'TB Research Perspectives' with Value Added

History in the New Media Carl Glenn
G57.1023-001 Mar. 5, 2009
Prof. C. Hajo

Draft essay on introductions, ancillary data, annotations, links within the site, search tools

“TB Research Perspectives” with Value Added Materials

The single resource that appears at this point the most difficult to capture is the time of the subject matter experts. Taking this as a simple fact of life I am considering a number of methods for making their direct input for the construction of the site either less important or—if possible—unnecessary.

One way to do this is to allow the site to make the contents more useful without needing as much explanation. This may be achieved by three techniques: making the text searchable by converting it to digital text; parsing the metadata for each article into tables in a relational database to be subject to manipulation by queries; and by presenting the papers in the context of a timeline presenting other perspectives on the material. The first of these techniques is to make contents fully searchable. Since few of the documents, if any, were born in digital format they would need to be digitized as text. Rekeying the documents seems to be the best option as the quality of the scanned facsimile copies we have in PDF format is generally poor and the number of technical terms not likely to be found in dictionaries high, optical character recognition might require more effort and as many errors as retyping from scratch. As the number of “classical” papers is relatively small this may be possible with the assistance of a summer intern. The second technique requires that non-technical metadata be entered into tables in a relational database. This would include such information as the name of the researcher(s) on a paper, the year it was published, into which of several thematic categories does the research fall, the country in which the research was performed, the institution with which the research was affiliated, etc. With this metadata, queries might be constructed on the fly by site visitors such as “how many of the classical research papers were published in England between the World Wars?” Or “which of the papers published during the 1930s deals with the question of latency?” The value of this technique might be further expanded by capturing the citations in the papers and tracing the web of research development. Finally, the third technique involves creating a timeline device on the website. This would enable a researcher to make a connection between contemporary but seemingly unrelated events. The timeline would show parallel developments in research, public policy, social conditions, and the shifting demographics of the patient population. Thus, a rich source of contextualization and metadata could be added by contributors knowing nothing about infectious diseases and immunology.

It is in the nature of a website to alter the qualities of content due to the nature of the presentation. For example, a research article printed in a peer-reviewed journal has different affordances to the same article presented in the context of a website collecting a group of similar articles. When these articles have texts that are fully searchable, and further may be sorted or queried according to a variety of user-invented criteria, the individual article now becomes part of body of research and can be understood differently.

The metadata I am contemplating for enhancing the original documents on the TB Research Perspectives site must conform to these different affordances of web presentation.

The design of the site and the introductory and contextualizing metadata will be dictated primarily by the documents, the audience and the site functionality. Although it seemed at first that the historical research documents would dictate all the other qualities of the site this turns out not to be the case. We start with 40 classic research papers published over the span of approximately 90 years. Although the original intended audience was researchers, the audience size as well as the value of the site may be increased by broadening the scope of the appeal to visitors from a number of distinct constituencies. These may include patients, clinicians and policy analysts (and even a general audience). By expanding the interests embraced by the site several things are achieved. First, the site assumes the profile of a community of interest. This means that varying aspects of the site begin to enhance one another so that, for example, the experiences of the clinician enrich the view of the researchers and the researcher’s projections keep the clinician abreast of the latest thinking in the field. The input from patients or writers discussing the experience of patients adds to the human and narrative dimensions of both the clinician and the researcher. The policy analyst benefits from all three of these perspectives. Thus, the proposed title for the site hopes to capture this multifaceted approach to a greater understanding of the disease.

In turn, this broadened approach demands a broader view of the content components. We may open a search for historical materials discussing tuberculosis from the point of view of patients and their care givers, whether physicians, nurses or other personnel staffing the TB sanitaria of the research period. Case histories may add a dimension of quantitative as well as qualitative research to the site. This of course is purely speculative at this point, but creating an archive of such patient oriented studies couldn’t help but add a useful dimension to researchers studying different aspects of the disease.

An additional source of metadata may be able to produce itself in the form of contributions to the site on the part of site visitors. This would take the form of a section devoted to annotations from researchers visiting the site. This remains to be fully thought out and presented in a format that may be feasible. However, If we could add this functionality to that mentioned above, we might be able to construct a site requiring the minimum of metadata on the part of local project experts.

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