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April 27, 2019

Data Fears

April 27, 2019 | By | No Comments

The metadata scheme for my digital repository is finished and entered into KORA. There is now officially a place to enter data from the MSU archaeological collections online, and I am ecstatic. There is, however, still the fear that what I built may have hidden issues. This fear in part stems from a few talks that I attended at the meetings for the Society for American Archaeology earlier this month. These talks addressed issues such as data literacy and data reuse which are directly related to themes of my project. My project is, after all, the data management of archaeological collections.

One talk I found particularly relevant to my project was given by Erika C. Kansa who pointed out the need to improve data literacy among graduate students who often do not have to become data literate individuals. Bhargava et al. (2015) defines data literacy as the desire and ability to constructively engage in society through data. It requires one to understand the underlying principles of data and the pitfalls that one can fall into. One pitfall is the “File and Forget” attitude that can come with fancy data management systems concerned with the archival of data. There is a lot of data out there that has been painstakingly archived and described, but that data is often rarely reused, if ever.

The concept of reuse highlights the need to prepare data for dissemination and the need to get more communities involved in the reuse of data. This includes not only academics, but also the general public. There is a common sentiment that data needs to be protected from other academics who may steal the data or from the public who will misinterpret the data. I believe there is some merit to these arguments, but we run into problems of reuse when we become data dragons. Data dragons who horde the knowledge that has been arduously developed, built and added to and hidden in mountainous repositories. I am ardently of the opinion that the best way to make use of our data is to make it open. This means making the black boxes of our data accessible to the public by changing the culture of how people interact with data. Specifically by encouraging people to become more data literate, while also making our data more inclusive.

The CHI fellowship and building this database have made me personally more data literate, but the express goal of making the data more inclusive has always been on the periphery. The MSU Digital Repository contains metadata for describing a wide variety of archaeological situations, and was built with the intentions of being useful to archaeologists, and curators. The metadata are described and defined as plainly as possible (Here is a link to the github containing the metadata scheme – feel free to let me know what you think!). But the average person would undoubtedly have trouble meaningfully interpreting the data and the metadata without learning the basics of archaeology.

So far, I am unsure of how to explicitly make the data more inclusive and thus the fear that what I am making will fall by the wayside and never be reused. I think this aspect of the project will heavily rely on a future front-end framework (a website) which will more plainly layout the denser data that this repository is capturing along with easily digestible interpretations of the cultural heritage. This should get our data out there and encourage others to use it rather than hording it in cabinets.

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