This week I made my first trek down to Virginia to engage with the Center for Open Science IRL! After just about a year of emails, hangouts, and calls, I was excited to see the space in which I think some really innovative tech is being developed for the open X community. The second week of July was designated as SHARE week: Monday and Tuesday was the SHARE hackathon, Wednesday and half of Thursday was the SHARE community meeting, and the last half of Thursday and Friday was the SHARE Curation Associates kick off orientation.
I arrived at the 2-day hackathon a day late (oops...) so Tuesday was a bit of a catch-up session for me. I decided to work on the ember-share project, basically a new front-end for the SHARE API. I spent the majority of the day trying to instantiate a local SHARE API server, to no avail. All the dev is done on MAC OSX, which made me think that it'd be a breeze to get a server up and running on my Ubuntu 14.04 machine (I've since upgraded to 16.04 and I kinda love it...), however I spent around 9 hours trying to get this thing to run 100% successfully on my machine. I made it as far as using elastic search, thanks to the amazing developers at the Center for Open Science. The productive output that came out from this was: 1) buffing up their doucmentation, 2) a bug fix (Rémi says I'm really good at finding bugs...), and 3) making those connections with the COS folks. I left feeling a bit frustrated (but you'll see why that's good later on in the post!) but mostly motivated to get this f*^#ing thing running, no matter what. I left feeling like I contributed to the community, even though I literally just couldn't install something. It was kind of really awesome.
SHARE Community Meeting
The community meeting ran for Wednesday and half of Thursday of SHARE week. The purpose is basically to see how people are interacting with SHARE at their institutions. From their website: "The meeting will focus on metadata transformation through expert curation; collaborative open source technologies, initiatives, and infrastructure projects related to SHARE; and SHARE communication and outreach. There will be a mixture of lightning talks, brainstorming, and hands-on workshops."
The most useful talk of the 1.5 days of lightning talks was actually not technology based at all. "Service-Learning Pedagogy at Your Institution — How to Incorporate Interns into This Work, Use SHARE in Your Digital Scholarship Training Workshops, etc." from COS co-founder and CTO Jeff Spies.
In this talk, Jeff gave an overview of the COS's internship model, called "service learning." This model is based on balancing instruction with pragmatic, real-life opportunities to serve YOUR community. It all has to do with taking short- and long-term motivation into account -- if you are serving your community, doing impactful work, bolstering your CV, etc., you feel more passionate. Simple concept, put into practice through actual projects. If you as the mentor can't make the point that what your interns/employees are doing is absolutely important, then something is catastrophically wrong.
The key is to show excitement when someone tells me what they're working on. Jeff's strategy is to walk around and ask people randomly: "Tell me what you are working on." He doesn't accept one word answers, such as "good." He wants interns to pitch what they are doing to him, as an opportunity for them to show enthusiasm, frustration, whatever they are feeling -- his approach is that interns are not wasting time EVEN IF it's just a tiny bug fix. It's critical work, and they should feel that.
Jeff also made the point that there is literally NO DIFFERENCE between the work the COS interns do and the work the COS developers do. This is actually astounding. In his words, "Classroom based learning is not real world. Period."
The basic pedagogical concept is: do not teach new technology, teach how to learn technology. This service-learning model requires buy-in from mentors. In addition to motivation, enthusiasm, and community-focus, there is a level of independent learning that needs to be achieved to "learn how to learn."
He also made a point to discuss how frustration and learning effects privileged vs. nonprivileged people. In his view, frustration is great and is a necessary step in the learning process. However, managers/mentors, to have a team that is happy, motivated, and productive, must understand that there are cultural & implicit biases that affect the way that nonprivileged folks show frustration. Mentors need to be attentive to this & empathize instead of bulldozing or shrugging these signs off.
The bottom line -- CHOOSE TECH that fosters community, inclusivity, diversity, learn-/teach-ability, functionality.
SHARE Curation Associates
What I really came to participate in was the Curation Associates program (since I am an associate...see the full list of participants here). The program is billed as "an opportunity for library professionals to develop digital curation and computational thinking skills to enhance local institutional repositories in a service-learning setting." Basically, it's a training program for folks who work in libraries to gain competencies in curating digital records to enhance local institutional repositories, and also to train others in turn, maximizing community efforts through a "train the trainer" model.
Some skills that the associates are expected to gain are in areas such as:
- Data viz
- Metadata enhancements and interoperability/normalization
- Information extraction using APIs and OAI-PMH feeds
- Building harvesters
The developers and staff members of the Center for Open Science gave us associates an overview of: Python, what an API is, and other very technical skills that will effect our curation work. We were given a survey beforehand to gauge our skills with the hope being that the sessions would be tailored to the levels indicated by the group. I think overall it was successful; although honestly, I was in my room trying to process the Nice attacks (my boyfriend did some of his schooling in Nice, and it's 1 hour away from his family home where we just were...) for most of day 1 of the program, so I can't speak for all sessions.
A major strength of the orientation was the use of Jupyter notebooks as an interface for working with the SHARE API. This made it easy to get results without having to use the command line -- this was key since many of the folks there aren't comfortable or familiar using the terminal. However, I found a lot of the folks sitting next to me had trouble making the cells of the notebook run -- it was tough to account for all these varying levels of comfort.
I forked the tutorial that we used from Erin's GitHub and just commented the absolute bejeezus out of it. I'm hoping this helps the folks sitting next to me.
Monticello! And other touristy things
At the end of the Curation Associates orientation on Friday afternoon, I took a quick Uber out to Monticello with my awesome NYU colleague, Zach Coble, who works in the Digital Scholarship Studio, which sits next to my department, Data Services, in Bobst. I was absolutely gassed to go to Monticello because Thomas Jefferson is one of my absolute favourite Presidents-- Lewis & Clark, replacing the Library of Congress with his own collection, Ambassador to France, author, architect -- he was truly one of the only American "Renaissance" men. He had an absolute love of reading and love of learning, and apparently (found this out on the tour) participated in the education of his kids and grandkids, sending the ones who wanted off to university (not even to the university he founded!).
A really important part of the visit was the Enslaved Persons lectures/tours, where an older, Colonel Sanders-looking man (this made me reallllll skeptical at first...) walked the grounds giving the history and stories of the enslaved people at Monticello. Zach and I had missed the last one we could take, so we poached on another group's tour when they stopped at vegetable garden at Monticello. There had been a lot of complaints about the erasure of enslaved peoples' stories at Monticello, and as a response the foundation who runs it started disseminating more information and providing tours to educate the public about slavery at Monitcello (they even made an app).
In addition to the tours of the grounds, there is an online exhibit on the website: "How could the author of the Declaration of Independence own slaves? How could twenty percent of the population of the new United States, founded on the principles of liberty and equality, live in bondage? What was life like for enslaved people in the early republic? This online exhibition uses Monticello as a lens through which to examine these questions."
As Zach and I waited for our Uber back to the hotel (which ended up being the same driver), we went into the gift shop to look for gifts for our respective significant others. I didn't find anything that Rémi would enjoy, but I did find a nice needlework pattern for me!
For my last night in Charlottesville, I was wandering around the Charlottesville Mall (right there outside the Center for Open Science/my hotel) and I came across a few of the developers I had met throughout the course of the week. They were busking...with a cello. Bad. Ass. They invited me out for dinner at this place called the Horse Head, which they apparently frequent because the waiters knew them all by name and was sharing cute pics of his pet pig.
I had an early night because my flight was leaving at 6am the next morning, but I have to say: what an awesome working environment and what an amazing team the people at the COS have put together. It's clear that the collaboration extends from their work projects into cool personal projects. The team is strong for sure, in both ability and cohesion.
Although the tempurature in Charlottesville was waaaaay hotter than I'd have liked, it was a great week for learning how to leverage the SHARE API, meeting some of the developers of OSF/SHARE at the Center for Open Science, and getting an inside look into the community I'm going to be working with in earnest for the next year.