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.
  • 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.

Journey to the Edge of the Fringe

Monday

This week’s going to be a little truncated.  Actually it was looking like it was going to be even more truncated than I expected, but an emergency family trip for today has been called off at the last moment.  Actually a little glad as I’ve got a lot of little things to sort out today.  I need to polish my conference presentation for later in the week, check my travel itinerary, finish reading an ILL book and do a bit more transcription too.  I also need to drive into uni tomorrow to use their copy of powerpoint to finish off the presentation.  Shouldn’t take that long, but it’s a bit of a drag.  That said just glancing at the programme can’t actually spot whereabouts on it my talk actually is.  Ah well, it’ll all come out in the wash, and if for some bizarro reason my talk gets spiked – no big tears, as it’s been a useful exercise once again rewriting and thinking about what I’m actually doing.  I’ll also be contributing to the conference blog with a post or two, so feel free to have a read.

Had some time last Friday for family reasons to spend around 6hrs driving, which gave me plenty of time to think about things (and shout at caravan drivers on the A1 naturally), that coupled with a long walk yesterday has certainly helped put some things back into appropriate perspective.

Tuesday

A day of variety, during which aside from a bit of transcription, some hard reading and sorting out travel details for the next few days involved me having to go into uni.  I went there once again to use powerpoint to finish some slides off.  Thankfully my cunning technique of having written all the content at home in LibreOffice resulted in it only taking an hour or so.  Since I was there I availed myself of the photocopier as well before handing one of my ILL books back in.  Saves me another trip on Monday when I suspect I’ll be somewhat shattered.

Frankly I’m pretty wasted today before three days of travelling and conferences, so hope my steam can last.

Wednesday

7hrs of travel via public transport to the Repository Fringe 2013 today.  Loved the fact that due to time tables my first train missed a connection by one minute, and then I had to wait 59 minutes for the next train.  To rub salt into the wound the connecting train was at Loughborough for a whole 20 seconds after my train arrived.  Swear I could hear the driver laughing as it pulled away as I stepped out onto the platform.

Other than that, and 90 minutes sat on the floor of an overcrowded train outta Derby the trip was okay, and seemed to take slightly less time than I expected.  But no, it had been 7hrs since I left home.  Home, where the lunch and water I’d prepared to bring with me still are.  Hence as I write this waiting for my host for the conference to appear, I’m more than a little thirsty and hungry.

Sure the conference will be worth it all tho.

Oh, Edinburgh at Fringe time seems like the worst bits of London transplanted north of the border!  Give me Glasgow over Edinburgh anytime!!!!

Overwhelmed and Overwhelming

Everyone having a great summer so far?  Fab.

Thought I’d skip the epistolary style for a week, which has nothing to do with the fact that I reached Thursday this week and hadn’t had the time and energy to type anything up.  This week’s been a mix of a couple of interviews, trying to get on top on transcription and trying to read more on political economy and HE.  It’s also been a week where following the loss of our last chicken (sob) I’ve had more alone time than ever to reflect on how things are going on the PhD.

It’s now month 10 and I thought by now that I’d be perhaps just about picking up the pace a little.  As it is I’m already beginning to worry about fitting into the 3-4 years everything I need to do.  On paper it all looks very doable still, but then I think about the first round of interviews which have stretched back over the past 3 months.  That’s a large chunk of time, and while I’m happy with the results the fact that I’ve yet to do a thorough analysis on the outputs is niggling me for sure.  Then I think about how long it’s going to take to arrange the next set of interviews, oh and plan out the questions, and I get a bit worried.  Everything just seems to be taking more time than I anticipated.

Back before we had a summer I planned out the next four months.  I’m well behind in where I wanted to be – I’d hoped to have drafted my first chapter by now, but I’m really only just getting into the reading.  A large part of the problem was that as the uni lacked the books I needed I had to either buy or ILL them, wait for them to arrive and then find a suitable time to do the 30mile round trip to pick them up.  That probably cost me the best part of two weeks delay.  A delay that I used to do interviews sure, but I’m not sure what my supervisors will say about progress when we next speak.

Not that we have spoken for well over two months.  I know I need to organise a meeting but feel like I need to generate at least some concrete progress before we do.  I am hoping next weeks Repository Fringe conference might help me take stock a little, as it’ll be the longest I’ve taken away from my studies since I started.  And perhaps in that is part of the problem.  Due to the Wife and I’s current situation as I’ve mentioned any kind of holiday this year is off the books, and a staycation would just find me walking around all the places I work in the week and fretting about lost time.  So I’ve decided that taking some time away is a much needed thing for the good of my mental health, and I’ve managed to persuade myself that a 5 day camping/LARPing trip at the end of August is the perfect time to take it!

In the meantime – here’s some light relief…

How to fix openness in academic discourse
How to fix openness in academic discourse

Supposedly on Staycation

Monday/Tuesday

The spelling hurt more than my feet
The spelling hurt more than my feet

This week my Wife and I were supposed to take a holiday, but all the recent family medical traumas and impending job changes for Mrs Llama resulted in us having to cancel all our plans.  Mrs Llama’s been a bit of a nag on the issue that other than Christmas and Bank Holidays that I’ve only taken 2 days off since I started the whole PhD.

To be honest with the amount of work I need to do, or feel like I need to do, taking time off isn’t something I feel really able to do.  However, we did plan to take a few days this week off.  And then I cocked it up by arranging work interviews Wed-Friday.

We did find SOME paths
We did find SOME paths


Whoops.  I was not popular I can tell you.  However, I have taken the first couple of days off to go walking in the Peak District, which is nice as we are currently experiencing a few days of fine weather.  As the long range forecast seems to suggest that it’ll be departing next week; it’s probably just as well.

Have to say the Pathfinder guides are much better written than the Ordinance Survey ones, which is surprising when you consider the latter ones hold such sway over the maps of the UK!

Wednesday

A gray day weather wise which would have been perfect for walking, but since I had interviews to conduct and arrange today it was back to the keyboard for me.  One of them was my first video interview, and happened to be with two people as well which made for an especially spirited and engaging (and long) discussion.  The rest of the day was pretty much taken up with trying to catch up with my transcription backlog.  I’m getting quicker all the time with that, which is good.  Only one and a half interviews remain untyped, although I do seem to have five of them to conduct on Friday so I might need to crack on a pace in the next week in getting them all done.  Continuing to be delighted by people’s willingness to speak to me, and hope they’re getting something out of the conversations as well.

Note to self, to write a blog post on the interview experience – as I think there are a few things I’ve learned in the process so far that’s worth sharing.

Thursday

Sometimes home working has its perks
Sometimes home working has its perks

Started off pretty early today at the keyboard doing some more transcription, though I’d actually planned to give over today more to reading and study than research.  As it was in the end I decided it was important to clear all my untranscribed interviews and get up to date, as Friday was going to be a marathon day of interviews.  I did however sit down in the garden after lunch and go through a couple of chunky research papers on copyright and fraud law.  Light entertaining reading they were not, informative they were.

Perhaps the highlight of the day was a letter from the College of Arts and Humanities research degrees board to inform me that my research proposal had been accepted and that I was expected to submit my transfer to PhD within the next 18 months.  It also formally told me that 30th September 2016 is the latest date I can submit my thesis.  It seems…quite a long way off at the moment, but I know given the speed with which the last 8 and a bit months have flown by, that it’ll come around all too soon.  So hence the feeling of a need to really crack on with a lot of work over the coming months.

Oh and for some light entertainment for those Hegel fans out there, here’s something I wished I’d read early on in the philosophy module. How To Fake Your Way Through Hegel.

Also spoke to my father for the first time since his illness manifested which was…about as awkward as it always is.

Friday

5 interviews today, starting at 9am.  I was wondering if I’d over done it by scheduling them so close together, but thankfully it all worked out well in the end.  One of my interviewees even tweeted to me that she was going to be late to the office!  The power of social media to communicate from m-devices when you can’t log onto your email remotely!  The interviews were varied, fascinating and eye opening as usual.  There’s yet to be a single one I’ve done where it feels like I’ve heard it all before, and after 34 interviews to date that’s somewhat surprising.  Spent a bit of time researching some other places to get in touch with people to try and persuade them to talk to me, and also had a few useful offers to help facilitate some of my later research activities.

I also finally persuaded myself/was persuaded to book for the Repository Fringe up in Edinburgh in late July.  I’ve been once before, but this time I’ve offered to run workshops, speak and basically do whatever I can.  As I said to one of my interviewees today, I’m a bit worried that I’m immersing myself so much in the research world that I might end up getting out of touch with the practitioner world, which I think would be a bit of disservice.  Luckily the Fringe seems to attract all kinds of people from both research and practitioner worlds, so I’m probably in the right place!

Mrs Llama - armed and dangerous!
Mrs Llama – armed and dangerous!

The day ended shortly after 5pm when Mrs Llama arrived to demand (okay strongly suggest) that we go shooting with her new rifle at the targets I  bought her for our wedding anniversary.  It seemed a good way to wrap up what has been a short, but all the same pretty busy working week!