JCDL 2018

A view from the conference venue.

I’ve spent this week in Fort Worth, Texas at the Joint Conference of Digital Libraries. It’s a conference that brings together a somewhat surprisingly diverse set of people, from academics, to computer scientists, to web archivists, to, (of course) librarians. But despite its title, a show of hands at the first keynote indicated that only about a third of the attendees considered themselves librarians. About half, on the other hand, identified as computer scientists. So it hasn’t been too surprising that several of the panels I’ve attended have been very technical. But in between the presentations featuring calculus-decorated slides, there have also been very thought-provoking talks on many of the topics we’ve been thinking about in relation to our Mellon-funded digital publishing program at SUP.

The first day of the conference kicked off with a compelling keynote by Trevor Owens. With a doctorate in Research Methods & Educational Technology, he is a lecturer at the University of Maryland and teaches courses on digital archiving. But most recently, Trevor has been installed as the Library of Congress’s first Head of Digital Content Management. His talk addressed key projects, publications, and happenings related to topics from web-archiving to cataloging formats and emulation. Based on the recent meeting we held at Stanford, which explored some of those same topics, you can imagine I was immediately excited to find out what else this conference would have in store.

I attended a couple more panels that first day: one on Hathitrust and another on citation analysis, both of which were interesting even if not completely applicable to our project. I had hoped for a bit more overlap on the citation-analysis front—something that would help us analyze when and how our own publications were being cited. As is usually the case, though, our work still sits outside the traditional body of use cases, and the methods presented didn’t quite apply to our unique needs. The next day I attended panels on quality and preservation and also on various aspects of archiving, especially web archiving. It was interesting to learn about a developing project by Mat Kelly and the web archiving group at Old Dominion on aggregating personal and public web archives. Throughout all the sessions I attended, Twitter proved to be a great networking tool. The conference attendees and presenters were eager to answer questions and offer feedback on potential use cases.

On the networking front, I was also fortunate to run into one of the members of the Digits team, a group that was also represented at our recent preservation workshop, and we discussed the ever-evolving needs of digital scholars. We talked with Trevor Owens about some of those needs and the progress the Library of Congress was making on handling the new formats it’s been collecting. While it sounds like progress in cataloging and copyright will necessarily be slow—there’s a lot to keep up with!—the LoC is definitely putting quite a significant focus on the digital these days. Throughout the conversation it was also reassuring to hear reference to many of the projects and people we’ve already been talking to on the preservation front. From the Software Preservation Network to EaaSI to Rhizome to Digits, we’re all thinking about similar challenges and opportunities.

The final keynote, by Carly Strasser of the Collaborative Knowledge Foundation, focused on the need for scholarly communications to embrace new formats and processes for publishing, especially open source technologies. Obviously, it was great to see the conference highlighting this point by placing it as the final keynote, and the audience was the right group to pitch this point to. It covered a lot of the issues underlying our own project’s reasons for turning to new digital and interactive open-source publication formats. But it stopped short of articulating the need for the presentation of the scholarly argument to utilize the affordances of the interactivity offered by the web. It still focused on PDF as the ultimate scholarly output, which was a bit disappointing but again another reminder of the challenges we face as the earliest advocates of interactive scholarship.  The presentation turned from new scholarly formats toward an overview of Pubsweet, an open-source workflow software that publishers can customize for their own purposes. Carly gave a shoutout to the Editoria platform, UC Press’s Mellon-funded project. Overall, though, it was an encouraging intro to the evolving technological needs of today’s researchers. Print publication alone isn’t enough. Scholars need systems for keeping and sharing data and the tools they build or augment in order to do the research that informs their arguments. And publishers need systems that facilitate the various stages involved in publishing multi-format material.

The main event I had been looking forward to also took place on the last day. The Workshop on Web Archiving and Digital Libraries was a full-day dive into how web archives are being used in research and how in turn research is contributing to progress in web-archiving technology. Presenters covered topics like education, storytelling, social-media collection and analysis, WARC replay, enabling browser rendering of WARC files (my favorite), and memento aggregation. I was especially excited to see a presentation by the newest addition to Webrecorder’s team, John Berlin who gave an overview of the work he did for his Master’s thesis at Old Dominion. For more on this intensive day-long web-archiving extravaganza, you can go straight to the source because all of the slide decks have been made publicly available.

It was a great second JCDL for me, and I’m looking forward to next year’s meeting in Chicago. It’ll surely be more temperate in June than Fort Worth!

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