Archive for the 'Europe' Category

Digital Strategies for Heritage (DISH) – the 2009 conference

Thursday, December 17th, 2009 by Jim

I’ve recently returned from the Netherlands (Holland as the locals call it and Rotterdam to be more specific) where I attended the 2009 Digital Strategies for Heritage Conference (DISH2009). The main organizers of the conference are the Netherlands Institute for Heritage and the DEN foundation. The latter organization, Digital Heritage Netherlands is the Dutch national knowledge platform for information technology and cultural heritage run by my long-time friend and colleague, Marco de Niet. I was on the advisory board for this biannual event and chaired a panel during the conference.
rotterdam delfshaven

It was very well-done. I believe that this gathering has now become the most important heritage conference for Europe (it would be the equivalent of a combined WebWise and Museums on the Web in the United States). There were over 600 delegates from twenty-three countries in attendance. They were a good mix of digital heritage practitioners, project leaders and administrators and they approached the conference from a shared vision of mobilizing heritage materials on the web that doesn’t exist in the US.

There were a small number of American attendees most of whom had keynote or other significant roles on the conference program. I think that some of them didn’t understand the extent of the investments that have already been made in the Netherlands and more generally in Europe nor the extent to which a shared motivation has taken hold. This was not an audience that needed to be hectored about the need to present their collections and their institutions on the web or the imperative of a user-centric perspective in doing this work.
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Europeana at the Halfway Mark

Monday, December 7th, 2009 by Ricky

For the recent LIBER/EBLIDA workshop on digitization at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague, I was asked to provide a view on Europeana from the US perspective. Of course, I neither speak for the US nor do I have inside information about Europeana, but I’d been following it from afar and had read just about everything I could get my hands on, so I gamely took the challenge. [Only someone as bloodied by digital paper cuts as I would dare to take on Europeana.] I wasn’t bombarded with rotten tomates, courgettes, and aubergines, so I guess it went OK. My remarks are now available in Volume 19 (2009), No. 2 of the LIBER QUARTERLY.

Climate change for libraries

Monday, November 30th, 2009 by John

At the RLG Partnership Annual Meeting in 2007, Timothy Burke told the assembled research librarians ‘you have to figure out how to be hydraulic engineers of information flow rather than the guardians of the fortress’. It’s an image that has stuck with me. Everywhere now in our professional literature we see the challenges of our work represented by the imagery of flow and fluidity. We try to scope and identify workflows that are changing or need to change. The platform of the web dips and peaks faster and differently than we can predict, and as it does so content suddenly flows in different directions, taking new channels. Stability in this environment is rare, and a relief when we find it, even though it may lie in places that librarians take some time to trust – like Google and Wikipedia.

I often show a slide produced by Rick Luce, Vice-Provost and Director of Libraries at Emory University, when describing the territory of our Research Information Management (RIM) programme. This appeals to me because it indicates that library attention needs to be focused on the workflow layer, rather than the repository layer that sits below it.

Understanding the particular environments of researchers, and the flows that matter to them, is perhaps not a new challenge for research libraries, but it is a newly urgent one. In the pre-digital world the flows were not digital flows, with the capture challenges and opportunities that now exist. The library dealt mainly in the solid world of published literature. It collected from the physical outputs that emerged at the end of flow processes, and could structure its operations around that bounded reality (within its ‘fortress’ print stores, to use Tim Burke’s analogy). Now, we see potential for library services everywhere, because we have systems that capture flows, and allow them to combine, split and replicate wherever it is useful for them to do so, and legal barriers do not obstruct. But to do so optimally, we need to understand researchers’ worlds at a level of detail that is still not familiar to libraries. Read the rest of this entry »

Mendeley scrobbles your papers

Thursday, September 24th, 2009 by John

Mendeley is a social web application for academic authors that has been receiving quite a lot of attention recently. Victor Keegan wrote about it in The Guardian last week, likening it to the streaming music service Last.fm:

How does it work? At the basic level, students can “drag and drop” research papers into the site at mendeley.com which automatically extracts data, keywords, cited references, etc, thereby creating a searchable database and saving countless hours of work. That in itself is great, but now the Last.fm bit kicks in, enabling users to collaborate with researchers around the world, whose existence they might not know about until Mendeley’s algorithms find, say, that they are the most-read person in Japan in their niche specialism. You can recommend other people’s papers and see how many people are reading yours, which you can’t do in Nature and Science. Mendeley says that instead of waiting for papers to be published after a lengthy procedure of acquiring citations, they could move to a regime of real-time citations, thereby greatly reducing the time taken for research to be applied in the real world and actually boost economic growth. There are lots of research archives. For the physical (but not biological) sciences there is ArXiv, with more than half a million e-papers free online – but nothing on the potential scale of Mendeley. Around 60,000 people have already signed up and a staggering 4m scientific papers have been uploaded, doubling every 10 weeks. At this rate it will soon overtake the biggest academic databases, which have around 20m papers.

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Edinburgh University Library comes full circle

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009 by John

I was invited back to Edinburgh University Library last Thursday to attend the launch event for the opening of the refurbished Ground Floor – part of a long renovation project that began last year with the opening of its excellent Centre for Research Collections on the upper floors. The library that I left almost two years ago has been beautifully and gracefully transformed. The booklet that was published to celebrate the opening states in its Vision section:

The Library was founded in 1580 when Edinburgh Advocate Clement Litill bequeathed his collection of 276 volumes to the Toun and Kirk of Edinburgh. The University admitted its first students three years later, and the library collections have since become of national and international significance. The University has transformed its Library in significant periods of its history. It created the Playfair Library during the Enlightenment, and in the sixties commissioned Sir Basil Spence to design a new Main Library in George Square – which opened in 1967. The current redevelopment renews the service which supports the intellectual activity of the University.

Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin is one of the University’s most famous contemporary graduates, and he spoke entertainingly at the event. The University has made him the focus of a short video on the revamped Library, which features him being shown round by Director of Library Services Sheila Cannell. Rankin talks of the shock of arriving at the library for the first time as an undergraduate coming from a small Scottish town and a comprehensive school. That shock is a more pleasant one now. My wife studied at Edinburgh at the same time as Rankin, and remembers him from the literary society. She and I could both identify with Rankin’s memories. I recall meeting her in the more forbidding upper floors that are still waiting to be transformed – but we now have two sons studying there who will at least find the Ground Floor beautiful, if this review is typical of student reaction.

I am very impressed with the artwork that features in the redevelopment, not least the Interleaved series of 100 mesostics by the artist Alec Finlay. Created in collaboration with staff and students, these are based on books in the Library, and have been affixed to shelf-ends and produced as bookmarks. The one included in my booklet was based on Death in Venice and reads con-men and decadent invalids. Cut into paving stones at the front entrance is the title poem Interleaved mesostic circle poem (for a library) which has been produced from the source text Thair to Reman, the foundational wish of Clement Litill.

Welcome to St Andrews – a ‘fountain of science’

Thursday, August 27th, 2009 by John

The current Pope, Benedict XVI, recently issued an encyclical devoted to social issues. In it the Pope expresses concern about unjust intellectual property practices and the use of them to withhold information from those most in need – views which are often made for our community in the more familiar venues of scholarly publishing and open access.

The university which hosts our European office, St Andrews, a leading research-intensive university in the UK to this day, was established almost 600 years ago by an earlier Pope Benedict. The University’s School of Mathematics and Statistics has some interesting historical information:

The University of St Andrews was founded by Bishop Henry Wardlaw. His charter of incorporation is dated 28 February 1412 … and he set up the University partly for prestige but mainly so that students could be educated for the Church. Prior to this bishops in St Andrews had provided funds to send their students to the universities of Bologna, Paris and Oxford but the political situation at the time made it increasingly difficult to continue this practice. A Papal Bull of Foundation was issued on 28 August 1413 by Pope Benedict XIII who wrote:-

… considering also the peace and quietness which flourish in the said city of St Andrews and its neighbourhood, its abundant supply of victuals, the number of its hospices and other conveniences for students, which it is known to possess, we are led to hope that this city, which the devine bounty has enriched with so many gifts, may become the fountain of science…

Lovely words – though from an Antipope. The Scottish church was one of the few in Europe still to recognise Benedict XIII as Pope in 1413, when his bull establishing the University was issued. University historians today are quick to point out that any doubt over the validity of this bull once Scotland came once again into line over Papal allegiance was dispelled by its reaffirmation by a later post-schismatic Pope.


Flickr image of St Salvator’s College by garethjmsaunders

St Andrews University Library is rich in special collections. A succinct overview is given on the Friends of St Andrews University Library pages:

The University of St Andrews Library has its origins in the fifteenth century in the separate libraries of the colleges of St Leonard, St Salvator and St Mary … These formed the first collections of books within the institution, and were significantly enhanced in 1611-1612 when King James VI and I and members of his family presented over 200 volumes to the University to mark the founding of the Common Library. From 1710 to 1837 the Library was entitled to a copy of every book printed in Britain under the Copyright Deposit Act, which has resulted in a particularly strong collection of eighteenth-century material, with a special emphasis on books relating to the Scottish Enlightenment … The Library also holds one of the largest and most important collections of historic photography in Scotland, reflecting the fact that St Andrews played a key role in the development of the photographic process … Manuscript holdings are similarly rich, ranging from Greek papyri and medieval philosophical treatises to modern business records.

The Friends of the University Library recently launched a lecture series to celebrate the impending 600th anniversary of the founding of the University, and the 400th anniversary of the King James Library. The first lecture was delivered a few weeks ago by Dr James Billington, Librarian of Congress, who spoke of the role of the library in protecting and promoting knowledge for the good of humanity – values which Popes and other religious and civic leaders have approved, and universities have sustained, for 600 years and more.

We are delighted to announce that St Andrews has now joined the RLG Partnership, and proud to welcome this distinguished library to our community.

Journals and the tainting of science

Friday, August 21st, 2009 by John

The main feature article in last week’s Times Higher, A threat to scientific communication: do academic journals pose a threat to the advancement of science?, by Zoë Corbyn, examines the scholarly journals system and asks some penetrating questions about dysfunctionality in the academy, at least in the UK. We are all aware of some troubling issues caused by the link between journal publication and academic reputation, both individual and institutional. This article is one of the boldest yet to appear in the press on the subject, and it suggests that the detriment to the advancement of knowledge due to the stranglehold of the impact factor, compounded by the artificial behaviours induced by a regime of research assessment tied to funding, is now at a level that warrants serious attention. One of the most perversely reassuring things about the article is that it quotes several senior academics, editors and policy makers, whose concerns include many that librarians have been shaking their heads about for years now. Rather than rehearse the article, which can be found on the Higher’s website, I provide below my extrapolations of some of the most disturbing symptoms identified both by the correspondents in the article, and by those who are still sending in responses to the article on the website:

  • Scientists over-hype, over-interpret, destructively split out and prematurely publish their findings.
  • Ridiculously long authorship claims are almost fraudulent. This motivated me to search for an indication of the extent of this absurdity. Finding that a Thomson Scientific study indicated that a paper published in 2006 had 2,512 authors raises the question of whether such a distortion of research to benefit the credentials of scientists is not likely to bring their own work into disrepute?
  • Editorial incentives, even in top journals, are distorted by the impact factor in favour of certain types of article written by researchers in wealthy western universities. The effects could be considered racist.
  • New textbooks are not being written by UK-based humanists and social scientists because they are being horse-whipped into producing journal articles in high impact journals. This means that teaching is suffering because the available textbooks are becoming out-dated, and outmoded ideas and attitudes are being perpetuated.
  • Remedies suggested centre upon the academy taking back the means of control into its own hands, which should provide some encouragement to initiatives such as open access repositories, though their role needs considerable development if they are to provide a corrective. Among the measures suggested are:

  • Universities should develop their own metrics.
  • Learned societies should abandon commercial publishing operations.
  • Researchers working in areas of strong public concern should engage in ‘mass disobedience’ and publish their findings on the web immediately.
  • Peer review should be be less imperious, more workmanlike and more democratic.
  • Open access papers should be deposited in a national repository for the UK.
  • Wealthy universities, via their reputationally secure researchers, should lead the rest in preferring open access journals for their publications.
  • Research libraries should take on the burden of presenting choice of publication venues to academic authors.
  • Coming from scholars themselves, these views are important for us to note for our Research Information Management work, where some projects are getting underway with surveying researchers in focus groups and via interviews. It seems clear that the academic community has a number of concerns and possible solutions that librarians have not yet thought of, or dared to think of.

    Special collections and university rankings

    Thursday, August 6th, 2009 by John

    The University of Leeds has made two prestigious acquisitions recently which have been deemed worthy of announcing from the university’s own news page. In early June, the university acquired the archive of Marks & Spencer, one of the UK’s most prestigious stores, which began its life in Leeds some 125 years ago (and has created an online exhibition drawn from its archive). Now headquartered in London, the return of the company’s archive is a nice example of regional cultural repatriation, and will undoubtedly provide a basis for a great deal of interesting research as suggested by the University’s Vice Chancellor, Michael Arthur:

    We already have one of the best academic libraries in the country, and the arrival of this tremendous archive will further strengthen it. The collection spans economic, social, artistic and cultural history and will be of interest to staff and students from all parts of the University as well as the public.

    And just a few days ago came news of the acquisition of a collection relating to Frederick Rolfe, Baron Corvo, a controversial early 20th century English novelist. This collection adds to Leeds’ substantial holdings in Victorian and early 20th century literature, and illustrates well the importance of cultivating vital relationships in a collecting strategy that gives gravity to a strong research library.

    I was interested in these library stories that had made the ‘front page’ of the university’s website, since Leeds is anxious to improve its reputation internationally. The university’s ambitions are expressed very starkly in one of the the standard footnotes for editors: ‘The University’s vision is to secure a place among the world’s top 50 by 2015’. News stories based on research developments, awards to staff or students, and prestigious acquisitions like these, are of course now common on university websites, and a standardised list of notes to editors is frequently used. But even in the reputationally aggressive UK, it is unusual to see a university stake its claim quite as boldly as this. This is probably because the league tables themselves are still not widely respected nor held as authoritative – though Leeds may be banking on that position having changed by 2015.

    It does as yet have some distance to travel though, since the Times Higher table currently lists Leeds in 104th position, having dropped 24 places since the previous year. The Shanghai Jiao Tong Index has it in 131st, down one place. But the new edition of the oddly named Ranking Web of World Universities, which judges institutions on the strength of the web presence of their research rather than on prizes won or citations, has boosted Leeds from position 180, in January, to 167 in July. Perhaps stories about research, including research collections, are beginning to have the desired effect.

    The scale of orphan relief

    Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 by John

    The phrase orphan works recalls the world of Oliver Twist, so perhaps it’s appropriate that JISC has just announced the publication of a UK report looking at the ‘orphan problem’ in UK libraries, museums and archives: In from the Cold: An assessment of the scope of ‘Orphan Works’ and its impact on the delivery of services to the public

    Access to over 50 million items held in trust by publicly funded agencies such as libraries, museums, archives and universities are being prevented from being available online due to current copyright laws. ‘In from the Cold’, a report by the Strategic Content Alliance and the Collections Trust, shows that millions of so-called ‘orphan works’ – photographs, recordings, texts and other ephemera from the last 100 years – risk becoming invisible because rights holders are not known or easy to trace.

    The report was commissioned to find the scale and impact of ‘orphan works’ on public service delivery.

    The issues for libraries are balanced up with those which affect museums and archives, which reflects the joint authorship of the report. The Strategic Content Alliance (SCA) consists of a range of UK public digital content providers (JISC, the British Library, the National Health Service, the BBC, the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council and Becta, in its own words the government agency leading the national drive to ensure the effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning). The SCA aims to build a common information environment where users of publicly funded e-content can gain best value from the investment that has been made by reducing the barriers that currently inhibit access, use and re-use of online content. It has been joined in this report by The Collections Trust, which was formerly known as the Museums Documentation Association. The scale problem is very explicitly quantified in the Executive Summary, with a number of startling figures (the emphases are mine):

    2. The mid-range estimates put the total number of Orphan Works, represented in our sample of 503
    responses to the online survey, at a total of in excess of 13 million.
    3. Individual estimates suggest that there are single organisations in the survey sample that hold in excess of 7.5 million Orphan Works. If we include even a few of these extreme examples in our calculations, it appears likely that this sample of 503 organisations could represent volumes of Orphan Works well in excess of 50 million.
    4. Extrapolated across UK museums and galleries, the number of Orphan Works can conservatively be estimated at 25 million, although this figure is likely to be much higher.

    9. Organisations spent on average less than half of one day tracing rights for each Orphan Work. Therefore it would take in the region of 6 million days effort to trace the rights holders for the 13 million works represented in our on-line survey.

    (The SCA blog translates the 6 million days of effort into 16,000 years). Read the rest of this entry »

    Monster Mashathon

    Thursday, May 14th, 2009 by Roy

    From my laboratory in the castle east
    To the master bedroom where the vampires feast
    The ghouls all came from their humble abodes
    To get a jolt from my electrodes
    They did the mash
    They did the monster mash” – The Monster Mash, Bobby “Boris” Pickett

    We just wrapped up two days of heavy-duty geek-ery in Amsterdam, at the WorldCat Mashathon. Library developers from Germany, UK, Netherlands, Belgium, France, and the U.S. participated in learning about and using OCLC Grid Services.

    The event was co-sponsored and hosted by the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, which is an RLG Partner institution. Titia van der Werf-Davelaar of the IISH ably kicked off the event with an inspirational talk and Afelonne Doek provided excellent organizational assistance throughout, including arranging for amazing spreads of edibles for breaks and lunch. IISH technical staff set up each participant with storage space on a server as well as several essential applications such as MySQL, PostgreSQL and Apache. Several IISH technical staff also participated in the event.

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