Universities Week What's the Big Idea? 13-19 June 2011 This week is Universities Week – a national campaign demonstrating the benefits of universities in Britain. The theme for Friday is “Big Ideas for the Future“.  Today there will be a ’24-hour Twitter marathon’ in which universities from across the UK are taking part. The aim is to “tweet about the research, work or volunteering you are doing and how it impacts on people outside the University“.

The University of Bath is supporting this campaign and those of us who use Twitter have been encouraged to join using the hashtags #UniWeek and #UniofBath.

Since not everyone is aware that UKOLN is based at the University of Bath, it struck me that this campaign provides an opportunity to highlight UKOLN’s role in supporting innovation and research across the Higher Education sector.

There is of course an official summary about UKOLN but to explain briefly, UKOLN’s work is to advise on policy and practice in areas of Higher Education which support research, study and teaching, such as digital libraries, metadata and resource discovery, distributed library and information systems, research information management, Web preservation, etc. It provides network information services including the Ariadne magazine and also runs workshops and conferences.

UKOLN is funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) of the Higher and Further Education Funding Councils, as well as by project funding from the JISC and the European Union. UKOLN also receives support from the University of Bath where it is based. More details on UKOLN activities can be found on the UKOLN Web site.  UKOLN aims to inform practice and influence policy in the areas of: digital libraries, metadata and resource discovery, distributed library and information systems, bibliographic management, and web technologies. It provides network information services, including the Ariadne magazine, and runs workshops and conferences.

UKOLN began life in 1977 when the British Library funded the University of Bath Programme of Catalogue Research. A celebration of UKOLN’s 30 years of work took place in the British Library in 2008 and a timeline of our activities was produced for the event which is illustrated below.

Looking at some of the activities mentioned in the timeline, we can see some examples of how UKOLN has helped to “inform practice and influence policy“:

  • The Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) series was launched in 1997 and has been held annually ever since. This year’s event takes place at the University of Reading on 26-27 July.  The IWMW event helps to support the work and professional development of university Web managers and developers. Since 1995 the event has exploited event amplification technologies in order to maximise the impact of events such as conferences by providing video and other information and communication services over the Web to people who cannot be there in person.
  • UKOLN contributed a great deal to the development of better ways to make whole collections of resources more accessible to students and academics through its  Collection Description Focus work.
  • UKOLN is a major partner in the Digital Curation Centre which was established in March 2000. The DDC helps universities to realise and meet the challenge of managing academic data so that it remains accessible and understandable for many decades to come. The aim is not only to save information but also money for a long time into the future. UKOLN’s work as part of the DCC has included the production of the International Journal of Digital Curation and organisation of the International Digital Curation Conference: “an annual highlight in the digital curator’s calendar, providing an opportunity to get together with like-minded data practitioners to discuss policy and practice“. This year’s conference, incidentally, takes place in Bristol in December (and there’s still over a month before the closing date for submission of papers).

Some of many other achievements I might include:

  • The influential consultative report by Dr Liz Lyon, Director of UKOLN, Open Science at Web-Scale: Optimising Participation and Predictive Potential – Consultative Report which reviews the evidence and opinion surrounding data-intensive Open Science and considers the radical effect it will have on the way research is conducted.
  • UKOLN’s DevCSI work to support software developers and other HE professionals to help  “realise their full potential, by creating the conditions for them to be able to learn, network effectively, share ideas, collaborate and innovate creating a ‘community’ of developers in the learning provider sector which is greater than the sum of its parts“.
  • In another initiative to save digital information from disappearing – a very serious issue for all organisations – UKOLN led the JISC-funded  JISC PoWR (Preservation of Web Resources) project which provided universities and other institutions with guidelines on how best to preserve the resources they hold on the Web.
  • Our remote-working champion, Marieke Guy, has sought to develop best practice for UKOLN colleagues who work away from the University of Bath campus.  The open approach Marieke has taken for this work includes the use of her Ramblings of a Remote Worker blog which was instrumental in her winning the national Remote Worker Award.

One of the themes Universities Week is looking at is how “innovative research currently underway in university communities will bring great change within the next 20 years“. During its 30+ years – and during my 15 years since I moved to UKOLN – we have seen tremendous changes in the ways in which networked technologies have altered teaching and learning activities, the research community, and work in the wider sector. I feel that such innovation is likely to continue – current economic pressures will create even more demand for improvements in working practice across the Higher Education sector. My colleagues and I at UKOLN look forward to supporting such innovation further, both here at the University of Bath and across the wider Higher Education community.