Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Where is Library Technology going?

This started out as a comment on a piece by Chad Haefele on his Hidden Peanuts blog (which I found via an Aaron Tay from Nat University of Singapore tweet - yay 21st century):

Defining what I do: What makes a technology emerging or disruptive?

 All too quickly I realised I was rambling - but what struck me (eventually, as I stream-of-conscioused  via a keyboard) was Chad's description of his job seemed to be implying (or I wildly extrapolated) that change would be consistent; evolutionary rather than revolutionary. That his job (and mine, and yours) would stay approximately the same. The tools, methods and channels would be different but at their core libraries would be the same.

So I started:
Interesting piece Chad, I've pondered how to describe this aspect of my job too.
Then almost immediately went on a tangent down a steep incline:
Sometimes I think it's me that's disruptive rather than the technology. Echoing the the point Walt picked up on and you acknowledge, re: mp3s -  you don't have to change, you make the choice.
My disruptive influence is that I don't think the library's survival is paramount; I think the meeting the user's need is. Sometimes we have to acknowledge that we just get in the way, for at least some users.  I'm happy for people to make the case for the continued mystic aura of the library - but the justification shouldn't be based on 'the library is a good thing' it should be about why the library is best placed to meet a valid user need.

What libraries fear is being bypassed, so we watch each new technology enter the hype cycle and we ponder how we can use it, if we should, who else is, and how we would manage it with all the other kittens we're herding.

For a long time we've been picking winners and dropping losers from our rosters of resources and services but I have this itching in the back of my brain that makes me think we are slowly reaching a singularity - a point where our systems do their thing well with little help from us. When our only value is in one-to-one communications and relationships. And that value is only to a relatively small proportion of our client base.

Thinking out loud from an academic library standpoint - what happens if the MOOC model foments new and better standards for accreditation and education delivery? If students can build their degrees from subjects offered anywhere in the world, and not be tied to a particular institution? If textbooks and research lit and data sets are open access? If microcharging finally works? If the wolfram alpha model of query analysis gets more sophisticated and more widely adopted? If linked data is ubiquitous?

In this post-apocalyptic scenario could we be reduced to small groups of curators, advocates and mentors organisationally attached to the student and/or research services areas?

Will we be willing to let go of the library as a brand? Does it matter?

 The flaw I see in my speculation is I'm painting academia after the singularity as a tranquil place where all is perfect, and therefore not needing change, or change agents. Bollocks to that. Like any good singularity we just can't see what's on the other side from here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Wrong Turn With Electronic Reserve

Electronic Reserve, eReserve, Reserve Online - even the names we give smack of something past it's use by date.
Reserve? How mired in our print history is that word?  To all you young'ns here's a brief catch up episode:

Almost all library stuff used to be printed.  Lecturers collated reading lists. If a lecturer wanted all her students (or all his motivated students) to read something that wasn't in the text book but was in the library systems were developed to try and ensure 300 students weren't fighting for a book on a semester long loan to a PhD candidate, or hunting endlessly for a particular volume of Journal of Applied Physiology that had fallen down the back of a photocopier or been mis-shelved in Children's Literature.
Institutions varied but the fundamental approaches were usually a combination of:
  • Housing books in a separate gated collection with very short (hours rather than days) or no loan periods (often with private copies owned by lecturers) with some photocopiers that burned hot during semester
  • Giving some books a shorter loan period (I've seen two, three and seven day loan periods)
  • Reading blocks, or books of readings, - a stapled or bound lump of short readings - usually sold on a cost recovery basis with a suitable copyright declaration at the front...
Then came the interwebs - why have queues to access and copy print items when you can scan them and stick them on a server somewhere and let everyone access it on demand?  Then  came the copyright implications and the access management issues - how do students find a particular reading, how do you maintain continuity of access when lecturers change, courses change?

Well we developed systems for that, and systems that integrated with Learning Management Systems like Blackboard.

And while we fiddled with those our collection itself became more and more online, so we thought, hey, we can avoid copyright infringements by linking to the item on a publisher site (who we have a legal contract for access with - overriding basic copyright requirements) and not have to scan at all.

I think it's time we thought about why we are making lecturers fill in forms to get us to create metadata for articles that are already online with metadata and full text, that lecturers then have to embed individually into their Blackboard courses.

Sure some stuff still only exists in print and it makes sense to scan it and provide authenticated access to it - but why are we linking to stuff that is already discoverable online?  The old reserve system wasn't about spoon feeding students, it was about ensuring equity of access.  In the online world our students now have equity of access, why can't a lecturer give a list of citations to articles and expect a student to be able to find them through our incredible range of discovery tools?
 As a library we say promoting information literacy is one of our key roles with students, and we work closely with teaching staff to ensure that graduate attribute is attained by our students.

Why don't we show students how to find items on their reading lists?  How real world motivational is that?  Studies have shown that undergraduates under-perform on  'known item' searching, what a key skill that is for higher degree students.

Our current procedure for linking to a single article in Blackboard involves 24 steps shared between lecturers and library staff. Think what we could have been doing instead.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

VALA 2012 Day 1 Summon Camp and China Academy of Science

Summon Camp

My first summon camp!  Effectively a user group meeting. John Law first gave an overview of recent and soon to be released developments and then the format was for attendees to identify particular aspects of Summon, or areas they wanted to see developed, and then with a show of hands these were narrowed to six topics, and we dissected those in three smaller groups - covering 2 topics each and reporting back to the larger group.

What I found particularly useful was hearing about other institution's experiences with Summon - drawing up wish lists for the Summon development team was almost secondary.

My group dealt with analytics and usability testing.  We were keen to see statistics that gave us a greater understanding of how Summon was used - an average of 4.5 searches per visit doesn't really tell us if they are using the facets and filters, the advanced search, or even if they try 4 keyword searches and give up - we don't even get a sense of click throughs to full text.  We floated the idea of randomly recording occasionally session to get a sense of their behaviour to identify if there techniques we should be promoting to improve search success rate. Cathy Slaven (QUT)  floated the idea of a Heat Map to get a visualised sense of the most clicked screen real estate.

Some people have done usability testing and there were common themes (too many hits - no one complains about that in Google) lack of success for known item searches (I don't understand this) and linking problems.  One interesting finding was that the database recommender is a blindspot for students - apparently it makes librarians feel good but is ignored by our clients.

One university offered an innovate enticement to participate in a Summon survey: Fine Forgiveness - we all thought that was pretty clever.

Common across our institutions was the lack of requirements for reporting on Summon.  We were unique in that we had actually used the statistics to show our business managers the extent of the Singapore campus' use of eresources.

We also seemed unique in the lack of resistance from liaison and IL librarians to recommending Summon to students (oddly even when there is no marketing from the Library students still like it and use it.

Scrolling through my notes I see that John has said that Summon will default to 'Keep search refinements' in the next release (very soon!). They also working on the display of reference items (from Credo for example), and allowing us to 'spotlight' local collections.

eMpowering e-Science, eMpowering libraries

Xiaolin Zhang

National Science Library, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Video: http://www.vala.org.au/vala2012-proceedings/vala2012-plenary-2-zhang

The sheer scale of the CAS is overwhelming - over 100 institutes with 45000 research staff and 55000 post grads, half of whom are doctoral students.  The Academy has directed it's library be actively involved in the research process - so they have moved to a very client focused model - to the point where outposted librarians advocate on behalf of their researchers.

They are focusing on knowledge and meta knowledge over data and metadata, Zhang is the first person I've heard talk about 'Knowledge as a Service' or Kaas.  He covered some of the tools available us all now 'SALT' (semantically annotated LaTeX - be nice to me and I might tell you what Latex is), CiteSpace, Incite and a bunch of others I was too slow to write down. What he was saying was there was definitely a role for libraries and librarians in the big data world, but it wasn't what we traditionally do it, there are some new skills we need, and some old ones we need to refine.  (This was to be echoed in several later presentations).

A question from the floor asked how library staff had managed the transition to the new roles - my recollection is his answer was that basically that this was the job and if they wanted to be paid well they had best do it well - but that might be blur caused by a sea of tweets and my tired eyes. With that I'm signing off for tonight.


Day 1 VALA 2012 Keynote and the AM sessions

Libraries & the Post-PC era

Jason Griffey

In keeping with the VALA tradition the opening keynote was thought provoking and included the speaker's daughter (stills not video this time)

Not much point going in to detail when you can watch it here:


A broad sample of trends was covered - a couple that stuck out for me was the analogy to the early days of motor vehicles - they were all trucks for business/farm use - but eventually they became cars for personal use, mirroring the move from PC to mobile device.

Jay's daughter came into it because of her expectation that she would have ubiquitous access - it was inconceivable for her that she wouldn't be networked and not have instant access to she wanted (she is very young), but this was the world she was growing up in.

He was very pro-Mac - specifically the iPad/iPhone but in a sense he was saying that it will inevitably replaced by something much better, and probably cheaper thanks to Moore's Law.  As I tweeted at the time (but this time without an Ipad's spell 'assistant'  his confidence that ubiquitous disposable mobile technology would be globally sustainable seemed optimistic but who knows?

I was intrigued by his idea that the keyboard and mouse are doomed - that touchscreens, gestural and voice control will replace them.

I loved his Henry Ford quote - "If I had asked what they wanted I would have built a faster horse."  The message being the Jobsian tack that users don't know what they want - that's your job.

Gold star for his predictions - I always think that's the toughest thing to do.  He got a huge laugh for his Darwinian approach to clients who don't want things to change 'Well eventually they will die'

Mobile technology: academic libraries in Australia and beyond

Annie Yee

Report on a survey of 11 university mobile web sites services and functions.  Two UQ and Curtin were the Australian representatives, US, Singapore and Hong Kong universities were done as well.

I'm filing the findings - I have to address our mobile presence this year - but one idea I did like was the idea of streaming the coffee queue!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Serials Solutions pre conf seminar part 2

Next was Jane Burke to talk about Intota - a work in progress at Serials Solutions, but before I talk about it let me relate a recurring theme in my job.

Maybe once a year it will come up. An informal discussion at management level about what we are going to do about our Library Management System.  Is there something better out there? How much would it cost?  How many psycotherapy sesssions would I need to recover from a tender process and needs analysis?  How many cases of PTSD would conversion to a new LMS cause?  Tongue in cheek I often say 'if we hold off a bit longer people will stop reading paper books and we can stop worrying about it.

Well who would have thought other people think about this stuff too - although from a more intelligent and pragmatic standpoint.  And this is where Intota comes in.  I won't do it justice, and it is still in phase 1 of a three phase development, but basically the problem with an LMS is that it's stuck in old way libraries used to work.  We used to by books and other physical objects and so we it was reasonable for the acquisitions, cataloguing, searching and circulation functions to sit in one 'Integrated Library System' (ILS)

But things have changed. Clients still look for information objects (although increasingly these are virtual and Summon is a response to that need)
Around 80% of our budget is on electronic resources now and most of those are bought as packages not individual objects, but we still try and squeeze this metadata into an ILS ill-suited to it. 

What's more is that every institution is maintaining it's own store of metadata usually managed by an arcane series of accident-prone batch exports and imports that very skilled people spend much of their effort in maintaining.  Often we end up  duplicating certain types of information and workflows just to make things work - as an example entering financial data into our ILS and separately into our corporate finance systems.

Intota is intended to be a web scale management tool. Relying on open standards, an API, being SaaS, utilising shared data and linked data.

I so get that I am explaining this badly but maybe you'll get an inkling by considering one scenario Jane used.

Imagine you searched Summon - and got nothing, so you expanded your search to 'Outside your Library's Collection' and found something that looked great - AND it had a 'Request this item' link - and when you clicked on it authenticated you as part of your institution and created a request (that included your preferred format and maybe other things relevant to the type of user you are e.g. an academic might get to choose how many copies and which campuses, a student could request an ebook over a print copy)  and  you could automate the acceptance of these requests by a set of rules, so that only exceptions ever required human intervention. 

Now the order is sent to your preferred supplier automatically and the metadata record is tagged as in your collection (on order) still without human intervention - when it's available the requester is notified. That's just one scenario, but imagine no longer having to do monthly Marc loads into a cantankerous ILS - that the appropriate records appear in your 'catalogue' instantaneously, not having manually add holdings to your union catalogue, not worrying about authorities or even backups because it's all SaaS, and any data corrections are done once and shared by all.

Further more because of the SOA approach realtime data interchange with authentication and finance systems is possible.

I am so not doing the potential justice.  But what the measure of success of Intota will be is the ability to unlock the money currently used to maintain your ILS. Secondary to that is freeing up highly skilled staff from the intricate mundanity of data quality and maintenance to focus on service development and delivery.

It might seem a little pie in the sky, but as Jane freely admits they are not the first player to enter into this and their three stage overlapping development plan ends with the development of a circulation model in 2013 - that's not that far away.

And it would all be web based - no client software required.

I wish them well.

Serials Solutions pre conf seminar

It's late so forgive me for the shorthand. Two sessions given by senior SS staff.
First up was John Law (I hope it was John Law - meandering shuttle bus from the airport meant I was a little late) talking about upcoming developments in Summon (and a couple of things I'd missed).
  • Build your own Summon widget at http://jcu.summon.serialssolutions.com/widgets/ (although we've already got one in libguides).
  • Discipline limits coming in the next release (limit to one or more areas of study - 'physics' for example
  • Searching in ten languages now supported including CJK
360 Link
  • Tell Summon which database you prefer your results to come from
  • Improvements to Ebook Access
  • Releasing new linkers (openurl2publisher algorithms) dynamically - ie as soon as developed/fixed rather than as batch monthly updates
  • improved non-roman char handling
  • Bigger suite of stats - including a referrer report (Finally we can see how many full text hits come where (Google Scholar for example) and a 'item with no full text' YAY - SFX in 2007 had these.
  • A new iteration of the One-Click helper screen
At one point John commented what a joy it was to work with an 'engaged client base'  which I took as a euphemism for 'whinging librarians' - but he seemed genuine about it.   He called 2012 'the year of the metric' - where lots of people are starting to focus on the mountains of data they have about their clients use of their services and what it tells them.

There was a little discussion about Summon ranking mechanism where John provided some insights in how complex an algorithm you had to have when you ranking 80 different formats with metadata ranging from the bare bones of a citation up to the actual full content of an ebook.  It made me think about how some people who scratch their heads at the order of a Summon results list and say they wish it wise like Google.  In Google you are looking for one thing, and if it appears in the first five hits you're happy, you don't scroll down to record 15 and wonder why it wasn't record number 2 - but you do in Summon because your needs are different to a Google search, you don't have a simple single information need, you have a complex expanding requirement that you heuristically refine as you as you go. 

Then someone jabbed me and said it was time for a break.