If there was a tag cloud made of the conference presentations today, I’m sure it would have the words “change” and “challenge” written extremely large.  That said, congratulations and thanks to the organisers: cilip’s GLIG (Government Library and Information Group), the British Library and SCOOP (Standing Committee on Official Publications) for putting together an interesting if a little packed programme.

I didn’t have much time to reflect during the event, but am recording notes here with some impressions and things to follow up.

Keynote speaker: Natalie Ceeney, The National Archives

After a quick overview of how much things have changed – even in the 4-5 years since she has been at TNA, Natalie described the broader picture of progress that is being made in the public sector. She was the first of several speakers to mention the prevalent view that “if its not found on Google it doesn’t exist” – following with the comment that only 10% of TNA material has been digitised. One interesting initiative she mentioned is the “Your Archives” project – a wiki where people can add their knowledge to that of the experts, and while it is kept clearly delineated from the main TNA site, an overall search does spider both sites, so overall search results are much richer.
One question from the audience was around if/how these new challenges were leading to ways of people from a range of disciplines working more coherently together across government. Her answer included reference to the GKIM community – which although encouraging as she thinks it is useful, is a shame, as from being open to people involved in knowledge and information work across the public sector, it is about to be moved behind a firewall (in their defence, I don’t think it is  something TNA chose) which will have the effect of stopping the membership of many people who currently find value in it.

Web delivery: 3 sessions

Government website usability – Alistair Allan, University of Sheffield
The only session of the event I didn’t enjoy. The speaker had a ‘cannonade’ style of quick fire delivery, and I found it tricky to actually identify the points he was making. He certainly had found a lot of examples of poorly designed sites, but to me, was less clear on what success should look like. Also, the tool he used to present (which he described as more effective as it allowed him to link to lots of sites) seemed to present problems as he tried to move between his text and the sites (all other presenters stuck with powerpoint, and had no problem linking to live sites). Shame, as I think there was some good stuff there – perhaps I’ll enjoy it more when the slides are published and I can go through his points more slowly.

Web continuity – Amanda Spencer, TNA

A project I was involved in from the early stages – good to hear from Amanda that lots of progress has been made. This project started when it became clear that material published online was becoming increasingly hard to find – specifically, over 50% of Hansard links were broken. There are 2 strands: archiving and redirection. The archiving public sector websites element is now in place, with a partnership between TNA and the European Archives seeing regular snapshots of government sites being captured, and the more complicated redirection component – which means that if material is no longer present on a live site, users are directed to the web archive, is live on around 7 sites (including DFID). Hot off the press news from Amanda, traffic to the archived material has grown hugely this year – up from 800,000 in Jan this year to over 8 million views in October.

Government information – which search engine? – Jane Secker, LSE

Interesting insights from someone who works not just with undergraduates, but also PhD students: general digital literacy seems very low, with few going beyond the basic google search when looking for information.

Information re-use: 2 sessions

Re-use of public sector information – opportunity or threat? – Jim Wretham, TNA

Clear definitions and good examples of what re-use means.  Noted I must remind myself  how the ‘click-use’ licence works.

The role of the Government publisher – Alan Pawsey, TNA

Overview of how HMSO has evolved, and interesting updates as to their plans for the merger of the Statute Law Database and the OPSI (office of Public Sector Information) set of core legislation.

Wider world of information: 2 sessions

Archiving Scottish Government on the web – Jan Usher and Paul Cunnea, National Library of Scotland

The speakers are pleased that the NLS now has an agreement to collect, preserve and make accessible publications of the Scottish government, but I’m not sure that for non UK audiences it would be clear why you find some UK material via The National Archives, and some via a National Library. Perhaps there are plans to cross reference?

EU information policy in the digital age – Ian Thompson, European Documentation Centre, Cardiff University

Very interesting and reference-packed presentation. The speaker started by saying he wasn’t sure originally how much there would be of relevance in his presentation, but he was encouraged as virtually every earlier speaker had made similar points to his own. I made notes to take a closer look at the European Transparency Initiative – which has many echoes to IATI – the International Aid Transparency Initiative, in its aim to track where funds are spent; also the PressEurop site, which translates news stories from around Europe into the other languages.

New developments in official publishing: 2 sessions

Official statistics on the web – Paul Auckbarally and Callum Foster, Office for National Statistics

Overview of the current UK national statistics publication hub and a preview of plans for the new ONS website – which as Callum explained, will be as much of a challenge to change the culture of the organisation in the way material has to be produced, as it will be to produce the technical platform. Sounds as though ONS have fully bought into the ‘Making Public Data Public initiative – all their stats will be available as charts, but also as data.

Official publications in the internet age – Rachel Craven, TSO

3 case studies from TSO, including an exercise to produce a bill and its explanatory notes in XML, so that each could be interwoven – probably all will be done this way in the future. Also working on an API to present all Command and House papers in XML, so that content can be available for re-use.

And all that in one day!

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