Since its inception in 2014, the aim of the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities (PPEH) has been to create “a more permanent place for environmental dialogue across disciplines.” Amid growing fears of federal climate change data erasure, PPEH’s manifesto has never been more relevant.
To help mediate any tampering with data repositories, PPEH hosted volunteer archivists, librarians, hackers, and concerned citizens for a DataRescue event, one in a series of creative coding workshops across the country. These workshops are a collaboration between the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative and the DataRefuge project, which itself brought together PPEH and Penn Libraries.
The event, a code-a-thon, teach-in, and discussion session about preserving environmental data sets, took place in the Kislak Center on the 6th floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center on Friday and Saturday, January 13th-14th. A second, shorter DataRescue Philly 2 event was held on Wednesday, January 25 to continue the work of the first – again, hosted in Van Pelt.
DataRescue Philly was not centered in the library purely for reasons of space. Librarians and archivists put data at the center of the information science field. Librarians and archivists are quite literally in the business of preserving and organizing data. The library, in its essential role as storehouse for knowledge and information, is the perfect backdrop for the work of emergency data curation.
While coders and hackers were brought in to do the essential technical work of Bagging and Tool Building, librarians were integral to making the data accessible. They served chiefly as Describers, adding metadata to the captured datasets. All participants were also able to function as Storytellers and Long Trail members or do the work of Seeding and Sorting.
As new threats to data sets emerge, more DataRescue events pop up nationwide and work
continues throughout the library as well. Departments like Teaching, Research, and Learning (TRL) Services, which includes the Weigle Information Commons, are actively involved in efforts to plan and organize future events. TRL’s own Laurie Allen Assistant Director for Digital Scholarship at Penn Libraries, for example, is one of the co-organizers of Penn’s DataRescue events.
Scholarly Communications and Data Curation Librarian as well DataRefuge team member, Margaret Janz, is now working with other library staff and WIC interns to further spread awareness and involvement in data preservation efforts. Advising future librarians to be sensitive and responsive to data threats reflects the current core values of librarianship and reveals how library professionals would like to shape the field for the future. Librarians recognize that data needs to be secure and are leaders in taking active steps now to ensure it is protected indefinitely.