Panlibus Blog

Archive for February, 2005

Metadata adds value: Photos plus metadata equals money

Sharing photos, via websites, amongst family and friends is nothing unusual and now some websites are offering to market your photos to publishers and other markets enabling you to make money. Metadata produce the value-add and transform a picture of your holiday that you might otherwise only share with family and friends into product that a publisher will buy. fotoLibra is a good example of such a site and has been getting some attention in the business press and was featured in February’s Real Business magazine’s “50 to watch 2005”. fotoLibra, With their business model in mind, devote a lot of effort on advice on how to create metadata even (in the their forum) going into some detail about Dublin Core.

“Established [picture] libraries are now busy cataloguing and digitising their huge collections, and searching can be a nightmare. That’s where fotoLibra has a great advantage. The people cataloguing its images are the ones who know them best—the photographers and picture owners themselves. That means picture buyers can find exactly what they’re looking for, quickly and reliably.“

So here is value from Metadata being created at source. There is however an interesting forum debate about the resulting problems of “keywording”. People often overdo the metadata and “throw the dictionary or thesaurus at it” I also found it interesting that they are using DOIs.

Flickr from Ludicorp research is another photo sharing site that is getting a lot of attention and was featured in the Guardian recently. It is interesting that you can choose to license the photos you upload to Flickr under a Creative Commons license. They too place a lot of emphasis on metadata or “tags” Both these sites, because they are about sharing are good examples of Folksonomy in action. I noticed Ludicorp’s president Stewart Butterfield is sharing a platform to speak on “Folksonomy, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mess” at next month’s emerging technology conference in San Diego.

Value and the future of public libraries

You know that a movement might be forming when two challenging ideas arrive on the same day.

1. I was reading an excellent article first published in American Libraries about value and public libraries (thanks to Lorcan Dempsey for the reference), at: This quote particularly resonated:

“Valuable does not necessarily correspond with the library staffs ideas of importance.”

2. Understanding value is an area that is challenging UK public libraries evidenced by todays publication of the Laser Futures Group report on the Future of Public Libraries.

Put these together and stir the pot.

One of the options the Laser report mentions is that the running of library services be handed to the regional MLAs and removed from local authority control. This would seem to be a way to remove duplication and inefficiency, but begs further research and brings us back to the question of value – the answer is in the eye of the beholder, so maybe we should ask the users. Does a large authority such as Essex provide better ‘value’ than a small one like Kingston-upon-Thames just because of scale economies?

I was in the audience at PLA this year when Jeff Jacobs, Director General at DCMS gave a challenging speech (no powerpoint!) on the need for libraries to prove their value. He got a frosty reception to say the least, but I thought he made an absolutely fair point – one that appears to be gaining some currency now. His point was to ask what benefit libraries give in terms of economic contribution to their communities, rather than an emotive argument about the value of culture.

I question what public libraries are doing to understand where they add value. I’m hoping that other people will be asking this question, even trying to answer it at the forthcoming 1-day conference on 4th March that the Laser Foundation have organised to discuss this report – possibly the most important day this year for UK public libraries. I’m very much looking forward to it and I’ll blog the day.

Talis working in partnership with Amazon

I thought it would be worthwhile sharing with the blog community a new partnership that Talis has announced with none other than Amazon. A press release has just gone out and some of the booktrade press have picked it up, including The Bookseller and Book2Book.

As the press release underlines the Venice project was about offering more profitable ways for libraries to dispose of their stock. In this case, we worked with Amazon to enable our library customers to connect with Amazon Marketplace.

We have to thank East Renfrewshire who really went for the idea from the outset, and were willing to devote their time and staff resource to testing the concept. They initially loaded 500 titles using a batch process developed by Talis and sold 20% of the stock within a 12 week timescale. The return they got from selling the books on Amazon’s marketplace, far outstripped the revenues they would have made had they pursued the more conventional approach of a booksale AND I would go as far as saying the additional staff resource required to run the process was more than recovered. Well, East Renfrewshire certainly seem to think so because even though the project itself has now ended, they will continue to run the software.

One of the really neat features about Venice was that we used Amazon’s Web Services to pull data into our application. A library could view for the first time:

* the item’s list price (as new)
* the second-hand list price (lowest and highest)
* the number of used copies on sale for that particular item

just by scanning the barcode of the book with a reader.

Armed with this information East Renfrewshire could make sound decisions on what was worth selling through Marketplace, and what they could dispense with more effectively elsewhere ie. via booksales etc. It also allowed them to “play the market”. Their sales strategy was to undercut other vendors on the site, in order to get the books out of the door as quickly as possible.

The project raised many interesting points, which are worthy of further consideration:

1. Purchasing Behaviour – East Renfrewshire found that by adopting the Venice approach to stock disposal they began to start analysing their front-end acquisition process. Dare I say it, they could consider the idea that the speed in which stock via Marketplace got sold might influence their future purchasing decisions. ie. let’s buy more of those kinds of books because we can dispose of them more quickly, efficiently and profitably at the end of their shelf-life.

2. Visibility of Value – the data we pulled in to the application via Amazon’s Web Services, for the first time gave East Renfrewshire a real true sense of the market value for their holdings. It went some way to dispelling the notion that a book ceases to have a pecuniary value, once it has been used. More than that, it has highlighted to the library that some of their older stock has more than held its value. It has actually become in the eyes of the marketplace “rare” and the price reflects this. We have to ask, would so many of the public libraries’ stock of First Edition Harry Potters have disappeared, if the stock manager had a tool like Venice to keep them informed?

3. Optimisation – As car owners we make a point of knowing when in our car’s life it has reached its optimum resale value – whether we act on it or not is a different matter. Venice has offered the same optimisation opportunity to libraries for their books. Over time, a library using the Venice approach could understand that a book’s resale value is optimised at a given point, and adjust their withdrawal policies accordingly. Potentially, the shelf life of a library item could be shortened, but the revenues used to replenish stock with more current materials.

Venice has come at a really interesting time for libraries. Politically, we have the Department for Culture, Media and Sport questioning the efficiency of the supply chain and whether libraries are getting enough “books for the buck”. By focussing on the creation of a resale opportunity for libraries’ stock, we are demonstrating a fantastic opportunity for libraries to derive additional revenue from stock which can be ploughed back into new items.

Anyway, long blog, but lots to say. We are currently genericising the app that East Renfrewshire used and will be shortly be making it available via the Talis Developer Network.

Ground breaking Library Personalised RSS

Talis, in partnership with Northumbria University Library, have launched a trial of personalised RSS (PRSS) feeds for Library users. This trial is part of the Talis Research Project Bluebird. Members of the trial and other interested parties, interact on the Talis Bluebird Forum.

Subscribers to their personal feed receive alerts from their Library account such as ‘Item due for return in 3 days’, or ‘The item you reserved is now awaiting collection at the Library’, or ‘Your overdue item has already attracted in excess of £2.00 in charges’. The feed items provide a link to take the user, without an interviening login challenge, in to their Library interface at the apropriate page to take the required action such as renew the book on loan.

To illustrate the issues surrounding the requirement for alerting Library Users, to describe the technology used, and to give an overview of the trial I have published a white paper Personalised RSS for Library – User Interaction.

We have set-up a Demonstration PRSS Feed to show how the loaning activity of a fictitious user [Mr Draco Malfoy] would be represented in his Personalised RSS feed. Over the next couple of months Mr Malfoy will reserve, loan, and return (often late) items from the Demonstration Library to provide pseudo realistic RSS traffic.

So what is ground breaking then?

Firstly, Talis are the first LMS/ILS supplier to demonstrate live Library Borrower/Patron account data alerts using RSS.

Secondly, although there are many thousands of RSS feeds around there are very few that are personalised to a specific user on a specific system. Up until now RSS has been [as the most popular definition of those three letters imply] about Syndicating published information in a Really Simple way, to anyone who can subscribe.

Along with RSS Feeds to return search results, as announced by MSN [ MSN Search: Panlibus ] and other Library suppliers [theshiftedlibrarian – “ILS vendor to offer native RSS feeds out of the catalog”], PRSS opens up the third generation of RSS applications. (Podcasting ushered in the second generation. So many generations and not yet a teenager! )

PRSS has the promise to open up a whole new world of proactive alerting for subscribed users, and you heard about it here first folks!

The image of Libraries just being places with lots of books where there is not much innovation is definitely old hat!

The changing face of libraries

It was good to hear the BBC debating libraries again on Tuesday. (BBC Radio 4 “Shop Talk”) Tim Coates was there doing some “retail” challenging and Andrew Stevens from the Museums Libraries and Archive Council (MLA) agreed that bookshops have taken the lead in marketing and presenting their wares and libraries can learn a lot from them. (btw Andrew did a keynote presentation to the Talis Insight conference too in November).

Heather Wills from Tower Hamlets explained their Idea Stores and how the initiative was based on major market research so they were providing what people wanted like better locations, 7 day opening and access to IT. She took pains to emphasise the role of books and that borrowing was going up (in contradiction of the national trend). Books have become a sort of cipher to represent unchallengeable cultural value I think. It’s assumed we all agree books are good so we don’t have to go further and debate their underlying cultural value. Indeed libraries are (by literal definition at least) about books and certainly this is what the last November’s report to Parliament on public library matters states as the “core purpose of libraries” To my mind the underlying value of books (and more widely of course the process of reading and literature itself) was far better expressed in the same month by Philip Pullman in his Guardian Article (itself an extract from an article in Index on censorship) and the danger to democracies if they “forget how to read” and in effect lose their imagination and demand that reading is “for” something—in essence only to support a particular agenda or outcome. That why I think the work that Rachel Van Riel of Opening the Book is doing is important. She also gave an invigorating keynote presentation at the Talis Insight Conference in November

The value of culture –the value of libraries

Paul Miller, The Common Information Environment Director made some interesting comments on 4th February in his blog about the challenge of “placing a value on culture”. He cites the Demos report of December called “Capturing Cultural Values” by John Holden. “Cultural organisations and their funding bodies have become very good at describing their value in terms of social outcomes..” I certainly view libraries as “cultural organisations” so this issue is of very real concern to Talis because we provide technology solutions to libraries and if they don’t see value we won’t sell our products and services. It’s (relatively) easy to make the case (around efficiency and cost saving) for technologies like RFID but it can be harder to assign (cash) value to the bigger and more important issues. As our products evolve and make more and more resources available in easier and more digestible ways we confront real business model problems. Users want access to more and more content whilst the owners/providers of content are struggling to find ways of making money from their content over the internet and we’ve seen a real difficulty in find workable business models.

But maybe this is just inevitable at this stage in the technology’s evolution? We’ve all let Google dazzle us with their programme to digitise the collections of major libraries like the Bodleian in Oxford. This is part of Google’s mission to “organise the world’s information” but they admit they still don’t know what the business model will be. Fabio Selmoni, Google’s European Sales Director make a fascinating comment during Tuesday’s BBC radio 4 programme “Shop Talk“. The theme was the changing face of libraries. When challenged by the presenter Heather Payton about how the project will make money he remarked that they weren’t preoccupied with the business model. He was really admitting that right now they don’t know how they will make money. At this stage it was a research project that was being done because it fitted into Google’s vision. In a sense isn’t that just how our public libraries operated in the past? I mean there was a strong cultural vision. Is some of that being lost with the emphasis on “outcomes” and CPA ratings?. Of course the vision was based on a business model where ultimately the taxpayer pays. So who will pay Google? Advertising? Hmmmmm

Visualisation – the future in OPACs

As a community we have to recognise that OPACs are not user-centric. Visitors to the library rarely use them for anything other than specific location information, and the idea that web-enabling OPACs in the current form will extend their reach to a wider audience is flawed.

We have to embrace the notion that “NextGens” will continue to switch off from text-oriented systems as they become increasingly attuned to more visual and immediate stimuli. We see this in the development of learning objects for teaching and the extensive reach of the gaming culture.

Its good to see search engines like Groxis, grasping the nettle. And software companies like Anacubis are already manipulating business intelligence from Hoover’s and others to represent commercial relationships in visual formats, that are far easier to absorb. In addition, Anacubis is recreating Google searches in a visual format which is worth a look.

Talking of which, a colleague of mine pointed me to, they have used visualisation technology to produce Google sets in a visual format.

So what does that mean for libraries? Well, I am a fan of the Amazon feature “the person who bought this, also bought…..” but am frequently disappointed. The information presented can occasionally turn up gems, but rarely do I find subject-specific or genre-specific information. Quite frequently, the purchasing patterns reflect a desire to buy material by the same author/artist, which makes me feel that I could get the same value from viewing an author/artist’s bibliography/discography.

Would a libraries’s borrower information reflect in the same way? And would there be additional value in a visual format? Not sure, but think it could be interesting, and potentially stimulate interest from disengaged users?

Web Services and Metasearch – VIEWS on the subject

Talis is a founder member of VIEWS – the Vendor Initiative for Enabling Web Services.

VIEWS is an industry-wide cooperative effort to leverage libraries’ expertise in understanding, processing, and delivering information with the functional and practical efficiencies delivered through Web Services.

Read more about Talis and VIEWS

As a bit of a new boy to the world of standards bodies and the like, I was very intrigued to see what goes on in those international conference calls. Also what the process was that somehow ends up producing some of the the documents I have cursed in my time as a developer. Many is the time I have been known to mutter quite loudly “How the flipping-heck can they make the description of something simple, so complex and obscure!” Or similar words to that effect ;-}

So with a mixture of interest and trepidation I volunteered to be on the VIEWS sub-committee looking at Metasearch and how Web Services could be relevant in that area.

I have been banging on about proper integration for the last few years. By ‘proper’ I mean Web Services based, Service Oriented Architecture, real live integration. None of that whimpish ftp’ing batch scripts, or web site screen scraping for me.

So I get the feeling that my initial “lets see if we can recommend a SOAP/WSDL api for metasearch then” approach was a little extreme for some, who were looking to produce a paper that postulated on the possibility of Web Services in Metasearch being something worth investigating.

Still, like a good committee should, we ended up with what I think is a well-balanced paper, that at least recommends something sensible.

The White Paper has just been published, it is now up to us and the rest of VIEWS to take it beyond the recommending white paper stage. Time will tell.

You can find it here and here. And what did the new boy think of the process? Interesting, frustrating, time consuming, and rewarding, are words that come to mind. And yes I would volunteer again if I believe I can add value to the process and or the results. Which I hopefully did this time.