Notes from 14 May 2008 meeting

1.  Meeting was held primarily to plan the pilot workshop to be held at FACT in on either 15, 16 or 17 Oct 2008, which will have a maximum of 15 participants.  Campbell from LuxOnline attended as she would be running the FACT workshop.  Discussion/planning commenced with Campbell wanting to identify people’s needs with regard to sustainability of their projects.

2.  Campbell argued the need for HEI projects to be collaborating internally to exploit IT expertise available and externally to access expertise/help (eg volunteers) and build productive partnerships.  For instance, institutions with digital capacity could work with galleries with curatorial expertise. General agreement that with regard to moving image work, the BFI, ACE and UKFC need to be talking to HEIs.

3.  There was some discussion about availability of IT support within HEIs, which was generally agreed to be minimal with regard to the kinds of projects represented by the Future Histories network.

4.  Lorna highlighted issue that increasingly Universities are having to think about/develop institutional repositories and preservation strategies, but flagged up this issue is a multi-layered one:  (1) simply storage on a CD/DVD which is then stored in a cupboard (which preserves data up to a point, but is relatively inaccessible), (2) institutional repositories (which store the data and are accessible internally) and (3) a system which offers full functionality and external access (max accessibility).  That is it’s not a straightforward issue for HEIs.

5.  Campbell suggested we need to think about how the virtual world works, and argued the need to think in terms not only of what we want, but want we can give back.  So, not only taking, but giving back to the community – eg offering training in return for volunteer labour.

6.  Alison suggested developing the strategy of projects brokering relationships with funders.

7.  There was some discussion about individuals’ specific needs, and Campbell suggested we need to think about what’s worked and what’s not on their specific projects.  Important that participants have something concrete to take away that they can use.

8.  It was agreed that from our group the following would attend the FACT workshop as participants:  Amy Goring, Peter Thomas, Nick Lambert, Steven Ball, Adam Lockhart, BFI person (Mark or Will?), Barry Parsons.  Julia Knight, Alison Lloyd and Daisy Abbott might attend as observers/passive participants if space permits.

9.  It was also agreed we should target a number of existing projects from around the regions to see if any of them would be interested in attending.  Depending on numbers, Campbell in conjunction with JK/SB could then select people for the remaining places in order to offer a good national spread for workshop participation.  Agreed to contact:

Lucy:  Allie at Picture This (SW) and Marcel Schwerin (Germany)
Ian:  Whitechapel (London)
Julia:  Elaine Burrows (London) and Daisy Abbott
Lorna:  Torsten Reimer (London)
Alison:  East Midlands and other regional offices to invite suggestions of projects in the regions.

10.  Campbell agreed to set up Google group for all the participants in order to ask them specific questions and facilitate discussion within the group. Campbell also agreed to finalise the date for the workshop.

11.  Julia agreed to apply to Grants for the Arts (up to £5000) to fund travel/subs for participants to attend the workshop.  JK to talk specifically to Rebecca Shatwell at ACE NE and to liaise with Campbell about the specifics of the workshop for the application.

12.  Also discussed what we need to use the 6th and final workshop for.  Agreed we should discuss (1) outcomes of the FACT workshop, (2) what goes into the final report to the AHRC, and (3) the future of the Future Histories network.

13.  Lucy informed the meeting that she would be leaving LuxOnline in August in order to complete her PhD.  She will suggest either Campbell or Tom take her place in the network.  JK proposed a vote of thanks to Lucy for her contribution to the network.

14.  It was agreed the next and final funded meeting would be on Wed 12 November 2008.

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Notes and action points from second workshop on 19th March 2008

1. Meeting reviewed transcript of open forum discussion held at Future Histories conference in November 2007. General agreement that while collaborations/partnerships could be useful, it seemed unlikely that all HEIs were going to be viable repositories or able to provide long-term sustainability for e-resources.

2. Main identified need is for networking and sharing of knowledge/skills –> future role of FH network is as a ‘clearing house’ for knowledge, an organic network, giving advice to galleries and other collections setting up digital moving image (and other media) archive, database, resource projects. TASI (JISC funded) still and moving image advisory service raised as a model of sorts. FH should make its advice available beyond the immediate Artists’ F & V community, its collective skills are transferrable within the cultural infrastructure and should be applied on basis of media not discipline.

3. Given dissatisfaction as expressed at Future Histories conference discussion with HEIs and their reluctance and inability at IT level to support the sustainability of database/archive related projects –> main strength for the future would be to recognise that projects have to work to ensure their own sustainability without reliance on HEIs, AHDS, etc. Luxonline pragmatic embrace of Web 2.0 applications as outlined in Campbell’s presentation at conference cited as good model.

4. General agreement that aims formulated after second meeting (5.9.07) did not necessarily reflect the likely direction of the FH network, especially given above discussion. In particular lobbying for support within HEIs and to funding bodies might be waste of time and energy – while acknowledging that a certain level of passive lobbying would occur anyway on a more casual basis. Also recognition that the future might not be in developing resource demanding online archive projects and that the most valuable investment would be in skilling up and sustaining individuals to sustain projects.

5. Identified and discussed the paradox of desired permanence of an archive vs the impermanence of the internet. Agreed we should accept that there is no immediate ideal solution and see what we can do.

6. Revisited what FH as a network can pursue and translate into concrete action vs what will be disseminated back to funders via our ACE/BFI members and end of award report to the AHRC.

7. Agreed FH network is well placed to run workshops (such as ICO does) as extension of its role as ideas clearing house, so this could be its future direction. This would also by extension link us to audiences.

8. Decision that rather than wait, FH should run a ‘pilot’ workshop ASAP. This to be held at FACT in Sept/Oct 2008 with Campbell on freely available online Web 2.0 tools as means to achieve a degree of independence and immediate sustainability. Amy Goring (FACT) to facilitate hosting. Next meeting (5th) brought forward to 14 May to plan this, everyone to bring list of invitees to that meeting, plus Lucy to invite Campbell to 14 May meeting.

9. Provisional/suggested outline for workshop:

Doing It Outside
A workshop for organisations, institutions, cultural organisations specifically addressing the skills required for housing digital archives and databases outside of institutions

10. Suggestion made that 6th meeting could be a more open meeting to discuss how to pursue aims of FH network.

11. JK to circulate summary of above to Future Histories conference delegate list, saying details of pilot workshop will be posted to the FH network blog and asking them to sign up to the RSS feed if they want to keep informed re workshop and future developments.

Summary of issues raised at the Future Histories discussion forum (17 November 2007)

1. Many digitisation projects are surviving on goodwill and very low level of funding.
2. The future of these projects can be uncertain which impacts on the reliability of the ongoing currency of their data.
3. Lack of support for digitisation projects in HEIs.
4. Need for greater commitment from hosting institutions.
5. Recognition of both the limitations and potential of working within HEIs.
6. Need to build links/relationships between HEIs and other organisations (and need a willingness to do this).
7. Need for common tools/strategies across projects (useful but daunting and need to avoid shoehorning projects inappropriately).
8. Harmonising between databases, however, can be a problem if they are very different resources.
9. Long term technical issues may not be such a major issue as technology continues to develop, allowing discrete collections to be interoperable.
10. Need to address sustainability of web interfaces.
11. Where do we want to be in 10 years time?
12. Need to track our users – if they change, then we need to update/change our resources and monitor useability.
13. How reliable are stats packages and what information do they give us?
14. Need awareness that digitisation reaches out to certain audiences and creates particular kinds of access and user groups.
15. Users need to be able to trust resources, so need for continual content checking and updating (and provision of contextualisation to cater for varied user groups).
16. Project designers need to be able to trust repositories to guarantee resource availability and undertake copyright management.
17. Need for network to pool expertise in order to avoid duplication, ensure standardisation at planning stages which is exportable.
18. Need for a European initiative to link and support these resources (ask Lorna re EU initiatives).

Post Conference Information

 

The conference kicked off on Friday 16 November with an entertaining welcome to Sunderland by Professor John Storey. Unfortunately at the last moment one of our keynotes (Debra Zimmerman of Women Make Movies) and one of our discussion forum participants (Gaby Wijers of Montevideo) were unable to attend, but a fascinating range of papers were presented which generated extensive discussion throughout the weekend. We will be posting recordings of the keynote addresses by Patty Zimmermann, Rick Prelinger and Holly Aylett, together with some additional information, on this blog shortly. In the meantime, you can download the final programme and discussion workshop details, together with the abstracts of the papers below. One report on the conference has already appeared online and can be found at http://mad.beds.ac.uk/nmrg and Rick Prelinger has posted the great photos he took of the conference on Flickr.

Final Programme
Download file

Workshop Outline
Download file

Abstracts
Download file

Notes/Action points from second workshop meeting (5.9.07)

1. Using the position statements drawn up after the first meeting, we discussed what we wanted to get out of the network. This focused attention of what we felt were the important priorities, what was feasible/achievable and what we felt would be useful to us.

2. From that discussion we drew up the following aims for the future role and functioning of the network after our AHRC funding has ceased:

a. To meet 3 times a year to provide support, advice and updates to each other.
b. To identify endangered resources and lobby their hosting institutions and funders to safeguard their survival.
c. To identify and network with relevant communities of practice/stakeholders, such as researchers, curators, students, teachers, university IT departments, learned societies, archivists and wider audiences.
d. To develop a ‘kitemark’ in the form of a gif to flag up membership of the research network and promote its visibility.
e. To act as a clearing house for gathering evidence about available support or otherwise for e-resources in their host institutions.
f. To use the weblog to store and make available relevant information. (SB recommends members subscribe to RSS feed by going to futurehistories.wordpress.com/ and clicking on orange button on right hand side)
g. To set IT/research agendas within HEIs in order to raise awareness of the support required for digital resources.
h. To act as a lobbying body to lobby JISC, HEFCE and any other institutions/organisations responsible for setting up institutional repositories
i. To review the workings of the network group annually.

3. We discussed how to make best use of the open workshop at the Sunderland conference. After discussion it was decided to have a 2-hour slot, which would open with 4 short position statements (no more than 5 mins) addressing different aspects of the issue of sustainability. Suggestion was to try and have (1) Lorna Hughes raising the issue of e-resources becoming an endangered species, (2) Inge Blackman on running LuxOnline with no funding/using freeware, (3) Gaby Wijers (Montevideo) highlighting some of the issues involved in being in receipt of state funding, and (4) someone from Google Video. Session should be chaired, and have a respondent to pull together outcomes/conclusions etc from the discussion. Agreed to title the session: Have We Produced Unsustainable Resources?

4. We had a discussion about other people we could invite to attend the workshop. Suggestions included: Someone from Mute, Simon Bradshaw (FACT), someone from Rhizome, Lauren Cornell (New Media Dept of New Museum), Simon Robertshaw (University of Central Lancashire), Steve Hawley (MMU), someone from BUFVC (Ann Fleming or Linda), Yoram Ten Brink, someone from FVU. JK to publicise workshop to them. (Please send JK contact details where you have them)

5. It was agreed the network’s 4th meeting, ie the one after the Sunderland workshop, should review the outcomes of the workshop. Date to be decided.

Models for Resource Sustainability

At the first Future Histories workshop meeting we decided to carry forward discussions by exploring 3 possible models for finding a way to make our digital resources sustainable and future-proof.  The following models have been proposed by Lucy Reynolds, William Fowler, and Daisy Abbott & Mick Eadie:

1. A minimalist approach, which would be a completely devolved network where each project looks after itself but links to other related projects/resources

 Design a very simple site using open source programmes such as Typo 3 or Joohla. This provides a simple content management system which is free, easy to set up and configure.

You will need to find a website, for example Bluehost which can store the data online for a very reasonable cost. Thus this does away with the need for a physical place to store/host your data. It’s perfectly secure too – and is what we use for most of our data.

Most content management systems as above have a Flickr plug in (or another photo site) which allows you to show and store the images, in this case your scanned papers etc. Thus you can store your scanned materials in Flickr but they will appear within the context of your own website.

This ‘minimalist’ website allows you can use the many open source resources available online to create and service a functional website and content management system at little cost – but which will be secure and fast. It can also be tagged/linked to other book marking Web 2 sites which encourage sharing information about good sites. See del.icio.us for an idea of what I mean here.

– Lucy Reynolds
 

2. An umbrella website, which acts as a single portal to give centralised access to a number of related projects

Each resource is described and contextualised on the portal page;
Each resource maintains a discrete identity;
The portal enables searches that extend through all the resources.

Strengths
Searching through all sites highlights the different resources available and increases the use of each;
Each resource remains autonomous while the outcomes for the researcher increases;
Similar information may be presented very differently within each resource encouraging a greater contextualisation in the researcher’s field of interest;

Issues
The problems of practical and financial sustainability remain, however, the promotion and increase of use of each resource would assist the arguments for funding and support.

Are all databases created the same way, is it practical/possible to link them?
Would users go through the portal if their interests remain specific? 
How could this be encouraged? 
How user-friendly can this be made?
Who maintains responsibility for the portal? 
This would require a team of representatives from each resource.

How would updates and changes to each resource affect the portal site?
Would there be any cross-institutional political concerns around identity and this cross-mapping?

– William Fowler
 

3. A larger self-sustaining and extensible project, involving collaboration between institutions
 
This is a proposal to solve all issues as regards sustainability and long term access to collections of Moving Image and Sound material, and their associated ephemera, funded through UK HE funding streams and beyond by:
building a consortium of key stakeholders and collection owners and developing a terms of reference between them;
setting up a dedicated Web Gateway that provides access to the consortium’s digital content for the long term;
building on the original consortium to allow for all UK education funded collections to be potentially made available through the Gateway.

The aims of the project are
To build a critical mass of moving image and sound material accessible from one place;
To facilitate meaningful cross searching of many partner collections;
To provide a stable technical environment that is self sustaining and available long term;
To allow registered users/collections access to upload content and interact with the system easily themselves, thus automating the system.

Budget and Staff Costs
The project will be over three years and will require £500,000 of funding to set up. 
The project will require the following staffing:
1 full time project manager
1 full time project officer
1 full time software developer

Sustainability
After the initial funding period is complete, the Gateway will be self-sustaining.  This will be achieved through a fully automated system that requires minimal server and website maintenance.  The Consortium will agree as part of their terms of reference to share the cost of this.  Estimated at around 2k per annum for server hosting and maintenance and 4k for and web editor working one day per week.  Thus a total of £6000 per year will be sought from the partner institutions.  This will mean the core system will be maintained, and through the automating of the content provision mechanisms, will be able to grow of its own accord.

Workpackages
WP1: Build a technical infrastructure, including streaming server and storage issues as regards storing high quality digital files, and database development.
WP2: Develop common indexing schema, and assess the implementation of user generated tagging/metadata and ontology development to assist this.
WP3: Build web front end.
WP4: Develop prototype APIs to allow for remote uploading and cataloguing of content.
WP5: Usability testing of tools and website.
WP6: Publicity and outreach into the community.

– Daisy Abbott & Mick Eadie

Open Letter: To the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Background
AHRC announcement:
http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/news/news_pr/2007/information_for_applicants_to_AHRC_june_deadline.asp 
JISC announcement and AHDS response:
http://ahds.ac.uk/news/futureAHDS.htm

Future Histories Open Letter

We are writing as members of the Future Histories of the Moving Image, an AHRC funded Research Network set up specifically to address the issues of sustainability arising from a number of moving image arts database and digitised collection projects in the UK – many of which have also benefited from AHRC funding. 

Your recent announcement of withdrawal of funding from the Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS) is a matter of urgent concern.  The announcement was apparently taken without consulting the wider research community and the justification you give for the decision is ill-informed and spurious for reasons outlined in the attached document. 

The financial imperative that seems to have driven your decision ironically serves only to reveal the inadequacy of the funding that the AHDS has received to date to undertake its considerable range of services.  These services are essential to the AHRC’s own aims of conserving research outcomes and making them accessible.  We do not believe that an answer to paucity is to cut off funding and pretend the problem does not exist. 

We question both the information received by the AHRC and its wisdom in reaching this decision. We would like to draw your attention to a publicly accessible Prime Minister’s petition at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/AHDSfunding/ to which 1000 members of your research community have added their names drawing international attention to this regrettable decision.  We demand that, as senior representatives of the UK’s Arts and Humanities research community, you seek to rectify the chaotic situation you have brought to pass. We believe it is imperative for you to calm the unrest you have caused by demonstrating to the Arts and Humanities academic community that you value and support long term sustained digital resources arising from research. 

Yours faithfully, 
Steven Ball, British Artists’ Film and Video Study Collection at Central St. Martins, University of the Arts, London
Stuart Comer, Curator: Film at Tate Modern
William Fowler, Curator of Artists’ Moving Image, British Film Institute National Archive
Julia Knight, Databasing key documents and narrative chronologies of artists’ film/video distributors in the UK, University of Sunderland
Peter Knott
Nick Lambert, Archigram Archival Project, University of Westminster (formerly of Computer Art Context History etc, University of London Birkbeck)
Lucy Reynolds, Content Manager, LuxOnline
Barry Smith, Capturing the past, preserving the future: digitisation of the National Review of Live Art video collection, University of Bristol
Ian White, Whitechapel Art Gallery/Independent curator and writer

Attachment 

The AHRC Defunding of the AHDS 

The AHRC give three reasons for reaching their decision to cease funding the AHDS.  However, we believe these are ill-informed for the following reasons: 

1.       “Arts and Humanities researchers have developed significant IT knowledge and expertise in the past decade … Much technical knowledge is now readily available within HEIs, either from IT support services or from academics.” (AHRC) 

While the context within which the AHDS was initially supported by the AHRC has undoubtedly changed, it is simply not possible to assume that the technical knowledge necessary for developing and maintaining e-resource/digitisation projects is “now readily available within HEIs”.  This assumption suggests a lack of awareness of the kind of IT support/expertise available in many HEIs. IT support services are more usually preoccupied with maintaining internal networking, email, virtual learning, websites and so on; as we know from our own experiences of directing e-resource projects, they rarely have the expertise to provide specialist technical support for digitisation, database or e-resource projects.  Such knowledge may be available in some institutions, particularly those that have a history of specialised Science-based research, but the level and extent of technical knowledge is by no means uniform across the HE sector in the arts and humanities and can indeed vary quite dramatically from institution to institution. Similarly, whilst all academics have had to acquire a range of IT skills over the last decade, this rarely includes knowledge of best practice in digitisation projects. Most arts and humanities academics are first and foremost subject experts and, again as we have discovered in the process of developing our own e-resources, advice within consistent standards from a third party specialist such as the AHDS is invaluable.   

To assert that the necessary technical knowledge is now “readily available within HEIs…” belies the fact that it is precisely this consistent and specialised knowledge and expertise that is required to design and bring such projects to fruition.  As the AHDS point out and illustrate at their workshops for AHRC applicants, digitisation/e-resource projects are far from straightforward and invariably encounter problems during their execution.    

2.   “Long term storage of digital materials and sustainability is best dealt with by an active engagement with HEIs rather than through a centralised service”. (AHRC) 

While HEIs may become increasingly equipped to handle long-term storage of digital materials, simply ‘storing’ them does not make them readily available to the wider research community (nor does it necessarily equate with preservation).  In particular, the wider research community may not even know that they exist.  A key role the AHDS plays, as a national organisation, is in building an interconnected collection of digital research data that is readily and widely visible to the wider research community.  And, if anything, this role urgently needs developing to support the growing number of more complex digital resources being developed.  The national and international visibility of digitisation research projects is absolutely essential if the resulting e-resources are to be used and to contribute to the future development of arts and humanities research.  Maximising the visibility and use of our e-resources is integral to developing their sustainability, and it is beyond the resources of individual HEIs to undertake such a role.  Instead it requires a national infrastructure which can participate in ensuring the long-term sustainability, maintenance and availability of those e-resources and collections of digital research data. 

It is hard to ascertain on what evidence the AHRC’s opinion that HEI’s are best placed to meet either the technical requirements or the long-term sustainability of projects with digital outputs is based.  Our own experiences and those of other colleagues suggest that this is far from the case.  We are not aware of the AHRC carrying out any consultation with HEIs or individual projects prior to making their decision in order to ascertain the capabilities of HEIs in these respects.  

Many of the projects themselves exist only for limited periods of as little as two to three years with no guarantee of continued support from either the AHRC or indeed their host institutions, who in turn are often operating within budgetary constraints.  Even when the expertise is in place there is often no guarantee that the HEI will be prepared or able to provide continued support for, or sustainability of, these outputs.  

Without the services provided by the AHDS, AHRC funded e-resources are in serious jeopardy:  completed projects already archived with the AHDS may find themselves ‘homeless’, current projects will have to try and locate alternative long-term depositories to archive their resource, while new projects just setting up will require guidance on possible archival strategies.  In all these cases, projects will need additional funding to cover unforeseen archival costs. 

The continued existence of the AHDS ensures a continuity that otherwise cannot be guaranteed. 

3.       “If technical know-how is ever more readily available, it becomes harder to justify the substantial, and potentially increasing, costs of the AHDS.” (AHRC) 

Again, that technical know-how is readily available is an assumption that is not borne out by evidence or experience.  It also fails to recognise the specialised nature of the “technical know-how” involved in the creation and sustainability of digital resource projects and thus seriously undervalues the expertise developed by the AHDS.  On its own website the JISC acknowledges that “the AHDS has established itself as a centre of expertise and excellence in the creation, curation and preservation of digital resources and has been responsible for a considerable engagement of the Arts and Humanities community with ICT and a significant increase in that community’s knowledge and use of digital resources” (13 June 2007).  However, IT is a constantly changing and developing field and the need for the service that the AHDS provides has not diminished, rather it becomes increasingly indispensable.  Ensuring that the Arts and Humanities community continue to work to common standards and adhere to best practice as digital technology continues to develop remains essential if the value of these resources is to remain accessible to future generations of scholars.  With the future of AHDS in jeopardy, it is unclear who will provide this advice and continuity of service. 

It is also pertinent to note that the AHRC have been keen to stress the need for all digitisation resource projects to address the issue of their sustainability.  The AHDS in its present form may not offer a total solution to that issue, but it has the potential to be developed, while its demise or a severely reduced service through the withdrawal of funding would remove or restrict the only national organisation that can assist and support e-resource projects in this matter.