Friday, November 30, 2007

flexible furnishings

Many academic libraries are creating new, informal and flexible spaces that our catalysts for collaboration and intellectual growth. These spaces and the furniture which they occupy must be carefully balanced to accommodate the traditional printed volume.

A German firm has come up with what might be the perfect solution:

"Bookinist is a movable chair
designed especially for reading.
It is based on the principle of a pushcart
and can be rolled to a favourite
Ca. 80 paperbacks can be stored in
the armrests and the backrest.
Inclusive reading lamp and 2 hidden
compartments for writing utensils
in the armrests."

Thanks to Nikki Williams of Watzek Library for pointing this out.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

a hypothetical vendor response to the dis-integrating ILS

It's becoming clear that libraries can pick and choose from a variety of digital library products independent from their main ILS platform. These products include open url resolvers, federated search systems, e journal management services, digital asset management systems, and most recently, next generation catalogs.

It's now possible, and perhaps even common, for a library (or a consortium of libraries), to have an aging, but reliable ILS performing the basic inventory management functions of the 'bought' collection while a bevy of other digital library products peform the new digital library functions mentioned above.

But what about the vendor of that core ILS product? Is it not likely that prior to these disconnected array of digital library products, they were able to reliably sell upgrades and add-ons to their installed base of ILS customers? Now, they must face competition with many other vendors for finite resources that libraries have for new technology. It might also be likely that this vendor isn't positioned that well to compete against some of these newer, more nimble firms out there in the digital library marketplace, and that even thought they offer digital library products, they have trouble selling their products even to their existing base of customers.

What is this vendor likely to do in this situation? Simply sit there, idly supporting their aging traditional ILS system and watch their chunk of revenue from the library technology marketplace decline? That would be pretty painful, I imagine.

The easy answer, of course, is that they need to reinvent themselves, innovate, and regain market share. But if that doesn't work, there is another option. Even though the traditional ILS is losing some of its strategic importance for libraries, it is still a core part of a library's operations. And generally speaking, libraries depend on their vendor's support to keep these systems running. Specifically, they depend on a support contract, which is a voluntary agreement between two the vendor and the library. If a library system vendor doesn't like how a library (or perhaps group of libraries) is spending its money, they could simply threaten to discontinue that contract in order to bring the library into line. After all, most libraries would be hard pressed to switch ILSs on short notice as it is quite a costly and time-intensive undertaking.

Of course, this would be a dangerous game to play for a vendor in the long term, as a core ILS can be replaced with plenty of different options. But it is one tactic that a desperate ILS vendor could use against libraries in the short term.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Forbes and the cost of higher ed

I came across this article in Forbes at the Dr's office the other day. It's about the lack of controls on costs in higher education. Being inside the system at a private college, I can say that it seems totally accurate. There really isn't much pressure around to develop efficiencies. Enhance quality and provide new services, yes, but develop efficiencies, no. Overall, I think the problem of rising costs is partially due to rising expectations for enhanced support services (computing, athletics programs/facilities, counseling centers, libraries, etc.) and partially due to a lack of cost-cutting culture in academia.

One figure it points out is the number of nonteaching professionals per student, which has doubled since the 1970s.

What are colleges doing about their overhead? Not much. In 1929 universities spent 8 cents of each operating budget dollar on administration; today they spend 14 cents, says Richard Vedder, an economics professor at Ohio University in Athens. In 1976, he says, colleges had three nonteaching professionals for every 100 students; 25 years later they had six.
Being one of those nonteaching professionals, this seems a little disturbing. I sometimes wonder if there will be a huge backlash against the increasing costs of private Colleges (and ballooning student loans), or perhaps some other event that produces a rethinking of staffing at Colleges. It's important for us on the higher ed payroll to realize that a good portion of our paycheck is being paid out of a student loan some 18 year old took out.

One way to look at elite private Colleges is that they are a boutique product, like micro brewed beer or good wine. There's demand for high quality education done the expensive way like there is for other "artisan" products. Hence, it makes sense to focus on quality rather than the bottom line.

The top income earners in this country who fund much of private higher ed by picking up the tab on tuition and giving money to colleges like the idea of high quality education. And those top income earners have done rather well in the last 5-10 years or so, helping out many private colleges quite a bit. They probably also read Forbes.

fun with Google Analytics

I just hopped on my Google Analytics account and noticed that there was a spike in traffic to this blog from the Ohio region after my post last week on OCLC and network level services. Someone in Dublin is reading!

outsourcing IT

Inside Higher Ed has a good article on some of the issues surrounding university outsourcing of email to companies like Google and Microsoft. It presents it as an issue that is still a matter of debate, but come on, it's time to turn over these kinds of services to the organizations that do them the best and most cost effectively.

This passage is particularly good:

Through the 1980s, students in college who were affluent enough to come from households with a personal computer routinely experienced technology that was more advanced than what they were used to at home. “Over the course of the ’90s and into the decade that we’re almost finished with, universities have slipped considerably from that position and have gone sort of into the position of near-follower, and maybe ‘near’ is being charitable,” Sannier said.

Of course, it was universities that developed, refined and incubated the predecessor of the Internet, and they were some of the first institutions to adopt e-mail capability. But when it came time to offer the services to all students, rather than just faculty and researchers, many colleges created their own homegrown solutions. Now, some of them are suffering “from the innovators’ dilemma,” as Sannier put it, as software infrastructure intended for a smaller scale is increasingly strained to match growing numbers of students and their widening expectations.

The idea is that if Colleges and Universities stop putting so much energy into managing things like email systems, their IT departments can get back to work on bringing cutting edge academic technology to students and faculty.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

OCLC and network level services

OCLC is loading up on the big names in the digital library world. Of course, they've had Lorcan Dempsey for awhile. They recently picked up Roy Tennant and most recently, they hired Andrew Pace as Executive Director of Network Level Services. That job title makes me think that Dempsey had something to do with designing the job. An old OCLC hand out here in the Pacific Northwest recently referred to him as "Lorcan our prophet." Apparently he really does have a hand at shaping company strategy.

I know Andrew Pace some from the '06 Frye institute and offer my congratulations to him. I always used to see his columns in Computers in Libraries and think he was just another dork writing about library technology. At Frye, I discovered that he's a pretty enjoyable and interesting guy to listen to and in person is always dropping this funny, sometimes southern flavored aphorisms when describing various dilemmas and situations in the library world. I guess "lipstick on a pig" might be an example. I think he'll do a bang up job in this new position. As much as he's a thinker and observer, I know he's also a doer, as the NCSU catalog demonstrates.

In my humble opinion, OCLC has a lot of work to do on their "network-level" services. Here's a few areas where they could stand to improve:
  • ILL: the current mish-mash of products for managing interlibrary loan is pretty lame and is a real time sucker for library systems people. In most situations, these include an ILL management system (Clio/Illiad) for workflow management and patron interaction, a system for sending and receiving documents (Ariel), and the OCLC resource sharing network. There's no reason that OCLC shouldn't be able to provide a comprehensive ILL management suite including document exchange, workflow, and patron interaction as an entirely web-based, hosted tool, and offer it as a basic part of their ILL service.
  • Digital collections software: ContentDM is a relic from the 1990s. It's a strange hodgepodge of C code and PHP, is clunky as hell, not to mention that it produces the ugliest looking URLs and no page titles, making it terrible for search engine crawling. Someone good at Ruby on Rails could build a better piece of software in a weekend. (Perhaps I'm just a little annoyed with it right now because I've been working on getting a Google Search Appliance to index our ContentDM collections) OCLC should be offering a fully hosted, web scale digital asset management system with web-based client software on par with somthing like Flickr. They could offer migration from ContentDM
  • Semantic web strategy: OCLC needs to follow the Talis into the semantic web space. They need to be designing systems that share data in an open fashion.
  • WorldCat Local: This is where OCLC has got it most right recently, in my opinion. If they add an API, and make the UI more customizable, and allow for localized versions of records, they'll be in business.
  • Partnerships with large-scale players: OCLC is positions to make partnerships with big players in the information space like Google. They've found ways to bring library assets into Google's space, perhaps there are ways to bring Google assets like Scholar and Books into the library space (a Google Books/WorldCat Local integration?).
  • Data exchange: if you've ever had to get your data up to OCLC in batch form, you've most likely experienced pain on par with visiting the dentist for a minor procedure. Their procedures for doing things like local data record uploading are horrendously slow and bureaucratic. WorldCat will never truly be a universal catalog for library assets if OCLC can't streamline methods for updating data in WorldCat.
The team at OCLC has their work cut out for them.

Friday, November 16, 2007

the serverless internet business

A good post by Nick Carr on the serverless Internet businesses:

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Wall Street Journal to go for free online

The Wall Street Journal has announced that they are going to provide their content free online. It's always annoying when I find links to WSJ articles and then get hit with a subscription required notice upon linking, so I welcome this development.

This decision points to a broader phenomenon of more content supported by advertising instead of subscription, a phenomenon that makes libraries less relevant when it comes to finding information. With subscription based resources, we are the gateway to the resource; economically speaking, we aggregate demand for a resource and serve as a purchasing agent for our community. In the ad based model, we're taken out of the loop.

I imagine there will always be information seeking "power tools" not supportable by ad-revenue, particularly in the area of backfile content, and libraries will be there to provide them.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Canadian Libraries

From my experience at Access 2007, I got the idea that Canadian academic libraries might be a little ahead of the curve in their incorporation of web technology, particularly open source solutions. This article (coming to me by way of the Frye listserv) reinforces this idea.

A number of institutions are looking at Evergreen, while there are some pretty cool digital collections systems put together from open source tools, especially the combination of Drupal/Fedora, which they are doing at UPI:

Friday, November 2, 2007

EDUCAUSE wrap-up

I've been meaning to post a wrap up on the other sessions I attended at EDUCAUSE in Seattle. I attended a couple that were sleepers and a few other interesting ones:
  • one on a shared institutional repository for liberal arts colleges sponsored by NITLE. I observed that these institutions are having some of the same challenges surrounding "content recruitment" for an institutional repository as we are with our student thesis archive here at Lewis & Clark. It was clear that that these institutions had put a fair amount of thought and effort into this program, and it's too bad that they haven't had more luck filling up their repository. This makes me wonder, are institutional repositories a solution in search of a problem?
  • a surprisingly entertaining and well attended session on where students use computers at a liberal arts college. the guy giving the program had some scripts setup to gather an impressive amount of stats on computer lab usage at Claremont McKenna College. The lesson: gather data to support decisions. Also, undergraduates still use computer labs even with laptops.
  • a pretty cool demonstration of an interactive digital center in Kentucky; the guy showed off some impressive 3d visualization tools, mostly of machines and automobililes; it was all powered by EON software