Associate University Librarian for IT and Digital Scholarship
University of Chicago
Converting analog data into digital form for use by scientists raises many questions. How good is good enough? Are library practices developed for cultural heritage projects sufficient for scientific inquiry? Can off-the-shelf equipment provide necessary precision? And most importantly, can questions like these provide a learning opportunity for students? The University of Chicago Library has partnered with faculty and students in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics to run a pilot study to determine how to scan a large collection of glass plate slides of astronomical images in a way that will facilitate meaningful scientific inquiry. This data rescue project has been an opportunity to question our own practices and to engage undergraduate students in a new kind of learning. In this project, we are exploring the feasibility of using off-the-shelf equipment instead of the specialized, custom-built approach being used by several other significant astronomical data rescue projects. The students are helping to do the necessary mathematical and scientific analysis of our test images as well as pursuing their own research agendas, and we, in turn, are teaching them about good data management. The collaboration has also been an opportunity to learn how scientific data rescue projects may require different assumptions from cultural heritage projects, as well as to explore methods for collaborating with researchers to make hard decisions about what to prioritize in the face of abbreviated timelines and modest budgets. This session will include a discussion of how we have approached this project as a teaching and collaboration opportunity, what we have learned so far in our research, the next steps, and how this can serve as a model for approaching other data rescue projects.