Pressing the Big Red Button

big_red_smallField Work

That’s right, after a few weeks in preparation I’ve finally pushed the big red button marked “Contact people and ask for interviews“.  Not the academics yet, as I live in hope that a few more of my OA former comrades might reply to my emails.  Surprisingly few of them have, although those that have done have been some warmly generous and encouraging that I’ve found myself once again deeply regretting stepping away from that world to go into research.

But I’ve been approaching publishers, learned societies and funders with a measure of some success.  I’ve been quite surprised that over a dozen have come back to me within 24hrs of me sending out the emails.  Hopefully a few more will respond next week, but I have to say I’ve been delighted by those who’ve contacted me so far.  Fingers cross that my interviews do them justice.

Spent at least two days this week thought writing, and rewriting my interview questions and approach emails.  A surprisingly tough bit of work for what looks like very little output.


Conducted my first phase II interview today, with one of my “activist icons” (as my notes call them).  Wow, just wow.  A wonderfully rich interview with some very generous people (in terms of time and what they shared).  Almost felt like I wanted to stop there and run off and just analyse this interview as it was THAT good.  But I do need some context, so I guess I’ll press on.  A very positive start there.

Amused once again by generating a 46Mb recording of the session…and then remembering that the university only gives us 20Mb of storage space.  20Mb.  In 2015.  When I carry an 8Gb and a 16Gb memory sticks with me at all times.  I just want somewhere to back data up that doesn’t dump it in the hands of some sort of capitalist organisation…but since I don’t really have any option, I guess I’ll have to back it up on GDrive.  *sigh*

FIL Conference2015-06-29 11.16.55

A roastingly hot Manchester Monday started the week, in a thankfully cool hotel.  I was attending the Interlend 2015 conference as I’d promised the previous year to come along and run a communication workshop, and was double booked for another conference.  Thus this year I made sure to offer it again.  While it ended up being less a workshop and more a talk (no parallel sessions) I think it went down okay.  There were a few laughs, a few nods and more than one person came up afterwards to say how useful they’d found it.  There’s a half written post about the feedback and reflections from the delegates of that session that I’ll finish off shortly.  You can read my paper below (although without my hand-waving and dramatics, you’re missing out a bit)

I assume those who hated it kept any negative body language very subtle after I revealed how much time I spend observing people and reading their NVC cues.  *grins*  One of my old staff from a previous job was present, but somehow managed to ever avoid catching my eye…despite my best efforts to say hello.  Never mind, she was probably lost in deep conversation with the other interlenders there.

Surprisingly, given ILL isn’t my field any more, it was a really enjoyable day out – and a tip of my hat to the organisers.  I did come away at the end of the day re-writing the final workshop in my head a bit…but that’s just me.  Even enjoyed the tour around the refurbished Manchester Public Library.  Like Birmingham only more intimate and less of a white elephant methinks.  Also has lovely a/c in its vault where I could have spent the day hiding from the heat outside.

Bit of a monumental conference for me as it marks the last one I’m supposed to attend before submitting my PhD, at least according to my internal assessor.  Makes me sad, but I guess I really do have to focus.  Of course were I to be approached to go speaking somewhere…well that’s a different matter altogether…

ARLG 2014: Beyond the Final Frontier

To Brighton in the sunshine for a day or so of conferencing with the Academic and Research Library Group.  The whole conference ran over three days, but as a speaker I was only able to dip into the last day (since I couldn’t afford the fees), but I have to say my hat is off to the lovely conference organisers who made me feel very welcome and even slotted me into the conference dinner for free.  Library conferences really are the finest conferences 🙂

Also slightly biased as this is my “home” conference (or was when it was the UCR/CoFHE conference) so it was a chance to catch up with a few of my favourite professional people and friends across the profession.  Just wish I could have chatted to them all much longer!

So one (very tasty) conference dinner on Tuesday night and a lot of chat, and a smattering of sessions on the Wednesday, starting with hearing about the new Keep – a specialist physical repository for the University of Sussex, East Sussex County Council and Brighton and Hove City Council (which we actually passed on the way to the conference dinner.   Sadly I had to climb under the desk in shame when my phone LOUDLY beeped in the middle of this one.  Erm, I say beeped, but as it has a voice recording in SHOUTED across the room.  Gah!

Couple of shotgun presentations followed from Citavi (a records management and knowledge organisation platform) and the presentation by Credo of their information literacy VLE module.  The former didn’t sway me away from Evernote, and the latter…well I’m still not sure.  A nice clean UI, but a very cheesy comic book video that I didn’t know whether to love or hate.  But interesting non the less.

Then onto the workshops – the first of which was Andrew Whitworth exploring cognitive mapping techniques with an application to problem solving issues with library practice.  Had a play with the  Ketso fuzzy felt tool alongside this.  Could have done with about an hour to use the tool properly, but was a nice little thing – could have seen this going down a storm with the middle managers meetings at DWL.

Then onto my presentation…which I’ll link to once I get the PDF software to generate a file I can put online!  [Paper now available] It was right at the end of the conference, so I wasn’t hopeful for people turning up – but in the end had 15-20 folks there, and a good discussion; and the audience seemed to get something out of it.  And then three post session longer discussions with a few delegates, so I’ll count it a success!

Anyway…here’s some pictures of the event I snapped along the way.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

ACLAIIR Seminar: Open Access – the future of academic publication?

2014-06-17 13.03.28On Tuesday 17th June I headed over to Cambridge University to attend a seminar organised by the ACLAIIR (Advisory Council on Latin American & Iberian Information Resources).  While only a few hours in length it was an engaging afternoon, which I used mostly to spur me onwards in my current thesis writing and also to bring myself up to date on one or two things in the OA world.  The afternoon was split into 2 halves, with 3 speakers in each section – so it was a pretty packed agenda.  It was also well worth the 4hrs+ of driving (thanks to diversions on route) it took me to get there and back, and I’m very grateful to the ACLAIIR folks for pulling it together.

Some brief notes and reflections follow*.

Panel 1:  Perspectives from the world of publishing

First speaker was Ellen Collins (who I swear I’ve met before but couldn’t 100% place where) from OAPEN UK.  She explained that among the thing OAPEN is doing is seeking to understand the issues and challenges in scholarly book publishing relating to OA, an area where it is believed there is very little real world data  It’s a 5 year project (spanning 2010-2015) with two main strands, and she stressed they are agnostic about OA.  The project is very much focused on AHSS (arts, humanities & social science) scholars, who as noted elsewhere have very different usage patterns and priorities when it comes to research dissemination.

The first is a matched paired pilot where working with publishers they seek to find similar book titles, one of which is sold as normal and the other of which is also made available as OA at the point of launch.  Sales and citations of the works are tracked, to see what is the impact for publishers and the research community’s use of the text.  She stressed however that this was only a small number of monographs (~45 made OA), and that the visibility of these works may not be sufficient for real world usage as of yet.   The other side of the work is a piece of qualitative work with dissemination stakeholders exploring what changes need to come about in the existing monograph world where OA monographs to become more common.

Early findings seem to focus on four areas.  the first seems to indicate that the systems and processes used by publishers and vendors are not set up to deal with OA texts, with ICT sometimes being unable to cope with items with a zero-rated price mark or DRM being set to allow temporary rather than permanent usage of an eBook.  In terms of cultures and priorities, many stakeholders are open to openness but needs to work in ways that fit into their existing world views; for example HEIs like OA monographs…but not if they have to subsidise them.  The third stems from this, and is the issue of money, as many UK publishers are not open to discussing the real costs of producing an academic text -with figures from £11k – £150 being quoted demonstrating a real variance.  Ellen did note the project hadn’t really considered green OA for monographs, and the impacts here could also be significant to the publishing sector.  The final issue was around diversity and choice, again focusing on how to fund OA monographs – library based models, research funded models or even crowdsourced models (e.g. UnGlue.It)

The second speaker was one I was very keen to hear, given my personal research interest in research dissemination actors. Daniel Pearce from Cambridge University Press (CUP) for whom is OA still a very small but a growing aspect of their business which they are excited to see if grows over the coming years.  The idea of increasing of accessibility chimes with CUP’s mission.  CUP works he noted with green, gold and hybrid aspects of OA.  CUP are also trying to publish books under a freemium model (e.g. get an OA copy for free, or purchase an enhanced eBook).  However as a traditional publisher he expressed are concerns about the OA models, and the needs of different stakeholders.  For example given their importance to their various disciplines, the reliance many Learned Societies have on journal sales for their funding streams, is something CUP acknowledges.  Hence at times the publisher has equal levels of excitement and trepidation round OA.

Daniel did note that in total they have published 1072 articles through OA routes in their titles to date, with 50% of these coming in 2013; and so he expected this level to grow.  Currently it represents only 2% of their publications output however.  One cautionary tale around APC funded gold route OA, was in disciplines with a lot of images in their articles.  These often required expensive clearance (either in time or funding) and thus risked putting up APC levels to a much higher degree than in some disciplines.  However in terms of green OA, he was happy that CUP more than satisfied most mandates and in many cases went beyond the base requirements.

While Daniel’s talk was in part a bit of a sales pitch, it did represent a publisher who seemed to be as on board with the concepts and practice of OA as I’ve heard in quite some time; and his acknowledgement that OA was no longer exceptional practice was particularly interesting to hear.

The final talk for this section was the very engaging Rupert Gatti, who as well as being the co-founder and Director of Open Book Publishers is also an economics professor at Cambridge.  OBP solely published AHSS monographs in OA, and are primarily funded through selling print editions (60%) and some grants (25%) and donations forming the rest of their funding stream.

He opened his talk by stressing that OA is the future of publishing is no longer in question, but rather should be phrased as what is the future of OA publishing?  He considered the three things he needs as an academic from dissemination: access to other people’s ideas, a way to distribute his own ideas and a means to gain recognition for his contribution.  He talked for a considerable amount of time about dissemination platforms, and the dominance in the legacy (traditional) model of publishing by publishers.  This dominance means that they were monetising the process at this point, so readers were the ones paying and it made economic sense to increase the amount of content uploaded (published) via the controlled platform.  The publisher monopology control has been challenged by OA and introduced competition in terms of where you can disseminated your research.

While OA had opened up the kinds of platforms available, there is still a risk that commercial entities will seize this opportunity to reassert their control [personally I wondered how much the commercial CRIS companies are playing a part in this, as they offer repository-like functions].  In the same way Facebook offers a free platform for social dissemination, but then can use your content to monetise; so too could publishers.  Libraries, he stressed, as a community needed to be aware of these platforms and think/act to prevent the resurgence of commercial monopolising and control.  In terms of platforms that exist for OA he had 3 models. 1) Pre-publication/pre-peer review sites like arXive and OAIRs; which he said he believed were not in a good state in terms of discoverablility of their contents – and hence there is scope for significant development here.  2) Post-publication/peer review suites like SciELO or DOAJ, where publishers submit to these.  3) Publisher platforms, which is perhaps where the greatest risk of control and monetisation comes in – even PLOS if it monopolised could end up charging whatever it wanted for APCs.

He finished by looking at some of the particular challenges, the fact that there are far fewer (or less well developed) OA monograph platforms.  That publishers’ control of the peer review process was an issue where academics needed to take back more control, but needed to maintain it in terms of ensuring a quality assurance in research discourse.

A Q&A session for the three speakers followed, with the most interesting point being around concerns over copyright and plagiarism as a result of OA.  After stressing the time honoured remark that plagiarism is easier to detect via online OA resources; there was a brief discussion about how these concerns are now ingrained in the HE environment within teaching and learning, and hence academic praxis.  What isn’t are issues around licences and what is acceptable or not, and these are things that should be taught to students so it becomes common knowledge for them.

Panel 2: OA and its impact on research and teaching

First up after the break was University of Lincoln (and future Birkbeck) academic Martin Eve.  I’ve heard Martin speak before, and if like me you’ve read the entire transcript of his oral remarks to the House of Lords inquiry on OA, then you’ll know he’s a very knowledgeable and engaging speaker in this field!  He certainly didn’t disappoint (even if he admitted being unable to remember my real name when we were chatting – Your Llordship is a fine address in future Martin 😉

Martin had been asked to talk about peer review and OA but had decided to discuss what’s wrong with the research dissemination system as it stands, and how do quality issues and economics intersect.  As a PhD student he had witnessed three problems with the system:

1) Inequality for researchers – publishers profits are frighteningly high, even inside a recession indicating a market dysfunction.  Hence while researchers don’t have access to all they need there must be sufficient money in the system to publish, but it’s locked into a demand cycle which needs to transition to a supply side system. Given the 300% increase over inflation since 2006 in journal prices, and when even Harvard says their subscriptions are not sustainable it is clear the system is broken.  However researchers have no price sensitivity so economics are divorced from universities.  Scholars publish based on prestige where its the journal and publishers whose brands that are used as measures; whereas it is the article level metrics that should really matter – not the average of every scholar in a title.

2) Lack of public access – he stressed that the Humanities should think about how and what they write and where they publish.  Given that we have a [mass] HE system today, we have a much more educated general populace who are likely to want to continue to access the literature for life-long learned once they leave academia – which is unlikely via traditional routes given the prices charged for academic texts and articles.  Hence scholars are not reaching the broader audience that could read our work.

3) Inability to do things differently due to restrictive rights – he stressed the gift economy approach is tied up in current academic dissemination practice, which means the vastly expensive CLA licence is required to recover access for teaching purposes.  Hence research dissemination that cleaves to traditional routes, does impact adversely on teaching.  Martin was pleased to report that the Hargreaves recommendation for allowing text-mining of work is now permitted by default, but that this still wasn’t perfect as some techniques remain prohibited – e.g. derivatives are prohibited so line by line critique of a literary text is not allowed without further (c) clearance.

Hence Martin said that OA was very much a solution to these kinds of problems, and that with the rise in national mandates (and internationally like Horizon2020) 2013 represented a tipping point towards this.  Green OA is well developed and successful in the UK, but doesn’t solve some of these problems in that it leaves the model as it stands; working within the current model more than seeking to challenge it.  He also explained how a green pre-print for many humanities scholars isn’t any good as some publishers require page numbers to be quoted directly from referenced texts.  Gold OA he said met many needs, but APC costs means it is not affordable for all scholars who may face a restriction in their ability to publish.  He then looked at the drivers for OA, which led him to conclude that whatever form is eventually adopted mus have a lean operating model and be able to rapidly gain prestige in contrast to established forms of dissemination.

To this end he discussed the Open Library of Humanities (OLH), a mega or multi-journal which uses a collective funding model, and which will have a system of overlay journals underneath allowing individual titles to be developed from the collections.  By sourcing 120 initial articles from across the academic spectrum they hope to ensure sufficient prestige from the start.  They have also brought in academics, librarians, publishers and Learned Societies from the start to help shape the OLH into a form that will serve their communities effectively.  He stressed the funding model means that currently 350 organisations paying only $1,000 was sufficient to fund the infrastructure, as well as giving the funders control over the governance; something that publishers certainly don’t offer in return for subscriptions.

Next up was another familiar speaker, and in this case friend of mine, City University academic Ernesto Priego.  Ernesto is another passionate and wonderful speaker to listen to, and brought some very interesting and personal insights into his talk.  He focused on his journey from his student days in Mexico, where the practice of copying entire books may breach international copyright but is essential in a nation where the cost prohibits sufficient copies from being made available.  This illicit practice made him long for a licit manner in which this kind of material could be made available to scholars;.  He also discussed publishing his first article…and being unable to share it with his mother, since it was locked behind a paywall barrier.  Hence this spurred his involvement in OA, saying that academics should remain in control of what they produce [e.g. not be such an exploited knowledge/learning regime labour force, said the proto-Marxist scholar in my head].

He also talked about the online OA journal The Comics Grid which he founded, in part as a reaction to the dis-empowering experience he had from peer review.  This was set up now via Ubiquity Press, which was as a researcher-led publisher very much gelled with his own vision of how research dissemination should actually function.

Finally UCL academic, and archivist, Jenny Bunn spoke about OA from the perspective of setting up MOOCs.  As an archivist she explained her role was all about allowing access, and that she was unhappy with narrow definitions of OA as focusing solely on journal literature and raised the issue about the usage and concept of the term openness itself.  She took us through the experience of producing a MOOC, including issues around rights management – showing us material from the UCL training manual for MOOC producers.  The level of confidence in obtaining rights was still a new area for many academics, who would often fall into what UCL referred to as the zone of copyright angst; and thus most would link to extant resources rather than seeking permission from the original rights holder.  This was a very different experience to producing lectures, which being closed allowed academics to skit (and at times ignore) copyright issues in preparation of their material – taking the low risk that no-one would ever know they used them.  With MOOCs this risk is elevated as through being open, it was far more likely that your reuse would be discovered.

As before the session concluded with a series of A&A discussions.

One interesting question was raised to Ernesto about aspects of copyright piracy in Mexico, and how this related to OA in Latin America/the developing world.  He explained that while there isn’t a Mexican mandate for OA, there exists an official invitation from legislators and funders for academics to deposit their work.  He also highlighted issues for the National Library of Mexico, who are digitising and sharing PDFs of books that previously were locked away under (c) terms.  PDF might not be ideal for re-use or text mining he said, but at least people were now more able to access these texts.

Jenny also made a statement that made me smile in reply to a question about discoverability and openness – in that she said how social media are increasingly the routes through which academics access the most important (and up to date) research.  Martin also highlighted the #ICanHazPDF twitter hashtag which researchers are using on twitter to demand help to obtain PDFs of documents that they otherwise can’t find or access.  I thought this was a great idea, and certainly one I’d not run into before!

And with that, I made my exit into the fine summer sun and long walk back to my car (some 2miles away).  A very useful day, with plenty to think about – and plenty of ideas for a line or two in my currently under development chapter.

*And I suspect some of the speakers may well add or clarify what I’ve recreated here from my rapidly typed notes!

OER14: Building Communities of Practice

My second conference of the academic year took me to a damp/foggy/sunny Newcastle upon Tyne to take part in an open education conference – OER14: Building Communities of Practice.  While my research interests aren’t specifically related to OE there is a significant overlap, and I’m not a fan of climbing into labelled silos where Open Data, Open Education, Open Scholarship, Open Science and Open Access (and all the rest) barely acknowledge each other’s interest.  It was a great conference, and I’ve come home full of ideas, with pockets full of Lego and a desire to talk about my research a whole lot more at other venues.

If I could just find a) Some more conferences to attend b) Can find sufficient funding to attend them!  Offers, suggestions, invitations very much welcomed – I’ve a lot to say on the various topics and could also use some long conversations with people about it all too.

Anyway, the conference…in brief(ish)!


Yes, another weekend cut short with travel – on an horrifically packed train from Newark to Newcastle.  Turned out that all the students were going back to uni that day and so there was barely room to breath, let alone stand.  Sit? Not a hope – 2hrs upright!  However, the journey was broken up with various people asking me questions about their rail travel…as thought I knew any more than they did.  The highlight was the chap who having hoped off the train asked me if we had stopped at Darlington. I said “Erm, probably”, as I couldn’t spot a sign, and he wandered off.  The train then departed…past a sign reading Northallerton.  Well, I’m guessing that these locations are all pretty close together…right? Walking distance and all that?


First night in a Travel Lodge, as all of the conference travel, fees etc were being financed by my own meager savings.  It was quite nice, even if the TV was crap and couldn’t keep a signal for more than a minute or so – let alone get the BBC.  Cheap.  Dinner: Tesco sandwiches and a scotch egg.  And about two bottles of pop (for the fibre).


The conference opened interestingly with Wendy Carr and Ollie Richardson, two students talking about education and the reasons why today’s students need more flexible study.  Not least for the increased number of part time, distance and mature students.  They talked about the disaggregation of modules from courses in a positive light, something I have an issue over  given the commodification of knowledge in an edu-factory kind of way, doesn’t sound like an especially appealing future for scholarship to me.  They finished by suggesting that by studying through “non-traditional” methods, future students would have less debt.  Really?  I have my doubts as private education would just looove to swoop in a extort major profits I fear.  Perhaps even bringing in micro-transactions ala the games industry’s freemium model.  “Boost your grades by 5% for just a £5 micropayment…”

Then we had the main conference keynote from Catherine Ngugi.  She talked of building communities of open practice through OER.  She has worked with OER Africa since 2008, trying to work alongside with African HEI faculties to show what they could do with OER.  She concluded that OER and ICT could be a powerful educational tool if used well, in that it supplements resource based learning, and opens up discussions about pedagogy and other tricky subjects.  She also stressed that she was keen to put paid to the view that Africa is merely a consumer, not creator of education.  She discussed how faculty teaching is rarely as prized as research outputs. Additionally, like in the Global North, many developing countries face pressure to focus on throughput and attainment in producing more and better trained graduates to serve the needs of the economy (all aboard the edu-factory conveyor belt!).  OER she explained has to serve to fill a tangible gap, going on to discuss some of the unexpected benefits as a result of OER such as medical discoveries.  She also considered if engaging with OER equates to open practice? Certainly she argued it will cause HE providers to take online learning more seriously.  It will help infuse HE with a complexity, and richness of ideas etc that should coalesce at the heart of any serious educational environment.

The first of parallel sessions saw me listening to three talks, the first of which was by Andy Lane comparing the social, economic and environmental benefits of MOOCs with closed online courses. He looked at the stance on policy in HE towards OER, explaining that there were different drivers; with widening participation and increasing access being two of them.  He noted that it seemed to be important the level at which people participate in HE, stressing that trends in GDP can be linked to HE participation (something the government with their rampant drive to convert HE into a tool feeding the neoliberal economy would delight in repeating).   He also explored how MOOCs compared with past experiences of mass courses educational courses from places like the OU.  He talked about an OU course in computing with thousands of people on it and fees of a few thousand pounds; although subsidised by the UK government.  Interesting when you contrast this with a similar MOOC the age profiles for participants are very similar, with around 3/4 being new to HE in both cases.  What was notable was that the international student base much was much larger for the MOOC course.  In terms of demographics the MOOCs drew in the well-educated, whereas the OU course drew in a much more diverse range of educational backgrounds.  Significantly there were much higher completion rates for the OU course, and this was attributed to their credit bearing nature – and hence a greater incentive to finish.

Touching on the environmental impact of HE, he noted that only OU had really looked at this as part of the SusTeach Project which looked at average energy consumption of students.  He asked if MOOCs be a test bed for less environmental impact?  I had to raise an issue (on twitter) that wasn’t the offsetting of energy costs for the uni just pushing it back onto the remote access points of the students?  I’m sure that unlike myself, and my very low power, environmentally balanced hand-built PC, most home students are running on inefficient energy hogs, that might mean there’s a greater environmental impact overall – just not at the campus end!

Next Nick Jeans talked about ALISON (Advanced Learning Interactive Systems Online), which had involved the examination of OERs from around the world and seeing how uptake of them could be encouraged.   ALISON had started in 2007 with just 3 staff through to 2010 when things started to expand, and now there are 30+ staff working on it.  He explained that there was less OER in FE, because resources were not available to create content.  Through using social media (e.g. LinkedIn) to share student stories, has seemed to be an effective approach at widening participation, although this had been mainly in the anglophone countries.  He noted that there had been some issues from users over the adverts that helped fund the system (similar to “free” mobile apps), although some suggest that they are less intrusive than they could be.  On the other hand advertisers like it the approach ALISON takes because they are only charged when ad click-throughs are effective.

Finally Deborah Ferns from JISC Legal talked about MOOCs and IPR, stemming from a recent briefing paper.  There was a lot of the old familiar info on copyright and 3rd party rights that I used to teach back in the day in this session.  Deborah’s point that licenses for resources at HEIs, didn’t automatically mean they could be accessed via MOOCs, as students on these were seldom viewed legally as “registered” at the HEI.  She noted that IPR issues need to be considered from day one in MOOC/OER production, which was something as a former OER IPR adviser on the Digital Leicestershire project I remember banging on about in project meetings (without much success/recognition at times from my collaborators).  An interesting side development related to FutureLearn, was that on their courses it was made clear that forum postings by students are all under (cc) licenses.

After lunch (and several declined invites to ride the 4D motion ride) there was a second batch of break out sessions.  I was charmed by Penny Andrews and went to her workshop talking about OpenCPD, which is a student/practitioner led effort to set up a series of bite sized professional training OERs.  It is a very laudable effort, even if I was a little surprised to find out I’d agreed to contribute something to it.  Couldn’t place what or when I’d said anything about this, but it sounded just like the sort of thing I’d love to contribute to!  It was a good session, and Penny’s enthusiasm for the topic uplifting – and practical.

The afternoon ended with a lively panel debate on how to solve issues around the community of practice.  Can’t say I walked away from this with any strong conclusions; although I was fascinated by the delegate playing (unsuccessfully) 2048 throughout the whole hour.  I kept wishing I could offer him some advice!  A quick trip to the hotel for a break, and then the conference dinner, which was excellent – and for some reason Lego-centric!


Day 2 kicked off with my chairing a session with three speakers.  Not really easy to make notes when you’re trying to actively listen!  All three speakers had something of interest to say, and I was impressed they kept going after the theme from the Blues Brothers blasted through the walls at one point (from a neighbouring session).  Think the one key thing I took away from this one, was I need to find a polite way to cut the Q&A short, as one of these nearly got out of control.  My thanks to Beck Pitt, Eleni Zazani, Pail Bacsich and Simon Cotterill for putting up with my chairing!

After a brief break I went back to a very sparsely populated session* where Tom Bartlett talked about CADARN Learning Portal, which he rather sheepishly admitted had £1.5m in funding – in contrast to many other projects at the conference who were running on shoestrings. CADARN use their blog to publish case studies on OER production at various institutions with aim to help support those building communities of practice; although he admitted it is about changing practice incrementally rather than drastically or all at once.  He noted that the teachers who work with them, tend to be picked from organisational technology enhancement teams, so for example are often VLE staff, but they also got some people on board who just had a thirst for open educational activities.

Next Lindsay Jordan (who I kept trying to remember if I knew already) spoke about about her module in OA practice, which was delivered to academics developing their skills in learning and teaching practice.   The module was funded through JISC and was used to help the teachers develop small OER projects and resources. The course ethos was to help-people to become more open as a starting point, but the course also provided a space for participants to experiment within a community of shared practice.  A community that could continue after they finished the module.  Finally for this session Vicki McGarvey spoke about open practice and innovation influence at Staffordshire university.

A long lunch back in the Life Centre’s central area followed, during which I took advantage of the 4D motion ride…which was rather fun, even if I did end up getting rather wet.  After this I listened to Lorna Campbell from CETIS talk about Open Scotland, which aims to open awareness to OE policy and practice north of the border across all sectors.  Interestingly despite a lack of large-scale funding for OE projects in Scotland, there is a real buzz of activity and projects.  One result of this environment has been the Scottish Open Education Declaration, redrafting the Paris one, which is provided online as an open document for comment.

After this it was me with my talk entitled Policy, Practice and Problems: UK University culture and responses to open access. With only 10 minutes there was only a very surface level of my work I could cover, but I was able to present some high level results for the first time.  Had some very encouraging questions and comments afterwards, although one lady did ask me more or less what they should be doing at non-university institutions to promote OA culture.  Not a question I felt I really able to give a comprehensive answer on in two minutes!

Finally Clive Mullholland talked about OER Developments in Wales, although he himself is leaving to work in Scotland shortly.  Wales he explained often does things differently just to be different, although it might not be the only country to make such a claim.  Noted a clash with the past WA Minister for Education and Skills (Leighton Andrews) and the HE sector, which had had an adverse affect on the whole region – in particular his drive to reduce the number of HEIs to 6.  After he was fired, his replacement Huw Lewis seems to be more interested in primary and secondary, rather than the tertiary education sector.  Clive went on to detail some of the battles at the highest level to get HEFCW and VCs in Wales to engage with OERs and MOOC initiatives, which seems to now be moving in a very positive direction.  An ethos they felt more comfortable with was releasing some, but not all, educational content openly which has resulted in the Wales Open Education Declaration of Intent as progress continues in a positive manner.

Clive finished off with a call to attend OER15 in Cardiff.  Count me in, I’d love to come to that – and present on yet more of my research!  Not to mention, I do love Cardiff a lot…

*I counted 9 people including the speakers and me.

Slides and full descriptions of all the talks are already available online, and videos of many of the main sessions will also be live soon.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To Harrogate in a Hand Cart (UKSG 2014)

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.

The APC project concludes in July 2014, and has brought publishers, libraries, funders etc together to explore issues around managing the process of paying APCs for gold OA.  They developed case studies aimed to identify best practice which pointed out that people are generally still in early stages of establishing institutional workflows and processes  to mange it.  Notably publishers aren’t willing to develop UK specific solutions, as other countries’ approaches to OA are different, and hence there’s insufficient market interest (or profitability).  Once again the value of intermediary service was flagged up.   
The day was wrapped with three brief lightning talks which were refreshingly brief and punchy.  Peter Burnhill’s fairies of digital archiving were probably the one that I was most entertained by – the core message seeming to be “Don’t rely on publishers to be the digital archive of record” mind you.
After that there was a reception, but as it had been so hot in the conference centre I dashed back to the hotel for a shower and change of clothing, before the evening’s quiz and curry.  Didn’t win the quiz, but the curry and company were excellent – and I rounded off the night shopping at Asda for some water!
Rock and/or roll.


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:

*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.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Conference: Working with Paradata, Marginalia and Fieldnotes: The Centrality of By-Products of Social Research

The venue in frosty Leicester
The venue in frosty Leicester

On Tue 14th I returned to my former employer to attend a conference entitled Working with Paradata, Marginalia and Fieldnotes: The Centrality of By-Products of Social Research.  I’d spotted this last week online, and managed to squeak in a place at the last minute thanks to a drop out.  I wasn’t 100% sure the day would be that relevant to me, but since I’m doing social fieldwork as part of my PhD I thought it would only be to my benefit to attend, so at the very least to expand my knowledge a bit more.  As it was it turned out to be an excellent, stimulating and enjoyable day; and the following is just the highlights. The day was introduced by Henrietta O’Connor  and VC Sir Bob Burgess (UoLeicester)

  • Paradata then and now (pt1): Heather Elliott et al. (Institute of Education)
    • Looked at paradata on the field notes from the famous study from the 1967-68 by Peter Townsend on poverty in the UK.  Neatly identified a typology of 6 types of paradata (amplification, justification, explanation, evaluative, debriefing and standpoint).  These typifications come to life when we do a narrative analysis, depending on the sort of stories that the field researchers are revealing in their marginalia.  Position within the field team hierarchy can also be an important issue.
    • There was also an exploration of a narrative analysis of the sources based on this approach, demonstrating how the story of one informant in the study could emerge from the paradata – noting that the field worker themselves in the original study could have positioned the narrative to a degree.  This reflexive approach also applied to the modern researcher, where their cultural position in considering the data may shape their interpretation.  It was noted that where the field worker sat in the hierarchy of the research team and their own background (student, market researcher etc) could also colour their approach and their willingness to add useful paradata.
    • The question of for whose benefit paradata notes were made and the audience to whom they were intended to speak was raised (reflecting on the work of Heather Jackson).  The advantage for the field worker seems to be offering
      opportunities for clearer, better coding, and provides an opportunity itself to provide further insight into their interactions with subjects. It was noted that

      different styles of marginalia could be seen from different field workers. For example some who made a lot of paradata notes in margins ignored the space at the end which called for such additional comments. One commonly noted addition was field workers adding paradata/marginalia when they were skeptical of the responses from the interviewees; seeking a way to try and reveal the truth – even if the explicit research responses didn’t give this.

  • Achieving high response rates and balanced samples in household surveys: The role of paradata. Mark Hanly (UoBristol)
    • In this study there were three types of paradata – call records, interviewer observations and interviewer-respondent interactions.  They were used to (1) inform the non-response results (2) Improve the field work in a cyclical process (3) Correct where it was possible to ID the non-respondents (statistically).  There was also work reported on that related to doorstop recordings and how closely fieldworkers adhered to the interview script, noting that a low use of filler words (er, ahm, ah etc) was as counter productive in achieving a good interaction with potential subject as too many of them.
    • Mark also talked about about digital/web paradata that can be captured using online surveys today.  For example key stroke information can be automatically collected and is a cheap, effective and hidden way to capture additional information on how people approach surveys.  
    • It was also possible to capture device type information (browser, device model etc) as a user agent string and questionnaire navigation (mouse movement, clicks).  This information can be used to reshape, develop and revise surveys so that areas where people struggle are enhanced.  He also demonstrated a pop-up where people spent too little time thinking before answering a tricky question, and explained how this had helped to refocus participants attention and subsequently they would approach the survey answers with more consideration.
  • Fieldnotes, marginalia and paradata in youth employment restudies, 1960-1985. Henrietta O’Connor & John Goodwin (UoLeicester)
    • Very interesting talk which stemmed from research on the paradata left behind by an earlier failed social experiment and involved following up with some of the subjects and workers.  Included the key point of setting up a file for fieldworker notes, so as to capture everything (ephemera and substantial materials) for future use, inspiration or analysis.  Some useful discussions around the ethics of doing secondary research on materials and following up with subjects; given they had agreed to participate in the original research did this still apply 40 years later for follow up?  Given that there was often candid data about their lives, habits and circumstances, it was an area to tread cautiously but positively for the benefits and insight that further research could bring out.  Some interesting comments on the paradata from fieldworkers on their subjects demonstrating more positive insights into the circumstances of the better off, and more critical notes on those in the working classes.
    • Issues over interpretation of fieldnotes paradata were raised, such as understanding shorthand and abbreviation; sometimes standardised across multiple fieldworkers but not always.  In some cases going back to the original fieldworkers was the only way to demystify some of this.  The same was true of some of the actual data where numerical codes were note associated with any key, and needed additional input to translate.  However, the conclusions were that massive information on subjects can be just hidden in the paradata – e.g. medical information, that otherwise would have lost or unrecorded.  Trends to archive research data digitally may mean that this sort of paradata would be lost.
  • Paradata then and now (pt2): Dave Gordon and Eldin Fahmy. (UoBristol)
    • I confess of all the talks, this was the one where my concentration or interest probably lapsed the most.  Not sure if this was a result of the subject matter, post lunch fugue or due to the heavy qualitative element involved.  Did highlight that paradata in C20th is easier to capture and work with, whereas C21st (and late C20th) is harder, due to being born digital.  Talk also covered aspects of behaviour coding and cognitive coding.
  • Marginalia and the History of Reading: The example of the UK reading experience database. Shafquat Towheed (OU)
    • A slightly different tack coming from an English rather than social scholar, but did raise some very valid points about the loss of paradata through the work of archivists to clean up books that have been annotated by readers.  Chimed with earlier comments about digitsation of field notes which also lose this additional data as it’s not considered key data by some doing the digitisation process.  Had some interesting points also on capturing stealthy surveillance data, and some lessons from the Mass Observation experiments of the 1930s and 40s.  Finally covered an examination of the prolific reader and writer Vernon Lee, and the value of capturing her annotations on the hundreds of books she had read and written about.  A key lesson to come from this was that paradata is produced by researchers in the process of doing their research all the time, and what is peripheral or accidental in one field may well be core for other fields. As paradata are are temporal, contingent and vulnerable to loss their retention should be included in research and institutional data policies and practices.
  • Lunch Discussions
    • Over lunch I was lucky enough to sit down with 3 other PhDs and one soon to be PhD students, where we had a range of discussions largely about the changing HE environment and the scholastic nature (or lack thereof) of undergraduate students as the result of the perceived dumbing down of the school curriculum.  Given my recent thesis chapter on marketisation of HE I had a few things to throw into the ring.  Our discussions carried on so long, that we had to suddenly scamper back up the stairs for the afternoon session!

    Impressive hot water device
    Impressive hot water device

Three key things I learned during the day:

  • Is it MaringAYlia or MarginAHlia.  Turns out the pronunciation doesn’t matter, although one sounds much posher than the other.
  • What Marginalia and Paradata actually are. Annotations in the margins and notes scribbled by researchers around their field notes which can amplify, enhance and reveal more than just the raw data.
  • Set up a file. A simple tip for fieldworkers, and one that I’ll endeavour to follow – but having a box file to just throw everything into (including random thoughts, and scribbles) is as valuable a resource for the original researchers as it is for future secondary researchers.

For the back channel discussion (and there was a lot of it) – have a look at the twitter feed generated from the day.  For once you’ll see it wasn’t mainly me (partly as I was trying to type notes, and partly because there were times when I couldn’t think of anything intelligent to say).  Overall though the day was well worth my £4.70 rail ticket, and the refreshments and facilities were excellent.  My thanks to all who participated and organised the day.

Hello Campers (2013 Edition)


Library & Funfair
Library & Funfair

This weekend I went to the 3rd annual Library Camp unconference, held in the £180 billion* new public library and spaceport in Birmingham city centre.  The idea of an unconference is that rank gets left at the door, and the content of the day is pretty much built up on the day by the delegates.  It was also free, which was a big attraction for those of us who don’t have anything in the way of dept funds to send us anywhere.  Not sure my dept would have funded me to go off to something that might be viewed as a practitioner rather than academic conference.

Other’s will have waxed lyrical and at length over the wonder of the event, and gushed forth on the effulgence from the gathered Sisteren** of Librarianship.  Suffice to say from my perspective it was a bloody brilliant day which gave me a chance to catch up with some old friends, make a few new ones and exchange views, insight and opinion with some very bright and enthusiastic people.  If you ever get the chance to go to this, or the regional Library Camps around the country – I’d say go, and go soon!  Kudos to Richard, Sue and Andy who were the main leading lights behind the scenes and on the day, this is a HELL of a lot of work for them – but it pays off in spades.

And doesn’t cost a fortune to attend, unlike certain events run by some folks (you know who I’m thinking of)

So instead, I thought I’d just jot down a few reflections on the sessions I attended – you can see the full list here:

Performance, Projection & Confidence: A Discoridals Theatrics Workshop

I thought about pitching this back in 2011, but this year having planned a little I ran a workshop designed to assist people’s communication skill, through harnessing my (oh my lord) 25 years of cross-country pantomime experience, and 10 years as the lead thespian of the Discoridals Travelling Theatrical Company.  It was intended to pass along a few vocal and non-verbal communications tricks, techniques and thoughts that would help people in their day-to-day lives as well as their professional activities.  It was also intended to be a real ice breaker and get folks talking.  I was reasonably happy how well it went, although I wasn’t expecting 40-50 delegates!!!  Had counted on about 10-20 tops.

It was nice to combine my recent training in communication and media theory, with my extensive communication practical experience.  Lots of happy faces so I (hope) folks found a bit of it that was useful.  Personally I really enjoyed running it!

I’ll be refining the session – and if anyone would like me to run it again somewhere, sometime – drop me a line or a comment and I’ll see if we can come to a suitable arrangement!

Open Access

As it’s the focus of my PhD, and was run by a friend of mine I could hardly not turn up and have a chat about how it’s going, the focus and experience of librarians, and also to share a little taste of my research findings.  An enjoyable little chat that’s given me the germ of something I want to work into the next phase of my research.

Library Managers

The only session of the day where I said nothing and tweeted instead. A bit of a curates egg as sessions go as it was the only session where the seniority and hierarchical library managerial structures were almost palpable.  From my perspective you could see more junior managers holding back a little, and differing to those they perceived as senior within the profession.  I would have been fascinated to have done a little ethnography/participant observation on the session as having been long within these managerial structures looking out, now I’m outside looking in these power and influence inter-relationships seem more distinct.  So interesting…but not so much for the content.

Library Publishers

Or to give it its full title: Library publishers are crap, what can we do about it? Only 6 people in this session (and we got booted out of our room to make way for one more popular) where we talked about the relative paucity of library publishers.  In particular their pricing structure and acquisition of titles by organisations came in for a bit of a battering.  Ideas and experiences were exchanged about self-publishing, open access, print on demand and routes for new professionals to publish.  Can’t swear great steps forward were made, but was an illuminating discussion all the same.

Copyright & Licensing

Last session of the day, and one I was keen to attend anyway as a (past) Library Copyright section manager and open access worker and (current) scholar with a keen interest in open culture and OA in academia.  I maaaaaay have said a bit too much in this one (but I was trying to keep the discussions flowing, and folks were beginning to flag) as I had a fair number of stories about practical copyright and the academic & student reaction, so while I found it useful I’m a little worried others might have been sick of the sound of my voice by the end.  Whoops.  Must be careful to ration myself a bit in some of these sessions!

The day was capped with an inferior meal with superior company, although by the end I’m not sure if it was the incessant unpleasant thumping music of All Bar One (avoid!) or just the adrenaline of the day running out, but I suddenly hit the wall and had to head home.  A damned shame as I was with a group of most splendid, intelligent and dedicated library professionals.  Reminding myself that the profession is riddled with people like that, makes me feel it’s in very safe hands for the future!

As for me, all that was left was to wander back to the car and try not to drive for too long in totally the wrong direction out of Birmingham.

In that…I failed.  But only for about 5 miles!

*Might have been million not billion, but frankly it cost a shed load.

**Female dominated profession, which I think has always affected the discourse, tone and perceptions of librarianship.

The Fringe in a Fraction (Of a Second)

All three of my blog posts from the Repository Fringe in one easy to link to chunk!

(Open) Heaven is a Place on Earth – or How to Get to Utopia Without Really Trying

Notes and the like from the workshop on Utopian Open Access (TM).

Reflecting Back on the Fringe

After thoughts and general wiffle

The Fringe Is Nigh, But I’m Holding On

High hopes, I had high hopes…

No prizes for guessing what I was listening to when I wrote any of these…

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.
    • 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


  • 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.


  • 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.

Effective Researcher 1: Build Effective Foundations

Yesterday I attended the first of what is a three part training programme run by the Center for Professional Learning and Development.  The other sessions are intended for later in your PhD, while this first one is ideally suited to those of us a few months in but not yet a year into the research process.

The day did not start well – having forgotten to set an alarm, and forgotten that Mrs Llama wasn’t setting one either I woke up at 7.20am, and was out of the house five minutes later – as I had to catch the 7.32am train to Nottingham (for the third time in 6 days).  I made it, and actually remembered just about everything I needed (pen, phone, note pad) although I was horribly unshaven.  Before the session we had to prepare a 50 word plain English summary of our research, aimed at the non-specialist and make sure we were familiar with the national Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF).  The latter was easy as we’d had a session in the RPC about it.  I’d also produced the former a few months ago when I was originally booked on this workshop (one of the weeks that I had a hideous cold).  But running late meant that I left it at home (no time to boot the computer and print it), which meant I spent some time in the library before the workshop writing it.  Not a bad thing, given that the more I had to express what I’m doing in different ways, the more I think I’ll be able to explain what and why I’m doing it at the drop of  pin.

Introductions and Establishing Common Ground

The day started with the usual round robin of introductions and explanations of what our research was all about to the select grouping of 8 participants, most of whom I knew from the delights of the RPC.  After an ice breaker of finding common experiences (slagging of Skegness being a major one) the first task was to draw a pictorial representation of the effective researcher.  That’s the last time I let on I’ve had life drawing lessons as I ended up being the artist and presenter for this bit – despite my team’s mockery of my steam fat pig (it was a boiling kettle representing under pressure).  It was a good start to the day and got our brains going.

Problem Solving

Yes the classic problem solving session which involves building something.  I am notoriously great at problem solving and utterly crap at building things that move, so I made sure to take an advisory rather than hands on role in this Apprentice like task (building an air car).  Our team excelled at planning and sorting through effective requirements…and sucked at keeping an eye on the clock and spotting we’d overlooked a critical failure factor (our car as designed was TOO big).  As with all these kinds of tasks I was employing my gamer brain to spot the workarounds in the rules (Cheating? No! Bending the rules – certainly! Employing psychological warfare…maybe!).  From this session (which incidentally our disaster of a car somehow won) I took away the lesson that planning is important – but it must not come in the way of the doing.  Also time management is critical.

Tuning into Your PhD

The next session took the form of a group discussion where we dug into some of the fundamental questions behind our work – the what, how, why, who and when issues.  This was a good refresher, though it did slightly retread ground we’d gone over in one of the RPC sessions.  We also went over some project management tools like mind mapping, drilling down, risk analysis and everyone’s favourite Gantt charts.  The simulated Gantt chart was about robbing a bank…which for some reason (I’m blaming years of RPGing) I seemed to be able to plan exceedingly well.  Nice to know there’s a career for me in ARV if the PhD doesn’t work out!

Working Effectively with Others (1): Research Collaboration

The next group task was a biggie, we had to talk about our research (this is where those 50 words descriptions came in) so that our teams could understand them.  Then we had to identify commonalities and try to come up with a form of overlapping collaborative project, plan it, and then present it to some funders.  I wasn’t too happy with the direction my team took – it seemed a little less coherent than I might have hoped.  Though we were also a bit hamstrung by the requirement that everyone speak in the presentation and ideally we needed or should have spent some time to rehearsing.

Trying to write a marketing presentation pitch with 4 relative strangers in ten minutes is not ideal (but it is challenging!), and we certainly suffered a bit when we came to do it live, in that we weren’t as polished as I think we could have been.  I think, on reflection, I should have been a bit more strident about pushing for clarity of objective and purpose within our hypothetical project.  That might have helped us all out more.

A lesson for me to take away, be a bit more forthright when you don’t agree on something.  Clearly if the car incident earlier hadn’t highlighted it, I think this demonstrated once again I’m never going on the Apprentice.  I’d be fired in week one.  Okay, the fact that I’m not a money-grubbing self-deluded egotist probably counts against me too 😉

I think though our group might have gelled a bit more, if we’d had an extra hour to work on this together, as we were just about getting into a performative state of mind around the time we suddenly had to down tools and go present.

Working Effectively with Others (2): Managing Professional Relationships

If the earlier bank heist task hadn’t revealed my inner role-player, then this one did.  Split into the same two groups we took the role of a PhD Supervisor and candidate (my group being the student).  We had a brief and had to plan for a meeting with each other, where each of us had points to get across.  After hearing the professor outline what he needed us to do, I made a rather sarcastic comment about how nice it was to see that he did care; since the brief we had described him as very distant.  It was a useful exercise in seeing the other person’s point of view, and in terms of things to think of next time I meet my supervisors very useful indeed.

We also did a short exercise around this related to the Myers-Briggs type indicators, though we didn’t actually do anything along the lines of working our our exact types (I’ve known I’m ENTJ from past training).  The idea being here to situate ourselves along a single continuum ranging from exacting, meticulous feedback to big picture, visionary support.  I kinda naturally tend towards the latter, and perhaps fortunate though that my supervisors balance our between the two extremes.  The key lesson here was the kind of feedback we prefer and the kind we get will vary, and thus we need to take steps to manage that relationship so we can access that which we need.


The whole day was supported by an excellent reflection journal and supplementary notes, which highlighted which elements of the RDF each bit fitted into.  The course used to be a two day event, but the trainers commented that it was hard to get people to commit to two consecutive days.  The notes did touch on the elements we missed out on, such as learning cycles and stage and a team task where the rules are changed halfway through; which sounded fun and useful.  All the same by making it a single day with notes there probably wasn’t a lean second throughout the day, which made for a highly effective learning experience.

I can strongly recommend this session for any PhD student in their first year or so, even though some of the elements were familiar to me there wasn’t anything I would have skipped over.  The trainers were both engaged and engaging, and really engendered the kind of open, friendly but intensive atmosphere that makes for a really effective experience.

All in all it was a highly enjoyable, entertaining, thought-provoking and informative day – and probably the highlight of my week, going back to cracking the books today is going to seem a little dull in contrast.  However, it has certainly helped me relocate in my own mind and enthusiasms just why I am doing this doctorate and was time well spent.