The planning for the Midwinter Jane-athon pre-conference has been taking up a lot of my attention lately. It’s a really cool idea (credit to Deborah Fritz) to address the desire we’ve been hearing for some time for a participatory, hands on, session on RDA. And lets be clear, we’re not talking about the RDA instructions–this is about the RDA data model, vocabularies, and RDA’s availability for linked data. We’ll be using RIMMF (RDA in Many Metadata Formats) as our visualization and data creation tool, setting up small teams with leaders who’ve been prepared to support the teams and a wandering phalanx of coaches to give help on the fly.
Part of the planning has to do with building a set of RIMMF ‘records’ to start with, for participants to add on their own resources and explore the rich relationships in RDA. We’re calling these ‘r-balls’ (a cross between RIMMF and tarballs). These zipped-up r-balls will be available for others to use for their own homegrown sessions, along with instructions for using RIMMF and setting up a Jane-athon (or other themed -athon), and also how to contribute their own r-balls for the use of others. In case you’ve not picked it up, this is a radically different training model, and we’d like to make it possible for others to play, too.
That’s the plan for the morning. After lunch we’ll take a look at what we’ve done, and prise out the issues we’ve encountered, and others we know about. The hope is that the participants will walk out the door with both an understanding of what RDA is (more than the instructions) and how it fits into the emerging linked data world.
I recently returned from a trip to Honolulu, where I did a prototype Jane-athon workshop for the Hawaii Library Association. I have to admit that I didn’t give much thought to how difficult it would be to do solo, but I did have the presence of mind to give the organizer of the workshop some preliminary setup instructions (based on what we’ll be doing in Chicago) to ensure that there would be access to laptops with software and records pre-loaded, and a small cadre of folks who had been working with RIMMF to help out with data creation on the day.
The original plan included a day before the workshop with a general presentation on linked data and some smaller meetings with administrators and others in specialized areas. It’s a format I’ve used before and the smaller meetings after the presentation generally bring out questions that are unlikely to be asked in a larger group.
What I didn’t plan for was that I wouldn’t be able to get out of Ithaca on the appointed day (the day before the presentation) thanks not to bad weather, but instead to a non-functioning plane which couldn’t be repaired. So after a phone discussion with Hawaii, I tried again the next day, and everything went smoothly. On the receiving end there was lots of effort expended to make it all work in the time available, with some meetings dribbling into the next day. But we did it, thanks to organizer Nancy Sack’s prodigious skills and the flexibility of all concerned.
Nancy asked the Jane-athon participants to fill out an evaluation, and sent me the anonymized results. I really appreciated that the respondents added many useful (and frank) comments to the usual range of questions. Those comments in particular were very helpful to me, and were passed on to the other MW Jane-athon organizers. One of the goals of the workshop was to help participants visualize, using RIMMF, how familiar MARC records could be automatically mapped into the FRBR structure of RDA, and how that process might begin to address concerns about future workflow and reuse of MARC records. Another goal was to illustrate how RDA’s relationships enhanced the value of the data, particularly for users. For the most part, it looked as if most of the participants understood the goals of the workshop and felt they had gotten value from it.
But there were those who provided frank criticism of the workshop goals and organization (as well as the presenter, of course!). Part of these criticisms involved the limitations of the workshop, wanting more information on how they could put their new knowledge to work, right now. The clearest expression of this desire came in as follows:
“I sort of expected to be given the whole road map for how to take a set of data and use LOD to make it available to users via the web. In rereading the flyer I see that this was not something the presenter wanted to cover. But I think it was apparent in the afternoon discussion that we wanted more information in the big picture … I feel like I have an understanding of what LOD is, but I have no idea how to use it in a meaningful way.”
Aside from the time constraints–which everyone understood–there’s a problem inherent in the fact that very few active LOD projects have moved beyond publishing their data (a good thing, no doubt about it) to using the data published by others. So it wasn’t so much that I didn’t ‘want’ to present more about the ‘bigger picture’, there wasn’t really anything to say aside from the fact that the answer to that question is still unclear (and I probably wasn’t all that clear about it either). If I had a ‘road map’ to talk about and point them to, I certainly would have shared it, but sadly I have nothing to share at this stage.
But I continue to believe that just as progress in this realm is iterative, it is hugely important that we not wait for the final answers before we talk about the issues. Our learning needs to be iterative too, to move along the path from the abstract to the concrete along with the technical developments. So for MidWinter, we’ll need to be crystal clear about what we’re doing (and why), as well as why there are blank areas in the road-map.
Thanks again to the Hawaii participants, and especially Nancy Sack, for their efforts to make the workshop happen, and the questions and comments that will improve the Jane-athon in Chicago!
For additional information, including a link to register, look here. Although I haven’t seen the latest registration figures, we’re expecting to fill up, so don’t delay!