Applying the Open Science Framework to the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project to Improve Access and Workflow

Megan Potterbusch

This month I would like to highlight exciting developments in the use of the Open Science Framework (OSF) in my work with a history research group at George Washington University (GW), the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project (ERPP).  This work is a compelling application of the OSF, initially conceived as a science workflow tool, to a humanities-based group.  The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project has a rich background of working in conjunction with GW librarians to accomplish the ERPP’s goals of both extensive, original research as well as sustainable digital access to their resources and research outputs.

The ERPP collects, curates, publishes, studies, and annotates papers, recordings, and other documentation by and related to Eleanor Roosevelt in order to “make rigorous, important scholarship available and useful to an increasingly diverse and ever-expanding audience.”  At this time the ERPP has published two print volumes of “the most interesting, important, and representative documents from [their] collection,” and they are working on their third volume in this series with an eye to creative ways to make their research more discoverable and interactive for fellow scholars. Their work includes encoding two periodical columns by Eleanor Roosevelt, “My Day” and “If You Ask Me,” using the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) Guidelines to provide additional, computer-aided access to these primary sources.

On the recommendation of the GW humanities librarian, Dolsy Smith, I connected with Christy Regenhardt, co-editor of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Volume 3 (forthcoming). We discussed the ERPP’s research goals, previous research workflow, and Regenhardt’s ideas for improving their process. Since the ERPP team used a wiki as a communication and file-sharing tool previously, the OSF could easily improve upon their current workflow.

The OSF’s flexible organizational structure, three levels of access control (administrator, read-write, read-only), URIs or DOIs for every component and item, and the various communication and tagging tools all stood out as valuable additions to the ERPP’s current process. In fact, because of the read-only setting and activity-tracking features, the approximately 15 undergraduate students on the team can work more independently, thus improving the efficiency of the team as a whole. Additionally, the possibility of “publishing” their OSF project (in whole or part) as a public, digital resource some time in the future without significant effort was also appealing. As Regenhardt said, “historians are no longer just organizing our research so that we can find it, but in order for others to find it.” The OSF will contribute to both of these objectives in the ERPP team.

For anyone else unfamiliar with historical, primary-source research, I learned from Regenhardt that each document to be included in the final manuscript requires extensive research and receives sometimes extensive annotation. Additionally, students will transcribe each document and triple-verify the accuracy of these transcriptions. Were this an ongoing project made up of multiple research teams, I might have suggested that the ERPP take advantage of the OSF’s project-linking feature; however, due to the contained and focused nature of this project, I recommended a more straightforward nested structure. This will also facilitate future publication of their OSF project if they choose to make it public. After my initial introduction to the OSF and with a custom demo project as a guide, Regenhardt designed the project structure, within the framework, to suit the ERPP’s needs—including leveraging the Zotero add-on to facilitate their bibliography.

Most of the ERPP’s work will require a knowledgeable researcher and individual human interaction; however, we have identified a few parts of the workflow that can be automated using the OSF API. Shortly, I will create each of the nested document components based on a spreadsheet the team uses for organizational purposes. When the students returned from winter break, I trained the rest of the research team on how to use the OSF, so that every member feels empowered not only to do their own work, but also to make suggestions for improvements on the project once they are underway.