Pi and Mash (Un)Conference, Sat 9th August, #piandmash

by Danny

A little while ago I attended an unconference at Senate House Library entitled Pi and Mash, which is described by the organisers as a ‘day of workshops and conversation for people interested in doing fun stuff involving libraries and technology’, which very much hits the nail on the head.It was my first Mashed Library event (I think a lot of attendees had been to others before), and more about them can be found here: http://www.mashedlibrary.com/ The day got off to a good start with free posh tea and somebody clocking that I was wearing a Jesus and Mary Chain t-shirt followed by a discussion of the merits of all of their albums, which frankly threatened to take precedence over Pi and Mash.

However, I did eventually stop and manage to get to the morning session, of which there were four to choose from: Libraries as Open Access Publishers, Systems Librarianship, Practical Communications, and Pocket Code: Create a Mobile Library Game. I chose to attend  Libraries as Open Access Publishers and wasn’t disappointed. Penny Andrews, who led the session, briefly gave an overview of OA, what it’ supposed to be, what it currently is, what it might become, and why. The crux of the session, in my eyes at least, was what are/will be the possible roles for libraries and librarians in an OA environment? In Brief:

+ To advocate for OA to academics, publishers, and management
+ To explain the realities of OA and dispel any myths or misconceptions held by all of the above (of which apparently there are many)
+ To mediate and act as negotiator between all involved parties
+ To set and maintain standards
+ To establish and maintain technical infrastructure for OA publishing (using tools such as Open Journals Systems, Fidus Writer etc)
+ To oversee repositories and archival of materials

Obviously none of this is without problems, not least overstretching as librarians are constantly expected to do more with less (a cliche but true, from what I gather). There are also undoubtedly going to be conflicts along the way, between publishers and institutions, as well as institutional presses (eg OUP) and their libraries, and research institutes who want to benefit exclusively from work they are associated with in any way. At the moment there aren’t any definitive answers and it was a very interesting discussion which prompted further questions and could have gone on indefinitely, but lunch was calling.

Before the afternoon sessions began there was an opportunity to see the borrowed 3D printer in action and an explanation of how it works. I discovered that cartridges cost around £30, though how much printing this actually equates to I don’t know, and the model at Pi and Mash was worth £900. The printer itself is not as high tech as you’d expect, it actually prints rather roughly and the article being printed has to be scraped indelicately from the base tray once you’ve finished. It also took about two and a half hours to print two 3-4 inch figurines. Still, the basic premise is exciting and I’m sure that within a few years they will be a more affordable and useful piece of tech (like mobile phones), perhaps not in the home but for libraries and other organisations at least.

The afternoon sessions on offer were Automated Love: Scripting and Automated Processes, Meaningful Metrics and Visualisation Tools, and Linked Open Data and Onto Wiki. I decided upon Linked Open Data as I thought this would be the most useful for my MA starting next month, but unfortunately it wasn’t as beneficial for myself as the morning session had been. Firstly I was out of my depth; some of the technological aspects involved were far beyond my familiarity. Secondly, the demonstrative aspect of the session required installation of software onto peoples laptops, which was fraught with problems, and unfortunately somewhat curtailed what the speaker could do.

I was somewhat apprehensive before the conference that my library knowledge and library IT skills would be too far below par (I’m only about to start my MA where as a lot of the attendees were very experienced systems librarians), but I learned a lot from the day, not only from the sessions but from little pieces picked up in conversation, as seems to be the case with most events I’ve been to. I’d encourage anybody who may be similarly apprehensive to dive in at future events and see how much you can get out of it.

My thanks to the organisers, speakers and whoever made the mincemeat and apple pie.