Node to Self

picture of Molly


Molly Schwartz is a Library of Congress National Digital Stewardship Resident (NDSR) stationed at the Association of Research Libraries. Expect tales of cultural heritage, tech, user experience, navigating life in DC, and everything in between. You can also find her on Twitter @Mollyfication or on LinkedIn.

Librarians at Work and Play

I am feeling a mixture of excitement and trepidation as I gear up for my first American Libraries Association (ALA) conference, the Midwinter Meeting in late January. Even as an unabashed conference enthusiast, I find the concept of 12,000 librarians converging on the Pennsylvania Convention Center somewhat disconcerting. It was in this mind-set that I came across left-leaning journalist I. F. Stone’s flippant description of the 1949 American Political Science Association meeting:

"These scholarly gatherings, for all their diversity, have one point in common. Their principal purpose seems to be the cultivation of the science which found its Aristotle in Dale Carnegie. They combine Christmas-time conviviality with the business of making "contacts," the American way of "getting ahead," whether in soap or science. In this, as in the name badges pinned to their lapels, the savants crowding the lobbies of the Roosevelt are not outwardly distinguishable from Rotarians or morticians.

The big men of these associations take advantage of the visit to cultivate those bright lights of Wall Street who like to think of themselves as serious thinkers and can often be induced by reverent listening to endow periodicals and “chairs.” The younger men take advantage of the occasion to meet the older men, and do their best to make an impression which will be remembered when a vacancy occurs.”*

Though a conference veteran, I’m not as jaded good ole’ Izzy Stone quite yet, so I’m looking forward to co-presenting on accessibility and universal design with my fabulous ARL mentor, Judy Ruttenberg, at the ARL Leadership Symposium on January 25th, giving two presentations on my National Digital Stewardship Residency (NDSR) project with my 9 fellow residents on January 26th, attending some interesting conference sessions, and checking out what the great city of Philadelphia has to offer. While I will not be selling soaps, donning lapels, or cultivating bright lights of Wall Street, I do hope to crowd some lobbies and meet some serious thinkers. 

*Stone, I. F. “It May Be Political — But Is It Science?.” The Truman Era. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1953. Page 145.

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Digitization and Its Discontents

Sometimes Freudian psychology sounds a lot like a digital preservation textbook:

"This brings us to the more general problem of preservation in the sphere of the mind … Since we overcame the error of supposing that the forgetting we are familiar with signified a destruction of the memory-trace - that is, its annihilation - we have been inclined to take the opposite view, that in mental life nothing which has once been formed can perish - that everything is somehow preserved and that in suitable circumstances (when, for instance, regression goes back far enough) it can once more be brought to light."  -Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud

Data, like memory, can perish permanently, never to be brought to light. It’s the looming threat of widespread loss of digital information that’s spurred the creation of major digital preservation initiatives, such as the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA).

The panel on NDSA’s 2014 National Agenda at the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) membership meeting on December 10th was one of my favorites thanks to the panel’s holistic take on digital preservation solutions and the rousing question-and-answer session that followed. Many in the audience had questions about the White House OSTP mandate to make federally funded research publicly accessible and why funding or enforcement measures have not yet materialized to carry it out. 

Another great CNI panel was a project briefing from the George Washington University Libraries on a tool they’ve developed to provide access to information that some may wish could disappear: Twitter data. Staff at the GWU Libraries, including Daniel Chudnov, Bergis Jules, Daniel Kerchner, and Laura Wrubel, have met researcher requests for social media data by developing the Social Feed Manager, a free and open source Web application that collects data from multiple Twitter accounts using the free Twitter API. 

So, the next time one of my dear friends recommends a little light reading, beware the content: it could result in a blog post about digital preservation. 

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Building An Accessible Future for the Humanities

Plain language definitions of accessibility and universal design? A pre-packaged suite of Wordpress accessibility plugins? Resources for website accessibility testing, video captioning, generating transcripts, creating accessible digital documents and more? A room full of accessibility experts and enthusiasts from diverse institutions around the country? Yes please! For any of you familiar with my NDSR project and the Accessible Future workshop, you understand why I was so excited to be a participant. For the rest of you, let me explain.

Last weekend I participated in the first ever Building an Accessible Future for the Humanities Project two-day workshop at Northeastern University’s Center for Digital Humanities in Boston, MA. Funded by an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities Office of Digital Humanities and facilitated by the Maryland Institute for Technology and the Humanities (MITH), the Accessible Future workshop brought together librarians, information scientists, humanists, and cultural heritage professionals to learn about technologies, design standards, and accessibility issues associated with the use of digital technologies.

I found the workshop focused, productive, fun, and immensely helpful. The session instructors were very knowledgeable. The atmosphere was open and friendly. The workshop agenda included an appropriate balance of lectures and hands-on activities. All the attendees took collaborative notes throughout the conference on a public Google document that I’ve since referred back to multiple times because it contains such a wealth of resources. I’ve summarized a list of all the helpful readings and resources below.

For anyone interested in attending there will be three more workshops on the same topics at the following locations on the following dates:

  • Workshop 2: March 28-29, 2014 at the University of Texas, Austin, TX
  • Workshop 3: Fall of 2014 at University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE
  • Workshop 4: Late 2014 / early 2015 at Emory University, Atlanta, GA

I strongly encourage anyone who is interested to find out more information on the Accessible Future website and apply for one of upcoming workshops. If you are accepted, your workshop attendance is fully paid for by the NEH-ODH award. Northeastern University was a wonderful host and I very much enjoyed my weekend in Boston. The free late-night tickets to the Museum of Fine Arts, where they are currently displaying an amazing John Singer Sargent watercolors exhibit, was an added bonus!

Molly looking at her blog through goggles that simulate a print disability.

Above is a photograph of Molly viewing her blog with goggles meant to simulate a print disability.

List of helpful resources:

Disability Studies:

Accessible Web Design:

Web styling and design:

HTML5 Accessibility: 

Wordpress Accessibility:

Software tools to evaluate accessibility of digital resources:

Video Captioning:

Generating transcriptions:

Side-by-side images of the same website with different accessibility settings

Above is a side-by-side comparison of the same website with different accessibility features implemented.

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Notes from the DLF Forum - Day 3

Even though it’s the last full day of the DLF Forum 2013 (so sad!), the exciting flow of people and ideas hasn’t slowed. Packed morning sessions had people sitting on the floor as eager attendees squeezed in for talks about designing a digital program for the humanities and honest conversations about starting and sustaining new projects (co-sponsored by the Taiga Forum that begins tomorrow). Aside from sitting back and appreciating the cool projects that digital librarians around the world are engaged in, such as the Bodleian Library’s Early Modern Letters Online and Dr. John Mark Ockerbloom’s Forward to Libraries software, attendees participated in meaty (read: borderline existential) discussions about the future role of libraries in digital scholarship. While thought-provoking ideas were kicked around, such as the suggestion that digital libraries do not truly exist yet and the possibility that the scholar librarian is an extinct breed that must be revived, discussions always circled back around to the fundamental concept that librarians support knowledge creation by connecting users to information in meaningful ways.

The closing keynote speaker, Char Booth, drove home the point that providing and advocating for user access is the most important responsibility of librarians. In a friendly and charismatic fashion, Booth entreated the audience to put time, money, and effort into communications because “your work doesn’t matter unless you connect it to people” and “use doesn’t happen unless people know about your stuff.” By bluntly addressing the challenges that libraries face, Booth accomplished her stated goal of sweeping up the carnage created during the conference (my brain, for one, exploded) and sending attendees home with a to-go box of useful takeaways. The two major points of her talk, access and advocacy, were a distillation of everything that makes libraries important and unique: we represent the consumers of information in an information age. We’re the only ones in the information industry whose reason for existing is to connect humans to information, to make information usable/accessible, and to help users create knowledge with said information. It was an appropriate response to and summation of the Forum’s sessions and working groups. The DLF community of makers and doers dispersed with an ample load of questions, cool ideas, new contacts and jelly beans to last through the DLF Forum 2014 in Atlanta – which is really all any of us could have asked for.

Originally written on November 6, 2013.

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