Carol Minton Morris
(The Open Repositories Conference web site is located at <http://openrepositories.org/>.)
Left to right: Crafts for sale at a local market; Along the San Antonio River Walk; The Alamo in downtown San Antonio. Photographs by Carol Minton Morris.
San Antonio was unseasonably cold and rainy during the week of January 23-26, 2007 following severe ice storms the previous week. In spite of the weather many of the 350 Open Repositories Conference (OR07) attendees from as far away as Australia and Japan took the opportunity to stroll along the city's famous riverwalk and visit nearby cultural sites in between sessions that spanned a range of topics related to the design and implementation of open source institutional repositories.
All three OR07 organizing repository projects Dspace, Fedora, and Eprints hosted concurrent user group sessions during the first day and a half, followed by plenary sessions focused on overarching issues and solutions. Attendees were encouraged to "cross-pollinate" among user group meetings.
Conference co-chair John Leggett, Associate Dean, Digital Initiatives, Texas A&M Libraries, opened the plenary sessions by recalling that the Conference site the River Center Marriott had also been the site of Hypertext 1991 where Tim Berners-Lee first presented something he called the "World Wide Web" in a "Demo or Die" session.1 Leggett said that this early demonstration gave attendees the idea, "if they squinted," that new forms of scholarly collaboration would be possible. He said it felt like 1991 again, and that there was hope for a new community represented at OR07 to find new ways to share knowledge around open source repository development.
James Hilton, Vice President and Chief Information Officer and Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia, gave the opening keynote address suggesting that an institutional decision to adopt open source software repository solutions was similar to adopting a free puppy. The dog is acquired at no cost, but follow-up bills for veterinary care, food and chew toys tend to add up. Most of the heads in the room were nodding. Administrators and developers on the front lines of utilizing open source software to facilitate knowledge creation and preservation, often for multi-institution projects, understand that "free" does not mean "no cost" when developing open source repositories to meet specific organizational goals.
While Dspace, Fedora, and ePrints repository software offer institutions distinct technical approaches, Hilton said that the human networks that support collaboration around both software improvement and community development are critical for open source projects to succeed. As an example he cited the complex task that the SAKAI Project had undertaken in creating a governance structure in support of global deployment of an open source set of tools for research collaboration in the classroom.
Hilton suggested, "Pure property is the single biggest threat to the well-being of the academic community," and that the "Rising tide of collaboration is more than just Kumbaya." He advised picking the right partners rather than competing with close associates to create a competitive advantage. He also reminded the audience that collaboration is an academic word calling to mind images of a deep sharing of ideas leading to collaborative knowledge creation.
Hilton's remarks concluded with brief overview comments about Dspace "An open source process characterized by many individuals enjoying the process of participating in Dspace software development;" ePrints "A community of customers;" and Fedora "A combination moving towards a community governance model."
Tony Hey's closing keynote address focused on the proposition that fulfilling the conference's tag line, "Achieving Interoperability in an Open World" would depend on global collaboration in key areas of eScience, while developing the next generation of infrastructure to enable it. Hey is Corporate Vice President for Technical Computing at Microsoft.
Hey sketched out scenarios for managing trust and authority that he views as a significant aspect of the eScience picture. By establishing who says what, when, and how they are connected, scholars have relevant context for understanding information. These connections are important because, Hey said, "Co-interpretation is a key characteristic of eScience 'Can you read this and tell me what you think?'" In discussing the technical architecture for this new type of science, Hey borrowed from Bill Gates' analysis of a vision for future scientific endeavor that includes a user interface that displays a mini organizational chart of who contributed, and how they interacted, displayed as a map of authority to ascertain the veracity of information. He also mentioned science blogs, virtual lab notebooks, and experiment records as being services that enable eScience collaborations.
User Group Meeting Highlights: DSpace, Fedora, and Eprints
The first day and a half of the conference was devoted to user group meetings. Dspace, Fedora, and ePrints hosted presenters who explained how they were using open source repository software to achieve both complex and simple, targeted and expansive institutional goals. Many projects had focused disciplinary goals that related to scholarly communication, education, eScience, museums and libraries while others presented interdisciplinary solutions for services and concepts that spanned goals for repository development.
Core Software Updates
Each open source repository community is made up of pioneers whose presentations laid out challenges that required them to trust their instincts, because, as NSDL Core Integration Executive Director Kaye Howe commented in her presentation, "Most of us have to make decisions complicated by the politics of the moment in the face of incomplete knowledge." Each group used keynote sessions to present improvements to core Dspace, Fedora and ePrints software and reviewed their communities' growth and evolution.
MacKenzie Smith, Director of the Dspace project, MIT, provided an update on the current status of the DSpace open source software community governance plan. In introductory plenary remarks she suggested, "The pace of change and innovation is driving the open repositories movement and challenging notions of software development and sustainability."
John Ockerbloom presented the recently approved technical architecture for DSpace that improves key aspects of the system like its add-on mechanism and customizable workflows. Download software here.
Sandy Payette, Co-director of the Fedora project, Cornell, reviewed Fedora 2.2 as an "Open source platform that integrates robust core software with dynamic content access that includes collaborative applications and web access/re-use. It is a technology for complex digital objects. As contrasted with a technology such as Wikipedia's MediaWiki ideal for working with wiki-based resources FEDORA is great for many different applications, including as a content store for wikis. In other words, one is not tied to one particular application or use case."1 She also presented an overview of a new FEDORA Commons,2 which will provide a non-profit organizational home to support core software development and the growing Fedora community. Download software here.
Leslie Carr, Director of the Eprints project, University of Southhampton, introduced EPrints 3 that promises more control and flexibility for repository managers, depositors, researchers and technical administrators. The software has been described by a reviewer as "a significant milestone towards ideal repository software." Download software here.
Left to right: Leslie Carr questions a speaker (background) while MacKenzie Smith looks on (foreground); Kaye Howe and Sandy Payette at Fedora User Group sessions; John Leggett opens plenary sessions. Photographs by Carol Minton Morris and Unmil Karadkar.
Institutional repositories are often the focal point for national, state or consortium programs that address every way that information might be accessed, reused or mashed up by multiple audiences. User group and plenary presentations looked at overarching issues from packaged solutions to broad perspectives. PowerPoint slides for user group and plenary sessions will be available at: <http://openrepositories.org>. Here are just a few highlights from among 61 presentations:
Tim Donohue was voted by conference attendees to receive the Minute Madness "best poster" award with his presentation entitled, "Format Conversion in DSpace using OpenOffice.org." Donohue has developed a series of open source format conversion tools based on DSpace version 1.4 for the University of Illinois Champagne-Urbana's IDEALS institutional repository. The tool set generates "better" access formats (e.g., Adobe PDF, Rich Text Format) as well as more "preservable" text-based formats (e.g., XML, CSV) from word processing formats that include Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OpenOffice.org.
Experience and Meaning
In a keynote address to the Fedora Users Group on day two of the conference, Kaye Howe, Executive Director for the National Science Digital Library (NSDL) Core Integration project began her remarks about the challenging institutional process of establishing an open repository with a cautionary quote from T.S. Eliot: "(what if) We had the experience, but missed the meaning."
Sayeed Choudhury, OR07 Conference Chair, Johns Hopkins University, shared his view of what it had meant to bring the open repositories community together. "What I found most interesting about OR07 was how little people talked about specific technology or architecture and, in fact, people went out of their way to be inclusive of each of the repository systems and how much people talked about the services that they needed to support or account for. I really felt that there was an extensive understanding and evidence that repositories should be viewed in terms of the services they support, not in terms of the technological underpinnings. This was reflected in the composition of both the presentations and the conference participants."
Leslie Carr, University of Southhampton and General Chair for OR08, closed the conference by encouraging the open repositories community to continue talking and collaborating at the Third Annual Open Repositories Conference planned for April 1-4, 2008 in Southhampton, England. OR08 promises more user group sessions, plenary presentations, posters, and informal discussions focused on weaving institutional knowledge together around the theme of "Practice and Innovation" in connecting people and information.
Major sponsors for OR07 were Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University, The University of Texas at Austin, The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems. Sponsors were the University of Houston and Hewlett-Packard. Supporters were the Fedora Project and Harris Corporation in cooperation with the Coalition for Networked Information.
1. Cailliau, R., "A Short History of the Web: Text of a speech delivered at the launching of the European branch of the W3 Consortium." Paris. November 1995. <http://www.netvalley.com/archives/mirrors/robert_cailliau_speech.htm>.
2. Murray, P., A Vision for FEDORA's Future, an Implementation Plan to Get There, and a Project Update. Disruptive Library Technology Jester. January 29, 2007. <http://dltj.org/2007/01/fedora-update/>.
Copyright © 2007 Carol Minton Morris