Repositories thru the looking glass
I spent last week in Melbourne, Australia at the VALA 2008 Conference - my first trip over to Australia and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. Many thanks to all those locals and non-locals that made me feel so welcome.
I was there, first and foremost, to deliver the opening keynote, using it as a useful opportunity to think and speak about repositories (useful to me at least - you'll have to ask others that were present as to whether it was useful for anyone else).
It strikes me that repositories are of interest not just to those librarians in the academic sector who have direct responsibility for the development and delivery of repository services. Rather they represent a microcosm of the wider library landscape - a useful case study in the way the Web is evolving, particularly as manifest through Web 2.0 and social networking, and what impact those changes have on the future of libraries, their spaces and their services.
My keynote attempted to touch on many of the issues in this area - issues around the future of metadata standards and library cataloguing practice, issues around ownership, authority and responsibility, issues around the impact of user-generated content, issues around Web 2.0, the Web architecture and the Semantic Web, issues around individual vs. institutional vs. national, vs. international approaches to service provision.
In speaking first I allowed myself the luxury of being a little provocative and, as far as I can tell from subsequent discussion, that approach was well received. Almost inevitably, I was probably a little too technical for some of the audience. I'm a techie at heart and a firm believer that it is not possible to form a coherent strategic view in this area without having a good understanding of the underlying technology. But perhaps I am also a little too keen to inflict my world-view on others. My apologies to anyone who felt lost or confused.
I won't repeat my whole presentation here. My slides are available from Slideshare and a written paper will become available on the VALA Web site as soon as I get round to sending it to the conference organisers!
I can sum up my talk in three fairly simple bullet points:
- Firstly, that our current preoccupation with the building and filling of 'repositories' (particularly 'institutional repositories') rather than the act of surfacing scholarly material on the Web means that we are focusing on the means rather than the end (open access). Worse, we are doing so using language that is not intuitive to the very scholars whose practice we want to influence.
- Secondly, that our focus on the 'institution' as the home of repository services is not aligned with the social networks used by scholars, meaning that we will find it very difficult to build tools that are compelling to those people we want to use them. As a result, we resort to mandates and other forms of coercion in recognition that we have not, so far, built services that people actually want to use. We have promoted the needs of institutions over the needs of individuals. Instead, we need to focus on building and/or using global scholarly social networks based on global repository services. Somewhat oddly, ArXiv (a social repository that predates the Web let alone Web 2.0) provides us with a good model, especially when combined with features from more recent Web 2.0 services such as Slideshare.
- Finally, that the 'service oriented' approaches that we have tended to adopt in standards like the OAI-PMH, SRW/SRU and OpenURL sit uncomfortably with the 'resource oriented' approach of the Web architecture and the Semantic Web. We need to recognise the importance of REST as an architectural style and adopt a 'resource oriented' approach at the technical level when building services.
I'm pretty sure that this last point caused some confusion and is something that Pete or I need to return to in future blog entries. Suffice to say at this point that adopting a 'resource oriented' approach at the technical level does not mean that one is not interested in 'services' at the business or function level.
[Image: artwork outside the State Library of Victoria]