2018 Digital Library Federation Forum

By Ryan Clement, Leanne Galletly, and Wendy Shook

Anasuya Sengupta speaking at a podium
Anasuya Sengupta keynote by clirdlf is licensed under CC-BY-NC

This past October, three librarians (Ryan Clement, Data Services Librarian; Leanne Galletly, User Experience & Digital Scholarship Librarian; Wendy Shook, Science Data Librarian) travelled to the Digital Library Federation (DLF) Forum in Henderson, NV. The Middlebury Library has been a member institution of the DLF for years, and Midd Librarians regularly travel to DLF’s annual Forum each fall. This conference is a model of what inclusive, practitioner-focused, and innovative library conferences can be.

While you can find slide decks, notes, and other materials from the Forum in DLF’s Open Science Framework repository, and recordings of the opening and closing plenary sessions on the Forum website, we wanted to share some of the sessions and takeaways that seemed most interesting to us.

The day before the conference started, Wendy and Ryan attended the inaugural Learn@DLF day, a pre-conference that was entirely workshops. A workshop on the DLF Project Manager’s Toolkit introduced some new tools and strategies for managing projects, though most of the attendees were working on projects a much greater scale than we do here at Middlebury. An afternoon workshop on Digital Mapping Ecosystems with Andy Rutkowski introduced some techniques for bringing together the power of Mapbox and Carto to create great online maps, but then took us beyond this to make our own interactive interfaces for our maps using Javascript and the Mapbox API. There was good discussion of the balance between easy to use, but proprietary products (like Carto and Mapbox), and teaching students to write (or at least edit) code and work with open source tools. The former will obviously help us get results faster, but the latter will teach the students important digital literacies they will benefit from for far longer.

A session on minimal computing included a discussion of the development of Wax, a framework and set of tools that allow users to create useful and preservable digital archives without a database. Alex Gil and Mariel Nyröp from Columbia University showed examples of projects developed using Wax include Style Revolution and the Barbara Curtis Adachi Bunraku Collection and discussed using Wax to work with students developing digital archives. Wax uses the Jekyll engine to quickly create static, low-maintenance sites without the overhead of platforms like WordPress or Omeka.

There were a number of sessions discussing copyright, access, and usage rights, and how these affect the ability of libraries and scholars to do digital scholarship. In a session on RightsStatements.org, Maggie Dickson, Lisa Gregory,  and Brian Dietz discussed the need for though of us creating digital works, and digitizing analog works, to make sure we are being clear in the statements we provide to users on their rights to re-use our cultural heritage works. On the flipside, a talk about the legal literacies needed for text/data mining highlighted University of British Columbia’s useful webpage on “What am I NOT allowed to do with electronic resources?” – often library electronic resources have licenses that are hidden from users, but by bringing them into the open we can help users understand what they can and can’t do with these resources. Brandon Butler, from UVA, also discussed the importance of not only knowing users’ rights under the law, but also negotiating our licenses and contracts so that they don’t actively take away these rights.

A session on Student Centered Digital Scholarship was presented by a group from Bucknell. They host an eight-week summer program for undergraduate students who use digital methods to complete a research project. Students receive a $3k stipend to cover living costs. Each week they learn different tools that they might use in their research or analysis, this brings students together and gives them the opportunity to learn tools that they may use in the future. Process over product is a mantra of the program, and the panelists brought up that students often don’t understand this at first. The other learning goals are to build a community of practice and to develop research, writing, and speaking skill. Bucknell, Gettysburg, and Lafayette each have summer DS programming and students at the end of the summer all the students gather to present their work at a conference. The curriculum used by Bucknell was developed by Gettysburg College and is available to reuse under Creative Commons.

A session focused on preserving unusual forms of digital scholarship, including diverse projects such as video games, mixed media presentation, and performance art. These formats become dated quickly and work, particularly student work, no matter how interesting, is quickly lost or becomes inaccessible. Tallie Casucci spoke about a popular student-created video game. Only partial code remains, and one of the only enduring records being a video walkthrough on YouTube created by a video game fan. The speakers urged preservation staff to refrain from calling these projects “legacy”, implying that they were no longer wanted, rather call them “past” project, and to acknowledge that even though a student-created project is ‘past,’ it still has long term worth. When creating project plans, consider post-project needs as well, including roles, responsibilities, contingencies and sustainability plans. Specialized projects need to be revisited or re-evaluated every two to three years, to evaluate if they are remain “live” or if it time to preserve the underlying components which may include code, video, audio, and any physical components which in turn need to be preserved.

A session on teaching and tactics for working with students on digital scholarship projects began with a presentation by Maggie Hubbard on a supporting a class project using anti-semitic tweets as primary source material for a project. She spoke of the challenges of finding the material herself, given the absolute depravity of anti-semitic Twitter. She also said, though, that it was an effective project, as it helped students who had been studying historical anti-semitism and propaganda a powerful chance to connect what they had been learning to our current landscape. Another presenter in this session, Megan Martinsen from Georgetown University, gave us her “10 Practical Tips for Executing Collaborative Models” – these tips, while familiar to some, are great reminders of things we need to make sure we are doing as we look to collaborate across departments, workgroups, and institutions. Ryan’s favorite tip is shown below.

Tip 7: show up at events
From Making “Good on Paper” Work IRL: 10 Practical Tips for Executing Collaborative Models of Digital Scholarship Services by Megan Martinsen

This simple message a strong one: digital scholarship and digital libraries take time, money, and labor from many contributors. They require committed communities of practice to support and sustain them; these grow out of our commitment to encourage each other, to listen, and to engage with the work others are doing. In short, our goals are to show up, communicate, and collaborate.