By Ryan Clement, Data Services Librarian, Middlebury College
On January 17-18, 2019, Middlebury is hosting a Software Carpentry workshop for faculty, staff, and students. This workshop is co-sponsored by the Middlebury Library, the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research (CTLR), the Digital Liberal Arts Initiative (DLA), and the Director of the Sciences.
The Carpentries are a fiscally sponsored project of Community Initiatives. They teach skills that are immediately useful for researchers, using lessons and datasets that allow you to quickly apply what you have learned to your own work. I’m really excited about using the Software Carpentry curriculum here to help our faculty, staff, and students become more efficient in their research.
This workshop is discipline agnostic. The curriculum will include:
Shell scripting in the bash shell (using the command line)
Version control with git and GitHub
Data manipulation, analysis, and visualization with R/RStudio
The target audience is learners who have little to no prior computational experience, and the instructors will put a priority on creating a friendly environment to empower researchers and enable data-driven discovery. Even those with some experience will benefit, as the goal is to teach not only how to do analyses, but how to manage the process to make it as automated and reproducible as possible. For instance, after attending this workshop you will be able to:
Write a loop that applies one or more commands separately to each file in a set of files
Share your code and make it easy to cite
Read tabular data from a file into R and perform operations on it
Manage files and projects in RStudio
Use ggplot2 and R to create publication-quality graphics
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.
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.