Friday, 11 December 2015

Mid December

That thing about time accelerating the older you get may have some truth in it. Status update: Busy. Older. Forever typing. Coffee. Enjoying the clarity that comes with experience. Enjoying making plans for 2016.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

And so it begins. Again.

I love USA elections. Absolutely love them. The theatre, the campaigns, the news media, the circus, the crazy TV ads, the relentless campaigning, the uses of all forms of communication, the struggle to get voting rights, the debating, the different procedures for voting; the whole thing.

Today, Hillary declared. And this makes me very happy. Not necessarily because it is Hillary, who is a flawed candidate (albeit one who is vastly preferable IMHO to any serious candidate from the GOP at the moment), but because it means we are officially in election mode. I did a little post about it on MetaFilter in a kind of quiet celebratory mood.

And finished it with pointing out that there's only (LOL) 575 days to go to the election.

I'm wondering what more I can figure out about America, and about America and me, during those 575 days. And I wonder where I'll be, literally, at the end of them.

But for now; game on.

Monday, 30 March 2015

The 2015 UK general election

Today, the UK parliament was dissolved. In a few days time, it's the seven party leader debate. That'll be ... interesting, but that's it for me.

Before I go silent and avoid the relentless coverage, switch off various channels, and delete feeds and news website bookmarks, a few predictions for the 2015 UK general election.

The result I want

A Labour + SNP + Green coalition. However, this is extremely unlikely; if you've lived in Scotland for any period of time then you'll know the deep chasm of dislike (massive understatement) between Labour and the SNP. I just can't see them forming a coalition, even if they have a majority between themselves. Plus, I'm not expecting the Green Party to get more than one UK seat, unfortunately.

The result I might get, hopefully

A Labour + SNP confidence and supply arrangement. It may happen if, again, the numbers look good (326+ seats between them).

The result I feel is the most likely

Call me pessimistic, but I feel that we're in for another five years of Dave (and then, Boris, but that's another thing altogether). I reckon the 650 seats will fall roughly:

Conservatives 307
Labour 249
Liberal Democrats 34
SNP 28
Plaid Cymru 4
Green 1
Other 24

That gives a confidence and supply majority of 16 (increasing to the low to mid twenties if the DUP also participate); so, the Liberal Democrats will be propping up the (UK) government again, but should have more influence over the annual budget. They could, technically, enter into a coalition, but neither party will have the appetite to have another five years of such a strong arrangement.

Labour and the SNP will, unfortunately, fall far short in terms of numbers. There's no possibility of the Conservatives and SNP reaching any kind of arrangement.

Overall, my predictions are significantly out from the various polls, except probably the odd internal Conservative poll or two. In point form; my ten predictions:

  1. As said above, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will again govern in some kind of arrangement, probably confidence and supply.
  2. There will be a Black Swan event of some kind between now and the election that will work in the favour of the Conservatives. It may not be major - it wasn't last time, when Gordon's words were picked up by a Sky TV microphone - but it will drive the media into a frenzy and tilt the election towards the incumbents. Having said that, there is an outside chance it could be major e.g. Argentina having another bite at the Falkland Islands, or more likely Putin sending a bomber to actually fly across the UK mainland and daring the RAF to shoot it down (they won't).
  3. The Conservatives will be up slightly on the number of seats they won in 2010.
  4. Labour will fade in the last week or two of the election as the Conservatives relentlessly drive their (much better, and much better funded) PR machine, predominantly against Labour. Massive billboards everywhere, et al. Ed's team will end election day a few seats down from 2010.
  5. The Liberal Democrats will lose roughly 40% of their seats. Not quite the dramatic wipeout some are predicting, though 40% is still a hefty lot. And they'll still also be the third party in terms of seats as...
  6. ...the SNP will more than quadruple the number of seats they have, but still be a few behind the Liberal Democrats. While they take more than a few Labour seats in Scotland, Liberal Democrats will largely retain their seats north of the border, helped by tactical voting. Post-election, the political map of Scotland will be predominantly yellow and orange.
  7. Nick Clegg will hang on to his seat thanks mainly to the opposition vote being split. I have conflicting feelings on this, as one of the people standing against him is a work colleague. But, will see.
  8. Farage will win Thanet, again because the opposition (to him) vote is split. But UKIP won't be making the major gains they think they will.
  9. Boris will win his seat with a very large majority (5 digits) and immediately start unsubtly campaigning in his jovial-but-calculated manner to be the next Conservative leader and UK prime minister. Because Boris.
  10. Caroline will hold her seat for the Green Party, but the First Past the Post system will - as it wearily does - work against the national vote for the Greens. So, just one seat.
Oh, and two post-election predictions:
  1. Yvette Cooper will be the leader of the Labour Party pretty quickly.
  2. Caroline Lucas to become the leader of the Green Party by the end of 2015.

Codicil: In summary, I hope I am generally wrong on this one.

Saturday, 28 March 2015


Went to Lincoln pretty much spontaneously a few days back, as the opportunities for returning were rapidly running out, for now, and there were a few personal achievements to quietly celebrate. After doing the unexpectedly entertaining (and vertigo-inducing) Cathedral roof tour, I had a wander for a few hours and caught this image of the colours of one of the larger stained glass windows being projected onto the wall.

But back to the Long Project, and relative social quietness for a while.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Ariadne: onwards

Theseus was the mythical founder-king of Athens. According to Greek legend, he volunteered to help out with a bit of Minotaur trouble. Ariadne, being a practical facilitator, found him a sword. Noticing that Theseus - to put it mildly - wasn't great on logistics, she also gave him a massive ball of string (as you would give a cat) so he could find his way out of the Minotaur's labyrinth. As is the way of patriarchal societies, Theseus got the credit for some Minotaur-slaying action despite the fact that, without Ariadne, he had no weapon and no way of getting home.

There's a metaphor in there for academia.

And speaking of Ariadne...

Ariadne is back (or rather, not being mothballed) ... after a hunt for a new organisation to host all of the previous and future issues, and people to do all things editorial, several institutions and individuals made approaches.

Ariadne - - will be moving to Loughborough University in due course; here's the University of Bath Library news announcement. Loughborough has a long association with Ariadne, having written many articles right from the first issue to the most recent one. This was helped, back in the day, by an association between UKOLN and Loughborough on various projects, such as the Jisc-funded eLib ROADS project. Typically, the "deep thinking" would happen at UKOLN and the coding at Loughborough.

Therefore, it's great that they will be hosting Ariadne, which lives again.

An earlier hunt, by the University of Bath Library, for a new hoster proved fruitless. More hunting took place, involving the significant behind-the-scenes efforts of several UKOLN alumni. Speaking of whom, credit especially to Paul, now of EDINA, who put in a lot of personal effort over a long period of time to find a new hoster for Ariadne. Credit also to Emma, font of sensible and technical advice, and without whose personal efforts there would be rather less stuff from back in the day that's still online.

This latter hunt for new hosters and editors itself turned out to be muse-worthy, with conversations with various people in the UK library and information science sector who were interested, or who could not, or did not, want to "take on" Ariadne for a variety of reasons. An article out of this (provisionally entitled "Where have all the digital library research centres gone?") and analysing those reasons may happen later on. History is, as Norman (below) said in 1998, "Long and complicated".

But, solid interest did occur from this hunt. Perhaps surprisingly, several people replied after a posting on lis-link (surprising in that lis-link, which was originally an announcement channel for BUBL and became a heavy traffic library list over time, was useful in this context). Kara and Kate in the University of Bath Library dealt and negotiated with formal expressions of interest, as well as all of the direct enquiries.

Various people, new and from back in the day, got in touch or communicated. Some people weren't serious; others - such as from a subject librarian in Goldsmiths University of London Library - were constructive, professional and thought through. A large library sector publisher with a reputation for profit over open access made a strange informal enquiry and were dissuaded [I would like to write a lot more here on that, but, lawyers].

Meanwhile, at Loughborough, various communications were held between people from the library, IT services, and alumni from the old library school (as was). A lot of credit for this should go to Sue Manuel (also, nice presentation) at the university, who took an "Ariadne must carry on" attitude and pulled people from the tech and content sides, scattered across departments and units, together. If you've ever tried to herd academics (cats are so much easier) for a project, a meeting or even just to have their photograph taken (as in the 1996 UKOLN one below), you'll appreciate this.

In due time, an expression of interest, with the backing of Emma Walton, the Director of Library Services, was submitted from Loughborough. Credit to Kara Jones at University of Bath Library for dealing with this quickly. Their set-up contains an editorial board - not a peer-review board - to maintain quality control while ensuring that content still appears relatively rapidly after submission. The board contains various professional staff from Loughborough and other UK universities; some of these have previously written for Ariadne, and some also submitted expressions of interest to host or edit Ariadne.

As prophesied, a new editor is brought unto us - the 9th editor of the web version of Ariadne. The volunteer who stepped up to be editor for issues 74 onwards is Jon Knight, who also pulled together the expression of interest. If you were at Library Camp in Birmingham in late 2013, you may remember his brightly colored cardigan:

He's on the Twitter, and likes curry when he's not in this mode. His Ariadne publication history.

Initially, the Loughborough IT folk will be sorting out the transfer, and reinstallation, of content from the servers at Bath, adding Ariadne to their stable of hosted journals, and doing what needs to be done on all things technical. They're an industrious lot - see their practical-oriented articles in Ariadne over the years. In due course, they'll release details of procedures, content and future issues. In the meantime, if you're interested in writing for Ariadne, contact the new editor directly.

As of January 17th 2016 (ten months away), Ariadne will have been live, online, for twenty years. (Hint to Loughborough folks: that surely deserves a party. Look, that date is bolded so you have to hold one now.) It sounds like everything is going to be done electronically - there is no funding, the board is geographically spread out, meetings are often inefficient, and above all pointless when there's email - so it's going to be a lean-and-mean operation from now on.

Anyway, there was a modest cheese-centric event a few nights back to celebrate this turn of events, and all nine editors of Ariadne from the last 19+ years - John, Isobel, Philip, Marieke, Bernadette, Shirley, Richard, Kara and Jon - will be getting a badge (a real metal one) later this year.

Above all, it's a relief, and also pleasing, that Ariadne continues. Within the not-far-off 2,000 articles of Ariadne is much of the history of digital library developments within UK academia. Such content, media, diagrams and details of projects and services need to be kept, and kept open and free, for students, academics, practitioners, developers and historians.

So say we all.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Ariadne: fancy running a 19 year old library webzine?

Ariadne is a long-established web-based journal or magazine for the wider library, electronic and digital library, and information science communities. It's been at the same place since the first issue in 1996:

For people in the UK, that issue (and several more) came out when John Major was Prime Minister. For people in the US, during Bill Clinton's first term as POTUS. It's been a while.

Issue 73 has just gone live. Within the editorial of that edition you'll find:

This is the final issue to be produced by the University of Bath Library. That is not to say this is necessarily the final issue completely - should the resources and effort to continue production be available elsewhere (please do get in touch) then you'll see her again. Ariadne has a very passionate and active community who would be happy to see her re-awakened from her rest.

Hence this post (tl;dr - go to section 3).

1: Diversion: a personal potted history...

Twenty years ago now, Lorcan Dempsey and John MacColl were successful in getting monies for Ariadne under the Jisc-funded eLib (Electronic Libraries) programme. And yes, it was a small e and a capital L in the acronym. The print version ran out of Abertay University with Alison Kilgour as the super-efficient editor. The web version, containing all of the content of the print version and other stuff, ran out of UKOLN at the University of Bath.

I was the web editor for the first 10 editions. My focus was tilted towards building an audience through whatever means and getting Ariadne everywhere, especially to academics and librarians who weren't using the web - which, at that time, was most of them. This pleased the eLib and Jisc people (bigger audiences, and a vehicle for dissemination for their projects) though it created hassle for my boss due to various tabloidesque controversies e.g [BUBL] [War]. My summer of '91 intern job, on The Sun newspaper, may have influenced this approach.

Initially, there was one issue every two months. You can see what the early issues, such as the launch edition with 17 articles, issue 5 (50 articles), and my personal favorite from early times, issue 9 (36 articles) looked like visually through the Internet Archive.

In some respects it wasn't easy; everything was from scratch. This was also 'back in the day' before web CMSs and the like. At best, I used a Word-to-HTML converter that didn't always work (the faults still show in some articles) and hand-coded the rest. Occasionally I'd have to type in pieces which were faxed or posted which, yeah, sigh, it was the mid-90s. Getting one article on a BBC Micro 5 1/4 inch floppy disc was probably the worst hassle. And the photo scanner quality was utterly awful, as is painfully still obvious. I've never hated a piece of hardware as much as that scanner.

But my job was made easier by some people being willing regular contributers. Their pieces stood as academic publications, so they were happy. And I could phone up some of the many eLib project managers and tell them "Chris from eLib" had not yet seen any dissemination activity from your project oh and by the way have you started to think about post-project funding yet?

Also, fellow UKOLN people were great at writing content and doing various things; it was, to be honest, a UKOLN team effort with a lot of uncredited people. And I had significant ongoing help and plotting from Alison in Dundee, and Amy Friedlander, editor at the time of D-Lib magazine.

Anyway. I headed west (ongoing) after ten issues. Ariadne  - the web version - received a funding extension from Jisc; the print edition didn't carry on for much longer simply because of the cost of print production.

UKOLN kept the web version going, tweaked and improved it. The years rolled past. When other digital library projects, services, even centers, ceased or were shuttered, UKOLNers kept putting out issues, making Ariadne the Duracell bunny of informatics dissemination.

Over those years many UKOLN people, such as Philip in the editorial role for a while and Emma doing all things technical, did a hell of a lot of excellent and time-consuming work on Ariadne. The format and style changed over time. Eventually, Ariadne was edited through a Drupal CMS, undoubtedly an improvement on the 1996 set-up of Notepad in Windows 95.

2. Recent times

In the summer of 2013, funding for most of UKOLN ceased. UKOLN put out the last UKOLN-edited  issue, number 71(!). My personal favorite is issue 57, for the range, depth, quality and balance of content.

By then, the magazine had published 1,735 articles written by over 600 authors from various countries. The reviews section, in particular, gained a big international reputation, and UKOLNers ensured that, even in difficult times, Ariadne was always open and free to read and submit to.

And more than a few of those articles were heavily cited. For example, from 2000: Rachel Heery and Manjula Patel has notched up nearly 300 citations to date on Google Scholar alone. Not bad for an online magazine or webzine. If you go 'a searching in Google Scholar, you'll discover that more than a few Ariadne articles have racked up lots of citations.

Though a small part of UKOLN stayed functioning (and still functions), they did not have the resource or scope for Ariadne. Instead, the University of Bath library - which was home to UKOLN over several decades - agreed to take it on, maintain, and produce new issues.

This hasn't really worked out for whatever internal reasons, as they've been the first to admit. In the 18 months of their tenure as editors and maintainers, two issues have appeared: issue 72 (7 articles) and issue 73 (9 articles). However, the library have said they don't want to keep Ariadne but want it to move elsewhere. They, and several UKOLN alumni, have been scouting around for a possible new 'owner'. No definite luck so far, mainly as it does not come with a bag of funding.

Which is the point of this rambling post. Cutting finally to the chase:

3. Do you fancy taking Ariadne?

You don't need to be a library. You don't need to be in the UK (and there's an argument that Ariadne would flourish with a greater proportion of non-UK content). You just need to want to do it.

  • There's a mass of archived content there, so lots of traffic to your new website should happen from day one.
  • Because you aren't in anyone's pocket, you get to run it as you see fit e.g. changing the scope, deciding who has pieces in it, the style, the approach, what CMS - if any - you use to edit it, always having a place for your own writing.
  • Comes with an ISSN (1361-3200).
  • There's 19 years of content there; it's the most detailed source of UK academic digital library developments from the mid-90s onwards online. You are hosting legacy.
  • Articles in Ariadne count towards your h-index and that kind of stuff.
  • Therefore, it affects "impact" and all that REF stuff. Could be useful in the run-up to the 2020 REF exercise, if you figure out how and like the idea of running "a means of dissemination".
  • It's a higher profile for you folk if you are canny in how you promote it and embed it in your department. is a domain name with a history in the information science sector.
  • It's actually easy to get sufficient people writing for it; happy to chat about this to seriously interested parties.
  • Bottom line; it needs someone to sit down, edit, commission articles for new editions, put it together. There's no avoiding that, as has recently been proven.
  • It needs hosting, and someone to do the necessary technical whatever, such as rebooting it when it falls over, dealing with upgrades and the like. No avoiding that, either.
  • Again, this does not come with a bag (read: any) of money.
If you want to take it on, then yay! But do make sure you have the resource. And not that it counts for much, but if you take on Ariadne then I'll commit to writing a few relevant articles for your first few issues if you want, as well as giving pointers and nudges to a bunch of other potential contributers.

If interested, then contact the University Librarian Kate Robinson, or use the contact webform link near the bottom of the issue 73 editorial. If there's no reply then come back to me (john at silversprite dot com) and I'll try and answer or pass on your query to other UKOLN alumni.


Answering some recent questions here.

You may find it best to go for a "lean team" approach - that's your call. Minimise f2f meetings, committees, people who don't actually add or edit content - basically everything that doesn't involve people doing something useful at the keyboard - as these will suck up (your) resource and slow down getting content out. Your audience only cares about, and will only see, the public content.

How much resource you will need depends on what you want to do, and again that's your call. The frequency of issues, articles per issue, editorial process, amount of publicity and lots of other factors will affect this.

In terms of personnel for the following criteria (yours may differ, possibly by a lot):
  • 4 issues per year
  • 25-30 articles/reviews per issue
  • a reasonable amount of publicity and dissemination
  • content maintained through a robust CMS such as Drupal or Wordpress
  • a lightweight approach to editorial input
...I estimate from experience that you roughly need:
  • 0.3 FTE (1.5 days a week average) editorial, article author contact, answering emails and doing PR things e.g. tweeting and mailing list posts.
  • 0.1 FTE (0.5 day a week average) technical personnel to do server, hosting, CMS and any other technical things. Will probably be needed a lot during the transfer and set-up of data, then hardly at all afterwards.
Both figures are, I stress, averaged out over a year, as there's obvious peaks and troughs in required effort, such as in the run-up to an issue (when the editor will probably be working full time on it for a short period), or if there's a technical problem. A lot of the time, there is very little to do and there will be whole weeks, and longer, where nothing happens. That's my estimate; others will have different figures.

Your dissemination and PR costs should be zero; that's what social media and the like are for. Your only costs should be for the aforementioned two roles, their kit, and your server/hosting costs.

On the 'lightweight' point: most authors are fine to write their thing, have written much before, and require little editorial involvement. Building a collection of trusted (repeat) authors is the key to getting significant content 'out there' on a regular basis. Perhaps look through previous issues and find repeat authors who keep writing the kind of content you want.

Two pieces of advice:
  1. Editing and running a webzine has little in common with the extravagance editing a peer-reviewed print journal for a publisher. Don't confuse the two; the resources required are not of the same magnitude.
  2. From the time you inherit the back content, give yourselves several months before your first scheduled issue goes live. It may take time to figure out your processes and get the (substantial) legacy, and new, content into a format you prefer, both technically and visibly. Several ex-Ariadne people from UKOLN will probably be happy to answer questions if needed.
Oh, one other thing. The 20th anniversary of the first issue of Ariadne will be on January 17th 2016. If you want to have a big relaunch party, possibly combined with an anniversary edition, then that could be a good time :)