This week I was mostly attending the annual UKSG conference in a very sunny Harrogate*. Which was lucky, given that every time recently someone asked me where I was going, I’d kept on saying “Huddersfield”. Ahem. Despite my geographic lack of nounce I did manage to turf up in the right place, and a full (and exhausting) few days it was. The following is an attempt at capturing some thoughts on the event**.
Traveled up a day early as the conference was due to kick off at 10am sharp the following day, and I didn’t fancy a crack of dawn start. Helped by the fact that UKSG and a couple of publishers had sponsored by attendance, and thus covering pretty much all my major conference expenses. The drawback being I was expected to be on stage at the start of the whole thing to be awarded by sponsorship…erm, plaque or something (it wasn’t quite clear – it might have been a big bag of money for all I knew). Pleasant enough journey up from the Peak District (brother’s birthday treat), nice hotel and then an evening meal with a couple of chums – although we failed to be served in two restaurants before we found one that would serve us.
Day One of the conference proper, and thankfully the Harrogate International Conference Centre wasn’t too far a walk, and with the cool but bright sunshine there was a good feel in the air. I managed to walk onto the stage for my award (and goodie bags), and only slightly messed up the publicity photographs by appearing in them.
The first two talks were Prof Xiaolin Zhang China Going Forward: research, scholarly coms and libraries and Dave De Route with The Future of Scholarly Communication. I confess the first of these talks was a bit full of graphs and quantitative data that flashed by at such a rate, that it started to feel like the last 30 minutes of 2001. Without a great deal of time to digest the slides, the twitter channel came alight with what would be one of the memes of the conference, meaningless graphs! Where I did follow his narrative I got a little annoyed to see a neoliberal*** imperative inherent as once again science and technology were equated to a healthy economy and hence a “self-evident good”. Slaves to the almighty capital are we all it seems.
Dave’s talk on the other had I was more interested in, and his comment that while the Internet was designed for scientific communication, it hasn’t really helped it advance as much. Thus are the forms of communication (the journal etc) we use still fit for purpose? He raised the idea that given they had worked for centuries there must be something they do right, and they have lasted because they are social objects. However, he suggested that the research article will be dead as of 2030. And now – are we at a turn in scholarship dissemination or part of an ongoing transformation?
After this (and a brief break) we went off to the first of the breakout sessions. I went for one entitled Open access comes of age: implementing open access policies at UCL, Manchester and beyond. it was interesting hearing the contrast in policies and approaches at the two institutions. I was also interested to hear more about OA Intermediaries – or as I seem to perceive them, another way publishers can cream money out of HE. It seems they are there to help APC bills get paid on time…so I read this as organisations that take payment, to make a payment. My note to myself reads “So, they’d be on the Golgafrincham B Ark then!”. The speaker’s comment “There really is a role for intermediaries” seemed to have the subtext “There really are good profits to be made as intermediaries”.
(Yeah, sorry, the neoliberal critique mode doesn’t seem to turn off any more.)
Back then for the next set of plenaries. Firstly John Rogers with Open access and research management. Some interesting perspectives coming from the research manager direction, although very much slanted towards the exploitation of research. Given John’s background in research and enterprise though that wasn’t a big shock. He did highlight the idea of unexpected events being triggered from open scholarship; such as ORCID with the research community seeking to identify themselves uniquely in a shifting community. He also casted skepticism on HEFCE’s expectation that there would be no additional costs for the OA transition, given the significant resource requirements needed in the medium term.
Then it was Steven Hill of HEFCE with a talk entitled Towards the Next Research Excellence Framework. In this he noted that we are coming to a big change about how we think about research and do it. The current way research assessment is done need to evolve in order to take account of how research is being done and disseminated; for example the developments in open research and open science in recent years. He also very neatly discussed the post-2014 REF policy from HEFCE, and the 3 requirements that apply to journal articles and conference proceedings after 1/April/2014:
- Must be deposited: (author version at least) on acceptance. Where is flexible, but unis probably mean IR
- Must be discoverable: (publicly available metadata record (people who need to read outputs will seek them out)
- Must be accessible: – 12month by STEM or 24 months for AHSS submitted materials.
This was considered a simple overview, and he admitted there was nuance; such as if monographs and data were also shared openly, then this would count towards the assessment credits. Meanwhile HEFCE are continuing to broadly review metrics used in research assessment and performance. It was hoped that this work would help HEIs to think about how they use metrics themselves for staff management and assessment (if you can get over the depressing neoTaylorism inherent in all metrics in HE that is). He also highlighted the idea behind open research assessment, given that in the research cycle there is much of the focus placed on the funding and publishing phases to the neglect of other areas. He insisted that this will change, meaning that the network of outputs that now represent research (not just articles) need to be considered. All of which means a big challenge for assessors.
The next breakout I attended was about the JISC APC pilot and its successor JISC Monitor. For some reason every time someone mentioned the word Monitor, all I heard was “Lizard”. Not quite sure why.
Day 2 kicked off with a triple header of plenary talks around rust, impacts and workflows. Carol Tenopir spoke about trust and authority issues in scholarly communications – key messages: peer review is still the coin of the realm, and altmetrics is largely an alien concept to most academics even if they do like to see stats like download and article views. This was followed by one of my favourite talks of the conference by llama-friends Ernesto Priego discussing The Impacts of impact: challenges and opportunities of multichannel work.
Ernesto forewent the stat heavy approach to presentation, concentrating on snappy slides with short phrases on them – as someone suggested – a presentation for the twitter age. A key message I took away was something I’ve commented on myself, and that is the polarisation between positions in the OA debate. I also liked his comments about academic view points being mythologist, and how they are a diverse group not a block with differences across culture and background. He also picked out the issues around OA and its STEM focus, and how AHSS researchers experience a very different, and more isolated, academic environment (monk-like; sounds familiar). He also introduced the snappiest quote of the whole conference “Publishing: Where content goes to die”. If I were you, I’d go watch his talk now, it’s very illuminating.
The final talk of the session was Guilhem Chalancon giving a perspective of a young researcher’s approach to knowledge management. There was a fair bit of chatter about this one following the session, in particular the absence of the library (or its systems/OPAC) from his knowledge gathering apparatus. Confess that’s familiar to me, as the library tends to be my fall back when I can’t find information elsewhere. My favourite factoid from Guilhem was that the attention span of internet users is somewhere around 8-9 seconds…which I can…hey, shiny object on top of a list of 35 top lolcats!!!
Oh dear, too much Buzzfeed has warped mine too it appears.
After this I shot over to watch a session from Graham Stone and Joy Palmer about the LAMP project on library analytics and data; which stemmed from an interest in how supermarkets and online retailers use their users’ data for competitive business reasons; so why can’t libraries do the same. Choice comment from the audience was a publisher wanting to get their hands on this “Useful to us” data. Ahem, more freebies from academia for the publishing industry? I understand though from talking to folks around the session that this isn’t the first time this question has reared its head.
Back to the main auditorium then for three lighting talks. The first on Knowledge Unlatched from Frances Pinter (essentially a library consortium that pay publishers to make their monographs OA) raised my hackles for reasons I’m still not 100% sure about the idea of giving publishers effectively a guaranteed return on a monograph like this, although i guess it might help bolster the flagging commissioning market for AHSS books. In my view it just seems to keep the LIS/HE sector in a subordinate position to the publishing industry; rather than engendering a more equal partnership. Ellen Collins talked about Open UK and Monographs reporting on a 5 year research programme looking at what happens to sales and usage when books were made OA. How OA monographs affect the publishing and dissemination environment was a key part of this work. Naturally she noted that lots of stakeholders and would need to be involved in any changes in OA monographs publishing. Changes would need to take place both conceptually, and practically at many levels of the industry. She concluded that the monograph world is changing, OA needs to work with it. Personally I don’t think the OA world is working against monographs, but I suspect there might be a need for more revolutionary moves than simple progress before this area is working as well as it once did.
There was also a talk about the OA collections at the Royal Botanic gardens, but I confess it didn’t especially grab me.
Following a lunch (where the repeat of the previous day’s hot food drove a small splinter group of us to a nearby pub for more simple, and digestible, fare) I went to a breakout session by Anders Söderbäck entitled the The Library Happens Elsewhere. As this involved a lot of discussions in small groups I didn’t make extensive notes; beyond the issue of trying to gaze 10 years ahead is never an easy one. Among our discussions was a critique of how important the library catalogue and resource discovery systems actually were to end users. I confess we didn’t exactly end up singing their praises.
There was another breakout session after this, but I had to hightail it up the the hitherto unknown 7th floor to participate in a UKSG Conference Webinar. Sound problems dogged this one a little bit (not to mention the oven like room) but it was an interesting experience all the same, although I’m not that sure how much value it was to the listening audience. Hope it was useful to some!
The day finished with some more rapid lightening talks, of which the only point that chimed with me was Ed Pentz discussing Implementing ORCID and noting that they are the path to sustainability (though corporate membership) by the end of 2015. A good chunk of the audience there had already claimed their ORCID ID, so it seems to be doing well.
And that was it for the day – although there was the jamboree of the conference dinner, which was okay but to honest nothing stunning. Sadly I ended up having a rather long and intense post-dinner conversation in a side room, so I never did get to explore the dance floor (or the cheese tasting), but the Yorkshire cider was rather nice.
And the less said about the town cryer the better.
Day 3 started with an apology for saucy video content at the disco (which I’d totally missed) and then a series of short talks around issues of resource discovery. Truth be told I wasn’t as interested in the theme of this session as others (and the terrible wifi was really starting to grate) but there were some good speakers (including my old staff member and friend Valérie) so it wasn’t a waste of time by a long mark. The last speaker Simone Kortekaas interesting was presenting around a topic I’d been discussing with other people during the conference, that was the concept of doing away with the library catalogue; although the point was made that falling back on Google is all well and good but there’s no guarantee of their or their services longevity either. It had worked for her library for over 6 months though, so there might be something to it.
The last breakout I attended was around MOOCs and OER with Siobhan Burke of JORUM speaking. As I’m attending an OER conference in a couple of weeks I went along to brush up my background knowledge. I was interested with the idea that the term MOOC has more social currency than OER, despite the latter being longer in the tooth. It was also eyebrow raising to hear that while completion rates on MOOCs can exceed 40%, on average only 13% of sign ups actually complete.
Back then to the very final plenary session and a cancellation of a talk on open data which was a shame. However, the other scheduled speaker was Bill Thompson of the BBC (and previously the Guardian) on The Open Library and its Enemies. By a country mile this was the single finest talk of the whole conference, and I was fascinated how much it resonated with the topics I’ve been lecturing on to my students back at NTU. Actually, I wished they could have been there along with me to hear it, as they’d really have benefited. I shan’t attempt to capture the essence of this one, but once a copy of the video goes up I’d encourage you to watch it!
The final talk then, was a bonus talk by Sarah Durrant entitled Surviving is important, thriving is elegant. My hat is off to her for stepping in at short notice, but frankly it was basically a sales pitch full of what I suspect Mrs Llama would have described as “Kaftan wearing, lentil eating hippy shit”. I rapidly switched off, and by the tone of the twitter back channel (and rapidly evaporating audience) so did most other people. A real shame as it was a very flat end to what was a cracking conference.
And so, then after a pit stop to pick up a lunch to go it was time to depart Harrogate and return to Leicestershire (as I was teaching on Thursday). Thankfully, I had very fine company from LISU/Loughborough all the way back so the 4hrs flew by.
Would I go again? In an instant (and there were some calls on twitter for me to give a talk next time – which I would love to do). Will I be able to afford it? Hmn, that’ll be the big question!
To be honest while there were a few niggles, overwhelmingly this was a cracking conference. I came away much inspired and re-energised in various ways. There were some great talks and moments, not to mention all the fantastic conversations I had in and around the event which aren’t easy to capture here. I was really grateful to have been able to attend, for which my hat is off to the conference organisers and sponsors for their generosity in this respect!
Of course somethings weren’t so great (I thought someone would explode over the paucity of the venue wifi) as is natural with any event with 1,000 odd delegates; but I’m pretty sure the conference team were working their fingers to bone to keep things ticking along as well as they did (I speak from the experience of being on the other side of the fence).
The Good: Content of talks, variety of delegates, networking, discussions about my research, stimulation and inspiration, curry night, freebies, my hotel room (which I saw very little of)
The Bad: Venue temperature (boiling & freezing in places), special catering, conference dinner food
The Ugly: Venue wifi, lack of water generally
But don’t take my word for what went down - check out some of the following links for more:
- Conference programme
- Plennary sessions on video
- Twitter backchannel #UKSGlive (yes, that is me on there a lot)
- UKSG Conference Special Webinar (yes, that is me there as well – at least some of the time when the mic worked)
*Oh the handcart? That refers to my rolling suitcase :)
**A cut down (and polished) version of some of these reflections will pop up in the UKSG Insights I believe (along with thoughts from other sponsored delegates) – so if you’re pressed for time, I’d wait on that rather than wading through this posting.
***I think there’s something of a neoliberal critique of the whole conference fermenting in my head which I might share on the blog in the coming week.