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Repository Fringe 2011- day two

Earlier in the week, I blogged about day one of the Repository Fringe 2011. This post, logically enough, is about day two of that same event. Again, I add the caveat that this is a partial account, and that further details can be found on the Repository Fringe website.

The first session of the day was a set of presentations on the the JISC Repositories Takeup and Embedding programme. The presenters all gave good presentations about the wide range of projects which fall under this umbrella programme, but the session was stolen by the final presentation. This was delivered by Robin Burgess from Glasgow School of Art, who SANG A SONG. That’s right, a repository takeup and embedding song.

Next up was Mark Hahnel talking about his Figshare service. Mark was a PhD student at Imperial, who realised that there was no easy way to collate and share his figures, scientific data and results and other media. In response, he developed the Figshare service. It seems to me to be comparable to Mendeley, except that it allows collation and sharing of data rather than formal research outputs. Data curation and sharing has been something that repository-type-people have been grappling with for a while, but it seems to me that Figshare might be the “killer app” for this, given that it appears to be easy to use and has exemplary social media functionality, e.g. allowing users to provide feedback on data. Definitely a service to keep an eye on.

After lunch, there were some more round table discussion sessions. I picked the session “How Repositories are being used for REF & repository advocacy”, chaired by Helen Muir from QMUC. I volunteered to provide feedback to the conference on this, and here are the points that were raised by the group:

  1. There is the risk that the repository might be seen to be only for REF purposes. Further, there is a possibility that the repository might lose sight of its Open Access goal when focussing on REF matters.
  2. There are managerial issues in dealing with spikes in submission of materials.
  3. There is a risk that academics’ engagement with the repository could tale off post-REF, and a challenge in ensuring this does not happen.
  4. The possibility of automated harvesting of data from citations databases such as Web of Science or Scopus for REF purposes was discussed, and it was noted that there were problems with the subject coverage outside of STEM subjects.
  5. This led on to discussion of the possibility of back-filling of the repository as a result of REF work. It was noted that re-surfacing and re-purposing of data for REF purposes can make this data seem “fresh”, and demonstrate the good work done by the repository.
  6. The old info science problem of disambiguation came up, in relation to authors sitting in more than one department (where do they really sit?), and departments splitting, merging and disappearing. There seemed to be no easy answers to these challenges!
  7. Despite these challenges listed above (and others), there was a general feeling that REF provided a great way of engaging with the wider university, and that it was an important opportunity which repositories could not afford to miss out on. There was also the possibility that, if repositories don’t engage with REF, that the repository could be sidelined.
  8. The above notwithstanding, it was felt extremely important not to let the Open Access aspects of repositories to be lost.

Now, a shameless plug: I will be talking about REF matters at a forthcoming RSP event, called the Readiness for REF (R4R) Workshop, taking place in London on September 5th.

The closing keynote address was delivered by Professor Gary Hall from Coventry University. This was a refreshing break from the instrumentalist, utilitarian approach so often taken by repository people who (understandably enough) are interested in solutions. Instead, Hall talked about the politics of repositories (and not just the interminable Green vs. Gold OA arguments). He posited the idea that repositories and Open Access are interventions in the standard practices of publishers, and are hence politically radical. There was a lot more to Hall’s arguments, and I confess I didn’t take as many notes as I should have, but it was good to take a step back and think about the philosophy of Open Access. It was also rare to hear a presentation at a repository conference in which the names of Foucault, Nietzsche and Zizek are invoked!

All in all, Repository Fringe is an excellent conference, with its air of informality and the way it brings together a wide variety of repository people. Holding it in Edinburgh during the Festival gives it an extra something that other cities would struggle to emulate.

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