30 Apr 2012

The Data Journalism Handbook

The Data Journalism Handbook is a new open educational resource featuring contributions from over 70 leading international practitioners of data journalism, including staff based at news outlets such the New York Times, Zeit Online and the Guardian.

I have not had a chance to make my way through the entire handbook yet, but the freely accessible online version (you can also purchase the print and e-versions from O'Reilly) is helpfully structured in such a way that you can dip in and out of it, and navigate it pretty painlessly . Don't worry if you are not a self-confessed dataphile like myself, as the handbook is written in an extremely non-technical way, and illustrates how to source, evaluate and use data to engage your audience. Moreover, in spite of its title, the handbook is not just of potential value to journalists, as there are several sections dealing with data literacy and sourcing data which can be applied more generally also. These include:

  • A Five Minute Field Guide to sourcing data, which outlines how to streamline your search by including both search terms relating to the content of the data you’re trying to find, as well as information on the format or source that you would expect it to be in; using tools such as ScraperWiki to scrape data from websites; and national and disciplinary aggregators of research data, such as the UK Data Archive.

  • Become Data Literate in 3 Simple Steps uses real-world examples to illustrate how data interpretation can trip you up.

  • Presenting Data to the Public discusses concepts such as data visualizations, motion graphics and open data platforms, and emphasises the importance and value of sharing your data as widely and openly as possible.

28 Apr 2012

Irish Health Librarians' Contribution to Research

Another excellent initiative from both the HSLG & Lenus (via the HSLG mailing list):
"To promote and preserve the growing body of research by Health Librarians in Ireland, Lenus and the HSLG are putting out a call for research to all health librarians.
A new ‘LIS’ collection will be hosted on Lenus. This collection will enhance the research profile of Health Science librarians within the context of Irish and global health research via the World Wide Science Alliance portal. This collection will provide abstracts and fulltext where possible. It will complement the current HSLG list of Irish Health Librarians Contribution to Research and have the additional benefit of being fulltext searchable and indexed in Google.
Please consider submitting any published research you have written or co-authored to this collection. Suitable material includes:
Conference presentations, posters, journal articles, abstracts, systematic reviews, theses, books, book chapters, official reports, and position papers."

As well as capturing and increasing the visibility of existing LIS research, I'm sure it will also help to encourage and promote a culture of research in the health sciences library field generally.

For more information see the HSLG website or Lenus.

27 Apr 2012

Which social media platform does the job?

The vast majority of libraries deploy social media platforms to reach their respective demographics. For good reason, libraries keep their patrons up to scratch through the use of Blogs, Facebook and, increasingly, Twitter. A static library website just doesn't fit the bill anymore. The reality is that maintaining a fluid social media presence requires human resources that are a scarce commodity these days. It's important, therefore, to decide carefully which platform to choose from. The infographic below provides a comparative snapshot overview of the main social media tools out there (Pinterest would have been a good addition here).

(Source: Zintro)
Posted on Friday, April 27, 2012 | Categories:

26 Apr 2012

Twitter evolution (or how I learned to stop following and love the retweet)

Today I discovered I have been on Twitter for 1332 days, or three and a half years (it's ok, I didn't count it myself; there's a web app). There is also a website which recalls your first tweet, which I am sure, for many of us, was not necessarily our most insightful moment. Indeed as Twitter has evolved over time, myriad tools and applications have developed alongside it, making the social networking tool a lot more sophisticated and useful than many people could have imagined when they initially started using it several years ago.

This is in part due to the ongoing shift from document-based content to message-based content; in other words the transition from the Web to the Stream. Social messages and content streams are now often our primary starting points for discovering and navigating content, rather than search engines or web pages. Ben Elowitz estimated that “for every 100 visits that Google sent to the top 50 web publishers in November, Facebook sent 62. By December, it was already up to 73 visits from Facebook for every 100 from Google”, prompting the question “how long until social is a bigger traffic source than search?

Technology Trigger to Trough of Disillusionment
Twitter is by far the tool I find most useful for discovering and managing different content streams. However when I first started using Twitter it was largely as a micro-blogging tool, which was what many people used it for back then. I followed lots of people: friends; people I knew; people I didn’t know; publishers; newspapers; authors; economists; researchers; celebrities (probably). But I quickly realised that following so many people was counter-productive. Some people tweet *extremely* frequently, and it simply becomes impossible to keep up without constantly checking your Twitter stream. A little overwhelmed, I took a step back. Gartner’s technology hype cycle was starting to take shape.

Slope of Enlightenment (Twitter pruning)
Fast forward a few months and I relented. This time though I had learnt my lesson. The first thing I did was unfollow a whole bunch of people because either a) their tweets did not interest me anymore or b) they tweeted too often (even if their tweets were good). Don’t be offended if people unfollow you; it has to be done. Now I put a lot more consideration into who I follow. It almost seems counter-intuitive given the sheer volume of tweets, but if you invest some time and effort in refining the list of people you follow, Twitter can be an extremely efficient way of discovering and filtering content. You can create separate lists for special interests, use saved searches by keyword instead of following users and download apps to help you organise your stream.

Plateau of Productivity (Tweet V Retweet)
Nowadays I don’t tweet that much, but I retweet a lot. In other words, I curate more than I create. I use Twitter as my main source of news and information. By selectively following targeted communities and organisations, your twitter stream can become an incredibly relevant and personalised source (almost like a kind of recommendation engine), which efficiently filters content based on a network of people whose judgment you value – people with similar interests, objectives and goals. Whenever I see an interesting link in my stream I also retweet it so that I have a permanent record on my own tweet stream, a further layer of filtering in a sense.

Beyond Twitter
Now it is not just about Twitter, but Twitter clients like TweetDeck and HootSuite, Twitter analytics, third-party apps and tools for analysing your Twitter feeds and more. Indeed Twitter itself is just the beginning, and seems more popular today than ever. Why? Possibly because there is nothing else quite like it today for efficiently discovering and filtering information in such a personalised and social way, and also in a way which embraces the Stream. Twitter is also extremely fast - indeed faster at sharing information and breaking news stories than many traditional media sources. Crowdsourcing through Twitter can provide rapid answers to both objective and subjective questions. At 140 characters, its brevity is a virtue and retweeting makes sharing instantaneous. Like most things however, using Twitter effectively is a learning process (just ask @rtefrontline...).

24 Apr 2012

LAI/CILIP Annual Joint Conference 2012 in Belfast

The LAI/CILIP Annual Joint Conference 2012 took place at the Merchant's Hotel in Belfast from Thursday, 19th April - Friday, 20th April.

Over 120 delegates mingled in the magnificent surroundings of this former bank with its mix of Victorian architecture and Art Déco interior. I attended as a day delegate on Friday, so missed out on the reception at Stormont and the dinner the night before, which by all accounts had been very enjoyable and impressive.

The topic this year was "Transforming Libraries and Information Services". Its subtitle "radical ideas and innovative programming to transform libraries, recharge librarians and change lives" set the tone for the presentations. For me, the three morning papers certainly achieved this goal.

Margaret Hayes, City Librarian, Dublin City Public Libraries, kicked off the day with a awe-inspiring overview over the work that goes on everyday in the 4th UNESCO City of Culture. The sheer amount of projects that Dublin's public libraries are engaged in both nationally and internationally is truly remarkable. A third of all tourists who visit the city can be classed as "cultural tourists", so even from an economic point of view these initiatives are very important. Margaret talked about the impact "one city, one book" and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary award had on writers and readers alike. They really do change lives.

Radical ideas were the focus point of Debbie Shorley's paper. She is Director of Library Services, Imperial College, at the University of London and, of course, a former President of CILIP. She challenged the audience to think about what our users really need. The mantra of old, where "bigger is better" when it came to stock in academic libraries, is no longer valid. On the contrary - she emphasised that we were at a point in time where physical collections were shrinking due to financial constraints and a sharp increase in the costs of serials. So how can we as professionals survive? She offered the following options
  • by providing an even more personalised, value-added service to our customers
  • by becoming part of the changed world of scholarly communication including publishing
  • by engaging with other libraries and organisations through research; and
  • by promoting unique collections through collaborative digitisation.
She also saw a role for academic librarians in developing expertise in the management of the huge amount of research data that was inaccessible at the moment. Often discarded by busy researchers, but immensely valuable for future use and paid for by the taxpayer. Debbie concluded by giving us her vision of the future: more space for students, less stuff (physical collections) and empowered staff, who need to do what they need to do, not what they have always done.

Nicky Parker, Head of Transformation, Manchester City Council, gave a passionate speech on the power of change. She outlined how the public library system, which had been neglected in Manchester for some time, became the driving force of cultural, social and economic renewal in the city. Nicky had been involved behind the scenes from the very beginning. The team invested not only in their staff who have become more empowered to develop new ideas, but also in their customers. By offering library spaces and services to often disadvantaged communities, frequently in partnership with commercial entities or other service providers, they succeeded in establishing the library as a central part of that community. Joint buildings with supermarkets, a local health centre or a school benefit from increased footfall. The libraries have become a one-stop service point and community hub engaging in access to e-government projects, health information, entrepreneurial start-up support and lifelong learning initiatives.

The afternoon sessions were split into two blocks which ran concurrently. My own paper centred on some of the findings of a research project I had been involved in on the continuing professional development of one-person librarians in Ireland. Some members of the audience shared their own experiences as solo librarians, which was extremely helpful for me.

Dr. Maria Souden's presentation looked at professional development 2.0 and transferable skills for information professionals. She emphasised the role reflective learning should have in our everyday practice. Drawing on her experience as lecturer she suggested using e-portfolios, which could either take the form of blog (as her students do) or more specialised software, such as PebblePad or Mahara.

Overall, I came away with plenty of new ideas and a feeling of having "recharged my batteries". It was nice meeting colleagues from different institutions and countries. There was plenty of time to check out the stand of exhibitors and sponsors. The only regret I have is that I couldn't attend all sessions. Looking forward to the next Joint Conference!

If you're interested: some of the presentations and biographies of speakers are now available online.

23 Apr 2012

Workforce Tracking & Development: Where are Information professionals working?

Have you ever studied at UCD's library school?

MLIS students Susan Dennehy, Karen Corcoran, Marianne Hennessy, Aoife O'Neill Gormley, Chris Ramsey and Kathryn Smith are looking for the help of recent and former graduates of UCD/SILS.

They are investigating the careers of library and information science graduates to see where LIS graduates are now working and what skills they utilise to support their work. This information will be used to inform curricula developments in the UCD School of Information & Library Studies and the LAI Continuing Professional Development Programme.

If you are interested in completing the survey, which will be launched in May 2012, please register your interest at http://tinyurl.com/SILS-Capstone-11-2012

Project email address for more information: lisgraduates@gmail.com
Posted on Monday, April 23, 2012 | Categories:

22 Apr 2012

Using web analytics to understand your users and improve your content

Thoughts on web publishing #3  

Using data to drive your site: Analytics

In the third and final post in my series on SEO (part one, part two), I’ll briefly outline the value of web usage stats and analytics for understanding your users, why they have visited your site and how you can use this data to improve your content and website. Bear in mind that these metrics only capture quantitative data, so you may also want to collect qualitative feedback through open-ended questions in surveys and informal feedback. Also website stats only represent people who actually visit your site; they tell us nothing about those who don’t or why they don’t.

Firstly if you have a website, blog or other content online, you should ensure you have a good form of web stats enabled for it. Many platforms like Wordpress and Blogger offer these already ‘built in’, however alternative tools can often capture much richer data. Google Analytics is a good one which is free and easy to set up via their signup page.

Your analytics won’t just tell you how many people are visiting your site, they can also show you:

Why people use your site
The pages which are accessed most frequently may reflect your most valuable, unique content, or it may be because it they are about a ‘hot’ topic, or ranked highly in SERPS (looking at the source of these visits or search keywords can help you identify which is most likely). From a library point of view, it may also highlight which services are most popular with your users e.g. referencing support pages, subject portals etc., and help you align your services more closely to their needs.  

Which pages are the primary exit pages for your site
This can show where users may be losing interest in your website. Look at how you might ameliorate this by addressing gaps and refocusing content towards why people are using your site in the first place (see point one!).  You can also measure the bounce rate - the percentage of single-page visits or users who exit your site from the landing page.

Which geographic location most of your visitors are from, or which browsers and devices they are using
This can allow you to tailor your content to the majority of your user base making it more relevant, and to ensure your website displays properly.  You can also get an idea of what proportion of visits are from mobile devices and how the activity of those users differs. 

The average length of time your readers stay and if they return to your site for repeat visits
Again this can be an indication of how good your content is at holding readers’ attention.

Goals are also a key part of analytics as ultimately, sites don't want traffic as such, they want conversions (key tasks or goals completed). In analytics you can set up goals (for example a thank you page for a sign up form or another a key page on your site) and then get reports on how many site visitors are converting, which is often the key metric in judging how effective your site is.

Sources of traffic & referrals
Google Analytics also offers a very useful traffic source report so you can see how your users are finding and accessing your content. This allows you to analyse:

The search keywords which are most frequently used by visitors to your site can yield insight into what your readers are looking for. If you are using Google Analytics, you may notice that some keywords display as ‘not provided’, this is because if visitors are logged into Google (e.g. a Gmail account using SSL) whilst searching, the keywords will be hidden from site owners.

Which other sites are linking to your website. As discussed in part two of this series, getting key authoritative sites to link to your content is extremely valuable for lots of reasons.

Referrals from twitter (Twitter referral URLs will usually begin with t.co) and other social networking sites reveal what your visitors are telling others about your site (this may be good or bad feedback, but some might say all traffic is good traffic :)).

Remember that looking at your analytics metrics is of little value in isolation; the key is to turn that data into actionable insights, and ways of improving the content and value of your site for users.

20 Apr 2012

18 Apr 2012

Ebook pricing is about value and not costs

It seems that Consumers [are] Upset and Confused Over E-Book Pricing.

I like Jeremy Greenfield's (@JDGsaid) article on ebook pricing for a couple of reasons. Firstly he highlights the mistaken belief of many readers that ebooks cost nothing to produce. Whilst the marginal cost of producing an ebook is indeed zero, as Greenfield points out there are substantial fixed and first-copy costs associated with publishing (rent, wages, marketing and promotion). Such costs are not unique to digital publishing of course, and are equally applicable in the print world. Greenfield also highlights several of the less visible costs which are associated exclusively with digital publishing: format conversion, project management and the cost of software and distribution platforms. So clearly ebooks are not free that inexpensive to produce after all, and this explains the high prices.

Well yes and no. I wonder why Greenfield appears to base his argument on the direct relationship between cost and price. Cost-plus pricing may be applicable in some sectors but I'm not so sure that it is all that relevant in the digital publishing industry. Obviously costs are a factor in the sense that no producer will sell below cost in the long run (they may do so in the short run for other reasons such as gaining market share). However unless a monopoly with perfectly inelastic demand exists (this typically only applies to essential goods like electricity and water), consumer demand will always have an influence on price.

The more value that readers place on ebooks, the greater their willingness to pay, and the higher the price will be. Conversely, if the price of an ebook exceeds the value that readers place on it (as many argue is in fact the case) they simply won't buy it, so demand will fall dragging down the profits of publishers with it. Thus the argument that publishers are pricing ebooks too highly and therefore making excessive profits does not hold up. There are lots of factors which do affect consumers' willingness to pay including the perceived value of DRM-free content, portability, full-text searching, lower storage costs etc, but I can safely say that fluctuations in the costs faced by publishers do not really influence how much I value ebooks.

In short, cost versus pricing is a largely normative debate. Why are ebooks the price they are? Because that is what the market is willing to pay for them (even if some people find it hard to believe).

17 Apr 2012

Directory of Open Access Books

DOAB launched last week. This useful service delivers a searchable index of peer-reviewed monographs and edited volumes published under the Open Access model, such as Creative Commons. The site explicitly states that “the directory will be open to all publishers who publish academic, peer reviewed books in Open Access and should contain as many books as possible, provided that these publications are in Open Access and meet academic standards”.

DOAB offers a high-quality resource
for full-text e-books in PDF format
that can be easily localised in a library's OPAC.

15 Apr 2012

The role of librarians in primary and secondary education

The role of the school librarian increasingly converges with the functions and duties of teachers in the classroom. Teachers seek to achieve desired results within their students. They do this by ensuring that students attend to pertinent subject knowledge and meet specific learning objectives. Librarians play a constructive role in this process as providers of learning resources and teachers in their own right.

The idea of blending roles between librarian and teacher still does not seem a common perception outside LIS. Andrew Shenton (2011) surveyed various statements about the role of school librarians. Traditionally, school librarians are considered intermediaries between the library user and materials. They channel “the flow of information to individuals” (Gorman, 1998, cited in Shenton, 2011 p. 533), and function as “human mediators” (Brier, 2008, cited in Shenton, 2011 p. 533). School librarians facilitate the education process by backing up tuition in the classroom; their role is primarily concerned with organising and managing information in the library. Minton and Shenton (1987, p. 60), for example, developed a structural diagram for secondary and primary schools that does not afford the library a role as part of its “strategic apex” (see diagram here). Shenton (2011) supposes that the school library is somewhere buried within the “support structure” of the diagram. The message here is that the library still seems to be relegated to the margins within the organisational framework of quite a few primary/secondary schools.

Certainly, school librarians fulfil the traditional role of facilitating access to learning resources, but they also adopt an active teaching role  in, and outside of, the classroom. Their area of expertise lies within the LIS sub-discipline of information behaviour, which deals with information needs, information-seeking and information use. Information-seeking and information use are cognitive activities and, therefore, an integral part of the learning process (Shenton, 2011). In other words, such activities are about “the transformation and integration of found information into existing knowledge, and the creation of new knowledge” (Todd, 2006). 

In this sense, school librarians equip students with information skills that come in handy later on at university - for example, where independent research skills are needed from day one. The phenomenon of library anxiety is significantly reduced from the outset if students arrive prepared (see Brown (2011) for a review of the current literature on the issue).

The teaching role of librarians is not new. User education and bibliographic instruction has been around since the 1970s (Shenton, 2011 p.535). However, information literacy (IL) teaching covers exponentially more than telling students “where to go to find what you need”. IL embraces the broader aspects of strategic and critical thinking, and problem solving; it forms the basis for lifelong learning. School librarians encourage students to develop independent learning and research skills at an early stage. This means 1) inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge, 2) draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge, 3) share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of democratic society, 4) pursue personal and aesthetic growth. (see AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner). Those goals do not diverge from information literacy competency standards for higher education (see ACRLstandards). They match.

It is therefore vital that primary and secondary educational environments offer their students access to adequate library and information services. Given the importance of IL teaching, school administrators and teachers should regard school librarians as equal partners and co-instructors, in addition to their traditional function as providers of learning materials and resources.

Add. ref.
Anna Marie Johnson, Claudene Sproles, Robert Detmering, (2011),"Library instruction and information literacy 2010", Reference Services Review, Vol. 39 Iss: 4 pp. 551 - 627

13 Apr 2012

Information R/evolution

Came across this video on Youtube exploring the changes in the way we find, store, create, critique, and share information. It's mind-boggling to see how the packaging and re/distribution of information has transformed information behaviours.

Librarian competencies in evidence-based practice

When I (somewhat accidentally!) found myself working as a health science librarian, I had never really considered the role in great detail before. From my experience to date, I have found my own role blends the spheres of the academic liaison librarian (for example, providing research support for students, information literacy instruction and collection development & subject expertise) with that of an information or research officer (dealing with complex and lengthy reference queries, synthesising research, delivering current awareness services and providing professional information support for clinical queries and research projects).

From sharing experiences with colleagues however, I have learned that the role can vary greatly from that of a pure clinical informationist to a more traditional library-based function, and in most instances falls somewhere in between both extremes. However, I think most health science librarians would agree that the unique nature of the role demands certain core competencies, and Dean Giustini (who teaches the Health information sources and services module in the University of British Columbia) offers an interesting list of the top ten competencies for EBP, which I feel successfully encapsulates many of the essential aspects:

  1. Articulate the five (5) steps of evidence-based practice
  2. Be able to frame good clinical questions
  3. Understand the hierarchies of evidence from case studies to gold standard RCTs & systematic reviews
  4. Search by clinical domain ie. diagnosis, etiology, prognosis, qualitative, therapy
  5. Describe expert role(s) assumed by health librarians in EBP
  6. Teaching; knowledge of learning styles, sources, strategies and filters
  7. Be familiar with basic research, methodologies, statistics and assessment
  8. Engage in critical appraisal and reflective practice
  9. Understand systematic reviews and expert searching
  10. Assume expert searching roles in database searching; in searching pre-appraised tools (Cochrane and related tools); grey literature (Google, Scirus and open search tools).

10 Apr 2012

LIS Career Development Group Informal Networking Evening April 12th

The LIS Career Development Group is holding an informal networking evening for members, and non-members who are interested in finding our more about the group and/or career development issues in LIS.

The aim of the group is to create a network where all professionals struggling to find employment or in temporary employment can discuss issues, share relevant experience & resources, and explore new opportunities.

The event will take place in The Market Bar, Fade Street, Dublin from 5:30pm onwards on Thursday April 12th.

Posted on Tuesday, April 10, 2012 | Categories:

9 Apr 2012

UNESCO Policy Guidelines for the Development and Promotion of Open Access

The UNESCO Policy Guidelines for the Development and Promotion of Open Access (written by Alma Swan) were released on April 6th. The guidelines aim to support open access policy development at government & institutional level, in order to create an environment which promotes the increased accessibility of scientific information. As well as outlining the importance and benefits of OA, the guidelines discuss business models, copyright & licensing issues in non-legal language, and strategic aspects, and are intended as an advisory rather than a prescriptive tool for decision- and policy-makers.

The guidelines also highlight some of the key and emerging issues in open access today including:
  • The varying levels of open access publishing across disciplines, with some fields still "lagging behind" to a considerable extent;
  • Copyright as "a bundle of rights": authors have traditionally signed the whole bundle of rights over to the publisher, when this is not normally necessary. Instead, authors can retain the rights needed to make the work open access, and assign the right to publish the work to the journal publisher (essentially a 'licence to publish' - this is preferable than seeking permission post-publication);
  • The advantages of formally licensing scientific work: Creative Commons licensing is viewed as best practice because it is a well-understood and transparent system, which provides a suite of machine-readable licences covering multiple needs;
  • The maximum embargo length permitted in science should be 6 months at most;
  • Open access is now also part of a broader ‘open’ agenda encompassing concepts such as Open Educational Resources, Open Science and Open Data.

5 Apr 2012

Get more out of Google

Infographics have the ability to communicate information in a visually appealing and effective way. The one below provides a bunch of handy tips on how to utilise Google search more effectively.

Get more out of Google
Created by: HackCollege

Guest post: LIR Annual Seminar 2012: Collaboration in the cloud

Guest post by Ashling Hayes, Assistant Librarian (Research Support and Cataloguing), University of Limerick.

The premise for LIR’s 2012 seminar was one that would interest many librarians in Ireland. The title of the seminar utilised two buzzwords currently floating around the library scene, “cloud-computing” and “collaboration”. Broadly the seminar looked at three different interpretations of these terms: collaboration on a national level and international level, using Cloud technologies to provide services to users and finally Trust and Security.

Liam Earley from JISC looked at the strides libraries in the UK have made towards building a knowledgebase to manage e-resources, Knowledgebase+. His presentation focused on why collaboration makes sense. Libraries are currently duplicating efforts to maintain their individual knowledge bases. For example the data available on licensing, publishers lists etc is often inaccurate. Without a collaborative approach the work that goes into cleaning this data will have to be duplicated in each individual library. Knowledgebase+ aims to fix this by providing a shared service that will include an accurate and relevant knowledge base. Knowledgebase+ will be made available in the UK as a beta service in August of this year. Liam also stated in the question and answer session that in time it will be made available to Irish libraries also.

Continuing with the theme of collaboration was Peter Corrigan from NUIG who discussed the work that The Task and Finish Group of the Irish University’s Association have done on exploring the possibility a shared library management system for all IUA libraries. This is still very much a work in progress but the benefits of a shared service were outlined including, a shared service will require less infrastructure = less cost and less duplication of effort. Overall the central theme of both Liam and Peter’s presentations was that collaboration and sharing make sense both financially for libraries and also as a way to improve services. However we’re not there yet and there is a huge amount of work that needs to be done.

A series of short presentations looked at how libraries can use some cloud computing technologies on a day to day level. Elaine Bean from NUI Maynooth discussed QR codes and gave a demonstration of how to create these. These are both time efficient and free to create. I thought that for librarians wanting to explore technology for their mobile constituents that these were an excellent starting point. Peter Reilly talked about his experiences with Mendeley as an academic reference manager. Mendeley is a free service that is available as both a desktop application and as a web based service. Glenn Wearen from HEAnet discussed the decision process the LIR team went through when transferring the LIR website to a cloud based server. Finally Alison Sharman from the University of Huddersfield presented on her experience with Teachmeets as an informal way of sharing information and expertise.

In the afternoon session there were two presentations on how cloud computing technologies can be utilised by libraries on a grander scale. Yvonne Desmond from DIT shared their experiences of setting up an Institutional Repository in the Cloud. Yvonne discussed how the decision was made to outsource the IR and have it hosted in the cloud. The presentation illustrated that Institutional Repositories are achievable for smaller libraries in Ireland. With a cloud based solution overcoming obstacles such as, small budgets, lack of technical expertise and low staff numbers. Having been involved in the setup of a cloud based Institutional Repository in a specialist research library I can personally testify to this. From UCD Peter McKiernan presented on their experience of delivering services to students and staff on mobile devices and how they have taken advantage of cloud based technologies to deliver services. UCD started moved their student mail to Google mail and academic calendars are linked to students’ Google calendar. Peter’s presentation was eye-opening in how they used established technology and customised it for their own needs, creating a UCD mobile app that is available for Apple, Android and Blackberry.

The final theme was Trust and Security. Brian Conan from the cloud security alliance discussed security issues surrounding cloud computing. I felt this theme was touched upon throughout the seminar but Brian highlighted how much of our online security is based on trust. The first speaker of the day Liam Earley had made the point that many libraries relied on publishers to keep details of their licensing and subscription and were not proactive in ensuring they were getting what they paid for. Instead they relied on trust. Brian’s presentation was very timely as it emphasised that changing technologies mean changing security issues. For new technologies security is not a priority, if we want security we must be proactive in engaging with developers. We can no longer rely on trust.

Overall what I took from the seminar was:
  • Collaboration is good and technology makes it easier to collaborate on a national and international basis.
  • Cloud computing is not “new” anyone using a gmail, hotmail, yahoo mail account, facebook or dropbox is using cloud computing.
  • Libraries can use cloud computing technology to provide services they previously lacked the expertise or budget to attempt before.
  • We need to be proactive about security and seek Confidentiality, Integrity and Accessibility for our systems. 

Slides and videos of the seminar are available to view in full online here.

3 Apr 2012

The art and science of off-site SEO

Thoughts on web publishing #2
What really matters: Off-site elements

The first part of this series provided an overview of some useful techniques for optimising the on-page aspects of SEO. But the truth is off-site elements are far more important in terms of helping to increase your ranking and visibility through search engines

Building link relationships

Google’s algorithms primarily rank your website based on links from other sites to your site and particularly links from ‘key’ or authority sites. So whilst all links are useful to an extent, getting a popular and trusted industry expert or a major organisation in your geographic area to link to your site is invaluable. You can use all the on-page techniques (metadata, content) in the world, but the key is getting authoritative sites to link to you in order to ensure your site is ranked highly in search results

Use social media and networks to maximum advantage 

Now is a good time to follow @libfocus on Twitter :)

People tweeting links to your content and sharing your website on facebook or linkedin, also generates valuable links (and potentially network effects) which will all contribute to enhancing your page ranking as well. This will also help in terms of branding generally, and is often a successful channel for ensuring your content is visible to relevant user communities and your key target markets.

There are lots of neat tricks you can use to increase the effectiveness of this aspect. For example, for Facebook you can utilise open-graph protocol by including specific meta tags in the headers of your pages for images. This will ensure that Facebook uses the particular image you have specified (e.g. your logo) to accompany your page when people share a link to your site (rather than just any random image which could be meaningless and irrelevant such as a Twitter icon or navigation button)

Contribute value to similar blogs and forums

Writing blog comments and forum posts are a great way to promote your content as well, but make sure you are not just commenting for the sake of getting your link displayed. Writing guest posts for other blogs can also be a good way to promote your own website, as well as to build collaborative relationships with other content publishers. You can also share your content through sharing sites like Slide Share and Google Docs to increase its visibility.

Too much of a good thing? Off-site over-optimisation

Be careful not to go too far with off-site techniques however. Make sure it is 'natural' and relevant - you don't want sites to link to you if there is not a logical reason for it. Google's algorithms will also analyse unnatural link profiles and anchor text and it may negatively affect your ranking if Google believes your site is artifically or unethically optimised. For more information, check out this SEOMoz Whiteboard Friday video on off-site "over-optimization."