28 Dec 2011

Publishing predictions for 2012

It will be interesting to see if PaidContent's three predictions for book publishing come to fruition during 2012. The most interesting in my view is the idea that ebook pricing will shift to quality-focused debates. Seth Godin's contention that pricing should reflect the availability of substitutes, is derived from a basic principle of economics: the idea that monopolistic rents (i.e. higher prices and profits) can be extracted from a unique product with no close substitutes.

Whilst books are unique in one sense (with the obvious exception of plagiarism), a reader would probably be reasonably willing to substitute one back-list crime novel for another, and therefore, in theory, market forces dictate that these should be priced lower reflecting the increased competition in this segment and high price elasticity of demand. Conversely for a newly published controversial non-fiction book by a specialist in the field, there are arguably no real substitutes, and therefore higher profits can be extracted from higher pricing as these titles are more price inelastic.

Will readers embrace such a model of pricing? We already see it to a degree with hardback and paperback formats, and people seem to accept the substantial difference in price between both as a given even though it is far greater than the real cost differences in terms of production.  Ultimately costs are essentially only relevant for the producer and not the consumer. However, for some reason when it comes to ebooks most readers feel that pricing should reflect the lower cost of production, when really it comes down to demand and how much people are willing to pay for it, just like any other good.

26 Dec 2011

The Chromebook and Libraries

The Google Chromebook recently celebrated its one year anniversary.  The Chromebook uses the Google Chrome OS operating system and Chromebooks are primarily designed to be used while connected to the Internet. This means they have very limited offline capabilities. Instead of using traditional word processing software, the Chromebook uses web apps from the Chrome Web Store.

Recently, Google has been working with public libraries recently in order to promote its concept. At least three libraries have been working towards lending out Chromebooks to patrons for a period of time. The Palo Alto, California Library tested out 21 of the devices over a month’before deciding on an upcoming lending program in January. A senior librarian from the library pointed out that the typical response to Chromebooks would be, “that was pretty cool. I wish I could do word processing with that.”

The Chromebook has some positive aspects such as ease of use (if you can operate a browser, you know how to operate Chrome OS), cloud storage and a very quick boot on under 10 seconds. However, the disadvantages may outweigh these. These include inability to run your Windows applications directly, limited choice of browser and, most importantly, you need a constant good internet connection. It appears unlikely to me that the Chromebook will gain serious traction unless there is near ubiquitous quality internet coverage.

More information about the libraries initiative can be found on the following link: http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/libraries-begin-lending-out-chromebooks/

21 Dec 2011

Using the library does the trick

Research suggests that going to the library and actually dipping into resources on offer (rather than sleeping off a hangover) helps one doing better academically. Our place (narrowly) looked at the correlation between the number of books borrowed and grades achieved; a trend was identified showing that students who borrow “more” tend to do better. The question is whether any statistical significance can be applied to this finding.

Well, the University of Huddersfield conducted a longitudinal study over a period of four years (2005/6 – 2008/09) for the purpose of substantiating a reliable link between library usage and student attainment. Surprise, surprise: a strong correlation between library usage and degree results was suggested. Huddersfield took a broader view by including the number of e-resources accessed, the number of books loaned and the number of accesses to the University Library.

So the idea is to see to what extent ‘user activity data’ (= a record of a user’s actions on a Web site or software system or other relevant institutional service) and ‘attention data’ (= the record of what a user has viewed on a Web site or software system or other relevant institutional service) affect academic performance in a student.

Importantly, Huddersfield acknowledges that library usage is not the one and only factor influencing overall student attainment. Various variables affect the reliability in user data analysis. For example, some courses do not require extensive borrowing of library materials, which in turn does not say anything substantial about quality of academic performance.

For results see presentation below:

Huddersfield has since hooked up with a bunch of other universities (JISC funded initiative) to prove the hypothesis that ‘there is a statistically significant correlation across a number of universities between library activity data and student attainment’.

20 Dec 2011

ILL ills

The recent decision by the British Library to change the pricing and policies for their document supply service to certain overseas customers raises some interesting issues surrounding the future of inter-library loan facilities for journal articles.  The move follows pressure from publishers, who have contested the practice of the BL supplying documents to overseas customers under Library Privilege. Several cases have been taken in recent years including a high profile Subito case in Germany.

Under the terms of their new INCD (International Non-Commercial Document Supply) service, licensed copies can be supplied via a non-commercial library linked to an educational institution. However, all overseas national hospitals and public health service bodies now fall outside of this, reflecting the publishers' view that public health services outside the UK are mainly operated by private sector providers (this is not the case in Ireland however, where many hospitals are run by the State). Therefore, these institutions will in future have to use the BL’s service for the supply of articles for commercial purposes (even though they are not commercial operators!). This service involves an additional copyright fee, thereby increasing the cost of document delivery services for Irish health science libraries.

Publishers seem to be making it as difficult as possible for document delivery services and ILL services to operate, as these services are obviously not in their interest in terms of maximising profits. However, when journal subscriptions are so expensive in the first instance such that prices arguable already have this element built into them, it is difficult to comprehend. It seems that publishers are obviously hoping that sufficient pressure will push users towards downloading such articles on a pay-per-article basis directly from the publishers’ websites. An interesting lower cost model is also offered by Cambridge University Press who now offer a facility for ‘renting’ articles for 24 hours for €4.49. These articles cannot be printed but allow the user to access them as many times as desired during a 24 hour period. Is this the new model for document delivery, and will traditional ILL services for journal articles soon disappear under the weight of pressure from publishers?
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2011 | Categories:

19 Dec 2011

2011 Horizon Report

Most (...some, all, none) of you will have come across the annual Horizon report (a research venture established back in 2002) filed by NMC & ELI. It charts the landscape of emerging technologies for teaching, learning, research, creative inquiry, and information management in the higher education environment (NMC, 2011).

The report represents a well-informed guessing exercise on technologies expected to enter the mainstream within three adoption horizons over the next 5 years (2011-2015). Poring over a pool of technologies and armed with research reports, a team of experts selected six contenders. The good thing about this report is that it provides insights into practical application models, tagged resources and suggested lists of further readings for each technology itemised. It's well worth your while taking a closer look.

Emerging technologies to watch out for are listed below: 

Near-term horizon (within the next twelve months):
- Electronic books
- Smart phones (enable ubiquitous access to information, social networks, tools for learning and productivity)

Mid-term horizon (within two to three years):
- Augmented reality (layering of information over a view or representation of the normal world)
- Game-based learning (single-player, small-group card and board games, multi-player online games)

Far-term horizon (within four to five years):
- Gesture-based computing (moves the control of computers from a mouse and keyboard to the motions of the body via new input devices)
- Learning analytics (joining of data-gathering tools and analytic techniques to study student engagement, performance, and progress in practice)

A key challenge right across the board is keeping up with the rapid proliferation of information, software tools, and devices. What technology should be trialled, let alone adopted, in a given library? Naturally, audiences and circumstances (financial and otherwise) dictate choice, as well as appropriate staffing that can handle new-technology traffic.

See also below informative, albeit cheesy summary presentation... 

16 Dec 2011

What's Next for the Web?

A satirical look at the future of the web or an idiots guide to how it works?

Assigning numbers to each iteration of the web seems a bit simplistic. When did Web1.0 end and 2.0 begin? And when do we get to Web3.0? Are we there yet or has it passed us by? Where does the semantic web fit it?

12 Dec 2011

European Commission to investigate possible collusion among ebook sellers

The European Commission recently launched an investigation into possible collusion and anti-competitive pricing practices among ebook publishers, including HarperCollins, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster. Good news obviously, as such collusion is seldom a good thing in a market economy. However, many may misinterpret this as meaning ‘Great, ebook prices will fall now!’. Many readers still find it difficult to comprehend that ebooks often cost the same as the print book to purchase, believing instead that the cost should be significantly lower. I mean, how much can it cost to put together a pdf, right?

The editing, production and design costs of ebooks are in reality still substantial (think of a book that needs to be heavily edited with a very complex layout for example) – the real cost savings come through having no transportation costs or storage costs for unsold copies, and using channels of distribution with a lower cost base (such as online sellers compared with bricks and mortar stores for printed books).

However, the majority of people still do not seem to place as much (or perhaps any!) value on the content as the physical form. In reality, even with a printed book, you are paying mainly for the ‘finished’ content (including the publishers' services) – this is where the real value lies. Until people shift their thinking in this respect (as has largely already occurred with mp3s for example), they will still expect to be able to download ebooks for a few dollars - or at the very least substantially less than the cost of a paperback. Whilst this change in relative pricing may indeed occur in the future, it will likely be because the cost of print books increases due to lower economies of scale as people go digital, rather than the price of digital content falling. Some ebooks at present are certainly over-priced, but for the mass market typical paperback titles the current pricing at around $10 is not too far off the mark in my opinion.

11 Dec 2011

How do I conduct intelligent text analysis within the Digital Humanities?

Before one can answer this question it’s necessary to provide a conceptual picture of what the Humanities actually mean and encompass. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines Humanities as the arts: liberal arts, literature, history, philosophy, classical studies, and classical literature. So Humanism as a field of study is complex and multidisciplinary by definition, a multi-faceted, all-encompassing and overlapping field.

The ‘digital’ in humanities denotes the metamorphosis (or recasting for want of a better word) of text through the process of methodical digitisation. The idea is to increase, qualitatively as well as quantitatively, access to cultural information via computational means. It also means transformation of scholarly communication by embracing multi-media, hyperlinking, social media (blogging, YouTube, Flickr, delicious, Twitter, collaborative annotation…) and effective Web searching. This also affects research, teaching and learning practices in a sense that scope and opportunities for community-based learning and collaboration are continuously evolving.

All of this is realised through the cooperative effort of humanists, IT technicians, librarians, archivists, students, and members of the public. Why the public? The public contributes valuable cultural materials that would otherwise remain undetected and inaccessible to interested audiences. A random example of constructive public participation would be Europeana’s recently launched World War One in pictures, letters and memories archive (see also previous blog entry).

From a pragmatic perspective, research within the digital humanities environment requires effective management of electronic texts. TAPoR is an online gateway and on-going collaborative project, which provides tools for sophisticated text analysis and retrieval. It affords the user an online environment for keeping track of texts they want to study (located on the web or uploaded) and analyse in different ways. Essentially, computer assisted text analysis environments go way beyond the ‘Find’ tool of a generic word processor. They provide researchers with the means to analyse large texts in a multi-faceted way and allow for searching word lists and complex word patterns. Crucially, text analysis results can be displayed in a variety of ways.

So, for example one can employ TAPoR portal recipes  to locate and identify themes within a text or aggregate information to explore a concept. It is also possible to filter for specific themes or analyse theoretical foundations in a given text. The portal is expansive and offers a variety of analytical templates.

Go ahead and sample them...


8 Dec 2011

So You Want To Be A Librarian?

Interesting perspective on librarianship in this film. How many librarians actually work with books and people these days? I'm not sure the profession has changed that much. However, the tools that we use to do our jobs have.
Love this footage!

Source: Richmond Town Library YouTube channel.
Date: 1947
URL: http://youtu.be/4RGccQFxi3U

While the daily tasks may have changed, the principles of the modern library are the same. Academic, Public, Special, Digital, Archival or otherwise, the ability to deal and communicate well with people should always be at the core of the profession.
They had cataloguers, reference librarians, circulation librarians (professional qualification not required), children's librarian, school librarians, college and univeristy librarians. The principle purpose of the librarian according to the film is "the improvement of the service to the people in the community".

Why is it that old black and white footage, however worn and crackly, looks better and more interesting than the slick high definition alternatives we have these days?

The History of Search Engines and Browsers

Two sites have come to my attention recently which provide an interesting overview of the history of internet searching and the historical development of web browsers. The first one is searchenginehistory.com As much as Google enjoys dominance today, it is interesting to think that at one stage Yahoo! was the thought and market leader and that in 1994, Lycos ranked first on Netscape's list of search engines only to see other developers come in, innovate and gain huge market share. It just goes to show that the dominant search engine of today may not be so tomorrow unless they continue to innovate. This site also has an excellent overview of Search Engine Optimisation as well as aspects of Search Engine Marketing such as Pay Per Click and Google AdSense.

The Evolution of the Web site has an interesting interactive chart which shows the development of the various web browsers. A surprising fact I found was that the Opera browser has been around for even longer than Internet Explorer, beginning a few months earlier in 1995. It also gives a timeline of the stage the various versions of CSS, HTML etc, came in. Furthermore, it links to useful guides about new exciting elements such as CSS3 3D Transforms and video tags and when browsers are expected to support them.

6 Dec 2011

2011 saw more ebooks sold than hardbacks for the first time

And that’s because ebook readers have become respectable gadgets and are relatively affordable (sort of…).  Amazon and Waterstones reported earlier this year “that ebooks now easily outsell hardbacks in the UK” (Hughes, 2011). Once you’ve scored an e-reader  (Sony Reader, ipad or Kindle) you’re instantly tuned into thousands out-of-print classics at the press of a button via, say, Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive or the Open Content Alliance.

It’s certainly hard to predict what will happen to the printed book in the long run. David Hayden of the Folio Society (cited in Hughes, 2011) reckons that publishing will adapt by producing fewer books that are of much higher quality with regard to utilised materials and individual design effort.

The prevailing perception among many private presses seems to be that readers of all persuasions will more readily adopt e-readers as a matter of practical and cost-efficient choice. Buying hardcopies becomes a retroactive purchase in a sense that they are acquired as collectors’ items. They become objects of art where form seems as important (more so) than content. This trend clearly requires new business models rendering the traditional bookshop a side show. Hardbacks are sold online via mail order. An interesting alternative approach is that adopted by Unbound. Here, would-be authors pitch their books on the company’s website. They will only actually write the book if a sufficient number of would-be readers pledge to buy a copy (ebook or hardcopy). The advantage of this model is that various up-front publishing costs are avoided (Hughes, 2011).

This is the world of recreational consumption in fiction and nonfiction texts. Catapult yourself into the academic library and the story is much simpler in a way. Here, it’s about three things: reduce costs, free-up/increase at-premium library space and adapt to users’ changing information behaviours. In our place, ebooks are rampantly on the increase. Over 1000 titles can be accessed online now. At the same time, hardcopy equivalents are still provided for. However, this may change over time for secondary, non-core texts. So an interesting question at this point is whether ebooks will tip the balance to the detriment of their analogue counterparts at some point in the future…

1 Dec 2011

To print or not to print

I have to admit that one of the aspects of my job which I treasure the least is dealing with print journals -in every aspect: renewals, missing issues, shelving, the difficulties involved in measuring usage, repairing damaged issues, the idea that users have to physically visit the library to access them, and last but definitely not least, storage.

Aside from my view as a librarian however, as a user I would never consult a journal in print unless it were the only format accessible to me. I find online journals much more convenient and quicker to navigate, and if I really want to read an article in hard copy on the train for example, the option of printing is still there. But yet, my experience is that many users still prefer print journals over e-access only. This is obviously partly a function of the specific nature of the library and users in question, but I do find it strange when I see somebody standing over a photocopier with the latest BMJ when they can access it online from anywhere on-site - including their own desk - without even having the hassle of remembering usernames and passwords etc.

I ask myself if it is perhaps largely an awareness issue; maybe the library is not promoting electronic resources sufficiently? But no, I approach these same users and explain how they can access our journals online, and it seems to have no effect. I wonder is it habit? It can be difficult to change the way you do something after a long time, especially when it is something relatively trivial, such as the way in which you access research and information. Or maybe in fact, some users come to the library to get away from their desk, paperwork, their PCs and other distractions. If we stopped providing print journals would these individuals stop using the library altogether, rather than reluctantly switch to downloading pdfs instead? In some cases, I really do think so.

However, I still hate print journals.

29 Nov 2011

British Newspaper Archive now online

The British Library has launched a new website which enables users to view digitised copies of newspapers from Britain and Ireland from the 18th and 19th centuries. For the moment, there is not much from the 20th century as this involves all sorts of copyright issues. Four million pages have already been made available and, in ten year's time, when the project is complete, forty million pages will be online. The archive is free to search but, unfortunately, to view the content, users will need to pay a subscription. The service seems to be similar to the Irish Newspaper Archives, where users need to pay to view historical newspaper articles, though some libraries provide their patrons with free access.

It is certain to be a huge treasure trove for both amateur and professional genealogists alike, however it does raise some questions:

  • Should important historical information like this be free for all, or, as there are significant costs in scanning and uploading the material, is it better to make the person accessing the content pay as opposed to the taxpayer?
  • With local newspapers either downscaling or going bust completely, is there likely to be much less regional material likely to be available for researchers, genealogists and historians of the future?

28 Nov 2011

Libraries in the Cloud

A previous blog entry raised the issue of preserving and sharing your digital stuff in the cloud. So what about the use of such services within the professional library and information management context? Well, cloud computing represents a strong feature on libraries’ technological chart lists. Increasingly, the cloud provides on-demand access to all sorts of resources (e.g. e-books) and services (e.g. virtual reference service desks) that libraries offer their patrons.

What is cloud computing? “Cloud computing is a method of running application software and storing related data in central computer systems and providing customers or other users access to them through the Internet” (Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, 2011).

Great; but what does that actually mean?

Essentially, three potential layers of cloud involvement apply from a library’s perspective. They refer to either Software as a Service/SaaS (software is delivered as a service over the Internet, which eradicates local maintenance and support), Platform as a Service/PaaS (delivers a computing platform as a service consuming cloud infrastructure and supporting cloud applications), or Infrastructure as a Service/IaaS (i.e. a platform virtualisation environment with “raw” storage and networking). The level of involvement is determined by factors such as the nature of resource/service in question, scalability, technical ability within the library and cost.

Notably, each layer brings with it particular advantages and disadvantages. What are they?

Below is a presentation by Yan Han (American Library Association National Conference in New Orleans, LA on June 25th, 2011) showcasing cloud computing services employed by Arizona Libraries. It’s about 25 minutes long but well worth checking out as it discusses issues such as advantages/disadvantages of using cloud services, providers and, crucially, costs.

Cloud computing presentation by Yan Han from Erik Mitchell on Vimeo.

Whilst you’re at it you might as well check out Marshall Breeding’s informative cloudy forecast for libraries. It predicts a gradual shift away from client/server computing to service-oriented architectures and browser-based interfaces deployed through cloud-based infrastructure.

They stand as the key technologies preferred for new software development efforts today (Breeding, 2011). The crucial take-away here is that library user needs for portable services can be efficiently met through stable, web-based interfaces and lightweight applications hosted in the cloud. Patron-facing library services are pushing towards cloud-based technology solutions as already evidenced by vender hosting SaaS services offered by Serial Solutions and EBSCO among others.

24 Nov 2011

100 tools for learning

The Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies recently compiled their annual list of the top 100 tools for learning. The list is based on votes from learning professionals rather than the opinion of any one 'expert' and consequently provides an interesting snapshot of what applications people are using. Although Twitter appears at number one, the list does not solely include the latest social networking and media tools and old reliables like Powerpoint and Excel even make an appearance.

There are a number of resources included which are new to me, but some of my favourites (aside from the obvious ones like Dropbox, Slideshare etc.) are also there including:

Readitlater - For all those interesting blog posts that you don't have time to read right now
Screencast-o-matic - the best free screencast app I have used
Lino it - because everyone likes post-it notes :)

23 Nov 2011

Information Literacy and the iPad

The academic library where I am currently employed in Sydney is trialling the iPad over the upcoming semester for use by its campus librarian and its liaison librarians for the purpose of aiding in information literacy. There are a few notable ways in which they hope the iPad can help to provide a better information literacy service:

Teachable Moments: The current generation of students have come to expect answers to their questions now, rather than in a few minutes once a PC has been found and loaded and information retrieved. The teaching and service done in  libraries often don’t happen at scheduled times. More likely they happen when the librarian is walking across the floor and a student asks for help. They can look on while the librarian accesses the information and they see how it’s done. If a librarian can answer a student’s question when and where it’s asked, then they can take advantage of that teachable moment. A tablet device is likely to become an essential tool of any roving reference service.

Exploiting the iPad's Camera: The iPad2 has a camera on it which can be used by the librarian to scan QR codes from around the library and very quickly get to content to help students. The benefits of this are not just in the speed of accessing content for students it is also in the demonstration of the Liaison Librarian making effective real world use of new technologies in a public space where other students can see this. It has the desired effect of showing students that librarians are approachable, can get your answer quickly, and know what they are doing with technology. An example of this would be firstly scanning the Library Guides QR codes on the end of the shelf bays to show a student the relevant subject guide and what they might find in this area.

Showcasing eBooks: The iPad make an ideal platform to showcase library eBooks to academics and students. Netlibrary titles and EBL titles both use Adobe DRM and can be showcased on the iPad. Ebrary titles can also be linked to and viewed on the iPad.

As iPads become increasingly used in higher education, one can only expect the use of them by information literacy librarians to increase.

Blazing a Trail Beyond LIS

Anyone interested in LIS research, breaking the boundaries of LIS education and is around Dublin on 13 December, could do a lot worse than attend the SILS Alumni event with guest speaker Professor Blaise Cronin. Blaise will be speaking on the subject of "Never Too Many Cooks: The Evolving Nature of Scientific Authorship". I am guessing this refers to the changing face of publishing in general, which should be of interest to everyone working in the field of LIS. What constitutes and who contributes to authorship is changing and librarians and 'information professionals' need to keep up to date with these changes.

Back in July I had the opportunity to attend the LIS DREaM Conference at the British Library in London where Blaise was the opening keynote speaker. LIS DREaM is the brainchild of the LIS Research Coalition. It was refreshing to hear an 'information person' acknowledging the weaknesses that exist in LIS research. The key criticism that Blaise put forward was that LIS research tends to talk to itself. Blaise argued that in order for LIS research to have real impact, LIS researchers need to strive for recognition across other disciplines. This could be achieved through collaboration and hyper-authorship bringing LIS research findings to a larger audience and (hopefully) resulting in greater impact. He argued that LIS needs to be open to change and influence from other disciplines. Blaise's keynote sat well with the general theme of the conference which was 'Out of the Comfort Zone'.

It is all too easy to get sucked in to operating in silos.  This is especially important now when resources are under threat and jobs are thin on the ground, not to mention the fact that LIS graduates are choosing more and more diverse professions. It would be interesting to hear about unusual or unexpected cross-disciplinary projects that people have come across in the Irish LIS context. I am sure there are lots out there but we need to be speaking about them.

Here is a taster of what to expect from Blaise.

Opening Keynote: Blaise Cronin from LIS Research Coalition on Vimeo.

Professor Blaise Cronin will be speaking on 13 December, 2011 at 5.00pm in SILS, Room 107, UCD. The event is open to SILS Alumni and friends.
Posted on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 | Categories: ,

20 Nov 2011

Voluntary Work in Library Sector and Exploitation

I have just read this month's Library Association of Ireland newsletter and concern is expressed that, although relevant experience for recent graduates can be found, new opportunities for paid employment are few and far between due to the public service moratorium. Further concern is expressed that
"librarians are at risk of exploitation through the inappropriate use of unpaid service and poor employment conditions".
It seems that most library jobs advertised in Ireland for short term-medium term work are volunteer positions. Graduates are getting experience but only receive a welfare payment and travel costs as remuneration. In Australia, the professional body, ALIA, is very clear that, although there is a place for volunteers in libraries, they should never be used to replace staff as a result of cutbacks:
  1. ALIA affirms that volunteer workers must not replace appropriately trained and paid staff:
    1. to compensate for the reduction, or withdrawal of services caused by inadequate staffing establishments, failure to fill vacant posts, or cutbacks in overall library and information services funding; or
    2. to establish and maintain library services or outreach programs which would normally be established and maintained by paid library staff.
  2. The replacement of trained, paid library staff by volunteers can only lead to a deterioration in the standard and the effectiveness of services, be wasteful of resources and be detrimental to the interests of library users.
With the dire state of public finances in Ireland, one cannot expect serious change in this in the near future and recent graduates are at risk of being exploited for their skills and being only paid a pittance for their work.

17 Nov 2011

NLI, National Archives and IMC to merge

Just a few weeks after the news that The Library Council is to be dissolved with its functions integrated into NESC, today's Public Sector Reform report confirms that the National Archives and Irish Manuscript Commission will both be merged into the National Library, while maintaining separate identities.

Whilst increasing efficiency and reducing needless costs is always a good thing in theory, it would be disappointing to see the profile of an institution such as the National Archives diminish - or worse, disappear - whilst the (very excellent!) National Library steals the limelight. I do not know enough about the structures of the particular institutions to comment on whether such action is indeed needed, and what the implications for services will be in practice, but I have a feeling this may be just the start of a period of significant rationalisation where public sector libraries are concerned.

15 Nov 2011

Rare Great War documents go online

Spotted this one in last Sunday's Observer and had a good root around. It's a fantastic new digital archive courtesy of Europeana. Europeana 1914 - 1918 (Erster Weltkrieg in Alltagsdokumenten) is now collecting material in Germany or with a German connection. The collection covers a wide range of personal materials, including the letters and postcards of German prisoners of war, books, newspapers, trench journals, maps, music sheets, children's literature, photographs, posters, pamphlets, propaganda leaflets, art, relgious works, medals and coins. Do check it out...

13 Nov 2011

The social web and constructive alignment

 The article below presents an interesting discussion of the potential for using the social web for IL instruction within the context of constructive alignment. Bobish presents a variety of teaching & learning activities using blogs, flickr, wikis and bookmarking sites, which are direcly aligned with the specific learning outcomes derived from the ACRL IL standards.

Bobish, G. (2011). Participation and Pedagogy: Connecting the Social Web to ACRL Learning Outcomes. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 37(1), 54-63. 

Too often, I feel there is a rush to adopt new web apps and tools for the sake of it (i.e. they are shiny, exciting and the latest trend), rather than because they add real value to library functions and services (be it reference services, IL or marketing). In a previous blog post, Alex also raised the issue of the reliability of many of these tools over the longer-term; I am sure we have all experienced instances where companies and/or products have been merged or even wound down, taking your data and TLAs with them.

However, Bobish highlights the real practical value of the social web. For example, for one of the performance indicators for standard two ("Identifies keywords, synonyms and related terms for the information needed") the following is one of the TLAs suggested:

"Social bookmarking: After students have located a variety of online resources on their topic, have them organize them in Delicious by creating their own tags relevant to the project they are working on. Discuss why they chose these tags rather than pre-existing ones, or if they prefer the pre-existing ones, why they prefer them."

I think the way this activity could encourage the individual to reflect on the 'aboutness' of the resource and what it directly means to them (in formulating their own individual tags) as well as where it fits within the broader/external context (pre-existing tags) is interesting, and could link more explicitly into a discussion on the concept of subject headings and consistency as well.

Like anything, it is about integrating it in a way which is meaningful and relevant to users!

11 Nov 2011

Public libraries are pointless...

because 1) middle-class liberals keep libraries open not for themselves, but for the less fortunate, 2) fewer than one in five adults in England go more than once a month, 3) access to information has been transformed by the internet, 4) we live in an information-rich society as it is 5) everything's digital now anyway, 6) they're way to expensive to maintain.

But hang on a sec. because...

1) the public library is a free and open information centre 2) it's an educational center, 3) it's a digital access center, 4) it's a computer center, 5) it's a community center.

There is no doubt that the public library service must adapt to swiftly changing information environments and user behaviours. The unique selling point of the public library rests in transforming itself from a static information resource repository into vibrant and diversfied education hubs: hotbeds of free and unlimited access to librarian expertise, information, knowledge, education.

10 Nov 2011

Libraries and the iPad

Libraries are increasingly making services available through the iPad. Some examples I have come across in my academic library in Sydney are allowing students to "check out" books and instantly download them, as well as plans being made to introduce the lending of iPads to students for a limited period. This is going to replace the current service of lending out laptops.

As the iPad becomes seemingly ubiquitous and other tablets providers start to challenge Apple's dominance (the cut price Amazon Fire is going on sale next week), libraries will need to be innovative in providing services to their patrons that can make use of these devices.

The following link gives some great ideas on what the future trends of libraries and iPads are likely to be. E-book lending applications, roaming reference tools, iPads as tools for library classes, interactive displays and information stations are some of the ideas discussed.

20 Coolest iPad Ideas for Your Library

9 Nov 2011

Preserving and sharing your digital stuff in the cloud

...is a straightforward job. There are plenty of web services out there with the honourable intent of archiving and sharing your digital memories on your behalf without charge (say photobucket, flickr or dropshots in the case of digital images and video).

However, there are certain imperatives to bear in mind if one wants do it in a safe and sound manner:
  1. The online service should be reliable (is it going to be around for the foreseeable future?)That’s hard to judge. No one can predict the financial future of any given business. The risk rests with you.
  2. Does the online service back up your digital artefacts (including metadata)? Check their terms and conditions carefully.
  3. Save and share access usernames and passwords with trusted individuals (in case something unexpected happens to you…)
  4. Make sure the service preserves any embedded metadata if you use it. Often services only preserve the image ICC profile 
The Library of Congress offers a very good online service, which details how to go about preserving ones digital memories in a sensible way covering digital photographs, digital audio, digital video, electronic mail, personal digital records and websites.

If you’re looking for more in-depth information concerning file formats, check out this site (also Library of Congress) on sustainable digital preservation formats.

Another question to ask would be what social media websites or other image sharing services preserve embedded photo metadata after upload. Controlled Vocabulary conducted a survey to look into this tricky matter. The results can be obtained here.

Controlled Vocabulary is a site that concerns itself with the question how to apply controlled vocabulary to describe images in an image-database.

8 Nov 2011

New RFID Chipless Tracker to Revolutionise Libraries?

Researchers in Monash University in Australia have developed a chipless RFID system that they claim will revolutionise libraries. Up to now many libraries have been slow to upgrade to RFID as a replacement for the old manual check-in system because of the initial outlay. The new chipless RFID tags uses "back scatter" technology to reduce the costs by replacing the expensive microchip in standard RFID tags with a series of printed silver squares on paper and plastic. One of the researchers, Nemai Karmakar, said "The current market for a library book using optical barcodes costs 10c. If you were to buy a chipped RFID tag for a book it costs 50c. We are offering something which can be 1c for the RFID tag."


If this can be implemented for as little as is claimed, then libraries will have very little excuse not to move over to RFID and we may be seeing the end of optical barcodes.

7 Nov 2011

Repositioning the medical library: moving to the digital model

The William H. Welch Medical Library at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore recently announced that they will no longer operate as a physical library from Jan 1st 2012. Instead the library service will be delivered exclusively through electronic channels.
The tipping point came last year, she said, when the library staff calculated that on an average day there were 104 people walking through doors of the physical library, there were 40 people checking out books, and there were 35,000 articles downloaded....

Interestingly, the decision does not involve any reduction in the number of library staff – indicative perhaps of a parallel shift in emphasis away from the library and towards the skills and expertise of the librarian, which is certainly a positive. The risk is however, that not all institutions may see librarians in this way. Decision-makers may falsely assume that such a service can ‘run itself’ on minimal staff levels, missing out on the valuable opportunity for library staff to step up research support and information literacy activities in consonance with a shift towards the digital model. In this respect, it is important that librarians drive the change themselves in accordance with how users’ needs and preferences are changing.
104 visits versus 35,000 downloads certainly presents a stark contrast, and it is clear that the library’s users are primarily accessing content online. However, there are still 104 people per day who will no longer have access to the library in the ‘format’ which they prefer. I wonder how these users will continue to access library services - if at all? It would be a shame, however insignificant the number may seem, if these users were lost.

5 Nov 2011

Digital Libraries Symposium-Mobile Technologies

Earlier on this year the Digital Libraries Symposium discussed mobile technologies and the impact on libraries. As we all know, huge numbers of people are now accessing the internet on hand held devices such as smartphones and tablets. The implications for librarians and libraries as follows:

  1. Understand the user: user driven development produces a natural way of knowing the user's needs/wants;
  2. User's context: this is the touchscreen and simple interactions are vital for mobile library services;
  3. Mobilising all library services is unrealistic and unneccessarily expensive;
  4. Libraries simply must make an effort to make their vital content available via mobile devices as users want information when they want it, where they want it and how they want it. This is no passing fad but a fundamental change in accessing information.

1 Nov 2011


... to the very first post on libfocus. Check out The Atlas of New Librarianship. Here, R. David Lankes offers a guide to this new landscape for practitioners. He describes a new librarianship based not on books and artifacts but on knowledge and learning; and he suggests a new mission for librarians: to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities. Lankes asserts that the vision for a new librarianship must go beyond finding library-related uses for information technology and the Internet; it must provide a durable foundation for the field.

Pretty high in demand on Amazon at present...
Posted on Tuesday, November 01, 2011 | Categories: