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Jones, C., Wieneke, L. (2016). Adding Value to a Research Infrastructure Through User-contributed ePublications. In Digital Humanities 2016: Conference Abstracts. Jagiellonian University & Pedagogical University, Kraków, pp. 586-588.
Adding Value to a Research Infrastructure Through User-contributed ePublications

Adding Value to a Research Infrastructure Through User-contributed ePublications

1. Introduction

The so-called ‘web 2.0 revolution’ heralded in the middle of the last decade has so far neither replaced the author as the source of genuine creation nor turned conventional production processes in research and industry upside down. Rather than blurring the boundary between experts and amateurs, it questions the role of the institution as a source of authority by empowering individuals, small groups and communities (Wieneke 2010). Even today, institutions struggle to turn the productivity and impulses of their respective user communities into clear added value that benefits the institution and the community alike. In this paper we present and discuss our experiences in the development, implementation and management of user-created content built using the MyPublications tool on CVCE.eu. MyPublications enables users to create and publish their own enhanced publications using documents and resources on the European integration process available on CVCE.eu.

The CVCE’s goal is to contribute to a deeper understanding of European integration by developing a dedicated digital research infrastructure. One component of the infrastructure is a series of digital collections of publications (ePublications) on themes and topics associated with the European integration process, as curated by a researcher or team of researchers. The ePublications are themselves aggregations of diverse research objects (resources), including researcher-written contextual articles, historical documents, press articles, photographs, interactive diagrams and timelines as well as other multimedia material, each with a set of descriptive, publishable metadata and a unique and persistent identifier.

State-of-the-art ePublication frameworks are built upon a set of underlying principles encapsulated by the presentation of research knowledge alongside mechanisms for describing, sharing, discovering, reusing and repurposing the scientific content (Bechhofer, Roure et al., 2010). The CVCE’s publication model is no different. It encapsulates the following principles: (1) the ability to provide aggregations of content derived from many different published objects; (2) the provision of a unique and persistent identifier, ensuring sustainability of access; (3) the possibility of tracing the steps a researcher took to produce the ePublication; (4) the potential to reuse objects in a different context; (5) the ability to change the way objects are used by repurposing them; (6) the ability to reuse objects in compliance with IPR constraints.

The current CVCE ePublication framework is expert-led, and research outputs are based on the centre’s research questions and strategic topics. This approach leads to digital expert-curated ePublications based on themes and topics that are robust and reliable but — and this is both an advantage and a limitation — constrained by organisational priorities. On the other hand, the content itself can be combined and contextualised in different ways, both to highlight other perspectives and readings but also to address topics out of scope of the hosting institution. The challenge we face is therefore in the development of innovative tools and methods that offer new ways of reusing and repurposing historical objects by leveraging the potential of our user base to contribute knowledge themselves. This will in turn foster outputs that create a genuine surplus value for other users of the site by covering issues that we partially address or do not include at all.

The MyPublication tool empowers users to create tailor-made ePublications comprising resources in line with their personal needs, and encourages them to publish them on our website, thereby providing a plethora of different perspectives on the European integration process that ultimately enhance the value of our site for other users. The tool builds on the CVCE’s multilingual ePublication model and infrastructure for research, teaching and learning activities in European integration studies.

2. The tool

MyPublications is the first instalment of the ‘Digital Toolbox’ at CVCE.eu. This suite of tools is designed to enable users to reuse or customise our resources for their own purposes. Using the MyPublications authoring tool, users can create ePublications that are personally curated collections of the many historical resources available on CVCE.eu alongside their own text, thoughts, ideas and critical analysis. The tool has been developed with the following workflow in mind: select, organise, structure, annotate, author (and edit), read, share and publish. The tool and its development are based on the CVCE’s experience in building and maintaining a previous application called ‘Albums’, which was widely used by the teaching and learning community for assignments (e.g. ‘build an album on the history of monetary union’) or to document ongoing research (e.g. ‘all resources related to the Rome Treaties’).

Once a user is logged into the Digital Toolbox, they can browse collections of objects (referred to as ‘resources’ in the tool) or use the search facility to find and select relevant resources and add them to ‘MyResources’. Users are then able to create a new publication using the MyPublication tool. They are asked to choose a cover picture, provide a short description and title and set the language. They then build a structure by creating subsections, add content to the different sections and write corresponding descriptions while being able to add, sort, organise and annotate the selected resources. Users can read the publication using a slideshow viewer, a simple interface that provides a sequential presentation of the narrative of an ePublication akin to a book. They can also share their publication with colleagues, peers and friends via a link. The publish/unpublish functionality enables users to make their publication accessible to the public in the MyPublications section of CVCE.eu (see figure 1). This should add new user-generated content to the research infrastructure.

Figure 1: The MyPublications tool. Empty authoring interface (top left), MyResources section (middle left), slideshow view (bottom left), Share feature (top right), overview of publicly available MyPublications (bottom right).
Figure 1: The MyPublications tool. Empty authoring interface (top left), MyResources section (middle left), slideshow view (bottom left), Share feature (top right), overview of publicly available MyPublications (bottom right).

3. The platform

The current CVCE data repository and ePublication framework uses the Alfresco document management system to manage, store and retrieve a wide variety of historical resources on the European integration process, such as interviews, treaties, legislation, photographs and cartoons, from an extensive array of archives and media outlets. The frontend and backend applications have been implemented in Liferay using HTML 5, CSS and JavaScript.

MyPublications was developed using the iterative design methodology Scrum, an AGILE development approach. This approach enabled us to involve our users in the development process on an ongoing basis, avoiding the need to predefine requirements for complex functionalities. The interface was designed with a focus on usability (Shneiderman and Plaisant, 2005) and the aim of providing an easy-to-use, pragmatic environment. All the tools in the Digital Toolbox, especially MyPublications, were designed with a ‘less-is-more’ approach (Jones and Haklay, 2009) based on pragmatism and prioritising simplicity over complexity. As a benchmark we defined that it should be possible to explain how to use the tool with a two-minute help video. In-house users (historians, economists and political scientists) were engaged in testing, evaluating and providing feedback following each development cycle.

4. Conclusion

The simplicity of MyPublications enables a straightforward process of authoring and content creation for users with varying levels of digital literacy. Such facilities within research infrastructures also have the potential to increase accessibility to and reuse of existing objects to create new content. The tool provides a pragmatic solution for resources that have complex restrictions with respect to their licences for use. The content on our site is hosted by the CVCE, and full licences for permission to use the material on CVCE.eu have been acquired, so scholars, teachers and learners can avoid all the common problems associated with the use of weakly licensed material or unsustainable, transitory URLs. The option of publishing the publications in the CVCE research infrastructure increases the usability of the resources by enabling individual users, in various guises, to actively contribute to an international research infrastructure.

Following the release of the final tool in autumn 2015, we will reflect during our presentation at DH2016 on our experience of maintaining the MyPublications tool and user-created publications while particularly emphasising our lessons learned: how far have we succeeded in mobilising our user base to create and publish MyPublications? Is the incentive of being able to use licensed material, therefore avoiding copyright restrictions, strong enough, or is this not relevant for our users? What kind of content have our users created? Has the focus been on the final outcome (e.g. those publishing their own research) or has the process of creation been more relevant for them (e.g. those completing class assignments)? What tensions do we encounter between the institutional perspective and our user base regarding different perspectives and topics? And finally, what are the practical trials and tribulations of integrating user-created content in an institutional context?

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