On a stormy wet Tuesday, I battled my way through the Bath University campus to attend the 2004 European Conference on Digital Libraries. The keynote address by Neil McLean from IMS Australia was called The Ecology of Repository Services: A Cosmic View and it lived up to its name, being a wide-ranging look at the explosion of interest in digital resources and e-learning. People are just starting to think about the lifecycle of online resources and how to manage them. Neil sees this as still at the 'cottage industry' stage, with much to learn. He is working on a collaboration between JISC, DEST (Department of Education, Science and Training) Australia and Industry Canada to discuss management of e-learning services. Neil commented on a real difference of cultures among different stakeholder communities - librarians, e-learning communities and various disciplines like science - but at least there is an ongoing debate.
Two parallel sessions followed on Personalisation: Ulrich Thiel from the Fraunhofer Institute, Germany, talked about research on Annotations in Digital Libraries and Collaborations - Facets, Models and Usage. Their work pulls together design of software systems for annotating and how to incorporate annotating in digital libraries.
This was a new subject for me, and I found the contents very hard to understand. Ulrich presented several views of annotations - as metadata, dialogue acts or content.
Quiyue Wang from the Institut für Informatik, Augsburg, Germany then presented P-News: Deeply Personalized News Dissemination for MPEG-7 based Digital Libraries, which described a research project developing a system of searching on a database for multimedia resources. If anything, this was more mystifying for me, but I eventually realised that she was talking about a nested search system, tailored to users' interests and obtaining best matches rather than exact matches.
The panel session Cross-Cultural Usability of Digital Libraries: User-Centred Design for the Global Society struck more of a chord for me, as I am a linguist and handle European resources in various languages. Introduced by the Gender Diversities and Technology Institute, Boston, USA, this was a complex and emotive subject. Should English continue its dominance as the main language of content and access on the Internet, or should access to other languages be extended? There were some sobering statistics - 95% of all computers are in the developed world; 95% of those involved with computer networks are male and 91.8% of the world population are non-English speakers! Heated debate followed; afterwards I overheard some Scandinavian delegates saying (in English!) how hard it is to use English constantly.
Finally I headed for the Poster Room, where I presented a poster called Online Information Services in the Social Sciences. This traced the evolution of a book written by staff from the ILRT (Institute for Learning and Research Technology) at University of Bristol. The book is aimed mainly, though not exclusively, at information professionals. It addresses the issues facing users and providers of information in the 21st Century. There was time to view the other posters, publicising various digital library projects or services. I enjoyed meeting other colleagues from around the world and catching up on the latest in digital library developments.
A new Social Science Online  seminar series has just been announced, building on the successful events run last year by SOSIG  - the social science hub of the JISC's Resource Discovery Network .
This year the focus will be on Internet research skills which are now an important part of the academic researcher's skill set and are also recognised as an essential part of the undergraduate curriculum in many subjects according to the 2004 Benchmark Statements of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education .
The seminars are aimed at lecturers and researchers interested in improving their own Internet research skills or in passing them on to their students.
"Conducting a literature review, finding research data and professional networking can all be supported by the online services that these events will showcase. This year's seminars will include more than 25 speakers from the professional societies, JISC services and ESRC research programmes, all of whom are keen to spread the word about the online services they offer that can support academic research".
- Alison Allden, Director of Information Service at the University of Bristol (member of the JISC Committee for the Support of Research and the ESRC Research Resources Board)
Worksheets for key national Internet services will be provided, which can be adapted for re-use with students. There will also be hands-on sessions where delegates can try their own Internet searches, with help on hand from friendly experts - so you should leave with a list of useful references for your own particular research area.
Full programme information and an online booking form for Social Science Online are available from: http://www.sosig.ac.uk/events/