November 28, 2006

Meeting hostile resistance to repositories

Filed under: Repositories — Neil Godfrey @ 12:23 pm

Tonight I encountered my first hostile, not just negative or indifferent, but hostile reaction against the repositories we are working to help establish, and it was from an academic.

What I am relating here is not just a gripe but hopefully a number of messages for repository managers. Some of the issues are not new to most of us, but the depth of feeling in relation to some of them and the anecdotal report that the hostility is widespread in one department at least, will be of concern and worth some serious thought and followup, even if only for reassurance that at least in our own institution this is story is more fiction than reality.

On asking my academic friend how many of her peers shared her views she responded that “most” do, “everyone” does. A major reason, she belaboured, was the time factor, just one more thing for highly pressured academics to do, they just don’t have the time. When I explained that faculties can decide to choose a mediator such as a research assistant to enter the data she despaired that such a workflow would not happen in her department with their particular dean in charge.

I think I tried to squeeze the ‘Google’ word in while she spoke, only to cop the retort: “But what if you DON’T WANT your article found by Google!!!”

So she spoke of a more galling personal experience, and what follows is from the best of my memory of the conversation about 2 hours ago: my friend began by asking me how long a publication is up there and if she can change it or ask it to be removed, citing how she had sent an article to be deposited but asking it to be delayed because it was still pending publication (she was pouring out her experiences and impressions of the process) — meanwhile the publisher she had first expected to publish it did not, then potential publishers were changed a couple more times before it was published, and meanwhile she had revised the preprint she had originally sent to the repository because it was full of errors — and she is embarrassed to see that that error-ridden preprint is the first thing that comes up in a Google search. I assured her of course that she could request her article to be removed or replaced, so she wanted to know how she goes about that, who does she see to do that.

Yes, I did ask her if she knew the benefits of repositories, and she impressed me by rattling them off one by one as if reading straight from a page of a repository sales blurb: “yeh yeh yeh, googlable, searchable, accessible, download statsable, citable, preservable, etc etc blah blah blah.”

Then she hit me with the political reason, and this was a new one on me. Till tonight I have only heard positive murmurings about the repository and how it will hopefully have the potential to at least assist in some measure with DEST reporting. I learned tonight of the other side to that. While academics recognize the importance of reporting for financial grants that does not mean they necessarily approve of it, and it seems at least some see the new RQF around the corner as a serious threat to their independence and as an unwarranted extension of government power. Is the respository push seen by our presumed clientele to be coming from the wrong side of a political battle between universities and the government since Nelson was minister?

And no doubt as a result of some of the publicity lines by repository advocates, she saw the repository as integral to this threat. She saw the repository deposits meaning the government would have access to all the work each individual academic was publishing and for whom and what themes and arguments they were advocating.

I suddenly felt ill as if I on the Road to Damascus and suddenly struck down by the thought that I had all along been persecuting the one I thought I had been devotedly serving. Here was someone (not just another academic but a personal friend in this case) seeing me employed as an agent of a KGB style Big Brother political push to ultimately control academics. (I even thought I heard a voice in my head commanding, “Don’t ever mention the repository and RQF in the same sentence ever again, ever!”)

Luckily the company was larger than the two of us and the conversation took a turn at that point. I finally had time to think through some of the implications of what she had been saying.

As I said earlier, much of what she had said was not a new concern, and obviously they are areas where we need to stop a moment and decide how to work smarter on. But her last point was a new one for me. I would like to check out more academics to see how widespread her perceptions are. I think it is often easy for people in the library profession to want to push to potential clients with what wonderful and ever expanding services they can offer, which is fine — but within professional guidelines. My experience has been that it is sometimes easy for some librarians to be tempted to promise too much and meanwhile lose sight of other professional standards and the total professional environment, seeking their identity in degree of service opportunities at the expense of some of their professional respect. (Certainly not all go that far by any means, and I am only speaking of some aspects of my experience as a librarian.)

While discussions among repository builders and coordinators have referred to various arguments among academics that must be overcome, and that some academics are more willing than others to get involved, they have all spoken of “the academics” as a single body of clientele. Maybe that concept needs rethinking. Maybe in our efforts to be seen as “service providers” we have not fully engaged academe as a whole with their deeper professional, and political, concerns.

Is my friend a solitary Cassandra and would we be entering her fictional world to take her seriously? Or would we be doing her, her colleagues, ourselves and even the future of repositories a genuine service by taking more than some Freudian psychoanalytic interest in her warning cries?

One thing is for sure. I had been looking around for some way to get a theme or handle on my workflows presentation that I am preparing, and I now have a new angle for at least one part of that presentation. But I’ll save the details of that for the day it’s delivered.

November 21, 2006

metadata workflows

Filed under: Repositories — Neil Godfrey @ 9:14 am

Have had a great visit today to have a look at repository workflows at the University of Queensland (thanks Belinda) and Queensland University of Technology (and thanks Paula) and it was as hoped in my last post here at least not too far off a road to Damascus experience. Till now I have only had close working knowledge of University of Southern Queensland workflows and have long felt keenly the need to know what happens outside our walls.

I can now say comfortably that USQ, QUT and UQ experiences (not one but three witnesses!) have confirmed my gut feeling that USQ’s workflows are trying to do way too much — like a one man smiling clown band amazingly peforming an incredible array of instruments and deeply frowning from stress deep down. But the solution to breaking up the blocks and bubbles of those workflow diagrams so they sit with an array of performers and not just one or two in a library is broader institutional maturation. I mean by that that after the birthpangs of trying to sell how easy and rewarding the whole repository idea will be for submitters, once the whole idea becomes institutionalized (“it’s university ‘POLICY'”, “RQF requires it!” … ‘resistance is useless’ (thanks, PC) — both within the university world and its reporting for funding requirements, obliging academic publishers to keep pace? — then the burden can be shared. A library editor can then afford to bounce back to a submitter craving peer recognition and Google hits a routine form letter saying “uh-uh… this is not what we need for open access to your article . . . read the following (again) . . .”. Mediators such as research assistants, liaison librarians for the various schools and faclties, can take on more of the basic submission work. Ideas sharing can help library editors pick up new shortcuts.

I think the USQ eprints editor gained a lot out of todays show and tell sessions, and my next job is now to sift through the different experiences of USQ, QUT, UQ, take on board their concerns as they prepare to move from ePrints to VITAL and Fez repositories, and prepare something for the whole this coming Foster day, including our D-Spacer(s?)!

November 20, 2006

Workflows in library repositories

Filed under: Repositories — Neil Godfrey @ 8:12 am

I have been working on the details of what tasks are involved in the workflows from the time an author submits a resource to a repository editor to the time it gets published in the repository. So far from USQ’s experience I get the impression that we are throwing so much on just a few staff that it’s as if one or two people are having to do all the invoicing and unpacking and budgeting and spinelabeling and cataloguing and shelving. Maybe we are trying to achieve too much too quickly and when these repository submissions start to increase in number we’re just going to be forced to work out something a bit slower, but a bit more authority-controlled and methodical and job-satisfying for all involved. But tomorrow I will be visiting QUT and UQ in Brisbane to compare their workflows. Maybe this will be like a journey to Damascus!

November 19, 2006

MODS (originally posted October 18 2006)

Filed under: MODS — Neil Godfrey @ 10:23 pm

I’d love to hear from anyone in library-land who has used/heard of/rejected/embraced/toyed with MODS (metadata object description schema) as the next evolutionary step from MARC.

I asked this question more locally about a year ago when I first started seriously to inform myself about metadata and got either blank or ‘don’t touch that’ looks back then. Since then the MODS question has hit me again and I am wondering what I don’t know about it for it not to be more broadly known and used. From my reading it appears to be a brilliant alternative to MARC in the new world of things like interoperability, repositories, electronic databases…. It looks damn easy to understand (no marc tags for the uninitiated to navigate) and maps well to anything from the simplest Dublin Core to the most complex ONIX.

One negative comment I did hear was that it cannot catch all MARC data but when I wrote up a table comparing all the fields one could want in a repository I could not see any problem that way at all: the only thing it loses is the excess MARC bits and pieces that are simply not relevant to repositories and the sharing and searching of collections in the new info world. Things like the 246 indicator that codes a varying title as being a “spine” title — what’s a spine in an electronic resource anyway?
Thoughts? Would love feedback since am planning on soon applying all I’ve read about it to the real test world and seeing what happens.

Metalogging thoughts 1 (originally posted October 8th 2006)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Neil Godfrey @ 10:22 pm

LibraryThing (see previous post) has my thoughts reeling about potential places of repositories in relation not only to academic and other research libraries but also within the vaster super-brain organized whole-world storage of information. Keywords in themselves are very nice, like confetti at a wedding, but does not LibraryThing offer a glimpse of something even more powerful beside these — links to the controlled vocabularies of library databases. What power searching would be possible with repositories also lubricating the controlled links to these databases worldwide, too….?

LibraryThing (originally posted October 8th 2006)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Neil Godfrey @ 10:20 pm

Have just discovered LibraryThing. It cost me $A35 within about ten minutes when it sucked me into its vortex of addictive endorphic-generating intellectual pleasures of finally finally being able to begin cataloguing my personal book collection, linking up with other compatible collections and readers, combining personal tagging and internationally recognized controlled vocabularies, annotations and reviews…. Just what I’ve always wanted to be able to do all my life!

Just when I’ve been discovering the depth of conviction among some cataloguers and other librarians that the days of controlled vocabularies are dead, not having any place in networked world that finds simply keywords and full text entries all sufficient — along comes LibraryThing to give a little heart to those of us who could not put some doubts about a world, even a mass public catalogue, or especially a mass public catalogue, being “all sufficient” without controlled vocabs. There’s still a long way to go with this, but LibraryThing has surely taken one giant step for mankind to getting there.

Still have a couple of glitches with it, though, that I have to ask about: shared contacts appear to be restricted to either an exact edition or same-online-source of a title; and there appears to be some inconsistency in the searching across different sources — some respond to keywords only while others appear to miss these and require an exact portion of title phrasing.