Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Webwise 2011-posted by Isabelle Kargon.

I was at Webwise 2011, March 9-11. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in Education, Learning and Research (http://webwise2011.library.du.edu/index.php ).

It was held at the Renaissance Harborplace in Baltimore. I attended the main conferences on Thursday and Friday.

The first keynote presentation was given by Joshua Greenberg, Director of the A. P. Sloan Foundation’s Digital Information. He talked about the main topic of this information age: data, and how to store them. He mentioned several projects of interest, among them MoBeDAC (http://mobedac.org/ ), a microbiome of the built environment data management site. He mentioned Google’s N-Gram viewer (http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/ ) that allows a keyword search through 2 or 3 characters chunks from a full-text corpus over centuries.

The main problem, though, is that while creating data is easier and easier, many institutions have insufficient funding for proper data storage and curation, one big difficulty being computation. Solutions reside in the facilitation of data sharing and of interoperability. There is a need to train the workforce in information technology and to create a broader collaboration between institutions, with more roles given to data-oriented professions. Libraries and museums need to network their data between institutions, that is expose data in common formats. In the 19th century, items were the data. Nowadays they are artifacts and digital books are data. For small institutions, data curation is important to help communities to figure out what to do with their data.

More examples of common data services and data sharing websites were given: Encyclopedia of Life (www.eol.org/), the Zooniverse Project (http://www.zooniverse.org/home ) which uses the participation of non-professional citizens in science projects, and Wikipedia.

There were many projects presentations, among which I noticed especially Connecting Content by the California Academy of Sciences: a collaboration to link field notes to specimens and published literature. The Macaulay Library in Cornell University had the project The NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions Sounds Collection. The National Building Museum in Washington, D. C. presented Information Technology and Online Services Initiative, etc…

The first panel session was on Perfecting STEM Partnerships: Libraries, Museums and Formal Education. The stress was on developing 21st century skills in collaboration with formal education partners.

Marcia Mardis (Florida State U.) spoke of the project DL2SL (Digital Library to School Library). Its goals are the creation of tools for rapid creation and export of MARC records for Web objects. Metadata creation tools would increase the “findability” of digital content.

Susie Allard (U. of Tennessee)’s talk was Environmental Science Librarians, Oh! My! She talked of new paradigms involving the Web 2.0 and user-generated content. She stressed also the importance of collaboration and data sharing. She gave, among others, the example of DataONE (http://www.dataone.org/ ), a collaboration project that presents a “sustainable cyber-infrastructure that meets the needs of science and society for open, persistent, robust, and secure access to well-described and easily discovered Earth observational data.” M. Mardis talked of the necessity of developing shared curricula for research centers, strengthening institutional and research ties, revitalizing traditional skills and developing new ones towards a new frontier of information creation, organization, and dissemination. Institutions should develop new knowledge sets and consider a dynamic content for diverse user skills, such as what is found with blogs, Wiki spaces, Flickr, etc.

Kwasi Asare, from the U. S. Dept. of Education, talked of learning powered by technology. He mentioned the need for interaction in learning, the importance of digital content. The goals to consider in education are learning in an engaging way, assessment for continuous improvement, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity. Currently the investment in education produces a bad ROI (return on investment). There is a need for a more efficient use of time, money and staff. The challenges facing educators are in the management of print material going to digital material, and access to resources for teachers.

This talk elicited questions about the engagement of school libraries in collaboration, and on the way school assessment is conducted through tests leading to a teaching oriented mostly towards tests results.

The second session, moderated by Erika Shugart (National Academy of Science) was on STEM and the Participatory Web: Everyone is Invited! It presented projects generating meaningful audience participation.

Bridget Butler (conservation education specialist, Echo Lake Aquarium at Lake Champlain, and environmental reporter for NBC affiliate News Channel 5) presented Voices for the Lake. The project encourages online and on site engagement from the public, with the goal of contributing stories and connecting with the community around Lake Champlain.

Seth Cooper (U. of Washington) talked about the scientific video-game Foldit (http://fold.it/portal/ ) that allows people to play while contributing to predict three-dimensional protein structures—the way protein molecules fold in space. The users participate in chats and forums, they created a Wiki. When a user-generated model is used in a published paper, the users who helped finding the protein configuration are quoted as co-authors of the paper. The nest step will be users helping to design entirely new proteins.

Jeff Grabill (Michigan State U.) and Kirsten Ellenbogen (Science Museum of Minnesota) talked about Science Buzz (http://www.sciencebuzz.org/ ): a community of people caring about science and society.

More projects presentations included the Walters Art Museum’s Integrating the Art: China, an interactive resource integrating non-art disciplines (social studies, mathematics, science, …) with works of art. There was a fascinating project from University of California, Berkeley, presented by Carl Haber, on Advancing Optical Scanning of Mechanical Sound Carriers: Connecting to Collections and Collaboration (http://irene.lbl.gov ). The principle is to acquire digital maps of the surface of the media (old mechanical recordings), without contact, and then apply image analysis methods to recover the audio data and reduce noise. Sound from old records, wax cylinders, etc. can be recovered. This way the earliest sound recorded in history was restored: it was the phonautograph paper from Edouard-Léon Scott from 1857. A partner for this project is the Library of Congress.

The third session, moderated by Ken Wiggin, was Tapping into Science: Promotign Collections for Use in Teaching, about the creation of digital collections by libraries and museums to provide greater access to their primary and secondary sources.

Kaye Howe (Director of the National Science Digital Library Resource Center) talked—without any notes or any PowerPoint slides) about the educational needs of today’s youth. For today’s young people, learning is linked to technology and to networking. They need textbooks about experimental learning, but these books are scarce. The digital world allows remote people to access networks and resources. There is a need to understand who libraries and museums are making these resources for. Digital data need the same work of contextualization as traditional data. Here are a few quotes given by Kay Howe: “Know who you are talking to” (Aristotle). “We thought it was a problem, and it was a mystery” (Gabriel Marcel). "Paintin' is a lot harder than pickin' cotton. Cotton's right there for you to pull off the stalk, but to paint, you got to sweat your mind" (Clementine Hunter, artist).

Kenning Arlitsch (Willard Marriottt Library, U. of Utah), presented the Western Soundscape Archive (http://westernsoundscape.org/ ), the largest free online archive about natural sounds in Western U.S.

Rebecca Morin (California Academy of Sciences) talked about the Biodiversity Heritage Library (http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/ ), a consortium of 12 natural history and botanical libraries in the U.S. and 2 in the U. K. They try to give access to their collections as well as to primary sources through the Field Book Project.

Francine Berman (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) gave the second day keynote presentation: Got Data? The Role of Digital Information in 21st Century Research.

Data-driven research leads to research by professional experts as well as by the community. Data-driven discovery is illustrated by the model of the Milky Way obtained through spectroscopic surveys, or the earthquake model for the San Andreas fault obtained through supercomputation. The PBD (Protein Data Bank) is a worldwide repository made through processing and distributing data on the 3D structure of proteins. To support the life-cycle of data is to ensure their capture from various sources, to edit them (i.e. organize, annotate, etc.), to use/reuse them for modeling, visualization, etc., to publish them, to preserve or destroy them. However data corruption can occur. Data storage is growing as well as its cost. Libraries and museums are good at collaboration and curation and should work with the research world. Data sharing can give a good competitive advantage and help to create a national research data infrastructure.

The fourth session was moderated by Tom Scheinfeldt (George Mason U.) It presented examples of crossover projects that brought disciplines together.

Chris Wildrick (Syracuse U.) talked about Dinosaurs Aesthetics. He is a conceptual artist using dinosaurs imagery and statistics for educational projects.

Fred Gibbs (George Mason U.) presented History and Data. Interested in digging into data on poisoning and criminal intent, he talked about the Proceedings of Old Bailey, the records of felony trials held at Old Bailey (http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/ ). He also mentioned The Victorian Frame of Mind, 1830-1870 by Walter E. Houghton, and projects such as mapping plants at JStor which allows experts to edit inaccurate maps. In conclusion he mentioned the need for flexible ways to get data, the fact that tools impose their own limits, and the need to consider the life cycle of data. Is scientific literacy data literacy? Data are the middle ground of sciences and humanities.

Michael Benson (Kineticon Pictures) talked about the history of data mining, from Assyrian sky charts, the compactly stored Babylonian astronomical data, to the Nasa archives mined for robotic search, curation, and exhibition making.

The fifth session was moderated by Greg Colati (U. of Denver). It was about Reuse and Recycle: Tools and Services for Managing, Preserving and Presenting Data for Sharing.

Sayeed Choudhuri (from our own JHU Digital Research and Curation Center) talked about data conservancy (http://dataconservancy.org/about). He mentioned the problems of access to data and of the time consuming character of curating data on a large scale.A tool to organize data and data conservancy would be an Open Archival Information System (OAIS). He gave some examples of pilot projects illustrating prototyping as strategy: the Proof of Concept based on ice road development, arXiv (http://arxiv.org/ ), an open access project making data connected to publications, IVOA (International Virtual Observatory Alliance), Sakai, an open source integration site, NSIDC (National Snow and Ice Data Center), the Dry Valley Visualization Project that uses a Google Earth interface, and the Coastal Bay Visualization Project.

Leah Melber (Lincoln Park Zoo) talked about Ethograms For Everyone. The Ethosearch project (www.ethosearch.org ) is a database of ethograms, or animal behaviors. They are sorted by vocalization, localization, feeding and foraging, resting, etc. The users are researchers, biologists, professors, students, animal care professionals, K-12 children.

Aaron Presnall (Jefferson Institute) talked about visualization of data through the Vidi Project (http://www.dataviz.org/ ). The concept is about empowerment through visualization of data. Data need a narrative for visualization. Bringing information will bring empowerment. Examples of projects were the Lewis and Clark journey and military data from the National Archives of Serbia.

In all, this was a very informative conference. Libraries and museums do have a role to play in education, and many creative projects are making use of the possibilities offered by the fast evolving digital technologies every institution has to be aware of.


  1. Apologies about the weird formatting--it is the first time I post a guest post, and somehow I had a hard time keeping the original formatting from the Word document I created first. So the unexpected underlining and changes of font size are independent of my will.

  2. By the way, there is a link to the webcast: