Opening Plenary Talk:”Headlights on Dark Roads”

20 07 2009

This year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW 2009) will be taking place shortly (28-30th July 2009). Although the event is fully subscribed we intend to provide a live video stream of the plenary talks. And in order for remote participants to gain an understanding of the talks we are publishing this blog post written by Professor Derek Law, University of Strathclyde who will be giving the opening plenary talk from 14.14-15.00 on Tuesday 28th July 2009 on “Headlights on Dark Roads“.


It’s almost impossible to do technology prediction. The papers are full of the fact that it’s forty years since the first moon landing. It’s also forty years since Concorde first flew. Arguably both are technology dead ends. Much less remarked is the fact that 1969 not only saw the maiden flight of the Jumbo jet, but the first ATM opened in New York, almost unnoticed. And yet the combination of the jumbo and the hole in the wall revolutionised mass travel. Even less noticed was that 1969 saw the first AIDS case in the USA. So prediction is a mugs game.

However, what I want to talk about in my paper at the conference is trends; about how librarians are rushing around running libraries magnificently but ignoring the elephant in the room – born digital data – and how institutions are simply ignoring the mushrooming growth of this material and neglecting to plan for a wholly digital future.

I’m a great fan of Prensky’s model of digital natives and digital immigrants. Much less noticed is his description of legacy content and future content. At the corporate level we still tend to focus on the legacy content – essentially the paper based world. And yet the growth rate of electronic material is phenomenal and one suspects the loss rate would be equally startling – if anyone knew how to calculate it. I doubt that any institution knows what its electronic outputs are each year, even by volume, never mind by type. And I’m almost certain that none has a set of policies and best practices to deal with all that born digital material. The consequence is mass diffusion of responsibility with lots of people responsible for little bits of the output, but no overall strategy.

This has obvious implications for web managers as well as librarians as it’s easy to guess who will be left picking up the crap when the pigeons come home to roost. So the paper explores these issues, and while perhaps preaching to the converted, argues that we really need to get our act together.


Derek LawDerek Law has worked in several British universities and published and spoken at conferences extensively. Most of his work has been to do with the development of networked resources in higher education and with the creation of national information policy. This has been combined with an active professional life in professional organisations related to librarianship and computing. A committed internationalist he has been involved in projects and research in over forty countries. He was awarded the Barnard prize for contributions to Medical Informatics in 1993, Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1999, an honorary degree by the Sorbonne in 2000, the IFLA medal in 2003, Honorary Fellowship of CILIP in 2004 and was an OCLC Distinguished Scholar in 2006. He is currently Chair of the new JISC Services Management Company and Programme Consultant for the Libraries of the Future Horizon Scan.

Derek will be giving a plenary talk on the opening day of IWMW 2009 entitled “Headlights on Dark Roads“.


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