Excellent Coverage on Wikipedia and Cultural Institutions

Let me start by saying that I love Wikipedia. I’m not just a consumer of information from the online encyclopedia but also an editor, having made my first contribution back in 2006. While I have not been a consistent Wikipedian throughout the years, I make an effort to edit regularly these days and maintain a deep belief in the importance of this website on today’s internet. In a world of corporate web systems and services, Wikipedia is a refreshing organization in which people come together in the service of creating new knowledge and increasing human understanding of complex topics. For me, it represents a possibly-naive ideal that if everyone works together on this project, in the end knowledge will meaningfully increase and contributors will learn something about each other and the process of creating a global resource for learning and enjoyment.

All of this is not to say that Wikipedia is without flaws. Perhaps chief among these is a deep gender bias and an under-representation of female editors as well as topics on prominent women across the encyclopedia. A brief and admittedly superficial comparison of the article length of Halo: First Strike, a novel based on the popular video game series, and Flight Behavior, a novel by Pulizter-nominated  author Barbara Kingsolver demonstrates the results of the gender gap articulated in recent coverage of Wikipedia editors (e.g. this NYTimes article). The large number of male editors of Wikipedia articles has resulted in increased attention to male-centered topics such as video games. This leaves articles on novels by famous female novelists to languish as stubs, wiki-speak for articles which are too short to be of much value on the encyclopedia even though they cover notable or important topics (for more on stubs, see here). This is a disappointing trend as I would like to see more equal coverage of women in Wikipedia articles and would encourage more women to edit the encyclopedia and have a hand in its direction.

Which brings me to an article in today’s New York Times that I found refreshing. Noam Cohen gives a great description of what a Wikipedian-in-residence does, and highlights how edit-a-thons focused on women scientists, authors, and academics are attempting to address the gender gap issue through engagement with existing library, archival, and museum resources. It is always good to see coverage of Wikipedia in the national media that moves beyond the “can we trust Wikipedia??” baseline. The activities described in the article are positive developments as I see things and can only help improve the overall quality and usefulness of the encyclopedia over time. I’m all for long, detailed articles about Halo novels, but also think that Wikipedia should be a place where often overlooked but demonstrably important people can be included. All while adhering to proper Wikipedia formatting, citation guidelines, and style of course…


On the Obsolescence of LPs

I recently had the opportunity to pick through a pile of records (LPs for those of you who may be reading this and thinking I mean record as the term is applied in archival practice) and take what I wanted. One of the records I brought back to my apartment was the Beatles classic “Rubber Soul.” I returned home to my apartment, eager to place the vinyl disc into my record player and listen to John, Paul, George, and Ringo lay it down. However, I forgot that I was an Information nerd and that I would be able to just listen to the music. Reading the back side of the album cover, I noticed a fascinating passage below the track list and glamour shots of the boys.

This monophonic microgroove recording is playable on monophonic and stereo phonographs. It cannot become obsolete. It will continue to be a source of outstanding sound reproduction, providing the finest monophonic performance from any phonograph.

“This monophonic microgroove recording is playable on monophonic and stereo phonographs. It cannot become obsolete. It will continue to be a source of outstanding sound reproduction, providing the finest monophonic performance from any phonograph.”


As you can see in the image to the left, the text reads “This monophonic microgroove recording is playable on monophonic and stereo phonographs. It cannot become obsolete. It will continue to be a source of outstanding sound reproduction, providing the finest monophonic performance from any phonograph.” I was struck by the boldness of these claims, and the explanation of the technical achievements underlying the record. Never become obsolete? What hubris, Capitol Records! I suppose that the disc is still playable on the equipment I have, 50 years or so after it was pressed, meaning that the author of this claim is somewhat vindicated. But it still strikes me as a fascinating example of how limited our perspective can be when it comes to information technology and the permanence of different media. When “Rubber Soul” was released in 1965, computers were just becoming affordable for factories and scientific labs. The Apple I was still more than 10 years from existence. And yet, someone thought it was reasonable to claim that a Beatles record would never become obsolete.

What did they think would come after stereophonic playback? Triphonic? Quadrophonic? The Who didn’t even release Quadrophenia until 1973! Better yet, what claims do we make about our media storage and playback now that will be considered this ridiculous in 50 years? Who remembers ZIP drives? 3.5in floppy disks? Even the spinning hard drive is slowly being replaced in consumer-level computers. I don’t have the ability to see into the future and predict how we’ll store and access music, but I’m sure that people then will consider our attempts to preserve media as short-sighted as I view the claims on the back of “Rubber Soul.”


A First in the Library

This week I encountered what I suppose could be considered a graduate school and library milestone. A book that I had checked out, The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (WorldCat), had been renewed too many times and was being recalled despite the fact that no one else at the University of Michigan seems to want it.  It was a good book that laid the foundation for much of the subsequent work on public goods and helped me explore a new area of literature for my dissertation proposal. One of Olson’s main lessons in the book was that as groups increase in size, their ability to act collectively act in the service of common goals decreases because the logistics of organizing become increasingly difficult. It also becomes easier for people to become “free riders” and benefit from collective action without contributing to its acquisition.

In any case, the main point of this post is that I’ve never had a book recalled because I renewed it too many times. When I return to writing my literature review for my dissertation I’ll be back in library to get it once again.


Exploring Britain’s War Diaries

As an undergraduate history major, I am often stuck when considering that the First World War began in 1914, one hundred years ago this year. It is astounding to think that in the past century we’ve gone from mounted cavalry charges and trenches to drones and nuclear aircraft carriers– but that’s a topic for another post. This week, to mark the centennial of the beginning of this conflict, the British National Archives have digitized and made available an excellent collection of war diaries (check here for the collection itself).

These diaries are official accounts, written by soldiers, of the events taking place in every British military unit. This week, the project was the subject of a New York Times article that caught my eye and inspired me to investigate the collection. I also recently received an email from the folks at zooniverse.org, a citizen science portal that I’ve used in the past to participate in a few fascinating crowdsourced tagging projects, announcing the start of a tagging project for the War Diaries. I had to see for myself what kinds of information could be found in these documents.

Below is a screenshot of a page I worked on:

Screenshot from collaborative tagging project "Operation War Diaries," managed by Zoonivese

Screenshot from collaborative tagging project “Operation War Diaries,” managed by Zoonivese

As you can see, this is a very robust interface that allows users to add a range of tags and other notes to the pages of war diaries. Beginning with dates and times on the left side of the page, moving to descriptions of troop movements, casualties, officers and awards, and concluding on the right-hand column with notes directing readers to associated documents, there is a lot of work to be done on each page to extract valuable data! I was only able to do a few pages before my eyes got tired trying to decipher the handwritten notes, but I’ll be back.

Are you interested in World War I? Citizen science projects? Collaborative tagging? Novel and robust interfaces for academic digital projects? Then I encourage you to check out Operation War Diaries and contribute to a valuable project!



Note: Wikipedia links added for reference. World War I is a fascinating, tragic conflict.


Getting Started on Dissertation Work

Around Ann Arbor, the semester is ending and classes are coming to an end. For me, however, a new project is just beginning: I recently completed my dissertation proposal and moved into the final stage of my career as a doctoral student: ABD (all but dissertation). My dissertation, titled “The Changing Landscape of Digital Access: Public-Private Partnerships and Cultural Heritage Institutions” for now, examines the emergent set of relationships between public archives and libraries and private companies around digitization projects for archival records. I’m interested in how these partnerships take shape, how they are negotiated and managed, what records they focus on, and how these types of arrangements affect public access to these digitized materials.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been conducting a series of interviews with employees at private sector companies (non-profit and for-profit) who are involved in negotiations and contract work with archives and libraries. These have been extremely fruitful conversations and I am looking forward to diving into analyzing the transcripts next term. Additionally, I’ve visited the business school and law libraries here on the University of Michigan campus to identify additional resources that may be useful in my research. I enjoy these opportunities to meet librarians across the university and discuss my research with them. The outside perspective has helped me find new databases and academic research tools that I will certainly use as I continue to move forward on this project.

On that note, I should get back to work! Writing is a process, and I hope to use this blog as a sounding board for ideas and a place to reflect on my research process as I progress through the dissertation.


Conference Presentation Next Week: ASIS&T 2013

Next week at the ASIS&T 2013 Conference in Montreal, QC, Canada, I will present a paper I co-authored with members of my research team on the DIPIR Project entitled “The Role of Data Reuse in the Apprenticeship Process.” The abstract is here and full a conference program is here.

I’ll be presenting at 8:00 on Monday morning! Hoping for a good turnout. I will post links to the paper and my slides here after the conference.


I’m a little late on this one, but I wanted to quickly comment on a new project, perma.cc, which came across my internet last week. Essentially, this is a tool (currently in beta but hopefully live soon!) that will allow users to submit web links for sources they would like to cite in academic articles. These links would have permanent URLs created for them, and have snapshots taken of their content for preservation.

A blog post I read about this project notes that link rot is pervasive across government reports (http://freegovinfo.info/node/4005). I will also add that in my short time in academia I have encountered numerous dead or otherwise incorrect links. This has proven frustrating at times and I’m happy to see some of my favorite institutions joining together to build a much-needed tool to enable digitally sustainable scholarship. Link rot is real- now something is being done about it.


Procrastination Stalks Me

For years, NPR has been a loyal friend to me each morning, keeping me informed as I begin my day. However, sometimes the transition towards my actual work is difficult. Take this morning, for example. This hour, the Diane Rehm show is discussing the effects of a declining government workforce, privatization, and contracting on the economy (here’s a link). I can’t stop listening. What I should be working on is my dissertation proposal, which is also about public-private partnerships and cultural heritage institutions, specifically archives.

Below I’ve inserted an image I am using to illustrate the concept of public-private partnerships. Basic, I know, but what do you think?

PPP icon


OK, that’s enough. The show is over, time to turn the radio off. Back to work.


Craig is a Linux user

Craigslist login screenThis past weekend I was doing a little spring cleaning and decided to post a few things to craigslist. When I went to access my account, I noticed that the screenshot on the login screen reminding users to watch out for scammers is pretty clearly taken from a computer running Ubuntu Linux. That just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Can’t believe I’ve never noticed that before, but its pretty cool. Keep rockin, craig.


Adventures on Wikipedia

Everyone procrastinates. One of my favorite ways to waste time while not feeling too bad about myself is to edit Wikipedia. The first edit I made on the site was back in 2006, and I’ve been known to dabble a bit with writing my own articles, cleaning up dead links, and reuniting orphan pages with the rest of the wiki. This is my user page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Adamkriesberg.

A few of the articles I have written were biographical articles about musicians I listen to. My rule of thumb is that if I’ve heard of someone, they must meet the notability threshold for inclusion on Wikipedia (very scientific, I know), which brings me to the real subject of this post. Like all good internet citizens, I watch videos on YouTube. Some of these videos are of artists performing original material and gaining impressive amounts of views. One musician in particular who goes by Danielle Ate the Sandwich is a personal favorite of mine. She is a singer-songwriter who plays ukulele and guitar, and has been posting videos for a few years. I’ve been following her on YouTube for long enough to know that she has gotten popular enough to tour smaller folk venues and make a living off of music full time. A few days ago, I googled her name so I could find her website to check her upcoming tour dates: I thought she was coming to a town near me. However, instead of clicking her personal site, I decided to check out her Wikipedia page, the second or third link on the results page.

Danielle Ate the Sandwich's Wikipedia Page

Danielle Ate the Sandwich’s Wikipedia Page, current version

Much to my surprise, Danielle Ate the Sandwich’s Wikipedia page was a mess. No references, no internal links to other articles, and to make matters worse it had been nominated for deletion! I had only a few days to act so I could save this page and ensure its continued existence on the web. I worked to add internal links, referenced the unsourced statements in the article, cleaned up the formatting, and added an infobox with a picture (Creative Commons licensed from Flickr, of course). As I moved to delete the proposal for deletion, I wondered about the user who nominated this article for deletion and clicked the username. As it turned out, this user was one of the most active editors on the wiki and had authored an insane amount of articles. With the article much improved, I don’t think he’ll be back to propose deletion again. More likely, he’s reading through other articles in need of serious work and thinking about what really belongs on the world’s largest open encyclopedia.

This interaction sums up many things I love about the internet. First, the fact that I even ended up on this article speaks to my experience discovering music online. Second, my ability to edit Wikipedia reflects my commitment and fascination with the site, and a desire to make it as accurate and useful as possible for the next person to come along and wonder how they can listen to this woman’s songs. Third, I am routinely reminded of how many dedicated folks are out across the internet every day, working on these same goals. They inspire me.

Either that, or I was looking to procrastinate and felt like spending some time making sure this article didn’t disappear from Wikipedia.