Work in Progress - Invitation to Comment

Various authors, Eccos Revista Científica, Aug 07, 2006
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Page linking to a large collection of materials from the JISC Trust in Digital Repositories project, with an invitation to comment. Thus I spent my morning today.

Begin with The TrustDR Project: a plain-english description for project partners (all documents are in MS Word). It's a good overview with a nice set of references. See especially section 4. But readers should note some themes that permeate these discussions, themes that just don't ring right - the idea that computer scientists believe that "there is some 'magic bullet' type of solution to the task of running a repository," the assumption "that an institutional digital repository of learning objects is a form of digital library," and the idea that institutional top-down management is required to make repositories work. And it seems off that the athors would claim that "Google algorithms make extensive use of 'traditional' metadata to work their magic," which so far as I know is false (certainly the vast majority of web pages have no metadata).

Jump next to Geronimo's Cadillac: Lessons for Learning Object Repositories, a paper describing some of the lessons learned from the project. The idea is that DRM and associated technologies were just too early for institutions. "The current situation can be best described as high-level ambitions with poor implementation." We see the same points echoed, and more, "education is a social and political system, and the checks and balances that keep the system working may not be shifted by any technology." Is this true?

Next look at The Interactive Media Industry, Intellectual Property Rights, the Internet and Copyright: Some Lessons from the TrustDR Project, a paper that struggles between two alternatives - on the one hand, the damage caused by copyright and patents, including the "legalised piracy" practised by patent holders holding the rest of us to "ransom," and on the other hand, "the need to protect intellectual property and the rights of the producers."

Next, as a sample of the detailed work being undertaken, view Scoping Exercise for the Outputs of TrustDR in Terms of the Target Groups. Again the same themes as in the opening documents emerge, and "a theme to carry through the outputs of the project would be best described as 'explain and persuade'" - for example, of the importance of good metadata, or of the importance of digital rights management. Note the organizational model on page 15.

Finally, in the area of DRM policy projection, see Doing the Right Thing: sources of guidance for good practice with metadata and repositories. We get, for example, 'good practice in metadata'. "A classical example of this activity would be the classification system used in the study of plants." The system should be flexible, easy to create, permanent, and accurate. There is an overview of some metadata schemas (RSS is not mentioned) and then an outline of good practice in repositories. Then, "A repository can support the TrustDR framework by making it possible to describe the rights, express them, disseminate them and, and expose them."

I have taken a lot of time with this, and stepped the reader through a number of documents, in order to expose the unease I feel with the work to date. The assumptions made in the first document, despite being unsupportable, flow through the rest of the documentation. As a result of the view of repositories, and of institutions, taken by the authors a narrow perspective on the role and management of repositories emerges. Moreover, it doesn't seem as though the authors were motivated to look beyond their own domain, and they are clearly uncomfortable with the technical writing in the field.

These documents need to be reviewed. Back up and check those assumptions. Ask what is missing. Though I agree with a lot of the sentiment, the documents are just too technically loose, in some cases factually inaccurate, and in some cases simply wrong.
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