31 January 2009

"Digital Britain"

Britain used to be in the top seven for the adoption of digital technologies and it has now slipped to 12th place - I'm not sure where that puts us in worldwide terms, but it is bound to be even lower.

It is against this background that the interim report on digital Britian has been published and it has received rather mixed reception as the BBC report notes. And no wonder - I think it would probably get no more than a C+ as a piece intended to show vision, imagination and a workable strategy to accomplish the stated aims.

What do we actually get? Here are some of the juicy bits:

"ACTION 1. We will establish a Government-led strategy group to assess the necessary demand-side, supply-side and regulatory measures to underpin existing market-led investment plans, and to remove barriers to the timely rollout, beyond those declared plans, to maximise market-led coverage of Next Generation broadband."

How about that for bland corporate-speak!? Forty-seven words that say, in effect: We're going to talk some more.

"ACTION 2 Between now and the final Digital Britain Report, the Government will, while recognising existing investments in infrastructure, work with the main operators and others to remove barriers to the development of a wider wholesale market in access to ducts and other primary infrastructure."

Forty-three words that say, We're going to talk some more.

"ACTION 5 The Government will help implement the Community Broadband Network’s proposals for an umbrella body to bring together all the local and community networks and provide them with technical and advisory support."

More words that say, you guessed it, We're going to talk some more.

In other words, these so-called "Actions" amount to not much more than talking further.

In fact, neither this government, nor any alternative in this country is actually going to spend any money on what needs to be done, particularly not when it is propping up the banking chief executives so that they can trouser even more of our money.

Britain doesn't have a digital future policy, which means that it doesn't have a digital future.


To BOBCATSSS this week - only for the first day, unfortunately - in Oporto on a miserably wet and misty day! Very disappointing weather for the conference attendees. For those who don't know it, BOBCATSSS is a meeting specifically for library and information science students - originally for European students, but now open. This conference had attracted more than 300, mostly from Europe. I was there to pick up an award I was given last year, 'Bobcat of the year, 2008' - quite what the American mountain lion thinks of this, I'm not sure!

However, it was a nice event, and I would encourage any department to support the meeting by encouraging students to submit papers or posters: it's a good meeting for the first exposure of ideas. I was somewhat ashamed that this (the 17th conference) was my first meeting, because one of those Ss at the end of the name represents Sheffield - I was one of the founding heads for the conference. At the time we offered only Master's degrees and the PhD and the conference was intended mainly for undergraduates, so we never got round to participating.

Sad news

Two bits of sad news this week - after a two-year battle against cancer, Audrone Glosiene, one of our Editorial Board members died on Monday, aged 50. Audrone had been a faculty member in the Faculty of Communication, University of Vilnius for many years before becoming University Librarian. She had begun major changes at the University Library, which her successor will no doubt wish to continue. Audrone was a founder member of the Editorial Board and a strong advocate of open access - she will be missed.

Another departure - Robert Taylor, known to many for his work on 'value added' information processes and the concept of the information use environment died on 1st January at the age of 90. I had followed his work since he was at Lehigh University and still have some of the working papers he published there. I met Robert a number of times and corresponded with him. I always found him to be a real gentleman, capable of expressing criticism without being aggresive and willing to advise and make helpful suggestions. On a number of occasions when I published something, I received an interesting message from Robert, often suggesting ways of pursuing an idea I had just dropped into a paper. He has left a solid body of work to the field which I am sure will continue to be cited for many years to come.

26 January 2009

From Open Access News

Sebastian K. Boell, A Scientometric Method to Analyze Scientific Journals as Exemplified by the Area of Information Science, thesis, Saarland University, 2007; self-archived January 23, 2009. From the abstract:

A comprehensive master list of 1,205 journals publishing articles of relevance to LIS was compiled. ... Nearly 16% of all journals are open access ...

How does a 'master list' manage to omit the leading OA journal in the field?

16 January 2009

Grounded theory

I came across an interview with Juliet Corbin (of Strauss and Corbin fame) and was struck by one of its comments. The subject came up in informal discussions at ISIC 2008 - why don't people who claim to use 'grounded theory' ever develop a theory? What you get instead is qualitative description - interesting, but not really going far enough.

The interviewer (Danny Meetoo) asked:

DM Many people talk about grounded theory. In your extensive experience, do you think that everyone who claims to do grounded theory actually lives up to that claim?

and Corbin replied:

JC What I’ve noticed is that very few people really develop theory. Doing a grounded theory implies developing a theory from data. At the end of the study, there is more than a set of findings... Often people don’t develop theory either. They do descriptive studies, and by descriptive I mean they come up with five themes and just list the five themes and talk about the five themes with no integration or no scheme that pulls the themes together. There is no integrative theoretical formulation that could be called theory...

Exactly what gives qualitative research a bad name.

14 January 2009

Green Google?

The carbon footprint of Google has been a topic of debate recently. I first saw an item on the BBC site, which suggested that a Google search generates as much CO2 (7g) as boiling a kettle. Something disputed in the official Google blog, which claimed a figure 0.2g for a search - pretty big difference. The dispute spread through the blogosphere pretty rapidly and The Guardian newspaper stepped in to clear it all up - more or less - and then to enlarge on it further. It turns out that the physicist quoted never said what is claimed to have been said. Ah! The wonders of modern communications - you'd still get "three and fourpence for the dance".

01 January 2009

Journal prices and exchange rates

Today's Times Higher Education Supplement has an item on the damage done to library budgets by shifts in the exchange rates in favour of the dollar and the euro against the pound.

This could be good news for open access, paradoxically - but only if university administrations take on board the fact that spending money on toll access journals (whether author tolls or reader tolls) is not the best use of money. They should be advising their researchers to publish in genuinely 'open' journals, that is those that are totally free, and to engage actively in the development of such journals. The collective buying power of universities would be better put to producing rather than buying. The market advocates love the idea of competition, so why not compete?

I'm not too sanguine, however: I doubt very much that Vice-Chancellors will get together on this and decide upon an open access publishing programme to challenge the vice-like grip of the commercial publishers. Their reaction in the past to the problems of library funding do not give one much hope that they will adopt it as an issue of major concern, since their attitude has generally been that if cancellations are necessary, it's just too bad.