Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives

Yesterday, my co-director, grad student assistants, and I offered a workshop at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) on the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN), an public, online archive of personal literacy narratives — stories about how individuals’ stories about how — and in what circumstances — they read, write, and compose meaning, and how they learned to do so (or helped others learn). To date, individuals have contributed 1,202 narratives in text, audio, or video formats.

Our workshop introduced conference attendees to the DALN and prepared them to facilitate “person on the street” contributions to the DALN during the conference. This morning, our team set up a table in the exhibit hall at the conference, at which conference attendees can record literacy narratives and contribute them to the DALN. (Alas, because the conference and exhibit hall don’t provide free Internet access—see my previous post—we have obtain consent forms, releases for materials, licenses, and metadata using paper forms rather than our online submission pages.)

Modeled after various projects such as StoryCorps and the Mass-Observation Archive in Great Britain, the DALN attempts to leverage the Internet, the Web, and the rise of institutional repositories to provide an online archive of personal narratives about literacy at a time when literacy practices and values are changing rapidly. We hope to support all sorts of discussions about literacy among all sorts of people — individuals, family members, literacy workers, policy makers, and (of course) academics. The DALN is hosted by OhioLINK’s Digital Resource Commons (DRC), one of the largest DSpace installations on the planet. With the exception of the DALN, all of the DRC sites are devoted to university and college library collections, so we represent something of an experiment in hosting independent digital humanities projects—at least for OhioLINK.

I’ll try to post a pic from our recording booth/table later today.

Day of DH – Trapped offline

I am on the road in Louisville, KY, attending the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). I thought my blog would begin by introducing myself and discussing a pre-conference workshop that the staff of the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN) offered yesterday, but I have to begin with technical difficulties.

My hotel advertised free wireless in its public areas, so I conducted a trial run yesterday morning. All went well. I suppose it was inevitable that, this morning when I attempted to log in and begin my Day of DH blog, my computer could not log in to the network. The concierge did his best to help, and friends demonstrated with their computers that the problem seemed to be uniquely my own :-\. I am currently online at a Panera across the street from the Kentucky Convention Center.

Of course, I could have paid (and afforded) $12.95 per day for Internet access from my hotel room, but at that rate, four days of access would have cost more than a month of my Internet access from home. It just seemed excessive, but that attitude reflects my particular economic, professional, and personal relationship to the Internet and the Web. As an academic living in a major metropolitan area (Columbus, OH), I am used to being bathed in wireless signals at work, at home, and at many, many businesses (my grocery store!) and public sites (a given at our local libraries). I pay $49.95 per month for fast cable broadband at home. A privileged level of access, to be sure, given the access available to folks who live in many rural areas, whose jobs don’t provide computers and access, or who cannot afford personal computers and access.

So I have to be reflective about whining, but I still get annoyed when hotels treat wireless access as a “luxury” item for which the levy an additional charge, or when convention centers don’t provide “free” wireless throughout their facilities. As a former assistant dean for instructional and research technology, I am well aware that Internet access is never “free”—far from it. Rather, institutions and businesses have to decide when certain services are so mission-critical or universally needed by their customers that they will offer the services with no direct, added end-user fees, instead spreading the cost of access among all users/customers/constituents.

Anyway, I have no particular wisdom to offer businesses except to note that digital humanists are out there looking for access to the Internet wherever they happen to be working, and most of them do not have expense accounts that allow them to pass charges along to their customers. This Panera is doing a bang-up business from academics eating a little more than they really want/need because they feel a tad guilty about spending hours on Panera’s Wi-Fi :-) .

Feeling self-conscious about “free” access

Having finished my bagel and espresso, I am beginning to feel self-conscious about occupying a table and “free” network node at Panera unless I spend a bit more cash. I think I will head over to the conference and see how the graduate students are doing at the DALN table. Maybe I can get some pics.

However, I also need to work on my Spring Quarter courses — especially the sites on Carmen, The Ohio State University’s course management system. Thanks to the Internet and CMS, we are rarely away from our duties on campus :-/.

Learning to use an SVN repository for encoding project

Updating project files on an SVN repository hosted at Google Code. You can find instructions for checking out the latest source code with an SVN client here.

Having attempted to use a wiki to develop part of an electronic textual editing project in a recent graduate seminar, I finally asked my programmer son for advice about employing SVN repositories — hosting solutions, workflows, and so on.

Much of the time, my students and I worked independently on separate TEI-encoded XML files focused on different sections of the manuscript we were editing, but because we were trying to take advantage of some of the new features in TEI P5 for encoding contextual information, we were also building shared authority lists in the header and back matter for 1) people mentioned in the text, 2) places mentioned in the text, and 3) works cited in our introduction and notes. I started with the wiki because I thought it would be more familiar than an SVN client and workflow, but it was a hassle — students needed to open a separate application (we did our encoding in <oXygen/>) and cut and paste code into the wiki after first eye-balling what they found there to make sure they weren’t creating conflicts.

My son suggested project hosting at Google Code, which provided a project wiki, discussion list, blog, and—most important—an SVN repository that project members can access from the SVN client included in the <oXygen/> package. Now project members can always work with the latest complete project files and use SVN tools to resolve any conflicts in their encoding.

DH scholar’s lament: Why didn’t I figure this out years ago? People who code for a living have been using tools like this since the dawn of time.

Hauling Gear

Back to the conference site to see how the grad students are doing at the DALN table. This morning, as we pulled and pushed two large suitcases of equipment, a file box filled with consent/release/license/metadata forms, and several bags of cables, extension cords, and power strips from the conference hotel to the exhibit hall at the conference center, I was envying theoretical physicists, whom I imagine needed nothing more than pencils and napkins or the backs of handy envelopes to do their work. Our portable digital narrative collection lab included four laptop computers, four audio pre-amps, four mic stands, four shotgun mics, XLR mic cables, extension cords, power adapters, power strips, and piles of consent and metadata forms. Yesterday’s workshop required another pile of forms and handouts as well as 25 flip video cameras and tripods.

In my backpack at all times: laptop, power adapter, external hard drive (with cables for USB, Firewire 400, Firewire 800), card reader, extra batteries, DVI to VGA adapter, VGA cable, Ethernet cable, audio cable, USB charger cables for IPod and cell phone, flash drives, Swiss Army knife.

The next morning

One last thing I managed to do online yesterday — submit my book order for Spring Quarter via our bookstore’s online portal.