SLIS Graduate Named Finalist for Linden Prize
By Anne Dudley
The School of Library and Information Science produces remarkable graduates, who are prepared to pursue a variety of technological projects, positions and personal endeavors.
Linden Labs, creators of Second Life, recently named one such graduate, Shannon Bohle, as a top 10 finalist for the Linden Prize. This prize recognizes “the best-of-the-best" for having "greatly enhanced and changed thousands of lives around the world," according to Mark Kingdon (SL: M Linden), CEO of Linden Lab.
An enticing undergraduate research project about a female Romantic Era writer, Joanna Baillie, prompted Bohle to earn her master’s degree in library and information science (MLIS) from Kent State University focusing on archival coursework. Bohle contacted many libraries and scholars to obtain original materials and insights into the author’s background and life. “Through archives, I was able to find the truth and hear the voice of this woman, through her letters of correspondence when no such published information was available,” Bohle said.
After having taught college English courses, her enjoyment in working with original materials helped her decide to seek the MLIS, rather than pursue a doctorate in English. Bohle aided Giles Mandelbrote, curator of British Collections 1501-1800 in the British & Early Printed Collections at the British Library, in the author identification of one of Baillie’s anonymous works for the English Short Title Catalog. This arose following correspondence with Oxford dons, Jonathan Wordworth and Roger Lonesdale. Lonesdale had made the identification in an endnote to his New Oxford Book of Eighteenth-century Verse, but the British Library had yet to formally identify it.
While at Kent State, Bohle worked in The Conrad Center at the Institute for Bibliography and Editing, located in the Kent State Library, under the direction of Drs. S.W. Reid and Robert W. Trogdon. Here her interest in British literature grew as she assisted in editorial work for two scholarly books in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Joseph Conrad published by Cambridge University Press.
Before entering the MLIS program at Kent State, Bohle worked at the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum where she gained knowledge regarding the history of NASA. Bohle’s journey to NASA took off locally at the NASA Glenn Research Center with her master’s practicum in the History Center’s archives with a project on the history of the U.S. Space Shuttle Program.
From there, Bohle went on to an internship at Oberlin College with her former Kent State professor, Roland Baumann. The internship included a project with the papers of Byron R. Newton, a descendant of Sir Isaac Newton and one of the journalists present at Orville and Wilbur Wright’s famous first flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903. Newton went on to become one of the founding members of National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) which eventually was renamed NASA in 1958. Bohle also helped in a digitization project of physicist Lloyd William Taylor, who corresponded with Nobel Laureates in physics, Robert Millikan and Arthur H. Compton.
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Following her interest in the history of science and its archives, Bohle accepted her first position as a professional archivist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) in New York. Nobel laureate James D. Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, interviewed Bohle for the position as archivist of his collection. Bohle’s job there was to work on original materials, including the cardboard cutouts used by Watson to make his historic discovery and, in particular, Watson’s laboratory notebooks.
Life at CSHL was exciting, she said. No less than 98 Nobel Laureates have attended the historic annual symposia. Bohle attended one lecture by Nobelist and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) President David Baltimore, and sat in on some of the conference presentations which were surprisingly cutthroat in terms of questions and evaluation by the audience. At those moments, Bohle realized what it might be like presenting a paper at a science conference. It was her work on Dr. Watson’s notebooks that led her to write a paper. She traveled to the University of Oxford, stepped up to the front of the room where just before her a professor from Harvard had spoken, and delivered her paper, expecting the worst attacks from the audience, only to be pleasantly surprised.
Bohle recounts some of the memorable and eventful happenings of the 2008 International Three Societies conference:
It was the second time I’d flown into Heathrow. I rented a private car with a driver and pulled up in first class style to the Keble College arched entryway, Porters’ Lodge main gate. I walked into a little room off to the left of the main entry. I found out it was too early to check in to my room so I checked my bags and took the driver’s recommendation to take a walk across the street to The Parks, where as it happened there was a cricket field and a game taking place at the Oxford University Cricket Club between the two great rival university teams, Oxford and Cambridge. Never having seen cricket before, someone was kind enough to explain the rules and scoring. I happened to meet a nice young woman from Japan who was studying International Law focusing on Intellectual Property, so we struck up an interesting conversation while watching the game. Afterwards I took a self-guided tour of the nearby Natural History Museum before checking in for the conference. I stayed in a very nice single dormitory room with a private bath overlooking the courtyard in the quad. Before arriving, I had reviewed, in detail, who the other presenters would be and planned out which talks I would like to attend. The individual I most wanted to hear was historian, Dr. John van Wyhe, a handsome young professor at Cambridge who was speaking on “Did Charles Darwin really believe life came from outer space?” Well, given that we both shared interests in both biology and space, I thought I definitely wanted to meet this fellow. He is the director of Darwin Online, a collection on a similar topic as my own presentation. My talk was on Dr. Watson’s laboratory notebooks in the field of molecular biology, Watson had also, of course, recently edited the book, Darwin: The Indelible Stamp, a compilation of four of Darwin’s most famous works. I decided to heed Dr. Watson’s advice in his book Avoid Boring People (which I had the privilege to read in manuscript form before it was published) and sit in the front row when you are interested in a topic. Well, fortunately, when Dr. van Wyhe arrived, he set his brown leather briefcase down on the back of the chair right next to me, and then sat right next to me. When it was his turn to give his talk, which was quite lively and humorous, he mentioned some differences between editions of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. This reminded me of the scholarly editions of the works of Joseph Conrad I had helped on while at Kent State where line by line textual differences between publications are noted in an Apparatus at the end of the publication containing Emendations and Variations, etc. Dr. van Wyhe seemed interested in this so I later mailed him a rather pricy copy of ‘Twix Land and Sea that I had assisted in editing at the Conrad Center. In 2009, an online variorum of On the Origin of Species was published by Dr. Barbara Bordalejo with his assistance. The variorum edition identifies every change of the six British editions published between 1859 and 1872. Dr. van Wyhe was actually called away for a day in the midst of the conference to travel to London to do a segment on the BBC. Following the conference, though, I stayed in touch with him and helped arrange his stop at Case Western Reserve University during his worldwide lecture tour for the 200th Anniversary of Darwin’s birth. A bit more science than history of science, some of my most memorable informal chats were on carbon sequestration methods with scientist Dr. Colin Axon, deputy director of the James Martin Institute for Carbon and Energy Reduction who was attending the conference. Dr. Axon and I met in the Keble Dining Hall, seated across from one another on the long wooden hall benches that were a bit tricky to navigate with modesty in a dress. Like most conferences, there are many talks going on at the same time, and so the non-plenary audiences can be very small. In attendance for my talk held in the Gibbs Room, which seemed to only draw about 15 people, was Liba Taub, director and curator of the Whipple Museum at Cambridge. When delivering my paper, I not only wanted to provide a report but to draw on the expertise of those in the audience, and Dr. Taub delivered. Her comments greatly expanded my ideas of using archival content management systems for long term storage and widespread access to digitized/digital science laboratory notebooks by adding links to science instruments such as those found in museums. Combined, one could trace the experimental records, see the equipment used to perform the experiments and also have a short explanation about the procedure involved when conducting the experiment, all of which leading to a more robust educational experience about the scientific process. Now if I could just get the funding for such a database…While at Keble I noticed the Victorian architecture of the buildings and their unique polychromatic brickwork, so I looked forward to seeing many of the places I had seen on my last visit to the University along with some new ones. After my talk, I played “hookie” for the rest of the afternoon. Being the typical tourist, I walked around the campus, taking photos in front of the Bridge of Sighs and beautiful panoramas from the cupola of the Sir Christopher Wren’s Sheldonian Theater. Of course, I headed right over to the Bodleian Library, which for some odd reason had been closed to tours when I first visited in 2000. Eight long years later, wild horses could not have kept me from it. Fortunately, I arrived in time for the last tour of the day. It was starting to rain, and I was glad to find sanctuary after I bought my tour ticket at first in the gift shop buying a few souvenirs and then in the library amongst its tall, rare books. I celebrated the end of the with a glass of cabernet at sunset at a little outdoor patio restaurant at the Keble-adjacent Old Parsonage Hotel. Towards the close of the conference, I attended a packed lecture hall at the historic Union Society Debating Chamber to hear a talk by best selling novelist Iain Pears. Afterwards, we walked to the Museum of the History of Science for a champagne reception. It all ended too soon, and as my driver dropped me at Heathrow, I departed with the hope of retuning one day to do it all again.
Bohle’s undergraduate degree in history and experience at Oberlin College on another project about the Underground Railroad, and the notorious oversight of Rosalind Franklin in the discovery of DNA, helped her notice many historical references where the achievements and perspectives of women and other minorities were sidelined.
Bohle’s work in Second Life began with curating the archival exhibit “Women in Aeronautics and Astronautics.” On land funded through a grant to Second Life library pioneer and author of Virtual Worlds, Real Libraries, Lori Bell (Lorelei Junot in Second Life) of Alliance Library Systems, Bohle used this testing ground for what would become an example of what she could do on a larger scale for NASA. Along with a formal written proposal, emphasizing women, African Americans, Space Medicine, Apollo 11 and the CoLab archival documents, “The Library and Archives at NASA CoLab” project was approved by NASA. “I wanted to bring the lesser known individuals into the public eye,” Bohle remarked.
She is currently the director/volunteer for the Library and Archives at NASA CoLab in Second Life.
“My experience during the KSU practicum whetted my appetite for doing more,” she said. “That is to say I was very fond of my first NASA experience which is evidenced by the fact that a picture of me at Glenn is on display at the Library in Second Life.”
Bohle did not forget her ties to another Ohio astronaut, Neil Armstrong. Enticed by the idea of having become the virtual world library or archive recognized by the Library of Congress, Bohle decided that it would be fitting to name the library in honor of Neil A. Armstrong, the first person to set foot on another world. Bohle wrote to Armstrong for his permission. The Apollo 11 exhibit tells the story from crew selection, to building the Saturn Rocket, launch, landing, the scientific experiments done on the moon, and the telltale splashdown and tickertape parade. The exhibit is interactive so that visitors can touch a 3D model of Armstrong’s space suit and hear the historic words, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” The library has also accepted donations as it continues to develop its collection. One such gift came from Patty Wagstaff, the first female U.S. National Aerobatics Champion, who contributed a photo of herself.
Neither did Bohle forget her work with Dr. Watson, whose discovery improved much of modern medicine, including space medicine. A photo of Bohle with the laureate is also on display in the space medicine exhibit. Visitors can see chimps used in early studies, Mercury astronaut balance and stress test photos, and even astronaut fecal culture report mission summaries from Apollo (just to be sure they didn’t bring back any “space germs”), and much more.
Not content to write about history of science from the sidelines, and wanting to try her hand at science herself, Bohle became the first woman to create a 3D model of a protein in Second Life. The protein she selected is p53, and it is used in cancer research. It was also studied in microgravity because astronauts receive higher than normal doses of radiation when in space.
Coming full circle, Bohle published a summary of this modeling project on the Nature website. (Nature is the same journal that published Watson’s and Crick’s DNA structure discovery.)
It is no surprise that government and military are looking very closely at virtual worlds for training simulations. Daden Technology, for example, is working on Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Bohle noted how she saw a YouTube video of one of Daden’s Second Life bots actually answering reference questions and performing reader’s advisory. As if that is not sci-fi enough, she said, the U.S. Army and university researchers are testing direct brain-thought interaction with computers and even navigating one’s avatar in Second Life by the power of thought alone.
Bohle and Charles P. White of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory presented a “mixed reality” poster session at the Federal Consortium of Virtual Worlds Conference at the National Defense University in Washington DC, and the library also received attention in a talk called “Virtual Worlds and Federal Government Uses for Information Delivery” at the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) conference.
Bohle said she’s trying to use Second Life not only to preserve materials but also to continue interest in science through online learning. A number of school groups, along with professors, researchers and the general public interested in NASA have already visited the library online.
One remarkably positive attribute in Second Life is the ability for visitors to talk to an actual human, no matter how far their physical distance. Bohle can give (and has already given) speeches to students, answer questions of library patrons herself, or connect them with an actual NASA employee or astrophysicist in Second Life or “First Life.” Who better to ask a question about jet engines than a NASA engineer?
Who better to explain how to do the mathematical calculations of lunar orbital insertion than a Caltech astrophysicist? Both are examples of actual reference questions Bohle has asked at the library for which she relied on just these avatars. In one case, Bohle filmed her avatar asking a question posed by one of her library patrons to Nobel Laureate and NASA employee, John Mather. Dr. Mather answered the question, and with the Nobel Foundation, the video received a special showing at the Nobel Museum in Sweden. Bohle later met Dr. Mather, who has given two lectures in Second Life.
Bohle also archives the minutes from the weekly meetings held between the residents of Second Life and NASA. These “born virtual” materials (materials that never existed in paper form) are text chat transcripts that she will eventually incorporate into a finding guide. The meetings are significant opportunities for Second Life residents to interact with representatives from NASA and act upon their right to have their voice heard in a virtual, yet personal setting. Bohle created the “Send Your Avatar’s Name to Mars” activity, where avatars can click on a sign at the library and complete a form, and their names will be sent for real, to Mars aboard a rover in 2011. To make things more interesting, this is the same rover that James Cameron (of the Avatar film) will be participating with NASA on a 3D camera to film Mars. Bohle will speak about the library under this activity’s title at the upcoming 13th Annual International Mars Society convention being held in Dayton this August.
This archival endeavor allows Bohle to test the virtual waters of “implementing archival procedures in a new venue.” Although outwardly Second Life may seem to establish further distance between people, it may do the opposite for those who without Second Life, would never have met.
Bohle called virtual “much more personal…” than Internet chat or Web cast. It’s an “immersive synthetic environment,” and gives users a sense of identity as well as the ability to walk, run, jump, sit, blink, wave, run—so much so that even not looking in the direction of the speaker might be considered rude. “Essentially an avatar becomes your ‘virtual self’ in a 3D space,” she said.
In her free time, Bohle enjoys Second Life for its music and film. She has met several musicians and filmmakers, including artists whose films made in Second Life have gone on to renowned film festivals like Cannes and Sundance. Bohle also enjoys attending live music concerts.
“There are some amazingly accomplished singers and classical musicians performing in Second Life like Craig Lyons, whose music has been licensed by Universal and FoxTV, and Xi Young, who has performed for U.S. presidents and Hollywood movie stars,” Bohle said.
“Second Life is brewing with talent,” Bohle said. “What’s great is you get to meet and talk to performers in a personal way, share time with them, and get to know them. Making friends, generally, in Second Life is not hard to do. Technologies like Second Life have really become second nature. It is an amazing way to connect with friends and to meet people from different cultures from around the country or on the other side of the globe. I talk almost daily with one of my friends I met through Second Life. ‘Haplo’ and I both have Netflix instant movies, connect on voice via Skype, and using both we can watch the same instant movies together despite the fact my friend is in California and I am in Ohio.”
Being selected for the Linden Prize “Top Ten” award has been icing on the cake for Bohle. A YouTube interview by Blondin Linden and filmed by Treet TV with Bohle’s avatar, ArchivistLlewellyn, received the most hits by the day the prize was announced.
Bohle said, “It’s been a wonderful experience…to be finally recognized for the types of things we’re being able to accomplish here. So many people have done so much. I’m glad I’ve been able to provide an example of a good project that citizens can do in Second Life with NASA.”