UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Personal Reflections on A Turbulent Year

Posted by Brian Kelly on 31 Dec 2013

Cessation of UKOLN’s Core Funding

Just over a year ago, on 20 December 2012, the official announcement was published: “Jisc has confirmed that it will only provide core funding to the UKOLN Innovation Support Centre, up to July 2013 but not beyond.” On 24 April I reported on how My Redundancy Letter Arrived Today and, after over 16 years working for the organisation, my last day working for UKOLN took place on 31 July.

It has clearly been a turbulent year, with the enforced departure from the University of Bath after such a long period meaning enforced changes for me and for my many colleagues who were also made redundant at the same time. We had been informed of the cessation of funding since the start of October 2012 when Jisc first informed us of their decision, but no public announcement was made until the week before Christmas last year (a good time to bury bad news!).

Activities Over the Past Year

Despite the news I can look back at some personal highlights over the past year. Liz Lyon, the UKOLN Director, asked me to lead a project for archiving UKOLN’s digital content,  a significant task in light of the large amount of Web content which had been hosted on UKOLN’s Web sites since the early 1990s. However this task was completed prior to my departure, with the content across UKOLN Web sites being updated with information on the freezing of the Web site being provided on key entry points and of UKOLN Web sites being simplified to static files, with the BUCS, the University of Bath IT Services department hosting this frozen content.

IWMW 2013 meal

A highlight of the year: the 17th IWMW event, which since 1997 has provided an opportunity for community development and professional networking for Web managers. [Photo by Sharon Steeples]

In addition to managing this work, I gave a talk on When Staff and Researchers Leave Their Host Institution at the LILAC 2013 conference based on the experiences of enforced departure from my host institution, in which I pointed out that we will all leave our institution at some point, so institutions should ensure that they prepare their staff for professional live beyond services hosted within the institution, if they wish to provide their staff with life-long learning skills in managing digital content and services. I also gave a talk on “Spotting Tomorrow’s Key Technologies” at the UKSG 2013 conference.

This year I also presented papers on “Using social media to enhance your research activities” at the Social Media in Social Research 2013 Conference and “Reflecting on Yesterday, Understanding Today, Planning for Tomorrow” at the Umbrella 2013 conference.

I also had two papers accepted for the Open Repositories 2013 conference: one with William Nixon on “SEO analysis of institutional repositories: What’s the back story?” and the other with Nick Sheppard, Jill Evans and Yvonne Budden on “Developing the repository manager community“. However due to the conference travel costs, which was held in Prince Edward Island, Canada, I did not attend the conference.

The highlight of my final months at UKOLN was organising the IWMW 2013 event, which took place at the University of Bath. This event was launched in 1997 and it was fitting that the final event to be delivered under a UKOLN banner was opening by the Lord Mayor of Bath and included a party for UKOLN staff and IWMW 2013 participants who have close links with UKOLN.

Life After UKOLN

MOOC certificateAfter redundancy I had a break of about ten weeks which provided an opportunity for a holiday in Northumbria and time to recharge my batteries. I also used this time to enhance by professional development, with the successful completion of the Hyperlinked Library MOOC.

This online course was of particular relevance to me due to my interests in use of social media to support professional activities and my work in supporting the library sector.

Shortly after starting the MOOC I summarised my Initial Reflections on The Hyperlinked Library MOOC and the Badges I Have Acquired. Earlier this month I described my Reflections on the Hyperlinked Library MOOC. I was pleased to have completed the MOOC and all of the assignments and the week before Christmas I received my completion certificate.

A New Beginning at Cetis

I carried out a number of professional activities over the summer including running a one-day workshop on “Future Technologies and Their Applications” at the ILI 2013 conference. However towards the end of October I started a new job as Innovation Advocate at Cetis. As I described in a blog post about my new role:

My new role will enable me to build on our previous collaborations and my interests and expertise in areas including standards, accessibility, social media and open practices. In addition I hope that the extensive professional networks I have developed with provide useful in supporting and developing Cetis’s range of activities.

I went on to describe how:

I will be working, as home worker, for four days a week. I’ll be looking forward to renewing my contacts with Jisc as well as making new contacts at Bolton University and across the e-learning community. I will also be looking for additional partnership and funding opportunities – so please get in touch.

I’m enjoying this new role! Since I started I have facilitated a Wikipedia Editing Workshop at the SpotOn 2013 conference, given a remote presentation on Accessibility is Primarily about People and Processes, Not Digital Resources! at the OZeWAI 29013 conference, delivered a webinar on Open Educational Practices (OEP): What They Mean For Me and How I Use Them and facilitated a workshop session on Using Social Media to Enhance Your Research Activities at the DAAD 2013 conference. When I return to work I’m looking forward to building on my existing expertise and networks and exploring new opportunities for further work at Cetis.

The Future of UKOLN?

"New phase for UKOLN"Despite the announcement of the cessation of core funding and the departure of most of the staff on 31 July, an announcement concerning “A new phase for UKOLN” was made on 2 August on the UKOLN Web site with Liz Lyon, the UKOLN director stating that:

We will be continuing our work as a partner in the Digital Curation Centre, progressing the development and deployment of the Community Capability Model for Data-Intensive Science in partnership with Microsoft Research Connections, completing the Immersive Informatics pilot Research Data Management training programme with the University of Melbourne, and working with the Library and other colleagues at the University of Bath on a range of research data management and public engagement activities.

A new UKOLN Informatics Web site was announced on 1 August which has provided a handful of announcement about DCC activities. However the most significant post was published on 23 December. The post, Farewell to Liz Lyon, announced tersely:

Dr Liz Lyon, UKOLN Director, leaves us at the end of this year, for a new position as Visiting Professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Information Sciences. Liz has led UKOLN at the University of Bath for over ten years, and has overseen many successful partnerships such as the Digital Curation Centre and Microsoft Research.

We would like to wish Liz well in her new role and look forward to exploring new opportunities with the iSchool at Pitt.

A more comprehensive announcement had been made two months previously on the University of Pittsburgh School of Information Sciences web site until the title Dr. Liz Lyon joins iSchool faculty as Visiting Professor.

However it is still uncertain what the future of UKOLN will be. The limited information which has been provided (with the announcement on the UKOLN blog being published two days before Christmas, a time when the University of Bath was closed) suggests a degree of uncertainty for the future of the organisation.  For an organisation which, in 2008, celebrated its 30th anniversary it is sad to see how the organisation was unable to respond to the changes in the funding environment. This is, of course, particularly unfortunate for those who were made redundant in July and the remaining 6 members of staff whose future appears uncertain. But at the end of a turbulent year for myself and my former colleagues it would be appropriate, with only 12 hours remaining of 2013, to give a toast: UKOLN may appear to be almost dead, but long live those who worked at UKOLN and made it for so many years such an exciting and stimulating place to work!

5 Responses to “Personal Reflections on A Turbulent Year”

  1. Great post, Brian; I am proud to be a UKOLN alumni. Wishing you a productive and successful 2014.

  2. Helen Kent said

    That looks like a classic case of sinking bad news – a two-month delay followed by publishing it on a day when Bath University was shut and most other universities winding down for the Christmas break.
    At least you shut down the website cleanly. Not everyone bothers – Southampton rather shamefully pulled a site completely a few years ago, without even a redirection of the domain name: the equivalent of ripping a plug out of the wall.

  3. Em Tonkin said

    Cheers for drawing attention to the flatfile migration, which Paul scoped/directed. Talat, my students and I were responsible for the flatfiling processes, which actually reached their endpoint in December 2013. Circa 40 gigs of visible material was included, so a lot of work was involved. Mirroring processes also had to be repeated to catch late updates. As the proverbial last person to leave the UKOLN servers, I dropped in whilst on leave just before Christmas and switched off the lights.

    Whilst I am very pleased that the main sites remain available online, it was a sadly incomplete preservation process. The experience confirmed a strong suspicion that, whatever is said about preservation during the good times, the reality tends to be ad-hoc and strongly dependent on domain knowledge, individual motivation and expedience.

    • Hi Emma
      Thanks for the comment – and my apologies for now mentioning your involvement in this work. I should also add that other members of UKOLN staff also took responsibility for updating the content of the entry points of web sites they had responsibility for, prior to the archiving process.

      I agree with your comment that digital preservation activities are dependent on “domain knowledge, individual motivation and expedience”. I hope that the content will continue to be available now that we have severed connections with UKOLN and the sustainability of the content is dependent on others.

  4. Philip Hunter said

    As John said, a great post. The funders have not covered themselves with glory in winding down UKOLN, and I will be very disappointed if it disappears altogether.

    It was good to hear news of your position with CETIS, and about what you have been doing.

    Best wishes for the new year!.

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