Issues in Digital Humanities, Data, and GLAM

These notes are from the National Digital Forum (NDF) Barcamp in Christchurch and two presentations by Adrian Kingston, Digital Collections Senior Analyst at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington. All were held at the University of Canterbury in June 2015. The presentations and barcamp were well-attended by academic staff and students, GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) staff, and other interested members of the public.

Benefits of humanists having at least a minimal knowledge of digital language

  • Able to moderate content on a website (copying and pasting text, getting rid of excess HTML code, modifying a line break) without having to contact administrator.
  • Able to tell programmers what you want to achieve and not being limited by what you think is possible (programmers have certain Myers-Briggs personalities – about 5% of population – so they are thinking in a completely different way from most people).
  • Challenge: humanities graduates should be designing the tools instead of letting programmers and corporations be in control.
  • Everyone needs some digital literacy to operate in a global, digital environment.
  • Knowing Microsoft Word, etc. is proprietary software that you are not in control of (file format, long-term viability).
  • Knowing how PDFs work.

Issues around Data Infrastructure in DH

  • Open Standards: we’re heading toward digital dark ages (documents, Adobe products, etc. won’t run in the near future) and need to raise awareness of it at the creation level.
  • Far more complex needs in humanities infrastructure compared to STEM (community blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
  • Humanities can’t just ask for a telescope when needing infrastructure.
  • Public sector has a good proportion of data that humanities scholars need.
  • DH subdiscipline of analyzing infrastructure could be helpful and necessary.
  • Need common metadata standards and interchangeability between projects (like converters for different outlets).
  • How to archive losslessly.
  • Derivative data sets need to be stored along with master data set to allow fact-checking of articles, as well as avoid other researchers having to replicate data cleaning (example: if you clean up a dataset of tweets by getting rid of extraneous ones, that should be linked to the original dataset).
  • Permanent identifiers.

Issues around Conservation and Preservation

  • You need to be able to make changes to RAW data and say what you did, just like you would do with real objects.
  • How do we preserve larger, important stuff that links to other data (Example: cartoon requesting flowers be put in road cones in remembrance of Canterbury earthquake. This then links to Flickr page showing photos of flowers in road cones. Is collecting a PDF of the cartoon really enough to capture this event?).
  • Data needs to be looked at every 5-10 years to ensure it is still accessible and stored correctly.

Issues around Acquisitions

  • Museums can’t control what the artists use as their medium.
  • Format: emailing can destroy metadata and compress images without person being aware.
  • Problems with password and encryption.
  • Not changing filenames as they may be linked to other files.
  • Does object rely on fonts to display properly.
  • Consider putting a “readme” file with files to give more information without touching files.
  • Even moving screen size or resolution could alter an emulation experience.

Digital Humanities and Partnering with Libraries and Museums

  • 2-way street between library and DH with internships: library benefits from technical knowledge and having its collections and rare books utilized, and student benefits from access to real-world context and problems.
  • Could library offer digital literacy embedded in courses?
  • Critique: training sessions in digital at university libraries tend to be generic and don’t address research questions.
  • Frame the question in non-digital terms: how do we better tell the story of Canterbury? (through artifacts, objects, stories, etc.).