Panlibus Blog

Archive for May, 2007

Virtually presenting

Today was a presenting in Portugal day, but for once this trip didn’t involve any tedious mucking about at 30,000ft.  Today for a change I traveled courtesy of Skype and Webex.

The event was Ciências e Tecnologias da Documentação e Informação – Web 2.0 na Ciência da Informação [Sciences and Technologies of the Documentation and Information – Web 2.0 in the Science of the Information (courtesy of Google language tools, and with apologies to those fluent in Portuguese)].

It was both a pleasure and an adventure, especially when a conflict between the Skype video component and the Webex screen sharing caused a system crash and subsequent reboot on the third slide of the presentation.

Although the technology wasn’t perfect it was an adequate way to get a message to those that wanted to hear it.  A bit of a physical world mashup.  I’ve been preaching that you need to get the data to the consumer rather than the other way around, now I’ve been practicing it.

From my point of view it was difficult to judge how my message was being received by an audience I couldn’t see who didn’t have English as a first language, but I’m told it went down well.

I don’t think this way of presentation will entirely supplant standing up as a real person in front of an audience of real people, the power of body language and eye contact is immense.  An interesting, eco friendly, exercise nevertheless.

Architecture to inspire learning

In my recent presentations I have been using a picture of the The Saltire Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University, to emphasis how libraries are now becoming flexible learning spaces in the physical as well as the online world.  The Saltire Centre is an excellent example of a purpose designed building which provides an inspiration learning environment.  If you get to see Les Watson, the champion behind the project to build the Saltire speak, as he did at the recent Executive Briefing organized by Talis at CILIP, take it. 

The social event at the National Library of Finland’s Triangle Seminar was held in the new Library of the University of Technology in Tampere.  This is another library building providing an inspirational working environment.  At its core is a staircase providing impressive views from the ground floor to the roof.  Mia culpa I didn’t manage to get a photograph of it to add to the others I took in Tampere.

On the subject of library buildings I highly recommend a look at this talk by Joshua Prince-Ramus filmed at the 2006 TED Conference. Joshua is the architect of the Seattle Central Library.  The majority of his presentation takes you on a journey through the design and realization of this innovative library building.  It is well worth letting the video run on beyond the section on the library it is a fascinating insight in to his visualization, design and construction of public buildings.

(Photo of Saltire Centre by jisc_infonet displayed in Flickr)
(Photo of Seattle Central Library by 5500 displayed in Flickr)

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Give them access and they will use it

This posting in the Register attracted my attention, especially the paragraph near the end:

Meanwhile, at Durham University the IT services department has taken action to reduce the amount of bandwidth swallowed by social networking. Our correspondent reports that action to deprioritise Facebook between 8.30am and 5.30pm “has lead to a rather remarkable drop off in the number of students in any of the university libraries”.

So if you deny access to one of the most popular social networking tools in the academic world, Facebook for students using PCs in the University Library, the usage of those terminals drops by up to 80%.  Now there is a surprise!

What that tells us is that that during those hours, on a rough assumption that before the ban those PCs were 100% utilized, only 20% of a student’s PC time was for pure ‘library’ purposes.  Following through that line of thought, as the PCs are now only 20% utilized, the Library have justification to remove eight out of every ten of them and regain some valuable floor space.

I may be being a little unkind with my analysis here, but I am trying to make a serious point.  Libraries, especially in a University, are far more than a building full of books and journals.  The librarians that work within them aspire to provide a safe, welcoming, environment where students can learn, enquire, and interact with the librarians, and their fellows.  Take a look at the Saltire Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University to be inspired as to how a library building can provided social, learning, and study spaces for the people that use it.

The physical aspirations of a Library should be reflected in that library’s on-line presence.  The social interaction between between students online is of equal importance as their ability to socially interact within the building.

So no doubt they are now happy in Durham that there is no waiting to get on to a library PC, but are their users now getting more or less value from the service the library offers?

(Photo taken by alexmuller displayed in Flickr)


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Openness and Sharing in Finland

I’m currently in the air flying up the east coast of England on my way to Tampare, Finland.  I’ve never been to Finland before, so I’m very interested to see what its like.

I have been invited to present the opening keynote, on the second day, at the National Library of Finland’s Triangle Seminar.  My theme is Web 2.0 Library 2.0 – from discussion to reality.  I will cover how far we have traveled down the Web/Library 2.0 road, and how blogs,wikis, RSS feeds, and social software tools have started to influence what is happing in libraries today.

I will go on to discuss some fundamental changes that are taking place in the library world.  The componentisation of library services; the web service delivery of value added services both by traditional library services suppliers such as OCLC & Talis and non-traditional suppliers such as LibraryThing; the mergers and takeovers that have been occurring in the LMS/ILS vendor marketplace; these are all pointers to something happening that we need to be aware of.

I will also be talking about the need for openness and sharing in our world.  Openness with our thoughts and ideas, openness with applications and APIs, and most importantly openness with our data. 

We at Talis, as anyone will attest if they have seen a presentation from myself, or one of my colleagues, or spent any time browsing around our [newly refreshed] web site, passionately believe that openness with everything you do, say, or deliver can only add to the community libraries and vendors.   The Creative Commons logos on our presentation slides and our web site are not just there to look nice, we really are happy to share everything we say or do in public with anyone – customer, competitor, journalist, blogger, or the just interested. 

I will really pleased to welcome into the audience for my presentation some people from our fellow system vendor Ex Libris.  I hope they will find what I have to say of interest, and if we have time for questions I will be eager to here their opinions.

Ex Libris have the presentation slot following mine, and I was looking forward to hearing their point of view.  Unfortunately, and much to my surprise, I apparently will be banished  from the room during their presentation.  Not being a customer of theirs, being a representative of another vendor, or more probably both of these afflictions cause me to not qualify for entry.

Unless the other attendees are sworn to secrecy, I’ll hopefully find out over lunch what was so important and not for my ears.  Looking on the bright side, I should be able to catch up on my email and blogging whilst in a lonely side room.

Whatever, I’m looking forward to my time at the conference and the opportunity for [mostly] open discussion and the sharing of ideas. 

(Photo of The Russian Orthadox church in Tampere taken by anna_bee displayed in Flickr)


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LibraryThing starting to deliver in a Library

LibraryThing founder Tim Spalding has announced:

Danbury Library in Danbury, Connecticut has become the first library in the world to put LibraryThing for Libraries on its live catalog.

All of the data which is driving the widgets that have been added to the Danbury OPAC, are derived from the preferences, actions, input and activities of users in LibraryThing.  An example of social networking having an outcome that can add value to a ‘traditional’ application.

Well done to the Danbury and LibraryThing folks. 

We are going to see more and more of this sort of thing.  Services provided form places ‘out in the Internet cloud’ adding value to local applications, or software as a service applications come to that.  – LibraryThing widgets in Aquabrowser or WorldCat Local anyone?


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Eduserv Symposium – Virtual worlds, real learning?

Yesterday I attended a blended real life, second life event, some at the TUC in London some at three separate virtual locations in Second Life.  It was hosted by Eduserv to look at the use and opportunities for 3D virtual worlds in education.  The picture, taken in Second Life, is of several avatars at one of the virtual events watching a live video feed from the real life event.  At this point Stephen Downes was presenting.

A few notes from the presentations by an interesting set of speakers:

Andy Powell, Eduserv:
Second Life has become the ‘Hoover’ brand name of 3D virtual worlds.

Jim Purbrick, Linden Labs:
SL is not a game, its a virtual world – its a creation engine.  More Europeans in SL than from rest of world put together. 

Roo Reynolds, IBM  (metaverse Evangelist):
Web 2.0 is an attitude not a technology – a quote from some guy from Talis called Ian Davis 🙂  – Lots of online 3d worlds.

IBM Innovation Jam – one of results to win through was to provide funding for “The 3D Internet”  IBM use SL for informal and public meetings and conversations. – 3,000 people in IBM have SL accounts. IBM started with a 12 island complex now up to about 30.  – low barrier to entry, low cost.

Education & training – real world walk through’s, role playing, schizophrenia example.

IBM experimenting behind their firewall as described on

Hamish MacLeod, Edinburgh University:
Holyrood Park: a virtual campus for Edinburgh. – looked at several worlds before SL – SL is cross platform – open & neutral – not a game but playful – like, but unlike RL – manifest involvement in education.

Started with Linden provided land, now have their own island Vue.

Educational potential – redefining of ‘learning spaces’ physical & virtual – student production & consumption – pretending to be eg. doctors.  Legal issues – relationship between institution and service provider (risk assessments etc.) – system hungry (bandwidth, firewalls, h/w) – accessibility problems & potentials

Joanna Scott, Nature Publishing:
Why nature in SL – enhanced 3D visualization, rapid development potential – international communication – sense of presence.

First thing we built was M4 (Magical Molecular Model Maker) – creating content in SL is too complex for Nature, so like the Magazine they now host content on their Island.  Will not replace the Magazine, or its Web presence, the web is much better at text.  SL is good for communication, meetings, demo’s – walk through molecules etc.  – could it replace the conference in the future – conferences are not eco-friendly Nature to trial a conference soon.

Gilly Salmon, University of Leicester:
What models can we transfer from our experience in introducing new technology to lecturers, who want to ‘lecture’, in to introducing SL in to their efforts.

Stephen Downes, National Research Council Canada:
SL is NOT Web 2.0 it taps in to latent conservatism its owned, it is restricted (if you don’t subscribe you can get kicked off if resources get scarce) it doesn’t scale its a ‘single space’

What about SL is different – real money flows in and out, it is persistent you can create unique content & retain ownership..

The future for virtually is exactly what SL isn’t:

  • Distributed h/w distributed worlds
  • OS technology
  • Non-commercial (or at least for pub education)


A great day that consolidated my opinions about Second Life – this may not be the future, but it is an excellent pointer to what may be part of it when it arrives.  In the meantime it has use and value in its own right.  To quote Jim Purbrick in the panel session at the end “Second Life is here, now – use it” – well at least until something better comes along.


(Second Life image taken by cogdogblog displayed in Flickr)


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What’s a web service worth?

This week OCLC announced the production release of their xISBN web service, and answers my question from February as to what the commercial model will be – with this price list.

The good news is that if your use is below 500 searches per day and your use is also non-commercial, the service remains free.  Higher volumes attract license fees which reach as high as $3,000 per year for up to 10,000 queries per day or even $16,000 for 10,000,000 individual accesses.

10,000 queries per day sounds a lot, but if you use the service to add value to brief results on your OPAC, and you display 10 results on a page, that translates to 1,000 pages per day for your annual license.  I suspect that 1,000 searches per day is well within the usage range of many an OPAC.

The value the xISBN service adds to a user interface is very attractive to a library – the use of the prototype service bares witness to this.  How much are they prepared to pay, or are able to pay, for it is a different question.  A dilemma articulated by Jonathan Rochkind on the cod4lib mailing list by :

I am, however, worried that I can’t do what I want to do without breaking 500 querries a day, and my institution is not going to be willing to pay for it. So I’m interested in exploring other opportunities.

No doubt OCLC wrestled with this one as they put their pricing policy together as this is fairly virgin ground.  Pricing a whole application such as a Library System is fairly well understood.  Pricing a service to add a bit of value has only really been attempted with book jacket services, and even then it is often rolled in to a subscription to a Library System vendor.

This problem of ‘worth’ for a web service is not just one for OCLC, any commercial supplier of web services will have to get this equation right.  Come to that, this is an issue for so called ‘free’ open source alternatives – if the effort required to create and maintain such a service is greater that the perceived value gained by the libraries funding the staff doing the work, it probably won’t get off the ground.

Another aspect that is not immediately obvious when you first look at the licensing and pricing of web services is defining who is the consumer of the service. 

In the pre web service world it would be the consuming library, and you could probably nail its use down to the individual ip address of the library system server.  In the Web 2.0 world of Ajax clients, browser plug-ins and the like it is quite possible that the system doing the consuming is the PC that the user’s web browser is running on.

This is not only a problem for licence calculation but a problem of understanding for vendor legal departments.  As OCLC’s Eric Hellman acknowledges in his response to Godmar Back’s statement about his LibX plug-inLibX is a client-side tool. We’re not a user of xISBN, we provide clients who have installed it the option to use xISBN.”:

I know, and I had to explain that to the legal department!

If a library embeds Ajax calls in its user interface which cause the user’s browser to call the xISBN web service directly, will those browsers be considered as low volume non-commercial users of the service and hence probably be within the limits of the free service; or will the library who’s interface is causing the calls to happen, even if indirectly, be responsible? – an interesting question for the legal guys!

OCLC are dipping their toe in the water on behalf of many of us who will be watching this service closely.


(Photo taken by material boy displayed in Flickr)


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Do we know enough about licensing

OCLS’s Eric muses, over on It’s all good, about the lack of librarian education in the areas of content licensing and copyright.

Eric quotes an article in the March issue of InfoToday by K. Matthew Dames (of CopyCense):

“Assuming that the procurement mechanism for electronic content is a license, how can librarians fulfill the fundamental role of collection development in the 21st century if they can’t read, understand, and negotiate those contracts?”

Which then leads Eric to say:

I think one might reasonably argue that librarians have long been “technicians of the intersections” – perhaps what distinguishes Librarian 2.0 from Librarian 1.0 is less the new tools applied and more the mix of new stuff. Econtent licensing expertise is surely one of the more richly textured intersections librarians must master. Are we giving the econtent procurement competency its due with respect to preparing professionals, or – as Dames asserts – is it something library science and information studies programs are failing to give the emphasis such deserves in a Web 2.0 world?

I agree, as more and more new stuff is being delivered as econtent, being on top of the licensing an copyright issues is becoming more important.  By ‘on top of ‘ I don’t mean just understanding and accepting the terms offered by the providers.

Librarians with skills and experience in copyright and licensing should be negotiating terms that open up and simplify access to content and data for the benefit of the library users, removing some of the restrictions and hurdles between the content and the people that can benefit from it.

Of course this is not a new problem.  If this sort of knowledge and understanding had been part of a librarians experience in the past, maybe we wouldn’t be paralyzed with indecision about the use and opening up of OCLC/catalogue data, in the way we seem to be at the moment.


(Photo taken by ~Firyx displayed in Flickr)


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What do you think about blog preservation?

Jon Udell has been mentioning blog preservation quite a bit recently, and raises some interesting points about the way in which the thoughts of active bloggers are increasingly to be found expressed within their blog rather than anywhere else. I know that I, for one, write far fewer papers than I used to, and that many of those thoughts now permeate a catalogue of blog posts spanning several years and (at least!) four blogs.

I also raised a related concern, years ago, in discussion around e-Science and e-Research. I worried at the time that the traditional scholarly paper, previously the goal of a piece of work, was increasingly becoming sidelined. The research itself was far more fluid and collaborative, and a plethora of techniques were increasingly employed to engage with peers throughout, rather than simply expecting them to read the final paper. At the time, I suggested that the structures we were building to push forward e-Research were backing the wrong horse, and that an obsession with various digital repositories was misguided at best unless it grappled with the living, distributed and collaborative nature of modern research, rather than the stultified dead end of ink on the paper of the final report. I still kind of believe that…

As such, I was interested to receive an invitation to participate in some research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and have no hesitation in passing on their recommended advertising blurb.

This is an important area as we move forward; have your say…

“Do you blog? If yes, then please consider participating in an online survey from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science. The study, Blogger Perceptions on Digital Preservation, is being conducted under the guidance of the Real Paul Jones <> . The study team is interested in hearing from all bloggers on their perceptions on digital preservation in relation to their own blogging activities, as well as the blogosphere in general. To hear more about this survey, please visit the study’s fact sheet at . From there, you can link out to the web-based survey. The survey will be available through May 23, 2007. We believe blogs are valuable records of the human experience. Help to contribute to continued access to these important records by participating in our study. If you have any questions, feel free to contact Carolyn Hank, the study Principle Investigator, at Thanks!”

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User-centered development?

I was about to dive in to replying to a thread about user-centered design on the NGC4LIB mailing list with my view from a ‘vendor’ when a programmer colleague (not a librarian bone in his body) related this tale to me, after a visit to one of our customers.

I was in the library talking to some OPAC users” – well that’s an excellent start!

The first one I spoke to, who was pointing at the shelf-mark code on a result said ‘what’s that gobbledegook for?’ I explained it is supposed to help her find the shelf the book is on. ‘Why can’t I have a little map showing me?’ came the response

The second simply said ‘why does this thing keep telling me about the things I can’t have!’ and wandered off

Well that may not be user-centred design but it’s definitely user-centred feedback.

I can cast my mind back more years than I care to calculate and remember my introduction to the library software world. Just like any other industry, and I’ve been involved with a few, I was greeted with the “but our problems are very different to what you will find elsewhere” message – but they all say that. After a couple of years I realised it was true, we ‘are’ different. Firstly we have a stock control system where the customers insist on giving the stuff back most of the time. Secondly, we have enormously rich structured metadata about that stock which seems to preoccupy us more than the stock itself.

So have we vendors added value to what libraries do? Yes.
Have we got it right? No.
Has anyone, vendor or not, got it right? No. – If they had, we would all be to busy copying them to be having these discussions.

So back to the question in hand – User-centred design is important, very important, but first define your user. The problem we have had and still do, as the recent flurry of activity on this list testifies, is that there are many potential user types for what we historically envisage as a single system.

In an ideal world we would have built the student User Interface; the researcher UI, the high school UI; the reference librarian UI; the enquiry desk UI; the library science UI; the children’s UI; the general public UI; the plugged-in to my citation management software UI; my google-gadget UI – all supported by variations of a catalogue each tuned to deliver results most relevant for each target user group.

Pie in the sky? If you separate the user interface from the underlying cataloguing, indexing and searching capabilities of a solution I think not. If you design the ‘catalogue’ to flexibly support the searching, indexing, and relevance ranking needs of all these user groups you will be able to lay many different [cheap to produce for a library, a vendor, or even a user] UI skins on top of it.

These thin UI skins, on top of a powerful platform, are much simpler and quicker to develop, in days/weeks as against the months/years of our traditional monolithic systems. Because of this we can consider not only user-cantered design, but also user centred development.

In the future I want my programmer colleague to be sat in the corner of a reading room for a few days constructing the user interface that the users want/need with their direct input, help, criticisms, and instant feedback.

This is the premise that is behind much of the development work around the Talis Platform which is proving that this sort of thing is possible. is the place to go to find out more about it. We are looking for people to work with us as we start to roll these services out, but also just as importantly I believe that our experiences in this area will be valuable to the community in general.

(Photo taken by marttj displayed in Flickr)


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