Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Editorial Introduction to Issue 43: When Technology Alone Is Not Enough

Richard Waller introduces Ariadne issue 43.

Niki Panteli provides us with an article which clearly indicates that, in our increasingly technology-dominated world, there are times when Trust in Global Virtual Teams cannot be taken for granted. This is particularly true where, as is increasingly the case, projects are being obliged, indeed, actively encouraged, to operate on a distributed working model; a model where the lack of interaction between virtual teams increases the chances of loss of trust. I would add that we should not forget that virtual teams established merely to complete a project may have no shared past - or future - and are consequently even more vulnerable.

Niki Panteli points out, as would many, that face-to-face (f2f) communication is by far the best form of working but that in the global virtual world we must accept that computer-mediated events in any project's lifetime are many, predominant and significant to the final outcome, even where f2f has been the basis of project strategy and kick-off meetings. Moreover the form of communication most commonly used by distributed teams is the most unexplored text-based asynchronous form of communication - e-mail - and as such leaves the fate of their project wide open to serious problems. However, I might contend that f2f meetings, where taken for granted or inadequately understood by project leaders also have the potential to fail their participants and ill repay the time they devote to them. The absence of planning, agenda, documentation and minutes beforehand as well as uninclusive chairing, poor participant preparation, excluded voices and inadequate outcomes also have the potential to distort the goals and understanding of a virtual team as much as any asynchronous communication.

Niki Panteli also refers to the importance of 'swift trust' where a good understanding of roles and responsibilities quickly happens in a project and which clearly relies on effective communication for its success. Niki's own study indicates that the content of formal and informal communication helps in building and maintaining trust. In a business environment she contends, trust is not rapidly developed given 'conflict and power differentials'. Consequently the tender flower of the one-off distributed working project needs shared goals with all partners being aware of them together with an appreciation, in the virtual environment, of the usefulness of synchronous computer-mediated communication (CMC). Such CMC has the potential to 'socialise' and stand in for real voice conversation, but, I would contend, also to distort understanding as compared with voice communication and even intrude unnecessarily; I wonder whether their use should be made subject to mutually agreed ground rules.

With regard to the imbalance of power that can quickly exist in a project where there is a hierarchical system of management, the author notes that in high-trust teams power differentials ebb and flow given the importance of any skill-set to the outcomes of the project. This is indeed preferable in terms of the project's success to the imposition of power on the basis of standing within the partnership's various organisations where no account is taken of workers' experience and knowledge which are relevant to the project's outcomes. However what might also prove to be of interest is the phenomenon of individuals in IT and elsewhere who regard knowledge as power and, realising that knowledge empowers the recipient, withhold it.

Niki Panteli asserts that the careful establishment of shared goals is not a one-off solution - they need to be maintained in order to continue to provide the benefits they accrue. Indeed that assumes in the first place that the establishment of shared goals will provide the 'glue' to hold a virtual team together long enough to develop that necessary trust. Furthermore, the unavoidably iterative process of goals-sharing leads her to the inevitable conclusion that (rather like education) constant communication and the sharing of goals are ultimately nowhere near as costly to a project as ignorance.

We welcome back Daniel Chudnov and his colleagues, Richard Cameron, Jeremy Frumkin, Ross Singer and Raymond Yee who in Opening up OpenURLs with Autodiscovery demonstrate a 'gather locally, share globally' approach to OpenURLs and metadata autodiscovery in scholarly and non-scholarly environments. In this article they focus our attention on one opportunity to bridge the gap between the new 'cool' applications like weblogging and library services by promoting the broader application of OpenURL-based metadata sharing. The authors provide examples and their views on the potential of this solution for OpenURL implementers and invite their views. Elsewhere in the metadata mines, Pete Johnston enquires "What Are Your Terms?" in his article on the work of the Information Environment Metadata schema Registry and its development of a registry and associated tools and architecture for the JISC Information Environment (IE). He covers aspects such as metadata standards and application profiles, metadata in the JISC IE and finishes by considering the challenges for the project.

Marieke Guy points out the largest single arts audience in this country is readers and in Finding Someplace to Go: Reading and the Internet provides us with an overview of how the Internet is being harnessed to promote what she describes as the 'art of reading'. Central to her theme is the move from the emphasis on authors and their content to their readers and their experience of what they are reading and the very realistic strategy of combining the 'off-line with the online' to support not only the many blossoming reading groups but also the individual reader. Another article in which public library staff have a role to play is National Library Goes Local. Not that Ariadne could remotely be accused of running human interest stories, but it is fair to say that Stephanie Kenna with the aid of Sue Cook tells an interesting tale of some careful attention to the needs of public library staff in their design for the British Library training package and its virtual tour of BL's collections and services.

Persuant to my preferred strategy of tracking themes through successive issues, I welcome Marion Prudlo's discussion of E-Archiving: An Overview of Some Repository Management Software Tools in which she looks at LOCKSS, EPrints and DSpace in terms of who uses them, their cost, underlying technology, the required know-how, and functionalities. In so doing she trusts that her comments will be of use to libraries, universities and other organisations influenced by open access and considering what software to adopt should they opt to take an active part in the scholarly publishing and preservation process themselves.

I am delighted to pick up the thread of Shibboleth from last issue's At the Event Report via Simon McLeish's description of Installing Shibboleth in a Higher Education environment. The topic of identity management is assuming increasing importance and Simon's objective and experienced coverage of the installation procedure is a useful contribution to understanding this software and its potential, warts and all.

I am equally grateful to Leona Carpenter who addresses a favoured topic in Supporting Digital Preservation and Asset Management in Institutions in which she describes how a JISC development programme is confronting the threat posed by inadequate provision for digital preservation, obsolescence, disruptive technologies and inadequate policy to the retention of valuable digital assets by institutions. She points out that the management of such assets is as dependent on organisational culture, process and policy as the resolution of technical issues such as file formats. At the same time, it is very useful to have Neil Beagrie focus upon one of the activities supported by the above JISC Programme in Digital Preservation: Best Practice and its Dissemination in which he describes the development and subsequent use of a digital preservation handbook to underpin training and professional practice. The story of that development would seem a sound example of how to plan and execute.

As usual, we offer our usual At the Event section, as well as the helpful updates in our Regular Columns and reviews on works which include a useful overview of the global digital library scene, an introduction to metadata for the information professional, a practitioner's guide to the management of digital rights and a practical guide to building an electronic resource collection. In addition of course we provide our expanded section of news and events.

I hope you will enjoy issue 43.

Author Details

Richard Waller
Ariadne Editor

Email: ariadne@ukoln.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/

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