NSF Grant for New STEM-focused Commons

The Commons team is delighted to have been awarded one of the inaugural FAIROS RCN grants from the NSF, in order to establish DBER+ Commons. That’s a big pile of acronyms, so here’s a breakdown: the NSF is of course the National Science Foundation, one of the most important federal funding bodies in the United States, and a new funder for us. The FAIROS RCN grant program was launched this year by the NSF in order to invest in Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable Open Science (FAIROS) by supporting the formation and development of Research Coordination Networks (RCN) dedicated to those principles.

We have teamed up with a group of amazing folks at Michigan State University who are working across science, technology, engineering, math, and more traditional NSF fields, all of whom are focused on discipline-based education research (DBER) as well as other engaged education research methodologies (the +). Our goal for this project is to bring them together with their national and international collaborators in STEM education to create DBER+ Commons, which will use — and crucially, expand — the affordances of the HCommons network and promote FAIR and CARE (Collective Benefit, Authority to control, Responsibility, Ethics) practices, principles, and guidelines in undergraduate, postbaccalaureate, graduate, and postdoctoral science education research activities.

We are thrilled about the collaboration this grant will allow us to develop, as well as the network advancements it will allow us to build. We’ll share more as the work progresses!

On Prior Publication

Last week, we received two takedown notices for items deposited to CORE. They arrived at nearly the same time, and so we found ourselves thinking about them in connected ways, though their cases are very, very different.

The first came through AWS Abuse, who passed on a report to us that we were distributing copyright infringing content. Under DMCA Safe Harbor provisions, we are required to take down such potentially infringing material immediately, and can only afterward follow up with an investigation to determine whether it’s actually infringing or whether it should be restored. Agreeing to follow this process is important to the network’s survival, as it’s only through such adherence that we can prevent the Commons from being sued for instances of copyright infringement of which we’re unaware.

In this case, we took the item down. Looking at the document revealed that it was a scan of copyrighted material, so the complainant may have a case. We have, however, inquired with the depositor in case there are complicating circumstances that we should know about.

The second request came to us from a user, who asked us to remove one of their deposits. Generally speaking, we resist removing deposits unless there are very good reasons, given our concern for the continuity of the scholarly record. In this case, it turned out that the deposit was a conference paper that the depositor later submitted for publication by a journal. The journal was now demanding that the deposit be removed, as they have a policy against accepting material that has been published elsewhere.

We reached out to the journal to ask about this policy, noting that even the venerable PMLA would not consider a conference paper deposited in a repository to be a violation of its prior-publication rule.

The response we received was — well, let’s say it — rude. The managing editor ultimately made it clear that if we did not remove the deposit, the journal would rescind its offer of publication to the author.

We are not in the business of harming the careers of our users, and so we have removed the deposit, if reluctantly. But we want to use this incident to open a conversation about the differences between conference papers and published articles, as well as between preprints and publications. We believe that authors have the right to share and seek feedback on the early stages of work prior to submitting that work to publishers, and that the existence of such pre-prints online does not constitute prior publication. And we urge our users to seek venues for publication that do not limit their rights over the ways they share their own work.

What issues have you run into in the relationship between sharing work online and publishing it in more formal venues? How would you encourage us to respond to situations like this? And how might we work together to create a more open, less extractive, and completely non-punitive scholarly communication ecosystem?

CORE is transitioning to FAST metadata subject headings

Humanities CORE launched as a full-featured beta in May 2015 on MLA Commons. In 2016 it was released to the wider community with the launch of Humanities Commons. A white paper detailing the original project can be found in CORE if you’d like to know more about the history. In the six years since its launch we’ve made improvements to the interface and moved the server to a new home at Michigan State University. We’re now making a major improvement to the metadata associated with CORE deposits.

Subject categorization is a big part of findability. The original list of CORE subjects were derived from the MLA Bibliography subject headings, and focused entirely on the humanities. As the platform has grown and more scholars are doing interdisciplinary work collaborating with STEM and social science partners, we’re implementing FAST metadata subject headings:

FAST (Faceted Application of Subject Terminology) is derived from the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), one of the library domain’s most widely used subject terminology schemas. The development of FAST has been a collaboration of OCLC Research and the Library of Congress.

FAST is the standard for many repositories, including those hosted by libraries and museums. It provides eight facets: chronological, corporate names, events, form/genre, geographic names, personal names, titles, and topics. These facets have millions of possible combinations but function a bit differently than our legacy subjects. Here’s a few examples:

  • “Medieval Spanish History” becomes “Spain” [geographic], “History” [topical], and “Middle Ages” [topical]
  • “18th-century English literature” becomes “English Literature” [topical] and “Eighteenth Century [topical]
  • “Compositional improvisation” becomes “Improvisation (Music)” [topical] and “Composition (Music)” [topical]
  • “Shakespeare” becomes “Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616” [personal]

[Note: While you will see the facet (topical, personal, etc.) when choosing subjects, once deposited only the subject itself will be displayed.] You can try searching for subjects and keywords using the SearchFAST website. More information about FAST can be found on the OCLC website.

What does this mean to the community?

When you deposit to CORE you’ll search for subject headings using the FAST facets. We’ve included all eight facets except chronological. This might seem tricky at first, but there are millions of combinations across all disciplines to choose from. Just start typing, and the page will begin to show you the subject headings available. Pick the ones that best fit what your deposit is about, and if there are more specific terms you’d like that are not part of FAST, put those in the tags field. You can pick up to ten subjects and ten tags for each deposit.

If you’ve already made a deposit, your subjects will be converted. We’ve gone through three rounds of review and cataloging with our Michigan State University Library metadata librarians, and had a final team review. As shown in the examples above, the specific terms may be slightly different from the original deposit, but should combine to convey the same concept. Some subject headings do not have good equivalents in FAST, and there are some terms that are so new they are not yet present. All of these subjects will move to tags. Examples:

  • “Art History” becomes “Art” [topical] and “History” [topical]
  • “Digital pedagogy” becomes “Education–Computer-assisted instruction” [topical], but the original subject heading will move to a tag for searchability
  • “Narratology” does not map to FAST and will be moved to a tag

Post-conversion, if you do see a subject that you don’t feel quite fits your deposit, let us know. Users who have subjects moved to tags will receive an email listing those deposits.

The benefits of FAST

FAST subject headings are a standardized vocabulary based on the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). It is one of the most widely used subject vocabularies in the world and has been translated into multiple languages. When you deposit to CORE your deposits are not just preserved but the metadata is indexed by Google, Google Scholar, SHARE, Altmetric, and BASE-OA, which fuels open-access initiatives such as the OA Button and OA DOI. Using recognized subjects that are both human and machine-readable improves findability and allows for easier translation.

FAST subject headings are an ever-growing list, and as new headings are added, our search will include them. As the Commons continues to grow, using FAST allows us to accept deposits across disciplines and facilitates interdisciplinary collaboration. Our goal is for CORE to provide a home for all scholars as they develop new projects, new fields, and new forms of knowledge.

New and Updated Support and Sustaining Sites

We’ve made major updates to two of our own sites: Commons Support and Sustaining the Commons. Not only is there new content, but both sites were redesigned using the block-based theme Blockbase, and the full site editing tools in WordPress 5.9. While full site editing (FSE) is in beta it’s a powerful way to customize the look and feel of your website without needing use custom code. (Find more on FSE capabilities on our post WordPress 5.9 and Full Site Editing.)

Commons Support

We’ve updated and consolidated the Commons support pages. We’ve flattened the structure of the menus and added a contact form so that you can easily contact support. Guides and FAQs walk you through the most common tasks, the search allows you to easily find what you need, and we’ve minimized the number of clicks necessary to get there.

Full Site Editing

We’ve used the full site editing tools to create two different header looks, one a larger banner style on the home page, and another scaled down version for interior pages.

We’ve made use of reusable blocks to add back buttons to guide pages, and to reuse the Getting Started, Groups, and Sites link sets on the Guides page. On the individual FAQ pages, we’ve incorporated the back button into the page template, allowing us to easily add new content to the FAQ without having to add navigation by hand.

If you’re thinking of building a new site, the full site editing capabilities give you a lot more flexibility in creating a fully customized site. This new functionality allows users to have much more control over their website’s look and feel.

Sustaining the Commons

We originally built this site in order to inform the Commons community about our then-upcoming migration from the MLA to MSU, as well as to share a bit about the sustainability plan we were implementing.

The new Sustaining site is meant to be a home for anything you might want to know about Commons operations. You can find out more there about our governance model, our financial reports, our development and (soon!) community engagement plans, and more. Sustaining is a key means through which the Commons team is showing our work and maintaining our commitments to openness, transparency, equity, and values-enacted governance.

We’ve deployed new contact forms both in Sustaining and in Support; please use them to let us know if you have thoughts or questions. We’ll look forward to hearing from you.

WordPress 5.9 and Full Site Editing

The Commons is now on WordPress 5.9.2. This update brings Full Site Editing (FSE) to websites using block-based themes. For an overview of FSE and how it works check out the video below (the video was produced by WordPress.com, but the FSE component will be the same on the Commons):

Full Site Editing is currently in beta, but we’ve done some experimenting with it and wanted to roll this update out with a few themes for people to check out. You’ll see Twenty Twenty-Two and Blockbase in the themes directory. FSE will only work with these two new block-based themes. The new themes do not feature “live preview” and must be activated to use. FSE is very different from the current customization experience, but offers the opportunity to fully design a site from header to footer, including the use of different templates on different pages. We recommend watching the video above before trying them out.

WordPress 5.9 was released earlier this year. We’ve done extensive testing, but inevitably we won’t find everything. If you do experience issues or your website looks strange please let us know! WPBeginner.com has a good writeup of the features, and we recommend taking some time to review the article or the video embedded above before digging in.

As always you can reach us at hello[at]hcommons.org.

CORE Migration Winter 2022

The Humanities Commons CORE repository will be undergoing maintenance starting on Friday January 28, 2022, 9am EDT. We will be migrating content to a new server, and in order to ensure all content is transferred deposits will be suspended until that migration is complete. We will update everyone when depositing can resume.

During migration deposits will be available for searching and download. Links to your deposits will remain the same. 

If you have any questions, or encounter any issues with your deposits, please contact us at hello[at]hcommons.org.

We’ve added a new theme: Reykjavik

There’s a new theme for you to use for your websites on the Commons: Reykjavik. It’s an “accessibility-ready” and responsive theme that works well with the WordPress block editor.

For information on how to use themes on your website see our guide “Changing your Site’s Appearance with Themes.” If there are free themes you’re aware of that you think would be a good addition to our library, please send us an email to hello[at]hcommons.org.

Embedded Documents in websites on the Commons

The Commons has long supported two plugins that allow users to embed PDFs and other documents within their Commons-hosted websites: PDFjs Viewer and the Google Docs Embedder. Both of these plugins are now obsolete and are being retired. We have converted embedded documents to download links.

There are cases where embedding documents may be useful, but embedding them into websites can have unintended consequences for users. Issues include:

  • Documents may not be accessible [for example, “An accessible PDF works with assistive technology software and devices, like screen magnifiers, screen readers, speech-recognition software, text-to-speech software, alternative input devices and refreshable Braille displays.” (CommonLook)]:
    • Images, graphs, and tables may not have alt-text to support visually impaired readers
    • Text size is not resizable and does not reflow as the page size changes
    • Screen magnifiers may not work on an embedded PDFs]
  • Users on mobile devices or tablets may be unable to read content as the document gets smaller on smaller devices
  • Embedded documents can be used by bad actors to spread malware, including ransomware

More on the issues with documents on websites can be found at the following sites:

In the interests of accessibility, readability, and security we’ve chosen to remove support for embedding documents in websites. We realize that they can be useful for sharing information such as forms and fliers for download. If possible, we suggest converting your documents to HTML and including a download link to the original. For more information on updating sites that have embedded documents, feel free to email us at hello[at]hcommons.org and we can discuss strategies. 

Tiwari, Ashish. “Can Screen Readers Read Pdfs?” PDF Accessibility and Compliance, CommonLook, 18 Nov. 2020, https://commonlook.com/can-screen-readers-read-pdfs/.

Guest Post: Julian Chambliss, Nicole Huff, and Justin Wigard on Building Community: The Humanities Common and the Graphics Possibilities Website

Julian Chambliss, Professor of English, Michigan State University

Nicole Huff, Ph.D. Student, Michigan State University

Justin Wigard, Ph.D. Candidate, Michigan State University

The Department of English Graphic Possibilities Research Workshop (GPRW) began in 2019 with the goal of supporting critical inquiry linked to research and teaching comics. As the home to the world’s largest publicly accessible collection of comic books, Michigan State University (MSU) has long been recognized as a destination for researchers. Yet, the critical conversations taking place among faculty and students around comics at the MSU was less defined.  The GPRW offers the opportunity to facilitate conversations about comics that build on the established legacy of popular culture studies within our department while highlighting emerging conversations about comics studies supported by the workshop.

Building our website within Humanities Commons allows us to have a platform to share our ongoing activities, build relationships, and spotlight the visualizations and podcasts we produce during the academic year. Humanities Commons was our first choice and the opportunity offered by its academic community continues to inspire us to think about the ways we can engage with scholars around the world.  Like the Humanities Commons, we share a commitment to open educational resources and value the ways the Commons might support our ongoing development of pedagogical tools.

For example: Humanities Commons has afforded us the tools and infrastructure to build out, embed, and grow our digital data visualization efforts. When we initially ran our Wikidata event in Fall 2020, our website acted as an open-access portal for external users (within and outside the academy) to learn about and join our Wikidata movement. We were able to host multimodal tutorials, as well as registration links, all in a single space. As our one-off event has grown into a biannual initiative, so too has our Humanities Commons space. It now features complex data visualizations that utilize Wikidata — itself an open-access repository of linked data — as well as representations of data from the MSU Comics as Data: North America dataset via Flourish.

Using Humanities Commons, we are able to make our approaches and work within comics, wikidata, and pedagogy openly accessible. While this Wikidata initiative is just one example, Humanities Commons has allowed the Graphic Possibilities Research Workshop to grow each year through our open digital podcast; virtual pedagogy workshop series; and more.