Margaret Locherbie-Cameron

2010-12-30 by

I just learned with great sadness that Margaret Locherbie-Cameron has passed away. Dr Locherbie-Cameron was my Old English teacher at the University of Wales, Bangor, and I have very fond memories of her both as a teacher and person.

Reading the obituary by P. J. C. Field, I was reminded of what a kind and thoughtful person Dr Locherbie-Cameron was. She would joke that the traditional grammar she was teaching was “probably anathema to linguists” (like me); it wasn’t, it was a well-thought-through way of teaching something that had a high entry bar that we needed to jump if we were to get anywhere.

I also remember the tutorials where we translated texts; these were brought alive by Dr Locherbie-Cameron’s vast knowledge of their socio-historical context and an engagement both with the students and the Anglo-Saxon world. I particularly recall the amusement that an areligious me caused with translations of Anglo-Saxon religious texts, and that these were taken both with humour and in earnest.

Dr Locherbie-Cameron was a great teacher.

Library cataloguing breaks our data

2010-12-17 by

Use case: user desires to view a collection of masters theses by subject.

Solution 1: register departmental names as corporations in MARC 710

Catch 1: the departments have merged to create large departments (for example, the old departments of English, Romance languages and Germanic languages  became the department of modern foreign languages). The data that would have identified theses in English is now lost when the authority in 710 is updated.

Catch 2: the metadata does uniformly differentiate between theses on different aspects of study, for example, performative music is not distinguished uniformly from theoretical music, linguistics of English is lumped together with American cultural studies and literary studies. Thus, unrelated theses are placed together because they come from the same department, but not the same study track.

Catch 3: it is difficult to identify theses from the institution because the institution has changed name, and because the institution was formed by a merger and the merged institutions were also subject to various name changes.

Solution 2: Restructure the metadata so that the theses belong to a series with a standard title, create a controlled vocabulary that is used to differentiate the various theses on the basis of topic and study track, use solution 1 retroactively.

Catch 1: Reality*.

Solution 3: Use RDF.

Catches: we’ll work them out.

*Actually, the biggest problem is that the users want to present the data in their own system, which would involve either caching the data gleaned via SRU  (not possible for the departmental staff) or screenscraping the OPAC (not a nice solution).

Simple additives: adding social functionality to your OPAC

2010-12-13 by

A quick recipe for adding social functionality to your OPAC*.


  1. Argue with your IT people/system supplier about adding a Javascript snippet to your page templates
  2. While you’re doing (1), head on over to IntenseDebate and create an account
  3. Once you’ve managed (if you manage) to convince IT people that this functionality is worth the effort, (get your IT people/system supplier to) follow the instructions on the IntenseDebate support pages based on your account details
  4. Sit back and congratulate yourself

Now, there are a few things to note:

  1. The comments are hosted by IntenseDebate
  2. The users will need to have an OpenID in order to use the system (does your system support OpenID? Why not?)
  3. There may be a few legal issues related to “who owns comments” based on where you live

Potential issues:

  1. Your IT people/system supplier is reluctant
  2. Your system does not create links between things that should be related (e.g. manifestations/editions of books)
  3. No-one comments on anything

As you can see, implementing this kind of functionality in your system is so simple that it is worth trying out, however, don’t be disheartened if this doesn’t work out for you: the engagement users have with the “web content” in your system is probably limited.

*OPAC or any webpage, this isn’t “library IT”, it’s IT.

Internet Librarian International 2010

2010-10-16 by

I’m writing a blog post, something I haven’t done here for quite some time. I was moved to do it because I am just back from Internet Librarian International 2010.

I have a number of issues with this year’s conference (the fourth I have been to), these are:

  • wifi
  • power supply
  • technical track

The internet access at Internet Librarian International has always been poor in my experience, the irony of this is not lost on many of the attendees. While Information Today (the conference organizers) can probably not be blamed for this because it is the hotel’s responsibility to ensure wifi provision, I suggest that Information Today re-negotiate their contract or change hotel. This simply can’t go on.

Power supply is again another issue that the hotel must take responsibility for, and it is something that is so simple to solve. This needs to be sorted in a professional way.

The third point is that Internet Librarian International 2010 didn’t provide a clearly defined technical track, and as such I can’t say that I will attend again. That’s a shame because I like the conference concept and the people who attend, but the world moves on.

Enough complaining. I enjoyed meeting with old and new friends as well as a number of the talks.

Researching students’ “information literacy” (Part I)

2010-05-28 by

[This is a translation of a blog post on the UBiT2010 blog. The report referred to is in Norwegian.]

“Den som søker finner” [Seek and you shall find] is the title of a report from Sentio Research Norway; it describes a survey carried out in February/March 2010 at the request of Project UBiT2010. The report is open and available from NTNU Library.

The report is a qualitative analysis of how students and researchers find information and literature on the Net.
We note among other things that students who are beginning their career rely on obligatory course readings and often begin with references and concrete suggestions when they search using Google. BIBSYS (OPAC for the Norwegian collaborative LibMS) is too complicated in use and produces a lot of noise; at the same time, students see the library as standing for quality and “safe” information. Google has a “cleaner” interface. The way that Google/Google Scholar and library resources are connected together is seen as a valuable asset.

As students progress and gain more scholarly proficiency, they become more at ease in their search for information; they use technology more consciously and have more entry points to information and a greater repertoire. Google and Google Scholar are still preferred over reference and scholarly databases.

Students use the library’s books to a greater extent than PhD students and researchers, who often choose to buy key works. Use of journals follows the reverse trend. If users do not fint the full text articles they want in the library’s portfolio, they use their professional network to get the information in another way. Ordering articles takes time, and paying for them is seen as unacceptable.

The library is not the preferred place to start searching for information or a relevant portal for scholarly resources.

These are a selection of the results from the report. Read it yourself and find out more!

Information literacy: it’s over and out

2010-01-18 by

“Information literacy” was a phenomenon of the late 1990s end early 2000s and it is officially dead. Looking at the numbers, you can see that the level of interest globally in information literacy is rapidly approaching zero. Take a look at the Google-trending data for this:

Trending data for searches for term "information literacy"

Google trending data for searches for term "information literacy"

What is “information literacy”? In libraryland, it’s a specific thing (I’ll translate the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority’s definition):

Information literacy is a collection of skills that make a person able to identify when information is necessary, and which make them able to locate, evaluate and use – in an effective way – this information.[1]

This sounds reasonable, however it isn’t, it’s silly: are there any plausible instances where people who are trying to achieve something don’t know when they need information? I hope not. Note that Plinius [Norwegian] has commented (so well in fact that I translated it) that “information literacy” is not really a valid thing in the traditional library sense; an interpretation of information literacy, however, that is viable is one where it is a facet of subject-related competence.

The idea that it is possible to teach localization, evaluation and use of information without reference to a subject-specific set of skill is ridiculous; let me explain: within certain formal disciplines, intuition is a valid way of gathering data, while within others it is really not. Knowing your subject-specific ethics will help you evaluate the content you are looking at. Knowing which sources to look at will also depend heavily on the subject-specific approach you’re taking: if you’re researching language, you might be interested in grammars, but you might equally be interested in literature from medicine and neuroscience. Using information effectively is where the ABM-definition really hits ground: how can you use information effectively without understanding it?

The library really doesn’t have very much to offer in terms of subject-specific skills: yes, an academic library may have subject librarians, but “subject specific” really equates to “individual”, and the extent to which a librarian will know the individual researcher’s needs is based on a dialogue with that individual, not on an understanding of the concept “information literacy”, and whatever they impart of useful information is likely to be based on the local systems in use at that particular library.

It isn’t the case, however, that the library doesn’t have anything to offer; we have a lot of resources that are likely yet to be discovered by researchers, and a number of tips and tricks that will make the researchers’ lives a lot easier. But creating heavyweight courses in CQL and search strategy isn’t going to cut it; it’s about marketing and one-on-one contact.

The death of monolithic library teaching should be nigh, and I hope that it is.

[1] Informasjonskompetanse — ABM-utvikling – Statens senter for arkiv, bibliotek og museum. (n.d.). . Retrieved January 18, 2010, from

[edited for grammar and imprecise formulation 2010-01-26]

Asking the right questions

2010-01-17 by

“Ask the users what they want!” seems to be the default response to the question of how we can improve library services, but this isn’t a good response, it’s a trite, unthinking non-response that washes the library practitioner of the responsibility of knowing their trade.

There is a lot of talk about what library users want; many of these assume that there is a clearly defined scale with “asking library users what they want” and “librarians knowing best” at the two extremes. The result of this kind of thinking is that the library asks what users want, and then acts on the results, however, this results in something even worse than not asking the user what they want: “now we know the answers, lets get on with it”. Acting on a questionnaire where users are explicitly asked “what do you want”, or the comments from a user survey such as LibQual+® results in only one answer: “I want the Moon on a stick”.

The stupidity of this kind of approach is seen in the emphasis: it isn’t what is needed by everyone, just by one particular user, and of course, these opinions will be as various as the number of respondents. Even if the user responds in seemingly tangible way “the library staff are not helpful and the website is difficult to navigate”, it must be remembered that this is seen through the eyes of an individual that asks questions such as “do you have a photocopying service” and thinks that a negative response to this question equates with unhelpfulness and thinks that navigation of the website is difficult because their computer display is broken doesn’t show the colours of the links properly (an example of this is the student who complained about the library OPAC being bad, but didn’t come to the offered courses; when I finally met with the student, it turned out that they had not been using the OPAC at all, but a third-party interface based on the LMS’ Z39.50 interface). Making service decisions based on this kind of information at face value is less than worthless, it is damaging.

Knee-jerk reactions to user-dissatisfaction expressed in generalized questionnaires will always backfire, this is because user feedback needs to be feedback on a specific question, and not questions of the kind “what do you think of the website?” The questions need to be focused on specific aspects of the services provided by the library. One of the major findings of users of the LibQual+® survey is that there is a discrepancy between the expected level of service in the holdings and the actual service. To my mind, this can be seen as a result of the “me” aspect of respondents. The interpretation of the results of surveys needs to be tempered by the understanding of this being from the perspectives of a multitude of different users with differing needs, expectations and contexts. No user actually wants “the Moon on a stick”, but this is the interpretation that is most obvious when reading the generalized feedback.

When a commercial enterprise asks what their users want, they ask the question about a specific product, and elicit responses about specific aspects of the functionality of that product. A major rethink about the product and its viability may be the result. No-one approaches a potential market without some idea of what their service entails; except libraries.

The next time you hear someone say that we should pay more attention to what users want, ask yourself the following questions:

  • why do we want feedback?
  • what do we want feedback on?
  • will the feedback be usable?

If the answers to these questions happen to be along the lines of “we want to know if users like eBooks”, “eBooks” and “yes of course”, then it’s the same old story. The answers for the questions should rather resemble “we want to know what we can do to make service X work better”, “the eBook service we provide” and “hopefully, but we need continuous feedback to make sure that we’re doing the right thing”.

The final point here is that the feedback should be something that libraries have as a strategic point, not just a one-off or occasional hit-and-miss affair. The strategic planning of this kind of thing should not be left to individuals either, it is the responsibility of management to ensure that projects, strategic areas and goals are followed up systematically by getting targeted user feedback. Another point is that this feedback should take different forms, and should in preference be interpreted and re-interpreted in light of new data.

A good example here is the notion of analysis of website traffic; in order to get anything out of the statistics, you need to know what you want to measure. An example is “do people know how to find the OPAC?”; in order to do this, a particular kind of report can be generated. But the various goals that are identified need to be identified before the reports are generated – knowing what goals and success indicators you have will ensure that you know what to measure and how to change your service in order to achieve your goals. Typically, statistics are “gathered” and then dropped as raw data – often as graphs – into the laps of the various parties at the library; the problem with this approach is that, while it’s nice to know which pages are most visited, it is difficult to read any patterns and generate meaningful goals from data presented in this way.

In the end, what the library should strive towards is “the moon on a stick with reservations”; providing everything that the user wants, just within a framework that is feasible. An example of this is ensuring that the expectations of the level of service do not outstrip the perceived level of service – clear terms of service are a good start. If a library cannot support large volumes of acquisitions, it should not attempt to, but rather focus on providing a better ILL service and make this service more available to the users.

When we’ve achieved these things, we can start asking the real question: what do users need?

Please note: registered trademarks presented in this text are used for informational purposes only and represent neither endorsement nor recommendation of these products.

Excluding self-citation in Google Scholar

2009-12-5 by

It seems that it is possible (to some extent at least) to exclude self-citation in Google Scholar, this is how:

  1. Search for author name in the usual way
  2. Click “cited by number
  3. Identify how Google Scholar represents the name you want to exclude in the hits (typically “A Name”)
  4. Add a standard Google query string which excludes the name you identified in point 3 to your current citation url in the following format &q=-“A Name”

A practical example of removing self-reference: Aspects of the theory of syntax by N Chomsky without self citation:“N Chomsky”

This reduces the original number of hits from “around 12,350” to “around 11,600”.

Perhaps this is useful? Feedback?

Fagreferentkonferansen 2010

2009-11-9 by

[edit: Ser at denne sida er kommet på topp i Google, bruk gjerne denne lenka hvis du vil ha tak i selve websiden for Fagreferentkonferansen.]

Universitetet i Stavanger skal arrangere Fagreferentkonferansen 2010 og de har nettopp utlyst Call for papers. Temaene: “Fagreferentens roller”, “Undervisning i biblioteket” og “E-bøker”.

Må innrømme at jeg synes at et av de nyeste universitetsbibliotekene kunne valgt mer interessante temaer.

A web page for a library

2009-11-7 by

One of the heads of departments at work asked for the web committee to approve a new web-page design* that featured a single search box. Take a look at the new page.

I felt that this design didn’t add much value: a single search box does ot equate to Google, which is so much more.

As a response, I created an example that I felt adds value to the interface. Add a ?strekke to see an alternative view.

WCAG v2 AAA, Section 508, XHTML 1.0 Strict and CSS3 valid (except for the media query, but it should validate – it is valid according to the BNF of css 3). It should also work on iPhone, and preferably other phones too 🙂

A final example where I just threw everything into the mix, but I didn’t correct the source for validation.

*I have now quit the web committee.