This Week in Digital Humanities and Pedagogy

Each week, a member of the JITP Editorial Collective assembles and shares the news items, ongoing discussions, and upcoming events of interest to us (and hopefully you). This week’s installment is edited by Stephen Klein.

As a librarian, I mostly assist and guide students and faculty in building digital projects that support their research. Libraries have typically helped folks in the retrieval of information and data, but libraries are increasingly becoming the places that digitization standards are developed, digitization is performed, rights on usage of digital materials are navigated, the nascent stages of projects are given a sounding board, tools are suggested, concerns of privacy are articulated, nuances of access are considered, and preservation is pursued. This week, I am going to share a few of current events that catalyzed further thought.

The Interface Experience: Forty Years of Personal Computing” exhibit at the Bard Graduate Center’s Gallery reminds me of the era when computing was truly open and engaging for most users. Long before the current fixation with the digital cul-de-sac of Facebook, where users simulate cultural production, users at the dawn of the personal computer era were not passive consumers/spectators of computers and information, but had to have an engaged relationship with these “primitive devices.” Because the objects on display are more cumbersome to use and not the finished products and interfaces of today, an element of defamiliarization occurs when interacting with the various devices and interfaces. As a user, I became more cognizant of my interactions on these devices. Although I was an early adopter/user of many of these devices, I am unable to reliably recall my actual response to using them at the time, so I wonder if my understanding is accurate or if I might be romanticizing that in the past folks were producers, not just consumers, and were potentially hyper-cognizant of their interactions with these devices.

Congress’ recent debate over the USA PATRIOT Act and its temporary resolution and partial restoration through the USA Freedom Act felt like bread and circuses or much ado about nothing, because despite the fact that now the NSA may not be able to bulk collect metadata without a warrant, I as well as many others do not feel any safer with corporations, many of which have fuzzy relationships with the intelligence and military communities, and many of which continue to bulk collect and probably share of metadata. Furthermore, if the history of the second half of the twentieth century suggests anything, the restrictions put in place by the new USA Freedom Act will not prevent continued snooping. Because it is not only important to help users extract, manipulate, present, and store data, but to be cognizant of data profiling and data privacy issues of many tools that their patrons use, many librarians, as mediators of technology and information, feel that it is their responsibility to inform users about data vulnerabilities. Therefore, the Graduate Center Library recently sponsored an event, “Privacy in the Age of Dragnet Surveillance: What You Need to Know to Protect Your Rights Online,” in which Kade Crockford of the ACLU explained the nuances and history of the law and Alison Macrina of the Library Freedom Project suggested an array of tools to use to attempt to protect your privacy online. Their presentations with an emphasis on being alert to potential dangers were reminiscent of the non-passive computer use that I mentioned earlier. See the list of suggested tools or watch a recording of the event. The Library Association of CUNY (LACUNY) recently had its annual conference, the LACUNY Institute, and the focus this year, was also privacy. Some of the presentations are available online.

At another recent Library Association of CUNY (LACUNY), Karen Sandler, the cyborg lawyer of the Software Freedom Conservancy, shared with LACUNY members how embracing open source and free software goes beyond economic considerations and is at times an ethical decision, by sharing the dilemma she faced when she needed to have a defibrillator implanted. The device was a matter of life or death for her, but she hesitated because neither she nor any community was able to review the proprietary code. She explained that because of the lack of transparency, software users are vulnerable when a community of users does not have access to review and audit proprietary code to discover potential exploits and supply patches. View the slides to her discussion or watch an analogous presentation that she gave earlier in the year.

Although I am absolutely not privy to the possible bureaucratic intrigues that probably contributed to his decision, one of the reasons reported by the New York Times that led to Library of Congress’ Librarian James Billington’s resignation is the 2013 audit that warned that only a small fraction of its 24 million books are available online. I prefer not to editorialize, but it is not fair to apply the audit’s assessment to the librarian. In addition to the requirement of transcending probable copyright barriers to ensure materials can be made available online, digitization requires vast human labor in terms of curation, organizing, setting standards, digitizing, discerning and entering metadata, storing, documenting, QA’ing, and creating a presentation platform. The assumption is that even if most materials in the LOC’s collection do not have copyright limitations barring digitization, the other aspects of digitizing in our hyper-austere economy made digitizing the collection prohibitive. Read more about the resignation.

As Anne Donlon mentioned earlier, stay tuned for our new Blueprint section, a section where folks can share their recipes and or data-sets.

I am about to take holiday and during my time off, inspired by an interview on the future of storytelling, I intend to visit the Museum of the Moving Image to experience “Sensory Stories: An Exhibition of New Narrative Experiences.” The story suggests that that digital technology might provide an opportunity for a new opportunity to conjure gesamtkunstwerk-type experiences for participants.

A good reminder that big and open data is not just for theoretical or marketing purposes, but actually helps to save lives.

If I planned my summer better, I might have considered attending NYU’s ITP MAKE Camp.

If funding is available, I am considering attending Big Data 2015.

NYPL and Triple Canopy just posted a call for proposals which will support two commissions at NYPL Labs.

Did we miss something? Send hot tips, cool CFPs, and warmly worded rants to admin@jitpedagogy.org.



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