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RepoCamp at the Library of Congress

Washington, D.C. If you cross Jeff Bezos’, Amazon CEO, “Two Pizza Team Rule” with what David Flanders, Project Manager, The Bloomsbury Colleges, and organizer of the summer of 2008 “Repository Road Shows,” compares to “Penny Universities” of the 18th century that were often convened in taverns, or to the work life of Shakespeare who more than likely developed his best collaborative plays around a pub table, you will get a ‘RepoCamp.’ The open, non-territorial, and thought-provoking slogan for this series of events for knowledge managers of every stripe—“The coolest thing to do with your data will be thought of by someone else”—was interesting enough to inspire about 25 people to attend RepoCamp at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. on July 25, 2008.

The idea for RepoCamp came out of UK “BarCamp” and “Unconference” events sponsored by the JISC Common Repository Interfaces Group (CRIG). Unstructured, rapid prototyping events are designed to speed up on-the-fly innovation. Instead of spending time in meetings discussing possibilities RepoCamp participants quickly explain ideas and write code together in a friendly environment.

A typical day at RepoCamp goes something like this: Sharing five minute “elevator pitches” loosely based on what’s currently inspiring or bothering participants about managing, developing or running a repositories; self-organizating around flip charts with notes from pitches so that people can gather to contribute insights around particular ideas; ad hoc prototyping with selected “gurus” who coordinate progress and help grab services off the web; sharing conclusions with a new round of elevator pitches based on outcomes that can include step-by-step paper-prototypes, working interfaces or brand new ideas. The real RepoCamp wrap-up is traditionally conducted at a local bar where the best ideas seem to emerge. “Let’s make a lot of mistakes and make them fast,” is an often-repeated RepoCamp direction says Flanders. More challenging issues such as scalability, robustness, and interoperability are post-RepoCamp fodder.

CRIG takes an inclusive view of knowledge management in interfacing repositories with other services. Rachel Bruce, founder of CRIG along with Rachel Heery, observes, “These issues are global and not something to be dealt with solely within national boundaries.” The opportunity to reach out to developers in the U.S. to create solutions with a series of RepoCamp events grew out of collaborations that were already taking place with DSpace, EPrints, Fedora developers.

Sandy Payette, Executive Director of Fedora Commons, home of Fedora open source repository software, sees RepoCamp and other emerging programming events as being particularly useful for developers who enjoy social networking around things that matter to them—most often problem solving that leads to rapid prototyping. “It’s a way to gauge interest on-the -spot,” She said.

The DSpace Foundation and Fedora Commons recently announced plans to collaborate based on meetings held this spring where members of DSpace and Fedora Commons communities discussed multiple dimensions of cooperation and collaboration between the two organizations. Ideas included leveraging the power and reach of open source knowledge communities by using the same services and standards in the future. The organizations will also explore opportunities to provide new capabilities for accessing and preserving digital content, developing common web services, and enabling interoperability across repositories.

JISC CRIG saw this and other community efforts towards achieving greater integration and interoperation as an opportunity to host the U.S. Repostiory Roadshow that wrapped up at the Library of Congress on July 25. The JISC CRIG team would like to extend thanks to Ed Summers for arranging the LOC venue.

JISC will sponsor an academic developer-focused event in 2009 that will utilize RepoCamp ideas (Flanders suggests, for example, that the conference dinner might be something like a a massive video game party) to continue to work towards that elusive but worthy goal of “interoperability” by building relationships among developers and programmers across academia. Look for an official announcement of JISC’s “Developer Happiness Days” early in 2009.