Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I attended a "hot topics" session yesterday on cyberinfrastructure, largely to figure out the meaning of this somewhat fuzzy concept. It was introduced by the moderator as a somewhat rag tag group of computing functions: cluster computing, digital libraries, data visualization, high speed networks, etc.

Gradually, it became apparent that many folks in the higher ed IT world see this as a movement to play a higher profile in the academic missions of their institutions by bringing integrated high performance computing resources to a wide range of academic disciplines. There was a lot of talk about how IT departments, now, focus on mundane administrative systems, the "plumbing" of the institutions. This is seen as an effort to make IT more strategic, to move from "administrative dweebs" who put up barriers to research (firewalls) to folks who "get stuff done" for faculty. This has strange echos for me of conversations among academic librarians regarding ways to become more relevant, to get involved in a deeper way in research and teaching.

There wasn't as much talk as I expected on the role of extra-institutional systems in supporting this, including systems supported by the commercial sector. At least on the library side of things, we're seeing some of the most powerful, web scale digital library systems (Google Books) in the hands of a commercial vendor.

In my view, the cyberinfrastructure question, especially the adoption of high performance computing in the research process in disciplines that are less comfortable with computing, has a lot to do with raising expectations regarding what scholars expect from IT and what they expect from themselves in terms of research methodologies. I doubt we'll see philosophers clamoring for these things, but I'm sure our geologists, sociologists, and historians will be there soon.

U Penn Undergrad Research Journal

This is a different take on the institutional repository concept. Treat the content more as editorial content for a journal. Keep the quality high and use faculty and program chairs as an editorial board. Maybe we should take this tactic.

There's a similar workflow to our senior thesis software. And they have some of the same problems with seniors disappearing.

They use the creative commons license for submissions.

Xavier University's Web 2.0

In this presentation, they're showing off a kind of new student portal that borrows functionality from youtube, MySpace.

Xavier has a fairly radical organizational structure that completely sheds the "library" division. They have a discovery services department which seems to pick up some of the traditional library functions, as well as the content services division.

Interesting concept: inverted service pyramid...put the weight of staff into automated and self service services. Reserve in person services for specialized stuff.

People with young kids always put them in their presentations for a little comic relief; no exceptions here.

They also demonstrated a fairly traditional campus portal with library resources, people (librarian, advisor, dean), courses tailored to each student.

Educause 2007

Here I am up in Seattle, signing in for Educause 2007.

I flew up this morning from Portland to avoid the cost of a downtown hotel stay. This made for an early morning and missing the keynote session.

After getting signed in, I couldn't help but drift up the hill into the familiar Capitol Hill neighborhood, where I am currently situated in a coffee shop fueling up on a double Americano in preparation for the first of the regular sessions. I've spent a fair amount of time in this area of Seattle, especially back in the mid to late nineties. The divey Comet Tavern is close by, and I have a feeling I might be drawn there at some point.

Initial impressions of the conference are that it is huge and well-organized, leveraging IT in lots of ways.

One pet peeve of recent conferences attended: the ever present disposable tote bag. Out of principal, I am refusing to pick mine up this time. These things are worthless and serve only to advertise the vendor on the outside of the bag and fill up our landfills. Educause also is giving out free umbrellas...sort of a nice touch in Seattle. But they obviously don't realize that people in the Northwest hardly use them. We realize that a little water is pretty harmless.

Another environmental complaint: I've never received as much junk mail at work as after having signed up for this thing. Lots of garbage from software vendors and IT service providers. Some of them have even called so I've been using caller ID a lot.

As long as I'm on a roll, I notice that the official dress code for the conference is "business casual." For some reason, the whole business casual concept just ooozes a sense of blandness and mediocrity. I suppose I dress that way at work most of the time, but actually making this official recommendation for a conference somehow seems kind of lame. I prefer a more inclusive dress code--with everyone from jeans and t-shirts to Saville Row suits being okay. If we want cutting edge IT, we need to be open to a Googlely sort of dress code?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Access 2007

Reporting in here from Access 2007, the Canadian library technology conference.

Here are some of the major topics at the conference:
  • next generation OPACs
  • the ILS marketplace
  • cyberinfrastructure and large scale research computing
From the "ILS options for academic libraries" talk this afternoon, one of the speakers talking about III likened user group conferences to Zombie movies. He was making the point that many staff at III libraries have sort of been lulled into complacency and might not be prepared for the moment when outside forces conspire to force a migration.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

demise of the CIO

One of the themes that I've pursued in this blog has been the demise of centralized information technology in organizations. Nick Carr continues a familiar theme in his work on the decreasing strategic importance of CIOs:
We've entered the long twilight of the CIO position, a sign that information technology is finally maturing. Technical expertise is becoming centralized in the supply industry, freeing workers and managers to concentrate on the manipulation and sharing of information. It will be a slow transition - CIOs will continue to play critical roles in many firms for many years - but we're at last catching up with the vision expressed back in 1990 by the legendary CIO Max Hopper, who predicted that IT would come to “be thought of more like electricity or the telephone network than as a decisive source of organizational advantage. In this world, a company trumpeting the appointment of a new chief information officer will seem as anachronistic as a company today naming a new vice president for water and gas. People like me will have succeeded when we have worked ourselves out of our jobs. Only then will our organizations be capable of embracing the true promise of information technology.”
From my experience in the higher ed environment, I'd observe that leadership in the application of technology is critical. But it need not come from one centralized place in the organization.