Tuesday 18 October 2011

Sleep Deprivation + Deadlines = Wacky Paper

Sometimes, its things happening in your real life that determine your academic direction.

Like most undergraduates academics I occasionally drop the "and this requires further work!" line into a conclusion of a book chapter or paper. I try and store these in a pop-stack in my brain for when I need a quick research output. When writing a chapter on digitisation for Digital Images, I made an aside about people beyond institutional boundaries who were carrying out systematic digitisation projects. This, I said, requires further work!

A year later, I'm on maternity leave with my firstborn. Late pregnancy and maternity leave is incredibly isolating and lonely. I, personally, looked forward to resuming my academic life, and making adult conversation. Wouldn't it be great, I thought, to go to a conference soon after my return to work, and see everyone in the flesh? Wouldn't it be great to pitch up at Digital Humanities 2009?

But. To get funding to go to a conference, I needed to have a paper accepted. To have a paper accepted I needed to do some new research, and write an abstract. I had nothing new, and no time to do anything new. My brain was also quite, quite fried from dealing with the sleep deprivation that accompanies a newborn. A plan was hatched during 3am and 4am and 5am feeds to put in a rather promissory abstract (tut tut, they are supposed to report on something you've already done) on a small research project on "amateur" digitisation projects. If accepted, it would have the added benefit of giving me a little two-week research project to do as soon I got back to work, to kick start my brain. If it wasnt accepted, it could go back in the "requires further work!" pile. I could not gauge if this was a good idea, or not. It was an idea, and that is all that mattered.

Usually it would take me an afternoon to bash out a conference abstract. This took a painful four weeks of trying to get my head in the zone between baby mewling and nappy changing.

The abstract was accepted. I went back to work, and did the study. I went to Maryland, I gave a paper, I caught up with colleagues, I had a fabulous time. I was then asked to write up the paper for the conference proceedings (something I hadn't planned on doing). What the hey! So here it is:

Terras, M (2009) "Digital Curiosities: Resource Creation Via Amateur Digitisation". Literary and Linguistic Computing, 25 (4) 425 - 438. Available in PDF.

Its a bit wackier than my normal stuff. Its very positive - I chose to look at the "best" of amateur digitisation, rather than the worst. It comes from a place of sleep deprivation and left-of-centre. And it's one of my most cited papers. (The book I spent 6 years on? Not so much...)

Wednesday 12 October 2011

From the archive: the LAIRAH study

I'm currently trawling through my research papers and submitting them to UCL Discovery to make them publicly available. It is taking more time than I had imagined: not to find the original texts, but for them to go through the system and go live. I'll talk more about this soon as I have a better idea of the issues behind putting research outputs online, but the first paper I want to report on (mainly as its one of the first to make it through the goalposts) is:

Warwick,C. Terras, M., Huntington, P., and Pappa, N. (2008). "If You Build It Will They Come? The LAIRAH Study: Quantifying the Use of Online Resources in the Arts and Humanities through Statistical Analysis of User Log Data". Literary and Linguistic Computing.23(1), 85-102. Available in PDF.

This is one of the papers that emanated from the LAIRAH project: Log Analysis of Internet Resource in the Arts and Humanities. This was an AHRC funded project that ran from July 2005 to September 2006.

How quaint, I hear you say. Log Analysis! Why would you bother to do that? Wouldn't you just use Google Analytics? Now, of course, you would, but when we submitted the grant application, Google Analytics was just a idea called Urchin on Demand, and it didnt come on stream until the end of the project. We wanted to provide some robust measurements of how people were using digital resources, and what this meant for those creating resources for the humanities. As far as we knew at the time, we were the first to look at server logs in this way, for this domain. Or at least, the first to plan to look at server logs.

There were several issues in actually getting hold of server logs - turned out people didnt want to hand them over. I would have liked to get more into the nitty gritty of what exactly people were doing, but we had limited access, and access to portal data rather than individual websites.

The resulting paper draws some interesting conclusions, particularly our quantitative findings "that users from academic domains tended to be more persistent and use different search strategies to reach their goals" and the importance of nomenclature, documentation, and provenance in creating useful digital resources in the humanities. I like to think that this project began to address the fact that we have to understand user needs when creating digitised content, at a time when people were merrily digitising and creating websites without much understanding of how or why they would be used.

Nowadays, of course, you'd use Google Analytics to monitor how your digital project was used. But projects are still not keen to share access statistics with the wider community...

Friday 7 October 2011

Open Access, UCL, and Me

In the past couple of years, UCL has really been pushing the open access agenda in academia. Announced in 2009, the open access policy states
That, copyright permissions allowing, a copy of all research outputs should be deposited in the UCL repository in Open Access
and UCL is aggressively pursuing what is often called "Green OA", where research from subscription based journals is made publicly available in an online repository that hosts the final accepted versions of a writer's output.

UCL staff have been asked to manage their publications, and much of UCL's research output is now parked up at UCL Discovery, where full text of publications emanating from UCL academics can be found. There has been a fair amount of press coverage about this, and UCL is often mentioned as the trailblazer in Open Access when it comes up in discussion.

However, the archive is only as good as its holdings, and the holdings are only there if academics dig them out. For the past couple of years I've had it vaguely on the to do list to trawl through my personal archive to locate the last-but-one version of published material, and mount on UCL Discovery. Now is the time to do it, as I have also got to port over and manage all my websites, databases, and research records on systems that have changed in the year I've been away. Its a half-an-hour-a-day-for-three-months kind of tinker.

And I thought - why, wont you join me on this tour? When things go live, I'll post a little thing here about the research, how it came about, what the outcomes were, and link to the full text of the papers themselves. As I go further and further back, it's also going to be a test of my personal archiving strategy...

An example to get the ball rolling? My plenary at Digital Humanities 2010 "Present, Not Voting: Digital Humanities in the Panopticon" was originally posted on this blog, but I was asked to write it up for the conference proceedings, which appeared in Literary and Linguistic Computing, 26 (3). Discovery has a nice summary page which gives the abstract, etc, and the PDF of the full text is available from there.

The plenary got a fair amount of coverage at the time, so I wont talk too much about this one. I hope to post one or two "new" papers a week up here over the next few months, and will tell the story behind each one as I do.

Reviewing the Blog Situation

One of the things I wondered in my last post before I started maternity leave was - what would the status of the blogosphere be when I got back to work, a year later.

Unsurprisingly, it's still here.

I've been thinking if there is a place for this blog, and how things have changed over the past few years. There's no doubt that a lot of the things I used to do here - post links to good online resources, make short comments - have been trumphed by twitter, and I'll continue to hang out over there. But I still have use for a place where I post, every now and then, something more than 140 characters. I've had comments in the past that some regular readers (or at least, regular before I took a hiatus) like to know what its like to be an academic, so I'll continue to post on what I'm up to. I'll park the text of plenary lectures and invited speeches here (they are quite a lot of intellectual work, and its good to be able to share them to a wider audience). Its also on my to do list to sort out my UCL web presence - more on that soon - so whilst I was doing that I thought I would chat on here about the work I've done previously, as I need to trawl through my personal archive over the next couple of months to get things ship-shape.

I'm not too keen to share too much personal information beyond my academic role (hey, that's for facebook, right?) and I was reminded of this with a review of my blog, posted online last year. It contains the genius line that made me smile

It's tough to evaluate Melissa Terras' Blog; I can't make fun of it, because I don't understand most of what she posts
but also liberally lifts my picture, and that of my newborn twins from here. You live by the sword, etc.... but it was a (non-threatening) reality check for me. At the moment, I dont have the personal need to address too much about non-work stuff up here, so I wont. I had me some babies. Everyone is doing fine, thanks. I am now back to work.

All this to say - normal service is resumed! and perhaps shall be even more organised on here than previously.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Removing Tumbleweed

Well. I've been officially "back to work" for a couple of weeks, so its time to think about dusting off this blog, and putting it to good use. Until now I've been mainly fighting fires, and trying valiantly to climb the email mountain that has accrued in my year long leave. Its time to start being proactive, rather than just reactive though - once I get to the bottom of that email pile, that is.

I've popped into college a couple of times (I am on sabbatical for a term to get my feet back under the table before I take on full teaching and admin duties). It's probably worth me describing just how much has changed in the year I have been at home: our department moved buildings, so I have a new office, which I am having the pleasure of making feel like home, a year after everyone else did. (Given I was so disabled, our departmental administrator organised my old office to be packed up and shipped over, so I am merrily going through boxes now, going "I own that?") Its taken me a few days to get back on the network, locate cabling, etc. I still have no idea where lots of things are in the new department, and it will probably take a long time to know where to get X, Y, and Z. In addition, my old Head of Department left UCL with little warning, taking with him some colleagues. New appointments have been made, new faces, new routines. We also have just started the new MA in Digital Humanities, so there is a whole new course to sort out (although Simon Mahony is doing a stellar job of being Acting Course Director at the moment, until I get my act together). All change! In these respects, it is almost like going back to a new job - but with some very familiar faces and places thrown in too.

Research wise, I'm at an interesting juncture: the main projects I was working on before going on leave have all wrapped up, so I'm coming back to a phase of grant writing, and book proposal writing, and bootstrapping research again. I have plenty to read, plenty to catch up on - and plenty to write, too.

I'm also in the very, very final stages of putting together, with Brent Nelson, "Digitizing Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture" (New Technologies in Renaissance Studies. Toronto: Iter; Tempe, AZ: Arizona Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.) We are at the final proofs stage - fingers crossed we can press the button on this shortly. Next up? Editing "Digital Humanities in Practice" - due in to Facet very soon.

I'm itching to *make* something, though. Itching to code, create, make computers do something, instead of just talking about computers doing something. Plans are hatching for my next research direction, and future research proposals - I want to rejoin the ranks of Digital Humanists who implement computational tools. Its been a while, but I have been on leave for a year.

In which time email has piled up. Best get back to it.