UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

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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!

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Life After UKOLN: Looking For New Opportunities

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 Jul 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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Reflections on 16 years at UKOLN (part 5)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 Jul 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 Jul 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 Jul 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 Jul 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 Jul 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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My Redundancy Letter Arrived Today

Posted by Brian Kelly on 24 Apr 2013

The Official Letter Arrived Today

Redundancy letterI have just been given my redundancy letter – I was the first of many to receive a redundancy letter on what will be a very busy two days for the University of Bath’s HR department. After over 16 years at UKOLN (I started on 30 October 1996) my redundancy letter informs me that I will be leaving on 31 July 2013.

This is clearly a sad moment for myself and my colleagues at UKOLN. The decision to cease the core funding for UKOLN (and CETIS) – which was made in October 2012 but not unofficially announced until December – has had severe implications for us. At the start of 2013 there were 26 people employed in UKOLN but after 31 July, based on current funding estimates for the next financial year, there is likely to be funding for just 3.7 FTEs (although, due to people working part-time, there should be more individuals still based at UKOLN.

The definition of ‘decimate’ is: “to destroy a great number or proportion of [Example]: The population was decimated by a plague.” With cuts of the extent given above it would not be an exaggeration to say “UKOLN has been decimated by cuts” :-(

Sadly, it seems that there is a growing tendency in the sector to refuse to acknowledge bad news. Stephen Downes highlighted this just before Christmas:

Two vaguely worded announcements appeared today on the UKOLN and CETIS websites. As cited by Brian Kelly, “In response to the Wilson review of Jisc, the organisation has confirmed that it will only provide core funding to the UKOLN Innovation Support Centre, up to July 2013 but not beyond.” Same deal for CETIS. (Note that I changed Kelly’s headline, contrary to my usual practice, because the phrase “looking ahead” seems to deliberately obfuscate the content of the messages.)

There’s a danger in making bad news invisible that the value which the organisation has been provided in the past is ignored. It was pleased to See how Stephen (an acknowledged elearning expert from North America) concluded his post be describing how:

I know it’s another country and all that, but let me be clear that to my mind UKOLN and CETIS have been two of the most important organizations in the world of online learning, period, and that should their funding be discontinued it would be a significant loss to the field.

This contrasted starkly with the view from Jisc in response to a question about redundancies:

This is about reshaping our approach to deliver for our customers, organising what we need to do and then populating it with people who can do it reasonably well. I expect the vast majority of the roles and the posts that we need in the new organisation to be perfectly capable of being discharged by people who are in the existing Jisc, and we are not in the business of disenfranchising the existing Jiscers, that’s not the purpose.

This feeling that we are being airbrushed from Jisc’s history was compounded recently when significant UKOLN intellectual work was labelled as being produced by Jisc in an article in a national journal.

The Change Curve

Change cycleShock, Anger

Yesterday myself and a number of my colleagues attended a half-day Change Management workshop. We were presented with a Change Curve, which is illustrated. Many of us identified with the emotions listed in the diagram, and I’m conscious that this post may well reflect the shape of the curve.

The anger is compounded by the significant role that JISC has had over an extended period. The Wilson Review (PDF format) noted such successes: ‘There is no comparable body within the UK, and internationally its reputation is outstanding as a strategic leader and partner.’

Such successes have been based, I feel, on JISC’s willingness to embrace open practices in its approaches to helping to develop and embed innovative practices across the sector. But such open practices are now vanishing, as the Jisc comms department is now controlling messages from the organisation as part of the process of “reshaping our approach to deliver for our customers“. Expect to see good news on Jisc communications channels!

The anger myself and colleagues feel is compounded when we look at how CETIS, our fellow JISC Innovation Support centre has responded to the loss of its core funding. I was aware that a group of CETIS staff had been given responsibility to look at new funding streams and at the recent CETIS conference Paul Hollins, CETIS Director summarised the various proposals for new funding which have been submitted. It looks at though the future for CETIS is much more secure than ours. Although the decision to seek additional funding in the area of informatics appears to have provided an additional year’s funding, this is only for a tiny proportion of staff and it is still unclear as to whether such a small department with limited funding is sustainable (especially when one considers that the director will probably continue on the same salary, despite the organisation downsizing from a peak of over 30 people to 4.7 FTEs. A goal of transforming UKOLN from a organisation with its roots in the Library world to a research informatics organisation may have been successful, but this was clearly a phyrric victory.

Acceptance .. and a Better Future?

But rather than looking back, myself and my colleagues who received redundancy letters today, need to look forward. This will not be along the lines of the official announcement:

While the Innovation Support Centre will cease operating after July 2013, UKOLN will continue and as the organisation enters a new phase, it is a time to reflect on what we’ve achieved.

but the future for the large numbers of colleagues who, from 1 August, will be facing an uncertain future, with bills to pay, families to support and mortgages and other loans which will need paying.

Fortunately many UKOLN staff do have expertise, skills and connections which will continue to be needed (back in December when I carried out the calculation there was about 240 years of staff expertise based on our time in UKOLN!). We have been providing training and support for staff and will continue to do this over the next three months. In a post on Importance of Social Media for Finding New Opportunities I summarised a session I facilitated in December on ways in which social media can be valuable in developing new contacts, strengthening existing relationships and helping to discuss new opportunities. I suspect there will be a number of further sessions along these lines in which we can help each other in moving towards the ‘better future’.

But over the next three months there will be still be work to be done. I am in the process of preparing content hosted on UKOLN Web sites so that is is ready for archiving. I should add that, in light of my concerns that UKOLN’s value to the sector over a period of over 30 years will be marginalised, ignored or appropriated by others, I am working with colleagues to ensure that their involvement across a wide range of activities is acknowledged and that significant intellectual content is not lost. This process involved ensuring that my colleagues deposit copies of their papers, articles, project reports, etc. in Opus, the University of Bath’s institutional repository (and, at the time of writing, there appear to be 424 items in the repository). In addition I have also suggested that authors embed their ORCID ID within papers, which might be particularly important for project reports if the author details are not clear.

But in addition since the large majority of UKOLN staff will be leaving, we will be exploring ways in which our expertise can continue to be harnessed, perhaps through consultancy work. Don’t write us off, yet!

For now, I think I may be allowed to conclude on a rather emotional day by summarising the Change Curve with the words used by Father Jack “Arse, feck, drink, women“. Anyone fancy joining me in the pub tonight? Then maybe be could go clubbing.

Note: A Storify archive of the tweets related to this story is now available.

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