refuge in Kelty, Bodo & Allen 2018

ng the waste.
But the data we lose now will not be so easy to reclaim.


Balazs Bodo

Own Nothing


What if
We Aren't
the Only

My goal in this paper is to tell the story
of a grass-roots project called Data
Refuge (
that I helped to co-found shortly after,
and in response to, the Trump election
in the USA. Trump’s reputation as
anti-science, and the promise that his
administration would elevate people into
positions of power with a track record
of distorting, hiding, or obscuring the
scientific evidence of climate change
caused widespread concern that
valuable federal data was now in danger.
The Data Refuge project grew from the
work of Professor Bethany Wiggin and
the graduate students within the Penn
Program in Environmental Humanities
(PPEH), notably Patricia Kim, and was
formed in collaboration with the Penn
Libraries, where I work. In this paper, I
will discuss the Data Refuge project, and
call attention to a few of the challenges
inherent in the effort, especially as
they overlap with the goals of this
collective. I am not a scholar. Instead,
I am a librarian, and my perspective as
a practicing informational professional

eful to understand the work we did as connected more broadly
to the intersection of activities—from multimodal, digital, humanities creation to
open access publishing across disciplines—represented in our department in Penn.
At the start of Data Refuge, Professor Wiggin and her students had already been
exploring the ways that data about the environment can empower communities
through their art, activism, and research, especially along the lower Schuylkill
River in Philadelphia. They were especiall

al commitments of the new administration would result in the disappearance
of environmental and climate data that is vital to work in cities and communities
around the world. When they raised this concern with the library, together we cofounded Data Refuge. It is notable to point out that, while the Penn Libraries is a
large and relatively well-resourced research library in the United States, it did not
have any automatic way to ingest and steward the data that Professor Wiggin and
her students were co

e by future scholars. Indeed, no large research library
was positioned to respond to this problem in a systematic way, though there was
general agreement that the community would like to help.
The collaborative, grass-roots movement that formed Data Refuge included many
librarians, archivists, and information professionals, but it was clear from the
beginning that my own profession did not have in place a system for stewarding
these vital information resources, or for treating them as ‘publications

and the archivists
and data scientists they work with; and, of course, scientists.

the scientific record to fight back, in a concrete way, against
an anti-fact establishment. By downloading data and moving
it into the Internet Archive and the Data Refuge repository,
volunteers were actively claiming the importance of accurate
records in maintaining or creating a just society.

This distributed approach to the work of downloading and saving the data
encouraged people to see how they were invested in e

ell in other
contexts, technological methods of sharing files can make
the digital repositories of libraries and archives seem like a
redundant holdover from the past. However, as I will argue
further in this paper, the data that was at risk in Data Refuge
differed in important ways from the contents of what Bodó
refers to as ‘shadow libraries’ (Bodó 2015). For opening
access to copies of journals articles, shadow libraries work
perfectly. However, the value of these shadow libraries relies
on the existence of the widely agreed upon trusted versions.
If in doubt about whether a copy is trustworthy, scholars
can turn to more mainstream copies, if necessary. This was
not the situation we faced building Data Refuge. Instead, we
were often dealing with the sole public, authoritative copy
of a federal dataset and had to assume that, if it were taken
down, there would be no way to check the authenticity of
other copies. The data was not easily pulled out of system

thstand hostile political forces who claim that the
science of human-caused climate change is ‘uncertain’. It


What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?

Born from the collaboration between Environmental Humanists and Librarians,
Data Refuge was always an effort both at storytelling and at storing data. During
the first six months of 2017, volunteers across the US (and elsewhere) organized
more than 50 Data Rescue events, with participants numbering in the thousands.
At each event, a gro

ine now, that hostile actors might wish to muddy the
science of climate change by releasing fake data designed
to cast doubt on the science of climate change. For that
reasons, I believe that the unique facts we were seeking
to safeguard in the Data Refuge bear less similarity to the
contents of shadow libraries than they do to news reports
in our current distributed and destabilized mass media
environment. Referring to the ease of publishing ideas on the
open web, Zeynep Tufecki wrote in a recent colu

h to scholarly publishing, nor as a call for
continuation of the status quo. Instead, I hope to encourage
continuation of the creative approaches to scholarship
represented in this collective. I also hope the issues raised in


Laurie Allen

Data Refuge will serve as a call to take greater responsibility for the systems into
which scholarship flows and the structures of power and assumptions of trust (by
whom, of whom) that scholarship relies on.
While plenty of participants in the Data Refuge community posited scalable
technological approaches to help people trust data, none emerged that were
strong enough to risk further undermining faith in science that a malicious attack
might cause. Instead of focusing on technical solutions that rely

ions where many of us work and by communities of scholars and
activists who make up these institutions. It was designed to get as many people as
possible working to address the complex issues raised by the two interconnected
challenges that the Data Refuge project threw into relief. The first challenge,
of course, is the need for new scientific, artistic, scholarly and narrative ways of
contending with the reality of global, human-made climate change. And the second
challenge, as I’ve argued in this

ps in some cases, replacement. And
this work will rely on scholars, as well as expert information practitioners from a
range of fields (Caswell 2016).

¹ At the time of this writing, we are working
on un-packing and repackaging the data
within Data Refuge for eventual inclusion
in various Research Library Repositories.

Ideally, of course, all federally produced
datasets would be published in neatly
packaged and more easily preservable
containers, along with enough technical
checks to ensure their validity (hashes,
checksums, etc.) and each agency would
create a periodical published inventory of
datasets. But the situation we encountered
with Data Refuge did not start us in
anything like that situation, despite the
hugely successful and important work of
the employees who created and maintained For a fuller view of this workflow,
see my talk at CSVConf 2017 (Allen 2017).


Closing note: The workflow established and used at Data Rescue events was
designed to tackle this set of difficult issues, but needed refinement, and was retired
in mid-2017. The Data Refuge project continues, led by Professor Wiggin and her
colleagues and students at PPEH, who are “building a storybank to document
how data lives in the world – and how it connects people, places, and non-human
species.” (“DataRefuge” n.d.) In addition, the set of issues raised by Data Refuge
continue to inform my work and the work of many of our collaborators.


Laurie Allen

What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?


Allen, Laurie. 2017. “Contexts and Institutions.” Paper presented at csv,conf,v3, Portland,

Racism. New York: NYU Press.
Tufekci, Zeynep. 2018. “It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech.”
WIRED. Accessed May 20, 2018.
“Welcome - Data Refuge.” n.d. Accessed May 20, 2018.
Williams, Stacie M, and Jarrett Drake. 2017. “Power to the People: Documenting Police
Violence in Cleveland.” Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 1 (2).


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