UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for July, 2013

Life After UKOLN: Looking For New Opportunities

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 July 2013

Tomorrow is my last day at UKOLN. I’ve enjoyed my time working at the University and living in Bath. In fact I enjoy living in Bath so much that I’ve decided that I won’t be looking to move away for a full-time job elsewhere. However I will be looking for new opportunities, such as consultancy work or perhaps short-term work elsewhere.

A couple of months ago I noticed that the Open Knowledge Foundation were inviting applicants who wished to apply for jobs to submit a brief video clip summarising reasons why they may be suitable for a job in the organisation. Since I felt that we are likely to see an increase in new approaches to interviewing I organised a session on “Creating a Multimedia CV or Project Summary” at the IWMW 2013 event. The session facilitators were Kirsty and Rich Pitkin who have organised a lot of amplified events for UKOLN and JISC in recent years.

Kirsty and Rich also created a video clip for me in which I summarise the new opportunities I am looking for in 60 seconds. The video clip is available on the Vimeo service and embedded below.

If you feel my skills, expertise and passion can be of use to you, please get in touch.

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Preservation of UKOLN’s Web Resources and Papers

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 July 2013

My main work activity this year has been managing the preservation of UKOLN’s Web resources, prior to the cessation of Jisc’s core funding on 31 July and the departure of most of UKOLN staff.

UKOLN Web site in UK Web ArchiveThis work involved:

  • Identifying UKOLN’s Web assets and the owner.
  • Preparing the content so that it was suitable for preservation.
  • Submitting details of the Web resources to the UK Web Archive team.
  • Liaison with the  UK Web Archive team to ensure that the resources had been successfully archived.

The preparation work, which was quite time-consuming to complete, involved switching off functions and technologies which were not suitable for archival (e.g. backend CGI scripts and features which were dependent on specific CMS technologies.

In addition the content of the main entry points for Web sites (and micro sites)  was updated in order to ensure that the page provided information on the purpose of the site; the funders; the UKOLN staff involved; the start and end dates for the work and, where possible, links to the key outputs of the work.

The UK Web Archive team have confirmed that they have successfully harvested the resources  we submitted some time ago. In addition Web sites which were still being updated, such as the UKOLN Web site itself and the IWMW sites, were submitted for archiving more recently.

In addition to this work significant papers and reports have been deposited in Opus, the University of Bath institutional repository. During the initial preparatory work we found that entry points for individuals were not available after they had left the institution, although their items would continue to be hosted in the repository. Since the individual’s name could be an important way of finding such content the repository team agreed that people’s entry point would continue to be available after they left the institution (although this would not be applied retrospectively to UKOLN staff who have left the institution prior to the change in the policy).

In order to make it easier to find items written by UKOLN staff the following table provides links to their list of items and accompanying usage statistics.

Name No. of items Usage statistics URL
Top 20 items Total nos.
of downloads
Alex Ball 69 [View] [View]
Talat Chaudhri   2 [View] [View]
Michael Day 68 [View] [View]
Monica Duke


[View] [View]
Kora Golub


[View] [View]
Marieke Guy


[View] [View]
Brian Kelly


[View] [View]
Liz Lyon


[View] [View]
Mahendra Mahey


[View] [View]
Manjula Patel


[View] [View]
Catherine Pink


[View] [View]
Rosemary Russell


[View] [View]
Stephanie Taylor


[View] [View]
Emma Tonkin


[View] [View]

Table 1: Information on UKOLN Items Deposited in Opus Repository

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Reflections on 16 years at UKOLN (part 5)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 July 2013

Overview of This Week’s Posts

This week I’ve been posting my reflections on working at UKOLN over the past 16 years. In the first post I described my early involvement with the Web, dating back to December 1992 and how the approaches I took to promoting take-up of the Web across the sector informed my job as UK Web Focus after I started at UKOLN in 1996.

The second post summarised my outreach activities, and this was followed by a post which reviewed my research activities. Yesterday I summarised my work with UKOLN’s core funders and used the work with standards to illustrate the important role which JISC had in adopted a hands-off approach, leaving the work activities to experts across the community.

Evidence-based Policies and Openness

In today’s post, the final one in the series, I’ll reflect on recent work – gathering evidence in order to inform policy and practice – and how the interpretation of the evidence and the formulation of policies and developments to operational practices should be based on a culture of openness.

My interest in this area dates back to 1997 following a successful bid to BLRIC to develop and use monitoring software to analyse trends in use of the Web across the UK’s higher education and library sectors. In 2001 a paper on “Automated Benchmarking Of Local Government Web Sites” was presented at the EuroWeb 2001 conference which described the work of the WebWatch project.

More recently UKOLN and CETIS were involved with the JISC in providing the JISC Observatory. As described in a paper entitled “Reflecting on Yesterday, Understanding Today, Planning for Tomorrow” :

The JISC Observatory provides horizon-scanning of technological developments which may be of relevant for the UK’s higher and further education sectors. The JISC Observatory team has developed systematic processes for the scanning, sense-making and synthesis activities for the work. This paper summarises the JISC Observatory work and related activities carried out by the authors. The paper outlines how the processes can be applied in a local context to ensure that institutions are able to gather evidence in a systematic way and understand and address the limitations of evidence-gathering processes. The paper describes use of open processes for interpreting the evidence and suggests possible implications of the horizon-scanning activities for policy-making and informing operational practices. The paper concludes by encouraging take-up of open approaches in gathering and interpretation of evidence used to inform policy-making in an institutional context.

A series of posts have been published on this blog which have sought to gather evidence of use of various Web technologies across the sector in order to detect trends and encourage discussion on the implication of such trends.

University of Bristol confirm use of Google AppsA few days ago I came across evidence of what may perhaps become a significant trend. It seems that the University of Bristol has recently announced a decision to provide Google Apps. Via a tweet they confirmed that this service will be available for both staff and students.

Other Russell Group universities also  use Google Apps for Education. Back in May 2009 Chris Sexton, IT Services director at the University of Sheffield in a post entitled ”You can be a victim of your own success” summarised local reaction to the decision to provide Google Mail for students at the University of Sheffield:

Formally announced the Google mail for students option last night by sending an email to all staff and students. Replies are split almost 50/50. From students saying this is great news, and from staff saying why can’t we have it!

In addition to these institutions I also understand that the universities and colleges at Cambridge, York, Loughborough, De Montfort , London Metropolitan, Leeds Metropolitan, Queen Mary College, Sheffield Hallam, Westminster,  Brunel, Portsmouth, Keele, Bath Spa, Lincoln, Aston, Ravensbourne, Birbeck, Oxford Brookes, SOAS and the Open University all provide Google Apps for Edu. Note that additional information may be found using a Google search for “google apps


We seem to be seeing the start of what could be a significant trend. And if we were to gather information on institutional use of Microsoft’s Office 365 service it would appear that core office functionality is being migrated to the Cloud. In January 2010 a post entitled Save £1million and Move to the Cloud? summarised experiences at the University of Westminster:

When the University of Westminster asked students what campus email system they wanted, 90% requested Google Apps, which lets colleges and universities provide customized versions of Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and other services on their school domain

And yet in a recent discussion I heard two IT developers state strongly that “Google own your data if you use Google Apps“. I had to point out the Google terms and conditions which state:

Google claims no ownership or control over any Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Google services. You or a third party licensor, as appropriate, retain all patent, trademark and copyright to any Content you submit, post or display on or through Google services and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate.

There are clearly many issues which need to be addressed if institutions are considering moving key services to the Cloud: reliability, security, performance, privacy, trust, copyright and other legal issues. But such discussions should, I feel, be carried out in an open and objective manner, which can help ensure that erroneous beliefs can be identified.

If brief, the evidence shows that institutions are migrating office functionality to Google (and perhaps Microsoft). The question may no longer be “Should we move to the Cloud?” but “Can we afford to run such services in-house?”  I’d welcome your thoughts on this. I’d also welcome further evidence to inform the discussions – I appreciate that not all institutions I have listed are necessarily using Google Apps for all members of the institution.

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Reflections on 16 years at UKOLN (part 4)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 July 2013

Working With Funders

During my time at UKOLN there have been several core funders including BLRIC (British Library Research and Innovation Centre), LIC (Library and Information Commission) , Re:source, the MLA (Museums Libraries and Archives Council) and the JISC. Having joint funding has meant that UKOLN was able to engage with not only the higher and further education sectors but also the wider library community together with, following government reorganisations, the cultural heritage sector.

In recent posts I summarised my involvement in speaking at and organising events and writing a large number of peer-reviewed papers. This work was carried out primarily through UKOLN’s core funding. The work typically sought to address the needs of our communities through the involvement with people working directly within the sector. Such ‘customer’-focussed approaches helped, I feel, to ensure the work was relevant to the sector.

My work which was more directly involved with JISC’s needs began with work in developing documents on open standards of relevance to JISC’s digital library programmes, beginning initially with the eLib programme and followed by the DNER and the JISC Information Environment. This work led to related work for the cultural heritage sector, in particular  providing advice on standards for the NOF (New Opportunities Fund) Digitise programme.

In addition to such core-funded work I was also involved in project-funded activities including the JISC-funded QA Focus and JISC PoWR projects, the BLRIC-funded WebWatch project and the EU-funded Exploit Interactive and Cultivate Interactive ejournals. I was also involved in a number of initiatives driven by JISC such as the eFramework but, as described in Andy Powell’s post “e-Framework – time to stop polishing guys!” the time and effort expended by this international partnership failed to have any significant impact and the eFramework Web site seems to be no longer available although a copy is available in the Internet Archive.

Working With Standards

One area which was of particular interest to both of UKOLN’s core funders was the selection of open standards for use in development programmes which they funded. My initial work in this area involved contributing to a document of the open standards relevant for the eLib programme.  This subsequently led to similar documents being developed for the JISC Information Environment and the NOF-digitise programme.

At that time the funders wanted a list of the open standards which should be mandated for use in their development programmes. However JISC recognised that they did not have a compliance regime in force to address failures of projects to implement the mandated standards. In 2001 JISC announced a call for “the provision of a JISC/DNER national focus for digitisation and quality assurance in the UK“. The document described how the successful bidder would have responsibilities for:

Ensuring adherence of projects to relevant parts of DNER standards and guidelines and reporting on problems in their implementation; incorporating feedback and recommending updates to the guidelines for the community as appropriate

I submitted a successful bid for this work in conjunction with ILRT, University of Bristol. After the first year ILRT withdrew and were replaced by AHDS.  Myself, my colleague Marieke Guy and our colleagues at AHDS developed a quality assurance framework. As described in the final report:

The aim of the QA Focus project was to develop a quality assurance (QA) methodology which would help to ensure that projects funded by JISC digital library programmes were functional, widely accessible and interoperable; to provide support materials to accompany the QA framework and to help to embed the QA methodology in projects’ working practices.

The QA framework is a lightweight framework, based on the provision of technical policies together with systematic procedures for measuring compliance with the policies. The QA Framework is described in a number of the QA Focus briefing documents and the rational for the framework has formed the basis of a number of peer-reviewed papers.

This lightweight framework was described in a briefing document. In brief rather than mandating open standards which must be used across all of JISC’s activities, the framework recommended that projects should document their own policies on open standards (and related areas) and the procedures to ensure that the policies were being implemented. JISC programme managers would have flexibility in prescribing specific open standards if this was felt to be appropriate (for example, a programme designed to investigate the value of the OAI-PMH protocol for harvesting repositories could legitimately mandate use of OAI-PMH, and perhaps even a specific version ).

This approach meant that JISC could request that project reports should be provided in MS Word or PDF formats – both of which were proprietary formats at the time (although they are now both open standards). It also provided the flexibility in avoiding mandating open standards prematurely (e.g. insisting on use of SMIL rather than the proprietary Flash format) or mandating open standards when design patterns may have been more appropriate (e.g. mandating the Web Services standards such as SOAP when RESTful design practices have, in many cases, proved to be more relevant).

Standards paperThis work was carried out over a period of time. In 2003 an initial paper on “Ideology Or Pragmatism? Open Standards And Cultural Heritage Web Sites” by myself and my colleague Marieke Guy, Alastair Dunning (AHDS – the now defunct Arts and Humanities Data Service) and Lawrie Phipps (TechDis) described how:

… despite the widespread acceptance of the importance of open standards, in practice many organisations fail to implement open standards in their provision of access to digital resources. It clearly becomes difficult to mandate use of open standards if it is well-known that compliance is seldom enforced. Rather than abandoning open standards or imposing a stricter regime for ensuring compliance, this paper argues that there is a need to adopt a culture which is supportive of use of open standards but provides flexibility to cater for the difficulties in achieving this.

The next paper published two years later on “A Standards Framework For Digital Library Programmes” by myself and my UKOLN colleagues Rosemary Russell and Pete Johnston, Paul Hollins (CETIS) and Alastair Dunning and Lawrie Phipps:

describes a layered approach to selection and use of open standards which is being developed for digital library development work within the UK. This approach reflects the diversity of the technical environment, the service provider’s environment, the user requirements and maturity of standards by separating contextual aspects; technical and non-technical policies; the selection of appropriate solutions and the compliance layer. To place the layered approach in a working context, case studies are provided of the types of environments in which the standards framework could be implemented, from an established standards-based service, to a new service in the process of selecting and implementing metadata standards. These examples serve to illustrate the need for such frameworks.

Further papers on “A Contextual Framework For Standards” (by myself, Alastair Dunning, Paul Hollins, Lawrie Phipps and Sebastian Rahtz [OSS Watch])  and “Addressing The Limitations Of Open Standards” (by myself, Marieke Guy and Alastair Dunning) and “Openness in Higher Education: Open Source, Open Standards, Open Access” (by myself, Scott Wilson [CETIS] and Randy Metcalfe [OSS Watch]) subsequently developed these ideas and explored how they could be app;lied in a variety of contexts.


Looking at this work it strikes me the value of the expertise provided by colleagues across the sector. The papers I have listed which described the approaches and ensured that the ideas had been subject to peer review work were written by staff at UKOLN (4 individuals), CETIS (1 individual), OSS Watch (2 individuals), TechDis (1 individual and the now-defunct AHDS (2 individuals). JISC programme managers provided value project management support for the initial QA Focus work and gave early feedback on the ideas but did not have intellectual input into the ideas.

In light of the evidence given in this blog post I am somewhat concerned with the new logo which appeared on the redesigned Jisc Web site: “We are the UK’s expert on digital technologies for education and research“. Really? What is the evidence for that assertion? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say “We are successful in designing development programmes and providing project management expertise  to these programmes“? And equally important “We are successful in encouraging the experts in the higher education sector to work together for the benefit of the wider community“. I would be the first to give thanks to the JISC for organising events which enabled me to meet the co-authors I’ve listed above and encouraged such joint working. But “We are the experts”! Who coined that statement, I wonder?

JISC logo


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Reflections on 16 Years at UKOLN (part 3)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 24 July 2013


google scholar summary of my ciationsIn yesterday’s post I outlined the importance of participation and organisation of events in my role as UK Web Focus at UKOLN. Such activities had been a continuation of my early work in promoting use of the Web, although at a much more intense level. However my research activities was something relatively new as I had published only a handful of peer-reviewed papers before starting at UKOLN in October 1996.

Early Years

A year or so after I arrived at UKOLN I was asked to contribute to a special issue of the Journal of Documentation which included several papers from colleagues at UKOLN. In addition to my paper on “The Evolution Of Web Protocols” following feedback from reviewers I was asked to edit a paper on “How is my web community developing? Monitoring trends in web service provision“.

Staff Development for UKOLN Colleagues, Project Partner and Others

From those beginnings I developed an interest in writing peer-reviewed papers. In the early years I tended to primarily write short papers which were presented as posters at international WWW conferences. However by 2003 my involvement in the JISC-funded QA Focus project led to three papers being accepted for the EUNIS 2003, ichim03 and IADIS 2003 conferences. The ichim03 paper was co-authored with Alastair Dunning (AHDS), Marieke Guy (UKOLN) and Lawrie Phipps (TechDis); the EUNIS 2003 paper with Marieke Guy and Hamish James (AHDS) and the IADIS 2003 paper with Andrew Williamson and Alan Dawson, two researchers from Strathclyde University following a discussion about the work in a pub in Glasgow!

By this time I realised that the value of project work was more likely to be appreciated if papers about the work had been accepted at high-profile conferences. In addition being able to list peer-reviewed papers on one’s CV was valuable for my colleagues at UKOLN, project partners and fellow researchers. I therefore tried to ensure that peer-reviewed papers were written with colleagues for future project work. This approach provded particularly beneficial for my papers on Web accessibility.

The Web Accessibility Series of Peer-reviewed Papers

My most significant work was the publication in 2004 of a paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” in the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology. This paper arose from discussions with Simon Ball of TechDis on 18 June 2003, shortly before we co-facilitated a workshop at Bedford College. “I don’t think the WCAG guidelines work” I said to Simon. “Funnily enough, we’ve reached the same conclusion, especially in the context of e-learning” Simon replied (although I have, of course, paraphrased our conversation.

The following year myself, Lawrie Phipps (then of TechDis) and Elaine Swift, a colleague from the E-learning Unit at the University of Bath, published our first paper in a series which developed and then refined a user-centred approach to addressing Web accessibility. As illustrated above, according to Google Scholar Citations the initial paper has been widely cited.  In 2008 in a paper on “Reflections on the Development of a Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility” we summarised the development of our approaches. Our most recent work in this areas was published in an article entitled “Bring Your Own Policy: Why Accessibility Standards Need to Be Contextually Sensitive” in the Ariadne ejournal. Along the journey the work which was initiated by myself, Lawrie Phipps and Elaine Swift was supported by a large number of co-authors from accessibility researchers and practitioners. In order of their contributions these were Lawrie Phipps (4 papers), Elaine Swift (1 paper), David Sloan (6 papers), Professor Helen Petrie (3 papers), Fraser Hamilton (2 papers), Caro Howell (1 paper), Ann Chapman (1 paper) Andy Heath (2 papers), Professor Steven Brown (2 papers), Jane Seale (2 papers), Lauke (2 papers), Simon Ball (2 papers), Liddy Nevile (4 papers), Sotis Fanou (2 papers), EA Draffan (1 paper), Stuart Smith (1 paper) Ruth Ellison (1 paper), Lisa Herrod (1 paper), Sarah Lewthwaite (2 papers) and Martyn Cooper (1 paper).

Quality and Impact

The papers I have referred to include a mixture of peer-reviewed papers presented at conferences or published in journals, as well as short papers presented as posters, invited papers at international conferences or papers which were accepted based on peer-reviews of the abstracts.

Author download count in Opus

The papers therefore may be of variable quality, especially in the case of papers from my early years at UKOLN. However evidence of the quality of two of the papers, “Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World” and “Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility” can be seen from the awards they won: the first paper won the John M Slatin award for Best Communications Paper at the W4A 2010 conference and the second won the Best Research Paper Award at ALT-C 2005.

As well as these awards the paper on “Contextual web accessibility – maximizing the benefit of accessibility guidelines” is the most cited paper from the W4A conference series according to Microsoft Academic Search with the paper on “Accessibility 2.0: people, policies and processes” being in fifth place.

As well as these awards, my papers appear to have been widely-read – or at least downloaded! As can be seen if you look at the usage statistics for Opus, the University of Bath repository it seems that I have had the largest number of downloads of my papers – indeed twice as many as the person in second place –my colleague Alex Ball. Many research-led institutions are likely to be interested in the tools and techniques which can be used to enhance the visibility of research papers, in the expectation that such increased visibility may lead to additional citations by other researchers, adoption of the ideas by policy-makers and practitioners and exposure of the ideas to the mass media.

The approaches I have used to enhance the visibility of my research publications have been described in part in a paper which asked “Can LinkedIn and Enhance Access to Open Repositories?“. In the paper myself and Jenny Delasalle proposed the merit of a pro-active approach to inbound links to one’s papers (which also should provide benefits to other papers hosted in the repository). In addition I facilitated a half-day hands-on workshop session on “Managing Your Research Profile” at an Information Science Pathway’s event held at the University of Edinburgh. This workshop is one I will be looking to run in the future once my consultancy starts so please get in touch if you would like me to facilitate a workshop along these lines at your institution or for your event.

Reflecting on 360 Pages of Research Papers!

Table of contents for my papersOver the past few months whilst preparing the UKOLN Web site for preservation I ensured that my research paper included by ORCID ID, 0000-0001-5875-8744, to claim my authorship and the authorship of my co-authors). I have already summarized the reasons Why I’m Now Embedding ORCID Metadata in PDFs but in addition I realized that I had an opportunity to aggregate my papers into a single document. To my surprise I found that the document containing all of my papers came to 360 pages!

This document is not being made publicly available. However it does occur to me that this might provide an interesting resource of one’s research papers for which subsequent analysis may provide interesting insights. For example “What would a word cloud of the papers look like?” or “Has the writing style changed over time?” I’d welcome other suggestions for analyses of a personal archive of papers.

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Reflections on 16 Years at UKOLN (part 2)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 July 2013


In yesterday’s blog post I described my early involvement with the Web, prior to joining UKOLN in October 1996. My interests in supporting early adopters, sharing emerging best practices, working at a national level (beyond my host institution) and sharing such best practices across the sector at events and in paper and online publications has underpinned my work at UKOLN over the past 16 years.

Participation at Events

According to the list of the presentations I’ve given during my time at UKOLN I have given a total of 429 talks, with a peak of 44 talks in 2006, when there was much interest across the sector in Web 2.0.

Presentations given in UK from 1996-2013Since I have sought to make use of emerging Web standards and services as well as talk about them, for several years I have provided a geo-located summary of my talks in RSS format which enables the locations to be depicted in services such as Google Maps. The accompanying image shows the locations of talks across the UK.

Zooming out from the locations in the UK illustrates how I have supported UKOLN in achieving a strategic goal in ensuring that “The global visibility of UK digital initiatives is increased“.

Presentations given globally from 1996-2013

  • My talks outside the UK have included:
  • Peer-reviewed papers presented at conferences in the US, Canada,  Italy, Holland, Australia and Japan.
  • Invited papers presented in Norway, Sweden, Greece Spain, Russia, Singapore, and Taiwan.
  • Workshops facilitated in Italy and Belgium.

It may be worrying if I were to analyse the environmental costs of such travel (and since the locations of my talks have been geo-located it might be an interesting exercise to estimate the carbon costs of such travel). However I should add that one invited presentation in a conference given in Australia was based on a pre-recorded video of a talk I had given in London!

Organising Events

Although it is pleasing to have received so many invitations to talk at events, I often prefer having the opportunity to facilitate interactive workshop sessions, as such approaches can be more effective in enhancing learning and ensuring that new approaches become embedded in working practices.

I have particularly enjoyed organising technology-transfer  workshops in Belgium, Italy and Holland. But in the UK my most significant achievement has been the establishment of the Institution Web Management Workshop (IWMW) series. I established this in 1997 and the most recent event, IWMW 2013, was held in the University of Bath a month ago. The event has provided an opportunity for those with responsibilities for managing large-scale institutional Web services to share best practices and keep up-to-date with emerging technological developments as well as being prepared to address the implications of legal and economic changes.

During the IWMW 2013 event I was pleased to hear how important the event is felt to be across the sector and the encouragement I received from  many of the participants for exploring new business models which will enable the event to continue next year. Once my work at UKOLN is over on 31 July I will be developing a business plan for continuation of the event. In the meantime I’d welcome ideas for the sustainability of the event. Feel free to get in touch.

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Reflections on 16 Years at UKOLN (part 1)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 July 2013

My Final Full Week at UKOLN

This is my final complete week at UKOLN. As I described in a post entitled “My Redundancy Letter Arrived Today” the cessation of Jisc’s core funding means that myself and the majority of my colleagues will be made redundant on 31 July.

It occurred to me that it would be appropriate for me to publish a series of post which give my reflections on my time at UKOLN.

How Did I Get Here?

I first arrived at UKOLN one hot July day in 1996 when I came for the interview for the post on UK Web Focus. I remember it was hot as I (foolishly) decided to walk up the hill to the University as it didn’t look too far on the map. If you’ve visited Bath University you’ll know that although it isn’t too far from the town centre, the university is located at the top of a steep hill. I would not recommend walking up the hill to a University on a hot day when you are wearing a suit!

But the reason I came to Bath for an interview for the post of UK Web Focus was due to my role in setting up the first institutional Web service at the University of Leeds. As I described in a post entitled “It Was 20 Years Ago Today” the service was launched in January 1993 after a group of researchers organised a demonstration of various Internet technologies such as (I think) Gopher, Veronica, WAIS, Archie and the Viola WWW Hypermedia Browser. Although at the time there was growing interest in the higher education sector in use of Gopher to provide a Campus-Wide Information Service (CWIS) as soon as I saw the Viola application I felt that the future should be based on Web technologies. In retrospect that does not seem to be a particularly difficult conclusions to reach but it took another few years before the Web became accepted as the essential technology for delivering information services. At the time I was worried that Leeds University may have chosen the Betamax on Internet technologies – technical superior to its main rival but in danger of being marginalised by the simplicity of Gopher. During 1993 and 1994 I therefore gave a number of presentations across the sector highlighting the benefits of the Web and why it should be used rather than Gopher (or Guide or Microcosm, two British hypermedia systems which at the time had strong support in the universities of Kent and Southampton).

In a handbook entitled “Running A WWW Service” I described how:

Brian has given presentations about WWW at the universities of Aberdeen, Bangor, Bradford, Kent, Oxford, Sussex and Manchester Metropolitan University. He gave a poster presentation at the first WWW ’94 conference in Geneva and gave a paper on Becoming An Information Provider on the World-Wide Web at the INET 94 / JENC 5 conference in Prague in June 1994. He ran a WWW Tutorial at the Network Service Conference in London in November 1994.

Part of personal archive of 1990s web stuffThe seminar I gave at Oxford University left an impression. A few weeks after I gave the seminar I spoke to a librarian from Oxford University. After telling her about my recent trip there she responded “You’re the person who caused all the fuss!” It seems that my talk had been given shortly after a committee had decided that the University’s home-grown CWIS service was to be replaced by Gopher. My demonstration of the Web led to an influx of academics, researchers and support staff to the Oxford University Computer Services department the following day wanting a Web browser installed on their systems or, in the case of the more perceptive users, wanting to set up a departmental Web server. I understand that the policy decision did not last very long!

Looking at my personal archive from the early-to-mid 1990s it seems that I facilitated a workshop session on “Collaboration Across the World Wide Web” at a UCISA UCSG (Universities and Colleges Software Group)  workshop held at the University of Bradford on 4-5 January 1995. The event was particularly notable as one of the keynote speakers was Lorcan Dempsey, the director of UKOLN who gave a talk on “Towards More Sustainable and Effective Resource Discovery“. This, I believe, was the first time I met Lorcan who subsequently put in a successful bid to JISC to host a UK Web Focus post, the post I took up in October 1996.

Looking Back

Looking back at my involvement with the Web prior to starting work at UKOLN, what lessons did I learn and what approaches did I use during my 16 years at UKOLN? I think I would highlight the following points:

  • Committees and similar decision-making bodies bodies can make wrong decisions!
  • The technical strengths of technologies don’t necessarily mean the technology will become embedded – there is a need to pro-actively engage with early adopters and those who may be willing to become early mainstream adopters.
  • The importance of having a high public profile.
  • Working with national bodies can be an effective way of enhancing the take-up of innovative technologies.
  • Keeping an archive of one’s professional activities can help in understanding the past and seeing its relevance.

In tomorrow’s post I will describe how these approaches were applied during my time at UKOLN.

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Bring Your Own Policy: Why Accessibility Standards Need to Be Contextually Sensitive

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 July 2013

Ariadne paper of accessibilityThe final paper which I’ve written during my time at UKOLN has just been published in the Ariadne e-journal. In the article on Bring Your Own Policy: Why Accessibility Standards Need to Be Contextually Sensitive myself, Jonathan Hassell, David Sloan, Dominik Lukeš, E.A. Draffan and Sarah Lewthwaite argue that rather than having a universal standard for Web accessibility, Web accessibility practices and policies need to be sufficiently flexible to cater for the local context.

As described in the editorial:

[The authors] argue for a wider application than just to Web content, and that an alternative strategy could be adopted which would employ measures that are more context-sensitive. The authors point out that little attention has been paid to the principles underlying Global Accessibility Standards and that in non-Western environments may even prove to be counter-productive. They highlight the alternative of more evidence-based standards and examine their disadvantages. Having used the example of simple language to illustrate the difficulties, the authors offer another example in the provision of accessibility support to publicly available video material. They argue that standardisation of the deployment of Web products is more important that the conformance of the products themselves. The authors summarise the aims of BS 8878. They explain the scope of the framework that it adds to WCAG 2.0 and how it encourages Web site designers to think more strategically about all accessibility decisions surrounding their product. They conclude that globalisation is not limited to users: owners of sites do not wish to be constrained in their choice of international suppliers and products, but the latter are by no means standardised globally – but the benefits of an international standard are enormous.

The article follows in an extensive series of peer-reviewed papers which have challenged mainstream approaches to Web accessibility, which typically mandate conformance with WCAG guidelines.

This work began with a paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” which was published in the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology journal in a special issue on E-Learning Standards – Looking Beyond Learning Objects in 2004.

A paper on “Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World” was presented at the W4A 2005 conference. The following year a paper on “Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility” coined the term “holistic accessibility” to describe the approaches we had developed.

Following a series of papers which explored how such approaches can be deployed in various contexts such as learning and cultural heritage an award-winning paper on “Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World” presented at the W4A 2010 conference provided a socio-political context to this work and including examples of digital accessibility and social exclusion including “Aversive Disablism” and “Hierarchies of Impairment“.

Last year a paper on “A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First” presneted at the W4A 2012 conference began with a summary of our work and the implications:

This paper argues that web accessibility is not an intrinsic characteristic of a digital resource but is determined by complex political, social and other contextual factors, as well as technical aspects which are the focus of WAI standardisation activities. It can therefore be inappropriate to develop legislation or focus on metrics only associated with properties of the resource.

I’m pleased that the final paper has been co-authored by David Sloan, my long-standing co-author is this series of papers; Sarah Lewthwaite, a disability researcher who helped to ensure that our work was grounded in disability work which I had previously been unaware of; Dominik Lukeš, whom I first encountered on Twitter last year who provided an insight into the limitations of mandating guidelines for written English; Jonathan Hassell, lead author of the BS 8878 code of practice which embraces many of the approaches described in our previous work and E. A. Draffan who described how such approaches can be implemented in practice.

But is this our final paper or simply the most recently published paper? In less than two weeks I will be leaving UKOLN and so will no longer be able to rely of the funding provided by JISC to continue this work. However I hope that the loss of JISC funding will not prevent me from continuing further work in this area. Following Jonathan Hassell’s talk on “Stop Trying to Avoid Losing and Start Winning: How BS 8878 Reframes the Accessibility Question” at the recent IWMW 2013 event a show of hands made it clear that there was significant interest in an event on the implementation of BS 8878 in contexts which are of particular relevance to the higher education sector, including support of teaching and learning and research. I have had discussions with Jonathan on ways in which institutions can implement achievable policies and practices for enhancing the accessibility of their digital products. If you would would be interested in hosting a workshop at your institution or have more general questions feel free to leave a comment on this post or get in touch.

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Jisc Feasibility Study on Digital Repository Infrastructure Solutions for ‘Unsupported’ Digital Assets

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 July 2013

Jisc Feasibility Study on Identifying Digital Repository Infrastructure Solutions for Small-to-medium Digital Projects

Yesterday in a post entitled Linkage: Funding, licensing, managing research data, LTI, Google Analytics cohort analysis and more Martin Hawksey reflected on a Jisc call for a “Feasibility Study on digital repository infrastructure solutions for ‘unsupported’ digital assets“. The call document describes how:

The feasibility study is required to identify sustainable digital repository infrastructure solutions for digital assets from small-to-medium digital projects. These assets may originate from arts organisations, cultural heritage institutions, community groups and small organisations in the area of the arts, cultural heritage, medicine and science etc that may not have access to a sustainable digital repository infrastructure.  

The Jisc has invested large amounts of money on the development of a repository infrastructure for the sector. But what exactly do we mean by an institutional repository and what purposes do they serve? There’s a danger, I feel, in looking for answers to these questions from within the sector – the ‘echo chamber’ may well decide that  institutional repositories can provide the functions required by Jisc funding and, surprise, surprise, they may do that well!

Looking at the ‘institutional repository’ article in Wikipedia we find that:

An institutional repository is an online locus for collecting, preserving, and disseminating – in digital form – the intellectual output of an institution, particularly a research institution.

The article goes on to describe how:

The four main objectives for having an institutional repository are:

  1. to provide open access to institutional research output by self-archiving it;
  2. to create global visibility for an institution’s scholarly research;
  3. to collect content in a single location;
  4. to store and preserve other institutional digital assets, including unpublished or otherwise easily lost (“grey”) literature (e.g., theses or technical reports).

But how does an institutional repository differ from a content management system (CMS)? According to Wikipedia a CMS:

is a computer program that allows publishing, editing and modifying content as well as maintenance from a central interface. Such systems of content management provide procedures to manage workflow in a collaborative environment.

The article summarises the main features of a CMS:

The core function and use of content management systems is to present information on websites. CMS features vary widely from system to system. Simple systems showcase a handful of features, while other releases, notably enterprise systems, offer more complex and powerful functions. Most CMS include Web-based publishing, format management, revision control (version control), indexing, search, and retrieval. The CMS increments the version number when new updates are added to an already-existing file. 

Is the distinction clear? Not to me, especially as the list of the features of a CMS goes on to describe how:

A CMS may serve as a central repository containing documents, movies, pictures, phone numbers, scientific data. CMSs can be used for storing, controlling, revising, semantically enriching and publishing documentation.

So perhaps, rather than exploring traditional repository software the feasibility study should explore possible CMS solutions.

The External Repository

Researchgate scoresBut must an institutional repository be hosted within the institution? After all if the point is to “to create global visibility for an institution’s scholarly research” might not that be achieved by using a popular Cloud-based repository service? The ‘Google juice’ which such services can provide will help address the limited Google juice available for institutional services (especially smaller institutions) which will have relatively small numbers of inbound links. Indeed as described in a paper which asked “Can LinkedIn and Enhance Access to Open Repositories?” even prestigious Russell Group universities do not have the Google ranking provided by services which are used globally.

Yesterday I received an email which suggested that such services are already being widely used. The message, from ResearchGate, began:

Brian, we’ve put together stats for thousands of institutions based on ResearchGate members.

Following the link from the email message I found a list of the UK institutions with the highest ResearchGate scores. (as illustrated). The ResearchGate Score incidentallymeasures reputation and impact based on how a researcher’s work is received by their peers. This list shows institutions by the sum of the RG Scores of their individual members using ResearchGate“. But rather than being sidetracked by a discussion about what such scores mean, for me the more relevant question is whether third-party repository services such as ResearchGate and have a role to play for small institutions which do not have the technical expertise to manage a conventional institutional repository service.

The Challenges Facing Small Projects and Unsupported Digital Assets

The development culture in large, well-funded research-led institutions has encouraged the use of in-house solutions, often based on open source software solutions. But in light of funding difficulties in the sector and the growing maturity of Cloud-based solutions it might be relevant, especially for small to medium sized projects, to consider such solutions. Clearly there will be a need to consider the sustainability of such services and possible changes to terms and conditions. But such issues can be addressed. There is also a need to consider the sustainability of in-house solutions – an issue which is very relevant to the services and content provided by UKOLN in light of the significant downsizing the organisation will face in less than two weeks time!

The Invitation to tender document document describes how:

The candidate models and subsequent options/ recommendations will need to take into account the level of digital skills capabilities and capacity of small-to-medium projects. Options will need to be easy to implement for non-specialists            contributors to any potential solution(s).

Ironically the document itself illustrates a lack of skills in best practices for using Microsoft Word. As illustrated below the author of the document created a line feed at the end of each line, rather than using MS Word line wrap for sentences. This will result in ugly line breaks if the font face or size if changed in the document and could cause problems if the document was converted into other formats. I also noticed the MS Word styles had not been used, which means that the document has no logical structure. As well as meaning that automated table of contents could not be provided this can also cause accessibility problems for people who use screen readers.

MS Word for Jisc ITT Document

Put simply, the document itself illustrates the challenges which may well be faced when content creators have limited digital skills capabilities.

I welcome this call as it encourages solutions which are applicable to the real world environment in which content providers may well create content which is not amenable for processing in the ways which the systems designers may have expected.

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Supporting Use of Wikimedia Across the UK Higher Education Sector

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17 July 2013

The Jisc Wikimedia Ambassador

Wikipedia logo. Used with a CC-By licence from Wikimedia Commons.

Wikipedia logo. Used with a CC-By licence from Wikimedia Commons.

Back in April 2013 the Jisc published a call for a Jisc ‘Wikimedia Ambassador’ residency. In light of my forthcoming redundancy (my last day is two weeks today!) I have been looking for new opportunities to continue working in the sector. This call was therefore of interest, especially in light of my long-standing interest in use of Wikipedia in higher education. I therefore submitted a bid based on:

I was very pleased to receive several letter of support from those who recognised my pro-active approaches to openness, my strong links across the sector, my experience in running events and my knowledge of the higher education sector in general and the Jisc community in particular.

However the bid was not successful. Although the evaluation panel “noted the strength of the proposal in terms of its academic focus and a sound methodology” they felt that “the lead consultant’s track-record as a Wikipedian to be insufficiently evidenced and that the link to the Wikimedia community was not sufficiently strong“. I would not disagree with these comments; although I have created and edited Wikipedia articles over an extended period I have little experience in training others to use Wikipedia.

I subsequently learnt that the successful bid had been submitted by Martin Poulter, University of Bristol. I have known Martin for some time (probably over 10 years) and am very aware of his in-depth expertise on Wikipedia and his active involvement in the Wikimedia UK community. I’m happy to give my congratulations to Martin.

Supporting Sectoral Use of Wikimedia

One of the main constraints which I felt the Jisc call had was its limitation to providing Wikipedia articles related to Jisc-funded activities. As the second paragraph in the call document (MS Word or PDF format) states:

The purpose of the training is to disseminate skills and knowledge leading to improved coverage and accuracy of articles relating to information produced by Jisc funded programmes presented on Wikimedia projects. 

My work as UK Web Focus has been primarily focussed on supporting the higher education sector, rather than working with Jisc projects and programmes (although I was involved in work such as providing a framework for the selection of standards for Jisc programmes, as well as Jisc development activities such as the JISC e-Framework and the JISC Information Environment).

WIkipedia workshop in Oxford

Sphingonet Wikiedia workshop held at the University of Oxford

However after submitting the proposal I realised that I would welcome the opportunity to engage more directly with the sector in encouraging greater take-up of Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. I have therefore joined Wikimedia UK and taken part in two recent Wikimedia UK events: the Queen Victoria’s Journals University of Oxford editing day provided an initial opportunity to familiarise myself with the format of an editing workshop and this was followed by participation in a Sphingonet Wiki workshop (see accompanying photograph), which provided me with initial experience in working with other Wikimedia experts.

My bid for the Jisc Wikimedia Ambassador residency included strong support from a number of institutions who were looking for opportunities to embed expertise in use of Wikipedia within their institution, as well as ensure that relevant information about institutional activities is made available in Wikipedia, in ways which conform with key Wikipedia principles including the need for information to be provided from a Neutral Point of View.

During the summer I will be updating my skills in Wikipedia (and I intend to finish reading a book I purchased recently on How Wikipedia Works And How You Can Be A Part Of It. I then intend to offer a portfolio of training workshops based on the skills and expertise I have gained during my time at UKOLN, including training for a number of Social Web services including Wikipedia. If you have an interest, please get in touch.

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Developing the Repository Manager Community

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 July 2013

OR 2013 paperIn a recent post on “SEO Analysis of Institutional Repositories: What’s the Back Story?” I summarised a paper which had been accepted for the Open Repositories 2013 conference. In addition to that paper, which was presented as a poster, a paper on “Developing the Repository Manager Community” was also accepted.

As described in the abstract:

This paper describes activities which have taken place within the UK institutional repository (IR) sector focusing on developing a community of practice through the sharing of experiences and best practice. This includes work done by the UK Council of Research Repositories (UKCoRR) and other bodies, together with informal activities, such as sharing the experience of organising Open Access Week events. The paper also considers future work to be undertaken by UKCoRR to continue developing the community.

Although I had two papers accepted for the conference in light of the costs of travel to Prince Edward Island, the venue for the OR 2013 conference, I did not feel I could justify travelling to the conference three weeks before being made redundant. However Yvonne Budden, my co-author, will be presenting the paper later today.

I feel that the work described in the paper on the growth of an community of practice will become of greater importance in light of changes in the Jisc and their moves away from community-building through the funding of projects in areas such as institutional repositories. There will therefore be a need for bottom-up approaches to sustainable community-building, as described in the paper.

The paper is available in PDF format from the ResearchGate repository. In addition the slides used by Yvonne Budden in the presentation are available on Slideshare and embedded below.

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SEO Analysis of Institutional Repositories: What’s the Back Story?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 July 2013

OR 2013 posterOver a year ago, following a staff appraisal, I agreed to become more involved in supporting the development of institutional repositories – an important area of work for UKOLN and JISC.

Following that decision I was successful in being the lead author for two papers which were accepted at the Open Repositories 2012 conference: one, with Jenny Delasalle, which asked “Can LinkedIn and Enhance Access to Open Repositories?” and another, with Nick Sheppard, Jenny Delasalle, Mark Dewey, Owen Stephens, Gareth Johnson and Stephanie Taylor, on “Open Metrics for Open Repositories“.

The former paper concluded by stating that “Further work is planned to investigate whether such links are responsible for enhancing SEO rankings of resources hosted in institutional repositories“.

This follow-up work was carried out during autumn 2012 and the findings published in a series of guest blog posts during Open Access Week 2012. The paper which summarised this work and the findings was accepted by the programme committee for the OR 2013 conference and will be presented in a poster display at the OR 2013 conference which takes place this week. The poster is included in this post.

The paper, which is available for Opus, the University of Bath repository, in MS Word and PDF formats, concluded:

There is a pressing need to gain a better understanding of the SEO characteristics of current repository services in order to identify examples of best practices and flawed approaches. However since local factors are likely to impact the visibility to search engines of content hosted in institutional repositories it will be important to ensure that such local factors are understood. The work described in this paper describes a methodology for sharing institutional findings in order to inform practices across the repository community. We therefore invite other repository managers to work in a similar fashion, critique the methodology and tools we have described and share the findings for their repository.

I’d therefore invite repository managers to provide an SEO analysis for their local repository – and if you would like to publish your findings as a guest blog post, to follow on from the guest posts in which William Nixon, Yvonne Budden and Natalia Madjarevic reported on the findings at Glasgow University, Warwick University and LSE, feel free to get in touch.

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Preparing For The Future: Helping Libraries Respond to Changing Technological, Economic and Political Change

Posted by Brian Kelly on 5 July 2013

Umbrella 2013 paper by Kelly and HollinsI recently described a paper on “Reflecting on Yesterday, Understanding Today, Planning for Tomorrow” which I presented at the Umbrella 2013 conference – although in the 20 minutes available it was only possible to give a high level overview of the approaches which had been used in the work of the JISC Observatory.

Yesterday, however, I facilitated a 90 minute workshop session at the University of York on “Preparing For The Future: Helping Libraries Respond to Changing Technological, Economic and Political Change“. The workshop was part of a Staff Development Festival for University of York staff who work in the university Library and IT Services department. I have to admit I was pleased to see this level of commitment to staff development which, I heard, reflects institutional commitment to continued professional development. Such ongoing staff development will be particularly relevant to the University of York since, last August, it joined the ranks of the Russell Group universities. Staff in the Library and IT Services will have a key role to play in supporting the research activities across the university. My workshop was aimed to help participants identify key development areas for the future, in light of learning from lessons from the past.

Since the session was a workshop this provided time for the participants to take part in a Delphi exercise. As Paul Hollins (CETIS) and I described in our paper presented at the Umbrella 2013 Conference:

The Delphi process is an established and structured communication technique for interactive forecasting reliant on a selected panel of experts. The technique has been adopted by the US-based New Media Consortium (NMC) for the NMC Horizon project centrepiece activity charting the international landscape of emerging technologies initiative as they relate to “teaching, learning , research creative inquiry and information management”. 

The four groups each identified four technologies or technology-related developments which were felt to have significant impact of library/IT activities in 2-4 years. The groups then voted on the technologies to identify the three most significant areas. At yesterday’s event these technology areas were mobile; social media and cloud services. Perhaps nothing surprising there, but this provided an opportunity for open discussions on the implications for Library and IT Services policies and practices. In addition we also discussed the implications of the technologies, such as ‘gamification’ which had been mentioned but received few votes.

The workshop provided a valuable opportunity to make an institution aware of the methodology which has been used by the JISC Observatory team prior to the cessation of the JISC Observatory work, in light of the cessation of JISC core-funding for UKOLN and CETIS. In light of moves away from centralised advice and support for the sector it will be important, I feel, that the sector is made aware of such methodologies in order that these approaches can be used at an institutional level.
A post entitled I want to be a Dandelion! published yesterday on the Unravelled Bookshelves blog gave another perspective of the importance of supporting diversity across the sector and a move away from Big Projects. The post reported on a talk given by Ben Showers at the Umbrella 2013 conference:

The final thought is one that led to my title today, Ben Showers spoke about tooling up, I thought I would hear about what tools I need for the future instead I got a wonderful talk about how the future is change and we must embrace as much as we can, that we are valuable and valued we just need to keep up, he drew the talk to a close saying we should be less like mammals and more like dandelions, a mammal has few children and spends long time nurturing them and puts a lot of care and thought in tot hem, and they as many to survive to keep life going as possible, while Dandelions throw many many seeds out, no care , no energy, no worries and they spread and get taken by all. We need to focus on less big things and more on smaller and freer items that float and go further, and need much much less from us.

I agree. And I’m looking forward to working across the sector in supporting institutions in identifying what those “smaller and freerer items” may be and in best practices in exploiting them. There are opportunities for consultants to work with the sector, I feel. I’m looking forward to such work after I am made redundant in less than 4 weeks time!

Note that the slides I used in the workshop session are available on Slideshare and embedded below:

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Reflecting on Yesterday, Understanding Today, Planning for Tomorrow

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 July 2013

The Umbrella 2013 Conference

Plenary talk at Umbrella 2013Yesterday I attended the first day of the Umbrella 2013 conference. The opening day of the two-day conference was full of fascinating talks and interesting discussions – the highlight of which was the closing plenary talk which asked “Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it’s a librarian?“. But no ordinary librarian – Victoria Treadway, Clinical Library at the Wirral Hospital Teaching Hospital Trust, in an engrossing double act with Doctor Girendra Sadera described how, by going beyond one’s comfort zone and working closely with others in a team working in the hospital’s Critical Care Unit, librarians could literally save lives.

We’re All Information Professionals Now!

Umbrella tweetIf this was the highlight of the first day, there was also an undercurrent related to the uncertainties of the future of the library profession and CILIP, the professional organisation for librarians and information professionals. Perhaps it would appear strange for librarians and information professionals to be uncertain of their future in an information-rich society. But as Annie Mauger (CLIP CEO) tweeted during the opening plenary earlier today: “We’re all information professionals“. But if we all all information professionals (Channel 4 news journalists, researchers and, indeed, ordinary people many of whom will now have to curate increasingly large volumes pf digital resources) what differentiates information professionals who choose – or choose not – to belong to a professional organisation?

Reflecting on Yesterday, Understanding Today, Planning for Tomorrow

My contribution to the conference was to present a paper on “Reflecting on Yesterday, Understanding Today, Planning for Tomorrow” which argues that librarians need to adopt evidence-based approaches to planning for the implications of technological developments. The paper summarised the approaches which have been taken by the JISC Observatory and argued that, in light of the imminent demise of the JISC Observatory following the cessation of the core funding for UKOLN and CETIS, institutions may wish to adopt the methodology developed by the JISC Observatory team.

Since the presentation only lasted for 20 minutes it was possibly to give an overview of the JISC Observatory team work. However I would hope that the paper (for which Paul Hollins, Director of CETIS, was a co-author) will be published shortly. In addition an extended version of the slides are available on Slideshare and are embedded below.

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IWMW 2013: Web Managers In A Double Bind

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 July 2013

Reflections on the Plenary Talks at IWMW 2013

Summary of Dai Griffiths' talk at IWMW 2013

Sketch note of Dai Griffith’s talk by Kevin Mears (@mearso)

In a recent post I described how “The Job’s Not Over Till The Paperwork’s Complete” and summarised the ways in which the digital resources associated with last week’s IWMW 2013 event are being aggregated. As well as the curation of event tweets which is currently being carried out using Storify (e.g. see the Storify summary of the first day) the Lanyrd entry for IWMW 2013 is also being used to provide links to speakers’ slides, curated session tweets and, where possible, notes provided by event participants.

The first trip report we came across was written by the City University London Web Team; a report which began: “there are a lot memories and a lot to describe to my fellow colleagues and those who couldn’t attend“. Indeed, many memories and lots of interesting content which will be of relevant to many working in institutional Web teams. We would therefore encourage anyone who has written a report about the event to ensure that it is made publicly available and to provide a link to the report from the Lanyrd page (you can add links from the bottom of the Lanyrd Coverage page).

The Open Agenda on the Opening Day

Rather than attempt to summarise all of the talks I intend to reflect on some of the significant themes which were discussed at the event.

The opening plenary talk was given by Cable Green, Director of Global Leaning at Creative Commons. In the talk on “Open Education: The Business & Policy Case for OER” Cable explained how Creative Commons licences can provide a stable legal framework for permitting reuse of content and the importance of such licences in helping to support the aim of global leaning for everyone.

In the second talk, on “Mozilla, Open Badges and a Learning Standard for Web Literacy“, Doug Belshaw introduced the idea of open badges to, gauging from the comments on Twitter, an audience which is intrigued by open badges and their potential relevance for both personal use and to support departmental activities.

The IWMW 2013 event opened with talks which promoted the benefits of open practices. On the final day of the event several of the speakers responded to issues which had been raised earlier (which highlighted the benefits of having a flexible approach to processing speakers’ slides). For me the two most inspirational talks were “The University in a Bind” by Dai Griffiths and “The Delicious Discomfort Of Not Knowing: How to Lead Effectively Through Uncertainty” by Neil Denny.

Dai Griffiths, Professor at the Institute for Educational Cybernetics at the University of Bolton described how the institutional Web is situated at the “not-so-calm centre of a hurricane”. Within current economic uncertainties institutions are also in a “double bind” – described in Wikipedia as “an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, in which one message negates the other“. Dai provided a number of examples of this ‘double bind’ such as the pressures on researchers in the run-up to the REF to publish in high impact journals whilst also expecting researchers to ensure that their research publications are available in open access journals.

This reminded me of the double-bind which institutional Web managers found themselves in just over a year ago after the ‘cookie’ law came into being: institutions must (a) conform with the law and ensure that visitors to institutional Web sites opt-in to use of cookie or (b) providing clean and simple user interfaces to resources which minimise barriers to use of services (especially if accessed on a range of devices).

Sidhu's KIS statisticsAnother example of an institutional double bind relates to a plenary talk given at IWMW 2012. At last year’s event Andrew Oakley, Head of Software Development at the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) spoke about Key Information Set Data, information which the government requires institutions to provide. But this year Ranjit Sidhu, towards the end of his talk entitled “9am, 16th August, 2012: ‘What the fcuk just happened then?’” informed the audience that “Less than 1 visitor per university per day click the UniStats [KIS] widget“. Again the tension if between (a) implementing systems which are legally required and (b) ensuring that we allocate scarce resources in a cost-effective way.

Or as Bart Simpson put it: “You’re damned if you do; you’re damned if you don’t“.

double bindHow are we to respond to having to implement incompatible goals, with decreasing resources? In the final talk at the event Neil Denny spoke about “The Delicious Discomfort Of Not Knowing: How to Lead Effectively Through Uncertainty“. Neil was another speaker who updated his slides in response to the issues which had been raised during the event. It occurred to me that Neil could have updated the title of his talk so that it explained “How To Lead Effectively Through Insanity” as suggested by Dai Griffiths is the slide illustrated.

I will conclude this post by using the summary of Neil’s talk which my colleague Marieke Guy has just posted with the title “The Delicious Discomfort of IWMW13“:

His message was about how we need to be comfortable with uncertainty and find strategies for surviving at the edge of our comfort zone. We can survive by listening to others and adopting the attitude of an artisan (trying new things). His talk really touched a nerve. All of us from UKOLN are going through big change, but change is good, if you don’t change…you stand still. I have to admit I actually love that point when change can happen and I’ve actively strived towards it. It’s at that point that all possibilities still exist.

I agree – survival will require being able to listen to others and being receptive to change. The challenge for me will be to explore sustainability options for future IWMW events. In a future post I will summarise plans to do this.

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IWMW 2013: The Resources

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 July 2013

The Job’s Not Over Till The Paperwork’s Complete

Storify summary of first day at IWMW 2012IWMW 2013, the seventeenth Institutional Web Management Workshop, is now over. Or perhaps I should say that the event is over for the speakers and participants. For the event organisers we still have to process payments, analyse the event evaluation forms and send feedback to the speakers.

But in addition to the post-event work which all event organisers will need to carry out, since we have always prided ourselves on the event amplification of IWMW events, we need to process various digital resources in order to maximise the readership of resources used at the event and provide additional ways in which the discussions can be accessed. An event no longer has to finish when the organiser announces the physical event is over!

Providing Access to an Event’s Digital Resources

A Storify summary of the first day has already been published, as illustrated. In addition a summary of the closing session, entitled IWMW 2013: What The Users Thought, which includes Twitter comments made by participants after they had left the event is also available. The comments included:

  • thanks for the last 3 days, lots of work, lots of fun and many new friends, it’s been great hope this isn’t the end!
  • Great to hear how important IWMW is in inspiring us to work together and found communities of practice
  • Themes I will take away from this year’s #iwmw13:  silos, change, big data, Agile, openness, and “to MOOC, or not to MOOC?”
  • Feeling inspired by our speakers, change is inevitable, work with it not against it!
  • Be comfortable with uncertainty, listen, adopt the attitude of an artisan, be creative, read, be curious – an inspiring ending to #iwmw13
  • Leaving Bath inspired & impressed after my first #iwmw13 An amazing community which will no doubt keep going in the future.
  • My first time at IWMW. Also first conference I’ve been to that ended with Monty Python on YouTube. Delightful!

Lanyrd page for Doug Belshaw's talkIn addition to the Storify summaries the slides used in the plenary talks and a number of the workshop sessions have been uploaded to the IWMW 2013 and to Slideshare. The Slideshare repository is probably the more important, as slides hosted on Slideshare can be embedded elsewhere. This includes the IWMW 2013 Lanyrd site, for which pages for each of the sessions contain not only the abstract and speaker details but also slides which are available from Slideshare as well as user-generated content including blog posts about the sessions and, of particular interest to me, links to Kevin Mears’ sketches which give a graphical depiction of his reflctions on the key messages of several of the plenary talks and the two parallel sessions he attended.

An example of a Lanyrd page, for Doug Belshaw’s plenary talk on “Mozilla, Open Badges and a Learning Standard for Web Literacy” is illustrated.

But in addition to the resources produced by the speakers and the tweets posted by the audience the other valuable resource created at the event are the sketches produced by Kevin Mears. What a great way of summarising a talk and highlighting the key aspects in what I feel is a particularly memorable way.

Sketch by Kevin Mears

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