Christina Harlow Metadata Lackey


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Ada Lovelace, Math And Dpla

Yesterday, Patrick Murray-John had a great suggestion on Twitter: a DPLA event celebrating Ada Lovelace day:

In case you don’t know much about Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician in the early 19th century and the namesake of the awesome Ada Initiative, or perhaps you don’t know about the Ada Lovelace Day, check out this site: http://findingada.com/.

I think a DPLA event for Ada Lovelace day is a fantastic idea, and I put forward the thought that we have a DPLA Ada Lovelace Event that occurs in different cities and communities on that same day, October 13. Each event would introduce people to the Ada Lovelace as well as the DPLA collections and API, then support making apps, syllabi, exhibitions, or other creations focused on highlighting women in mathematics, science, and technology - like Ada herself. These events could communicate virtually to share ideas and excitement, either through Twitter (the proposed hashtag currently is #dplada, but that could change), via a website for the day (http://www.dpladalovelace.us, set up by Patrick MJ), and through community report-backs via the DPLA blog or other such site.

A group of interested folks are now looking into making a possible DPLA Ada Lovelace Event ‘template’, with guidelines and such for all DPLA community representatives or perhaps just folks interested in seeing this happen in their community. The http://www.dpladalovelace.us site would also give more information about this template, the Ada Lovelace Day, the DPLA, and contacts for the various events folks are trying to pull together across the map. Anyone and everyone is welcome to contribute to the existing DPLA Ada Lovelace Event template here. If you are interested in trying to organize such an event, that is the place to mention it currently (until we get a bit further with the planning stages).

This part of the post just goes into my own views on the importance bringing people like Ada Lovelace to the forefront. Feel free to skip, as most of the DPLA Ada Lovelace Day info so far is up top.

One of the reasons I find this event so important, besides that the DPLA and surrounding library tech communities just do amazing work, is my own tension with my own Mathematics academic background. The surge in interest and visibility of important historical figures like Ada Lovelace brings into light the struggles women and minorities had and continue to have in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), as well as our battles with imposter syndrome and lack of support/allies.

This half of a blogpost is not about that topic broadly, which is well-covered by others who are better placed to discuss it, but my own disappointment in myself that I didn’t make more of my own Mathematics background and trying to understand what happened. Upon starting college the first time around, I really focused on the sciences. Engineering, Physics, Meteorology, Computer Science - I considered, even started, majors in them all. But beyond my own inability to settle on one topic, the communities in these academic departments supporting women was lacking at best - despite being at the small, liberal arts college I ended up at. I don’t have the horror stories I’ve heard from other women studying in STEM fields, but I didn’t feel like I should stay in these fields either. Having to continually explain that an engineering study group meeting was not a ‘date’ was wearing. When I had a new solution for a computer science problem, the ‘techie guys’ on my dorm floor showed so much astonishment that I created it, it became embarrassing. When I got a 98 on a Physics exam, my professor was convinced I cheated, then when disproven, thought perhaps his tests were then too easy (despite the fact that I got grief for breaking the curve in that class for everyone else). There are other such stories - we all have them, and it just is a testement to how continued, ‘soft rejections’ can seem benign when isolated, but together become a destructive force.

However, I ended up in the Mathematics department, which was was welcoming. There was more than 1 token women professor, as well (although the gender balance in terms of who was tenured versus adjunct was what you’d expect, sadly, and the inclusion of minorities entirely lacking). Most of the female students, though by no means all, in the department were studying to be Math teachers in secondary schools - this was a very popular track for people from the area, and served a great purpose. But I never got into that. When it came time for graduation, however, I had a lot of personal turmoil (hey, college, don’t we all have that) and moved to NYC. I considered pursuing Mathematics at the graduate level, but it just didn’t manifest, despite being accepted to a few programs. I had massive amounts of what I know now to be imposter syndrome, among other things to deal with. I instead ended up teaching middle school Mathematics in Washington Heights (and turned out to be an absolutely horrible middle school teacher, but hey you don’t know until you try). How I got this position remains a bit of a mystery to me looking back, since I had done absolutely no education courses, nor any sort of tutoring work. But a women in mathematics, I mean, of course you’re going to be a math teacher…? (This was the view of my family, friends and random strangers on the street) Who knows what effect hearing that so often had. There was a lot more involved in this outcome for me than societal pressures, I freely admit, but I wonder how big something that seemed/seems so trivial could be.

Regardless, I went through a lot of careers, jobs, etc. in NYC. I’m glad I moved there, despite my hard introduction via Dominican culture, the NYC Public Schools System and Mathematics education. But looking at where I am now, and getting excited about events like this Ada Lovelace Day, and the growing support for women and minorities in STEM, I can’t help but feel disappointment in myself for how little I did with what was, at one time, a great love and amount of time invested in learning Mathematics - in particular, abstract algebra and topology. Like what happens when you stop speaking a language daily, it fades away. Eventually, the assumption became, whether to do with my gender or because I accidentally fell into a career in libraries or both or neither, is that I’ve (only) got a humanities background. Generally folks with that assumption mean well, and its unintentional/unknown on their part, but for me, it hits a nerve every time (that I used to be able to hide pretty well, but have just given up trying to hide as of late). Add weird community ideas on cataloging/metadata work and gender to this mix, and it gets even more complicated. Trying to turn this minefield into a village is rough but needed worked.

Yet, the library tech community has generally been a stellar space for me to work out these issues and responses, because of the growth and support within it for projects like the Ada Initiative and now the DPLA Ada Lovelace Day possible event(s). So I’m excited to see this happen, if only for my own personal work. But I also realize these events cannot happen without us getting involved, imposter syndrome (or something I have with stepping in to help organize events, “I’m being too bossy” syndrome, which I’d argue is a subclass of imposter syndrome) or no. So, hey, you, get involved in helping make this happen. Because we all have stuff to work through, and working together on events like this can help.

Again, this is where the organizing for the DPLA Ada Lovelace is currently happening, and I hope to see you involved: here All are welcomed to contribute and collaborate.

And, to hell with societal pressures, I’m planning to get my next degree in Computer Science, if only as a belated thank you to that Computer Science professor I had in college who told me, ‘you should consider a compsci degree, I’d be happy to support you in this department’. I only realized much later what she was trying to say.