Monday, 17 November 2008

Just sharing

Like several others in the blogosphere, I really enjoyed Scott Leslie’s post on EdTechBlog: Planning to Share versus Just Sharing. It is in the learning domain but I was glad that Andy Powell picked up its relevance to repositories in his follow-up on eFoundations.

Perhaps the key points that Andy picks up are
“The institutional approach, in my experience, is driven by people who will end up not being the ones doing the actual sharing nor producing what is to be shared. They might have the need, but they are acting on behalf of some larger entity.” and

“because typically the needs for the platform have been defined by the collective’s/collaboration’s needs, and not each of the individual users/institutions, what results is a central “bucket” that people are reluctant to contribute to, that is secondary to their ‘normal’ workflow…”
I’ve written before about fitting into the work flow, and endorse this concern.

I would also point to this quote:
“the whole reason many of us are so attracted to blogs, microblogs, social media, etc., in the first place is that they are SIMPLE to use and don’t require a lot of training.”
I suppose the equivalent for the repository world’s sphere of interest (usually, the scholarly article) is the academic’s web page. Somehow, for many (not all) academics, putting papers up on their web page does seem to fit in their normal work flow. They don’t worry about permissions, about the fine print of agreements they didn’t even read, they just put up their stuff to share. Is that a Good Thing? You betcha! Is it entirely a Good Thing? No, there are problems, for example those that arise in the medium term, when the academic moves, retires, or dies.

Looking at it another way, however, why doesn’t the collective repository infrastructure get credit for “Just Sharing”?

What about data? Well, getting data to be available for re-use is a Good Thing, and if there’s a simple infrastructure (eg the academic’s web page), that’s certainly better than leaving it to languish and fade away on some abandoned hard drive or (worse) CD-ROM. My feelings of concern are certainly elevated for data, however; don’t repositories, data services etc act as domain proxies in encouraging appropriate standardization? Well, I suppose they might, but maybe Leslie is right that the intra-domain pressures that would arise from Just Sharing would be even stronger. “It would be much easier for me to re-use your data (and give you a citation for it) if it were consistent with XXXX” is a stronger motivator than “as repository managers, we believe these data should be encoded with XXXX”.

Data repositories (and they can be at the lab or even personal level) should, of course, encourage the collection of contextual and descriptive information alongside the actual data. And again, their potential longevity brings advantage later, as technology change begins to affect usability of the data.

Now I guess the cheap shot here is to point to UKRDS as an example that is spending years Planning to Share, rather than Just Sharing. But what is the Just Sharing alternative to UKRDS?


Post a Comment

Please note that this blog has a Creative Commons Attribution licence, and that by posting a comment you agree to your comment being published under this licence. You must be registered to comment, but I'm turning off moderation as an experiment.