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I attended the Scholarly Communication Symposium at UNC Greensboro on April 15 and the Symposium on Information for Social Good at UNC Chapel Hill School of Information & Library Science on April 26. The two events were quite different in content and structure, and the contrast provided some food for thought about the elements that contribute to a meaningful symposium.

The 2019 Scholarly Communication Symposium was a day-long event that focused on some of the key issues and challenges related to digital library infrastructure, DH projects, and scholarly publishing. Keynote speaker Dr. David Eltis (Emory University) warned us that his talk would likely be a bit “depressing” given its focus on the financial challenges of maintaining decade-old digital humanities projects. By way of example, he shared that the site his team developed,, continues to struggle with sustainable funding questions a decade in. I found this long-term perspective on digital projects important; even the most successful projects experience sustainability and funding issues that are not easy to resolve.

Occasional flashes of optimism came from Jason Jones (Guilford County Data Services), who observed that his team’s work in creating effective connections with stakeholders has helped facilitate the development of data communities, and from Dr. Lee Vinsel (VA Tech). Dr. Vinsel and his collaborators created a project called The Maintainers, which focuses on the people who keep all the things running – think public and private infrastructure, software and info systems, and hardware. John Sherer (UNC Press) argued that shifting to reimagined models of publishing scholarly monographs is necessary. His proposed model emphasizes the affordances of digital publishing and altmetrics.

Afternoon panels on 1) Scaling, Maintenance, and Sustainability and 2) Digital Preservation both held out some promise that organizations can develop engaged, active communities around sustainability and preservation and that cooperative models are critical for all of these activities. Dr. Skinner’s new publication on developing effective communities (available through Educopia) was one highlight of the afternoon, driving home the notion that not only are information problems social problems, but they also need social (read: collaborative) solutions. Skinner’s organization, Educopia, has as one of its primary missions supporting cooperative/distributed digital preservation services. Unfortunately, the collaboration theme was a bit buried in the day’s wide-ranging and somewhat disconnected talks.  The closing speaker spoke primarily from a bureaucratic-technical standpoint, missing an opportunity to pull together the many disparate threads of the symposium.

UNC Chapel Hill’s Symposium on Information for Social Good.

My first stop at Manning Hall was the poster session, which featured research projects created by MS students in the Info & Lib Sci program at SILS.

Research highlights included:

  • The Datafication of Children – Why might it be problematic that companies and institutions generate countless data points for children from the day they are born? How do parents and social institutions contribute to the immense (and increasingly monetized) stream of data available about children, from social media posts to public schools’ frenzied production of test data?
  • The Ethics of Self-Driving (autonomous) Vehicles – Whose responsibility is it when autonomous vehicles cause an accident? From an information ethics perspective, how should we navigate situations in which corporations may have the power (and financial wherewithal) to shun responsibility, placing the blame on consumer error?

The next paper session focused on the emerging field of “E-sports” and some of the social problems inherent in that industry. Those of us with young (or maybe not-so-young) gamers in our households are probably aware of the e-sports phenomenon. Professional e-sports are high-stakes video game competitions featuring well-paid players; these events have generated large-scale tournaments worth millions of dollars. Top-shelf, professional gaming equipment now costs well into the tens of thousands of dollars. Players who rise to the top of the field often depend heavily on the money they make playing video games competitively, but the industry is so rife with toxicity (sexism, transphobia, and misogyny) that it has become an incredibly difficult field for women to enter given the constant threat of harassment and verbal abuse. I appreciated the panelists’ efforts to bring needed transparency to the lived experiences of women in gaming spaces, where the field lacks anything approaching failsafe ways to constrain sexism and toxic masculinity.

The Information for Social Good symposium ended at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center with the annual Kilgour Lecture and reception. Dr. Meredith Clark, University of Virginia Department of Media Studies Assistant Professor and co-PI on Documenting the Now, shared results from her research that illustrate how Twitter enables black women to create networks of authentic friendship and political engagement. At present, she noted, only 13% of journalists are people of color. Media (even social media channels) continue to overreport crimes committed by people of color and underreport those committed by white criminals. Twitter has become a space in which digital counter-narratives are created, shared, and fostered. In her talk, Clark drew from her research examining Twitter from both a personal and a journalistic perspective. She argued that an approach to critical media studies must embrace the notion of vulnerability. Black women exist, she noted, at every point of social vulnerability, including women with disabilities; trans, lesbian, and bi women; and those living in poverty, and social media spaces provide critical spaces for networked activism.

All in all, both events explored the need for the information fields to generate practices that can contribute to entrenched information problems. Key differences in both the structure and contents of each symposium led to two widely divergent experiences; whereas the UNCG event explored a wide range of conceptual and technical issues connected to digital libraries and publishing, Social Good provided space for an energized and diverse gathering of researchers, all of whom are passionate about putting information research to use for social justice. Both experiences provided substantial fuel for thought for future workshop planning here at ZSR. I appreciate the opportunity to think about the components that feel most valuable and nourishing in these types of events.