Posts Tagged ‘academic libraries’

Conference: emtacl10 — emerging technologies in academic libraries

2009-04-30

I happen to know that the first announcement of this conference is just around the corner, so I thought that I’d give it a bit of press now: emtacl10: emerging technologies in academic libraries. [Update: dates 26-28 April 2010!]

In layman’s terms, this is a web 2.0 conference with a difference: it’s aimed fairly and squarely at the higher educational library sector. Sounds exciting? I hope so!

Head on over to www.emtacl.com for more information.

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Hvor kunne vi vært nå…?

2009-03-5

For mer eller mindre nøyaktig to år siden laget jeg en prototype for fagsider som jeg presentert under et internt møte ved Universitetsbiblioteket i Trondheim. Prototypen viste fire ting:

  1. innhenting av data basert vha. metadata
  2. AJAX i bruk i bibliotekets websider
  3. sammensying av fire-fem ulike systemer for å vise informasjon om samme sak fra ulike vinkler
  4. XMLs fortreffeligheter

Prototypen hentet inn visitkortdata om fagreferenten fra LDAP-tjeneren vha. fagreferentens epost-adresse; den hentet inn data fra Metalib om databaser og SFX for tidsskrifter; BIBSYS Ask ga fra seg data om nye bøker (òg som RSS) og hovedoppgaver tilknyttet et fag. Men disse var bare eksempler på mulighetene, som var egentlig grenseløse. Skreddersying og valgfrihet var stikkordene — så lenge vi redigerte kildene vi hentet dataene fra.

Prototypen var ikke uten feil; den vistes ikke i Internet Explorer 6.0, og var treg som en treg ting (husk at på dette tidspunktet — index.html ble sist redigert 01.04.2007 — hadde ikke NTNU abonnement på X-Server for metalib, og SRU hadde vi ikke hørt om en gang). Men vi hadde løsninger: skjermskraping og god tro om at vi kunne gå til anskaffelse av X-Server og at BIBSYS ville kunne levere SRU. Heady times!

Hva skjedde da? Prototypen ble nesten enstemming nedstemt av fagreferentene ved NTNUs bibliotek pga. de ville ha mulighet til å redigere ting selv. De likte altså Escenic-løsningen. En ting verdt å nevne her er at en av hovedargumentene var at “jeg bruker mine sider i undervisningen min”. Pause for thought: “Min” og “mine” har ingen plass i bibliotekets presentasjon av sin data.

Jeg poengterte et par ting:

  • kun tretten sider i den gamle webben hadde noen endringer siden de først ble opprettet, av disse stå fem personer for samtlige endringer (undertegnede stod for tre av disse)
  • Besøkshyppigheten til disse sider var ekstremt lavt, til og med de med høye besøkstall kunne ikke sammenlignes med clickthroughs fra Metalib

Under møtet kom det fram at heller ikke jeg ville ha et slikt system — jeg ville fjernet fagsidene og satset på en ordentlig Metalib, som vi kunne få til å se bra ut ved hjelp av X-Server. Altså: Satse på det som er i bruk allerede, utvikle det vi hadde. Ingen ville gå for denne, ergo fagsidene med innhold fra Metalib.

Det var den gangen da. Hva har skjedd siden?

Vi implementert Escenic (noe jeg var imot siden den ikke egnet seg — ingen CMS som lagrer dataene sine som en BLOB passer til bibliotekets hovedsakelig dynamisk data — jeg hadde tidligere erfaring av utvikling og bruk av slike systemer). Siden den gang har vi sett at:

  • ingenting av det som brukes hver dag er egentlig “i Escenic”, men vises vha. “disgusting” iframes
  • kun tre lenker er brukt på våre websider: De tre på topp i venstremenyen (BIBSYS Ask, Metalib, SFX)
  • prosjeketet UBiT2010 tok for seg den digitale utviklingen ved UBiT
  • fagsidene er like oppdatert som de var før, men har økt i antall

Er jeg bitter? Nei, jeg er optimist, jeg velger å tro at ting blir bra til slutt. Jeg er fremdeles overrasket over en del ting, men også skuffet over en del holdninger. Jeg håper at UBiT2010 kommer med bedre svar enn jeg klarte å komme med; jeg jobber daglig med UBiT2010, og det er dette jeg brenner for for tida. Jeg lurer på hva som hadde blitt hvis vi for to år siden bestemt oss for å gå den veien jeg skisserte (enten som en helhetlig 2.0 satsning eller som en helhetlig Metalib/X-Server satsning) — jeg tror at vi hadde vært framragerende i Norge i det minste. Jeg tenker at båten er fortsatt i havn, at det ikke er for seint, men vi må satse, og satse på alvor. Det er på høy tid at noen tar krafttak og bygger det vi har snakket om lenge.

Hvis du spør meg hva jeg ønsker å se i bibliotekets web ville jeg sagt følgende: En god, effektiv webløsning som gjør at folk kommer dit de skal på enklest mulig måte. Jeg jobber fortsatt mot en god løsning som dekker brukernes behov på en kostnadseffektiv og brukervennlig måte. Jeg har alltid vært opptatt av MVC-tilnærmingen når det gjelder webben, og basert på dette jobber jeg fortsatt med XML og metadata.

Den nyeste varianten leverer “multiple views” fra “simple sources”, deriblant flate XML-filer, X-Server, og SRU. En av disse visninger er min personlige “sak”, altså mobilwebben. Å levere innhold til lokasjonsbevisste applikasjoner må være noe for oss som har distribuerte samlinger!

Jeg brenner for disse ting; jeg brenner for biblioteket; jeg brenner mest av alt for brukerne.

Metalib and statistics

2009-03-4

Metalib, one of the core components of Primo, isn’t working for NTNU Library; here’s the statistics:

NTNU-Metalib total sources searched:  1440

Consider that this is not 1440 “federated-search instances”, but 1440 individual sources searched using the federated-search interface. Metalib allows up to ten sources to be searched simultaneously; therefore, the worst scenario is that Metalib’s federated-search interface has been used 144 times in the last year.

And what were people searching?

20.6% Google Scholar
20.4% BIBSYS library catalogue
5.2% ISI web of science
4.1% SpringerLink (MetaPress)
4.1% Wiley Interscience Journals
3.9% JSTOR Complete
3.5% Oxford Journals
3% ingentaconnect.com (Ingenta)
3% PubMed
2.6% ECO – Electronic Collections Online

OK, so Metalib isn’t just about federated search, it’s also a link server (or a collection of links to databases if you will). The statistics here are more encouraging, gathering around 20–25,000 clickthroughs to native interfaces per month.

A cost-effectiveness study would show that a simple link server isn’t worth paying so much money for — there are better ways of doing this kind of work.

Digitalt bibliotek?

2009-02-4

Øh…hva er et digitalt bibliotek?

NTNU Library Toolbar development 2009-01-29

2009-01-29

Back by popular demand: the NTNU Library Toolbar. Thanks to all the people who contacted me regarding the status of the toolbar following the cut-off of support for Firefox 2.0.0.x by the Mozilla Corporation. You’ll be glad to know that the toolbar is now fully compatible with Firefox 3.

You can get the toolbar in two ways: via addons.mozilla.org, or from NTNU. I actually recommend the first option because the toolbar will be updated at regular intervals from this address; the downside with this is the fact that it requires that users register to download the toolbar. The second option is “cut loose” from the tyranny of upgrades 😉 but it doesn’t require login**.

As of today’s date, the NTNU Library Toolbar has reached version 0.3.1. This version provides full compatibility with all versions of Firefox from 3.x onwards (including various betas). While the functionality of previous versions is in place*, the code base has been largely re-written on object-oriented principles. The speed gains in this version are appreciable when compared with previous versions of the toolbar.

A major change with this release is the fact that the toolbar is now “powered by UBiT 2010”, a euphemism for the fact that work on the toolbar is now officially sanctioned by NTNU Library — i.e. I’m not just doing it off my own back, with all of the risks that entails. Hopefully this will mean that I can dedicate more time to reducing the lines of code, while adding some necessary features.

Version 0.3.1 is by no means the final release of this toolbar, in the coming weeks I expect to fix a few bugs that are currently subject to workarounds (see * under).

Other development news: currently there is a fork in the NTNU Library Development tree, where the toolbar also appears with a compatibility layer to work with various database repository services via a custom XML API implemented in both Java and PHP. For the foreseeable future, this will be an NTNU-only project as the work on this is experimental.

The main development branch is being reviewed, and will also be moved over to a more stable object-oriented code base. Additionally, we will provide a central repository for known resources; the idea here is that the maintenance of the toolbar resources should be essentially farmed out to the users, who can add their own searches to a centralized database. These will be audited and provided in updates via the usual distribution method.

Finally, several people have asked whether we will open source the code for this project; the simple answer here is “yes”, however, we feel that we need to provide core functionality that will allow other libraries to customize the toolbar for their purposes. The date for this will be on or around the date of the completion of the XML-API mentioned above.

A final thought: the toolbar is a testament to UBiT 2010’s commitment to providing lightweight software to heavyweight problems. Thanks for bearing with us 🙂

* The major issue in this release is that Firefox needs to be restarted after adding custom resources as the search menu is not redrawn each time it is opened.

** I’d love to provide an upgrade stream for the toolbar, but we don’t seem to be able to provide a suitable https connection :[

Trends 2009

2009-01-1

Some trends and predictions for academic libraries in 2009 — it’s the last post of the year (and the first one for a looong time — hey, I’ve been busy). Not a definitive list, things are duplicated, and horribly skewed towards my interests…so E&EO!

Things we’ll be seeing more of

  • Mobile web
  • Monolithic (and especially “Integrated”) search systems
  • Java
  • 2.0-ization where “shutting down” would be a better idea
  • Reduced budgets
  • XML/XSLT

You can add a whole slew of less positive things to this list, including “nuisance lawsuits”, and “futile attempts to manipulate the web by individuals, corporations and governments”, but I rather think that these aren’t preditictions…. It’s the end of the road for a few technologies, one of these is “the OPAC” (at least as we know it), which I believe will rapidly be replaced by the monoliths mentioned in the list above.

Some of the oddities in the list include Java and XML/XSLT — these are old, old technologies, but they aren’t seriously used in libraries. Now is the time for libraries to explore the possibilities of serious software development on a small scale. Robust software simply cannot be developed without suitable development tools, and the frameworks provided by among other things Java application servers are top notch.

2.0 will continue to wash over our community, washing driftwood with it — the OPAC? — in the same way as budgets can be relied upon to disappear slowly but surely.

And this year’s biggie? Mobile web “m.” is the future (at least for the present) 🙂

Godt nytt år! Happy New Year!

What a library website should look like

2008-10-11

Lorcan Dempsey wrote a nice piece about the science@cambridge site, which strikes me as pretty much exactly how a university library website should look like right now. Well done folks!

A word to the wise: there’s a lot to emulate here, but nothing to copy — by the time you’ve manage to do what they’ve done, this is going to seem dated (and Cambridge will no doubt have put out something even better).

Library 2.0: user-centered approach?

2008-02-28

I wonder if most people get that Library 2.0 doesn’t just mean that the library bends and moulds itself to the requirements of the users, but also means that the library needs to work actively to promote new kinds of service with which the users may not be familiar.

It’s important to remember that users need to be information literate to function in the library; at a university library, it is important to help students become information literate so that they can do their work, and be attractive players in the work market afterwards.

Creating a library that “just works” and requires nothing of the user — which I absolutely doubt is possible — isn’t desirable either, because it doesn’t factor in the role of the librarian. What do I mean by this? Ranganathan quote: “Every reader should feel the presence of the radiant personality of the librarian. Krishna-like, the librarian should now and again be by the side of every reader” (Ranganathan, Shiyali Ramamrita. (1931). The Five Laws of Library Science. London: Edward Goldston.)

Why Aquabrowser isn’t doing it for me

2008-02-19

Aquabrowser is very tasty looking, but I’m not convinced — as I pointed out in Ten brainless things an online academic library can do (Aquabrowser was number 10). Note that I wrote academic library and not just plain-old library; the reasons for this is that I have experience working at academic libraries, and know the specific problems we face, but I would guess that the same things apply to other types of library too.

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Ten brainless things an online academic library can do

2008-02-14

In part one, I looked at the good things to do, here’s the bad:

  1. Not actively talking (listening) to the academic community
  2. Cut away the subject-specific angle and quality assurance in favour of a “streamlined”, centralized appearance
  3. Go static
  4. Implement technologies that help administration, but not the user
  5. Bolt bits on the old design to make it two-oh
  6. Federated search, but no training
  7. Cut away the OPAC in favour of ancillary systems (for example eJournal and database repositories)
  8. Rely on third parties with whom you have no trust relation to store important information
  9. Focus on what’s new/important/good rather than what’s being used
  10. Aquabrowser
  11. [BONUS] Providing five databases when one would have sufficed

That’s the list, here’s the legend:

[1] if you’re not actively working with the academic communities you serve — and I mean really listening to them, helping them do their work in their way — you’re not going to do a good job. Libraries and librarians are mostly good at librarying, unfortunately the rest of the world isn’t interested; stop it.

[2] An academic library is a tool for the academic community it serves, this community divides itself into subcommunities based on the topics viewed and methodologies used; the subject-specific resources as chosen by the subject librarian — if they’re doing their job — are a good (the only) place to start.

[3] Oh dear. A few websites have of late gone totally static. Woo! (Just get with the programme, OK?)

[4] I was at a seminar a while back, where I was kindly informed that the main role of the library was “resource management”. No. Just no. (Still in doubt? It’s about the USERS)

[5] OK, so you’ve got your lovely static website. Let’s add some RSS feed. No, let’s rephrase that: let’s add some links to RSS feeds. Oh, and a link to that blog that such-and-such made.

[6] You’ve spent your money on that federated search system. Everyone at the library hates it. Consequence: nobody teaches people how to use it. Are we surprised that it is not used?

[7] A personal favourite. Users like the OPAC because they find the books they want in paper and electronic format, the journals they want in paper and electronic format and the databases they use. What does the library do? They provide an ancillary system that takes care of linking to databases and eJournals/eBook providers. Are the users interested? Are they confused as to why there are so many ways of getting at the same resource? Will they keep on doing things the old fashioned way? Will we have to export data from these ancillary systems back into the OPAC? Advice: get rid of the ancillary interface and just export the data more often (this is an admin tool, right?).

[8] Where are you keeping your data? While it’s not necessary to have your own servers, it’s nice to have reliable partners. It’s also nice to have partners who understand your needs. Many providers out there that understand what libraries need? Many partners at the university who understand how the library IT infrastructure works?

[9] Users do things wrong. They don’t understand bibliographic practice, nor do they understand how much better this database is than the one they normally use. Let’s get hide the old resource away, and put the new resources at the top of the page on the left. That’s better. (For the record: inform people, make the resource appropriately prominent, but don’t overdo it.)

[10] I’m still not getting it. Go to the Queen’s library. Type in “dying culture”. That tag cloud: why? Because it looks nice and two-ohy?

[11] The bonus for the patient: We’re good at resource management. We’re not good at user-friendly. Just because the data you have is structured in different ways doesn’t mean that you want different databases; especially if the topics covered are related.