On Friday I received an email message from my colleague Stephanie Taylor which informed myself and my colleagues at UKOLN that a paper on “Cover sheets considered harmful” (PDF format) by Emma Tonkin, Stephanie and Greg Tourte had won an award for the best paper at the ElPub 2013 conference.
I’d like to echo the sentiments expressed by others in giving my congratulations to my UKOLN colleagues Emma and Stephanie and former UKOLN colleague Greg.
This award was quite timely as the prize was awarded less than two months before Jisc”s core funding of UKOLN ceases and the majority of staff are made redundant. The award is therefore very timely, as it provides a very relevant addition to Emma and Stephanie’s CVs.
The award follows on from a number of other papers which have received recognition at international conferences. including a paper by myself on “Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility” which was judged to be the Best Research Paper at the international ALT-C 2005 conference; another on “Developing countries; developing experiences: approaches to accessibility for the Real World” which presented with the John M Slatin Award for the Best Communications paper at the W4A 2010 conference and one “Strategies for the Curation of CAD Engineering Models” by my colleagues Manjula Patel and Alex Ball which was awarded a prize for the best peer-reviewed paper at the IDCC 2008 conference. All of the papers I have mentioned were co-authored with research colleagues based in other institutions but in all cases the lead author was based at UKOLN.
It will be a loss to the sector when this expertise becomes lost. I would also add that it is not just the expertise possessed by individuals, but also the synergies provided by researchers working closely with colleagues who may be focussed on project work or user engagement and dissemination activities. The loss of this proven level of research expertise will place a particular challenge for Jisc staff who are now promoting themselves not so much as a funder of innovative IT developments, but as expertise themselves. As the recently relaunched Jisc Web site states in unambiguous terms:
We are the UK’s expert on digital technologies for education and research
At a time in which there are increasing expectations in the higher education sector that assertions will be back by evidence it would be helpful to hear more about the background to this assertion!
Cover sheets considered harmful
But what of the paper which suggested that “Cover sheets [are] considered harmful“?
Back in July 2010 in a post on “Automated Accessibility Analysis of PDFs in Repositories” I mentioned a paper on “From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability” (available in PDF and HTML formats) in which I suggested that institutions should:
“run automated audits on the content of [PDF resources in] the repositories. Such audits can produce valuable metadata with respect to resources and resource components and, for example, evaluate the level of use of best practices, such as the provision of structured headings, tagged images, tagged languages, conformance with the PDF standard, etc. Such evidence could be valuable in identifying problems which may need to be addressed in training or in fixing broken workflow processes.”
My colleague Emma Tonkin picked up on that idea as it related to the JISC-funded FixRep project she was working on which “aims to examine existing techniques and implementations for automated formal metadata extraction, within the framework of existing toolsets and services provided by the JISC Information Environment and elsewhere“. Since there were clear overlaps between metadata for resource discovery and metadata (or, indeed, data) to enhance access to resources Emma and I discussed ways in which the FixReport project work could monitor the accessibility of resources hosted in institutional repositories. Their initial findings were published in a paper on“Supporting PDF accessibility evaluation: Early results from the FixRep project“. This paper was accepted by the “2nd Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Libraries International Conference (QQML2010)” which was held in Greece on 25-28 May 2010. A Slidecast (slides with accompanying audio) are available on Slideshare and embedded below.
Emma concluded in the presentation “We may be ‘shooting ourselves in the foot’ with additions like after-the-fact cover sheets. This may remove original metadata that could have been utilised for machine learning.“
Fast-forward to 2013 and earlier this year Emma, Stephanie and Greg revisited the question as to whether repository managers are shooting themselves in the foot in the ways in which cover sheets are provided. Again we saw the benefits of the synergies across UKOLN staff with a diversity of interests. In a post entitled “Why I’m Now Embedding ORCID Metadata in PDFs” I described the benefits which researchers can gain from embedding their ORCID researcher ID in the PDFs of their peer-reviewed papers. However the post referenced another post on “Reflections on the Discussion on the Quality of Embedded Metadata in PDFs” which reported on problems caused by repository workflow processes which meant that ORCID IDs (and other embedded metadata) were being lost.
Although this was a bug which has subsequently been fixed, Emma, Stephanie and Greg had an interest in addressing broader issues, including assumptions that end users value cover pages since they provide information on the origin of the paper. Is this really the case, or does the motivation for providing cover pages come primarily for institutions which wish to see papers in their repositories branded? In addition they sought answers to the question of the mechanisms used for creating cover pages and whether such processes were interoperable with other requirements, such as text mining.
In response to a survey it seems that branding is the main motivation for use of cover sheets, closely followed by clarification of documents’ governance. However the need to support text mining and to maximise the benefits of indexing by search engines such as Google were identified by only one respondent.
The paper concluded by acknowledging the challenges faced by repository managers:
repository managers don’t make the rules; the repository manager is tasked with identifying and applying an appropriate compromise between the concerns of the different stakeholder groups involved, which is not a trivial undertaking.
I agree. We don’t need ‘experts’ who know whether cover sheets are desirable or not; rather we need experts who know about the potential benefits of cover sheets but also their limitations; we need software developers who know about the implementation of workflow processes which support both end users and other automated systems; we need researchers who can survey stakeholders and provide relevant statistical analyses of the findings and we need people with skills in supporting communities.
This award-winning paper was valuable because of the ways in which it gathered inputs from a variety of sources, synthesised the findings and provided a series of achievable recommendations. But what about the implementation challenges? Next week at IWMW 2013 Stephanie Taylor together with Nick Sheppard, Leeds Metropolitan University are facilitating a session on The Institutional Web Site and the Institutional Repository: Addressing Challenges of Integration. This might possibly provide an opportunity for exploring practices for integrating repositories with Google. If you’d like to attend this session, please book quickly (and note that day tickets for the IWMW 2013 event are available).