NDSA:Science, Medicine, Mathematics, and Technology blogs
Science, Medicine, Mathematics, and Technology blogs include everything from blogs that professionals keep about their personal lives and activities, to things like open notebook science where practitioners are sharing their daily raw notes, to more reflective and commentary based blogs by individuals, professional organizations, and institutions. Included also are blogs about science, medicine, mathematics, and technology that document the perspectives of the many other individuals and groups who engage in these topics, including the voices of citizen science, healthcare, science policy, and science news.
Blogs on topics in science, medicine, technology, and mathematics have significant research value for historians, sociologists, and anthropologists of the twenty first century as they:
- Reflect and may influence a wide range of viewpoints, and capture dissenting opinions and new trends not found in other publications
- Serve as a record of who did what and when and will serve as a data mine for understanding trends in scientific practices and attitudes, and how ideas evolve
- Provide insight into the environment of science, medicine, technology, and mathematics
- Show how science, medicine, technology, and mathematics is communicated among collaborators and broadly in the scientific community
Blog content is at risk for loss due to its ephemeral nature. Content may be intentionally or unintentionally deleted by the creators of the blog or the service providers who host them.
Some organizations already engaged in collecting science, medicine, technology, and mathematics blogs include the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Library of Congress, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Library of New Zealand, and Smithsonian Institution Archives.
- Anthony Salvagno's open notebook: http://research.iheartanthony.com/
- Greg Lang's notebooks, presentations: http://www.genomics.princeton.edu/glang/index.html
- Wheelchair Kamikaze: http://www.wheelchairkamikaze.com/
- Good Math/Bad Math: http://scientopia.org/blogs/goodmath/
- Street Anatomy: http://streetanatomy.com/
- Curious Cat Science and Engineering blog: http://engineering.curiouscatblog.net/
Other examples of blog aggregators are:
- Scientopia: a collective of people who write about science because they love to do so: http://scientopia.org/blogs/
- Science Blogs: a digital science salon featuring the leading bloggers from a wide array of scientific disciplines: http://scienceblogs.com/
Professional organizations and blog aggregators like Nature and Scientific American can convey to their communities the importance and means of blog preservation, whether by creating opportunities for blog authors to have their blog preserved by others or by promoting best practices for individuals and organizations to preserve their own content.
Those who might find value in this content:
- The creators of blogs by practitioners who want long term access to blogs that document their work, thought processes, successes, and failures
- Scholars, including historians, anthropologists, and sociologists who are seeking to understand what it was like in the world of science in the early twenty-first century: what topics were debated, what the controversies were, what it was like to be a scientist, how scientists worked together, how science and culture intersected, how scientists engaged with the public, etc.
- Future practitioners who want to build upon earlier work
- Professional associations who want to preserve the work, reflections, and communication of ideas through their community
- The creators of the more personal blogs and their families. These blogs document personal experiences and reflections on life, and are a means of preserving memory. This content is similar to analog diaries and journals that are passed down in families, and sometimes donated to libraries and archives.
- Archivists and librarians whose role it is to preserve the culture of science, medicine, technology, and mathematics
- Anyone who wants to understand the past
How can we get these stakeholders involved?
- Creators can be encouraged to take steps to make their blogs more preservation friendly
- Creators may have professional obligations to universities or institutions to document and preserve blogs as documentation of their research.
- Scholars can share their research using blogs to convey value in blog preservation
- Professional associations can communicate to their members the value of preserving blogs, and be a source for those seeking guidelines and best practices
- Archivists and librarians can be a resource for best practices and guidelines for personal digital archiving
- Archivists and librarians can collaborate to preserve and make accessible blog content reflecting their current collecting policies.
- Individuals can share personal experiences and value of using blogs to understand the past. These stories will help librarians and archivists persuade communities to take action.
- Communicate guidelines and best practices to blog creators though personal digital archiving efforts/programs, through professional associations with members who both create blogs and care about future access of blogs related to their community
- Support for librarians/archivists who are seeking ways to figure out where to get started and the best methods for Web archiving. NDSA is well positioned to educate the decision makers of libraries and archives on the value of blog preservation and the nature of Web Archiving in general.
Obstacles and Risk Factors
- Scope: We will likely be unable to get everything we would like to. How do we decide what to preserve? What can we not preserve?
- Rights: If we are preserving the blogs of others, do we need permission to capture? What if there are multiple authors? Do we need permission to make them publicly accessible? ARL Code of Best Practices for fair use might be helpful.
- Perceived lack of value: Some bloggers will choose not to take necessary steps to preserve their blog; some bloggers may not want to preserve their blog. It is very possible that the historical value of the blog will be unknown until much later, long after preservation actions can be taken.
- Technical limitations: Some blog content is protected by passwords, like http://justenjoyhim.com/, written by a mother with cancer. Other problems include bloggers moving to a new platform or URL, extensive linking to third party content, and possible needs for permissions to preserve and provide access to content.
- Limited resources: Libraries/archives with Web archiving programs working on content outside their domain are best positioned to preserve this content. Are resources sufficient to support this work broadly?
- Desire for perfection within the library and archive community: Libraries and archives that want to document the history and culture of science, medicine, technology, and mathematics will need to take action now with available tools. In order to capture this content libraries and archives will need to accept that they may end up with a combination of really great stuff as well as not so great stuff. Collecting blogs will not be as clean or controlled as the acquisition of more traditional library content. We may only know later what was worthwhile to collect.
- Archival collection development practices that focus on the aquisition of collections at the end of a donor's career or life.
Actionable Next Steps
- Create a registry of science, medicine, technology, and mathematics blogs and identifying which ones are currently being preserved. This will allow libraries and archives to avoid or at least know about duplication of effort.
- Promote principles of personal digital archiving. Are there clear and simple guidelines and best practices for blog authors to follow if they want to take action to preserve their blog? (Limitations: Some blog authors will not have the resources, time, expertise, or incentive to act to archive their own content. This group of blogs would be at a higher risk for loss. Even if a copy of blog is saved on author’s own computer, it will likely be a preservation concern later down the road if the creator does not migrate data over time to new media or systematically make copies of the updated content. Public access to blog content preserved by individuals may also be limited.)
- Collaborate with the producers of major blogging platforms, like WordPress, Blogger, and Moveable Type, with large numbers of subscribers, to promote best practices for personal blog preservation and potentially match the blog to a host institution for long term preservation. (Limitations: Would miss content not available through major blogging platforms and from those that do not opt-in.) The NDSA Content Working Group Blog Preservation Action Team has already taken steps toward developing a plugin to allow for blog authors to opt-in for preservation.
- Create opportunities for bloggers to connect with organizations and institutions that can preserve their content.