Application profiles and metadata for repositories
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  • User testing for SWAP

    Posted on April 29th, 2009 Talat Chaudhri 3 comments

    On Monday 27 July, the first trial of methods for user testing for SWAP were conducted at UKOLN. This was very much an internal “dry run”, the success of which leaves us in a strong position to take every opportunity to repeat the exercise more widely within the repositories community.

    In collaboration with the IEMSR and IE Demonstrator projects, which also have an interest in developing and implementing application profiles in repositories, we are very interested in developing methodologies for the evaluation of the Dublin Core Application Profiles (DCAPs) funded by JISC. Of these, SWAP has the best developed online presence and content in institutional repositories, as well as a strong and developed user community focussed on developing Open Access content on the Web.

    Our current work is therefore focussed on SWAP in the first instance, but we naturally intend to develop the process of practical user testing for the other DCAPs. We are of course aware that the needs of different resource types and repository communities will differ very widely. This is the reason that we are interested in practical user testing within those communities, to ensure that theoretical approaches to constructing application profiles actually fill the needs and requirements than underpin the development of such content in repositories and other related services on the Web.

    In many ways, it is fair to say that SWAP is the “lowest hanging fruit” for this endeavour, but the impact of getting application profiles right for such a large and growing proportion of repository content should not be underestimated. Being largely textual resources, scholarly works are likely to be an area where significant lessons can be learnt for other resource types with more specific constraints and requirements. It is intended that we conduct user testing of several other DCAPs during the summer of 2009, if possible, following initial work on SWAP.

    It is perhaps worth remembering that developments in repository technology have come a long way since SWAP was first developed, the example of which the other DCAPs have tended to follow, especially in the matter of using the FRBR structure. It is by no means certain that this is the only way, or the best way, to create relationships in so-called complex objects, which is to say sets of resources that relate to each other as versions. In particular, OAI-ORE is an exciting development that may provide an alternative, although its relevance for this purpose needs to be carefully evaluated and compared to existing approaches and technologies. It will not do to simply adopt the newest, coolest approach without a careful analysis of how the needs of users relate to the functionality that is presently available. If these do not correlate well within the software contexts currently in use in the community, the application profiles will fail accordingly.

    It has become obvious that implementation of the DCAPs has been slow. In the case of SWAP, which has been around the longest, that lag has become a profound apathy towards efforts to implement the application profile widely in repositories. It is not even clear how best this should be done, as neither methods nor benefits have been convincingly demonstrated. It would be a great shame if the investment of expertise in improving the metadata vocabulary were wasted because the structure has not been successfully integrated into repositories. This mismatch must be understood and resolved if the situation is to be turned round and the expected gains of SWAP and the other DCAPs are to be realised.

    There are a variety of technological approaches to application profiles that will need careful study, once the user testing brings a better understanding of how users need to relate particular types of resources together in repositories. These may include the Description Set Profile approach, traditional XML with XML Schema and OAI-ORE. But more importantly, it must be shown beyond doubt how the DCAPs fit the applications that users need them for, and which changes may be required, before software developers will have the motivation to address those needs by implementing the DCAPs in the major repository platforms.