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Research, once removed – a Jisc / CNI conference preview

Picture of Dan CohenAhead of this year’s Jisc and CNI leaders’ conference we asked closing keynote Dan Cohen, vice provost/dean of the library and professor of history, Northeastern University, for his views on what the library and research community have learned from the pandemic, the importance of sector events like Jisc and CNI and to preview of his keynote session.

Is there a positive for Research to come from the global pandemic?

It is truly hard to say that there were great positives to come from a horrible global pandemic, but as in all large-scale tragedies, humans were prodded to cast aside rigid, traditional behaviours to try to address challenges with creativity and generosity. If necessity is the mother of invention, the pandemic created massive needs across a range of endeavours. It brought out more collaborative efforts and inventive ways for institutions to serve their communities—and, perhaps, to reach out to new communities that were underserved because they were physically remote or generally excluded from the realm of our disciplines.

Against this backdrop, how important are organisations like CNI and Jisc, and international sector ‘get togethers’ like the leaders conference?

We have all been improvising over the last year, faced with completely new circumstances that were constantly changing month by month and even week by week. Given that flux, which continues to this day, it is more important than ever to engage in the peer-to-peer exchange of ideas—articulating what we’ve tried, what has worked, what hasn’t. There is really no shame in shamelessly copying good ideas and solutions that have been generated and enacted at other institutions. These are unusual times; we should be stealing from each other.

Can you provide a short summary of your keynote ‘Research, once removed’?

I will be talking about how the pandemic year has pushed us to think about new forms of decentralization and the decoupling of research processes, collections, and tools that are still too often, even more than three decades into the age of the web, tightly bound to specific places and individual institutions. Many of the principles of the web that Tim Berners-Lee enacted in code, such as designing systems to be modular and tolerant of variation and use, we have acted out as human beings over the last year. I find that to be a fascinating development.

Dan will deliver his keynote on the closing day of the conference Friday 9 July.

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