I really don’t do mornings. But somehow I got to Kings on time (8.30!) and started work watching over the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) session in the bowels of the Strand building.
Errands meant I only heard the first of those talks, given by Flanders on TEI documentation. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much, but it proved to be a very important paper. Although it was focused on the needs and capabilities of TEI, the fundamental idea – that people need different forms of documentation, but basically the same information – has far wider application. From this Flanders identified nine (!) different types of document, and ways ‘bricks’ of information could be re-used. This is moving ‘help’ from being a bundle of text files to being a proper software application. I think the TEI ODD (‘One Document Does it All’) system has some similarities with Perl’s POD (Plain Old Documentation) mark up, though not knowing a great deal about either means I may be (very) wide of the mark.
In the afternoon I attended the Archives session. First up was Dirk Roorda talking about “The ecology of longevity“, using evolutionary theory to think about the preservation of data. Normally, such biological metaphors have me reaching for my proverbial revolver, but here they were used with some subtlety and care. Unfortunately, a great leap was suddenly made into some thoroughly specious economics, which the audience rightfully picked on in the questions. How, after discussing the complexity and chaos of biology, could the speaker throw up platitudes dating from a century before Darwin?
Schlosser and Ulman’s talk on preserving digital projects had an interesting dialectic going on between the academic and the archivist, and – very important to me – recognized that not all digital projects are ambitious, heavily funded, grand collaborations, but also ‘fragile vessels’, projects that are on the margin, not mission critical. Buchanan then spoke on building Digital Libraries of Scholarly Editions. The problem here is aggregating individual projects into a library: each edition has its own aims, quirks and standards, and a library has to create some uniformity. Buchanan spoke of the difficulties in building such libraries; it occurred to me later that perhaps the problem has to be solved by the makers of the editions, and portability is their responsibility.
Late afternoon was spent looking round the poster displays, noting especially the cartography projects. Google maps was used, though some were chaffing against its limitations. There is a real need for an easily deployed, standalone mapping CMS using free data. (And it’s on my to-do list).