Services to support UK repositories

In the UK, the repository network is well established, and supports access to research papers and other digital assets created within universities. Increasingly, repositories are part of a research information management solution helping to track and report on research.

Over the past few years, Jisc has worked with a number of partners, including the University of Nottingham (Sherpa Services), EDINA, Mimas and the Open University (Knowledge Media Institute) to develop a range of services that benefit UK research by making institutional repositories more efficient and effective. Estimates put the annual net benefit, simply in terms of time saved by universities, at around £1.4m. Following a comprehensive review of the business case for these services, Jisc now intends to build on the RepositoryNet+ project led by EDINA, to put key services onto a more sustainable footing, including financial, organisational and technical aspects of their operation.

Sherpa Services run Sherpa-RoMEO and Sherpa-Juliet, the former providing trusted information about the rights of authors to deposit their papers into repositories, the latter providing a list of research funders’ open access policies, to which grant holders should comply. Together, these underpin the new Sherpa-FACT service, whose initial development has been supported by the Research Councils and the Wellcome Trust. Jisc proposes to work with these services over the next few months to identify a medium term strategy for each, and to support them thereafter, working in partnership where appropriate with others such as the Councils and Wellcome.

EDINA have developed the Repository Junction Broker, which promises to support mass deposit of papers from publishers and subject repositories into institutional repositories. Should the proposed HEFCE policy with respect to OA and the REF be confirmed, this will be a key service enabling institutional repositories to play their role in submissions to the next REF. Again, the proposed plan is to work with EDINA to develop a medium term strategy for RJB, and support it thereafter, while exploring a range of sustainability options with other stakeholders.

Mimas provide IRUS-UK, which enables institutional and other repositories to share usage data in a way that complies with international standards, so that usage reports can be reliably compared. Over 30 UK repositories are already part of the IRUS-UK network, with more joining all the time. Jisc intends to continue its support for IRUS-UK.

Other services have grown up alongside these, to varying levels of maturity. For example, EDINA have developed an organisational and repository identifier service, and explored a disaster recovery service for repositories. The Open University Knowledge Media Institute has developed CORE, a sophisticated aggregation and discovery service for repositories worldwide. Jisc looks forward to working with these services too, to ensure that UK repositories, their host organisations, and the people who use them benefit from greater efficiencies and a more responsive infrastructure.

As we move forward with this work, we will post updates here and elsewhere. If you have any questions or comments on this work, please contact Neil Jacobs (n.jacobs@jisc.ac.uk) or Balviar Notay (b.notay@jisc.ac.uk).

Observing the Web

Like a lot of people, when I think about it, or when I’m reminded about it, I understand that the Web is a place where someone is always watching what you do. I understand that … but then I think, well … the Web is such a huge beast; such a vast ocean; such a giant metropolis where the comings and goings of individuals are insignificant. How and why would anyone notice what I’m looking at and which links I’m clicking on?

Then up pops Tom Barnett from Switch Concepts Ltd. at a meeting yesterday to tell us that ‘Google has a file the size of an encyclopedia on everyone in this room.’

Hmmm … that’s not a particularly comfortable idea for someone to put in your head. I start to feel a vague sense of paranoia creeping through my mind.

And then I think, c’mon Neil, pull yourself together! Google really doesn’t care who you are. They just want to put things in your line of sight that are more rather than less likely to get you to open your wallet and part with your wages!!

Such were the thoughts that were buzzing around my head yesterday at an event organised by the Web Science Trust (http://webscience.org).

The meeting was entitled ‘Observing the Web’ and the purpose was to highlight some of the work that the Web Science Trust and their partners and collaborators are doing to build a global network of Web Observatories providing an open analytics environment to drive new forms of Web research. We went round the room doing introductions and Dame Wendy Hall ended up branding us a ‘motley crew’. Academics, industry players, not-for-profits, technologists, funders, charities, a lawyer. (Quite a respectable looking motley crew in the very smart surroundings of the Royal Society I might add). But ‘motley crew’ felt about right for a topic and a collaborative, academic, open activity that is still exploring the territory and testing new ground. Presumably in contrast to the well-resourced, sophisticated and highly developed (but opaque) methods employed by the corporate observers of the Web (Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo etc.).

The point of all of this ‘observing’ is not to try and take account of every little bit of data and content on the web, but rather to understand what the aggregated use of the Web can tell us; how trends and fashions and changes of behaviour in relation to the Web might illuminate aspects of our society and culture, both now and for future students and researchers.

This was all of great interest to Jisc. We are currently working with the British Library, the Oxford Internet Institute and the Institute of Historical Research on an initiative that aligns very well with the notion of the Web Observatory.

The Big Data project (http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/research/projects/?id=88)

and

the AADDA project (http://www.history.ac.uk/projects/digital/AADDA)

are both using a copy of the Internet Archive’s collection of UK domain websites collected over the period 1996-2010, to examine new ways to engage with the web at domain level, and develop new forms of research that leverage the scale of the web. As the name of the Oxford project says … it’s all about using ‘Big Data’.

This was work that emerged from influential JISC-funded reports commissioned in 2010 -

Researcher Engagement with Web Archives
http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/preservation/researcherengagementwithWA.aspx

As we heard at the meeting, the academic observatory is a very different proposition to the corporate observatory and comes with enormous challenges including: interoperability (how do we link observatories?); access (asides from Twitter which of the big corporates will let us use their data?); privacy (will people feel spied upon?); and sustainability (what is the business model?).

A fascinating meeting and big topic. There will be more discussion in Early May at the ACM Web Science Meeting in Paris.

http://www.websci13.org/registration/

 

 

Berlin 9 conference

I am just back from the Berlin 9 conference. The “Berlin” series of conference are named after the Berlin Declaration on Open Access, and this was the first time the annual conference has been held in North America. It’s very hard to summarise my reactions from the conference, there were so many stories showing how opening up scholarship can lead to real benefits, in health, development, innovation and our quality of life. For example, Cyril Muller from the World Bank described how that organisation has adopted an open approach to the work it funds, and to its own operations, and is encouraging the governments with whom it works to do the same. Laura Czerniewicz from the University of Cape Town showed how open education resource, configured for SIM-enabled mobile devices, can make a real difference to some quite seriously disadvantaged students. And Elliot Maxwell highlighted some wonderfully elegant research studies, showing clearly how, when scientific findings and resources are made open, it leads to a greater diversity, quality and application of knowledge. Of course, there are implications. Michael Crow of Arizona State University argued that all this requires us to re-think the university as a social technology, and Philip Bourne highlighted some of the challenges we have in moving to a research practice that is native to the digital environment, genuinely reproducible, and that rewards researchers who move in that direction. The overwhelming impression, though, was of a scholarly community now adopting more open approaches, and beginning to see tangible benefits from that. Berlin 10 is on the African continent for the first time. I hope it will bring new voices to be heard in this community.

The OER Turn

At ALT- C I participated in several discussions around open content, and then this week we ran the closing programme meeting for Phase Two of the HEA/JISC OER programme.  I feel that a new perspective on academic-created open content is emerging.

I think it’s sometimes useful to think in terms of foreground and background: most of the elements are there and have been there all along, but some take centre stage. It’s a question of weight and attention given to the different activities, a question of where the discussions happen.

2009 Foreground 2011 Foreground
Focus on provision Focus on use
Focus on educator as provider and user Focus on non-educators as users
Open courseware, the course online Rich media, beyond text
Embedding in courses or free searching online Tutor or peer or social recommendation
CC BY NC ND  for editing by educators CC BY for remixing by anyone
Focus on licensing is key Focus on licensing might be distracting
Institutional workflows Institutional support for open practice
Storage and presentation services Brokerage services
OERs Open content

Just to stress, all of these views are evident in part in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and even before that. My interest is just in what is shifting in the foreground. This is just my first take and I hope it will stimulate discussion. It would be really interesting for others to write their own lists.

I think that enough of the focus has shifted that the space has changed.  I christen this The OER Turn. The OER Turn is characterised by the working through of the following topics:

Visible and Invisible Use

The Value of Reuse Report by Marion Manton and Dave White of Oxford, produced for the OER programme, uses an iceberg analogy of visible and invisible use. It helpfully guided our discussions at the end of phase two programme meeting. Previous to this, David Wiley’s “toothbrush” post was the example cited of this conundrum. The fact that it was so divisive amongst OER people shows that it hit a nerve (excuse the pun). I think the iceberg diagram draws on this and illustrates the problem of visibility.

The general consensus amongst people involved in UK OER Programme is that reuse of web-based resources does happen, all the time, but it is usually private, mostly invisible to the providers and often not strictly legal. So there is above waterline use and below the waterline use.

The visible use of open content tends to be institutional-level use that is itself more visible because it is openly shared again: it is being relicensed out again. Where institutions want to reuse content in aggregate open resources, it may influence the types of content they reuse, and they way in which they do it.

Messages:

On reflection, perhaps the top of the iceberg fits most closely with 2009 foregrounded conception of OER, the majority of the iceberg is what is being given more attention in the 2011 conception.

The importance of licensing?

Naomi Korn’s video introduction to licensing and IPR issues illustrates the concept of rights in > rights out. The more rights you want to give out to users, the more you have to restrict yourself to content you have obtained broad rights in for. As the risk management calculator illustrates, if you use content licensed as CC BY NC ND, you cannot licence it out as CC BY NC, because that doesn’t not include the ND clause. And CC BY SA can only be licensed out as CC BY SA, so cannot be remixed with anything less than CC BY or more CC BY SA. Share-Alike is quite restrictive. This is counter-intuitive but true. Play with the calculator and find out for yourself.

It may be only when reuse is more visible, such as formal institutional adoption of third party resources (above the waterline) that the risk of reusing un-cleared content is high enough to make the open license a key aspect of OER.Institutions as providers of content may wish to choose different licences to what institutions as  users of content want. They may want to publish content as (c) all rights reserved. If it is a choice between that or nothing, what should they choose?  Note that they could publish something as (c) all rights reserved unless otherwise stated, and have clearly marked CC elements. Polarising a simple open or not open isn’t helpful. As Naomi Korn put it, “what is the opposite of open”? Paid-for? Authenticated? Not editable? Open content needs to be viewed as part of the wider ecosystem of content. What it “affords” will be specific to the use case. Interestingly this is a good parallel with accessibility: “accessible to who to do what?”

Reflecting with Naomi Korn we shifted our recommendation from “whichever CC licence suits” (1) in phase one to “ideally CC BY” in phase two. John Robertson has summarised licensing choices made by the projects.  This is an example of how the programme has pushed forward our understanding of this area, including that of the legal experts. If we knew the answers at the start, it wouldn’t be an innovation programme!

Thinking above to the points about visibility: if the open content is not shared out again under an open licence then it might be being used but not so visibly. It might show up as web stats, but even then, once the content has been copied to another place, as any CC licence lets you do, then the content proliferates, as does the usage. Usage becomes even harder to see.

Another implication of described use as above below the waterline is that the risk is significantly less. The feeling was that this is an appropriate risk evaluation.  So, open licensing does matter for formal institutional use, less so for practice that is “under the waterline”.

Messages:

We are genuinely learning together on this: as open licensing spreads and models of use develop, we will need to be alert to the mechanics of remixing content. And also open to the possibility that the end point of the supply chain need not be open: not all content will be licensed out again.

A great example of the OER Turn is how  OER Commons includes resources described as “read the fine print” licenses. Or Therese Bird’s work on iTunesU.

However … I still want to hear more about the rights that Creative Commons licenses grant to translate and shift formats, for above the waterline activities. Examples please! This could be key.

The role of the university

Alongside the previously dominant narrative of OERs as exchanges between educators and each other, and educators and their learners, there is also the potential for academic open content to connect academics with the public. I explored that a little in a previous post, Tony Hirst further in his post on OERs and public service education, University of Nottingham, Oxford University and other institutions also see their open content as part of their public engagement.

In some scenarios opening up universities through open practice is about OER, in the top of the iceberg sense. But much of the benefits of opening up knowledge to the public can be achieved without open content licensing (unless the brokering services need it). Initiatives like Warwick Knowledge also draw on the notion of the university as a pubic knowledge organisation.

So there is a strong argument for focussing more on the public and global use of open content.

Sidenote: Critics of the toothbrush analogy might say that this is what they meant all along. I’m not sure that is true. If it is, it wasn’t very well articulated. Because we still need to understand the drivers behind provision and how the benefits of public engagement can be articulated.  Academic staff are a university’s most precious resource. The needs of institutions, who pay academic’s wages, need to be factored in to how open practice can be supported.

The pursuit of global knowledge is not owned by universities. Wikipedia, Slideshare, YouTube, Twitter, Delicious have all seen a blossoming of thoughtful quality input from a huge range of sources. The role that academics play in this open content space is as one type of contribution. Learners contribute too. But so do millions who are outside of formal education.

OER is dead. Long live academically-created content appropriately licensed and formatted to support intended users

Not quite as catchy, is it? However I am increasingly hearing suggestions that OER is not a useful term any more, aside from a supply-side term relating to the visible tip of the iceberg. I have recommended for some time that we drop the term and focus instead on open content and open practice.

Having asked a year ago what the “O” in OER means, now I find myself asking what the “Open” in Open Content means. Well, it definitely means free (not paid). And it means easily linkable, which means not authenticated (not closed). However what about near-ubiquitous controlled access through gmail or facebook? Sometimes the format matters, sometimes the licensing matters. Maybe this matters a lot for content to cross language boundaries, maybe it matters a lot for accessibility. In which case do we need to articulate the costs and benefits of open content for those use cases? We don’t want to kill open practice dead by focusing too strictly on definitions of openness any more than we want to kill open content by diluting the promise to users seeking editable re-licensable content. What questions should be asking about open content?

What do you think?

Amber Thomas

Creative Commons Licence
OER Digital Infrastructure Update by Amber Thomas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Fromt infteam.jiscinvolve.org.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/contactus

Footnote (1) The wording was  “Examples of suitable licences include those with the “Attribution” and “Share-Alike” clauses. We would encourage projects not to use the non-free Creative Commons variants (such as “Non Commercial” and “No Derivatives”), as these negatively affect the reusability of resources. However, we do recognise that in some specific circumstances this may not be possible.” (Thanks to David Kernohan for extracting)

JISC Grant Funding Call

The JISC Information Environment and eResearch team have been working on a grant funding call which should be released on or around 4th October. There will be a briefing day in London on 11th October; more information to follow about that. Those who keep a close eye on the JISC website and in particular the funding roadmap will be aware of the general direction of the call, but in this post I’ll spell out a little more about it. The call broadly represents a tranche of investment in the technologies, policies and practices that make up the infrastructure to support research and learning. The structure of the call document is still being finalised, but for the purpose of this post we can say that it calls for projects under ten main strands:

Research Information Management refers to administrative data about research (projects, outputs, etc). This is the second round of funding for projects in this area and will focus on interoperability around the CERIF model, simplifying the exchange of research information between and within HE organisations. One aim is to support the community of practice that is emerging in the UK around the use of this standard, and so help universities benefit from shared lessons, skills and experiences. A total of £300,000 may be available for this area of work.

Identity management is an increasing important role for any organisation providing digital identities, for example to its staff and students. JISC has funded the creation of an online Identity Management Toolkit to enable universities and colleges to access and review their identity management processes and policies. Projects funded under this call will be early adopter pilots whereby universities and colleges deploy the Toolkit, work with the its creators and submit case studies to the Toolkit website as part of providing a richer set of resources to support the Toolkit. The projects will also need to share lessons learned with the sector. A total of £200,000 may be available for this area of work.

Identifiers: Universities and colleges create new pages on their public ac.uk websites every day. The management of these websites continues to grow in complexity and size, especially as editorial control is devolved to more departments and institutional staff. The URIs of these websites are a key institutional asset, as a representation of the organisation on the web. This, and the persistence of these identifiers over time, contributes to the trust that can be placed in an organisation’s web presence. The aim of this strand of the call is to start to improve the extent to which identifiers are planned and managed within institutions, and contribute to the technologies and skills required to do that. Projects will be relatively small development activities, resulting in a valid data model for a URI set, plus a corresponding proposed re-organisation of a set of web pages. A total of £70,000 may be available for this area of work.

Infrastructure to Support Resource Discovery: JISC, RLUK and partners have released a vision for infrastructure to support resource discovery and related services in libraries, museums and archives. See http://rdtf.jiscinvolve.org/wp/ for background and context. This vision focuses on the provision of open metadata to support innovative and flexible services for researchers, teachers and students. JISC and partners will be funding work to realise this vision in line with the implementation plan. This area of the call is designed to enable libraries archives and museums to make open metadata about their collections available in a sustainable way, and to investigate the issues involved in its production. A recent workshop run by UKOLN recommended a series of steps that content providers could take in making their data available, in a model influenced by Tim Berners-Lee’s Linked Data Note:
1. make data available in an open form
2. assign and expose HTTP URIs for everything, and expose useful content at those URIs
3. publish data produced in step 2 as XML
4. expose the semantics of data produced in step 2
The JISC funding call will focus on the later steps in this series. A total of £200,000 may be available for work in this area.

Activity Data: Activity data is data pertaining to actions that a user has performed against an online resource or service, including simply reading it. Commercial companies such as Amazon and Tesco have made a great success of exploiting their data about customer activities to improve services to customers, manage stock and support decision making. Recent research and projects have suggested that similar opportunities may exist for Higher education institutions in managing their research, learning, information and administrative services. JISC intends to fund projects that explore these opportunities by positing a way in which their institution could benefit by exploiting this data, developing tools or approaches to exploit the data in that way, and reporting back on their success. There will be scope for larger projects working across several institutions, and a synthesis project to draw out and communicate lessons for the sector. A total of £600,000 may be available for work in this area.

Digital Preservation: Two specific areas of work in digital preservation will be included in the call. The first aims to enable practitioners within UK universities and colleges to test, validate, critique and demonstrate the use of existing preservation tools in live environments. While the most obvious use case is for information specialists within institutions to use this funding to embark on a scoped preservation exercise involving identified information or datasets, and using an appropriate preservation tool or tools, other use cases are possible. A total of £150,000 may be available for this area of work. The second area of work relates to complex visual digital materials and environments, specifically simulations, visualisations, gaming environments, virtual worlds and digital art. Preservation of these resources and environments is hugely challenging, and the work proposed will examine and record emerging good practice, and make recommendations to those facing those challenges in institutions and to JISC and other national and international bodies as appropriate. A total of £120,000 may be available for this area of work.

Geo-spatial: Location is a fundamental concept that underpins analysis within research and learning. Because of this geospatial tools and data can form a core component of research, teaching and learning in almost any discipline. The aim of the geospatial programme area is to increase the use of geospatial tools, infrastructure and information for learners, teachers and researchers; to enhance tools and services and related practice as well as identifying future requirements. Collectively the projects should help improve take-up in the longer term and where relevant they should support the transfer of geospatial skills to disciplines that are not primarily geospatial. A total of £700,000 may be available for this area of work.

Sustainability of at risk resources: Working in a dynamic sector in which organisations are set up, merged, re-organised and closed, it is easy for important digital resources to lose their curating body. Changes of ownership are difficult and valuable lessons could be learnt by applying best practice and sharing experiences. JISC has funded the development of advice in this area. One-off small grants may be made available to support projects in relocating valuable “at risk” resources, in such a way that experience is captured and shared, and feeds into JISC’s future work. A total of £100,000 may be available for this area of work.

Digital Repositories: Significant investment by universities and colleges, and by national bodies such as JISC, means that there is now a solid foundation for UK repository infrastructure that consists of institutional repositories, subject repositories, software, tools, skills and shared services. As a part of this growth and development pockets of excellence and good practice have formed at institutions. This final area of the call aims to improve institutional services that rely on the repository, by enabling the lessons and benefits from the most successful of repository applications, tools and techniques to be realised across a range of universities and colleges. So, small projects will be funded that enable institutions to take repository applications, tools and techniques from elsewhere and deploy them locally, thereby developing sustainable service improvements, building skills, and sharing the practice back with the sector. A total of £180,000 may be available for this area of work.

This is a broad call for proposals, demonstrating the breadth of vision JISC has for infrastructure to support education and research. It has been developed to achieve a balance between exploring the potential of new areas, and building on existing areas of strength to benefit the whole sector.

The draft call text is currently being reviewed by domain experts, who are offering feedback to JISC. Since the text is draft at the moment, and we expect it to change as a result of this feedback, no further information about the call is available at this time. The expert reviewers are: Kevin Ashley, Steve Bailey, Neil Chue Hong, Anna Clements, Liam Earney, Michael Fraser, Marieke Guy, David Harrison, Mark Hedges, Gareth Johnson, David Kay, William Kilbride, Gareth Knight, Mike Mertens, Paul Miller, William Nixon, John Paschoud, Dave Pattern, Andy Powell, Cal Racey, Rosemary Russell, Colin Smith, Owen Stephens, Graham Stone, David Thomas, Paul Walk, and the members of the JISC Geospatial Working Group. We are very grateful for their help advising us on various areas of this grant funding call.

Halfway through the US Blue Ribbon Meeting

Greetings from Blue Ribbon Meeting again. http://brtf.sdsc.edu/index.html

Some interesting angles emerging from a variety of participants. Heard from Thomas Kalil this morning who works as a policy staffer at the White House in the Office of Science and Technology. (Is he perhaps what they call a ‘policy wonk’ … I don’t know. I should have paid closer attention to the West Wing). Anyway – he talked about how the preservation community might be able to get this whole area of digital sustainability onto the Presidential radar. What we don’t do is to present this as a problem that needs to be tackled in ten different ways, at different levels, by diverse stakeholders. We need to realise that the White House is in the business of saying ‘no’ most of the time, so we need to make it as easy as possible for them to say ‘yes’. We need to be realistic about what we’re asking for and we need to be very directed about who in the Presidential office we approach to champion the cause.

What we probably do is get a message to the President that person x at trusted organisation y, has a low cost/high benefit measure that the President really needs to hear, which fits with his broad agenda, and has the backing of many thought leaders across the expert community.

I’m assuming we can transpose that to Downing Street.

 Right … we’re back in session. More later.

#brtf

The Economics of Sustaining Digital Information

I’m in Washington to attend the US Symposium of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access.

Symposium programme – http://brtf.sdsc.edu/symposium.html

This is the end of a two year process of enquiry and analysis where  14 experts have had a series of meetings to consider what the economic implications are, and what economic frameworks are required, to ensure that all of the expensively acquired knowledge that we commit to digital formats is available for as long as we need it … or in some cases, even longer! – given that there is a great deal of information around that subsequent generations might find useful even though we have no clear idea what we should do with it!

The panel of experts is mostly drawn from the US although the UK has been represented by Paul Ayris (UCL) and Chris Rusbridge (DCC). The final report is now available at: http://brtf.sdsc.edu/index.html

The report focuses on four types of information: scholarly discourse; research data; commercially owned cultural content; and collectively produced web content, and uses these categories to frame some recommendations for a range of different stakeholders. These are presented as a number of bullet-pointed lists and tables which can (and no doubt will) be extracted from the report by way of summarising some of the detail contained in the main body of the text.

For those of us not au fait with the language of economics, hearing digital materials referred to as ‘non-rival depreciable durable assets’ makes you stop and think for a moment … but as the concepts are explained and the principles become clear, this well written report starts to give you a slightly new take on the long-term management of digital resources.

#brtf

Information Environment (IE) & Virtual Research Environments (VRE) call for proposals: Briefing Day notes/Q & A

On 15th December a briefing day on the Information Environment and e-Research JISC Circular (12/08) was held. The event was held in order to provide an overview of the circular and to give people the opportunity to ask questions. The circular has £11m of JISC funding against it which is quite substantial. The calls in 12/08 focus on: digital repositories for learning and research, virtual research environments, use of text-mining and automatic meta-data generation and digital preservation. So in short the circular is seeking projects that are mainly about the creation, management and sharing of information that is part of the research and learning process in ways that support researchers, learners, teachers and administrators.

Here are the links to the presentations from the Briefing Day:
Policy and bid submission
Automated Metadata and Text-mining- strand A1
Digital Repositories: Start-up, rapid innovation and enhancement – strands A3- A5
Developing e-infrastructure to support research disciplines and digital preservation exemplars – strands A2 and A6
Virtual Research Environments (VRE) – strands B1-B3

Notes of the discussion and questions and answers from the briefing day:

IE and VRE Circular 12/08 15 December Briefing Day questions and answers

For some notes of the whole event as it went along see Andy Powell’s (Eduserv Foundation) live blog.

A few points of context:

JISC has funded projects and services in all of these areas previously. So what is different this time? I would say there are three general issues that underpin the projects sought in this circular:

* reflecting the maturity of digital repositories and other types of ‘e-infrastructure’ this circular is seeking further and improved alignment of these systems with user requirements. An emphasis in the calls is the need to involve/take into account end-users and a bringing together of these ‘e-infrastructure’ systems with research and learning processes.
* both the IE and the VRE strands of activity are about building on previous investment and lessons – so these are not completely new areas of activity. In the case of repository and digital preservation activity for example we’re seeking more repositories, improved repositories and policies, further integration with other systems and in areas such as digital preservation we’re looking for actual implementation of solutions that have previously been developed. However although this circular is generally about implementing areas where there has already been substantial work the projects are about improvement and so will involve new ideas and development.
* recognition that in many cases cross domain teams and skills are required to create, manage, use and develop digital systems, supporting policies and related practices within institutions.

The decision to publish the IE and VRE call strands together was partly a practical one as both funding areas were due to issue circulars at the same time, but there was more to this decision than that. Publishing them together was, I think, essential in terms of showing that information systems should not be developed independently of the requirements of the research process. I think if we’d published the calls separately there would’ve been a danger of perpetuating this often unhelpful division. In particular the projects sought under A2, Developing e-infrastructure to support research disciplines bridge both areas and seek to bring the research process and scholarly communications requirements together with underlying information systems. This particular strand in the IE calls also represents the fact that developing the Information Environment (or e-infrastructure) is not just about managing and disseminating information it is about supporting and improving research (and of course learning and teaching, although the projects called for under A2 focus on research). I think the connections that are emerging between both the IE and VRE programme areas are a good thing and are inevitable to progress.

The Information Environment (and Virtual Research Environment) Call for Proposals November 2008

The JISC is calling for proposals relating to the ‘Information Environment’ and ‘Virtual Research Environments’. This blog post relates only to those elements of the Call relating to the Information Environment, that is Strands A1-A6:

There is also an accompanying briefing document which describes important background information, and outlines some requirements that are being placed on repositories that are involved in bids under these headings. The Call itself spells out the aims and intended scope of projects under these headings, so I won’t repeat it all here.

There will be a Briefing Day on 15th December 2008.

The purpose of this blog post is to be the anchor for an FAQ relating to Strands A1-A6 of the Call. If you have queries relating to these strands of the Call, you can contact the relevant JISC person as noted above and in the Call document, or you can add a comment to this blog post. Either way, if the query would be relevant to other bidders then our response will be via a further comment added to this blog post. In this way we hope to build up an FAQ that all potential bidders can access easily and quickly. We’d also welcome comments (or emails) on the use of the blog for this purpose.

“… to engage or not engage…” the choice for libraries.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the RLUK conference, their first conference and one that everyone there seemed to enjoy. Unfortunately I only made it for the last day for a slot where a panel of funders, policy bodies and service providers, including JISC, said a few words about priorities and partnership with others.

I did get to hear Lynne Brindley speak. She covered a lot of ground and most of what she said chimed with JISC priorities; albeit coming from a different set of organisational boundaries. Anyway I thought I’d just jot down what Lynne said as I think the issues she raised are well worth recounting here. I might’ve misinterpreted some things, especially since it was a while ago now but on the whole I think I’ve captured the main points.

In general she was referring to the fact that in the complex digital environment offering services that remain relevant and take advantage of what Lynne called “mass creativity” can be difficult. But she said the choice for libraries is “ to engage or not engage”. Unsurprisingly the message was to engage.

A summary of issues she raised:

• Developing digital information services does incur a cost. A lot of innovative projects have been developed but we have not yet fully tackled sustainability.

• Libraries should support innovative scholarship. We’re now in a complex world where the web is a platform of “mass creativity” but offers real opportunities for innovative scholarship. She referred to some examples where digitisation and making digital resources available have led to new knowledge.

• Libraries need to move well beyond the critical role they play in licensing and recognise that things like document supply are not as relevant as they once were.

• “life beyond the document” how should libraries respond to this?

• The research data question and the skills gap – we have data librarians but not enough of them; traditionally libraries are more orientated towards humanities.

• Masses of information of different types – blogs, email etc are all important to scholarship they are the ephemeral information of today; what are we doing about versions of works or notes and annotations? Think of authorship and how notes are kept of authors that enhance research.

• Many people use information in different ways, skim reading etc, therefore should delivery be different, does it matter that people use information differently? Information literacy does that matter? Should libraries be helping to equip people with the skills to make the right judgments?

• The researchers of the future (and quite a few researching now) come from the born digital age and will use information differently, so what is information literacy?

• Web archiving: the web is a huge resource that must be accessible into the future for research; the legal issues are a problem but hopefully legal deposit will make a difference.

• The value of the library can sometimes be summarised as: authenticity, authority and long-term use – what about authority v amateur?

• Digital preservation is very important – this has been seen as important at policy and government levels but now it is getting into the public conscience – this is when libraries start to have real success with these issues. Just tell someone that all those photos will not be accessible and they can relate to it.

• She ended on intellectual property (IP) and referred to the EU Green Paper on Copyright and how IP deserved attention and organisations, such as academic libraries, needed to take action so any risk of locking information down further was mitigated. She emphasised that without reasonable copyright exceptions there is a risk to democratic society.

A lot of these issues are being addressed by libraries and organisations like the British Library and JISC, for example we’re responding to the EU Green Paper on Copyright in the Knowledge Economy. But despite that all of the issues require further debate and change.

JISC is about to launch a collaborative initiative with SCONUL, RLUK, The British Library and RIN that builds on our Libraries of the Future campaign and that will seek to further understand and shape the position of libraries into the future. Watch this space…it should be announced shortly.

Next Page →