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Mashed Libraries 2009: Mash Oop North!

Note: I actually wrote most of this on the train on the way home from Huddersfield last Tuesday, but due to my insanely busy week have only just managed to get it finished off! Will be blogging my last two days at CILIP Umbrella next, will try and get that up a little quicker…

mashoopnorthJust to prove how dedicated I am to continuing professional development, immediately after the New Professionals Conference finished I headed off to the train station to make my way up to Huddersfield in time for Mash Oop North the following day. I was really excited to get the chance to go to this event (and am very grateful to COPAC for the sponsorship), as I knew very little about using mash-ups in a library context. I was interested to hear about the work that others are doing in this area, and to hopefully come away with a few ideas of my own!

When we got to the University in the morning we were handed badges, which were colour-coded to indicate levels of experience: green for novice, yellow for intermediate and orange for expert. I had been a little concerned that my complete lack of technical skills and knowledge of mash-ups would be a bit of a handicap, so I was reassured to see so many green badges!

The day kicked off (after some coffee-drinking and faffing around with the wifi, which didn’t want to play) with Brian Kelly’s talk on Enthusiastic Amateurs and Overcoming Institutional Inertia”. Brian started off by sharing his enthusiasm for mash-ups, and what exciting things can be done when data is made available to be reused and mashed up: for example the Guardian’s crowdsourcing of MP’s expense claims. He went on to sound a cautionary note about the barriers to re-using data, asking the audience for examples that we’d faced. Some issues discussed:

  • Legality – there are IPR issues with using other people’s data and/or applications. Someone mentioned a JISC webcast which apparently gives a very good overview of these issues, haven’t checked it out yet but sounds useful.
  • Resistance from the IT department. Brian asked for a show of hands of who found their IT department to be a barrier to inovation and who found them to be an enabler: worryingly, only two people thought that their IT staff enabled inovation!
  • Lack of staff knowledge. Typically only one or two staff members will have any knowledge of or interest in web 2.0 aplications within the library, so that can hinder progress.

Some solutions:

  • Talk to the policy makers in your organisation: policy has to be in place to support inovation [couldn’t help but think that this may be easier said than done!]
  • Just Do It: your bosses are more likely to be positive about your ideas if you can show them a working prototype.
  • Be an advocate of data sharing and mash-ups. Encourage use of open standards, share ideas, and document everything you do (e.g. through a blog).

Next up was Brendan Dawes on “Somewhere I have Never Travelled”. Brendan described himself as a “data nerd” and what we were about to see as “data porn” – I adore that expression and will shamelessly steal it the first chance I get! Brendan spent the next half an hour showing us a number of his approaches to data visualisation, and talking us through the idea processes he goes through. Apparently, he uses something called a “notebook”, made out of “paper” which he draws in with a “pencil”. Madness! Brendan talked about notebooks (and computer files and folders) which he keeps full of unconnected ideas which he’s jotted down and played around with, which he may later re-visit and mash together into new ideas. I really like the idea of just throwing out ideas without any notion of what you’ll actually do with them.

I have to admit, a lot of the actual development stuff went completely over my head (I tweeted at one point that all of this might as well be magic as far as I’m concerned! Owen Stephens promptly tweeted me back saying that it wasn’t really necessary to understand how itwas done, just to get an idea of the possibilities. He was right, I know – I think I was just having a bit of a crisis of confidence!), but some of the visualisations really were fascinating to see – although Brendan admitted himself that they’re not necessarily the most user-friendly in terms of navigation! I’d recommend taking a look at doodlebuzz, BBC Memoryshare and wefeelfine, as well as Brendan’s own website, for a flavour of what can be done.

The final session of the morning, and one which I’d really been looking forward to, was Tony Hirst’s Yahoo! Pipes Cookalong. Unfortunately, persistent technical problems with the wifi and with the site itself meant that this ended up being a bit of a whistlestop tour! I did get an idea of the kinds of things you can do with Yahoo Pipes though, and Tom has now posted the demonstration he was going to do on his blog, so I’ll probably have a play around with that later.

After lunch (good pizza selection!) there were a series of 5-10 minute “lightning talks” on a very diverse series of topics, ranging from using interactive fiction to develop information literacy, to using Scriblio to develop a union catalogue, to JISC’s Mosaic project,to communicating information literacy concepts through the medium of puppetry! I particularly enjoyed Tanya Williamson’s talk on Edward R. Tufte (big fan of his!); and Sara Wingate Gray’s talk on definitions of libraries, and how the Itinerant Poetry Library (which in itself has to be one of the most amazing ideas I’ve ever heard) is facilitated by the users.

The rest of the afternoon was taken up with discussing ideas and networking, and of course the presentation of awards for the best ideas submitted throughout the day. A very well done to everyone – some really interesting ideas came out of the day. I felt a bit bad for not putting forward anything myself, but I don’t really have anything concrete. I think I need a bit more time to mull over what was discussed today, and have a bit of a play with various tools.

I’m really glad I went along to Mashed Oop North, despite my lack of experience meaning that I contributed very little! It was great to hear from experienced developers, as well as “enthusiastic amateurs”, and to get an idea of the kinds of things that can be done with mash-ups. I do wonder how much of this I’ll have an opportunity to use: I applied for the conference when I was still working in Higher Education, and I could see a lot of the ideas from today being really useful to my old job, but given the restrictive IT policies in place at my current employers I doubt I’d have much opportunity to experiment. I wil certainly try though, and if I think I’ve got something that could be useful then I can always take Brian Kelly’s advice and try to persuade them with a prototype!

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One comment on “Mashed Libraries 2009: Mash Oop North!

  1. […] basic knowledge of HTML and CSS has come in surprisingly useful at work, but attending events like Mash Oop North made me realise just how much I don’t know. In particular, I’d like to learn Javascript […]

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