Peter Krautzberger on the web

3 questions in June or: LoC workshops are the best

Here’s another old (forgotten?) draft to make up for my lack of original writing; this should’ve gone out in June… Instead of posting it, I had grand plans to write about the workshop itself – but never had the time (you know, moving across the continent, starting a new job etc., it gets in the way of things…). Why now? Well, Anthony Salvagno reminded me with his post yesterday that I still had this.

In late June, I had the enormous pleasure to be invited to the Preserving Online Science meeting at the Library of Congress. You can read about the workshop over at Trevor’s blog, and after that you can read the report that was released in November, too.

I’m afraid I wasn’t much use during the workshop and have the lingering feeling that I owe an apology to its instigators, Trevor and Abbey (who also gave a few of us an amazing tour of the lair that is the LoC). Besides a serious case of impostor syndrome, there was just too much to take in and too much on my mind at the time (being literally on the move from Boston to Los Angeles).

3 questions, 3 answers

Before the workshop started, participants were asked to answer three questions. For what it’s worth, here are my answers.

1. Value of Content: 50 years from now, what kinds of online science content will invaluable for understanding science in our age? Please give an example of a particular piece of content and explain why it would be significant. Feel free to provide several examples if you wish.

In a fully connected, digital world, we can understand much better how individual researchers work and communities interact. I believe one of the most important “new” content is to be found in the combined virtual presence of individual researchers – the future of personal archives. This ranges from our email inboxes, professional homepages and online teaching tools, to preprint servers, code and data storage, to activity on online platforms, blogs and social media.

This digital version of our academic self is greatly fractured right now but it can offer a much more complete insight into all aspects of research because it offers insight into being a researcher.

2. Future Use of Content: What kinds of uses do you imagine this science content could serve? Please briefly describe the value that you think online science content provides for the future. Ideally, focus on specific kinds of content and explain what value that content provides to different types of users (ex, future scientists, historians, policy makers, etc)

Preserving researchers’ actual activity will allow us to trace networks and interaction among and across research communities, in short. we may be able to globally capture the emergence of scientific thought and the communities around them. First and foremost, it will keep research results in context and thus more accessible to future researchers. Secondly, it will offer a much more complete background for historians to study. Third, as analytics improve, policy makers will not have to exclusively rely on static reports anymore, but base their decisions on the emerging and evolving trends within research communities, highlighting both endangered areas and growing hotspots.

3. Identifying Curatorial Homes: Libraries, Archives and Museums have typically collected published works (like journals and books) unpublished works (like the papers of scientists) and a range of other special collections (everything from collections of specimens, to laboratory equipment, to a range of other artifacts). Where are the natural curatorial homes for various kinds of online science content?

Currently, the virtual presence of a researcher is highly fractured, their online activities spread across numerous institutions and platforms, some open and some proprietary. The first step to create curatorial homes for such diverse repositories is for researchers (and citizens in general) to gain access to their own data and to build tools that allow researchers to backup their activities in a reliable, self-governed fashion. Only then could we develop hubs to serve as archival systems which could be hosted practically anywhere. Given the increase in precarious employment for academic researchers, these hubs will more likely be close to researchers as people then researchers as members of institutions. Hence an archival effort needs to address both institutions and individuals to ensure that data is not lost. In particular, the work of early career researchers who might eventually leave academia is at risk even though they are an integral part of the way the research community makes progress today.