Thursday, 31 July 2008

Notes from Edinburgh Repository Fringe

Notes from a small island! Or rather the Edinburgh Repository Fringe event (31 July - 1 August, 2008).

Dorothea Salo's keynote speech provided a controversial overview of why IRs are dead and need to be resuscitated!

She claims "we built it but they didn't come!" and that we (as in the repository community) ignored or didn't quite comprehend the world that academics are immersed in - 'their narrow field of battle'. Or their 'paranoid' (her words not mine) and legitimate questions such as plagiarism of their academic works, is this the institution acting as big brother?, what is authoratative version?, will my publisher be happy? etc.

So, as she states - it is not as simple to say - yes, lets have open access. For example, the software platforms that repositories are based on don't have download statistics nor versioning; they won't let you edit your metadata, there are no facilities to digitise analogue material, can't stream videos etc etc. She painfully admits "I helped to kill the IR - it is dead! - so lets mourn the death of IR".

However she sees the shape of opportunity in the ashes. Repository software made the same bad assumptions as we did; workflows that don't work for born digital materials; protocols that don't do enough; there's services that could/should be offered but aren't; there's a stunning amounts of redundant effort aimed at redressing these problems. What we should be doing is putting effort into better software and better services before the web whizzes past us as we try to catch up! Currently the 'Institutional Repository' is not mashable, they are deemed ugly and to concur with abovementioned criteria can be regarded as almost unusable.

She thinks that we're missing opportunities - basically the various stakeholders (data curators, metadata librarians, grant administrators, researchers, system administrators) need to work more closely together. She asks us, the repository community to 'take one step back - then two steps beyond' - beyond the idealism and the 'green OA'. Our experience is now telling us that peer-reviewed research is not all we care about, that useful research products happen long before publication and as such open access is a by-product not an end product. She wants us to look beyond the silos of digital resources and do a good job with the 'stuff', not to be too obsessed by where it goes, to be profligate with our 'stuff' - mash it up, expose it, manage it, mainstream it - no matter where it eventually ends up.

She highlighted the fact that self archiving doesn't have a management component, she's 'tired at watching good code fly past' i.e open utilities that could be utilised within the repository environment but aren't.

So rather than adhering to an opinion of the IR that 'everybody knows they all fail!' lets re-think, re-innovate, re-invent the IR as a suite of services and solutions.

For example, regarding harvesting - the content is out there - just have to get our hands on it; lets have more APIs, allow programmers to be more flexible, lets learn from and invest in relations with commercial services and disciplinary repositories. Let's start healing wounds, start make issues surrounding metadata less confusing, ally with other institutional efforts, placate the bruised egos and mend fences.

She concluded by stating that idealism isn't enough - the IR community have to make themselves useful - to administrators, to faculty; there has to be investment in add-on services - it's time to be responsible, responsive and reactive in rethinking our initial assumptions!

More soon!

Stuart Macdonald
DISC-UK DataShare

1 comment:

Robin Rice said...

A press release about the Repository Fringe is on the JISC website,

Since the keynote, the attendees have been creatively coming up with various ways to raise the "dead" repository from the ashes by creating user-centred and user-friendly services that make use of existing information and related university services.