01/26/17

One Librarian, One Reference

Happy New Year! I still get to say that through the month of January. It’s been a while but I’m back to let you, my loyal reader, know that I am going to participate in an exciting event next week, Tuesday 1/31, at McKeldin Library on the UMD campus. We are hosting a Wikipedia Library #1lib1ref event, a mini edit-a-thon of sorts where librarians come together around the world to add references and citations to Wikipedia. This initiative is sponsored by the Wikipedia Library, with the goal of improving Wikipedia through connecting editors with librarians and reference resources.

An owl standing on a book

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I am a big proponent of Wikipedia, having edited and participated in public events in the past. I am very excited to meet fellow Wikipedians at UMD and perhaps convince some folks from the libraries and iSchool to get more involved with editing!

01/26/16

Blizzard Movie Night Yields Unexpected Archivist

I am close to digging out from the historic blizzard which has blanketed the Washington DC region with 2 feet (maybe?) of snow. Since Thursday evening, I have spent a lot of time in my apartment and, on a whim, decided to watch the Enough Said starring James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.  The movie interested me because it was Gandolfini’s last; little did I know the surprise in store as the plot unfolded.

Gandolfini plays Albert, a recent divorcee and DIGITAL ARCHIVIST who works at a place called the “American Library of Cultural History” which houses a significant collection of television films. I’ll avoid spoilers that do not involve archives– Albert oversees digitization and created metadata for archival episodes of television. What’s more, there is a scene in the closed stacks of the library, complete with a stolen kiss amongst the Hollinger boxes! The rest of the movie was great as well and is recommended for archivists, librarians, curators, and everyone else too :-). It was very well-acted and definitely worth a watch.

While doing some post-film googling, I discovered this post from an excellent site called reel-librarians about Enough Said as well. Add it to the blogroll!

12/2/15

Rosa Parks, Historical Memory and Public Space

Yesterday, as I boarded a bus in front of the University of Maryland Student Stamp Student Union (itself named after an influential figure in on campus who served as the “Dean of Women” and increased the presence of women in College Park), I noticed something on the front seat of the bus. At first I thought it was a large check, similar to those ceremonially given to winners of Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes. As I focused on it, I realized what it actually was: a sign acknowledging the actions of Rosa Parks on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama 60 years ago on December 1. She famously refused to give up her seat to a white, male rider of the bus and was arrested. This led to the Montgomery But Boycott, which lasted for more than a year before city buses were desegregated.

Commemorate Rosa Parks Day | December 1

Commemorate Rosa Parks Day | December 1

The sign had a quote, images, and a reminder of the anniversary of Rosa’s action. I loved the simplicity of the action and straightforward way in which the sign forces bus riders to confront a historically significant event. Through the temporary occupation of public space, this sign inserts itself into daily life and brings Rosa Parks into the present day, asking modern commuters like myself to consider the situation in which Rosa found herself in 1955. What would I do if I moved through a world in which a racist status-quo was designed into every aspect of the built environment? As I sat down at an empty seat, I considered the impact of Rosa’s actions and the current state of our country around race relations and justice.

Initially, I did not know who placed the sign but have since figured out that it was the UMD Dept of Transportation Services. Thanks Facebook. The DOTS logo is very small and unobtrusive and the sign is free of other university branding. This aspect of the event also stood out to me. The focus of this sign is on remembering Rosa Parks, not promoting diversity and cultural awareness of the university administration.

Kudos, University of Maryland DOTS. You put signs on the front seat of the university’s bus fleet and got at least one person (myself) thinking about the memory and legacy of the civil right movement. I even went online and read more about Rosa Parks and her longstanding involvement with civil rights organizing and activism in Montgomery leading up to her refusal to move to the back of the bus. If you are interested, here’s a blog post providing more context about the culture of violence and racism in Montomgery before Rosa took action, and here’s a podcast about Claudette Colvin, a teenager who was also arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus.

Any DOTS bus riders out there in internet-land? Did anyone else see temporary Rosa Parks memorials? I’ll be looking for something similar next year!

10/23/15

In which I travel across the ocean and explore Brittania

I recently returned from a week-plus trip to England, where I visited the cities of Oxford and London. It was my first time in on the island of Great Britain, in the United Kingdom, and to a country I’ve long wanted to explore. I was certainly not disappointed, as I got to see some of the great sights of one of the world’s most important universities and cities. Here are some highlights of my trip, focusing on museums, libraries, schools, and other culturally relevant sites. This type of stuff makes this post blog-worthy 😉

Upon our arrival at Heathrow, my girlfriend and I took a bus to stay with a friend living and working in Oxford. Before the bus ride was over I immediately knew I loved this college town. I say college town but really should note that Oxford feels like ancestor of all college towns that have sprung up in the past seven centuries or so. Every building in town explodes with history, and the urban landscape is a mix of town and college buildings. Most of the college quads do not allow visitors or charge a fee, but we did enter Wadham College and walk its grounds. The main college building was built in the 1610s and is a beatuiful sight to behold. It is made for learning, study, writing, and thought. I didn’t want to leave.

Wadham College, Oxford, UK

Wadham College, Oxford

No trip to Oxford, much less England, would be complete without visiting some of the country’s pubs. One that I particularly enjoyed was the Turf Tavern, located next to a portion of the 13th century city wall. The tavern was founded outside the medieval city as it was frequented by gamblers and other questionable characters. According to tavern legend, it was at the Turf that Bill Clinton “did not inhale” while he was a Rhodes Scholar. Today, the crowd is mostly students but no less questionable; most of them appeared to be smoking tobacco.

Bill Clinton: It is alleged that it was here at the Turf Tavern, that Bill Clinton, while here at Oxford University, during the sixties, 'did not inhale' whilst smoking illegal substances...what he does with cigars in his own time is his business.

Sign from Turf Tavern, Oxford, UK

Oxford is home to some amazing museums. We visited three: the Ashmolean, the Natural History Museum, and the History of Science Museum. The Ashmolean houses archaology and ancient artifact collections as well as more recent art. A favorite object from this museum was a copy of Mryon’s Diskobolos. I liked it so much I took a rare selfie in front of it!

The author in front of Diskobolos scultpure, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Ashmolean selfie

The Natural History Museum was my favorite museum in Oxford (perhaps my favorite of the trip). Its collections are vast and incredible; the main hall houses one of the only preserved Dodos on display in the world in addition to dinosaurs, modern animals, and geological specimens. The museum also contains the Pitt Rivers collection, which is a lesson in museum studies come to life. Established by 19th century British general Pitt Rivers, the collection is really a series of collections, covering the entire world and spanning the full range of human activities from music making to war, religion, cooking, transportation, and clothing. Entering the Pitt Rivers is like stepping back in time to the late 19th century, when museums were more like cabinets of curiosities and objects from different contexts were displayed next to each other. It is a visually striking and overwhelming room, with two balconies. I spent time walking around the entire collection but know that I could return ten times and still discover new things. This museum was used as an example in museum studies classes I took as an undergrad, and visiting it was definitely a highlight of my trip.

Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, UK

Pitt Rivers Museum

The final museum we saw in Oxford was the History of Science Museum. Located in the oldest purpose-built museum building in the world, the collections consist mostly of scientific instruments from around the world. While small, this museum was also full of interesting objects, but my favorite was a blackboard that Albert Einstein used during a lecture he gave at Oxford in the 1931 (??). Containing just seven lines of mathematical proofs, it nevertheless allows the visitor a tangible connection to one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century.

Albert Einstein blackboard, Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, UK

Albert Einstein blackboard

After a lovely weekend in Oxford we headed by bus to the capital. London. On a grey Monday it rose up before us on the horizon, visible from the top deck of the bus. Our base of operations was an airbnb in Clapton Pond, a neighborhood in the Borough of Hackney. It was an excellent place from which to explore the city and experience a range of London beyond the downtown, touristy areas.

We visited lots of sights, markets, and pubs from Chelsea to Shoreditch, Kilburn to Camden, and Westminster to Trafalgar Square. One of my favorite places we went to was the Tower of London. Once the riverside castle from which English kings and queens projected power, today the complex continues to serve as a home for the crown jewels, military units, and some government officials. It was an amazing place to see.

Tower of London

Tower of London

I also particularly enjoyed the Victoria & Albert Museum. This museum, established during the reign of (you guessed it) Victoria and Albert. The musuem houses an incredible art collection, specializing in design and practical objects. Gallery after gallery of furniture, pottery, and clothing greeted us as we navigated the sometimes confusing passages of the museum. We ended our visit in the sculpture gallery where plaster reproductions of art, buildings, and church interiors were originally displayed for the benefit of students and citizens who could not study photographs of these pieces.

Cast Courts, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Cast Courts, Victoria & Albert Museum

Near the V&A, we popped in to the British Library. I considered trying to get a reader’s card and peruse some ancient manuscripts but thought better of it when I considered that my traveling companions would probably be at dinner on the other side of town when I finished at the library! Instead, I checked out the library’s permanent exhibit of some of its most incredible treasures, including a Shakespeare folio, early maps of British explorers, and Paul McCartney’s annotated lyric sheets. Add this one to the list of places to spend more time on my next visit.

Lobby of the British Library, London

Lobby of the British Library

The final London spot I will highlight is the British Museum, which we visited on our final weekend in town. This is another place I could spend all day but with so much to do, we only had a few hours in this huge museum. I did manage to see most of the prominent objects, including the Rosetta Stone and Parthenon Marbles. Even through the throng of people crowding around these objects, it was incredible to be in their presence. I almost forgot that these things were taken from the countries in which they were found and brought to London for display in the capital of the largeset naval empire in the history of the world. But the stuff was really cool!

Rosetta Stone, British Museum, London

Obligatory Rosetta Stone Picture

OK, I’ll stop now before I post every picture I took in London. It was truly an amazing place and I can’t wait until I have the opportunity to go back. Until next time, cheerio!

12/3/14

Lunchtime Distraction: World War I History Lesson

I want to share a YouTube channel that has recently been my procrastination/lunchtime media of choice. It’s called “The Great War” and is a weekly series recounting the events of World War I as they occurred 100 years ago. In case you forgot, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated on June 28, 1914 and the war began soon thereafter. Throughout this year, there have been a number of centennial events related to the war and more are sure to come as the US entry in the war did not take place until 1917. This channel is one of my favorites so far because it tries to present the events of the war as complicated and outcomes as uncertain. It also makes good use of historical photographs, newspapers, and films to illustrate the events of each week. These images really help people connect to the history and I only wish they were cited so I would know where to find them myself!

As the series continues, I would hope to see more regarding the utter futility of this war, its devastating effects on the people of Europe and European colonies who were conscripted and brought across the world to fight, and the ways in which it laid much of the global framework still in place today. While 100 years seems like a long time ago, in fact this war is still very present in the historical memory of many communities. This channel is far more nuanced than the average treatment of WWI but still relies essentially on telling the military and political history of the conflict, while doing less to problematize, pick apart and challenge some of the issues. I also love the production and set from which the host delivers the week’s update.

Is anyone else out there watching or reading anything about World War I? Is there something great I haven’t found? Let me know, for it appears I’ve unleashed the History student within.

11/12/14

Linux in the Wild

One of my first posts on this site was about Linux, and I always love seeing examples of how Open Source software powers so many computing devices which we interact with everyday. On a recent plane trip back from Seattle (where I attended ASIS&T. It was awesome!) I settled into my seat and prepared to watch a movie on the seatback screen when it suddenly went black. Confused, I looked up and noticed that the entire plane had lost their screens as well.  A few seconds later, much to my surprise, this appeared on screen as the software loaded:

Wild Linux

Can you see tux in the upper left corner? That’s right- Delta’s seatback screen are powered by Linux! After another period of intense scrolling text as the system rebooted, I was eventually greeted  by the clean welcome screen:

Delta Welcome

After this snafu, the system remained on for the rest of my flight, and I was able to watch Parks & Recreation while editing some files. I must have looked like a weirdo when I whipped out my phone to take pictures of the software loading on my seatback screen, but I always love witnessing moments like this. The experience of flying a commercial airline is designed to be sleek and streamlined, but remembering that much of this software runs on Linux was a refreshing reminder that the polished face of Delta runs on a complex infrastructure.

I’ve also been thinking about the recent dustup between Groupon and the GNOME project. Groupon used the trademarked name of the popular Open Source desktop environment as the name of their new point-of-sale system, filing trademarks that infringed upon those already in place for decades. I was surprised to see Groupon making this move when my assumption is that some portion of their developers and code is based on Linux. After some confusion, it looks like Groupon is pulling back and will change the name of their product. Score one for the OS lobby!

I wonder how many consumers know how important Linux is to so many aspects of our computational lives? How can we increase awareness of this software, and how would knowing more about Linux change conversations in society about the role and place of computing in everyday life?

 

10/7/14

Archival Articles on Wikipedia

My regular readers will know that I edit Wikipedia from time to time, and that I am a doctoral student in an iSchool who studies archives. I was therefore overjoyed to attend this session at the Society of American Archivists annual meeting this August. The session chairs, Dominic McDevitt-Parks and Sara Snyder, successfully signed up new editors for Wikipedia accounts and introduced them to the basics of editing. As a group, we even made some progress on a few articles relevant to archives. A wiki page documenting the session is located here.

I fully agree with the goals of this session: to increase the quality of Wikipedia articles which relate to archival concepts, archival institutions, and archivists. Since August, I have been looking for opportunities to edit archival articles. Now, this term I am working as a Graduate Student Instructor (also known as a TA at universities not named Michigan) in a course on archival access systems. During a recent lecture, my lead instructor provided an overview of many of the archival software platforms that exist today. Following along, I happened to google Archon and ended up on its Wikipedia page: Archon (software). I was dismayed to see that the article was not up to date and listed the tool as in active development when in fact it has merged with ArchivesSpace and is no longer maintained. I made a mental note to follow up and edit this page to reflect the most current information.

A few days later, when I returned to complete my edits, I noticed that someone else had come in and begun my work for me! A sentence indicating the inactive status of the project was tacked on to the end of the article. I still made some edits, cleaned up the page, and made sure that things were up-to-date. However, during this time I discovered that ArchivesSpace itself does not have an article yet. That’ll be a task for a later date.

You may be asking yourself- what is the point of this story? Well, if you see an article related to something having to do with archives that needs work, edit it! I did a bit of writing on a small article and discovered a much larger task that I will tackle in the upcoming weeks.

What wiki-event is happening at SAA next year?? I’m there!

06/10/14

The Public Domain on my Birthday

Today is the day of my birth, and I figure that there’s no better way to celebrate than by highlighting what Public Domain materials have to say about June 10th. While browsing the Wikimedia Commons page for this date, I found a relevant and very interesting image:

American Association of University Women members with President John F. Kennedy as he signs the Equal Pay Act into law, June 10, 1963.

American Association of University Women members with President John F. Kennedy as he signs the Equal Pay Act into law, June 10, 1963.

Look how happy all of those women look, not to mention President Kennedy! Is it just me or does his desk seem rather cluttered? I see an ashtray, other mementos, files, a phone, papers… I especially like seeing LBJ in the back of the group, overseeing the signature. Little did this assembly know that in just a few short years this date would catapult my being into existence, unleashing unkown forces upon the world (I kid, I kid)…

On a more serious note, I encourage everyone to investigate and explore what is available on Wikimedia Commons and other public domain repositories. Before this, I didn’t know that my birth date loomed so large in the story of the struggle for equal rights and pay in the United States. Now I know more about this law and discovered that I have some amazing access to a fine image documenting this day. Three cheers for the public domain!

04/10/14

Gender-neutral pronouns in the classroom

This semester I am working as a Graduate Student Instructor (UMich’s term for TA) in a large introductory course for the Masters program here at the School of Information. Overall, the experience has been very rewarding. I enjoy teaching section and am happy to interact with students and explore rich topics across the broad field of information. In my section this week I encountered a situation that has stuck with me and rekindled an uneasiness I sometimes feel about the English language.

In this particular session, the students were doing blind peer reviews of each other’s most recent assignments. Split into pairs, I noticed that some of the students defaulted to referring to the author of the assignment under review as “him” or “he” when in fact it was not possible to tell if the student was male or female. At least one student corrected their partner on this point. I wished I could have stopped class and talked about the deficiencies of the English language in this situation. I have sometimes tried to incorporate the use of the gender-neutral pronoun “xe” into my vocabulary, and this would have been a great time to be able to deploy this invented word. Instead of he/she, xe can be used as a pronoun without signalling gender. Instead of saying “he/she  will be here soon” you instead say “xe will be here soon.” The pronunciation is similar to zed, without the d.

Interested in gender-neutral pronouns? Wikipedia is a good place to start. In addition to “xe,” “ze” and “ve” are also possible pronouns to employ in these situations where it is impossible to know an individual’s gender, or in other situations when a particular person does not identify as strictly male or female. This is something I would love to see catch more traction. Do any of you use gender-neutral pronouns or wish you did more often?

03/24/14

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…