendous potential for mobile media and mobile media has a direct and clear connection to place and location. There are projects like the Museum from Mainstreet app and the Will to Adorn app that try to enable participatory collecting, projects like Histories of the National Mall that work to situate events in historic sites. This week we look at these, and related projects, and read Mobile Interface Theory: Embodied Space and Locative Media  to add a theoretical layer/framework for thinking about this work. We haven’t talked much about maps and place in general yet either, so we will also consider the “spatial turn” as one of the ongoing developments and areas of interest in digital history scholarship.
  12. Playing the Past: Videogames, interactivity & action (April 11): Videogames have rapidly become potent media for communicating ideas about the past. Historians, librarians and archivists have begun creating games and a range of interactive transmedia modes of communicating about the past. At the same time, many very successful commercial games, like Sid Mier’s Civilization, SimCity or Assassin’s Creed have invited a generation of players to enact or replay models of the past. In this session we will spend half of the class discussing Gee’s book, which will help us unpack a range of ways to think about games and learning and how to read games and the other half discussing how ideas are represented and enacted in games that are specifically about the past.
  13. Opening & Expanding Forms of Scholarly Communication (April 18): Digital technology has changed the possibilities for scholarly communication in the history profession. Historians have long produced scholarly works in a range of media. However, monographs and to a lesser extent journal articles and conference papers have largely persisted as the primary forms of scholarship that “count.” This week we will learn a bit about the development and history of scholarly presses and explore a range of novel approaches and technologies for scholarly communications.
  14. Class Conference Poster Presentations (April 25): Bring a poster reporting on the results of either your research project or your digital project. We are going to run the classroom as a conference and I will see if I can get folks from around the

Digital History Methods by Trevor Owens on Scribd

Reflecting on 2017: Moving and Being Moved

I’ve made it a habit to reflect on each year and post about it here.

You can see my reflections at the end of 2015,  20142013, and 2012 . I didn’t do that last year.

The end of 2016 was hard. I half- wrote that post. I tried to tell an optimistic story about where I’d been and where I was going but it just wasn’t happening. Instead, I ended up recording an album with my own original compositions that was largely about processing the end of 2016. So Before You Rememberwill count as the post for last year.

The world is not really a better place today. But I refuse to be overcome by events and I am here to recount some of the good in this life well lived just inside the beltway. Despite the state of the world, Marjee and I, along with Bowser and Zelda have carved out our niches in this mad world and we are loving the lives we are building together.

So to that end, I return to my regularly scheduled programing of sharing out about various and sundry things that have come to pass in the last year of my research, writing, and work.

The three jobs: Niche building inside the beltway

In early 2017 I was hitting my stride as a manager, leading the team of program staff running the National Digital Platform initiative at the Institute of Museum and Library Services. In the middle of the year I found myself as the Acting Associate Deputy Director for Libraries at the Institute of Museum and Library Services. As an aside, “Acting Associate Deputy Director” is such an amazingly federal government name for a job. In particular,  such a 2017 federal government title for a job. I loved working at IMLS, but a chance came to return to the Library of Congress that was just too good to pass up.

At some point across those shifting gigs, I may also have done the rounds on the whole job-talk-campus-visit-thing for being the Digital AUL at an ARL library. I haven’t talked about this much and I won’t talk about it further. I will say, it was a great opportunity to see our lives and work through a different lens. To see how we and how others would see us in the academy. We ended up reaffirming our love and commitment to our lives here just inside the capital beltway.

For us, 2017 ended up being a year for finding and building the context that we want to live in, for this world we find ourselves in. I’m feeling like I’ve found a niche that I really love. A place where I can do good things. A place where I can be the kind of person I want to be. A place where I can grow. A place where I can support others in learning and growing.  I’m thinking a lot about maintenance, repair, emotional intelligence, and cultivating an ethic of care and I aspire for 2018 to be a year where I bring more and more of that thinking into the practice of both my work and my life outside of work.

The National Digital Platform turns three

I devoted three years of my professional life to helping bring about the National Digital Platform for libraries. Looking back at it, I feel extremely proud of the results. In May, I gave a talk Maura had been slated to give at the Digital Initiatives Symposium in San Diego.  That talk, Digital Infrastructures that Embody Library Principles, was a presentation based on a (still) forthcoming chapter in an ACRL book that the NDP team wrote on the role that library values play in the design, development, and implementation of technology in libraries.

By the end of my time at IMLS, I had had a hand in investing  more than $33 million in 100+ projects in support of a vision of a National Digital Platform. It is something that I will be forever proud of. The ability to work part of my public service career for the IMLS was truly a gift. It’s an amazing place with an amazing mission and I will treasure that I was able to chart a part of the institution (and the field’s) course. In 2017 we were also able to put out a whole special issue of D-Lib focused on various NDP projects.

Before I left IMLS, I was working on the start of planning NDP@3, a report and  summit reflecting on the first three years of the National Digital Platform initiative at IMLS and a look toward to it’s future. I’d left a few months before the summit, which I will note was expertly managed and run by the IMLS NDP team. I was lucky to get the chance to participate in the event. I was able to get my copy of the report signed by the team as pictured to the right.

Visiting the place you were, just for a day, and seeing everyone doing it all without you feels complicated. You miss it all. At the same time, you get to see others step up and take things in their own directions. I was so proud to see the team that I had had a hand in building running with what Maura and I had worked to establish.

The Book Cometh

Amidst all the professional changes, 2017 is also the year I wrote The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation. The preprint has been downloaded more than 1300 times from the Library and Information Science archive times since I posted it in July .

Starting in February, I posted drafts of sections of the book. By June, I delivered it to the press. In the fall I got back reader reports, and at this point I’ve sent the revised manuscript back to the press to move into the next phase of the process. I anticipate it will come out late in 2018.

In rereading the draft for this final hand-off  to the publisher, I feel like this is the most authentically “me” of anything I’ve ever written. At some moments, pithy, at others fiery. Sometimes completely eschewing “fancy writing” conventions. At points nerding out about wonky aspects of media theory or the structure of digital information.  Sometimes saying something smart. Generally at my best when I’m talking about the smart work that other people have done.  I see so many of the places and the people that I know, that I’ve learned from, evident in the stories I share in it. It’s still got the semi-breathless run-on-sentence-hedging that is part of conversations where I get caught-up in thoughts and ideas. It’s hard to express how affirming, revealing, and disarming it is to return to a piece of writing that you feel like exposes many of your quirks and vulnerabilities in it, but that you see people responding so positively to.

Building a Digital Content Managment Team

The last quarter of the year has found me back at the Library of Congress. When I started at the end of August I kept running into colleagues in the tunnels that connect the three buildings on capitol hill who would say things like “Hey Trevor, good to see you! It’s been a while. What have you been up to?” To which I would say something like, “Yes, it has! I worked for another federal agency for the last three years.”

The Library of Congress is a big place, the kind of place where you could really have not seen someone for three years. It’s also the kind of place where three years can seem like a blip of time. Library time really is a different kind of time. Being back now there are moments where I feel like I never left. I’m back with many of the same people talking about many of the same things. At the same time so much has changed for the better. I find myself having a chance to help support the development and implementation of a vision for the digital present and future of the institution and it’s extremely exciting.

My first run at all of this has been a really amazing experience. The idea of building out a team of staff for the digital content management section around the web archiving team has been really exciting. Part of my new job involves hiring ten people to round out the new section I’m setting up. In keeping with the nature of the federal hiring process, this ended up involving conducting more than fifty hour long structured interviews from a pool of hundreds of candidates for these positions. It’s a challenging privilege to be present and and supportive for people putting themselves out there in interviews. As the year closes, and this process inches closer to completion I’m excited about the prospect of transitioning from being a planner and hiring manager for this new section to being a coach and a mentor in supporting this team do great work on behalf of the public.