The durability and fragility of knowledge infrastructures: Lessons learned from astronomy

Christine L. Borgman, Ashley E. Sands, Peter T. Darch, Milena S. Golshan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Infrastructures are not inherently durable or fragile, yet all are fragile over the long term. Durability requires care and maintenance of individual components and the links between them. Astronomy is an ideal domain in which to study knowledge infrastructures, due to its long history, transparency, and accumulation of observational data over a period of centuries. Research reported here draws upon a long-term study of scientific data practices to ask questions about the durability and fragility of infrastructures for data in astronomy. Methods include interviews, ethnography, and document analysis. As astronomy has become a digital science, the community has invested in shared instruments, data standards, digital archives, metadata and discovery services, and other relatively durable infrastructure components. Several features of data practices in astronomy contribute to the fragility of that infrastructure. These include different archiving practices between ground- and space-based missions, between sky surveys and investigator-led projects, and between observational and simulated data. Infrastructure components are tightly coupled, based on international agreements. However, the durability of these infrastructures relies on much invisible work – cataloging, metadata, and other labor conducted by information professionals. Continual investments in care and maintenance of the human and technical components of these infrastructures are necessary for sustainability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology
Volume53
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2016

Keywords

  • Knowledge Infrastructures
  • astronomy
  • scientific data
  • stewardship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science(all)
  • Library and Information Sciences

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