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: