I was on the Radio!

About two weeks ago I was asked to be a guest on a very cool radio program: Lost in the Stacks, the Research Library Rock n Roll Radio Show created by librarians at Georgia Tech. The episode focused on Carl Malamud’s legal fight with the state of Georgia over his publication, through public.resource.org, of the Official Code of Georgia, Annotated, a LexusNexis product for accessing the laws of the state. I spoke about my own dissertation research and the changing relationship between the public and private sector when it comes to providing access to public information.

I had a great time participating and wanted to share the relevant links with you, my devoted readers! Here is a link to the episode itself, and here is a link to the show notes and playlist for songs featured.

Do yourself a favor and subscribe to Lost in the Stacks! These guys are awesome and they are producing high quality, original audio content for the library and information science set.


New Position!

I figure that the first week of classes and the beginning of Labor Day weekend is a good a time as any to make a quick post about my new position. In July, I formally began work as a Postdoctoral Scholar in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. The primary project I am working on here is a collaborative effort between iSchool researchers (myself and Ricky Punzalan) and the staff in the Knowledge Services Division of the National Agricultural Library. We are working together to develop a digital curation program for scientific data at the library.

Currently, the Knowledge Services Division, or KSD as it is known internally, is working on a number of systems related to the management of scientific data on USDA projects and one of our goals is to develop some policies and plans to support this work in the long-term. I am currently working on our first paper which I hope to share on this blog soon! Stay tuned, there’s more to come…


Dissertation: Defended

I am happy to report that yesterday I defended my dissertation! It was an incredible experience and I am relieved/proud/happy/tired/overwhelmed/excited all at the same time.

In the interest of posting something to this blog every month (which I try to do), and in order to give everyone a chance to get a bit of a window into my work, here is the title and abstract of the dissertation.

Dissertation Defense

The Changing Landscape of Digital Access: Public-Private Partnerships in US State and Territorial Archives

This dissertation examines the network of public archives and private sector organizations engaged in the work of digitizing historical records.  It focuses on the recent expansion of public-private partnerships involving US state and territorial archives and their effects on citizens’ access to digitized materials. It seeks to understand the ways in which government archives engage with the private sector around digitization of records documenting birth, death, land ownership, and other events central to life in a democratic society.

I employ a theoretical framework combining ideas from archival studies, government information, public finance, and economics. I argue that archival materials are public goods as understood by economists and public policy scholars, and assert that this designation merits a new perspective on government archives. The dissertation project employs a mixed-methods research design, combining a survey, interviews, and document analysis to follow the trajectory of these partnerships, from the motivations of each group of organizations through contract negotiation, records selection, digitization work, challenges, and the implications for access to digitized government records.

My results demonstrate widespread engagement between state and territorial archives and private sector organizations. More than 75% of survey respondents reported that their organization engaged in public-private partnerships. These partnerships largely focus on genealogical records which contain information about individuals. This makes sense from a business standpoint but threatens to undermine the public goods designation which protects government archives from market forces. I identify the negotiation period as a time when archivists have learned to leverage their unique holdings in order to advocate for their institutional interests. Through information sharing among government archives, they work to obtain the best contract terms on behalf of their holdings and users. I also highlight the impact of public records and freedom of information laws on the interactions between public archives and private firms.

This dissertation documents an information environment in transition. The number of partnerships has increased in recent years but research has not kept pace. This project is the first comprehensive study of public-private partnerships involving state and territorial archives in the US, and serves as a basis for future work.


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…


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.


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.


Hello world!

This is my first post on my first “real” website. That’s right- no more university server HTML/CSS pages for this guy! Anyway, maybe if I have this blog I will actually blog more. I am a believer in writing and know I should always be writing more than I do, so here goes nothing.

Since I don’t have much else to say right now, how about a quote? Here’s one from a favorite book, Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness:

“When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep.”

And with that, goodnight.