Seamless Astronomy Colloquium: The invisible knowledge 
infrastructure of astronomy: A sharper focus on blurry data


Wednesday, October 3, 2018, 12:30pm to 1:30pm


Pratt Conference Room, at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, 60 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA

Christine Borgman photo
Christine Borgman
Christine Borgman
Distinguished Research Professor
Director, Center for Knowledge Infrastructures


Livestream of Talk

Abstract: Age-old patterns of research and publication were disrupted as scholarship moved online. Astronomy now conducts research at scales of data collection that were unforeseeable in the days of glass plates – and yet those glass plates, famously stored at CfA, remain valuable as records of irreproducible observations. Keeping digital data “alive” at scale is proving to be a complex and expensive challenge. Astronomy has built a particularly robust network of people, artifacts, and institutions for producing, exchanging, and sustaining knowledge that links publications, telescopes, digital data archives, and other scientific resources – a knowledge infrastructure. My research fellowship at CfA for October 2018 is devoted to advancing a decade-long study of astronomy data practices to ask questions about the durability and fragility of these infrastructures and the invisible work required to sustain access to data, tools, instruments, publications, documentation, and other infrastructure components. Lessons learned are expected to advance data stewardship in astronomy and other scientific domains.

Background materials (Borgman, 2015; Borgman, Darch, Sands, & Golshan, 2016; Borgman et al., 2015; Darch & Sands, 2017; Sands, 2017):

Borgman, C. L. (2015). Big data, little data, no data: Scholarship in the networked world. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Borgman, C. L., Darch, P. T., Sands, A. E., & Golshan, M. S. (2016). The durability and fragility of knowledge infrastructures: Lessons learned from astronomy. In Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology(Vol. 53, pp. 1–10). Copenhagen, Denmark. Retrieved from

Borgman, C. L., Darch, P. T., Sands, A. E., Pasquetto, I. V., Golshan, M. S., Wallis, J. C., & Traweek, S. (2015). Knowledge infrastructures in science: Data, diversity, and digital libraries. International Journal on Digital Libraries, 16(3–4), 207–227.

Darch, P. T., & Sands, A. E. (2017). Uncertainty about the Long-Term: Digital Libraries, Astronomy Data, and Open Source Software. In 2017 ACM/IEEE Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (JCDL)(pp. 1–4). Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Sands, A. E. (2017). Managing Astronomy Research Data: Data Practices in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Projects(Ph.D. Dissertation). UCLA, Los Angeles, CA. Retrieved from



See also: Colloquium