25 Jan 2016

An Appeal to Assist an African University Library Devastated by Fire

Guest post by Dr Rosarii Griffin, UCC Governor, Lecturer in Adult Education and Researcher in the Vice President’s Office for Teaching and Learning. Rosarii is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Centre for Global Development at UCC

picture courtesy of  Nathalis Wamba 

Mzuzu University Malawi is partnered with University College Cork, Ireland. On Dec 18th, we received the news that a devastating fire at MZUNI University Library had just destroyed 45,000 books, the lifeblood for 4,000 University students who depend on it. The staff and students at MZUNI are appealing to anyone, but particularly its partners, for help. Help includes: funding to support a temporary library facility, access to e-resources and/or gifts of books to populate the temporary facility. Any assistance from Higher Education Institutions and particularly Libraries, would be most gratefully received to assist them in their plight. Please help if you can.

I recently visited MZUNI on a capacity building project and I was in that Library in September, and I admired it, especially the dedication of its staff’. Although not resourced with ‘state of the art’ facilities – and still very much dependent on the text book - and with little access to computers or the internet, nevertheless, it worked. It was a lovely library with a lovely atmosphere. It was used and loved very much by the students. They had study areas attached to the reading areas, again, equipped with no powerpoints, indicative of the lack of technical resources available to staff or students. Nevertheless, the Library hummed of busy minds reading, studying, and the sound and smell of turning pages and older books was one I had not experienced for a while. Impressed by its form and function, I took many photos of the library, and that is what made the news so shocking for me. And if it was bad for me, it must be totally devastating for MZUNI staff and students – their bright, airy, vibrant library resource lost, overnight. Devastating, just devastating!

picture courtesy of  Nathalis Wamba 

Fr John Ryan, an Irish Kilteagan priest and Professor of Maths at Mzuzu University, with over 40 years experience in Africa says  "The fire has indeed been a devastating blow to MZUNI and it is only by a concerted effort by all partners, stakeholders and friends that we can 'solve' this one. The main focus of the university is to remain open and to keep to the academic calendar for the sake of the students. Any help given will certainly be very much appreciated by Mzuzu University. Mzuzu is the main city in the northern region of Malawi which is often regarded as isolated and 'not developed' even to Malawian standards.  And Malawi is now ranked the poorest country in the world, ranked according to per capita income."

The Vice Chancellor, Robert Ridley, says ‘We are planning to convert the hall into a temporary library and to move the student cafeteria to the Community Development Centre just outside campus. We will also seek funds to build a prefabricated structure to take the place of the hall for exams and other events - possibly located on flat ground close to ESSUP building.   We are finalising our book lists and various needs and losses and should have lists for people and institutions to provide gifts in kind by the new year. We are also setting up an account to receive donations under the Trust Fund and will be advertising that soon.’

See below for more information on the fire

 45, 000 books destroyed in Mzuzu University library inferno

Govt pledge support to Mzuzu University after burnt libary:

Dr Ridley is trying to connect with as many partners and stakeholders as possible as it is only through a concerted effort that this can be solved. Any assistance for MZUNI library would be gratefully received.

If you are able to, and wish to, help please find details of the account as well as the Bank Swift code for Standard Bank Limited, Mzuzu Branch. Funds can be transferred through TT (Telegraphic Transfer) to this account. Note that it is a US$ account.

Account Number: 0240036228300
Account Name: Mzuzu University Library Fund
Branch Code: 1021
Swift Code: SBICMWMX

Mobile: +265-888-824-095 or +265-999 274-224

18 Jan 2016

SLA Europe Early Career Conference Award

Guest post by Neasa McHale. Neasa is a Senior Library Assistant at Mason Hayes & Curran law firm. Follow Neasa on Twitter @neasamchale

In March 2015, I was delighted to receive the news that I was the recipient of the SLA Europe Early Career Conference Award (Legal Division) for 2015. I first heard about the Special Libraries Association when I attended the first SLA Europe Chapter event that was held in Ireland, the “New Professionals Guide to Knowledge Management in Legal Services. The event was hosted by Lauren Lawler (winner of the SLA ECCA (Legal Division) 2013). Shona Thoma wrote a summary about this event for the SLA Europe Chapter website. Hearing about the excellent experience Lauren had at the SLA Annual Conference & INFO-EXPO really motivated me to get involved with SLA and apply for the award. The application process was a really useful exercise. I found that it was a great way to reflect on different skills I had developed since I completed my MLIS, and also to reflect on the different aspects of my current position. This year, there are three ECCAs on offer and I highly recommend that anyone within the first five years of their career apply.

To save yourself some frustration, ensure that you are eligible for the award and that you give yourself plenty of time to work on the application. While the process is straightforward, given that there is a recommended word count of 1500 words, it means you really have to ensure that you get everything you want to say down on the page in the most concise way you can. You’ll need time to work on the various parts of the statement and your CV, along with organising a letter of recommendation. It would be brilliant to see more librarians and information professions in Ireland getting involved in SLA and this award is the ideal stepping stone.

Before the conference I was assigned two mentors, Tracy Z. Maleeff (SLA Legal Division) and Laura Woods (SLA Europe Chapter). Both Tracy and Laura provided me with so much information about the conference which was so helpful when I arrived in Boston. If you do get the opportunity to travel to the SLA Annual Conference & INFO-EXPO 2016 in Philadelphia as an ECCA winner, you will be well-informed before you arrive!

My employers Mason Hayes & Curran are very supportive and encourage my involvement with SLA, especially my library colleagues Anne Whelan and Áine Finegan. As of January 2016, I am one of the directors of the SLA Legal Division executive board. My role includes updating the SLA Legal Division website. Becoming involved with SLA will really benefit your career and it is a great way to network with librarians and information professionals from all around the world.

The closing date to apply for the award is Friday 19th February 2016, 23:59 GMT.  See the SLA Europe Chapter website for more information and application instructions.
Posted on Monday, January 18, 2016 | Categories:

15 Jan 2016

Moving to online-only information literacy teaching

I’m the subject librarian supporting the DCU Business School and recently completed the move to online-only IL instruction to teach the library basics to first year undergraduates in their first semester. The Business School takes in nearly 1,000 UG students per year and it’s always been a headache planning instruction for all their different programmes. I was embedded in one of the larger modules and delivered this in a blend of lecture, workshop and online assessment (which my predecessor wrote about here). This rushed-but-effective approach taught 300-400 students and I used to catch the rest of them with a dozen or so workshops for smaller groups but there were always gaps as programmes and modules changed year by year.

So last semester, in collaboration with the School’s Teaching and Learning Committee, we identified the one core module that all first years take, Introduction to Microeconomics (EF113), and the lecturer agreed integrate the training with his module.

Here’s now it works:
  • In the early weeks of semester 1, all students do an asynchronous tutorial hosted on the EF113 Moodle page (here’s a public version of it). It’s a combination of video, text, activities and quizzes I created mainly using Articulate Storyline. This takes them about two hours to complete and it covers IL basics like understanding reading lists, academic publications, citing and referencing etc.
  • Next the students complete a microeconomics exercise on finding and manipulating data from sources like the Central Statistics Office and Revenue Commissioners.
  • And finally they do a summative MCQ on both of the above which accounts for 5% of their marks for the module. The students had two weeks to complete all of this.

Overall I was really pleased with the outcome, when compared with the large blended class I had previously taught:

Online - 2015
Blended – 2013
Total students
Total completed assessment
% completed assessment
Avg. mark

The training was popular with students. Here are a few of the comments from the 183 feedback forms completed:
  • “Very helpful overall, easy to understand, and very thorough. Will undoubtedly be an asset to me as I begin my assignments.”
  • “I had been struggling with an assignment for Psychology in Organisations, but now I have a better understanding of what sources to use, when to use them and how to reference them.”
  • “Really good, even though it takes a while the high levels of interactive content throughout made it go by quicker than I would have expected.”

There were a few issues with the technology on Moodle but nothing serious. Whenever there were any issues from students with the content or the tech I was able to respond by email or face-to-face in the Library and resolve it quickly. Other benefits for the students were that they could control of pace of learning, it was (and remains) open to them whenever they need it and they got immediate feedback on their learning from the quizzes and activities.

While I'm satisfied that running automated, online-only training works for first year UGs, I won't be using this approach much for other cohorts like final year students and postgraduates. Teaching here is more specialised and done in smaller groups so it's manageable to deliver it face-to-face and these groups, especially the School's executive education students, value the hands-on workshops in a way I've never really experienced with the first years (it's very hard to get Irish teenagers straight from secondary school to open up!).

I'll be running this again next year and I have a few improvements in mind:

  • More interactivity in the tutorial.
  • Working with the lecturer to find ways to integrate the IL elements more seamlessly with the module.  
  • Improving the assessment. While I’m largely happy using MCQs as an assessment tool, I find it’s not as effective with the more subjective elements of the curriculum like evaluating sources, which the students fell down on. I have enrolled in an online module on assessment & feedback taught by DCU’s Teaching Enhancement Unit and I hope to make this my project. I’m thinking of something like including a peer-evaluated exercise on a short piece of reflective writing. We’ll see.

13 Jan 2016

Conul Annual Conference 2016 - Call for Papers

Guest post by John McManus on behalf of the Conul Conference '16 Committee

Going Further Together: Collaboration in Irish Academic and Research Libraries


The second annual Conference of the Consortium of National and University Libraries will take place on Wednesday 1st and Thursday 2nd June 2016 at the Sheraton Athlone hotel.

The overall aim of the conference is to consider the broad challenges facing academic and research libraries in Ireland. The conference will identify and debate these challenges and provide an opportunity for staff to network, learn, discuss and share their expertise and best practice.


CONUL invites papers and posters which address the following areas:

Teaching and learning collaboration
Suggested Areas: Partnerships with students, Faculty partnerships, Digital literacies

International collaboration
Suggested Areas: Twinning, Exchanges, Other

Research collaboration
Suggested Areas: Research data management, Open access initiatives, Digital libraries, Collaborative publishing

Collaborating in the community
Suggested Areas: Schools, Public libraries, Archives (e.g. local authorities), Community groups

Collaborative collection development and management
Suggested Areas: Conservation and preservation, Collaborative storage, National approach to digitising unique and distinct collections, Collection development and management, Resource description, union catalogues

User experience (UX) collaboration
Suggested Areas: Partnerships with academics, support services or students

Technology collaboration
Suggested Areas: Shared library management systems, Collaborative digital storage, Collaborations on devices and equipment

Staff development collaboration
Suggested Areas: Job swaps, Collaborative academic publishing, Mentoring

Other Strategic Collaboration
Suggested Areas: Other areas of strategic collaboration


Presentations (20 minutes with 10 minutes for Q&A)

Lightning Talks (10 minute presentations)

Poster (A1 size)


Complete the online submission form here before 5.00pm on Monday 15th February, 2016 and include:

Title of the Presentation or poster
Name, affiliation, job title and short biography of lead and corresponding author
Name, affiliation, job title and short biography of co-author(s)
Abstract (300 words for all talks, 100 words for posters)
Session type (presentation, lightning talk or poster)
Conference topic addressed (see above)
Contact email address


Monday 15th February, 2016 Call for submissions closes at 5pm
Tuesday 15th March, 2016 Notifications issued
Tuesday 22nd March, 2016 Final confirmation date for successful applicants

Please note that conference speakers will be required to register for the full residential conference and presenters may be recorded for live streaming. A recording of the presentation and a copy of the slides may be published online after the conference. Posters may be published online after the conference.

CONUL is also delighted to announce a bursary which will fund the recipient’s attendance (registration and accommodation) at the 2016 CONUL Conference. The bursary will be awarded based on a poster presentation which will be exhibited by the successful applicant at the 2016 conference. The poster should address an aspect of the conference theme Going Further Together: Collaboration in Irish Academic and Research Libraries.

Application is open to staff of CONUL member institutions who have not previously presented at conferences. The closing date for application is 15th February 2016.

The conference website, with all latest updates including profiles of our keynote speakers, is live and can be viewed here:

Last but not least, feel free to chat about us on twitter using hashtag #conulac16.

Posted on Wednesday, January 13, 2016 | Categories:

5 Jan 2016

Project Gutenberg: collection development and economics

This post discusses Project Gutenberg’s collection development trajectory. It also considers and applies to PG selected aspects of the evolutionary stages of the digital library life-cycle model as proposed by Calhoun (2014, pp. 159 – 177).

Candela et al. (2007) note that an online digital library is any virtual organisation that comprehensively collects, manages and preserves digital content, as well as offering it to respective user communities according to codified policies. This particular description of an online digital library is fitting for the purpose of this post since a well-defined collection development policy (CDP) determines, arguably, the level of success of a digital library. A CDP can be characterised as "a formal written statement of the principles guiding a library’s selection of materials, including the criteria used in making selection and deselection decisions (Reitz, 2004).

The process of developing a collection over time is guided by a library’s mission statement. Another important function of collection development includes resource sharing, which specifically involves the sharing of collections, data and facilities. For an in-depth discussion on collection development within the digital library context consider Jones (1999) and Joint (2006). Fundamentally, collection development frameworks apply to any library type, whether analogue, hybrid, or digital as is the case with Project Gutenberg (Jones, 1999, p. 28).

Project Gutenberg owes its growing collection to a vibrant online community of content providers. But what does the construct of community in an online environment mean? Lee, Vogel, and Limayem (2003) explain that such communities are “cyberspace(s) supported by computer-based information technology, centred upon communication and interaction of participants to generate member-driven content, resulting in a relationship being built” (p. 51). There are other definitions of virtual communities (see for example Craig and Zimring (2000); Ho, Schraefel, and Chignell (2000)), including one that describes them as computer-mediated spaces where there is potential for an integration of content and communication with an emphasis on member-generated content (Hagel, 1999).

One way of tracing the evolution of Project Gutenberg’s electronic library collection up till now can be achieved through the application of the theoretical life-cycle model of success factors for digital libraries in social environments (Calhoun, 2014, pp. 160-176). The model was specifically developed for the digital library context and adapted from Iriberi’s and Leroy’s (2009) original life-cycle model for online communities which represents an in-depth theoretical and practical treatment on the diverse activities of online communities. Calhoun’s (2014) adaptation contains four cyclical stages: 1) inception, 2) creation, 3) growth, 4) maturity. Each stage holds distinct sub-components, also called success factors, of which a limited (targeted) selection will be discussed below in relation to Project Gutenberg.

Purpose and focus
From the outset, Project Gutenberg’s collection acquisition strategy was built around the idea of
creating a vibrant user and contributor orientated online social environment. Calhoun (2014) notes
that digital libraries tend to succeed if they are “backed by passionate, committed builders on the
one hand and enthusiastic, vested community participants on the other” (p. 162). The committed
initiator and start-up builder was Michael S. Hart (2015), whose public e-text library strategy is based
upon two clearly communicated premises: 1) straightforward open access to and use of e-texts (i.e.
low legal and technological entry barriers), 2) digital artefact inclusion on the basis of the “bang for a
buck” philosophy to appeal to and capture 99% of the general reading (online) public Michael Hart(1992).

(Virtual) community orientation
One way of effectively encouraging existing as well as recruiting new PG contributor volunteers is
through the characterisation of practical experiences and motivations via its “Volunteers’ Voices”
feature at http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Gutenberg:Volunteers'_Voices. These tend to be framed around the “love of good literature”, “free availability” and the belief that “people could be influenced for good by what they read”, among other reasons. Fundamentally, Project Gutenberg’s social structure can be described as a “virtual volunteer organisation” (Jones and Rafaeli, 2000), which excels at sustaining mutual-interest individuals that keep on contributing to the communal material acquisition effort. Towards the end of 2003, already about 2,000 people were doing some form of constructive work for PG (Project Gutenberg, 2014).

Volunteers are facilitated through comprehensive support documentation provided for on the Project Gutenberg homepage (Project Gutenberg, 2007). Different levels of user involvement are possible: proofreading of an e-text, procuring of source material, donating money or promoting Project Gutenberg on one’s website through a PG widget (Project Gutenberg, 2011). This idea of encouraging pro-active user involvement is also emphasised by Witten, Bainbridge andNichols (2009), who note that “libraries can evolve from exclusive suppliers of information that users consume into a partnership where both the library and its users supply material (p. 67). Project Gutenberg represents a radically reversed content acquisition model, whereby the user/contributor fully absorbs the role of the acquisition librarian. Essentially, this approach goes against the traditional library mediated digital library eco-system where librarian oversight is absolute despite the obvious downsides: “most digital libraries do not allow users to contribute in this manner, missing out on potentially valuable sources of quality improvement” (Witten, Bainbridge and Nichols, 2009, p. 68).


Project Gutenberg’s collection development policy enables the success of an ever-growing collection
since “individual volunteers choose and produce books according to their own tastes and values, and
the availability … of the book” (Project Gutenberg, 2014). This broad policy enables the project to
organically adjust to the varying needs and expectations of its user audience over time. Other digital
libraries, e.g. in the academic user domain (e.g. the university context), are considerably more
restricted by stringent material selection criteria that need to satisfy the particularities of teaching
and learning programmes, cost control and licensing requirements among other variables (Jones,
1999, p. 29).

Interaction Support
Since 2000, Distributed Proofreaders (DP) supports the development of e-texts for Project Gutenberg (Lebert, 2008). DP enables the web-based process and assists in the conversion of analogue public domain books into e-texts. Volunteers contribute to the workflow and share the workload by, for example, splitting book conversion projects into individual pages, which significantly speeds up the process. (Distributed Proofreaders, n.d.).

Individuals register with the site first before they can contribute to Project Gutenberg. Distributed Proofreaders aims to act as a one-stop shop for this purpose and offers a detailed help section, called FAQ Central, to support its volunteers on various subjects including proofreading, formatting, creating and managing projects, as well as mentoring and a dedicated public mailing list, among other topics (Distributed Proofreaders, n.d.).

The existence of DP reinforces the assertion by the Center for History and New Media (2010), the providers of Omeka, that “Web 2.0 technologies and approaches to academic and cultural websites … foster user interaction and participation” (para. 3). Essentially, gutenberg.org and pgdp.net/c/ (DP) form a symbiotic relationship that actuates virtual community participation.

At the same time, Web 2.0 technologies need to be designed in such a way that they can keep on attracting, growing and, most importantly, maintaining a vibrant community of dynamic content contributors. Lampert and Chung (2011) rightly point out that community requirements must be consistently met during the planning process of new digital library projects in the sense that key decision points are clearly defined, and processes are well created and documented (p. 83-90).

Quality content
Calhoun (2014) notes that a digital library can be considered a candidate for lasting success if it is perceived by its users “as a hub for a certain type of content that is essential to their shared interests”, including the ability of building up a critical mass of material content (p. 171).

Evidently, Project Gutenberg is very good at doing both if one considers its collection development trajectory over time: “to this day, nobody has done a better job of putting the world's literature at everyone's disposal … and to create a vast network of volunteers all over the world, without wasting people's skills or energy.” (Lebert, 2008). Until the mid-nineties, when the Internet started to become more ubiquitous, Michael Hart was more or less the sole contributor to the project. It then started to expand rapidly through the involvement of a growing number of enthusiastic volunteers in many countries: 1000 books by August 1997; 2,000 in May 1999; 3,000 in December 2000; 4,000 in October 2001; 10,000 in October 2003 and 25,000 books in April 2008 (Lebert, 2008). Presently, the project offers over 50,000 e-texts completely free of charge (Project Gutenberg News, 2015).

Ongoing funding
Baker and Evans (2008, pp. 46-47) identified eight classic economic models for digital libraries including the free model, which is somewhat applicable to Project Gutenberg. Here, the “costs of set-up and maintenance are absorbed by the owner rather than passed on to the user” (Baker and Evans, 2008, p. 46). The reality is that the free model in the Gutenberg context is conditional in the sense that it operates as a public digital library relying on the financial support and e-text contributions of the wider public.

The Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation operates as a tax-exempt registered charity drawing on individual peoples’ financial donations (Project Gutenberg, 2014). As a result, its organisational structure is lean and low-cost by definition; only two paid part-time individuals are presently employed. The project is flexible and adaptive in its approach to generating donations. PG also generates funding streams through the services offered by micro-crowdfunding platforms. Since 2012, Project Gutenberg uses flattr.com (n.d.), which enables individuals to contribute to PG (and other projects) on an ongoing basis at flattr.com/thing/509045/Project-Gutenberg (Teller, 2012).

Arms, Calimlim, and Walle (2009) observed that “financial sustainability is the Achilles' heel of digital libraries”. PG’s very business model is rooted in the idea of collection building through an army of volunteers, lean operations management, and a highly optimised operational cost-base. The project’s continued success depends on the fusion of two distinct roles: e-text contributions and financial support through a committed volunteer base.

Arguably, the risk of failure is mitigated by the fact that the individual volunteer feels very much empowered. (S)he is encouraged to influence every aspect of Gutenberg Project. Contributors are given the opportunity to shape the project’s daily operation, as well as its strategic projection into the future (see an example list of volunteering opportunities listed at gutenbergnews.org/category/volunteers/).

The road ahead
It is challenging to speculate on what further developments could take place within the Project Gutenberg universe. Maron, Smith and Loy (2009) identified various factors for ongoing success and stability in digital library projects: 1) dedicated and entrepreneurial leadership, 2) a clear value proposition, 3) minimising direct costs, 4) developing diverse revenue sources, 5) clear accountability and metrics for success (p. 13-27).

Project Gutenberg delivers on all of the above as previously outlined. The project is pro-active and embraces opportunities to expand its appeal. It links up with a variety of like-minded partners and affiliates, including, for example, Wattpad (Wattpad, n.d.), which lists thousands of titles accessible for computer or mobile devices at m.wattpad.com (Project Gutenberg, 2014). Wattpad, just like ManyBooks.net, delivers PG titles to the mobile reader, which expands its potential user base significantly. For a full list of affiliates and partner see Partner, Affiliates and Resources (Project Gutenberg, 2014).

An interesting link-up is also OCLC’s WorldCat indexing of targeted Project Gutenberg books, which currently includes over 1,400 titles: https://www.worldcat.org/search?q=au%3AProject+Gutenberg.&qt=hot_author.

As a strategy to expand revenue resources, Maron, Smith and Loy (2009) consider the approach of licensing content to users or commercial publishers (p. 23). In principle, this idea could be considered by PG, whereby copyright owning authors and smaller-scale publishers could be invited to contribute to the project to get access to an expanding user base. However, there are significant cost imperatives involved.

Though the professional licensing business can be lucrative – professional clients, in particular, have the ability and     motivation to pay for this content – there are significant costs associated with meeting the unique needs of these demanding customers in a competitive environment. Professional clients require custom tools, functionality and metadata to address their specific needs, and labour-intensive customer support must be available. Maron, Smith and Loy (2009, p. 24)

Realistically, these expectations cannot be met as PG’s legal status and operational model revolve around the volunteer principle. Commerciality, by definition, is outside of the equation.