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UKSG09 Uncertain vision in sunny Torquay

uksg Glorious sunshine greeted the opening of the first day of UKSG 2009 in Torquay yesterday.  The stroll along the seafront from the conference hotel (Grand in name and all facilities, except Internet access – £1/minute for dialup indeed!)  was in delightful sharp contrast to the often depressing plane and taxi rides to downtown conference centres.

IMG_0012 The seaside theme was continued with the bright conference bags.  Someone had obviously got hold of a job lot of old deckchair canvas.  700 plus academic librarians and publishers and supplier representatives settled down, in the auditorium of the Riviera Centre, to hear about the future of their world.

The first keynote speakers were very different in topic and delivery, but all three left you with the impression of upcoming change the next few years for which they were not totally sure of the shape.

First up was Knewco Inc’s Jan Velterop pitch was a somewhat meandering treatise on the wonders and benefits of storing metadata in triples – something he kept saying he would explain later.  The Twitter #uksg09 channel was screaming “when is he going to tell us about triples” and “what’s a triple” whilst he was talking.  He eventually got there but I’m not sure how many of the audience understood the massive benefits of storing and liking data in triples, that we at Talis are fully aware of.   Coincidentally, for those who did get his message, I was posting about the launch of the Talis Connected Commons for open free storage of data – in triples, in the Talis Platform.

Next up was Sir Timothy O’Shea from the University of Edinburgh, who talked about the many virtual things they are doing up in Scotland.  You can take your virtual sheep from your virtual farm to the virtual vet, and even on to a virtual post mortem.  His picture of the way information technology is playing its part in changing life at the university, apart from being a great sales pitch for it, left him predicting that this was only the early stages of a massive revolution.  As to where it was going to lead us n a few years he was less clear.

Joseph Janes, of the University of Washington Information School, was one of those great speakers who dispensed with any visual aids or prompts and delivered us a very entertaining 30 minutes comparing the entry in to this new world of technology enhance information access, with his experience as an American wandering around a British seaside town.  His message that we expect the next few years to feel very similar on the surface, as we will recognise most of the components, but will actually be very different when you analyse it.  As an American he recognises cars, buses, adverts, and food, but in Britain they travel on the wrong side of the road, are different shapes, and are products he doesn’t recognise.   As we travel in to an uncertain but exciting future, don’t be fooled recognising a technology, watch how it is being used.

A great start to the day, which included a good break-out session from Huddersfield’s Dave Pattern. He ended his review of OPACs and predictions about the development of OPAC 2.0 and beyond, with a heads-up about my session today, which caused me to spend a couple of hours in the hotel bar, the only place with Wifi, tweaking my slides.  It would be much easier to follow Mr Janes’ example and deliver my message of the cuff without slides – not this time perhaps 😉

Looking forward to another good day – even if the sun seems to have deserted us.

Google Analytics to analyse student course activity – Tony Hirst Talks with Talis

Tony Hirst Tony Hirst, of the Open University Department of Communications and Systems, was recognised at the Online Information Conference 2008 for his work promoting new technologies in education by being presented with a commendation in the IWR Information Professional of the Year Award.

The award took place at the end of the first day of the Online Information Conference 2008.  Earlier in the day Tony delivered a presentation entitled “Course Analytics – using Google Analytics to understand student behaviour in an online Open University course”

I caught up with Tony just after his award  and we retired to a side room to discuss what he had learnt from work with Google Analytics.


Picture of Tony published on Flickr by MrGluSniffer

Draft JISC strategy out for comment

The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), historically the driver of so much innovation in the UK’s engagement with digital libraries, e-learning, and the like, has released a draft of their 2007-09 strategy for comment.

Comments are due by 25 September, and could play a role in shaping the way in which hundreds of millions of pounds are spent over the next three years.

Like so many other organisations, JISC increasingly recognises that we operate in a global environment, so don’t let being on the other side of the water put you off responding…

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IUISC 2006: A great first day in Derry City

I’m back from Derry City where I delivered a keynote on the first morning – Web 2.0, Library 2.0 – Libraries do matter – at the Irish Universities Information Services Colloquium.

Never having been to Londonderry before I was looking forward to the trip, and I wasn’t disappointed. The drive across Northern Ireland from Belfast International airport through the Glenshane Pass in to the setting sun the night before the conference was spectacular. Arrival on the quayside of the River Foyle, which sweeps past the conference hotel, was no less disappointing. In retrospect I wish I had stayed for a second day so that I could have had a look around the Walled City. Still my return trip back through the Glenshane pass at sun rise on Thursday morning made up for it.

The conference was well attended by some 150 of the movers and shakers in Irish University IT, MIS, & Libraries both North and South of the border. It is refreshing to see such cooperation between the community of nine Universities on the island of Ireland regardless of which side of the border they sit.

The first morning opened with a plenary of three keynote speakers. First on was Aideen McGinley, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland. Aideen, although a member of the establishment north of the border has a refreshing outlook on cooperation with her counterparts in the south. She was followed by Valerie Clugston from Nomad Research Design Consultation who stepped in at short notice and almost overnight prepared an interesting talk about the design of the internal space of the Saltire Centre, Glasgow Caledonian University – very Library 2.0 and looks well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Third up was yours truly. With a conference theme of “Connecting with the customer – Opportunities and Challenges” my particular challenge was to make Web 2.0 and Library 2.0 relevant to the broad spectrum of people in the audience. Obviously, being from an organization with a long history in supplying library systems, there was the expectation from some that it would just all be about libraries. From the comments after the session I believe I achieved my goal of showing that Web 2.0 was relevant to all, and aided by it libraries [Web 2.0 + Librarians = Library 2.0] are relevant and matter to all. With a copy of Paul Miller & Ken Chad’s paper Do Libraries Matter? The Rise of Library 2.0 in the conference pack, the 2.0 world was a topic of conversation amongst many throughout the day.

I attended an excellent session in the Broadening Access conference strand. 24/7 Access to UCD Library Services via the Internet was presented by Samantha Drennan and Eoin McCarneyHanratty of University College Dublin. (Opps! sorry for crediting the wrong Eoin) They described how with the aid of SCT’s Luminis Platform III portal, the Talis Keystone Library Integration Platform, and AthensDA they have delivered 24/7 single sign on access for their students and staff to University resources, with Library information at its heart. An excellent example of how you can take the library to where its customers are, in this case in the University Portal – again very Library 2.0!

The day drew to a close with a Dinner and Quiz (get a critical mass of librarians in a room and a quiz seems to spontaneously occur!). The team from my table, appropriately named Quiz 2.0, didn’t win but we came respectably in the top few teams.

I must thank the organising committee of IUISC 2006 for the invitation to help spread the Web 2.0/Library 2.0 word, and compliment them for organising an excellent conference. I wish I could have stayed longer.

[Update] Thanks to Mairead McCormack for supplying a correct, and excellent, picture of the Glenshane Pass.

Reading Lists – RSS & OPML

Having been in at the conception and birth of the Talis Academic Reading list product Talis List a few years back I’m always interested in developments in that area.
Over the last few months I have been mulling over where technologies like RSS could have application in the Reading List environment.  Things like providing feeds so that students could subscribe to the reading lists for their courses, being fed with updates and additions.  This could make the whole thing far more dynamic and alive, enabling the owner of the list to add ‘current’ things like blog entries/news reports/journal articles to the students’ suggested reading.
RSS published reading lists could also be a powerful tool for librarians trying to keep up with the recommended reading promoted by the lecturers they are trying to keep up with.
All this sounds simple until you start to multiply those thoughts by the number of reading lists (often several per subject/course/term/required or suggested reading) that a student are required to monitor and it all becomes a bit complex.
This is where OPML rides to the rescue.  OPML currently is mainly used for importing/exporting details of subscribed to RSS Feeds so that they can be transferred between feed monitoring solutions.  Dave Winer in his recent posting Next steps in RSS, Reading Lists raises the possibility of an RSS aggregator subscribing to an OPML feed instead of directly to the RSS feeds it describes.
When the author of the OPML document adds a feed, the aggregator automatically checks that feed in its next scan, and (key point) when a feed is removed, the aggregator no longer checks that feed. THe editor of the OPML file can update all the subscribers by updating the OPML file. Think of it as sort of a mutual fund for subscriptions.
So with RSS feeds becomming more mainsteam maybe there is a place for them to become central to the decemination of information to students, in a way that will take us a long way from those badly photocopied book lists that used to circulate.  Food for thought….