Who pays? was the question that got the room buzzing in the session on ‘Navigating the UK’s libraries, museums and archives: A vision for resource discovery’. Idealism and pragmatism clashed over the notion that there should be a ‘hierarchy of users’ for higher education-funded resources.
Professor David Baker, Deputy Chair of JISC, ran through the agenda of the Resource Discovery Taskforce, a joint project between JISC and Research Libraries UK (RLUK). The Taskforce has been working for the past year to define a vision and outline the provision of a shared UK infrastructure that will support the development of innovative new resource discovery services to provide access to the unique collections of libraries, archives and museums.
He outlined the principles that should underpin resource discovery: network level leveraging scale; integrated into the web; interoperable and flexible; reduce duplication of effort; robust and scaleable; compelling; simple; meet the requirements of the user group; open to change; achievable (Prof Baker said that he had refused to accept time scale of 18 months for the taskforce as thought it needed to be done in under a year).
Rachel Bruce, JISC Programme Director Information Environment, went on to describe the role of JISC in the project and explained that she felt that partnership was the key: “We need to work locally, nationally, globally. This aggregation is a means, not the destination. By doing this we facilitate better access and better use of our resources.”
Dr Mike Mertens, Acting Executive Director and Data Services Manager, RLUK, agreed that it was important to move quickly and commented that what was happening was “nothing revolutionary but something fundamental” – a move from maintaining barriers to removing them, especially between sectors.
When the discussion opened out to the floor for the audience’s feedback on the Taskforce’s vision, aims and purpose, the first question related to the fact that its vision begins with who the resource discovery services are for. Given Martin Bean’s inspiring keynote session this morning on informal and lifelong learning, said John Paschoud from the LSE, wouldn’t it be better to simply say that the resources are for everyone?
It should be about both formal and informal learners, agreed Chris Batt, former head of the MLA. “Much of the value you would give to that traditional community of use will come to institutions outside the traditional higher education institutions. We should be looking at it strategically to build something that works much more broadly. We should establish from the outset how those other potential users will see themselves fitting in and using it.”
Responding from the panel, Paul Walk acknowledged that they had wrestled with Chris Batt’s point in Taskforce meetings. He made the point that there is a difference between generic infrastructure and user-facing services and commented that one criticism of Europeana is that it delivers a good user experience but it is not so good at building an infrastructure that allows others to use it to build something for their users.
The cat was put among the pigeons when Tim O’Shea, JISC Chair, commented from the floor that “we cannot do everything immediately. We need a hierarchy of users. We have got to be prepared to bite the bullet and say where people stand on the hierarchy and also who pays.” In 50 years time, this will be for everybody but in the meantime if w are going to do this then we have to be able to prioritise and if this is JISC-funded resource then students and researchers are the most important. Others may have to pay.
“That’s unfortunate,” replied Richard Paterson from the BFI. “We too hold resources and want to make them available. We have been working with the BBC on the idea that we need a digital public space, like a park, where you can go and get access to material for free or pay a fee. Working together as a public sector is a more appropriate way and then from there we work together with commercial sector to allow them to take the data and make income from it.”
Chris Batt also responded robustly that “everybody else is doing it themselves already and the danger is that you end up with two or three different systems working in different ways and that’s barmy.”
Some halfway house solutions were offered by the panel. Dr Mike Mertens pointed to the JISC digitisation programme 19th century pamphlets project which was funded in a partnership deal and is free for those Medizon within HE and also the wider public in libraries. Dr Michael Jubb, Director, RIN, noted that producing high quality metadata is not cheap and that we do have to think hard about priorities and how we get from where we are now to the vision of the future.