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Archive for July, 2009

JISC Grasp the Marc Record Re-use Legality Nettle

The JISC Information Environment Team have just announced a study to explore the legal and ownership implications of making catalogue records available to others when this involves copying, transferring them into different formats.

The JISC has just commissioned a study to explore some of these issues as they apply to UK university libraries and to provide practical guidance to library managers who may be interested in making their catalogue records available in new ways. Outcomes are expected by the end of 2009.

The specific objectives of the study are to:
•    Establish the provenance of records in the catalogues of a small but representative sample of UK university libraries and in the national Copac and SUNCAT catalogues;
•     Identify any rights or licences applying to the records and assess how these apply to re-use in the Web environment. This work should include clarifying the legal status of MARC records and copies of MARC records, and the legal implications of translating records between different formats such as MARC and MODS XML;
•     Provide practical guidance to UK university libraries about the legal issues to be considered in making catalogue records available for re-use in Web applications such as social networking sites – drawing on the findings from the sample;
•     Make recommendations to the JISC and the UK higher education community about any initiatives which could usefully be undertaken to facilitate the re-use of catalogue records in Web applications in a way which respects legal rights and business interests.

The core nugget of this being clarifying the legal status of MARC records and copies of MARC records.  Without establishing that anything else would be building castles on sand.

One of the many things that was never fully clarified in the OCLC record re-use saga earlier in the year was the legal status of a Marc record – can it, or parts of it, be considered as a creative work and therefore be applicable for copyright and a concept of ownership.

I wish whoever is undertaking the JISC study (the announcement does not indicate any study group members) well as they set foot in to this minefield of assumption, traditional practice, legal interpretation, and commercial interest and bias.  Let’s hope they do a thorough job and carry enough weight from legal, library, and publishing backgrounds to deliver advice and opinion that will clarify these particularly murky waters well beyond the UK University sector.

OLE – $5.2m to get from Diagrams to an ILS Replacement in two Years

The OLE Project I’m currently reading my way through the final draft of the OLE Project Final Report.  The one year Mellon Funded Open Library Environment (OLE) project which “convened a multi-national group of libraries to analyze library business processes and to define a next-generation library technology platform

the project planners produced an OLE design framework that embeds libraries directly in the key processes of scholarship generation, knowledge management, teaching and learning by utilizing existing enterprise systems where appropriate and by delivering new services built on connections between the library’s business systems and other technology systems.

We at Talis, along with some 200 other organisations, participated in the process by feeding back our experiences in implementing live integrations between Library Management Systems and other institutional entities that the report authors recognise as being key to delivering a seamless workflow.  Our experience indicated that successful integration between systems is as much to do with local departmental motivations, understanding, and politics as it is to do with technology. This was discussed in more depth on the March Library 2.0 Gang Show with Tim McGeary from the OLE project and Talis’ Andy Latham  were guests.

The body of the report consists of many process model diagrams, describing the required interactions between library and other processes/components, which when brought together will enable the construction of library associated workflows for the next-generation library service that will utilise this next-generation library technology platform.

This first year project is in it’s own terms a success “The OLE Project met all of its objectives and was completed on time and within budget”.  One cannot deny the thought, effort, commitment and enthusiasm that has gone in to the production of this report.   Without rerunning the analysis they undertook, it would be difficult to criticise the model they have described.  The proof of the pudding of course will come in the next phase, when they move on from describing a new technology platform to start building it.

The planning phase of this project is complete. The next steps are to identify a group of build partners to provide investment funds and to develop and test the initial software. A build partner  can be an individual library, a consortium or a vendor.

The total partnership cost of the OLE Project over two years is projected to be $5.2 million, a figure that includes all programming effort as well as project management and quality assurance staffing. In addition to OLE Project costs, costs of participation would include some local staff, governance and travel funding. Project partners intend to contribute half of the OLE partnership costs and seek the other half from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

ole diag Viewing the process diagrams in the report takes me back to 1990, in a snow covered hut in the grounds of the University of Birmingham.  I shared that hut for several weeks with Talis (then BLCMP) staff and a group of folks from a Dutch library system vendor (long since subsumed in to the OCLC global organisation) with the objective of designing the next-generation library technology platform.  Several years, and a few £ million in investment, led to the development a very successful library system from which the current Talis Library System, Alto, has since evolved.

There are many parallels between that 1990 development process and the road that OLE are about to embark upon, if their bids for continued funding are successful.  Not only that BLCMP was a library cooperative during that period, but also that we had the luxury of being able to step back from previous systems and start with a clean set of library process requirements. 

I wish the OLE project continued success.  Whatever achieved, I believe the exercise they are undertaking is massively valuable to the whole library domain. 

Will they be able to translate their clean [uncluttered by interaction issues with systems over which they have little influence, or uncoloured by local institutional inter-departmental politics, and ‘traditional practices] diagrams in to an installable, manageable, collection of components suitable to deliver format agnostic library services? – possibly.  Will they be able to do it in 2 years for a mere $5.2? – Experience tells me to be a little more sceptical on that last point.

Integrated library management systems: what we need

blcmpAs part of the “Shock of the New” strand at the UK Umbrella conference this year, Lucy Tedd from Aberystwyth University led a session entitled “Integrated library management systems: what we need”. Attendance of this session turned out to be very supplier-heavy, and I’m not sure that’s what she anticipated. I was moderately surprised too, but thinking about it afterwards, I felt that the lack of interest from practitioners was reflective of the growing irrelevance of the traditional library management system (or ILS if you’re North American) to the needs of the modern library, particularly in academia.

It’s not that the library technology landscape has stood still, of course. Lucy was able to list quite a few innovative products– from the now-established Aquabrowser to Talis’ own Aspire resource list tool – a great product that we’re all very proud of here. But taking one step back and looking at what the library has to deliver in 2009, the library technology marketplace as a whole is failing to keep up with the pace of change.

Lucy Tedd highlighted some of the key developments of this decade. Some of them, though – such as the consolidation of the library technology marketplace with mergers, acquisitions and the increasing intervention of venture capitalists in the businesses of existing suppliers – may be symptomatic of underlying trends rather than drivers.

I felt that to get a firmer grip on the fundamental shifts in our world, I had to refer back to a session I saw last month at the annual SCONUL conference, given by Marshall Breeding (a member of Talis’Library 2.0 Gang). For the uninitiated, Marshall Breeding is an American library technology guru, author of an ongoing series of library technology guides. Where he wins out over other commentators such as Lucy Tedd is his ability to look behind headline trends, take them apart, examine the implications and project them forward. So although both Tedd and Breeding identify industry consolidation as a key trend, Breeding will go on to alert us to the disruptive impact that this has on product development, and the adverse effect this has on the lead time that libraries have to plan for a product enhancement.

Marshall Breeding hears a lot of frustration with LMS products and vendors, and is adamant that systems are not keeping up with the pace of change in libraries. Innovation, then, is falling below expectations, and Marshall reports that many US libraries are unhappy with the current state of affairs. He admitted that he wasn’t so sure about UK libraries, but following the group activity at the end of Lucy Tedd’s session, I’m quite clear that the mood here is similar to that of the US. In my group there was one librarian from Open University and one from University of Hertfordshire. Each group was asked to identify its most pressing requirement of the LMS. Both librarians agreed that the inadequacy of the LMS in managing e-resources was the biggest problem in an era in which the issuing of books is no longer the primary activity.

Marshall Breeding described the conventional LMS as untenable, now that a whole series of products required to manage fundamental library processes – such as ERM systems and knowledgebases – are located outside the LMS. In the electronic era, circulation becomes fulfilment, cataloguing is no longer MARC-centred, for example. So as the traditional modules of the LMS become less important, we need to think more in terms of SOA (Service-Oriented Architecture) – dividing functionality into small chunks that can be fitted together for multifarious purposes (a shift that my colleague Richard Wallis identified back in 2007 on this blog). This is very much the thinking of the OLE (Open Library Environment) Project, of which Marshall Breeding is a proponent.

But it’s not just a back-office problem, of course. The library OPAC, traditionally another module LMS, also suffers from the same problem, in failing to reflect the eJournals and digital objects that libraries spend so much money on. Breeding did identify further issues with library OPACs, highlighting their clunky interfaces, poor eCommerce facilities, and more worryingly, relatively weak search engines and poor relevancy ranking.

Open Source has, in the context of these difficulties, generated a lot of interest, though more in the US at present. However Breeding pointed out that Open Source offerings currently rank middle to low in terms of customer satisfaction, and the only libraries that are interested are the ones that are already doing it. There is no groundswell of interest, despite the pockets of evangelistic fervour.

Marshall Breeding also turned his attention to Web 2.0 tools, and argued persuasively against the tendency to adopt disparate tools without a broader strategy in place, which has the effect of “jettisoning library users away from our websites”. Instead, he says, Web 2.0 capabilities need to be built into the guts of our systems. I’m assuming here that he doesn’t mean library vendors reinventing social networking tools in a creepy treehouse kind of way, and that instead he’s advocating seamless integration with applications such as the VLE and Web 2.0 tools such as Twitter. Incidentally, Richard Wallis has recently been demonstrating a Juice extension enabling integration between Twitter and the OPAC.

Breeding looks forward to a future in which the library can offer a single point of access to the inside of all the eJournals that the library subscribes to. Scale is not the issue, he argues, and cites OCLC’s Lorcan Dempsey as pointing out that the whole of WorldCat will now fit on an iPod. Instead we should be looking at what the world outside the library is doing – searching the deep content directly, and identifying and examining the tools that people are using to do this. In this way, it becomes clear that the likes of Google Scholar, Amazon, Waterstones and are the competitors of the library in the 21st century, and it is incumbent upon the vendor community to help libraries with that gargantuan challenge if they are to survive.

RIN’s Michael Jubb Talks with Talis about bibliographic records in a networked world

michael-jub Dr Michael Jubb, Director of the Research Information Network, is my guest for this podcast.

The RIN was established by the higher education funding councils, the research councils, and the national libraries in the UK to investigate how efficient and effective the information services provided for the UK research community are.

As part of their role, they publish many reports to inform and create debate to lead to real change.  Our conversation focuses on the recently published “Creating catalogues: bibliographic records in a networked world”, which explores the production and supply chain of bibliographic metadata for physical and electronic books, journals, and articles.  We discuss the need for the report, and therefore change in this area, its recommendations and possible ways forward.

Umbrella 2009 – Libraries as Spaces


At this year’s highly enjoyable and valuable UK Umbrella conference, the strand that I followed most closely over the 2 days was “Libraries as Spaces”. Andrew Cranfield, from IFLA’s Library Buildings and Equipment section, articulated many unspoken thoughts, certainly my own, when he asked why are we suddenly so interested in the library building? At precisely the time when there would no longer seem to be a need for a physical library entity, reality is counteracting this. As Alan Brine from De Montford University pointed out, more or less all academic libraries are making significant changes to meet student expectations.

Constructing and deconstructing space
David Errington at Newcastle University described YourSpace, a flexible social learning area created in response to overwhelming need, and secondly the Learning Lounge, where people can take food and drink to study. This kind of change to the physical library environment is, of course, quite common across higher education at the moment, with bright colours and funky study furniture transforming the look and feel of many libraries. And related service enhancements such as extended opening hours take the transformation beyond aesthetics.

The whole issue of space is interesting, isn’t it? A change can sometimes amount to little more than following fashion. When I was an undergraduate, way back in the 1980s, the most popular daytime hang-out on campus at University of Bradford was the small and cosy Biko Bar. Back to the present, at Newcastle University, David Errington has arranged for about a third of Newcastle University’s 1.2 million books to be stored off-site in order to create more space (he emphasised that a good retrieval system is a pre-requisite for this kind of arrangement). He also depends on the UK Research Reserve to save more space on journal storage. And a few months ago when I returned to University of Bradford with work, I fell in love with their huge atrium that is reminiscent of Cornwall’s Eden Project.

Wayfinding – signage or building design?
Judith Stewart from University of West of England drew our attention to wayfinding theory. Her students tell her there aren’t enough signs in the library, but she wonders it is actually the case that the signage isn’t effective? UWE has a floor guide on the stairwell of each floor – but this turns out to be useless for first year students. Stewart also believed landmarks to be enormously important to help students to orient themselves, and argued that the library needs to engender confidence or some students simply won’t come back. Tim Leach, an architect from BDP, took a slightly different tack on this. He introduced us to the idea of a building being legible i.e. clearly navigable in and of itself, and believed that signs are a fundamental indication that the building doesn’t work.

Still rooted in the past?
Andrew Cranfield from IFLA argued that there can be little sense of moving forwards when we’re still designing our libraries around services that are decades old. He was a big fan of bright colours, describing them again and again as non-elitist. Every public librarian that I spoke to after that particular session took great exception to his contention that libraries have traditionally been the preserve of the middle classes. Clearly Cranfield knows very little about the history of public libraries in the UK, and I would recommend that he reads Jonathan Rose’s The intellectual life of the British working classes for clarification on the origins of public libraries in Mechanics’ Institutes and other forms of working class self-learning. Personally I find the idea of enticing disadvantaged groups into libraries through the use of bright colours to be almost dangerously condescending – treating the poor like children. Not good. And if were that easy to break down social barriers then the Bolsheviks might have been spared the effort of storming the Winter Palace, and could simply have arranged for St Petersburg to have a bit of a makeover.

The examples he gave, though, were fabulous, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in appreciating his international perspective on libraries. Many of us were wowed by the library at Cerritos in California, nicknamed “The Disney of libraries”. Check out the picture to see how universally compelling design needn’t be patronising or “dumbing down”. Back to the bright colours though, Cranfield also looked at the interior design of Amsterdam public library, which is very very white. They’re obviously Apple fans! He admitted that it was aesthetically pleasing, but didn’t find it terribly exciting. And his main criticism, that it would have to be repainted within months, struck me as being rather inane. After the session, I remembered a Radio 4 interview with an arctic explorer, who said that in the Arctic Circle, when your surroundings are totally white, you soon gain almost 100% memory recall because your mind has no distractions. Isn’t that a good thing in a library? Wouldn’t that enable you to focus on your work with a clear mind?

Identity and confidence
Tim Leach was interesting to listen to because, as an architect, he gave us a conceptual framework with which to understand buildings. And one of the useful concepts, for me, was Identity. Tim put forward the idea that every building comes with a collective memory. Although Cranfield perceived 19th century building as unwelcoming, and most of us will empathise with that, there’s something impressive about a building whose identity is literally carved out of stone. Many older commercial and civic buildings have branding, which we perceive today as being quite transient in nature, than they did in the past, marked in an indelible way. It is a display of self-confidence that we would simply not make today. Copenhagen National Library was another example given by Andrew Cranfield, and as he said, it’s a great library but where are the books? A library that gives no sense of being a library is indicative of a problem of some sort.

Back to David Errington at University of Newcastle. He related that they’d originally brought an architect in to design the changes they wanted to make to their library, but in fact went with their own plans because they felt that they knew students better. Gresham worked successfully with their furniture designs. It was then reassuring for the librarians to see students using the facilities exactly as they had envisioned them.

I salute that confidence.

The Library 2.0 Gang on Mashups

L2Gbanner144-plain Following on from OCLC’s recent Mashathon, Dave Pattern’s Mashed Library UK 2009, and the imminent publication of the Library Mashups book edited by Nicole Engard, The Library 2.0 Gang turn their attention to the Library Mashup.

Tallin Bingham from SIRSI/Dynix, Marshall Breeding of Library Technology Guides, LibLime’s Nicole Engard, and Google’s Frances Haugen, dip in to this topic for the July show.  It is soon clear that successful mashups are all about openly publishing data in a reliable easy form via simple APIs.  Library mashups are not just about bibliographic data.  Usage data, statistical data, and anonomized patron data are all valuable library sources for mashups.

As with many other technology trends, libraries are going to have to move quickly to keep up with and take advantage of mashups.

Check out the July Library 2.0 Gang Show.

Competition! -   Listening to the show should inspire you to enter the Library 2.0 Gang Mashup Idea competition.  Send in your idea for a library mashup.  It can be as simple or complex as you like.  The only restriction being that it must include library data or functionality somewhere within it.  The best three, as judged by Nicole Engard and myself, will each receive a copy of the Library Mashups book she has edited.  Closing date is August 31st, send your entries to