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Online Presence and Participation


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Presented as part of session 101, "Building, Managing, and Participating in Online Communities: Avoiding Culture Shock Online," at the Society of American Archivists annual meeting, August 13, 2009

  • Notes follow:

    Before I start, I'd like to make a disclaimer. My presentation, while based in fact, contains some strong opinions. Accordingly, I must state this presentation expresses my views and should not be construed as being supported by my employer, The New York Public Library.

    So far, we have been discussing online communities intentionally developed or fostered by archives. However, we have been overlooking a key point that anyone involved with making any sort of material available online must remember. Fundamentally, the decision to make material available online is a decision to participate in a community. I call this community 'the online community writ large.'

    This is not a new concept, nor something over which archivists should be wringing their hands. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man depicted in this image, is known as the inventor of the World Wide Web.
    What became the World Wide Web was originally envisioned as a hypertext system situated for an individual institution (CERN, in Geneva, Switzerland). Much of Berners-Lee's writings explicitly frame the World Wide Web as having a social purpose by design. In his brief personal history of his involvement with the World Wide Web, Berners-Lee states '[t]he dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information.'Tim Berners-Lee, “The World Wide Web: A very short personal history.” [[Additionally, in his initial proposal for the World Wide Web, he writes, 'Imagine making a large three-dimensional model, with people represented by little spheres, and strings between people who have something in common at work. Now imagine picking up the structure and shaking it, until you make some sense of the tangle: perhaps, you see tightly knit groups in some places, and in some places weak areas of communication spanned by only a few people. Perhaps a linked information system will allow us to see the real structure of the organisation in which we work.'Tim Berners-Lee, “The original proposal of the WWW, HTMLized.” ]]

    If you are an archivist who was educated or trained as part of a library program, you were likely exposed to S.R. Ranganathan's five laws of library science. Alireza Noruzi has recast Ranganathan's five laws as they apply to the web. Noruzi's reframing of the first law, 'Web resources are for use,' has very real implications: that the Web contains information for reuse, and that that information serves no purpose if it is not utilized.Alireza Noruzi, “Application of Ranganathan's Laws to the Web: the Five Laws of the Web.” Webology 1, no. 2 (2004). Why are all of you in the room for this session? My guess is that you accept this fundamental supposition of the World Wide Web, that online resources of all kinds – that is, both data and documents – exist to be reused.

    Perhaps the anxiety that arises comes from the reality that this sort of reuse is something you can't control and something that you must at least implicitly embrace. As John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid have written, Web-based resources have taken on the role of shared cultural objects, as people exchange links as a way of sharing experiences.John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid, The Social Life of Information (Harvard Business School Press, 2002), p. 199. Even if you're not trying to foster a community online, using an existing Web 2.0 site, or relying on a social media strategy, your data, collections, metadata, and the like are all linkable, harvestable and reusable by the online community writ large. For example, even if you have an image gallery without tagging, commenting, etc, you are making those images available to the online community writ large. Another part of the fear surrounds people abusing your institutional identity, misappropriating your content, and ignoring rights issues surrounding your material.

    Yet, for all the fear, uncertainty and doubt that surrounds this concern, there are people that you might think of shadowy figures that disrespect your boundaries who really may be doing a positive service to your institutions and collections by adding value to them. Furthermore, they are not just adding value on your behalf, but on the behalf of that online community writ large. As Yochai Benkler suggests in his book The Wealth of Networks, negative responses to this sort of work can 'burden free speech in general, and impede the freedom of anyone, anywhere, to provide information, relevance, and accreditation.'Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (Yale University Press, 2007), p. 453.

    Explicitly embracing this sort of reuse is an appropriate response. Clever people will find ways around what ever barriers there are, either intentional or unintentional. Well-intentioned people will find ways around these barriers and share the information and data with others. Brilliant, well-intentioned people will work around barriers, share the resulting information, and document their process, allowing others to explore the processes of obtaining the information for themselves.

    At this point, I'd like to describe a few cases involving the New York Public Library's digital materials that should serve as positive examples to illustrate the benefit of this kind of reuse. As I have stated in my disclaimer at the beginning of the presentation, my discussion of these examples should not necessarily be construed as an endorsement by The New York Public Library.

    My first example is a mashup created by Paul Hagon, a web developer at the National Library of Australia. His mashup, called 'New York Then and Now,' uses images that the New York Public Library posted to Flickr Commons in a set entitled 'Changing New York, 1935-1938.' Our images did not contain any geolocation metadata. However, the titles of the images often contained street addresses, which Hagon then passed through Google's geocoding tool to return latitude and longitude coordinates. Hagon then stores this information in a format understood by the Google Maps web service and then links the position of the image on the overview map to the Google Maps street view image for that location. Hagon has also done this with digital materials from the National Library of New Zealand and the State Library of New South Wales as well.

    My second example is the work of artist Joshua Heinemann. Heinemann's ongoing project, 'Reaching for the Out of Reach,' repurposes digitized stereoscopic postcards from The New York Public Library's collections. Heinemann crops the two images in the stereograms into separate files, and then combines them into an animated image that oscillates between the two images. This oscillation gives the viewer the perception of the stereoscopic image much in the way that holographic stereograms work. For example, from this image, Heinemann created this animated version.

    My last example is the work of Derrick Coetzee, who is an administrator on Wikipedia and will be starting as a Ph.D. student in computer science at Berkeley. Coetzee, along with other Wikipedia editors, discovered the large number of images that the New York Public Library makes available from the NYPL Digital Gallery. Coetzee determined how to gain access to the high resolution versions of the images programatically and has been pulling them directly from our servers, doing some post processing, and then uploading them to Wikimedia Commons. As one might expect, we discovered that our servers were experiencing a high amount of traffic. Once we discovered Coetzee's process, an NYPL staff member reached out to him, giving him suggestions about pulling a specific set of images – those available from the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views. I hope to see the Library work with him and other Wikipedia editors in the future take an organized approach to making our collections more widely accessible before we could.

    In conclusion, I ask you to think about the benefits that these dedicated individuals could bring to your digitally published materials. Archivists can leverage the spirit of cooperation in the online community writ large as a tool to assist them with making their materials more widely available and potentially even as to assist in the promotion of both the collections they hold as well as the institutions for which they work. Thank you for your time.
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Online Presence and Participation

  1. 1. Online Presence and Participation Mark A. Matienzo The New York Public Library Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting Session 101 — August 13, 2009
  2. 2. Disclaimer The following presentation, while factual, expresses opinions of my own and not of my employer, my coworkers, etc.
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  22. 22. Thank You