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FSCI: Uniquely hands-on work beyond academic silos

I loved FSCI because it is the one Institute I know that brings everyone together to learn

One morning, I learned to pull ORCID data for my university into R through an API and clean the citation data. Then I discussed data sharing motivations with science and humanities faculty and librarians at lunch, and we ended up chatting about the U.S. versus E.U. approaches to data sharing. In the afternoon, I learned about Sleuthkit Autopsy for digital forensics, and worked with Python code to look at how digital forensics could help study and improve team science data practices. That evening, I talked with people setting up a shared repository in Africa for research dissemination, and learned about how African researchers are using open science to change the colonial hierarchy of publishing. Then I brainstormed with folks about how to create Data Carpentry style OERs for digital humanities, and finally sat down to discuss the new NIH strategic plan for data science.

That was just one day at the FORCE11 Scholarly Communications Institute in 2019, or FSCI 2019. This was actually my second FSCI. At my previous FSCI, I guided plans for aligning open science initiatives on campuses with the research administration infrastructure, learned new tools for visualizing data, worked with imaging humanities test corpuses, and  hands-on with Markdown to create research papers that truly embed and contextualize data and code while also being able to create traditional-style PDFs.

There are many things I love about FSCI, and I say that as an experienced conference-goer in library and research development. Yes, the community is collegial and I love it for that, but I have many professional organizations I engage with for the community. And yes, FSCI is organized by FORCE11, famous for originating the FAIR approach to data sharing. FORCE11 is certainly a top organization in open research. But this isn’t about FORCE11; it’s about FSCI.

Because FSCI isn’t a conference. It’s an Institute. It has an annual format, a steady sponsor, and a set location. But it’s a learning experience foremost. So I want to bring my favorite parts of my FSCI experiences out for readers to think about.

First of all, FSCI is uniquely hands-on. There are applied technology sessions, hands-on strategic planning sessions, and group activity refining existing scholarly communication practices. When I led a session before, the organizers worked with me on this part. How will you make it engaging and interactive? What are your activities, and what products will attendees be taking away? What planning or application skills will your attendees be building, and how? The Institute part of FSCI takes the spotlight.

As a corollary to the first, the FSCI experience is different each year. I could go for a decade and not exhaust the learning opportunities, because there’s a core curriculum for beginners that evolves each year as scholarly fields advance, plus rotating workshops about new and trending issues. I don’t know anywhere else that I can get practical work with experts on so many topics in improving the scholarly process for the future.

Secondly, FSCI is uniquely interdisciplinary. It has some representatives interested in the social sciences and social professions, but FSCI really shines in pulling together a broad range of the sciences alongside humanities. I talked to earth scientists, medical researchers, historians, semanticists, bioinformaticists, semioticians, proteomics informaticists… so many disciplines! Plus data scientists, digital infrastructure developers, publishers, assistant deans of research, and (of course) librarians.

Which is my third point: FSCI cuts across functional silos as well as disciplinary ones. Librarians and digital humanities technologists and data scientists work together alongside research faculty at FSCI. At many conferences, the issue of how to get support to faculty (or the researchers’ issues of how to find needed supports) are a constant concern. For example, making an interoperable taxonomy for scans of archeological objects or neuroimaging files depends on input from the producers and users of those scans, so data scientists and open data advocates spend a lot of time thinking about how to develop those kinds of systems in a way that responds to researcher needs. That puts the AI in FAIR (accessible and interoperable), and underlies the whole FAIR approach to open science. So we talk about outreach a lot at both library and research development conferences. But because FSCI is so cross-cutting, that feeling of cooperation across functions and disciplines is always there. So the workshops, do-a-thon, and even casual discussions are that much more valuable because they bring everyone to the table. Which brings me to…

Fourthly, FSCI has a wider range of perspectives “at the table” than any other conference I attend. FSCI is global, and focuses on gathering perspectives from many geographies and resource-levels. I heard plenty of discussions on how to get scholarly findings to rural areas, how to partner authentically with participant communities, and how to use scholarly communications to bring underrepresented groups more effectively into research. I felt like I wasn’t just learning out-of-the-box approaches, but like I was seeing the box as the illusion it is. My coding and planning was so much better for it.

So I’ll definitely be going back. I hope that I’ll be able to lead a session, but even if that doesn’t I’m going back. The FORCE11 Institute has become critical to me for keeping my skills and perspectives updated. It was a lot of intense learning, but being part of this incredible learning community is worth the work.


Nina Exner, Ph.D., M.L.S.

Research data librarian

Virginia Commonwealth University


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