Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The bleeding edge

Reading the agenda for the Thursday meeting, I confess I feel a little discouraged -- not because it's poorly-planned or a bad idea, but because the way it's being organized looks to me as though it will herd attendees toward safe, obvious, well-travelled, non-controversial paths.

I live on the bleeding edge. (For those who don't know me, I'm responsible for MINDS@UW, the UW System institutional repository.) Libraries in general and the UW in particular are far from settled or sure about what they should be doing vis-a-vis scholarly communication, knowledge management, data curation, digital preservation, et cetera. I sometimes find myself the only champion (or nearly) for these emerging issues and their technical requirements.

It seems impossible for me all by my lonesome to make these issues a priority in a consensus-based, majority-rules environment such as Thursday's session, much less the top-down environment that is the normal state of things here. That's not necessarily good or bad -- I may be a flaky nutjob, after all -- it just is. I am well aware that I have not created sufficient buy-in; in the scattered environment this retreat is partly intended to address, I don't have any readily available ways of earning it.

I doubt my constellation of issues is unique. There are, I'm sure, a number of bleeding-edge ideas or issues or technologies that individuals among us are interested in and have no way to move forward on. Some of them are huge (like data curation), some are relatively minor (e.g. somebody wanting a wiki). Some of them could be production services, some of them are internal-efficiency improvements. Sometimes they're just things we'd like to throw up on a server somewhere and poke at.

Does the bleeding edge have a home here? What are the implications if it doesn't? How do we mainstream bleeding-edge products and services, if we manage to work with them at all? On Thursday specifically, how do we keep potentially important minority issues from being roundfiled forever as "passing fads" or "buzzwords"?


Dorothea said...

Jim Muehlenberg asked me to post this comment on his behalf:

Just a very quick comment - I don't believe this is all about majority rule but about surfacing important directions. Scholarly communications, data curation, repositories, and the like are important directions, and ones I care about significantly as well. So let's focus on them and capture them; even if they're not the top 5-6 "vote getters" we want to capture all the things that matter to us. We will use all the information gathered on Thursday in various future planning activities, including thirdly planning, hiring decisions, etc., so all is worth bringing up at this retreat! Let's hear it for the bleeding edge, this is where we need to go for part of our joint efforts! thanks for the comments, Dorothea!

Dave said...

Regarding top down versus bottom up...note who is not at this retreat (admins other than me...and I guess I HAVE to be there!)

The idea for this retreat came from my concern that, while at admin-type meetings, I am concerned that I am not adequately representing our needs.

So one of the things I want to get from this retreat (for myself) is a better sense of the challenges we face. So, when given the opportunity, I can fight for what we need and not fight for stuff we don't care about.

Dave said...

And regarding the issue of being a lone voice - another goal of this session is to see if there are other issues out there that are shared - but perhaps not getting enough voice.

To echo Jim's comment, yes, we may come out of this with a list of concepts that the majority has voiced, but I plan to (later) look at everything people write down over the day to find threads and issues that need attention.

All of the threads and ideas from Thursday will be posted so that any of us can look for inspiration or shared vision.

Dave said...

Lastly - bleeding edge. I would love to have an environment where "playing with the bleeding edge" is on our PDs. (Some will argue it is there, in "professional development" but that area to me has always seemed to be a throw-away part of the PD!)

There are many questions that come from that desire - like how do we support that?* How do we get our other jobs done? etc. But at least we have one thing going for us - the Acting AD supports the concept!

* this decision has trickle down effects, right? Your play time may need technical support...so your X% play time may require Y% of support time for someone else)

Dorothea said...

Dave, in talking with you I have invariably been pleased with your risk tolerance and adventurousness. As I'm sure you're aware, though, it's hard for anyone to champion things here that don't have some kind of mandate-from-the-masses.

So this was my gesture toward building such a mandate for an experimentation infrastructure, which as you correctly note is more complicated than it looks on the surface.

Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

Trying again, since some text got clipped in the initial posting ...

I really like the phrase, "experimentation infrastructure".

I immediately thought of MIT's old Discovery Process, but when I went to that URL to refresh my memory, I started thinking, "wow, this is huge and cumbersome."

I tried to think of the simplest expression of the characteristics of an ExpInf, and got:

Ideas need a champion (someone who can make the case). Champions need a forum (a place for the case to be heard). A forum has to have authority (resources and the ability to allocate them).

There's probably a better word than "authority".

Jargon-enriched and really general, but perhaps informative:

Shared Vision

Participatory Budgeting

Cat, pigeons, excitement, etc.

Steve said...

Perpetual beta.

While not everything is suited to beta release and most things should move out of beta state eventually, let's not be afraid to "release early, release often."

Think of the phrase as describing an M.O. for people, not so much for the software.

Dorothea said...

Which is fine, if there's server space to put experimental code on and a prevailing attitude of "sure, give it a try."

Without naming names or giving specifics, I've come up short on both, repeatedly. (This is not a problem that can be solved solely by library IT, incidentally; change is required in other parts of the library organization as well.)

Steve said...

It is possible to make such spaces. But you are absolutely right that it requires a commitment up, down and across our organization to do it well.

I think we also struggle profoundly with taking the steps after experimentation: evaluation/assessment of the experiments, giving thumbs up/down and moving into priority queues when thumbs up.

I suspect that the issue lies in an organizational disconnect between decision making (director level) and experimentation (coder/public staff level).

Dorothea said...

Absolutely agreed on all counts, Steve.