On 27 January Resource Discovery Architect Simon McLeish organized a Resource Discovery Mini-Conference at the Weston Library to bring together interested parties from across the University to share their issues with resource discovery and to discuss possible ways forward.
Representatives from the Ashmolean and the Museum of Natural History discussed what resource discovery means in the context of their institutions, the importance of representing collections online and the difficulties of consolidating finding aids and catalogues created over long periods of time according to many different standards.
Laura Cracknell from Pembroke College emphasized the needs of undergraduates, whose needs are for immediate access with a strong preference for physical items. E-book provision has proved valuable in extending access when all the physical copies of an item are unavailable. She also stressed the importance of encouraging user engagement with discovery systems so as to develop their confidence. Cathy Scutt from Education gave a vivid impression of how fragmented and confusing the resource discovery experience can be for users.
Mike Webb and Sarah Wheale from Bodleian Special Collections provided an excellent survey of the many and varied finding aids for their material, encompassing card catalogues in both their original and digitized Flipbook forms, printed catalogues, EAD files presented as HTML pages and so on. They emphasized several cases in which the primary finding aid for particular collections was created decades if not centuries ago and noted the importance of staff and their knowledge of the collections as a vital resource discovery asset.
Glenn Swafford and Sebastian Rahtz discussed the Blue Pages project and its collection and re-use of information about people, departments, projects, funders, publications and their sources. The politics of the re-use of publically available data in different contexts was a particular difficulty.
David Howell, Head of Conservation Research at the Bodleian Libraries, then discussed his resource discovery experiences and needs as a researcher and discussed how his ideal resource discovery system might work.
Simon McLeish summed up the day, identifying a number of common themes and challenges: the many and varied demands of users; the multiplicity of finding aids; how to manage and present large amounts of digitized material; varying metadata standards; the sheer volume of the University’s collections and data; and finding funding to do anything about these issues.
At time of writing funding is being sought for a short scoping study on resource discovery which it is hoped will lead on to a much wider project seeking to address the issue in depth.