INSPIRE, innovate, improve: a year’s worth of updates and upgrades to the HEP database

Heath O'Connell

Heath O’Connell

The annual INSPIRE Advisory Board meeting was held at SLAC in May.

The five partnering labs – CERN, DESY in Germany, Fermilab, the Institute of High Energy Physics in China and SLAC – were each represented both on the advisory board by distinguished physicists from those institutions (Scientific Computing’s Rob Kutschke represents Fermilab) and on the INSPIRE directorate by the program heads at each lab. The advisory board also includes Professors John Beacom (Ohio State University) and Kyle Cranmer (New York University) and Alberto Accomazi, head of the sister service, called the Astrophysical Data System. Richard Mount of SLAC Computing attended and provided valuable input to the INSPIRE team.

The board heard about recent developments in INSPIRE, including the remarkable progress made with ORCID registration. INSPIRE now has more than 7,000 physicists identified with ORCID numbers. In addition to author disambiguation, ORCIDs will help users interact with INSPIRE by using ORICD logins to send information and update records. The author disambiguation effort is particularly strong at Fermilab, where it is spearheaded by Margaret Miller, who interacts with both large collaborations and individual scientists to make sure everyone’s record in INSPIRE is in good shape.

Fermilab’s Melissa Clegg runs the INSPIRE Jobs database, and the advisory board was strong in its support of this effort. Having just one place to either look for or post jobs of interest to HEP scientists creates an enormous efficiency for the community. Reflecting Fermilab’s strong interest in astrophysics, Melissa is also working with Jessica Trombetta on a project to ensure consistency between INSPIRE and the Astrophysical Data System.

Board Chair Michael Peskin was very appreciative of INSPIRE’s efforts to digitize old conference proceedings; these important works can be very difficult to obtain. The work of Fermilab’s Kathryn Duerr and Mary Kennedy in making sure all of Fermilab’s huge scientific output is recorded faithfully in INSPIRE, with full-text scans of older works such as Ph.D. theses, certainly enriches INSPIRE’s holdings. Additionally Rob Atkinson works to preserve old conference websites, often rescuing them from personal websites and in some cases thumb drives, and stores them on Fermilab’s servers where they can be preserved for posterity.

INSPIRE has done an excellent job of keeping up with the heavy workflow. Our goal is to answer all tickets within a reasonable time period. Kathy Saumell plays a key role in helping to keep these queues under control.

On the technical side, recent work on the development of the next version of INSPIRE was demoed to an appreciative board. This new platform represents a great step forward that will immediately benefit both the INSPIRE user community and the people who work on the database. By leveraging state of the art, off-the-shelf technologies and machine learning algorithms, INSPIRE will be both more powerful and easier to maintain.

A very intense and lively discussion centered on the future of INSPIRE and how it might engage with other organizations involved in the management of scientific information. It was noted that INSPIRE is a mature service and therefore that plans to interact with “information start-ups” would have to be carefully designed. Nonetheless, there was a great deal of excitement about what the future here will bring. Michael Peskin noted the role of INSPIRE as a beacon of innovation that shines out from HEP over the entire scientific landscape.

Heath O’Connell is the head of the Information Resources Department.