Digital Preservation class assists the Carpentries with digital stewardship

Students enrolled in Postdoctoral Research Associate Rhiannon Bettivia's Digital Preservation (IS 586) class can expect to work on real-life projects. 

"Students in 586 are often pursuing a terminal professional degree," Bettivia explained. "They are going to graduate and head off to be leaders in this field."

Over the course of the summer and fall 2018 semesters, students in Bettivia's class worked on a project for the Carpentries, a volunteer community of over one thousand instructors worldwide who are teaching scientists basic lab skills for research computing. The project came about after Elizabeth Wickes, iSchool lecturer and member of the Carpentries' Executive Council, approached Bettivia about some challenges the Carpentries were facing as a uniquely large-scale distributed digital community.

"I devised a multi-semester set of projects that began last summer, given the scale of the Carpentries and their digital stewardship challenges," Bettivia said. "Students were tasked with scoping and documenting the Carpentries' digital footprint across a number of web-enabled platforms and breaking down these findings into functional series. After doing this, groups of students took a deeper look at selected series, including social media materials and assessment data as well as a particular GitHub [repository], to identify the particular digital stewardship challenges associated with the given platforms."

At the end of the summer semester, students presented their findings to Carpentries employees and Executive Council members. Based on this initial work, the Carpentries identified one particular series that would serve as a pilot for future digital stewardship work. Students enrolled in Bettivia's class last semester took on this task, becoming familiar with the output from the first leg of the project, researching the client, and splitting into five groups to interview different stakeholders within the Carpentries community. 

"The fall 2018 students created visualizations of current workflows around a particular data stream at the Carpentries. In the second half of the semester, students changed groups to consolidate and share their findings from their various stakeholder meetings. In pooling their data, they created master workflows of current practice, and suggested changes that would ensure the longevity of the materials by crafting archival information package models and proposing workflow changes as well as using new tools and platforms," Bettivia said.

Working on the Carpentries project, students learned technical skills around workflow modeling and the use of platforms and tools common to digital preservation. They also learned important executive skills, such as working with different stakeholders within real-world organizations, balancing time and communication when working with international clients, presenting specialist information to generalist audiences, and creating professional post-consultation write-ups.

"Working with the Carpentries was a valuable experience in consolidating information, client interaction, and how to come up with recommendations that best suits the Carpentries' capacity as a non-profit organization," said MS/LIS student Miyuki Meyer.

According to Bettivia, working with actual clients prepares students by presenting them with the kind of work they might do in the future while also providing valuable experiences and career preparation.

"Many students have taken a project from 586 and turned it into a line on a CV, a paragraph in a cover letter, an internship, a practicum, a fellowship, a grant application, or a job," she said. "The students did a superlative job on the Carpentries project. The challenge I set them was massive and thorny, and they more than rose to the occasion. I was truly impressed with their work."

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