A DLF Forum Like No Other

Ever since it was announced that the Digital Library Federation was merging with CLIR, I’ve heard people wondering about the fate of the Forum, which has long been appreciated as one of the signal benefits of the Digital Library Federation. As stated in the press release:

“While we do not believe an independent, governance-based organizational model is still viable, our assessment has underscored the continued value in the [DLF] Forum and the potential for catalyzing our community. Dissolving the Digital Library Federation and re-conceiving the program agenda within CLIR offers considerable promise,” noted the Review Committee.

Thankfully Sayeed Choudhury of Johns Hopkins University, a long-time DLF Forum participant and well-respected in the community, stepped forward to lead the planning of the Fall Forum. Joined by a team of DLF activists (and me, go figure), he is intent on changing the typical Forum into a transformative experience. This coming Forum, to be held November 11-12 in Long Beach, CA, is focused entirely on “Strategies for Innovation”.

Rather than being based on the classic “call for papers”, this time the planning committee is soliciting specific speakers who we believe can best focus on what it takes to be innovative and how we can collectively more forward in these trying times. Therefore the talks themselves will not be the usual “this is my institution, this is what we did, and this is what happened” kind of thing. We’re after experiences, certainly, but focused on what we can take away from them  to inform our efforts to be innovative. Currently  the speaker line-up includes:

  • Brad Maclean, DuraSpace
  • John Wilkin, The HathiTrust and the University of Michigan
  • Bess Sadler, University of Virginia
  • Katherine Kott, Stanford University
  • Sayeed Choudhury, Johns Hopkins University

And we are working hard to line up others to flesh out the main perspectives we want to have at the table: libraries, funders, technology, and community.

The first day will be comprised of these stage-setting talks and an evening reception where we can informally discuss what we’ve heard. The second day will be devoted to discussion and participation. Attendees will divide into one of  three groups in the morning of the second day: Developers, Project Managers,  or Administrators. The focus in each of these groups will be to discuss how to be innovative and what strategies we think would be the most effective to move us all forward. The groups will report back and form the foundation for the culminating session of the Forum, which will be a group work session to identify specific strategies to pursue. As Sayeed said in a recent message to DLF-ANNOUNCE:

With this approach, it is difficult to know precisely what will result from the conversations and reflections, but one desirable outcome would be a set of near-term community source software development needs, along with a clear understanding of the organizational and financial arrangements to meet those needs.  Another important outcome would be a road map for subsequent Forums and perhaps even DLF itself.

This Forum will be an opportunity to share your thoughts about what has worked — and what has not — in terms of innovation within libraries and how to make changes in order to support innovation more effectively.  It will be your chance to identify the most pressing technical needs that must be addressed if we are to make rapid progress for supporting new forms of learning and research.  This Forum will be an assembly for open discussion where you can help shape the future of DLF.

Be there to be heard.

8 Comments on “A DLF Forum Like No Other”

  1. In my talk at SAA I emphasized that information professionals (e.g., archivists, librarians, records managers) rightfully need to rely on technical experts (programmers, engineers, etc.) to do things, but that information professionals need to be able to exercise technical judgment. One of the most outstanding computer scientists I’ve ever worked with told me, “We can come up with solutions to any problem you give us, even though digital archives give us some of the most complex problems we face (but not much money to solve them). What we can’t do is know whether the solutions are any good. It requires domain expertise to do that.” Technical judgment is the ability to determine what, if any technology, is good for a particular real world need. Technical judgment requires technical knowledge, but not technical expertise, the ability to apply that knowledge to develop, adapt or support solutions.

    On the other side of the coin, I’ve suggested for several years that we need a new specialization, which I call archival engineering. It would combine competency in archival science with skill in computer engineering. The same could be said for ‘library engineering.’

  2. This comment is more directly a comment on Paul De Stefano’s comment than the original post, but I think it may indirectly comment on that as well.

    I’m struck by the phrase “technological goals” and the call for increasing technological knowledge at all levels in an institution. Perhaps I am just missing the shorthand at work in the posting and the comment, but why call for the non-high technology staff at an institution to be educated about high-technology rather than call for an institution’s high-technology staff to be educated about the matters that are the reason for the institution existing? And, it may be that rather than seeing the problem as ignorance of one sub-group or another within an institution, it may be best seen and best addressed as a communication issue within the organization. Of course, one consequence of effective communication among people is the growth in relevant knowledge of all.

    A related thought: the high-technology goals of an institution and the high-technology innovations that are valuable should be sub-ordinate to the social or mission goals of the institution. A focus on achieving high-technology goals (by educating the non-technologists) may disorient the institution from achieving its social goals. Of course, the social goals need to be pursued with an eye toward how high-technology can be effectively used to acheive those goals, but use of high-technology is only part of the much larger set of actions that comprise an instution.

  3. Kenneth Theibodeau spoke at this year’s SAA conference about the importance of strategically raising the technical skills and knowledge of staff at all levels in an institution in order to truly advance technological goals. He pointed out that staff must be able to understand new technology in order to participate effectively in the kinds of innovative initiatives all of our institutions want to see. (Theibodeau is now directing the newly created Center for Advanced Systems at NARA and it sounds like “knowledge management” will be part of his agenda there). Generally, I think technical knowledge and skills among non-IT staff in many instituations is woefully underdeveloped and, Theibodeau’s right, that can only slow innovation. Enhancing and further distributing technical knowledge and skills throughout the library is an important strategy for future technological advancement…and a good discussion topic for the upcoming DLF forum.

  4. If you’re abandoning the traditional Forum model, perhaps also time to do something about the big fat firewall between the professionals and academics working on digital libraries?

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