As I indicated in the last post I’ve been teaching digital curation this semester at UMD. I ended up structuring the class around the idea of abstraction where we started at a fairly low level looking at file systems and slowly zoomed out to file formats and standards, types of metadata, platforms and finally community. It was a zooming out process, like changing the magnification on a microscope, or maybe more like the zooming out that happens as you pop between levels in the pages of Istvan Banyai’s beautiful little children’s book Zoom (pun intended).
I’m curious to hear how well this worked from my student’s perspective, but it definitely helped me organize my own thoughts about a topic that can branch off in many directions. This is especially the case because I wanted the class to include discussion of digital curation concepts while also providing an opportunity to get some hands on experience using digital curation techniques and tools in the context of Jupyter notebooks. In addition to zooming out, it was a dialectical approach, flipping between reading and writing prose and reading and writing code, with the goal of reaching a kind of synthesis of understanding that digital curation practice is about both concepts and computation. Hopefully it didn’t just make everyone super dizzy :)
This final module concerned community. In our reading and discussion we looked at the FAIR Principles and talked about what types of practices they encourage, and to evaluate some data sources in terms of findability, accessibility, interoperability and reusability.
For the notebook exercise I decided to have students experiment with the Lumen Database (formerly Chilling Effects) which is a clearinghouse for cease-and-desist notices received by web platforms like Google, Twitter and Wikipedia. The database was created by Wendy Seltzer and a team of legal researchers that wanted to be able to study how copyright law and other legal instruments shaped what was, and was not, on the web.
Examining Lumen helped us explore digital curation communities for two reasons. The first is that it provides an unprecedented look at how web platforms curate their content in partnership with their users. There really is nothing else like it unless you consider individual efforts like GitHub’s DMCA Repository which is an interesting approach too. The second reason is that Lumen itself is an example of community digital curation practice and principles like FAIR. FAIR began in the scientific community, and certainly has that air about it. But Lumen embodies principles around findability and accessibility: this is information that would be difficult if not impossible to access otherwise.
Lumen also shows how some data cannot be readily available: there is redacted content, some notices lack information like infringing URLs. Working with Lumen helps students see that not all data can be open, and that the FAIR principles are a starting place for ethical conversations and designs, and not a rulebook to be followed. The Lumen API requires that you get a key for doing any meaningful work (the folks at Berkman-Klein were kind enough to supply me a temporary one for the semester).
The notebook explores the basics of interacting with the API using the Python requests library, while explaining the core data model that is behind the API, which relates together the principal, the sender, the recpipient and the submitter of a claim. It provides just a taste of the highly expressive search options that allow searching, ordering and filtering of results along many dimensions. It also provides an opportunity to show students the value of build functional abstractions to help reduce copy and paste, and develop reusable and testable curation functions.
The goal was to do a module about infrastructure after talking about community. But unfortunately we ran out of time due to the pace of classes during the pandemic. I felt that a lot was being asked of students in the all online environment and I’ve really tried over the semester to keep things simple. This last module on community was actually completely optional, but I was surprised when half the class continued to do the work when it was not officially part of their final grade.
The final goal of using Lumen this week was to introduce them to a resource that they could write about (essay) or use in a notebook or application that will be their final project. I’ve spent the semester stressing the need to be able to write both prose and code about digital curation practices and the final project is an opportunity for them to choose to inflect one of those modes more than the other.