Richard Veryard has come back with a further contribution to our discussion around context aware services. I remain intrigued by some of the possibilities here, especially when it comes to the collaborative aspects. Collaboration, here, might be in the traditional Web 2.0 sense of individuals collaborating, but applies equally to collaboration between organisations.
Although I was the one to float the notion, I’d agree with Richard that
“I’m not particularly interested in libraries selling me nappies” [or diapers, to those of you in that part of the world]
and, more importantly,
“I’m interested in ways that the library can serve me better (not just target me better) through an awareness of my context.”
Richard explores this notion a little with reference to his son’s mathematics project, and asks how close library systems are to the intelligence and awareness of context that we expect from library staff when we seek their help.
And, frankly, we’re not very close at all, are we? We could (although most of the time we don’t) do relatively simple things such as offering information on “New Books”, looking in the student registration system, and showing the History students new History books at the top of the pile, but how much smarter than that are we getting, outside the often fascinating but equally often unsustainable tinkerings of smart and committed individuals?
At a previous institution, I remember there was talk of looking in the staff and student record system to see whether or not a user had a visual impairment, in order to display a high visibility version of the portal by default to those most likely to benefit from it. There was also the related conversation around some sort of up-front ‘contract’ with staff and students, in which the uses to which any data they might opt to share would be put were clearly spelled out. I’m not sure how far they’ve gone with either idea, but the notion of the data contract was certainly an interesting one…
Here at Talis, work around Keystone [PDF] is addressing the enablement of communication between various systems across an organisation; whether that’s displaying library account details in a portal, or something richer down the road.
Richard ends with
“Ultimately, context-awareness takes us down a path of embracing user diversity. Not just user semantics, but user pragmatics. How much of the reader’s context can the library possibly deal with, and what other service providers might the library collaborate with? There are some seriously complex models here.”
There are indeed. Just how much do we need to know about an individual before being able to respond effectively to their context, how much of that knowledge do we already have, how much could we reasonably easily source from somewhere else, and how prepared would the individual in question be to allow this aggregation of data to take place?
When it comes to consciously permitting aggregation of data about ourselves, the fuss around things like the ID card here in the UK clearly demonstrates that neither clear and unambiguous convenience (hands up anybody who likes filling your name, address, and date of birth in on endless forms?) nor reasonably unambiguous statements about safeguards come close to denting the suspicion that someone, somewhere, is – or could be – up to no good with our personal information.
Might libraries be one of those places in which we can demonstrate real and tangible benefits to the individual from us aggregating data from and about them? Or are we too worried that provisions in legislation such as the USA’s Patriot Act might force us to surrender the data we gather to those less responsible than ourselves?