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Archive for the 'Library 2.0' Category

Social Media at Edinburgh Libraries

It has been a week since the EDGE Conference and after a very eventful week at Talis, I would like to share some of my thoughts from the conference. There was a strong social media theme at the event, not least as this was the occasion that Edinburgh Libraries would use to release their very own smartphone app. The app has up to date information about library events, activities, and service updates that are usually only available on the library website.

The release of this app is just another aspect of Edinburgh Libraries social media strategy that already includes Facebook, Twitter and blogging. What has made this strategy so successful is the commitment from all involved, from councillors to library staff on the front-line. Although most social media tools are free to use, they need investment of staff time to make a strategy work. As Allan Barr, Head of Digital and Social Media at The Big Partnership, iterated in his talk “social media takes time”.

The final presentation of the conference focused on augmented reality. We were given many demonstrations of what is currently possible. Some of the technology is already available through smartphones, adding layers of information to our surroundings. The applications of the future were also demoed. Imagine a library user borrowing a book, pointing their phone at it and seeing animations of what they are reading about. It might not be that far off.

One of the most memorable quotes from the conference was from Kevin Winkler, New York Public Libraries, when he said “be creative, be innovative”. Edinburgh has certainly been creative and innovative with this app and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them release an augmented reality application next year.

The Glasgow School of Art talks with Talis

In this podcast, Sarah Bartlett talks with librarians from The Glasgow School of Art, recipients of the 2010 Times Higher Education Outstanding Library Team award. Catherine Nicholson, Head of Learning Resources, together with Duncan Chappell and David Buri, Academic Liaison Librarians, discuss the reasons behind the library’s success. We discuss the strengths of small teams and organisations in terms of agility and innovation.  Given that the library is serving a very narrow range of subjects (it supports three schools – Fine Art, Design and Architecture), it’s interesting to characterise the institution’s students. We hear about the strong visual orientation of students at The Glasgow School of Art, presenting the library with interesting challenges, and the development of InfosmART, a home-grown application which takes students through a series of online interactive modules to develop information literacy skills, a crucial source of support to a student body of which 11% are declared dyslexics. Small agile organisations are increasingly associated with technological innovation and the library is making use of diverse platforms such as flickr and to remodel its service delivery, and we also talk about enterprise-level systems and the library’s plans to integrate with the VLE and the student registry system. At a time of looming spending cuts, it’s heartening to hear that resource constraints have directly led the library into a number of interesting service enhancements such as virtual enquiry desks. At The Glasgow School of Art, the library team believes overwhelmingly in the importance of personalised services, and values the opportunity that today’s technologies offer in terms of no-cost experimentation, coupled with the immediate informal feedback mechanisms of an institution with only 1,900 students.

Authenticity and the next generation catalogue

ILI 2009Internet Librarian International last week ran a session on next generation catalogues. In the first presentation, Peter Bryant spoke about what he termed “Adaptability, aboutness and authenticity”. Peter is a Learning and Development Tutor at Middlesex University, and specialises in work-based learning, which, he says, is fundamentally about reflection. Peter doesn’t tell his students what is and what isn’t authentic information. Similarly, he didn’t actually tell us how he defines authentic information. This was a problem according to all the people I spoke with after the session, and is certainly a problem when trying to critique his ideas, many of which hung off this word “authentic”.

Peter also dislikes reading lists, on the grounds that “Just because I like something, doesn’t necessarily mean my students will too.” Instead, he believes it is his responsibility, as a teacher, to allow students to form their own ideas of what is authentic. Moving onto linked data (which he does briefly), Bryant is more interested in how we construct authentic knowledge than in the linkage itself.

Does Bryant believe, then, that everything is down to subjective evaluation? Is Dan Brown as “authentic” as Jane Austen in his view? Thankfully not. By presenting a problem – namely, how do we know that Kohl (for example) is the man in a given discipline? – Bryant makes it clear that there is, in fact, a very real and valuable hierarchy in any discipline, but that we may be going the wrong way in determining that hierarchy. Currently, Google uses citation counts. There is also an academic hierarchy – we talk about Tier 1 journals, for example. Finally, we have the scenario that Bryant has already implicitly attacked – where the academic tells us who we should read. These are the systems we have in place, Bryant says, but do they determine the “authenticity” of information?

In his experience, many learners don’t have ready access to the library or even the internet, and in any case traditional tools aren’t useful for reflection-centric work-based learning. A Community of Practice is, in Bryant’s view, much more valuable. This has repercussions for the next generation catalogue. He wants his students to use mechanisms such as blogging – they blog about what resources they’re using, and at the same time follow each others’ blogs, and in this way authentic knowledge is constructed.

I’m not sure I agree with this. Staff at Talis, for example, can only go so far down the road to relativism, in which the value of information is largely determined by the subjective way in which it’s received. That’s because in technology, machines either work or they don’t work; it doesn’t matter whether I personally find the information “authentic” or not – a more objective correctness is very important. But is that unique to technology? My brother is a chef. To what is his professional development about reflection? Well, there is certainly a large element of good practice that he has to master. But recipes either work or they don’t. A soufflé will rise according to chemistry and whether the process followed by the chef is correct. So if people in certain professions don’t have access to the internet or to a library of good quality resources, to what extent can we work around that? Is it acceptable to use Communities of Practice as some sort of substitute for good quality resources? Or is there in fact a need for both in equal measure?

The development of students’ critical faculties with regard to information resources surely hinges upon their respective relationships with lecturers and libraries.

Issues around information literacy and the role of the lecturer are pertinent here, but surely that is about a three-way partnership between the lecturer, the student and the library. The lecturer points to certain key resources for a module, as a signpost to quality and significance. The student consumes those resources. The lecturer strongly encourages and incentivises the student to develop research skills to unearth other good quality and relevant resources. The library ensures that all those resources are available to the student at the point of need. If any one of those elements is taken away, I would say that the student’s development in any discipline will suffer in some way, and it would be wrong to make a virtue out of it.

Remember OPAC Suckiness

It was all the rage three years or so ago.  Karen Schneider even did a three part series on ALA TechSource exploring How OPACSs Suck, in which she listed elements of OPAC Suckitude and desirable features in a non-sucky OPAC.  Karen was not on her own, as this 2006 post from Jennifer Macaulay reminds us.

amazon suck What brought this to mind you may wonder.  I was preparing content for a presentation, when I was struck  by the massive contrast between two sites I was taking screen shots of.  The first is a classic site which does better than any other to show how libraries were being left behind by the rest of the Web.  If amazon.sucked like our old OPAC was a humorous facade on to web services, built by David Walker of California State University, to make that well know Internet retailer look like it had been styled by a well known library System supplier.  Until recently it was a fully working OPAC style interface on to Amazon.  Unfortunately I think recent changes with Amazon web services may have broken it beyond the first couple of clicks. (If you are listening David, fancy trying to fix it?)

RSAMD I was contrasting this with the impressive recently launched interface for the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD).  Comparing these two, drives home just how far OPACs, (if that is what we should still be calling them), and more importantly the aspirations of the librarians responsible for them, have come in the last few years.

Are we there yet?  Checking out some of Karen’s 2006 list, you can tick of many items that are now standard in so called next generation OPACs, such as relevance ranking, spelling suggestions, and faceted browsing, so we are well on the way.  As the RSAMD interface shows, it is now possible for a library search interface to hold it’s head high amongst the some of the best of the web.

There is still progress to be made, but should we be still concentrating on a destination site that puts the library’s catalogue on line or should we looking more broadly at how the web presence of the whole library should be an integral part of the web.  I think the answer is both – Stunning catalogue interfaces should become the norm, not the exception to be admired and pointed at.   Meanwhile delivering all library services seamlessly as part of our users’ web experience should be our next goal.

I wonder what contrasts I’ll be reflecting upon in another three years…….

Staffordshire University library talks with Talis

Staffordshire University logoIn this podcast I talk with David Parkes, Associate Director for Learning Technology and Information Services at Staffordshire University. On the day that the library at Staffordshire University launched its 24 hour service, meaning that the library will now be open continuously until next July, David and I discuss how his team has adopted more agile working practices in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century information landscape and all that entails in terms of technological change, student expectation, budgetary pressures and shifts in the publishing supply chain.

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.

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


Videos from Code4lib 2009 published

The excellent presentations and lightening talks from the Code4lib 2009 Conference held in Providence, Rhode Island in February were videoed for posterity.

With sponsorship help from Talis, these have now been edited and published on the Code4lib 2009 site.

Each presentation is linked from the relevant slot in the conference schedule.

Those that followed the conference will be aware that there were 3 Talis presentations which I recommend for viewing – Ian Davis, Ross Singer and myself.

What ‘is’ Web-Scale?

Cloud%003F It will have been difficult to miss OCLC’s recent Cloud Computing announcement.  If you have, the headline is that they say they are building an architecture capable of handling all the transactions of all libraries, meaning that they can add circulation, acquisitions, license management and several other aspects of library management to their WorldCat shared discovery capability.

As you can imagine, all this built upon racks of computers hosted at OCLC’s data centre combining their power to deliver a service to many users at the same time.  A well proven technology as used by Google, Sun, Amazon,, and even here at Talis where the Talis Platform underpins our Engage, Aspire, and Prism products. The rest of the computing world describes this as Software as a Service (SaaS) or Cloud Computing.

For some reason OCLC are determined to come up with their own term – Web-Scale.  OCLC’s Andrew Pace in his recently published Talking with Talis podcast [highly recommended if you want an insight in to this initiative] tries to explain why the library world needs such a term.  The inaugural post on the OCLC Engineering blog, by Mike Teets also goes in to much depth as to what Web-Scale is.

Having read and listen to all this I must admit I’m still unconvinced.  It still sounds like engineering has be brought in, to support the marketing folks’ desire to be different, with technical description.  There are enough confusing terms hijacked by marketeers in the computing and Internet worlds. So I’m sure OCLC will forgive me if I continue to describe their approach as a cloud based software as a service – Cloud Computing.

OCLC’s Andrew Pace Talks with Talis about Web-Scale ILS

andrew_pace To find out about OCLC’s move in to providing hosted, Web-scale, Software as a Service functionality for managing libraries, who better to ask than the person responsible for the programme.

Andrew Pace, Executive Director, Networked Library Services has been working on this for the last fifteen months, and as you can hear from our conversation is pleased that he can now talk openly about it.

Our wide ranging conversation takes us from the epiphany moment when Andrew announced he wanted to be a librarian through to the strategic, and architectural decisions behind this significant OCLC initiative.  

Andrew’s answers to my questions add depth and background to the brief details so far released in his blog posts and OCLC’s press releases.