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Trip report: Peter Sefton @ Open Repositories 2014, Helsinki, Finland


[Update: 2014-07-08, fixed a couple of typos since this is getting a bit of traffic]

Just self-archiving this post from the UWS eResearch blog here

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Trip report: Peter Sefton @ Open Repositories 2014, Helsinki, Finland by Peter Sefton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

From June 9th-13 ^th^ I attended the Open Repositories conference way up North in Helsinki. This year I was not only on the main committee for the conference, but was part of a new extension to the Program Committee, overseeing the Developer Challenge event, which has been part of the conference since OR2008 in Southampton . I think the dev challenge went reasonably well, but probably requires a re-think for future conferences, more on that below.

In this too-long-you-probably-won’t read post I’ll run through a few highlights around the conference theme, the keynote and the dev event.

Summary: For me the take-away was that now we have a repository ecosystem developing, and the OR catchment extends further and further beyond the library, sustainability is the big issue , and conversations around sustainability of research data repositories in particular are going to be key to the next few iterations of this conference. Sustainability might make a good theme or sub-theme. Related to sustainability is risk; how do we reduce the risk of the data equivalent of the serials crisis if there is such a crisis it won’t look the same, so how we will stop it?

View from the conference dinner


The keynote this time was excellent. Neuroscientist Erin McKiernan from Mexico gave an impassioned and informed view of the importance of Open Access: Culture change in academia: Making sharing the new norm (McKiernan, 2014). Working in Latin America McKiernan could talk first-hand about how the scholarly communications system we have now disadvantages all but the wealthiest countries.

There was a brief flurry of controversy on Twitter over a question I asked about the risks associated with commercially owned parts of the scholarly infrastructure and how we can manage those risks. I did state that I thought that Figshare was owned by McMillan’s Digital Science, but was corrected by Mark Hahnel; Digital Science is an investor, so I guess “it is one of the owners” rather than “owns”. Anyway, my question was misheard as something along the lines of “How can you love Figshare so much when you hate Nature and they’re owned by the same company”. That’s not what I meant to say, but before I try to make my point again in a more considered way, some context.

McKiernan had shown a slide like this:

My pledge to be open

  • I will not edit, review, or work for closed access journals.

  • I will blog my work and post preprints, when possible.

  • I will publish only in open access journals.

  • I will not publish in Cell, Nature, or Science.

  • I will pull my name off a paper if coauthors refuse to be open.

If I am going to ‘make it’ in science, it has to be on terms I can live with.

Good stuff! If everyone did this, the Scholarly Communications process would be forced to rationalize itself much more quickly than is currently happening and we could skip the endless debates about the “Green Road” and the “Gold Road” and the “Fools Gold Road”. It’s tragic we’re still debating using this weird colour-coded-speak twenty years in to the O A movement .

Anyway, note the mention of Nature .

What I was trying to ask was: How can we make sure that McKiernan doesn’t find herself, in twenty years time, with a slide that says:

“I will not put my data in Figshare”.

That is, how do we make sure we don’t make the same mistake we made with scholarly publishing? You know, where academics write and review articles, often give up copyright in the publishing process, and collectively we end up paying way over the odds for a toxic mixture of rental subscriptions and author-pays open-access, with some risk the publisher will ‘forget’ to make stuff open.

I don’t have any particular problem with Figshare as it is now, in fact I’m promoting its use at my University, and working with the team here on being able to post data to it from our Cr8it data publishing app . All I’m saying is that we must remain vigilant. The publishing industry has managed to transform itself under our noses from: much needed distribution service of tangible goods ; to rental service where we get access to The Literature pretty-much only if we keep paying ; to its new position as The custodian of The Literature for All Time , usurping libraries as the place we keep our stuff.

We need to make sure that the appealing free puppy offered by the friendly people at Figshare doesn’t grow into a vicious dog that mauls our children or eats up the research budget.

So, remember, Figshare is not just for Christmas.

Disclosure: After the keynote, I was invited to an excellent Thai dinner by the Figshare team, along with Erin and a couple of other conference-goers. Thanks for the salmon and the wine, Mark and the Figshare investors. I also snaffled a few T-Shirts from a later event ( Disruption In The Publishing Industry: Digital, Analytics & The Future ) to give to people back home.

Figshare founder and CEO Mark Hahnel (right) and product manager Chris George hanging out at the conference dinner

Conference Theme, leading to discussions about sustainability

The conference theme was Towards Repository Ecosystems .

Repository systems are but one part of the ecosystem in 21st century research, and it is increasingly clear that no single repository will serve as the sole resource for its community. How can repositories best be positioned to offer complementary services in a network that includes research data management systems, institutional and discipline repositories, publishers, and the open Web? When should service providers build to fill identified niches, and where should they connect with related services?  How might these networks offer services to support organizations that lack the resources to build their own, or researchers seeking to optimize their domain workflows?

Even if I say so myself, the presentation I delivered for the Alveo project (co-authored with others on the team) was highly theme-appropriate; it was all about researcher-needs driving the creation of a repository service as the hub of a Virtual Research Environment, where the repository part is important but it’s not the whole point .

I had trouble getting to see many papers, given the dev-wrangling, but there was definitely a lot of eco-system-ish work going on, as reported by Jon Dunn :

Many sessions addressed how digital repositories can fit into a larger ecosystem of research and digital information. A panel on ORCID implementation experiences showed how this technology could be used to tie publications and data in repositories to institutional identity and access management systems, researcher profiles, current research information systems, and dissertation submission workflows; similar discussions took place around DOIs and other identifiers. Other sessions addressed the role of institutional repositories beyond traditional research outputs to address needs in teaching and learning and administrative settings and issues of interoperability and aggregation among content in multiple repositories and other systems .

One session I did catch (and not just 'cos I was chairing it) had a presentation by Adam Field and Patrick McSweeney on Micro data repositories: increasing the value of research on the web (Field and McSweeney, 2014). This has direct application to what we need to do in eResearch, Adam reported on their experience setting up bespoke repository systems for individual research projects, with a key ingredient missing in a lot of such systems; maintenance and support from central IT. We’re trying to do something similar at the University of Western Sydney, replicating the success of a working-data repository at one of our institutes (reported at OR2013) across the rest of the university, I’ll talk more to Adam and Patrick about this.

For me the most important conversation at the conference was around sustainability. We are seeing more research-oriented repositories and Virtual Research Environments like Alveo, and it’s not always clear how these are to be maintained and sustained.

Way back, when OR was mainly about Institutional Publications Repositories (simply called Institutional Repositories, or IRs) we didn’t worry so much about this; the IR typically lived in The Library, the IR was full of documents and The Library already had a mission to keep documents. Therefore the Library can look after the IR. Simple.

But as we move into a world of data repository services there are new challenges:

And as noted above, there are commercial entities like Figshare and Digital Science realizing that they can place themselves right in the centre of this new data-economy. I assume they’re thinking about how to make their paid services an indispensable part of doing research, in the way that journal subscriptions and citation metrics services are, never mind the conflict of interest inherent in the same organization running both.

Some libraries are stepping up and offering data services, for example, work between large US libraries.

The dinner venue

The developer challenge

This year we had a decent range of entries for the dev challenge, after a fair bit of tweeting and some friendly matchmaking by yours truly. This is the third time we’ve run the thing a clearly articulated set of values about what we’re trying to achieve .

All the entrants are listed here, with the winners noted in-line. I won’t repeat them all here, but wanted to comment on a couple.

The people’s choice winner was a collaboration between a person with an idea, Kara Van Malssen from AV Preserve in NY, and a developer from the University of Queensland, Cameron Green, to build a tool to check up on the (surprisingly) varied results given by video characterization software . This team personified the goals of the challenge, creating a new network, while scratching an itch, and impressing the conference-goers who gathered with beer and cider to watch the spectacle of ten five-minute pitches.

My personal favorite came from an idea that I pitched (see the ideas page ) was the Fill My List framework, which is a start on the idea of a ‘ Universal Linked Data metadata lookup/autocomplete ’. We’re actually picking up this code and using it at UWS. So while the goal of the challenge is not to get free software development for the organizers that happened in this case (yes, this conflict of interest was declared at the judging table). Again this was a cross-institutional team (some of whom had worked together and some of whom had not). It was nice that two of the participants, Claire Knowles of Edinburgh and Kim Shepard of Auckland Uni were able to attend a later event on my trip at a hackfest in Edinburgh . There’s a github page with links to demos.

But, there’s a problem. The challenge seems to be increasingly hard work to run, with fewer entries arising spontaneously at recent events. I talked this over with members of the committee and others. There seem to be a range of factors:

I’m going to be a lot less involved in the OR committee etc next year, as I will be focusing on helping out with Digital Humanities 2015 at UWS. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next in the evolution of the developer stream at the OR conference. At least it’s not a clash.

The Open Repositories Conference (OR2015) will take place in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA at the Hyatt Regency from June 8-11, 2015. The conference is being jointly hosted by Indiana University Libraries , University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Library , and Virginia Tech University Libraries .

This pic got a few retweets


Field, A., and McSweeney, P. (2014). Micro data repositories: increasing the value of research on the web. http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/364266/.

McKiernan, E. (2014). Culture change in academia: Making sharing the new norm. http://figshare.com/articles/Culture_change_in_academia_Making_sharing_the_new_norm_/1053008.