Wednesday, 6 February 2008

VALA - Day One - strike one.

I have just been asked by Walter McGinnis of Katipo, makers of the ruby based community repository software, Kete, where the cafe in Centre Place is with the free wifi? So I guess this means that this blog has at least one reader. So I better keep with the programme and start blogging VALA.

VALA Day One
Today, Wednesday, [super Tuesday in the USA] is the second day. Day One was brilliant - very full on - meeting new people - re-meeting colleagues and peers, including people from Puke Ariki, Hutt City, Christchurch City. There are also some welcome faces from Queensland Victoria , South Australia, and the National Libraries of Australia and New Zealand.

But there are also heaps of people from the University library space her . This was a bit of surprise, but it definitly adds to the mix. These places have huge challenges - not least being what Janet Copsey head of Auckland University Library , and colleaque on LIAC, calls the scaling issue i.e. ".. it's okay to have bright ideas, Paul, but will they scale to 30,000 logins - because that's my user base".

It's a sobering thought, and I guess a welcome one as a baseline to the different sessions and vendor presentations here at VALA.

Andy Powell
The opening keynote was from Andy Powell of the Eduserv Foundation in the UK. He is a very impressive guy, with an equally impressive set of credential especially around metadata, dublin core and the big issues in academic research, discovery and access. He was billed to talk about repositories.

He was in quite a sober mood - or as he put it, "I'm becoming a little cynical about repositories".

This, gentle reader is a bit like the Archbishop of Canterbury saying he is getting tired of pilgrims.

After all, in recent times, repositories, whether academic, or community lead, have been the big poster children of conferences like VALA .

In the academic sphere they are the places where researchers have been encouraged to deposit their papers under open access rules, thereby ensuring that the research ouput of our major research and teaching insitutions don't disappear behind the closed walls of the commercial online publishers, to reappear inside expensive subscription based aggregation stores [e.g. Jstor]

Community Repositories
A similar energy is currently in vogue around community repositories. The aforementioned Kete should be acknowledged, but perhaps a more widely known example of both kinds of energy can be found in the Dspace community?

Andy Powell didnt go through these examples: in contrast he took us on discursive loop through some exemplar meta data issues and debates that underpin respository frameworks, including a startling deep dive into the conceptual basement of the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, the JISC Information Environment, REST, FRBR, et al.

I suspect some found the descent, and the lack of oxygen, a little challenging so early in the day, Nevertheless, despite the shock of the dive, it was a brilliantly assured journey which helped me at least start to understand how these frameworks, and the concepts they contain, frame and support the next generation challenge of the semantic web. - i.e. the tools and pathways which will build new and enduring associations between digital objects/works, their makers, and the context in which they could be used.

It was a great effort, and brought into sharp focus the tensions around how to engage people with the tools and potential of the semantic web, with the people pushing for the culturally more democratic layers currently being exposed in the web 2.0 ecology of user generated content.

And so to the keynote - and the explanation of his frustration with the repository word - that the current standards were both too complicated [for web 2.0 ] and too simple [for the semantic world of contextual engagement] . In short we need to think harder to ensure these two worlds engage and grow the future together.

However, as a precondition to this engagement, though standards and frameworks will continue to define and shape the next phase of the digital journey, especailly if we have any hope in succeeding in building, what you might call the deep ecology of discovery and contextual finding tools - none of it - and that means zilch - matters an iota - unless all of it is visible and discoverable on the web, and so available for other people to use and engage with.

I'm totally with him - repositories, like so much of the best of the knowledge based web, will not survive if their primary goal is to become rich wharehouses which will order, protect and preserve knowledge: rather, to remain relevant, and indeed compelling pieces of the layer of the sematic or contextual web, they need to open themsleves to the random possibility of user focused web based life.

It's going to interesting to see how much of this message comes through in the sessions to come.


Paul Tudor said...

Yes, well I was wondering whether you were going to blog every day of the conference. As I reviewed a couple of papers, I am very interested in this year's VALA. Sadly, all my training and development budget was blown on one three day course late last year.

Keep up the good work!


Anonymous said...

Hi Paul. Good to see you at VALA. We met at yr talk at the State Library at WA and talked briefly about Podcamp. I was too shy to come up and say hi at VALA :)

I think the rest of the VALA conference touched enough on the Semantic Web for delegates to become curious and understand that it's something they should follow up.

Unfortunately most of the mention of the Semantic Web seemed to come in from the plenary speakers rather than the papers in the other sessions - maybe I was at the wrong sessions.

Kebabette said...

Thanks Paul, good to get your perspective on what's happening at VALA.

If you get more gastronome time, I can heartily recommend Koko Black - especially the divine hot chocolates. There's one in Lygon Street and one in the Royal Arcade amongst other places.

Donna, Christchurch City Libraries

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