December 2008

New CB Associates

We have been very pleased to add three new senior associates to the company over the Autumn who can help support the range of work Charles Beagrie can undertake in the library, archive, and higher education sectors. I am delighted to welcome Mary Auckland, Terry Morrow, and Duncan Simpson as associates and look forward to working with them on future projects.

Their profiles are as follows:

Mary Auckland is an acknowledged expert in library and information work and has been an independent consultant and trainer since 2005. This follows her long career in academic and research libraries, as Director of Library and Learning Resources at the University of the Arts London; Librarian at SOAS; and senior posts at the University of Southampton and LSE libraries. Mary has served on various strategic advisory bodies including the JISC’s Committee for Electronic Information, and she was the Chair of its Content Working Group. She also served on the Library Association Council for nine years and was its Chair for three. In 2003, Mary was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to libraries and awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.

Terry Morrow is an established consultant who has extensive experience of academic computing, and electronic journals and bibliographic services. He has worked for the Regional Computer Centres based at the Universities of Manchester and Bath, and was part of the team that launched the successful JISC BIDS database service in the early 1990′s to provide bibliographic database services to the UK academic community. Following the transfer of BIDS in 1998 to the start-up company Ingenta, Terry was appointed Director of the BIDS Service. In 2003 Terry left Ingenta to become an independent consultant.

Duncan Simpson is a consultant with extensive senior management experience in archives, records management, and access to information. Until 2002 he was a Director of Government Services at the UK National Archives and led the introduction of the framework for electronic records management in government. He was a founder Director of the Digital Preservation Coalition and is an honorary senior research fellow at UCL specializing in the records management aspects of access to information and information management. He is particularly interested in access to information in local government and has also recently advised on the design of a National Records Centre for Tanzania.

Return from DCC – thoughts on ethics

I came back from another DCC international conference in Edinburgh (1-3 December) and almost immediately succumbed with flu – so this is a late post. Fortunately others including Kevin Ashley in the ulcc da blog and Chris Rusbridge in the digital curation blog have given quite detailed reports of many of the excellent sessions and presentations.

I just wanted to pick up on one aspect which struck me from the keynote Genomic Medicine in the Digital Age by Prof David Porteous and which has also been picked up and commented on by Mags McGeever’s post Healthy Consent on the DCC Blawg, namely ethical consent and research data.

Prof Porteous’ talk focussed on his work in Generation Scotland , and ethical issues around the process of “open consent” (an interesting long-term variant of informed consent) formed part of this. A particular bone of contention was the stance taken by the chairman of the National Information Governance Board for Health and Social Care on research data -see the Guardian report of his views.

Prof. Porteous is the most recent speaker voicing a concern which I’ve heard expressed now by many different researchers – someone really should arrange that offer to the chairman of a “cup of tea and a wee chat” to put across the long-term damage to health research which is the reverse side of this argument.

The Economics of Digital Preservation: Blue Ribbon Task Force Interim report

I was pleased to see that the International Blue Ribbon Task Force has issued its Interim Report on the economic issues for digital preservation brought on by the data deluge in the Information Age and the use that the interim report makes of the research undertaken by the LIFE and Keeping Research Data Safe studies.

The following press release appears on the UC San Diego website:

A blue ribbon task force, commissioned late last year to identify sustainable economic models to provide access to the ever-growing amount of digital information in the public interest, has issued its interim report. The report calls the current situation urgent, and details systemic pitfalls in developing economic models for sustainable access to digital data.

There is no time to waste, according to the new report from the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access, launched by the National Science Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in partnership with the Library of Congress, the Joint Information Systems Committee of the United Kingdom, the Council on Library and Information Resources, and the National Archives and Records Administration.

A recent study by the International Data Corporation (IDC) said that in 2007, the amount of digital data began to exceed the amount of storage to retain it, and will continue to grow faster than storage capacity from here on. The IDC study predicts that by 2011, our ‘digital universe’: consisting of digitally-based text, video, images, music, etc.: will be 10 times the size it was in 2006.

Although not all of this data should be preserved, digital data within the public interest: digital official and historical documents, research data sets, YouTube videos of presidential addresses, etc.: must be retained to maintain an accurate and complete ‘digital record’ of our society. Such digital information is now part of what is known as cyberinfrastructure, an organized aggregate of computers, networks, data, storage, software systems, and the experts who run them that is vital to our life and work in the Information Age.

‘NSF and other organizations, both national and international, are funding research programs to address these technical and cyberinfrastructure issues,’ said Lucy Nowell, Program Director for the Office of Cyberinfrastructure at the National Science Foundation. ‘This is the only group I know of that is chartered to help us understand the economic issues surrounding sustainable repositories and identify candidate solutions.’

While storage and technological issues have been at the forefront of the discussion on digital information, relatively little focus has been on the economic aspect of preserving vast amounts of digital data fundamental to the modern world.

‘The long-term accessibility and use of valuable digital materials requires digital preservation activities that are economically sustainable: in other words, provisioned with sufficient funding and other resources on an ongoing basis to achieve their long-term goals,’ said Brian Lavoie, a co-chair of the task force and a research scientist with OCLC, an international library service and research organization headquartered in Dublin, Ohio. ‘Economically sustainable digital preservation is a necessary condition for securing the long-term future of our scholarly and cultural record.’

‘Access to data tomorrow requires decisions concerning preservation today,’ said Fran Berman, director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California San Diego, and also a co-chair on the task force. ‘The Blue Ribbon Task Forces interim report represents a year of testimony and investigation into the economic models supporting current practice in digital preservation and access across sectors.’

The interim report traces the contours of economically sustainable digital preservation, and identifies and explains the necessary conditions for achieving economic sustainability. The report also synthesizes current thinking on this topic, including testimony from 16 leading experts in digital preservation representing a variety of domains. In reviewing this synthesis, the task force identified a series of systemic challenges that create barriers to long-term, economically viable solutions. Some of these challenges include:

  • Inadequacy of funding models to address long-term access and preservation needs. Funding models for efforts that incorporate digital access and preservation are often not persistent: they may be ‘one time’ efforts subsequently abandoned as more critical short-term priorities emerge.
  • Confusion and/or lack of alignment between stakeholders, roles, and responsibilities with respect to digital access and preservation. Often, those who create and use digital information are not responsible for serving as stewards to support preservation and access. Consequently, the costs may not be shared, which can lead to inadequate economic models for sustainability.
  • Inadequate institutional, enterprise, and/or community incentives to support the collaboration needed to reinforce sustainable economic models. Digital preservation and access require long-range planning and support, as well as agreement on formats, standards and use models, and hardware/software compatibility.
  • Complacency that current practices are ‘good enough.’ The urgency of developing sustainable economic models for digital information is not uniformly appreciated. There is general agreement that leadership and competitiveness, if not institutional survival, in the Information Age depends on the persistent availability of digital information, making preservation of that information an urgent priority.
  • Fear that digital access and preservation is too big to take on. There is general agreement that in its entirety, digital preservation is a big problem, incorporating technical, economic, regulatory, policy, social, and other aspects. But it is not insurmountable. Digital access and preservation may be as manageable as including a ‘data bill’ as an explicit and fixed part of an institutions business model. Successes depend on making sustainable digital access and preservation a persistent ‘line item’ on the part of stakeholders.

Continuing its work for a second and final year, the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access will issue its final report in late 2009 proposing practical recommendations for sustainable economic models to support access and preservation for digital data in the public interest.

To view the complete BRTF-SDPA Interim Report, click here.

For a complete list of BRTF-SDPA members, click here.

2008 UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) – results out today

The results and analysis of the outcomes of the 2008 UK Research Assessment Exercise are published in the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) today and make fascinating reading. The online version of the THES has a general overview of the outcomes for universities, an institutional ranking table and commentary, a subject rankings table, a lead editorial, and a commentary by David Eastwood (Chief Executive of HEFCE – the Higher Education Funding Council for England).

In Library and Information Management, the subject I have closest links to, I was pleased to see the THES rankings as (1) Sheffield University (2) King’s College London (digital humanities), and (3) University College London (SLAIS) – all excellent results – congratulations to all.

UK Research Data Service Study – International Conference

I am pleased to forward the announcement that the final report for the UK Research Data Service (UKRDS) Feasibility Study Project has been submitted and an International Conference on the UKRDS Feasibility Study will be held at The Royal Society, London on Thursday, 26 February 2009.

Booking for this international conference of senior policymakers, funders, scientists, IT managers, librarians and data service providers has now opened: Attendance at the conference is free. Places are limited, so early booking is advised.

The UKRDS feasibility study was commissioned to explore a range of models for the provision of a national infrastructure for digital research data management. It has brought together key UK stakeholders, including the Research Councils, JISC, HEFCE, British Library, Research Information Network, Wellcome Trust, researchers, and university IT and library managers, and it builds on the work of the UK’s Office of Science and Innovation e-infrastructure group. It also takes into account international developments in this area.

The UKRDS final report is due to be released soon and makes important recommendations for investment in this key part of the UK national e-infrastructure.

The study has been funded by HEFCE as part of its Shared Services programme, with additional support from JISC, Research Libraries UK (RLUK) and the Russell Group IT Directors (RUGIT). It has been led by the London School of Economics, with Serco Consulting as lead consultants supported by Charles Beagrie Limited and Grant Thornton as sub-contractors.

and the Top Five are…

I find it difficult to gauge the impact of different JISC studies other than ancedotally and as an author of JISC-funded reports I often wonder what the take-up has been, so I was intrigued to see a brief new section in the latest Autumn 2008 issue 23 of JISC Inform devoted to the Top five publications…

I understand from colleagues this represents a snapshot of the top five monthly downloads when Inform went to print (i.e. October 2008). Downloads probably peak during the first few months of publication so I have added month of publication as an additional factor/caveat in to the rankings which were as follows:

Top five publications..

  1. What is Web 2.0? TechWatch report (March 2008)
  2. Great expectations of ICT: JISC briefing paper (June 2008)
  3. Keeping research data safe: Charles Beagrie report (May 2008)
  4. Shibboleth – connecting people and resources: JISC briefing paper (March 2006)
  5. Information behaviour of the researcher of the future (‘Google Generation report’): CIBER report (January 2008).

JISC is quite a large specialist publisher: there have been 28 JISC Reports and 24 JISC Briefing Papers published in 2008 alone so far, so there is stiff competition to get into the listings and I was chuffed to see Keeping Research Data Safe at No. 3.

It was even nicer to hear that the listings had a new Number 1 in November: the Digital Preservation Policies Study (October 2008) was the runaway no. 1 with over 2,500 downloads.

Christmas must have come early this year :-)