Rory and I had a fun, productive and informative time at Open Repositories 2011 in Austin: everyone involved agreed that this year’s OR conference at the University of Texas was a great success.
The conference kicked off with a keynote from Jim Jagielski of the Apache Software Foundation, describing the history and organisation behind Apache and its projects. It was observed by some in the Twitter backchannel that the talk could as easily have been from 2001 as 2011, but for all that it was a worthwhile reminder that, in all our efforts, we stand on the shoulders of the giants who created and maintain the infrastructure of the Web and the Internet. And also that many our endeavours benefit from a little more dedication and commitment than you can usually squeeze between 9-to-5.
The closing keynote was by repositories stalwart Clifford Lynch, who managed to touch on so many perennial repository themes, I won’t attempt to summarise them. There is a handy anthology of tweets about his talk on Storify.
In between were plenty of presentations and opportunities to meet friends old and new from the United States of Repoland – some we have worked with, some we would like to work with, and many with challenging ideas and insights into the many facets of working with repositories.
The OR conference hops back and forth across the Atlantic (I’ve previously attended OR08 in Southampton, OR09 in Atlanta and OR10 in Madrid). Unfortunately when the conference is held Stateside, the representation of the EPrints community tends to be noticeably smaller. Not that there aren’t EPrints users in the USA (we were particularly pleased to meet the team from Cal Tech Library, very happy users and advocates of EPrints), but the distribution of software platforms is significantly different from Europe in general, and the UK in particular (if you are interested in such things, you can check out the statistics at OpenDOAR). And of course travel logistics (and costs) are non-trivial. Luckily Rory and I had been saving our prize money from last year’s Developer Challenge!
While it eluded me in previous years, I think at last I am starting to grasp at least some of the salient points of the thing they call Duraspace (launched, if I recall, in Atlanta)! I’m certainly hoping to find time to take my free Duracloud trial. However other aspects still remain opaque to me. At one panel discussion about the prospects for implementing DSpace over Fedora (or Fedora under DSpace, depending which way up you look at it), I was surprised to hear a description of ongoing DSpace-Fedora alignment efforts as “more about the journey than the destination”. An enviable luxury: for the time being we need tangible outcomes for our repositories and customers, and that’s one reason why we’ll be sticking with EPrints for the foreseeable future.
Personal highlights for me are described elsewhere: the Developer Challenge, which we enjoyed immensely, and Changing Platforms the talk that I presented with Imma Subirats, of the UN Food & Agricultural Organisation, where we discussed migrating between repository platforms. Rory also had a chance to meet developers from Yale, who had worked on the other end of the SOAS-Yale Islamic Manuscripts collaboration, and show off some of his work for the SOAS repository. We were also hugely appreciative of the generosity of the EPrints team, who kept us generally amused and amazed, and kindly included us in their group dinner on the last evening.
The facilities at UT’s AT&T Conference Centre were outstanding, as was the surrounding campus generally, including the Longhorns football stadium (with its insanely massive west stand) where the conference dinner was held. Austin has far more attractions than we could see in such a short time, and it is an impressive and vibrant city, from the spectacular grandeur of the Texas state capitol, to the noisy entertainment on 6th Street, where virtually every bar has some kind of rock or blues band playing. We were most impressed by UKOLN’s Adrian Stevenson who jammed on a borrowed guitar with the blues band in the Blue Moon bar at 2am. As if that wasn’t enough, our visit also coincided with the massive Republic Of Texas biker rally – an insanely noisy procession of up to 50,000 bikers through the main streets of the city. Our ears won’t forget OR11 in a hurry.