There’s an API for That

A MARAC Newark Workshop, Instructors:
Valerie Addonizio, Johns Hopkins University and
Lora J. Davis, Johns Hopkins University

Blogger: Juliana Magro, Queens College

Most of us have heard of APIs and have a vague idea about what they are, but often we are not sure about how they work. Lora Davis and Valerie Addonizio, from Johns Hopkins University, took on the challenge to walk 30 people through the API path. Even though this was a workshop that lasted one entire day during the MARAC conference, the speakers knew it would be impossible to teach everything there is to know. For this reason, they adopted the “1-up learning experience,” allowing people with different levels of knowledge to learn enough to jump to the next level.

LevelUp

The acronym API stands for Application Programming Interface. The lecturers begun the workshop by elucidating how we use APIs even without knowing it. In their example:

“When you copy content from a Word document to your clipboard, then paste that content into an Outlook e-mail, it works because your computer operating system, which both your versions of Word and Outlook are programmed to run on, uses an API to allow the interchange of information.”

When we talk about APIs, however, we are usually making reference to web APIs, which have three basic commands: GET, POST, and DELETE (we can think of them as View, Save, and Delete). With API, we can use URL-like directions to get data out of a program, change it to suit out needs, and then put it back in.

To be able to do that (or at least to start understanding how to do it), all participants had installed four applications prior to the workshop. Valerie and Lora had sent pre-workshop instructions, with step-by-step directions to meet the requirements of both Mac and Windows users.

Technical

In the first few hours of the workshop these applications were configured and others were downloaded. After all machines were set up, the participants were taught how to “get” data from databases such as Chronicling America, ProPublica, and even Twitter.

A considerable section of the workshop was dedicated to ArchivesSpace. The participants received instructions on how to create their own off-line ArchivesSpace sandbox, in addition to mass replacing “faux barcodes” with real bar code numbers, among other functions.

This was certainly a hands-on workshop. Valerie and Lora were helpful and accessible, and made an effort to solve all of the participants’ questions. The lecturers are clearly passionate about what they do, and were positive and motivated even when faced with inevitable technical issues.

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