Editorial Introduction to Issue 58: People Still Matter
Having returned once more to the fray somewhat chastened by the experience of eye surgery, alone and without a general anaesthetic (with apologies to Rumpole and the late lamented John Mortimer  ), but hugely impressed by the ministrations of the NHS, I am struck once again by the enormous importance of people, both within the community that Ariadne serves as well as those domains beyond, and in which all are nonetheless increasingly, but quite naturally, dependent on technology for their success. I think it will be quite evident from a reading of many of this issue's contributions that the technology will not succeed as well as hoped were it not for the ingenuity, determination and skill of the people who devise and operate those various technologies. Let me mention for example the experts in the article on eResearch in the State of Victoria, Australia, who are brought together to resolve difficulties in eResearch or the staff in the local authority archives sector who are doing their best to preserve access to local heritage material within a rapidly changing landscape. Or for that matter, the staff in a Scottish university library whose dedication and high standards of service have come to be the linch-pin in that institution's bold strategy for its Library in the 21st century.
Most significantly, at this moment, I would want to point to the value of the opinions of the people who read this publication and the fact that I am hoping they will spare me some of their ever-decreasing 'non-deliverable' time to respond to our readers survey which I have placed in a separate page to ensure no one is 'mugged' by the invitation pop-up that comes with the survey software. I have organised it so that you can elect, or not, to help me out by clicking on the hypertext link below. I am very conscious of the numbers of surveys we are all asked to complete, often for very good reasons, but I am not keen to force mine upon you though I would be very pleased if you could spare the five questions some of your time. They relate to what you appreciate about Ariadne, its content and improvements you would like to see. I suppose I shall have to admit I would never make a salesman because I find it too hard to impose the 'product' upon the 'subjects'; I can all too easily understand your position. Nonetheless, if you do kindly elect to help, I have designed the survey to be straightforward and humane. My thanks are on the page in which the Ariadne readers survey appears.
Returning to our content, I am particularly grateful to Derek Law for his recounting to us An Awfully Big Adventure: Strathclyde's Digital Library Plan since I feel it works very much in support of the JISC initiative on Digital Libraries of the Future . While of course Strathclyde's plan is very much at the embryonic stage, there can be little doubting its grasp of the realities when planning for the future. Faced with the consequences of the fact that 'Growth runs at over a kilometre of shelving a year' it is hardly surprising that thought was given to a solution other than building more buildings. However, despite his quip that some might begin to ask why anyone needs a library at all with initiatives from Google and the appearance of more activity in the region of e-books than previously, readers I am sure will be in little doubt that libraries and, above all, the librarians who work in them will remain central to the support of students and researchers alike. One need only consider the alarm that commentators have raised  concerning the false assumptions made about the new generation of users' ability to study using the seemingly easy-to-use new resources to realise that librarians' expertise will continue to represent a cornerstone of HEI services.
It is of particular note therefore that Derek writes 'Strathclyde has a converged management structure for Library, IT and Learning Services. It has pioneered the use of laptops in teaching and has substantial collections of e-material, as well as its own digitisation unit. So the Library has a lot of experience of changing user behaviour and expectations.' Once again we come back to the importance of staff expertise and their ability to support users towards more effective practice in their employment of the new technologies. Technology inevitably alters human behaviour, but only trained humans can show new users how to adopt best practice.
In declaring it is Time to Change Our Thinking: Dismantling the Silo Model of Digital Scholarship, Stephen G. Nichols argues that humanists need to replace the silo model of digital scholarship with collaborative ventures based on interoperability and critical comparison of content. He describes the current situation across most digital humanities projects as one of individual initiatives operating not just independently but, rather, stand-alone, with the emphasis on the last two syllables. Each in effect is operating within its own 'sub-disciplinary silo' as Stephen terms it. He goes on to write that while this situation might originate in the way research projects were approached in the humanities analogue age, and would appear to have been replicated in the digital equivalent, Stephen argues that digital humanities is no longer 'at the pioneering stage' and cannot rest on its laurels.
Nonetheless, in a balanced view, the author readily acknowledges the achievements in digitisation including that born of the agreement between the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) and Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins. By December 2009, he points out, the BnF and the digital curators at Johns Hopkins will have digitised approximately 140 manuscripts of the Roman de la Rose - the most popular vernacular romance of the Middle Ages and have integrated them onto its Web site. He describes the effect the development of digital tools has had upon teaching and scholarship with respect to the Roman de la Rose; and how the site, the largest digital manuscript library of a single work holding some 100,000 images, has had a transformative effect upon the the understanding of medieval literature and even reading habits. He goes on to argue that it would be highly beneficial for the Rose Web site to interact with other sites devoted to late medieval authors.
With his exposition firmly in place, Stephen turns to the tendency of digital humanities projects to place digital tools ahead of what he terms 'cognition', i.e. the thinking behind the project which recognised the value of its subject, 'the 'work of thinking' that led us to it in the first place'. He elaborates through an analysis of the process of humanities research over time as it operated in tandem with the supporting technologies of the day, ranging from parchment via typing paper to bits and bytes, indicating the most influential changes along the way. Principal among them, within the digital era, Stephen points to the sheer scale of what is (or he would contend I suspect, ought to be) available to humanities researchers. He provides us a most telling description in my view of the effect that the availability to researchers of multiple versions of a work, such as the Roman de la Rose has had upon the understanding of the medieval environment in which such works were created - and modified.
Stephen highlights the difficulties such emerging and large amounts of data will represent in this domain: in his view they constitute 'a sea change in humanities scholarship that gives pause to many.' Traditionally, he maintains, humanists have neither worked with so much data nor with other practitioners as arises in other domains such as the sciences.He insists that a new mind-set is essential if the humanities are to address the changes being ushered in by data-driven research. I am confident that many readers within and outside humanities projects will read with interest the suggestions he subsequently offers.
I am very pleased to welcome back Ann Borda to these pages. I asked her if she would write further on eResearch in the Australian context after her report with colleagues on the 2008 eResearch Australasia Conference in Issue 57. In her article entitled Supporting eResearch: The Victorian eResearch Strategic Initiative, Ann provides a clear overview of the aims of the VeRSI Programme which works with selected research groups to develop demonstrator use cases illustrating the benefits of eResearch to researchers, primarily in the areas of life sciences and eco-sciences. Of particular interest I noted, in the context of staff skills, that 'A skills matrix method is used for resourcing software development projects and this has proven more suitable than the conventional 'project-based' approach. For each VeRSI project, 'skills' are coordinated so that they are incorporated as necessary during the project lifecycle.'
I further noted that 'The VeRSI mode of engagement has in part been informed by the 'collaboratories' or 'living labs' examples in the U.S. and Europe respectively'. This model is adopted when research difficulties are encountered which appear insuperable by individuals alone and a team of skilled experts are drafted in to deal with them. Moreover the parties concerned will be pleased to note that 'The outcomes of the ENGAGE Programme in the UK, funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), the National eScience Centre (NeSC) activities and NSF Cyberinfrastructure have had significant bearing on the methodologies of approach as well.' Meanwhile others will be interested to know that 'VeRSI is also committed to work with the Australian National Data Service (ANDS) initiative in the support of data management planning from the researcher level upwards to whole institutional policies.'
After Frances' seminar here at UKOLN, it was an added bonus to to be able to persuade Frances Boyle, Alexandra Eveleigh and Heather Needham to write for Ariadne on the matter of Preserving Local Archival Heritage for Ongoing Accessibility. The initiative described in this article focuses on the local authority archives sector and is an outcome of collaborative work from Frances, Alexandra and Heather, the Digital Preservation Coalition and The National Archives. Central to their contribution is the survey they conducted which was designed to collect a snapshot view of the state of preparedness within the local authority archive sector in respect of digital preservation. The article points out that 'It was clear that several services aspire to implement more managed procedures in the near future, although many also have a backlog of older material to work through.' It is evident from this article that while the situation is mixed there is a considerable degree of aspiration in respect of better procedures and outcomes. While difficulties in respect of 'kit' exist, I note that obtaining server storage was a problem mentioned in the suvey, but this sort of problem is more easily overcome than the reported skills shortage and ensuring effective cooperation with IT departments whose concerns are not all groundless, for example with respect to security. The authors however take heart from the outcomes of the survey and the consultation day on which they report. While noting that the survey returns indicated a significant number of practitioners who were yet to be come engaged in the momentum being created, they are encouraged by 'the beginnings of a 'community of the willing'.'
In The European Film Gateway Georg Eckes and Monika Segbert describe a Best Practice Network funded under the eContentplus Programme of the European Commission, which is building a portal for access to film archival resources in Europe. In pursuit of my policy of keeping useful threads running I am delighted that this article comes as something of a follow-up to Rob Davis' contribution in Issue 57 on Europeana . The European Film Gateway (EFG) consists of 20 partner institutions and over the next three years will work towards the development of an online portal offering integrated access to more than 700,000 digitised objects from Europe's film archives and cinémathèques. In their article Georg and Monika not only provide a rationale for the EFG and the key aims of the project but also give a view of the structure contributing to Europeana overall. Furthermore they highlight the key issues that the project will have to address and which comprise the usual suspects, interoperability and IPR (Intellectual Property Rights). They round off by providing us with a run-down of the initiatives contributing to the European digital library, museum and archive which among them will offer access to 10 million digital resources, it is hoped, by 2012.
For readers concerned they have wandered onto some Disney promotion site, MrCute ingeniously stands for Moodle Repository, Create, Upload, Tag, and Embed and is a repository system for the Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). Its role is to allow content that has been uploaded to online course areas on a VLE to be shared with other users and employed in more than one location by more than one person. In The MrCute Repository: The Next Phase Helen Brady explains that MrCute 1 offers users a means of searching for materials by keyword in addition to browsing by category. It also enables the repository to be populated, i.e. users could upload their own materials to share and tag them appropriately for searching and browsing. The JISC-funded MrCute 2 Project is tasked with developing this functionality further, but also aims to make the current user interface as simple and intuitive as possible. In her article Helen covers the Project's research and initial findings which identified that certain factors, which she lists, influence the use of repositories in terms both of MrCute 1 and wider repository system use. She then describes how MrCute 2 should help to resolve some of the problems and how it is being designed with its users very much in mind and in close consultation with the Moodle community. It is anticipated that such an approach will go far to overcoming the barriers to use that have so far been identified.
I am indebted to Talat Chaudhri for his article on the difficulties in Assessing FRBR in Dublin Core Application Profiles and his careful look at the FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records) structure of the Dublin Core Application Profiles. The origin of his article lies in the problems that arise with the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set whenever one seeks to describe specific types of resources in detail, as opposed to making metadata interoperable between repositories for purposes such as OAI-PMH. Talat also points to the fact that simple Dublin Core as a metadata model fails to permit relationships between different versions or copies of the document to be described. In his consideration of FRBR he issues the stark reminder that FRBR was designed for library catalogues rather than repositories and that the purposes and requirements delivering resources over the Web through repositories are very different to those of library systems.
As usual, we offer our At the Event section, as well as reviews of a new book on the topic of metadata design, implementation and evaluation in theory and practice; a guide for academic libraries on integrating geographic information systems into library services; a work which brings together perspectives on learner support from academics, librarians and student support professionals, and; a work offering simple ideas on the presentation, design and delivery of Powerpoint presentations. In addition of course we provide our usual section of news and events.
I hope you will enjoy Issue 58.
- Obituary: Sir John Mortimer, Geoffrey Robertson, Guardian Unlimited, 16 January 2009
- JISC: Libraries of the Future
- "The University of Google Education in the (Post) Information Age". Review by Judy Reading, January 2008, Ariadne Issue 54
- Rob Davies, "Europeana: An Infrastructure for Adding Local Content", October 2008, Ariadne Issue 57