Rory and I had a fun, productive and informative time at Open Repositories 2011 in Austin: everyone involved agreed that this year’s OR conference at the University of Texas was a great success.

Chris Awre, William Nixon, Rory McNicholl at the Texas Longhorns stadium

The conference kicked off with a keynote from Jim Jagielski of the Apache Software Foundation, describing the history and organisation behind Apache and its projects. It was observed by some in the Twitter backchannel that the talk could as easily have been from 2001 as 2011, but for all that it was a worthwhile reminder that, in all our efforts, we stand on the shoulders of the giants who created and maintain the infrastructure of the Web and the Internet. And also that many our endeavours benefit from a little more dedication and commitment than you can usually squeeze between 9-to-5.

The closing keynote was by repositories stalwart Clifford Lynch, who managed to touch on so many perennial repository themes, I won’t attempt to summarise them. There is a handy anthology of tweets about his talk on Storify.

In between were plenty of presentations and opportunities to meet friends old and new from the United States of Repoland – some we have worked with, some we would like to work with, and many with challenging ideas and insights into the many facets of working with repositories.

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To OR11 I took a presentation, jointly with Imma Subirats, from UN FAO in Rome, which we called Changing Platforms. The aim of the presentation was to discuss the subject of migrating repositories between different software platforms.

In addition to her work at FAO, Imma is Chief Executive for the E-LIS repository, a major international and multi-lingual repository of articles about Library and Information Science. E-LIS has operated since 2003 on EPrints, but last year migrated to DSpace, because CILEA in Italy, who generously donate support and hosting, now focuses exclusively on working with DSpace. The E-LIS migration has been largely successful, however a number of EPrints features on which the E-LIS editors and users depended, have been difficult to replicate in DSpace, or had to be put on ice. This is no reflection on the specialists at CILEA, but perhaps indicative of more profound differences between EPrints and DSpace, that aren’t always reflected in the usual comparisons of repository platforms, such as the otherwise informative JISC RSP Repository Software survey.

ULCC of course has just completed a repository migration from DSpace to EPrints for the School of Advanced Study. Our motivation was in many respects the same as that of CILEA – our expertise lies firmly in the EPrints camp. But I think the outcomes for our end-user community are more demonstrably positive: in fact I don’t think there’s a single feature of the new SAS-Space-on-EPrints that isn’t a major improvement over its previous incarnation.

Migration of metadata and data (at least from DSpace to EPrints) presented few issues (that weren’t of my own making!) – export, transform, import. Here the similarities between the models of the two platforms was extremely valuable. But we did encounter other significant differences, some of which are set out in more detail below.

Richard presenting Changing Platforms at OR11

Richard presenting Changing Platforms at OR11

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Excitement at the OR11 Developer Challenge Show-and-Tell (Photo by @sparrowbarley)

An event that asked developers to demonstrate the Future of Repositories can only be considered a great success when it receives entries that include:

  • Multiple real-time examples of using “Repositories As A Service (RaaS)”, not only exchanging data but also sharing sophisticated functionality between EPrints and DSpace – and even including an Android application
  • A tool for bundling and depositing a whole raft of research related outputs from the Web via RDF
  • A tactile repository search interface with dynamic search suggestions, specifically designed for tablets and smartphones
  • A complete gesture and voice-driven system for depositing and searching in repositories

All these – and other great entries too – were achieved in a couple of days’ work during the course of the conference, for the annual OR Developer Challenge, and presented at a packed Show-and-Tell session on Thursday afternoon (true, there was free beer).

Stuart Lewis’s team were worthy winners with their RaaS project, particularly as they showed a genuine commitment to a cross-platform approach – something which, sensibly, backgrounds the individual software platforms, that often receive too much attention, and focuses on the Repository as an application and entity in its own right.

We were also really pleased to see a prize go to Patrick McSweeney and Matt Taylor. And enjoyed seeing Dave Tarrant stealing the show (again) with his live demonstration of using a Microsoft Xbox Kinect to submit items to a repository.

Our own entry may not have won, but several people liked it, and you may see more of it in future. For the second year running, the Developer Challenge was a great opportunity for Rory and me to concentrate on an idea that we’ve been kicking around, without having found a home for it in existing work (yet). This was true for our Semantic Metadata popup tools that won the challenge with last year.

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