Trip Report – CNI Spring Task Force Meeting

Last week I attended the CNI Spring Task Force Meeting in Minneapolis. I look forward to CNI meetings, as generally the programs are quite strong and diverse – usually there are at least two or three sessions that I find extremely useful, and this time was no exception.

Clifford Lynch, the Executive Director of CNI, usually kicks things off with his views on technology and technology policy current events and trends. However, this time there was an opening plenary by David Rosenthal on digital preservation. I really enjoyed David’s talk, as he provided a good context to some important digital preservation work over the last 10-15 years, and though many of his conlcusions and opinions can be argued, I believe his main intent was to spark conversation and thinking, which I believe he did quite well. Usually when I hear someone speak about digital preservation, it is at a very technical, how-to level; David’s talk brought the level of conversation up a notch, at a level I felt bridged the philosophical and strategic with the hands-on pragmatic. One bit I found interesting about David’s talk is his promotion of open source software as a preservation strategy; while I agree that OSS can make preservation easier, I don’t know that OSS by itself guarantees the future ability to render or emulate a particular document format. However, again, David’s use of strong statements can be seen as a strategy for engaging a conversation about the topic, and more conversation at this level is needed.

A couple of sessions of note that I attended at this meeting. First, there was a very good session on Shared Leadership for Transforming Information Technology Organizations by representatives from the University of Minnesota. The University of Minnesota has engaged in a transformation process for supporting IT throughout the entire institution. The presenters, all from their central IT group (I am including their CIO’s office as part of central IT, though that may not be entirely accurate) talked about various aspects and challenges with their IT transformation process. UMN has something now called “The Common Good”, which are a group of centrally-supported services provided to the entire campus. In general, the services in the “Common Good” are mandated; in other words, if you are going to use email, and the Common Good provides the campus’ email service, your unit is mandated to use the email service in the common good (unless you go through a rigurous opt-out process that forces you to justify why you are opting out). By implementing the “Common Good”, UMN has been able to reduce overall IT spending from 6.55% of total expenditures in the institution to 6.39%. At the same time, individual units on campus reduced their IT expenditures from 4.14% to 3.6%. Overall, this has saved UMN $18 million a year. Another metric they stated was that units could show that for every dollar now spent on IT (via central services, I assume), they get two dollars worth of IT returned. I’d like to see some additional details about this last metric – if accurate, that’s a great measurement in support of their efforts. I would point you to their presentation, but unfortunately at this time it isn’t available from the CNI website.

The second session I would point out was on the Open Annotation Collaboration. This is an effort that is just getting underway – the intent is to explore how annotations can be standardized and work across scholarly systems. The project goals, specifically, are:

  • To facilitate the emergence of a Web and Resource-centric interoperable annotation environment that allows leveraging annotations across the boundaries of annotation clients, annotation servers, and content collections. To this end, interoperability specifications will be devised.
  • To demonstrate through implementations an interoperable annotation environment enabled by the interoperability specifications in settings characterized by a variety of annotation client/server environments, content collections, and scholarly use cases.
  • To seed widespread adoption by deploying robust, production-quality applications conformant with the interoperable annotation environment in ubiquitous and specialized services, tools, and content used by scholars — e.g.: Zotero, AXE, LORE, Co-Annotea, Pliny; JSTOR, AustLit, MONK.

Over the years, there have been a number of efforts that have looked at how to properly deal with digital annotations. This project is interesting because it appears that even the definition of annotation may be explored – for instance, when I think of an annotation, I think of some comment or note that is associated with a particular object. However, this effort is abstracting the idea of object to look at annotations of collections, compound objects, similar works, annotations of annotations, etc. In other words, they are in essance extending the definitional reach of the term. This approach is likely influenced by RDF and work on the OAI-ORE effort; my sense is that this particular project is in part a response to testing out the standards developed by OAI-ORE. As such (and even if I’m wrong on that), there should be some very interesting work produced through this research. The project website can be found at http://www.openannotation.org/.

Hopefully, the presentations from this CNI meeting will be made available soon on the CNI website, as there were a number of presentations I was unable to attend (one of the frustrations of the meeting having 8 concurrent tracks).

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