We have had a wonderful time and been looked after fantastically by our Australian (Strine) hosts. (The pronunciation matters – when we arrived in Melbourne we needed to go to Prahran – a very lively and well-known suburb. Our English disyllabic vocalisation was completely opaque – all vowels are elided and omitted so it’s something like “Praaan”, spelt Pran.).
I’ve been to Monash (downtown), been hosted by Ashley Buckle (protein crystallographer) on the edges of the National Park where we talked about how to capture image data. I’m going back to Monash later so will blog more then..
Then I went to Toowoomba to University of Southern Queensland where we had nearly three days intensive talk and hacking with Peter Sefton and colleagues. I’ve had the chance to look closely at ICE: The Integrated Content Environment– an authoring environment for academic material. USQ eat their own dog-food and over 100 academic staff at USQ use it routinely for authoring their course material. USQ is very committed to high-quality distance education – they have an impressive enrollment from overseas and they put a lot of work into the material which supports it. So their material can be repurposed as notes, lecturer’s copies, slides, summaries, etc. All this is managed through stylesheets – which are the key to ICE. The content is written once but delivered in many ways. Because the material is in XML it is also possible to amend it with XML-aware tools or to generate new material programmatically. A key aspect is that the structure of the document(s) can be managed in XML. So I am now convinced that for academic work it is (a) fit-for-purpose (b) reconfigurable (c) powerful. It’s still “early-adopter” for theses, but as it can do so many new things I can’t see any real competition. And Peter showed us how to use it for blogs, so I’m going to integrate it into this process for XML and chemistry. (It won’t stop the typos or the rants).
Then to Brisbane and Margaret Henty’s APSR meeting. A very big public thank-you to Margaret for this – a very valuable meeting (though apparently the last). And there’s a very full record from Peta Hopkins: Open Access Collections
On Library Lovers’ Day I attended Open Access Collections at Customs House in Brisbane. This was an APSR event held in association with QULOC and the University of Queensland.
[…PMR – and this is the Customs House from Peta’s blog…]
PMR: To reiterate I appreciated the presence and presentations from government – it seems closer to the process than in UK which is insulated by layers of research councils, etc. (I’d heard Rhys Francis talk about eResearch last year).
The main concern is a generic one which I’ve found everywhere. The libraries and the scientists don’t interact. There was a frank appraisal of why the “build it and they will come” doesn’t work. And nor does the “force them to use it”. I don’t know how to solve this problem but it is urgent and has to be addressed. My strategy is to suggest that libraries should find those disciplines which combine need, clarity of metadata, and – presumably – political weight within the institution. Embed a library person IN the department. Give them a white coat. Find a problem where they could make a contribution which would be recognised in joint authoriship of a scientific paper. Then promote this model wider in the university and the discipline. You won’t be able to solve all the disciplines at one go. So I now have a heavy and exciting program of seeing how this can be done in chemistry and related disciplines. The following won’t do justice to each institution…
Ray Frost from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) spoke at the APSR meeting and invited me to visit the next day. Ray is a very prolific chemist/mineralogist/spectroscopist so this is mainstream territory for me. QUT made an outstanding contribution to Open Access, requiring that all material be Open. Period. When collaborators want Ray’s papers, he simply give them a link to the repository. This is an excellent model – a repository for the individual and for the group – that engages the scientist. So I talked to Ray and colleagues the next day and floated the idea of a SPECTRa-like departmental repository. I was delighted by the immediate understanding and positive response. I think that n attractive model is for the Library/LIS to sponsor the installation of such a system to the extent where the department can take on the running costs. These are not as fearsome as they sound – like us QUT have an Active Directory system and this is a good start to having an easily accessible repository. Maintence is mainly configuration (linking to other university resources, updating URLs, etc.) and as such is probably of the same order of supporting a computational chemistry program.
Then by boat to University of Queensland and Jane Hunter’s group. This is immediately driven by ORE (see OREChem in Jim Downing ..) where Jane and Kwok Cheung have been the early adopter. Kwok took me through the system – which deals with Xray diffraction, so again on common ground. The system has a drag and drop approach to creating named graphs and can write out in a number of formats, including directly into Fedora. This will be very useful for OREChem where we are creating molecular repositories and some may use the traditional tools (although Jim and I are working on specifically molecular repositories).
And now we are with Alison Edwards (ANSTO) and Graham Heath (ANU) – old colleague of mine in Scotland. Thought I would take today off, but as I have 3 talks next week, will have to spend some of it working on them…
Anyway thanks again for a really great time. There is a great deal of synergy in the “eScience/eResearch” area and I am hoping we can set up exchange visits, workshops, etc. This is an area where competition makes no sense and we have a lot of commonality and complementarity.