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From Reading Rainbow to Punk Rock: A Report from WebWise 2012

[This is a guest post by Sharon Leon, director of Public Projects at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Find her on Twitter as @sleonchnm. -GHW]

When was the last time you met a StarTrek actor and a punk rocker at a professional conference? Last week the attendees of WebWise 2012, a conference sponsored by the Institute for Museum and Library Services for their grantees and other library, archives, and museum professionals, got to do just that. Launching with a preconference day of discussion in an unconference format, as well as workshop sessions on 21st Century Skills and using gaming in teaching and learning, the program covered a significant amount of ground in a short period of time

LeVar Burton kicked off the first full day of the main conference with a keynote address on the power of story and the promise of the digital. The actor and history enthusiast is in the process of relaunching his beloved public television show, Reading Rainbow, as a mobile app in hopes of sharing the love of story with a new generation of readers. Burton is a tough act to follow, but at the end of that first day attendees were treated to an hour of conversation with Fugazi front-man, Ian MacKaye. Creator of the Fuguzi Live Series, which contains recordings and images from over 800 of the band’s shows, MacKaye promotes a do-it-yourself spirit in archiving that punctuated the program’s focus on history and innovation. (You can watch a brief interview with MacKaye here.)

The conference, which centered on history with the theme of “Tradition and Innovation,” included many other highlights that will be of particular interest to ProfHacker readers. (See the key WebWise tweets Storified here.) Unlike most conferences, WebWise consists of two keynote addresses and a series of plenary panels. In addition to the innovative work showcased in the panel presentations, the demonstration sessions allowed more than twenty IMLS grantees to share their projects

The two days of presentations and discussion, focusing on mobile content delivery, crowdsourcing, datavisualization, oral history, and institutional collaboration, offered glimpses of a range of powerful tools:

  • Sound artist Halsey Burgund discussed his Scapes installation at the deCordova Museum’s grounds, where visitors can listen to his musical score, the voices of past visitors, and leave their own reactions for future visitors while they explore the space. The Roundware software that makes this experience possible is open source and available for download.
  • Ben Vershbow of the New York Public Library discussed NYPL Labs’s efforts to make the library a platform for development and innovation. He showcased a number of tools, including the Stereogranimator, MapWarper, and the What’s On the Menu? project, that take on the problem of what to do with collections after they have been digitized.
  • Trevor Owens, Digital Archivist at the Library of Congress, demonstrated ViewShare, the Library’s new powerful tool for creating data visualizations from spreadsheets, MODS records, and more, that can be embedded or shared. Members of the public are welcome to sign-up for accounts.
  • Doug Boyd of the University of Kentucky Libraries’s Nunn Center for Oral History offered a preview of the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer, which will be released as an open source plugin for common content management systems such as Omeka, ContentDM, Kora, and Drupal. The system will allow users to index oral histories and add a range of metadata at specific points, rendering the audio searchable prior to the completion of full transcriptions.

Finally, John Palfrey from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard gave an update on the Digital Public Library of America as the keynote address for the second day. While still in the early stages, the DPLA is looking for input from the community on its future development. Committed to breaking down information silos, Palfrey highlighted the DPLA initiative to collaborate with Europeana on a technical infrastructure that will promote sharing of resources.

Did you attend WebWise? What were the highlights for you?

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