Interview with Brian Kelly

One of the things we’re keen to try and do is to have a blog chat with everyone who’s coming to “Mash Oop North!”, so it’s with great pleasure that we kick off with Brian Kelly from UKOLN, who’ll be giving one of the opening sessions 🙂

Brian speaking at Internet Librarian International 2007

Brian, could you tell us a little bit about your role at UKOLN and what UK Web Focus involves?

My job title is ‘UK Web Focus’. This role involves advising UKOLN’s communities (higher and further education together with the cultural heritage sector) on best practices for exploiting the potential of the Web, with a focus on emerging aspects of the Web and innovative applications. At present, as might be expected, this covers use of Web 2.0. But in addition to this I have an interest in Web accessibility and how the limitations of the WAI approach to accessibility can be addressed by adopting a more holistic approach. I also have a strong interest in ways in which we need to adopt a more flexible approach to exploiting open standards in development activities.

You’ve been involved with promoting the web since 1993, when there were only a few hundred web servers throughout the world and web traffic only accounted for 1% of all internet use. Back then, did you have any idea of the likely impact the web would have on academia and libraries?

When I helped to set up the Web service at the University of Leeds in January 1993 there were fewer than 50 Web sites registered at CERN. I must admit that I was worried that we had selected the Betamax of networked information services – technically superior to the mainstream alternative (Gopher) but in danger of being sidelined. As I was confident of the superiority of the Web (and had, by chance, met Robert Cailliau, co-developer of the Web with Sir Tim Berners-Lee) I spend time in 1993 and 1994 promoting the Web. And by the time of the UCISA User Services Conference held around Easter time in 1994 I knew that the Web had won – my two sessions on HTML authoring were over-subscribed and people were asking if they could sneak in 🙂

However I will admit that I had initially envisaged the Web as the provider of a Campus Wide Information System (CWIS) and for institutional marketing materials, in particular the prospectus. However innovators such as Andrew Booth and Jon Maber, who were colleagues at the University of Leeds, soon demonstrated how the Web could be used as a teaching resource, through the development of the Bodington VLE service (see

This work, together with research developments in Computing Science and the School of Chemistry, made me appreciate the importance of the Web to higher education and in February 2005 I co-facilitated a two-day event on “WWW – A Strategic Tool for UK Higher Education“.

The aspect of the Web which did take me by surprise was the commercialisation – not only did I not expect to see online shopping malls being set up, I was also surprised by the new business models and the way in which such commercial services (back then, for example, the Alta Vista search engine) would have such an impact in working practices within our institutions. I guess my Old Labour instincts failed to see the benefits which such developments could bring to the educational sector.

Do you think libraries and librarians should adopt a cautious approach to new technologies, or should they be rolling up their sleeves and embracing it fully?

Two year’s ago Mike Ellis and myself gave a talk entitled “Web 2.0: How to Stop Thinking and Start Doing“. We argued that there was a need to actively embrace the Web. Earlier this year I wrote a paper entitled “Time To Stop Doing and Start Thinking: A Framework For Exploiting Web 2.0 Service” in which I describe a risks and opportunities framework which can be used to help ensure that the initial experimentation can be made more sustainable.

Could you tell us a little bit about your session at “Mash Oop North”?

I have to admit that I am not a developer (my software development background started with Algol, Fortran and COBOL and finished with BASIC!). However I wish to encourage the exploitation of the potential of the Web 2.0 infrastructure, including technological approaches such as RSS and REST and the global infrastructure provided by companies such as Google, Amazon and Yahoo. I’ll be looking at ways in which the ‘Enthusiastic Amateurs’ who will be attending “Mash Oop North” can help to embed the approaches we’ll encounter at the workshop within the institution.

Have you got a favourite mash-up?

I’m hoping to find a new favourite at “Mash Oop North”!

Got a favourite beverage?

I always go for the real ale – and as I’m from Liverpool and have studied and working in Yorkshire I enjoy a number of northern beers. A pint or two of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord would go down a treat!

Brian blogs at UK Web Focus and is @briankelly on Twitter.


~ by Dave Pattern on 9/June/2009.

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