Changes in the weather, conspicuous coffee consumption, two or three return trips to Staples–the advent of a new semester can mean many things. The Great Leveler in academia, of course, is scheduling. We must be many places at many times, and we forever must coordinate ourselves against the variables (and the universe, in general, that conspires against us).

Illustrations to Milton's Comus by William BlakeFor even small research groups, setting up a mutually advantageous meeting time/place can often look like something out of a Beckett play. Our fearless Project Coordinator at UR, Laura Whitebell, is tasked with calculating availabilities and securing locations. With the precision and persistence rivaling a NASA launch, Laura figured out a scheme of rotating times and locations for fall 2014 that lets everyone in the group attend at least one meeting every-other week, with most group members able to attend every week. She does this every semester.

Curious to this particular instance of a time-honored tradition is the digital nature of our work. An outsider might peek in and say, “Couldn’t you just coordinate all that stuff through email, cloud drives, etc.?” Well, yes, we definitely could. And a lot of coordination between supporting institutions (like UNC-Chapel Hill) happens that way–see especially Morris Eaves’s commentary about blake-proj).

So why do we insist on getting together? I’ve come to realize that in our insistence for weekly nerd hangouts carries implicit commentary on the nature of collaborative digital research in general. Here’s a running list of what I think those comments might be:

  • Transparency among individual projects and group members is important.
  • We can learn more and expand our skill set through the experience of others; specialization is death.
  • Working in a group is more than dividing responsibilities–it also involves communicating and making decisions together.
  • Talking [well] about our work is just as important as doing our work.
  • Flattened group hierarchy is important for discussion and decisions; everyone at the table has a say, and their input is valuable.
  • Group morale is a significant factor for work quality and engagement; we have fun at our meetings! (Exception: proofreading questions.)

Coordination via email and solo “grunt work” are still major factors for Archive work. But when we prioritize other aspects of the process, in-person meetings become an invaluable characteristic of what eventually appears online. We do it because it’s important and well worth the hassle. I’m curious about how other digital research groups handle meetings and collaboration. I suppose the point is that it says more than we might think.

So our first BAND meeting of the fall is tomorrow at 9am. Who’s bringing bagels?