iPres 2016 – International Digital Preservation Conference Bern, Switzerland

I was extremely lucky to attend iPres 2016 the International Digital Preservation conference this year held in the beautiful Swiss capital city Bern.
Bern and a view of the Eiger, the Monch and the Jungfrau
Bern and a view of the Eiger, the Monch and the Jungfrau

The conference attracts some of the leading practitioners in the field so it’s a real privilege to be able to hear from and speak to people who are leading in research and development – creating tools, developing workflows and undertaking research into all aspects of digital management and preservation.

It will take a while to digest everything – there was so much to learn! – but I thought I would gather together some “highlights” of the session while still fresh in my mind.

The conference opened with a keynote from Bob Kahn who reflected on the need for interoperability and unique identifiers with digital objects. The world we live in is a networked one and as we conceive of information and objects as linked to one another over networks so we must find ways of describing them in question and unambiguous ways. When objects can exist anywhere and in several places at once so we need to find unambiguous ways of describing them.

To complement this I attended a workshop on persistent identifiers which gave an extremely helpful introduction to the world of URNs, URLs, PURLs, Handles, DOIs and the rest.  Sometimes it can seem a little like acronym spaghetti but the presenters Jonathan Clark, Maurizio Lunghi, Remco Van Veenendaal, Marcel Ras and Juha Hakala did did their best to untangle it for us.  Remco van Veenendaal introduced a great online tool from National Archives of the Netherlands which aims to guide practitioners towards an informed choice about which identifier scheme to use.  You can have a go at it here and the Netherlands Coalition for Digital Preservation  are keen for feedback.

What is particularly useful about it is that it explains in some detail at each stage about which PiD system might be particularly good in specific circumstances allowing for a nuanced approach to collections management.

Current persistent identifier systems do not cope well with complex digital objects and likely future developments will be around tackling these shortcomings.  Sadly the current widely used systems have already developed along separate lines to the extent that they cannot be fully aligned – sadly not the interoperable future we are all hoping for.

The second keynote came from Sabine Himmelsbach of the House of Electronic Art in Basel and was a lively and engaging account of a range of digital artworks and how digital preservation and curation has to work closely with artists to (re)create artworks.  It threw up many philosophical questions about authenticity an integrity not to mention the technical challenges of emulation and preservation of legacy formats.  This was a theme returned to again and again in various sessions throughout the conference as was the constant refrain of how the main challenges are not necessarily technological.

iPres2016 Conference in full swing

The conference had so many highlights it’s very hard to choose from amongst them.  There were a number of papers looking specifically at the issues around the long term preservation of research data, which is of particular interest to the work we are undertaking at Lancaster University.  There was a fascinating paper given by Austrian researchers from SBA research and TU Wien (the Vienna University of Technology) looking specifically at the management of the so-called “long tail” of research data – that is the wide variety of file formats spread over a relatively small number of files which characterises the management of research data in particular, but also of relevance for the management of legacy digital collections and digital art collections.  This discussion was returned to by Jen Mitcham (University of York) and Steve Mackey (Archivum) talking about preserving Research Data and also in my final workshop on file format identification.  Jay Gattusso – nobly joining in at 4 am local time from New Zealand – talked about similar issues at the National Library of New Zealand involving legacy digital formats where there were only one or two examples.

One of the posters also captured this point perfectly – “Should We Keep Everything Forever?: Determining Long-Term Value of Research Data” from the team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign which looked at trying to create a methodology for assessing and appraising research data.

Detail of poster from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Detail of poster from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Plenty of food for thought there about how much effort we should put into preserving, how we prioritise and how we appraise our collections.

The final keynote was from Dr David Bosshart of the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute – a provocative take on the move from an industrial to a digital age.  He had a very particular view of the future which caused a bit of a mini-twitter storm from those who felt that his view was very narrow; after all more than half the world is not online.  Whilst his paper was no doubt deliberately designed to create debate, it highlighted the issues about where we direct our future developments and what our ultimate goals are.  This is common to all archives/preservation strategies: whose stories are we preserving? and how are we capturing complex narratives?  This issue was revisited later in a workshop on personal digital archiving.  Preservation can only happen where information is captured in the first place.  It can be about educating and empowering people to capture and present their own narratives.

There is still a lot for me to think about from such a varied and interesting conference.  There was very little time for leisure but there were wonderful evening events which the conference organisers arranged – a drinks receptions at the National Library of Switzerland and a conference dinner at the impressive fifteenth century Rathaus.  There are lots of conference photos online which give a flavour of the event.

And speaking of flavours I couldn’t visit Switzerland and not try a fondue…. Delicious!

Eating fondue

Rachel MacGregor

(all photos author’s own).

Repository Fringe 2016

The Repository Fringe modestly claims to be the “UK repository community’s unmissable gathering” and happened on 1 & 2 August 2016.

Folks arriving at RepoFringe 2016
Folks arriving at RepoFringe 2016

This was my third visit to the RepoFringe conference which is organised by the Digital Curation Centre, Edina and the University in Edinburgh. Why do I think it is a conference worth attending?

  • RepoFringe covers a wide range of repository related topics including “Making a Difference with Data” (http://rfringe16.blogs.edina.ac.uk/sample-page/using-data-to-make-a-difference-in-the-world/)
  • A concise 2 day conference which is less disruptive to your work than a full week.
  • The crowd is friendly and mixed: repository managers, Open Access folks, Research Data Managers… from all over Britain and beyond (Finnish contingent!)
  • It’s well organised and the sponsors actually add to the experience.
  • It’s in Edinburgh! I like Edinburgh.
RepoFringe Venue
RepoFringe Venue

Below are some highlights that I attended this year.

The Keynote  by Martin Poulter: “Your OERs will outlive you: Open Education in the long term

This keynote was a surprise.  How is Wikipedia driving an agenda of Open Educational Resources? Wikipedia? Really? Of course we all use Wikipedia but how does it fit into research flows, connects with journals and repositories?

Martin made a strong case for a web-of-knowledge approach where research outputs, Wikipedia and many other sources are connected, updated regularly and sustainably referenced. Wikidata and Wikisource are important “sister projects” in this context.

Keynote by Martin Poulter

The Pure User Group was led by Anna Clements from the University of St Andrews. Anna made us working hard identifying strengths & weaknesses of Pure as a repository. Our discussions will inform a further workshop at the Pure International Conference from 10-11 October in Berlin.

Anna Clements leading the Pure User Group
Anna Clements leading the Pure User Group

In the next session Valerie McCutcheon from the University of Glasgow updated us on “The Possibilities are Endless’ ‘More Research. Better Information. The Consortia Advancing Standards in Research Administration Information“.  In May 2016, the CASRAI-UK chapter held their first meeting in London which had a great response. One of the tasks CASRAI is working on is agreeing on a common terminology that will facilitate interoperability and reduce duplication. A very necessary piece of work.

Valerie McCutcheon showcasing CASRAI-UK
Valerie McCutcheon showcasing CASRAI-UK

At any good conference the networking is as important as the programme. And RepoFringe did not disappoint. Nice lunches in the cafeteria and a Drinks Reception in the wonderful afternoon sun made RepoFringe 2016 not only a worthwhile conference but a fun experience!

Lunch break at RepoFringe
Lunch break at RepoFringe
Working hard at RepoFringe
Working hard at RepoFringe
Drinks Reception
Drinks Reception
Fascinating Wikipedia poster
Fascinating Wikipedia poster
Drinks Reception
Drinks Reception
Beautiful light on way back to hotel
Beautiful light on way back to hotel

REF review by Lord Nicholas Stern

Results of this independent review of the future operation of the REF were issued on 28/07/16.  The review examines how university research funding can be allocated more efficiently so that universities can focus on carrying out world-leading research.

The full report can be found here.

I haven’t read the report in full yet, but Helen Cargill, Head of Research Support at King’s College, London, provided a useful summary in the UKCoRR discussion list:


  • Recommendation 1: All research active staff should be returned in the REF
  • Recommendation 2: Outputs should be submitted at Unit of Assessment level with a set average number per FTE but with flexibility for some faculty members to submit more and others less than the average
  • Recommendation 3: Outputs should not be portable (outputs should be submitted only by the institution where the output was demonstrably generated)
  • Recommendation 4: Panels should continue to assess on the basis of peer review. However, metrics should be provided to support panel members in their assessment, and panels should be transparent about their use.


  • Recommendation 5: Institutions should be given more flexibility to showcase their interdisciplinary and collaborative impacts by submitting ‘institutional’ level impact case studies, part of a new institutional level assessment.
  • Recommendation 6: Impact should be based on research of demonstrable quality. However, case studies could be linked to a research activity and a body of work as well as to a broad range of research outputs.
  • Recommendation 7: Guidance on the REF should make it clear that impact case studies should not be narrowly interpreted, need not solely focus on socioeconomic impacts but should also include impact on government policy, on public engagement and understanding, on cultural life, on academic impacts outside the field, and impacts on teaching.


  • Recommendation 8: A new, institutional level Environment assessment should include an account of the institution’s future research environment strategy, a statement of how it supports high quality research and research-related activities, including its support for interdisciplinary and cross-institutional initiatives and impact. It should form part of the institutional assessment and should be assessed by a specialist, cross-disciplinary panel.
  • Recommendation 9: That individual Unit of Assessment environment statements are condensed, made complementary to the institutional level environment statement and include those key metrics on research intensity specific to the Unit of Assessment.

Wider Context

  • Recommendation 10: Where possible, REF data and metrics should be open, standardised and combinable with other research funders’ data collection processes in order to streamline data collection requirements and reduce the cost of compiling and submitting information.
  • Recommendation 11: That Government, and UKRI, could make more strategic and imaginative use of REF, to better understand the health of the UK research base, our research resources and areas of high potential for future development, and to build the case for strong investment in research in the UK
  • Recommendation 12: Government should ensure that there is no increased administrative burden to Higher Education Institutions from interactions between the TEF and REF, and that they together strengthen the vital relationship between teaching and research in HEIs.



ORCID advocacy so far…

ORCID door-hanger
Door-hanger advertising ORCID

This is an opinion piece reflecting on my experiences so far of advocating ORCID iDs.

We recently started a concerted effort to implement and advocate the adoption of ORCID iDs at Lancaster University. By watching the adoption of ORCID grow among universities, publishers, funders and open science/access enthusiasts, and understanding the benefits it appeared to offer, it suddenly seemed inevitable.

It seemed, from my point of view, that we moved rapidly beyond talking about it as an interesting and potentially useful ‘thing’ that researchers can use if they like, to gaining strong backing from Associate Deans for Research and relevant Heads of Service. A field for adding ORCID iDs was quickly added to Pure, with a Pure to ORCID synchronisation following soon after.

At this point, advocacy for large scale adoption has started. I have been sold on the benefits in theory for a while. Who in the business hasn’t encountered the problem of name ambiguity when trying to match authors with publications? Whether you are searching the literature, building a citation overview, a CV or submitting a list of prior publications, this bit is a pain. If there was a way to use ORCID iDs as some sort of authority register, and push and pull that data (or a subset of it) into different systems, then that would be great.

However, I’ve perceived a few problems in this first period of advocacy. Whether the problem is in the message or in the technology, I’m not certain. I expect these problems will be ironed out by continuous development, and use cases.

1. It’s hard to test

Because ORCID is entirely in the control and view of the individual researcher who has adopted it, we can’t currently help if there is a synchronisation problem. We can’t see beyond the public view, like we can with a CRIS or Repository, so it’s harder to verify the contents, or help our researchers to understand what’s going on with their record.

2. It is another profile for researchers to craft

Despite claims to the contrary, researchers probably need to spend some time understanding how ORCID works. With publication data coming in from different sources and being pulled out to other systems, there are going to be duplicates and discrepancies. So the researcher needs to make choices. Do I want the publication as represented by the Scopus feed, or the Pure feed, or entered manually? We want Pure to be the ‘point of truth’, but if publishers, or aggregators are pushing data into ORCID too, then how will that work?

3. Authors want to use it!

Given the potential benefits, and the problems ORCID iDs could solve, many authors want to use it. However, they are realising that there isn’t an easy ‘export from ORCID’ feature yet. So if they’ve crafted a profile with all of their publications neatly imported from trusted sources, or entered manually, they can’t easily push that information back into Pure.

It’s clear that there’s constant development going on, and interoperability is not an easy thing to achieve.

Thankfully, there’s an active ORCID community, busy sharing ideas, problems and solutions so I’m sure that even if we oversell now, ORCID will deliver down the line.

ORCiD Claimathon May 2016

Lakshmi receiving an ORCiD mug with her personalised ID
Lakshmi receiving an ORCiD mug with her personalised ID

The Library held its first ORCiD claimathon on 20th May 2016. Tanya Williamson gave an introduction to ORCiD, after which there was an opportunity to claim your own ORCiD. There were just three attendees but it was a great opportunity to discuss some of the benefits and challenges researchers were encountering.

One researcher could see the benefit due to his popular surname. Issues raised included the researcher’s identity on the HR system not being in sync with the Pure record; another was unable to tell if he had already created an ORCiD when trying to claim an ID through Pure; and email notifications will be sent on a daily and weekly basis (as Pure updates ORCiD daily) unless people turn off their inbox activity in ORCiD.

A prize of a personalised ORCiD mug was awarded to one lucky attendee.

There’ll be another ORCiD workshop on 28th June at 10am in C130, The Library.

More about ORCID on the Library website.

Welcome to Highly Relevant

Hi there! This blog has been created by staff at Lancaster University Library who are working in the broad area of Research Support. We have job titles like ‘librarian’, ‘repository manager’, ‘digital archivist’ and ‘open access manager’. We’ll introduce ourselves as and when.

We’d like to share the projects we’re working on, service developments, and thoughts on all things highly relevant to research support in the academic library sector.

Expect to see posts on topics such as (but not limited to):

  • open access
  • scholarly communication
  • citation analysis
  • academic impact
  • repository management
  • research data management
  • digital preservation
  • researcher development
  • research information systems

Comments welcome.