My JISC colleagues and I were very sad to learn that Rachel Heery, formally of UKOLN, died last Friday after a long term illness. We will miss her and I am certain she will be missed by many in our community.
Rachel has contributed an enormous amount to the work of JISC over the years. She has helped to shape JISC strategy, programmes, projects and services. Most recently she worked with us in the area of digital repositories. Rachel’s contribution is so great that this sad occasion must not go by without acknowledgment of that, and acknowledgment of both her professionalism and friendship. Everyone I know that worked with Rachel enjoyed doing so.
Despite having to retire in December 2007 on the grounds of ill health, she continued to be an active member of the Repositories and Preservation Advisory Group and all that it entailed, as well as undertaking some pieces of consultancy for JISC.
The Information Environment Team was fortunate enough to spend a few days with Rachel this May in Birmingham at our Repositories and Preservation programme meeting. Rachel was there to present on her latest piece of work; the Digital Repositories Roadmap Review: towards a vision for research and learning in 2013. This piece of work represents for me some of the fabulous qualities of Rachel and why working with her was such a delight. She was able to really understand the context of work from the perspective of different stakeholders, she always seemed to understand the policy and the strategic drivers, she acted as a bridge between the technical people and the planners, she understood vision and pragmatism, she could assimilate diverse and complex trends and issues and make sense of them. This report is still current for us and we are using it as part of our planning processes.
Rachel has been involved in a long history of JISC related work, and in particular that relevant to the Information Environment programmes and services. She was involved in the e-Lib programme, the MODELS workshops, the Distributed National Electronic Resource and the subsequent Information Environment. At a recent meeting where we were discussing the Information Environment Rachel made a point that I felt was a good one that succinctly helps to articulate where we are now in relation to the DNER. The DNER (and subsequently the Information Environment) has been about access to distributed heterogeneous resources, Rachel made the summation that now we are concerned with both heterogeneous resources and heterogeneous services. A simple point, but an example of how good Rachel could be at getting to the nub of the matter and clarifying things.
What follows is just a few highlights from Rachel’s significant contribution to JISC work and that of the digital library community; these highlights come nowhere close to being comprehensive. They only cover some of her more recent work.
In 2005 she undertook an examination of the status of digital repositories in collaboration with Sheila Anderson. This helped lay the foundations of our programmes of work in this area. In 2006 she wrote the Repositories Roadmap with Andy Powell of the Eduserv Foundation. Andy had previously worked alongside Rachel at UKOLN where they were both Assistant Directors. As referred to above she recently reviewed this roadmap for us. These reports have had significant impact on the JISC investment in the area of repositories.
The Augmenting Interoperability across Scholarly Repositories meeting was held in New York in 2006, hosted by the Mellon Foundation and Microsoft. It focused on common areas of key interoperability and Rachel was a major contributor to that meeting. She presented on what was termed the ‘put’ interface. After discussion amongst colleagues in the UK, including CETIS, this was seen as a key technical solution to the population of repositories. What resulted from this was the creation of the SWORD protocol (Simple Web-service Offering Repository Deposit). This work continues to date and has had wide adoption, well beyond repositories.
When we returned from the New York meeting we were very aware of the significance that Hebert Van De Sompel’s work on OAI-ORE would have in terms of interoperability across repository content. Our funding timetable did not match direct involvement at that stage and Rachel and I discussed how we could try and ensure the UK digital repository community could continue discussion and be engaged in the issues of common repository interfaces and specifications. This resulted in the establishment of the Common Repositories Interface Group (CRIG) led by Jim Downing and Les Carr. The course of the Group changed somewhat but it has been the basis of discussions around specifications and the Dev8D event that proved to be very successful.
Rachel’s influence is still present in a lot of the work we now have underway. She was always robust and willing to be critical, and she would always pull out the stops to help when we might be up against it in terms of time for the issue of funding calls. As recently as December 2008 she gave our “12/08″ circular a critical eye and improved it immensely prior to it’s issue. We are lucky to have worked with Rachel and to have benefited from her expertise, humour and friendship. We miss her.
Our thoughts are with her family and friends.
[edit: I have seen a number of tributes to Rachel, Stu Weibel's mentions a phrase that really does remind me of Rachel, "Hang on..." she did often use it when she was questioning something.]