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

November 27, 2011

David Kay – david.kay@sero.co.uk – 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.