Sunday, July 3, 2011

ICE Forum and Bloomsbury Conference

This post reports on two interrelated and back-to-back meetings: the International Curation Education (ICE) Forum (sponsored by JISC) and the Bloomsbury Conference (sponsored by University College London or UCL). Both took place in the Roberts Building at UCL (which is, interestingly enough, next to where I often lived in London in the 1970s at the now-vanished Friends International Centre).

Overlap among the attendees was only partial – I would estimate that about a third of the registered attendees. The University of North Carolina and Pratt hat particularly strong representation, the former because of research projects, the latter because of a summer school for students. This post will not discuss all of the presentations, only a few points that seemed important to me.

ICE Forum
My own talk at the beginning of the ICE Forum addressed the question of whether the world needs digital curators. My answer talked about the need for digital cultural migration to make content comprehensible over long periods of time. The first half explained what this meant and the second looked at how we can design software to help migrate content. When I have talked about this to library groups, the audience largely sees the need as obvious. Many archivists in this audience felt outraged. One argued that archivists ought to leave it to future generations to interpret content. Another listener felt that machine-based interpretation and migration was too mechanical and allowed too little scope for human sense-making – though she grew thoughtful when I suggested that writing code to interpret a file was not fundamentally different than other forms of writing about it. I will say more about digital cultural migration in a future post.

Seamus Ross (Toronto) gave the closing talk at the ICE Forum,  in which he quoted Doran Swade that “software is a cultural artifact”. His argument followed my own theme closely in saying that information needs to be annotated and reannotated to be useful for the future. He emphasized the need for case studies like those in law or business school, and he recommended accrediting not the schools but the graduates. We talked about whether effective accreditation was possible without legal requirements and agreed that it would help. Some in the audience disliked the idea of individual accreditation as creating an elite. This did not bother either Seamus or me.

Bloomsbury Conference
Carol Tenopir (Tennessee) discussed a research project to test a hypothesis that scholars who use social media read less. (Turns out that that is not true.) Some of her statistics were especially interesting. Among scholars:

Electronic sources
  • in 2011 88% of scholarly reading in the UK came from an electronic source (94% of those readings from a library).
  • In 2005 54% of the scholarly reading in the US was from an electronic source.
Screen reading
  • In 2011 45% of the scholarly reading was done on the computer screen and 55% of scholars printed a copy.
  • In 2005 19% of the scholarly reading was done on the computer screen.
While the studies were done in different locations (US & UK) at different times, the expectation is that the country makes no significant difference. A substantial decline of personal subscriptions combined with a substantial improvement in the quality of computer screens could be significant factors. Carol's article is online in PloS One.

David De Roure (Oxford eResearch Centre) talked about Tony Hey's book on the “Fourth Paradigm”. Data-centric research is talked about as if it is new, but (David pointed out) the arts and humanities have done it for a long time. One of the challenges is to get people to think computationally. People also need to stop thinking in terms of “semantically enhanced publication” and to shift their thinking toward “shared digital research objects.” As an alternative to thinking in “paper-sized chunks”, Elsevier now offers an “executable paper grand challenge”. Perhaps Library Hi Tech should too.

Carolyn Hank (McGilll) gave another notable talk. Her dissertation research was on scholars who blog and the blogs themselves. She did purposeful sampling drawing from the academic blog portal. Of 644 blogs 188 fit her criteria and 153 completed the sample. 80% of the authors considered their blog to be a part of the scholarly record. 68% also said that their blog was subject to critical review. 76% believed that their blog led to invitations to present at a conference. 80% would like to have their blogs preserved for access and use for the “indefinite future”.

The last presentation that I hears was by Claire Ross, a doctoral student in digital humanities at UCL. While talking about the effect of social media, she told how she tweeted about her interests when she arrived at UCL and almost immediately got a response from a person at the British Museum that led to a research project. She uses her blog to show her research activities and argued that Twitter enables a more participatory conference culture. I confess that blogging about conferences makes me listen more closely. Perhaps I should try twittering too. Among her (many) interests is the internet-of-things (especially museum objects), which fits well with the Excellence Cluster (Bild Wissen Gestaltung) that we are developing at Humboldt-Universit├Ąt zu Berlin.

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