“Capturing practice research: improving visibility and searchability”

“Capturing practice research: improving visibility and searchability” was an open access community event, held on 15th March in London and hosted by JISC.

To give some background, people whose research is practice based (e.g. musicians, performers, artists, photographers, dramatists, sculptors) find it difficult to add their work to repositories, as most repositories are designed based on the idea of research outputs being written work (mainly journal articles or books). Librarians, research support staff and repository managers have been working for at least 10 years to try and improve the situation, with only limited success so far. It is particularly difficult for people in institutions like CCCU, which are not specialist arts universities.

The tables for this conference were, unusually, laid out cabaret-style (circular tables), but fear not, there was no singing (although perhaps that would have been good). We had to sit next to someone who wasn’t in our particular line of work and this was designated by different coloured Lego blocks. Librarians/repository people were blue, researchers were yellow and research managers were red. (Or it might have been the other way around). Anyway, I was blue, and I ended up sitting at table of very interesting people, including a photographer/animator/lecturer, a research data repository manager, 2 people from JISC and a repository manager/poet. I really wish I had taken a photo of people’s shoes – the photographer had on the best shoes I’ve ever seen. Sorry, now I’ve tantalised you with that I’m going to move on to what actually happened in the conference.

Before the talks started, we had to talk to our colleagues at the tables and decide on the top three challenges we currently face with adding practice-based research to our repositories. We decided that a lot of issues stemmed from the use of language – both on repositories themselves, and also in the way we talk to researchers about repositories and why they should use them. There were also issues with time – in the sense of when is the best time for people to add their work to the repository: should they do this as they go along, adding each piece of work separately, or should they wait until they have the portfolio (or equivalent) and put that on as a whole piece of work. We talked about various ways we’ve tried to ‘get round’ the limitations of our repository software – most people used EPrints, but difficulties are not confined to this software – people using Symplectic/Pure also have similar problems in terms of practice based research.

The morning was taken up with various people talking about “perspectives on capturing practice-based research: researchers, repositories, research management, infrastructure. This was really an overview of what had gone before – a sort of potted history of practice based research and institutional repositories. It was particularly interesting to hear from James Bulley and Ozden Sahin of Goldsmiths, who were talking about their postdoctoral research into practice based research and repositories.  They are basically looking at the whole history this topic and delving into meaty questions such as what is ‘practice-based’ research (maybe even what is research), etc. It could be a long project…

After lunch, Lauren Redhead, a former CCCU lecturer (now also at Goldsmiths), talked about her experiences of “documenting iterative processes in music”. You can see the results of her work on CReaTE.

Lauren (left)

Next, Jenny Evans, from the University of Westminster, spoke about her experiences of working with Haplo to develop a new repository.

Helen Cooper, from the University of Kent, presented on “Taking practice-based research works seriously”. I have chatted to Helen about this topic before, and we have (as most of us at the conference had, as far as I could tell) similar experiences in this area. A summary of the changes they have made in Kent, and which I hope we can also implement when we start with the new repository:

  • Service statement for the repository (so people know what it does and what to expect)
  • Policy (repository and/or open access) – we are working on this
  • Metadata  – needs to be appropriate, accurate and useful for practice-based researchers and people trying to find their research
  • Guidance – available at the point of need
  • Language – need to use language appropriate for practice-based research and ‘talk the same language’ as practice-based researchers.

Guidance and language in this context are things I have worked on with academic staff from the schools of Media Art & Design and Music & Performing Arts in previous years. I created a big guide to adding items to CReaTE, and tried to use appropriate language and create explanations so that practice-based researchers will (hopefully) find it more accessible:CReaTE defiant objects

Another Helen, (Newall) went on a different tangent, focusing on photography: capture and capturing. I like taking photographs, so I found this talk really interesting – it wasn’t so much to do with repositories (which was a bit of a relief, really), but more about the philosophy of photography and how even photographs can lie (and did you know the first ‘photo-shopped’ photo was created just one year after the invention of photography? Last to present was Miranda Barnes, Research Publications Librarian at Bath Spa University. She is currently in charge of a project using Figshare to to create e-portfolios of practice-based research. Apparently it works quite well, although Figshare is expensive to use (so I learned).

But at the end of the day, as happens at these events, we were asked to sort of sum up and pick out the main things we had learned and the main thing in my mind (and others’) was: why have we, the end users, had to invent all these things to try and get round the fact that repository software providers (excluding Haplo, who are relatively new on the scene) failed to provide for practice-based researchers in the first place?

It was an interesting day, but I did feel that relatively little had changed since the KULTUR project finished 10 years ago, especially considering how fast online technology usually develops. As one of the facilitators said, it’s an area ripe for the taking by the likes of Elsevier!

You can find JISC’s blog post about this event, including links to slides and recordings of the presentations at https://scholarlycommunications.jiscinvolve.org/wp/2019/03/29/practice-research-is-for-life-not-just-ref/.


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