The VALE Conference keynote address this year challenged and provoked controversy, and hopefully this is only the beginning of the conversation for the VALE membership. Christopher J. Mackie, the Associate Program Officer in the new Research in Information Technology (RIT) Program of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, presented his personal and thoughtful future visions entitled “The Library in the Academic Enterprise: Toward a Sustainable Software Ecosystem.”
First, Mackie gave an overview of the Mellon Foundation and how the RIT program fits in. The RIT Web site is at: http://rit.mellon.org where there is more detail about the projects that Mackie described, such as the SEASR project on media analytics; Zotero for Internet Archive collaboration, FLUID user interface design at the U. of Toronto, and the Kuali financial research archive. One new RIT project that libraries might find interesting is a NextGen library system at Duke University, and another is Bamboo, a digital humanities project at U. Chicago and U.C. Berkeley. Many projects are funded through the Mellon Awards for Technology Collaboration ( MATC ). The list of MATC winners for 2007 is online at:
Mackie had a simple, elegant presentation structure, beginning with “Random Thoughts,” my favorite of which was: “Cyberinfrastructure is coming” and “How will VALE survive the CI revolution?” I was familiar with CI from the recent discussion in the digital humanities community, but I decided to look in Wikipedia, which cites the 2003 National Science Foundation report definition:
***Like the physical infrastructure of roads, bridges, power grids, telephone lines, and water systems that support modern society, “cyberinfrastructure” refers to the distributed computer, information and communication technologies combined with the personnel and integrating components that provide a long-term platform to empower the modern scientific research endeavor*** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyberinfrastructure
For more discussion of Cyberinfrastructure, see the “Cyberinfrastructure Issue” of the Digital Commons online journal, Dec., 2007, at: http://www.academiccommons.org/commons/announcement/table-of-contents
Mackie went on to describe his vision of the two poles of cyberinfrastructure futures: the dystopian and the utopian. The Dystopian future is characterized by CI for the rich only. Local innovations are obscured so that systemic diversity diminishes, as iseems to be the case with many of the integrated library system vendors, such as Ex Libris/Endeavor and SirsiDynix currently.
The Utopian Future emphasizes collaboration among competitors, or what Mackie called “coopetition.” In this future, consortia will grow. There will be shared IT/Library services, hosted cyberinfrastructure, and virtual academic departments. There will be a greater institutional agility and diversity among institutions. Examples of this future are the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE) http://www.nitle.org/ , the VALE consortia, the Kuali Community Source project and next generation systems.
Mackie opened the floor to questions, and there were many about how does CI affect the learning side of academia. Marianne Gaunt of Rutgers U. mentioned the work of Christine Borgman, Professor and Presidential Chair in the Department of Information Studies, Graduate School of Education and Information Science at UCLA, and writer of books and articles on “the promise and perils of the new Digital Infrastructure.” Borgman cautions that we are building the cyberinfrastructure before we know who is going to use it. For links to Borgman’s presentations and her new book “Scholarship in a Digital Age, Information Infrastructure, and the Internet” (MIT Press, 2007), see Bogman’s online C.V. at: http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/cborgman/ .
Mackie answered that in the RIT projects, such as the Software Environment for the Advancement of Scholarly Research (SEASR) project, where NCSA is building an analytical platform for the analysis of rich media content, and the Bamboo project, they have user-centered design. Mackie has generously posted the text and the Powerpoint slides of his presentation on the VALE Conference blog. I hope that these notes and links help to inform the conversation as we show the world how VALE members plan to respond to the CI challenge.