The Case for Discovery – reflections on a presentation to RLUK members

November 27, 2011

David Kay – – 27 November 2011

I was pleased to have the opportunity to talk about the Discovery initiative at the RLUK members meeting last week (#rlukmm11). This blog post picks up key points raised in the Twitter stream (thanks especially to Simon Bains, Mike Mertens, Tracey Stanley and Owen Stephens) and links them to my concluding suggestions.

The presentation mixed an update on progress to date (because a lot has happened in the six months since Discovery was ‘named’) with a focus on emerging business cases for further investment of valuable institutional and collective effort in this space, leading to some collective considerations for RLUK.

My suggestion is that the ‘business case’ for investment in resource description and discovery hinges on opportunities for gains in economy (back of house), efficiency (relating to both library and patron workflows) and effectiveness (better supporting 21st century modes of research and learning). I’ve set out 10 benefit cases drawn from recent institutional and consortium projects in a recent Discovery blogpost. However, as pointed out in questions, these ‘business arguments’ need to be sharpened to identify ROI and how it will be measured – member suggestions will be most welcome!

In addition, I proposed ‘expression’ as an essential part of the top line business case. However good the service offered by local discovery layers and globally by such as Google, there is a gap between the way records are currently discovered and the style of connected navigation that could be offered though more complete, consistent and connected classification geared to academic enquiry. This is about taking the value we already provide in ‘cataloguing’ and making that work for us in the web of scholarly data within and beyond our institutional controls – across libraries, archives and museums, plus such as learning assets, OERs and research data.

Making relevant ‘stuff’ (the library catalogue and the rest, within and beyond the academy) discoverable as linked open data is an obvious way to support this approach – but my key point is about a business requirement (truly joined up expression of scholarly data and metadata) rather than a technology. I suggested that, of all the things to be done to enact that transformation, senior managers should concentrate on the key enablers – metadata licensing, use of common identifiers and authorities across all types of records, service sustainability and measurement – whilst ensuring appropriate staff are skilled in the mechanics.

Comments on the Twitter stream, suggested that there is very little distance between this Discovery proposition and what Paul Ayris set out in the recommendations emerging from the shared cataloguing working group. Owen Stephens tweeted that perhaps this represents the major Discovery use case from an RLUK perspective – though we definitely need the Discovery programme to exemplify more cases. Both these presentations indicated a long term objective geared to serving teaching, learning and research, whilst offering economies and efficiencies along the way. However the 5 years horizon is very distant – and therefore I would emphasise the complementary short term opportunities and stepping stones listed at the end of my presentation.

  1. Liberate Copac – publish Copac as open data and potentially as Linked Open Data; the first cut may only involve limited authorities but would still enable the potential to be tested alongside such as the Archives Hub
  2. Animate Knowledge Base Plus – play a leading role in the collective population of this shared subscription and licence dataset, which may be of significant assistance in future licensing work with JISC Collections
  3. Review scope of other RLUK initiatives – establish whether such as common authorities and open licensing may be priority components in such as the shared cataloguing and special collections work
  4. Assess the wider curatorial landscape – identify where RLUK could be taking collective steps of this type in areas such as learning assets and research data
  5. ‘Understand’ e-books in this context – whilst the metadata supply chain and workflows remain extremely uncertain, alignment with this direction of travel will be essential (and in 5 years may be a lost opportunity)
  6. Consider action on identifiers, authorities and access points – all of the above raise the challenge of collectively adopting key reference points, presumably including name, place and subject; a working group specifically focused on this and looking beyond libraries may be of value

My personal observation is that these represent immediate and low cost collective opportunities to assess and develop metadata infrastructure in anticipation of the roles that RLUK might play in a changing knowledge and service environment, both within the academy and in the wider UK context.

And last but not least, thanks again to RLUK for the chance to attend a very stimulating event.

Phase 2 of the Discovery programme and some new projects

November 22, 2011

The Discovery programme runs until the end of 2012. To enable us to learn as we go we have split the programme into 3 distinct phases. Phase 1 is complete and we have moved into phase 2 of the discovery programme. Phase 1 focused on open metadata and is summarised on the JISC website. You will be able to read summaries of the lessons from phase 1 on the Discovery site later this week.

Phase 2 is described on the JISC website. In this phase we will continue the efforts to understand the best approaches to open metadata and to produce advice, guidance and advocacy on the productive approaches we uncover. However it also includes projects designed to reuse open metadata to address problems and meet use cases for libraries, museums and archives and their users.

There are 9 of these projects

Contextual wrappers 2 – will develop resource discovery services for people interested in museum resources by using open, integrated and contextualised collections information from across University Museums. Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge.
Problem or use case it is addressing: Enriching museum metadata to support new forms of discovery

Copac collection management – developing a tool that libraries can use to analyse their collections in comparison to other university libraries by using the data stored in Copac. Mimas
Problem or use case it is addressing: Enabling libraries to analyse their collections and evaluate them against other libraries to make effective judgements on what to keep and what to discard.

Digital Bodleian – provide linked data, apis and a new user interface for the Bodleian’s substantial collection of digital assets. University of Oxford
Problem or use case it is addressing: Providing coherent discovery for varied collections and enabling and promoting reuse of the metadata about those collections

DiscoverEDINA – a three pronged project that is developing software to extract metadata from and embed new metadata in multimedia content; developing a crowd sourcing tool for the enriching the metadata about the content in JISC MediaHub; enhance the open linked data available from SUNCAT. EDINA.
Problem or use case it is addressing: Enriching metadata and enabling and promoting reuse

Pelagios 2 – developing a toolkit for Ancient World resources so that collection providers can expose their metadata and find and visualise geospatial connections between open collections of Ancient World resources. Open University.
Problem or use case it is addressing: making it easy to make open metadata available, visualising it and enabling and promoting reuse.

Search25 – will provide a new open resource discovery experience at the M25 consortium regional level, offering researchers the advantages of both local/regional and national resource discovery.
Problem or use case it is addressing: Providing coherent discovery for varied collections and enabling and promoting reuse of the metadata about those collections

Servicecore – will develop the core repository tool to enable users to find papers that are on similar topics in the UK’s repositories
Problem or use case it is addressing: Enriching metadata about articles in repositories and enabling and promoting reuse of that metadata.

Step Change – will embed functionality to create linked data into the cataloguing interface of the CALM archive software, will enhance the UK archival thesaurus so it can be used as a semantic tagging tool and will work with Historypin to enable the geographical exploration of archive content.
Problem or use case it is addressing: Enriching metadata about archives contents, visualising it and enabling and promoting reuse of that metadata.

The cutting edge – will create a new online resource to support teaching and research into tools with sharp edges, it will do this by bringing together metadata from several important collections housed within the Great North Museum.
Problem or use case it is addressing: Providing coherent discovery and exploration for varied collections and enabling and promoting reuse of the metadata about those collections

These projects all started recently and will run until July 2012. They are a varied and exciting series of projects and I am looking forward to seeing what they produce and learn.

Making resources discoverable … is there a business case?

November 11, 2011

David Kay – @serodavid – – 4 November 2011

> Crying ‘Wolf’

It seems obvious that there would be a self-evident business case for making learning, teaching and research resources discoverable.

However, it is arguable that this is a ‘crying wolf’ scenario. Library, archive and museum services have been at this for time immemorial and therefore the idea of a further push (better indexing, open licensing) for a special reason (the evolving information ecosystem) may be somewhat unappealing – especially in a period of austerity.

> So … what makes a business case?

In these times it may no longer be sufficient to argue a case on the grounds of service improvement and fulfilment of approved mission (e.g. the university’s library strategic plan).

It is arguable that if the library (or archive or museum) has a signed off plan, then changes in the mode of discovery and the underlying handling of metadata are solely tactical issues within that plan and its budget envelope. In reality, that depends on how good and recent the plan is! Indeed, faced with the twin pressures of the student as customer and institutional financial priorities, the stated service mission may not necessarily be the ideal foundation for a compelling business case.

When faced with the opportunities presented by new models for resource discovery and utilisation, the enabling services (not just institutional libraries, archives and museums but also the keepers of repositories, VLEs and OERs) need to weigh the following factors:

  • Institutional – Demands for step changes in efficiency and economy;
  • Users – Requirements of undergraduates, researchers and BCE partners;
  • Professional – Service improvement, enhancing local assets alongside wider resources;
  • Global – Alignment with prevalent technologies and wider developments in the knowledge ecosystem

All these facets – not one or another – need to be considered in a compelling business case for new modes of discovery, and presumably in any tenable strategic plan.

> Did the 2011 Discovery projects find the business case grail?

The eight projects supported under the first phase of the JISC RDTF Discovery programme were experimental, exploring ways and means of developing new services based on more discoverable metadata, alternative formats (including Linked Data) and open licensing. Common technical and professional challenges had to be addressed ahead of any assessment of the business case specific to the host institution.

Nevertheless, the projects identified several benefit cases worthy of evaluation. Not all of the suggested benefits will be appealing, let alone persuasive, in every library, archive or museum setting. Indeed, they are more specific to circumstances and vision than to curatorial domain.

The synthesis of project findings, undertaken by Mimas, found that the projects had proposed around 15 business case ‘arguments’. As operational scenarios solidify and mature, we can reasonably expect there will be more where these came from, all of which might be combined to present business cases for the service, for the institution and, not least, for the user. [It should be noted that the Discovery projects did not address the business case relating to global drivers as the projects were predicated on this is a ‘given’ factor].

> Paint a business case by numbers? A personal Top Ten

Following some discussion of the list of 15 business case arguments with colleagues (thanks especially to Mike Mertens of RLUK for his feedback), here is my personal ‘Top Ten’. You can find the rest plus links to the relevant projects at

Institutional Level – Serving strategic institutional objectives, especially in support of a more effective learning and more efficient research infrastructure.

1 – Fulfilling institutional policy commitment to Open Data provides a strong basis for this work
2 – Contributing proactively to wider strategic directions such as personalization, user co-creation and integrated resource discovery
3 – Following such as Google in opening data to serendipitous development is low cost and may yield unknown benefits

Practitioner Benefits (Librarians, Archivists, Curators) – More economic and effective ways of ensuring the collection is well described.

4 – Making better use of limited professional time by embedding records improvement in core workflows and / or by automating separately
5 – Providing more efficient mechanisms to generate more effective indexing and access points, based on standard and shared authorities

General User Benefits – Making the collection being more discoverable, more accessible and linked to other relevant knowledge assets.

6 – Amplifying the impact of the collection by broadening the scope for discovery, achieving greater utilisation and enabling downstream discovery of relevant ‘linked’ resources
7 – Using open metadata to provide a richer user experience and create opportunities for a variety of interfaces

Researcher Benefits – Contributing to the research ecosystem, within and beyond the institution.

8 – Cultivating the international research ecosystem by minimising duplication of effort and avoiding knowledge silos
9 – Evolving scholarship by enabling participation of a wider community in testing, refining and building on research results
10 – Surfacing the unpredictable connections required by interdisciplinary research

> And finally…

Increasing numbers of managers and practitioners are involved in demonstrating the business case for enacting the principles endorsed by Discovery. What cuts it for you? Is it purely a cost metric or a measure of user satisfaction? Which of these arguments and what others would you put forward?


Introducing the Technical Principles for the Discovery Ecosystem

November 7, 2011

We’re pleased to announce that our colleagues at UKOLN, and specifically Paul Walk, have taken the comments provided by the Discovery Advisory groups and revised the draft Technical Principles for the Discovery Ecosystem.

In short, the Principles for the Discovery Ecosytem are:

1. Discovery is heterogeneous
2. Discovery is resource-oriented
3. Discovery is distributed
4. Discovery relies on persistent global identifiers
5. Discovery is built on aggregations of metadata
6. Discovery works well with global search engines
7. Discovery data is explicitly licensed for (re)use

Please check out the Technical Foundations post for more detail on these guiding principles and what we mean by them. We certainly invite comments or question.

Here Paul also comments on the practical challenge of balancing consensus with agility, and at the same time staying open to innovation.  Indeed, principles are all very well, well, ‘in principle’… but our next swathe of activity will be tackling just these challenges as we work to cascade and embed these Principles (along with the Discovery Open Metadata Principles) within the real-world contexts of library, archive, and museum content discovery. To have any impact, the Principles must be supplemented by supporting materials and guidelines — from technical ‘how to’ guides, to a range of case studies representing different types of institutions and starting points when it comes to opening up metadata for online discovery.

We’ll also need to engage people face-to-face as much as possible, and a number of training events will be planned for the Spring and Summer of next year.  Tomorrow I’ll be getting together with folks here at Mimas (Jane Stevenson, Diana Massam and Lisa Jeskins) along with David Kay and Owen Stephens to kick off that area of work in earnest: refining our approach to the case studies, determining our approach to training (and key learning objectives), and, on a fundamental level, discussing and agreeing exactly who we will be targetting for our training workshops given the broad spectrum of potential stakeholders we could potentially engage.  I’ll look forward to posting on the progress of this are work, and inviting feedback on our approach.

In the meantime, comments or questions concerning the Technical Principles are welcome over here