Texas iSchool Assistant Professor Amelia Acker Receives Research Travel Award

Sandlin, Anu  |  Apr 29, 2019

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Assistant Professor Amelia Acker
Faculty News
Amelia Acker
travel award
Software Preservation Network
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In February, Assistant Professor Amelia Acker was awarded a research travel award as part of an initiative coordinated by the Software Preservation Network (SPN) to foster practice-based community around software preservation.The project titled, “Fostering a Community of Practice: Software Preservation and Emulation Experts in Libraries and Archives (FCoP),” involves establishing a community of practice in software preservation and emulation within libraries, archives and museums.

Supported by the Institute for Library and Museum Services [IMLS grant RE-95-17-0058-17], research using the FCoP Travel Award is expected to complement the efforts of the FCoP project and SPN more broadly, which seeks to bring software preservation into mainstream digital preservation practice (addressing specific legal, metadata and technical preservation and access challenges).

In selecting a candidate for the FCoP Research Travel Award, the FCoP team looked for proposed research that advances understanding of practice through the lens of one or more categories: Standards Development and Sociology of Standards; Information Infrastructure; Capacity Building and Economic Sustainability of Public Institutions; Cross-institutional and Cross-sector Alignment (Collective Impact); Information and Technology Policy; Legal Advocacy for Cultural Institutions; and Social Impact of Public/Private Partnerships.

Based on the goals of the FCoP project, SPN announced that Acker would receive the $5,000 travel award. “We are thrilled for Dr. Acker to join the FCoP Project team and we look forward to sharing more about the process and outcomes of her work with the FCoP project cohort!” they said.

We are thrilled for Dr. Acker to join the FCoP Project team, and we look forward to sharing more about the process and outcomes of her work with the FCoP project cohort!

The goal of the Research Travel Award is to fund travel to observe and document different organizational approaches to software preservation and emulation. The award will allow Acker to visit a number of current sites at libraries, archives, and museums to observe software preservation workflows, metadata development, and digital stewardship teams. 

“I am excited to be joining the FCoP project team as the recipient of the research travel award!” said Acker. “As part of this generous support from IMLS and the Software Preservation Network, I’ll be able to continue my research on the complex, changing, and contested roles of digital preservation in society.” 

Acker expects to start working on this project over the summer. Over the next two years, Acker will visit current FCoP project sites to observe how software preservation practices are applied in different stewardship contexts and cultural heritage organizations. “Georgia Tech’s retroTech Lab, University of Virginia Libraries, Guggenheim Museum, and the Living Computers Museum + Labs are a few of the places where I will do fieldwork,” she said. Acker plans to interview team members and research how administration and technical workflows, preservation standards, and metadata documentation are developed and deployed across different work sites.

“We know that cultural heritage organizations are currently engaged in a variety of new and emerging software preservation services—from metadata workflows to emulation as a service. But what we don’t know is how the unique environs of a cultural heritage organization and the people that make up these teams impact the theories, workflows, and applications of software preservation and emulation in different ways” said Acker. “What can libraries, archives, museums, LIS researchers and educators learn from these different workplace contexts? How do values, ethos, and unique community traits manifest in different places and shape software preservation practices? I can’t wait to find out!” 

The Social Preservation Network shares Acker’s fervor when it comes to answering these questions. “We look forward to the outcomes of Dr. Acker’s research,” they said.

To follow Acker’s work, or to read more about the research she will be conducting as a part of her FCoP Travel Award, visit the FCoP Research Field Reports page or her website.

Texas iSchool to research White House social media archives

Ferguson, John  |  Jan 04, 2017

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White House social media
Amelia Acker
Social Media
White House
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Amelia Acker
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Assistant Professor Amelia Acker

The White House announced on Jan. 5 that Texas iSchool Assistant Professor Amelia Acker will conduct a pair of research and teaching projects using President Barack Obama’s complete social media archives.
President Obama has been described as the “first social media president.” During his eight years in office, the White House issued hundreds of thousands of tweets, snaps and other posts, charting the evolution of social media. They also reflected broader changes in the ways people consume news and information and engage with the world around them online.
When the Obama administration sought to develop interesting and innovative ways to preserve the content and data, making it useful and available for years to come, Acker responded to the call to action. She will use the social media archives to conduct research that measures the Obama administration’s early social media adoption and civic engagement across platforms. She will also use the content and data to teach access standards and metadata applications at the Texas iSchool.
“Given President Obama’s adoption of new social media platforms and President-elect Trump’s extensive use of Twitter in particular, I think we have an important role to play in identifying ethics, priorities and problems with collections of social media data,” Dr. Acker said. “I’m excited for the role the Texas iSchool will play in locating and shaping the issues animating the future of training information professionals concerned with long-term digital collections, organizational transition, metadata transformation and the future of data culture.”
Dr. Acker is planning to use the social media data this semester to teach a master’s level course on metadata applications in support of digital preservation, data curation and archival access to digital collections such as these presidential and public records. Each of the 15 students who take her course will conduct a final project that finds a novel use for the social media data. The projects will be made available online in May.
For her research project, Dr. Acker will collaborate with Dr. Adam Kreisberg, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Maryland iSchool.
For more information, contact Wes Ferguson, School of Information, 512-471-2608.

Two new faculty members join iSchool

Ferguson, John  |  Aug 29, 2016

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Danna Gurari and Amelia Acker
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New iSchool Assistant Professors Danna Gurari and Amelia Acker
Amelia Acker
Danna Gurari
Andrew Dillon
digital records
image analysis
machine learning

The School of Information has hired two new faculty members whose research is already shaping the interdisciplinary field of information studies.


Assistant Professor Amelia Acker researches the data that people create when they use mobile phones to send text messages, update their Facebook status, or leverage wireless networks in myriad other ways, such as automatically generating GPS coordinates.


“Amelia is emerging as one of the brightest young scholars in digital records and data traces, helping us better understand the transmission of information through time and media,” iSchool Dean and Professor Andrew Dillon said. “She will significantly advance our traditional strengths in archives and records management while enabling new teaching and research opportunities at the intersection of people and technology.”


Assistant Professor Danna Gurari's research interests span computer vision, crowdsourcing, applied machine learning and biomedical image analysis.


“Extracting information from images is an increasingly important challenge in our digital world, and Danna brings a unique mix of computational and crowdsourcing approaches to this problem,” Dillon said. “Her research is already recognized in the biomedical field for its importance, and she will complement our strengths in information discovery and retrieval.”


Gurari’s research has been recognized by the 2015 Researcher Excellence Award from the Boston University computer science department, among other accolades. Prior to joining the iSchool, she was a postdoctoral fellow in UT Austin’s computer science department. Gurari also worked five years in industry, developing software for satellite systems and building custom, high performance, multi-camera image analysis systems for military, industrial and academic applications.


“As an interdisciplinary researcher, I am delighted to join such a richly diverse and intelligent group of professors at the Information School,” she said. “I am excited to join the faculty and work with students on designing systems that accelerate the extraction of information from images and videos.”


Gurari will begin teaching in the Spring 2017 semester.


Acker, who began teaching in Fall 2016, said people’s constant connection to wireless networks is creating vast amounts of data that is transforming culture while raising questions about important issues from government surveillance to the way we read and write on screens. The recipient of a grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, Acker’s current research also addresses data literacy and digital preservation to support long-term cultural memory, as well as the environmental impact of preserving huge quantities of data.


“There’s a future where all of us will be creating data and metadata, whether we’re intentionally thinking about it or not, just by virtue of carrying a phone,” said Acker, whose award-winning dissertation was a history of the text message as a seminal development in modern, networked culture. “Every time there’s a big jump in technology that allows us to create new information, whether cuneiform tablets or Xerox machines, there’s a huge new change in the ways we remember and understand ourselves as a society. That’s what I’m really interested in right now.”


Acker joins the School of Information from the University of Pittsburgh’s iSchool, where she was lead faculty of the archives program. From 2006-2014 she worked as an archivist, librarian and preservation consultant for libraries and archives in Southern California.


At UT Austin, the iSchool’s commitment to publishing and authorship and its broad curriculum were among factors that drew Acker to Texas, she said, as well as the strength of the school’s archives and conservation programs.


“Historically, the imperative to preserve is something that libraries and museums have been in control of,” Acker said. “As we move toward platforms like Dropbox, Gmail and Instagram, places where we’re constantly creating cultural memory together, how do we think of these new kinds of social media platforms as archives, and how do we make the case or lobby or describe them as such?”


Despite the fact that we are creating more information and more data than ever before, people are also engaging with platforms and products that don’t have long-term storage provisions, Acker said. “There are all sorts of weird things we haven’t really grappled with yet,” she said. “It’s a very exciting time.”

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