31 Jan 2012

New Tech Trends for Libraries in 2012

The American Library Association recently held a conference on the top technology trends of the present day. Stephen Abram, who works in strategic partnerships and markets, highlighted how NFC payments using smartphones may actually change perceptions of libraries. As mobile technology becomes ubiquitous and smartphones become used for more and more tasks, library patrons may question the need to physically drive to libraries when they can download an ebook to their smartphone among many other services that can be performed on a mobile device. There may need to be a rethinking of building up physical inventories when the virtual catalogue may hold the items that are actually being used much more. He also characterised QR codes as a "transitional technology that won’t exist in a couple of years". I think he may be correct on this as I have seen many libraries introducing them, though I would question if patrons actually use them, or, are they an inexpensive way for libraries to appear up to speed with mobile technology?

Intriguingly, he also said that, although digital forms of traditional library items seem to be taking over, there will exist in the near future a way of marrying the the electronic and physical object experience. 3D printers will shortly be available at reasonable prices, while print-on-demand book machines are likely to become more popular in libraries.

One possible negative trend for librarians and libraries in general is that as more and more emphasis is placed on online tools, resources and development, libraries are increasingly hiring computer programmers to work to support the library's web presence. This was the finding of Nina McHale, a library assistant systems administrator. This poses the challenge for 1) the library, who must pay the expensive wages of programmers and 2) the librarian, who although they might know some programming, their skills are just not adequate enough. It seems likely that in the future systems librarians are going to have to beef up their programming skills considerably if they are to be able to fully do their job.

30 Jan 2012

“The purpose of visualisation is insight, not pictures”

Ben Shneiderman conducted fundamental research in the field of human–computer interaction and knows all about data visualisation. Data or information that is transformed into meaningful, visualised form (photographs, pictures, charts, maps and diagrams or timelines) is referred to as data or information visualisation.

The idea is to communicate in a more eloquent way the stories that exist within information and  increase the impact they have on the target audience. Examples include this infographic and the poster below.


Libraries engage with many stakeholders that have a variety of needs and expectations. They include, for example, patrons and suppliers. Initiatives that push for constructive change within a library and information service require backing and participation from all those parties. However, one particular audience is crucial (at all stages of the process) if one wants to succeed, and that is the party that provides the small change und ultimately decides whether initiatives take off in the first place. So certain information targeted at decision makers and key-stakeholders seek to advocate (influence), as well as inform (enlighten).

One should not confuse information design with graphic design. Information design is about making your data ‘clear’ (it makes complex information easier to understand), ‘compelling’ (visuals grab people’s attention) and ‘convincing’ (people who might not be persuaded by raw numbers or statistics may be more likely to understand and believe what they see in a chart or graphic).

Visualizing Information for Advocacy is a practical guide to Information Design. It provides you with start-to-end instructions in information design covering the following:
  • Planning your information design
  • Assessing your data
  • Sorting and sketching
  • Assessing your media
  • Designing your graphics
  • Clarifying your graphics
For example, a pertinent question to ask is what information to focus on and what to exclude. It is crucial to design for your audience (user-centred design), not for you. One should take care to avoid chart junk (i.e. any extras that detract from the point I want to get across) and instead focus on the details that matter to the audience.

Posted on Monday, January 30, 2012 | Categories:

"Health library services must be seen as a mainstream healthcare activity"

A timely report on the status of health librarianship and libraries in Ireland (SHELLI), Irish Health Libraries: New Directions, was launched a few days ago in the Dublin Dental Hospital. The report was commissioned by the Health Sciences Libraries Group (HSLG) of the LAI to explore and record the current role of health science libraries in Ireland, and to inform their future development and strategic direction. I have only had a very quick look through the report so far, but even at first glance a number of interesting ideas stand out.

Of particular note is the recommendation that "health library services must be seen as a mainstream healthcare activity." In my view, this is key to the future sustainability and development of health science libraries, and the solution requires not only promotion of and advocacy for existing services, but more importantly, building long-term relationships with clinical staff and management, and delivering 'library' services within a structure and a context which is both valuable and meaningful to these users. The latter may require a change in the way in which some health libraries currently package and deliver their services.

At present there is a risk that some healthcare professionals may view 'the library' as a separate physical space and indeed a separate standalone service, and one which falls outside mainstream healthcare activities. Even positioning it as 'the library', may make our services seem somewhat removed from other hospital and healthcare activities, and more like a 'nice to have' add-on. Some still associate libraries exclusively with their more traditional services and historical functions, which may not necessarily match the current and emerging role which health libraries now fulfil (time for rebranding anyone?). Appropriately integrating library services to make them more relevant to staff needs, and increasing the visibility of 'the library' (and here I am really referring to the skills of the librarian and library staff, rather than the physical space) within the hospital, is therefore an important step in ensuring that library services are perceived as an essential element in healthcare delivery.

No doubt further readings will highlight many more practical and strategic recommendations which those working in the sector can explore, and I am sure the report will serve as an extremely valuable reference-point and benchmark for Irish health science libraries in the years to come.

27 Jan 2012

Every library needs a dynamic Web presence

Indeed. The challenge is particularly acute for small/medium sized libraries with limited resources in terms of tech-savvy staff, equipment and/or money.

In some cases a static Web presence exists, but this does not make for an enriching user experience (librarians and patrons alike). Libraries are busy and ever-changing places. This fact requires an adequate response in terms of a fit-for-purpose online rallying point that encourages library users to tune in and exploit what’s on offer.

Wordpress.org is a practical content management system that does the job. Why?
  • Wordpress realises a dynamic Web presence quickly and efficiently
  • WYSIWIG empowers non-technical administrators
  • It's free
  • It promotes collaborative administration (i.e. it is easy for library staff to add and update web content in their areas of responsibility)
  • It allows for the creation of blog posts and static pages (i.e. publish timely and permanent content)
Here are some noteworthy examples of library websites built around Wordpress:
Holliston (MA) High School – makes use of WordPress.com
Duchess BOCES School Library System – makes use of Wordpress.org
University of Mary Washington Libraries – custom theme
The Learning Commons at Lake Washington Technical College – custom theme

Below is a list of some handy Wordpress resources:
Wordpress.org (download Wordpress)
Worpress.com (Wordpress hosted version)
Worpress for Libraries Wiki! (examples, training materials, tips and tricks)
Set Up Your Blog With WordPress: The Ultimate Guide (handy number ... free of charge)
Learning Wordpress (YouTube channel with video tutorials)
Lynda (Comprehensive Wordpress training and tutorials – excellent stuff this)
LIShost (a provider suggestion for hosting Wordpress.org)
Worpress Plugin Directory (e.g. Wordpress Stats)

21 Jan 2012

Twitter and the information overload problem

It was interesting to see Twitter, arguably one of the most popular social media sites, acquire Summify this week. Notwithstanding Twitter's significant and ardent fan base, many find the application too overwhelming to bother with. A seemingly endless stream of tweets can be generated by following even a handful of accounts, and it can be difficult to keep pace with (even if that is not necessarily the idea), or to find the valuable signals amongst the ever increasing noise.

It is indeed this very weakness, which makes the takeover of Summify particularly relevant. Summify aims to produce a summary of your various social media and networking feeds by filtering the content based on relevance and importance, thereby making it quicker to get the information you really need. A nice solution to the age-old problem of information overload, and indeed Twitter are not alone in seeing the substantial value offered by tools designed to filter content in this way. Gmail's 'priority inbox' feature was introduced a year or to ago to help users identify and access their most important emails quickly.

It is simply not enough to deliver content to users now; providing the applications to help them manage that information so they can make use of it effectively is equally, if not more so, important today. If social media providers neglect this aspect, their users will likely feel too overwhelmed to engage with the service (as in the case of the aforementioned Twitter overload problem).

Clay Johnson's recent book 'The Information Diet' appears to take the opposite view - that individuals should be solely responsible for their own information consumption, by knowing what to look for, what to avoid, and how to be selective. In short, don't blame the information provider, blame the consumer! Acquiring these skills makes obvious sense, however in a world where keeping up to date gets more difficult every day, surely we can use all the help we can get?

18 Jan 2012

Open Source Software in Libraries

This site is useful for anyone entertaining the idea of injecting Open Source software into their library. Valid questions that need answering include whether Open Source software is an option in the first place with regard to the availability of in-house expertise that can support the same. Also, is the route of Open Source cost efficient compared to propriety software? What other factors count when considering Open Source?

There are a bunch of handy decision support tools leading one along the way:
  1. Control versus responsibility: a survey tool  = it will help you determine the degree you wish to participate and use Open Source software; it will help you determine the degree you want support hardware and software needs locally or remotely.
  2. Questions for a library's parent IT organisation =  self-examination tool that will help you figuring out what expertise is required to support Open Source in-house (whether through dedicated IT dep. or library)
  3. Costs of Open Source software tool = mmmh, that's an important one alright. How much does it cost (time and effort to maintain a particular technology effort)
The three tools are helpful in establishing the facts and realities on the ground before marching into a potential technology quagmire...

The site also provides a handy list of Open Source software packages explaining their purpose and what needs-gaps they plug. For example, LibraryH3lp is listed there, which is a web-chat/IM patron queuing system that delivers an integrated virtual help-desk/reference system. The service is used at our place to great effect, and students have come to appreciate it greatly. It was also quite straight forward enough to get it up and running...

16 Jan 2012

Ulysses as QR codes

I am still making up my mind on QR codes..... do people actually use them? There are lots of examples of them being used to good effect in libraries.

Whilst I can't imagine that somebody would read the entire text of Ulyssess by scanning QR codes, the compiler of this Books2Barcodes project gets my eternal admiration for their persistence and innovation if nothing else!

15 Jan 2012

Making Mountains out of Mountains of Books...

Has anyone come across book carving before? This artist, Guy Laramee, uses old encyclopedias to create beautiful landscapes. The philosophy behind the art is a reaction against contemporary opinion that libraries and books are dated concepts and that technology is the only way to access and disseminate learning and knowledge. Laramee questions whether new technology will ultimately have that big an effect on the human psyche:

"One might say: so what? Do we really believe that “new technologies” will change anything concerning our existential dilemma, our human condition? And even if we could change the content of all the books on earth, would this change anything in relation to the domination of analytical knowledge over intuitive knowledge?"

The book is dead-long live the book!

More can be found at this link.
Posted on Sunday, January 15, 2012 | Categories:

Shifting the paradigm from search engines to answer engines

TRIP database is one of my favourite resources for healthcare information, largely because it makes things so easy for the user (specialty filters which focus results quickly, automatically adding synonyms to search queries etc.), and also because I really like their pragmatic approach to evidence-based practice – they know the needs of users working in the sector. They invariably centre the design and innovation of their databases on what clinicians need and want rather than some abstract or idealised concept of perfecting the ‘search’ process.

Most people have come across Roy Tennant’s famous quote: “librarians like to search, everyone else likes to find”. Do librarians like searching? Personally I prefer finding what I need quickly, but focussing on the second aspect it’s certainly true that most people just want to find an answer to a question or a piece of information as quickly as possible.

This is particularly true in the case of clinical queries in the health care sector, and essentially what makes secondary evidence products like UpToDate, DynaMed and Clinical Evidence so popular; by summarising and synthesising the primary research for the user it eliminates trawling through lists of search results (search for ‘urinary catheter infection’ and the chances are the first result will give you what you need) and packages the key information and references you need in a single web page. Sure it may not be perfection, or a good tool for researching conditions in depth, but in the busy world of hospital medicine it is a pragmatic and useful solution on the wards.

TRIP knows this all too well: Most of the time, doctors want answers. Quickly. Their latest project is building an ‘answer engine’:
“...Search is not something that works for most clinicians. It's a paradigm, defined by Google and people seem happy to settle for it. Is it any wonder that clinician's main source of answers to their questions is to ask a colleague? One obvious reason that clinicians ask other clinicians (but there are clearly others) is that they get an answer - not 10-20 links that may answer their question. So, to me, any solution is to go back to first principles - in this case a clinician with a clinical question. What do they want? An answer.”
A great and ambitious project, and if TRIP manage to get it right could have a big impact on evidence-based practice.

12 Jan 2012

10 Jan 2012

The Slow Death of Google+?

According to the data analytics company Chitika, Google+ traffic has dropped by as much as 60% since its public launch in September. Chitika believe that as everybody (more or less) is already on Facebook and the two services are so similar, there is really no great incentive for people to use the service. Google was initially able to get users to sign up but there has been a huge drop off recently, probably due to the reasons already mentioned. I think there might also be an element of social networking fatigue. It is difficult enough to keep up to date with Facebook, Twitter and the whole myriad of other social networking sites without joining another one which essentially replicates an existing service.

Google+ pages for libraries are available with a handy guide here, but I am betting that Google+ will eventually have the same fate as Google Buzz.
Posted on Tuesday, January 10, 2012 | Categories:

8 Jan 2012

Successful social media and networking in libraries

Social media and networking websites are often seen as a free, accessible and easy marketing channel for libraries. However, doing it right is usually a very time consuming process and not a quick win. Instead the real benefits are derived over the longer term, by increasing the visibility, accessibility and convenience of library services for users, and building stronger and deeper relationships.

Many libraries have latched onto one or more of these channels over the past few years (be it blogs, twitter or facebook), and many it must be said, have also been largely unsuccessful in their efforts, perhaps because they have underestimated the true costs in terms of the time commitment involved in maintaining fresh, relevant content for users. After all, there are companies who specialise in these aspects of social marketing for a reason.

One library which has so far expertly captured the potential value offered by these technologies is the National Library of Ireland (I will declare my vested interests in having worked there in the past!). The NLI may previously have been viewed by some as esoteric and detached from large swathes of the public. However, by utilising Twitter and Facebook so effectively, and more recently through the NLI blog, the Library has reached out to a new user base, illuminating the Library’s collection in the process.

Indeed the most remarkable aspect of the NLI’s strategy has been the way they have managed to engage directly with the public by promoting and exploiting one of their core strengths - the rich archives of photographic and other visual material in its collections. Facebook campaigns like ‘Flash from the Past’ where users take a photo of a present-day location or landmark in Ireland, matched up with a historic picture of the same place downloaded from the NLI’s online database of photographs, encourage people to view and engage with the library’s resources in a unique and interesting way. Moreover, posting visual material on Twitter and Facebook can help fill in unknown gaps and historic details, as it is likely that somebody, somewhere has a connection to the picture.

Several elements have made the NLI’s approach so successful in my opinion, including:

Content – Communications are structured around content of substance and frequently updated. This is the cornerstone of any success in social marketing: fresh content.

Consistency across channels, which emphasises and reinforces the NLI’s key messages, brand and overall strategy, and

Contemporary – Almost counter-intuitive to their historic collections, posts and updates are current, relevant and fresh, and engage with today’s users in an informal way (their posts and updates are also damn funny :))

Follow @NLIreland on Twitter
Connect with the NLI on Facebook
Read the NLI blog

5 Jan 2012

What matters to digital book publishers?

Happy New Year!

First thing you're reading here in 2012 is another 'cheerful' post on the subject of e-books. I'm picking up on where Michelle left off back in 2011...

According to a recent survey drawn from a cross-section of the publishing industry conducted by Data Conversion Laboratory (DCL), 411 respondents indicated that the following factors (ranked by relevance) are most important to publishers.
  1. Quality = 70%
  2. Cost = 34%
  3. Customer Service = 28%
  4. Short turnaround time = 19%
Noteworthy is that 63% of publishers out there intend to publish an e-book in 2012. Digital books, being a newish enough medium for consumers, are on the up. The 2011 Horizon Report indicates this as much.

What else is there to say? Publishers have realised that quality of user experience is paramount in ensuring that e-books will be broadly adopted going forward. A behavioural shift can only be fully accomplished if users can rely on consistent quality and straight-forward access.

I have noticed that library users ask for e-books more frequently these days. QR-coded e-book stickers on hard-copies alert students to the fact that e-book equivalents are readily available. Students frequently identify e-books as practical solutions during exam periods when study pressures stretch the availability of traditional loans. E-books offer 24/7 access to students who cannot, for one reason or another, frequent the library on a regular basis.

The survey also established that 43% of publishers acknowledge the importance of format compatibility with all e-readers, including iPad, MOBI (Kindle), Nook and custom formats.