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.

1 comment:

  1. I can provide another Lboro - Ariadne connection. I was a member of the Ariadne Editorial Board (and Web Reviews Editor) for the original print / web era, and a member of staff in the Pilkington Library at the time.