Repository Fringe 2013

The Repository Fringe conference is hosted at the University of Edinburgh, and has been going for 6 years. This is somewhat longer than I thought as I’ve only been to one previous one around 2010 and i thought that was one of the first!  I would have loved to have attended last year as the Fringe and OR2012 were alongside each other, but sadly where I worked at the time didn’t look too kindly on the expense of what was viewed “Not professional enough” a conference.  It’s a real pity as despite the unconference like ethos that runs throughout the event, what you actually get is a relaxed but professional atmosphere for exchange of exepriemce like any “professional” event, and indeed this year as previously an event that was as good if not better than many other conferences and workshops I’ve attended.

True the Fringe isn’t a massive conference, with around 60-70 delegates in attendance over the 2-3 days, but it does attract a high calibre of attendees.  It should be noted that as it does take place in Scotland that a lot of the regular faces you’d often see at an event in England don’t make appearances.  Given the length of time it takes to get North of the Border I can quite understand, but in return for that commitment of time the event rewards in numerous ways.  I’ve written elsewhere about my hopes and expectations prior to attending the event as a whole, and you can read about the sessions in full on the Fringe Blog, should you wish to get a taste of the whole event.  Since there have been so many posts on the individual sessions I’m not going to duplicate the efforts, rather I’ll just share some key points I learned.

  • There is still a lot of very active development going on and around repositories – that hasn’t been totally subsumed by the REF and CRISes.
  • There is a real feeling of positivity engendered by people working in this sector.  They have very tough jobs, but they all seem to relish it.
  • A sung paper is a thing of joy and delight – more unusual presentations next time please (for the Gen Y and Z people at least!)
  • The fear of cocking up a REF submission is paramount for many repository managers.  The REF has given them a greater institutional value and prominence, but greater risks come with greater reward.
  • Symplectic isn’t a CRIS.  Better not tell my old bosses that, they’d be most upset.
  • SWORD works a treat to populate a repository from external sources.
  • Metadata is either a complete waste of time or the most critical element.  Honestly, I’m still not sure which way to jump on that one.
  • Few digital systems last longer than 15 years (except in the NHS) so planning for sustainability beyond that is a futile activity.
  • Edinburgh puts on an excellent conference and makes it look effortless.

And my favourite quote from the whole event

Speaker “So, how long is your repository going to last?”

Audience member “Probably until the end of the REF.”

Some slightly longer reflections and niggles that I scribbled down during the various sessions I attended included:

  • Over hyped or here to stay?
    • Suggestion that repositories are over the hill or just coming into the maturity now.  Hit off an excellent discussion on twitter with people near and far concerning where repositories might currently be now in terms of Gartner’s Hype Cycle.  Trough of disillusionment or Plateau of Productivity? Take your pick.
  • Electrons will set you free
    • Overriding theme within the repository sector continues to be technology will solve all ills.  Given my arts slant, and certainly interest in people and culture I always take these sort of pronouncements with more than a little salt.  It was a recurrent theme, in most of the short talks and pecha kuchas.  While this might just reflect the interests of the speakers, it was notable that there was a techy heavy presence in terms of the delegates.
  • RSP/UKRN+
    • The slightly odd way in which the UK Repository Net+ project which has just concluded seemed to be lauded and given a sizable chunk of the programme landscape to reflect, while the much longer (and IMHO more significant to repository workers) and also just concluded project the Repositories Support Project seemingly dismissed with a single comment.  Given the former focussed on technological infrastructure and the latter on the human element, this seemed to re-enforce the technological determinism running throughout.
  • Generations
    • From the keynote we heard how Generation X learn best from chalk and talk approaches (this Gen Xer would disagree personally) but Generation Y and Z learn in visual and entrepreneurial ways, I always get a little annoyed to hear these broad generalisations, a bit like the digital natives/pioneers meme.  However, there was a very interesting point about Generation Y having been brought up in a stronger economic climate and as a result aren’t used to hardship, which means they’re suffering more than others now.
  • Hydra
    • One very interesting talk from Chris Awre at Hull.  A lot of what he talked about in relation to Hyrda sounded like the way that DSpace was described to me when I first used it to run a repository.  However, certainly in the UK I’ve never really felt DSpace hit the notes in terms of a community.  Like DSpace Hydra is US centric, but it seems Hydra really gets the idea that repository solutions need to go beyond simple technology to embrace community development and working.   I think it’s a shame that a lot of places are now so closely wedded to their repository and/or CRIS that I suspect many of them are highly unlikely to switch and experiment with a different solution.  But then I guess we’re no longer in the frontier days of open access.
  • UK Repository Net+
    • The project came to an end at the end of July – along with the RSP.   This project though was explicitly set up to deal with research outputs/publications.  Interestingly the services of IRUS, metadata clarification and RoMEO and JULIET were all described as “good to go” services, although Repository Junction (RJ) Broker is still in a test phase.  This test phase seems to have been the case for a number of years and while I agree when RJBroker rolls out it will likely be a real game changer, two questions come to mind.  Firstly will it ever get to an end point now that its hosting project (UKRN+) has concluded?  And secondly with the end of the RSP as well how will the average repository worker hear about its existence?  It strikes me there a real risk that a product will emerge that will only spread by word of mouth rather than concerted push?

And to round us out – a few highs and lows

Highs

  • My generous host (and his partner) for providing free bed and board – without whom I couldn’t have realistically attended!
  • The conference catering and refreshments – excellently and amply catered.  With lots of fruit for those of us watching our sylph-like figures
  • Running a workshop about open access and academia that kinda worked*
  • Managing to speak to all the main people I wanted to.
  • Having time to reflect on the journey there and back about my own research and its relationship to the talks
  • Being asked about my PhD a number of times by different delegates
  • The sponsors and conference organisation team who made attendance at the event free for delegates.

Lows

  • I didn’t manage to talk to everyone!
  • Not getting to deliver my prepared pecha kucha talk (did I miss-read an email somewhere?)
  • Failing to organise a Fringe ukulele subgroup.**
  • The focus on technological solutions to all ills
  • The lack of any unscheduled lightning talk space or opportunities in the programme

So in the end did it meet my expectations? Yes.  Was I glad I went? Without a doubt! Will I be back next year?  If I can afford the rail ticket, yes!

*A write up of this workshop will follow, I promise.
** Maybe next year.

A version of this post also appeared on the Fringe blog.

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4 thoughts on “Repository Fringe 2013

  1. Gaz, I am so sorry your PK didn’t make it onto the programme – a genuine error on my part. It is not quite the same but if you are up for videoing yourself doing that PK I’ll be very happy to feature it on the Repository Fringe website and include it on the YouTube channel.

    Thank you for blogging here and on the official Repository Fringe blog. We will be taking on board your feedback as we review this year’s event. And we, of course, welcome ukulele subgroups or indeed further singing/musical presentations.

    – Nicola Osborne

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    1. Hi Nicola – no worries, I assumed you’d been bombarded with dozens of sessions and hence getting bumped off. As I said in the piece, the preparation time wasn’t a waste as it really helped give me some clarity on what I’m working on! If you’re lucky I’ll video it this week. If you’re really lucky I won’t 😉

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  2. Thank you for your understanding here. The joy of the Repository Fringe format is that it really is created by the participants but that can indeed make for a complex and hectic (but fun) scheduling process.

    I’ll be crossing my fingers for that video – I’m feeling lucky 😉

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