Repository Fringe 2009

A few brief notes from the first day of the Repository Fringe (#rf09) event in Edinburgh. A lot of the presentations were somewhat orthogonal (can’t use that word without thinking of the late great Claude Ostyn!) to my main areas of interest. There were one or two mentions of using repositories to manage teaching and learning materials (two to be precise) but the main focus of the majority of the presentations was squarely on institutional repositories of scholarly works and the research publication workflow and lifecycle.

Having said that, Sally Rumsey and Ben O’Steen’s opening keynote raised some interesting general points which I’ve noted randomly below:

“Sir Thomas Bodely built an “ark to save learning from deluge” and instigated a “republic of lettered men”. Are we building the digital equivalent of the Bodleian?”

“Repository staff act as catalysts for community building.”

“The most successful repository is the internet. How can we make institutional repositories more like the internet? Adding urls to resources for example.”

“People search for “things” not documents. Things have names in real life, however not everything on the web has a name. We can give things names? We can certainly give them urls. It is key to know how a document relates to the thing. The real power comes from the relating of things.”

“We’ve reinvented too many wheels. We need to use the defacto standards of the web, they work, don’t fight them.”

“Almost anything can be regarded as a repository (e.g. flickr, youtube, eprints, etc) but these things don’t have much in common.”

“We need to cut the complexity and aim for one click deposit. We need a solution to the multiple repository deposit regime (MuRDeR) problem.”

“Preservation is useless without access. We should rename preservation – assured secure storage and permanent access.”

“Disproportionate feedback loop – the perception that a small effort brings enormous benefit. The ultimate feedback for the academic is peer review.” (I though that this particular disproportionate feedback loop sounded rather like harnessing the power of professional vanity to fill repositories.)

“Print on demand is going to be huge.” (Oh really??)

A few other notable, and in some cases questionable, quotes from the day:

“…..of course if we’re talking about people a strings….”

“Linked data is going to take over the world.”

“The Semantic Web isn’t just about better search, it’s about aggregation.”

“Institutional repositories are ultimately marketing tools really.”

One of the mentions of learning resources came from Richard Jones of Simplectic who said they were involved in a project that was developing a learning object repository based DSpace augmented with Mahara to facilitate communities of practice.

One last thing, one of the “novel” aspects of the Repository Fringe was the Pecha Kucha sessions. Some of these were notably more successful than others. Les Carr was excellent of course, as were William Nixon and his colleague from Glasgow University’s Enrich and Enlighten projects. However I couldn’t help being reminded of Alt-C panel sessions with three or four short rushed powerpoint presentations with very little time or inclination for comments at the end. More opportunity for discussion would have been greatly appreciated! As one of my colleagues diplomatically put it:

“….the message was somewhat hampered by the medium.”

I decided against attending the second day of the conference but was very sorry to miss Cliff Lynch’s closing keynote. Hopefully It’ll appear online sooner rather than later.

Rachel Heery

We have all been deeply saddened to hear of the death of Rachel Heery, Assistant Director of Research and Development at UKOLN until her retirement in 2007. Some of us in CETIS, particularly Phil Barker, R John Robertson, Sarah Currier and I worked closely with Rachel on a number of JISC projects and initiatives over the years including the IE Metadata Schema Registry, the Repositories Programme Advisory Group, the Jorum Steering Group, the Digital Repositories Programme Support Project and the Repositories Research Team.

I first came across Rachel at a UK Metadata for Education Group Meeting in 2001. As usual she made quite an impression with her astute and forthright views and I made a mental note never to get into an argument with that woman. However I quickly learned that Rachel was an excellent person to get into an argument with. She was authoritative and insightful and always seemed willing to discuss alternative perspectives from outwith her immediate domain, as was the case with CETIS. I got the impression that she didn’t suffer fools gladly and never hesitated to question accepted orthodoxies when necessary.

It was invaluable for CETIS to have such a strong ally at UKOLN and Rachel’s open-mindedness proved over and over again that the two JISC innovation support centres could work productively together with a minimum of fuss. I remember attending one particularly tedious and unproductive “coordination” meeting in London where we made more progress in the fifteen-minute tube journey across the city with Rachel (and Pete Johnston) than during the whole day long meeting.

Of the projects mentioned above DRSPS / RRT is notable in that it was the first JIIE programme support project delivered collaboratively by two JISC services (now innovation support centres): UKOLN and CETIS. Rachel managed the project from 2005 until her retirement in 2007 and when she left her departure had an enormous impact. It’s ironic that Phil and I are in the process of putting the finishing touches to the RRT Final and Completion reports and had planned to send them to her this week in case she cared to take time out from her retirement to comment. We tried hard to get across in the reports the irreplaceable contribution she made to the project at both the strategic and personal level.

I always used to look forward to meetings Rachel was attending as you could usually guarantee a sparky and thought provoking discussion. Her professional integrity always commanded respect. Personally I will miss her enormously as a colleague and a friend.

Our thoughts are with her family.