Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Embedding Repositores Event - A Successful Day

The Embedding Repositories event took place yesterday at the University of Lincoln. Fears of snow and /or flooding were greater exaggerated, and most people who had booked for the event were able to make it. We were looked after very well by Julian Beckton and the staff at Lincoln, and enjoyed copious cups of tea and coffee as well as a lovely lunch, all of which fueled much networking and debate.

The broad theme of the day was for people to look at, think about and discuss where else the institutional repository might go, once it has been built and starts to amass deposits. Our speakers gave an excellent mix of case studies, ideas and techniques for building and developing the IR. All the presentations are now available on the event wiki. Gareth Johnson the IR manager at the University of Leicester, has blogged about the individual sessions.

Working in the repositories field, I am always delighted by how colleagues make the most of any chance to be together and exchange ideas and experiences. Yesterday was no exception, and the event soon had a life of it's own taking the basic framework of the programme into several interesting areas and making the topics live.

The first theme to emerge was that of librarians and developers working as a team, and how effective this can be. Julian Beckton at the University of Lincoln and Sally Rumsey at Oxford University had both worked with technical colleagues to customise their repositories. For their projects, this had clearly been a fruitful partnership. But others who hadn't got access to dedicated technical staff highlighted how difficult it can be when you are expected to have technical abilities on top of all the other requirements of an IR manager. The interest that JISC has in developing technical ideas with the HE community (see this week's "Developer Happiness Days" event in London) was seen as a positive thing and teamwork as the way forward.

The second theme was related to this, but took people off in another direction asking what exactly the IR needed to develop to meet the new demands of the HE community. Was the front end, the end-user interface, really that important? Or should we be focussing on building robust systems that are concentrating on storage and output, making the IR as flexible as possible and leaving the interface for the end users to someone else. Ideas such as making the output of the IR available in Pageflakes, as applications in Facebook - basically creating many 'hooks' to link into whatever end users wanted to use. There were no clear answers, but much fuel for thought here.

Finally, the burning question for everyone was... the REF. Everyone wanted a much clearer idea of what the REF would require, what it would involve and how it might affect their work. Despite the feeling that it is something of a black box at the moment, people are hopeful that it will be a positive challenge for the IR, giving it a higher profile and further embedding it into the individual institutions.

Lucy Keating from Newcastle University asked a question in her presentation that summed up the starting point for many discussions - "Do deposits go into your repository to die... or to be reborn?" By the end of the day, I was feeling rather evangelical about where the UK IR managers might be taking their repository content. They certainly don't see their repositories as a graveyard for deposits. Despite the cold and the dire weather threats and the early start (!) I felt quite energised - reborn in fact!

The event wiki is now open for discussion, please feel free to join us.