Back in mid-November I attended the Digital Library Federation (DLF) Fall Forum 2009. Like others who have posted to this blog about this meeting, I found this to be one of the most interesting DLF meetings that I have ever attended. This is mainly because this meeting was focused on the future of DLF; and unlike previous meetings where attendees generally focus on a subset of the presentations and activities, nearly all in attendance were focused on common topics throughout.
Three big words that stood out for me were "innovation", "community", and "trust".
- Sayeed, in his post about this meeting, used the word "innovation" in three out of four principles distilled from the meeting. I have to admit to having felt a little bit of "innovation fatigue" during the meeting and found myself grumbling at each mention of the word. I was pleased when Josh Greenberg (NYPL) asked us -- in a mode that he himself described as "lobbing some grenades" -- to consider how we value technology-building vs. how we value bricolage as innovation. My feeling is that innovation for its own sake does not add value and it's important for us to understand where we can build on existing technology to more effectively and efficiently meet our goals. Earlier, Jenn Riley (IU) mentioned as Lesson #5 of her five digital library project lessons learned: "Focus on the goal. The process is negotiable."
- A number of presenters and attendees talked about community-based activities, activities performed collaboratively among multiple institutions. When you consider that many of the tools that we need to serve our and our customers' needs would be considered niche products, it's not surprising that they are either not available commercially or are relatively expensive. On the commercial (COTS) side, we never get to economies of scale. And because the market is so small, there are few vendors and we have very little leverage as customers. To get what we want and need, we often must resort to heavy customization of commercial products or to local development. It's expensive to sustain the results of this work over time. Additionally, if more than one organization performs this kind of local work, it's very likely that each will approach it in different ways, leading to interoperability problems. Community/collaborative development gives us a way forward in this regard. Multiple institutions can share the load and the failure or departure of any single organization does not result in a loss of continuity.
- Finally, trust. Trust is an enabler. Without it, it is not possible to work collaboratively or to even take seriously the ideas that are shared among DLF participants. Without it, we will not be willing to pay others with more expertise to develop key pieces of the technology that we need. Each of the activities that we undertake, locally or collectively, has inherent risks. As one presenter put it, "you don't take risks with people you don't trust."
I'm looking forward to the outputs and next steps from this very interesting meeting.