Monday, December 29, 2008

2009: challenges and opportunities ahead

News of the recession seems to be dominating higher ed these days. 2009 will likely put financial strains of one form or another on most academic libraries. It's worth thinking about the challenges and opportunities that a tighter fiscal environment present.

Challenges (or threats):
  • Budget cuts to library acquisitions. Funds for acquiring physical and electronic library content are an easy target. It's easy to see how doing this over many years could hollow-out a library, however. A library's collection still remains the core value that it provides its patrons, I think. Academic libraries should strive for a certain balance between resources devoted to collections and resources devoted to personnel who organize and guide users through those collections. Budget cuts exclusively or primarily targeted at acquisitions are bound to throw that balance out-of-whack.
  • Personnel cuts, especially those done out of expediency and without regard for long-term interests. Leaving unfilled positions vacant can create a savings, but what positions are vacant at a given time is an arbitrary matter.
  • Personnel cuts are bound to focus energies on keeping up day-to-day operations at the expense of forward looking projects. Cutting the staff time that moves the library and forward may leave the library in a position where it stagnates in its current practices, and as a consequence, as time goes on the library may produce less value for the institution. Underinvestment in a library may be end up being quite costly.
  • The precipitous drop in retirement accounts will likely lead to many library employees putting off retirement. This may lead to a kind of malaise among staff, especially if there are many folks that would rather retire, but are holding out for financial reasons.
Opportunities seem less obvious, but I think they are there:
  • Acquisitions of collections. With whatever monies are left in our acquisitions budgets, now might be the time to aquire expensive one-time purchases at a discount. These could be large electronic collection sets, or additions of rare materials to a special collections unit.
  • Construction and remodeling of new buildings. If you can raise the cash, construction costs are bound to be lower in the recession, especially considering that the market for commercial real estate has dropped off a cliff.
  • Cutting underutilized acquisitions. Cuts to acquisitions can also spark a worthwhile review of current purchases. It might be the time to speed up the shift in formats from print to electronic or to get rid of underutilized formats like microforms.
  • Restructuring of internal library operations and personnel: tighter personnel budgets may spur on some beneficial restructuring where some positions get rewritten and consolidated. Bad times can provide managers "cover" for tough personnel decisions.
  • Institutional restructuring might provide new roles for the library in areas like web content management and academic technology, given the trend towards combined librarian/educational technologists.
  • Entrepreneurial libraries may have more success taking on new roles like publishing or hosting an electronic library for another institution because they can leverage their existing infrastructure to provide services at low cost.
  • Increasing utilization of consortia: all that consortia do for us including resource sharing, group purchasing, and shared services will become that much more important with constrained local resources. It may be time to expand the role of the consortium rather than contract it.
  • Movement of technology services into the cloud. Tight budgets might be good incentive to move our software off expensive locally managed platforms into lower cost cloud-based ones. We may need to relinquish some control to do this, but it should lead to into more innovative services in the end, if at some cost to localism and perfectionism.
  • Hiring new employees: if we do have the opportunity to recruit, we're likely to see lots of good candidates.
  • Federal cash: hopefully, the Federal economic stimulus will include funds for higher education, including academic libraries.
Let's hope that things get better as '09 unfolds.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Jumpcut cut

It looks like Yahoo is winding down its JumpCut online video editing service. I'm a little disappointed because someone just showed me some cool narrated slideshow projects done on JumpCut at a recent NITLE workshop. I was also going to write a post about how JumpCut, which had the ability to pull photos and video from Flickr, is an example of a web applications working elegantly with a digital asset management system.

Perhaps this is a sign that the recession is weeding out some of the free cloud computing applications out there.

It's not like cloud applications are doomed if they are not free, however. I happily pay $25/year for my Flickr pro account. Our library ponies up $50 a month for Basecamp.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Library for Hire

This story in the Chronicle of Higher Ed is about Johns Hopkins library hosting a virtual library for an online university. An interesting model and perhaps a sign that there will be more such consolidations of service in the near future.

The Chronicle also mentions that for-profit higher education is booming right now.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Using the WorldCat API in link resolving for books

The new WorldCat Navigator-based Summit Catalog just went live on Monday.

One of the connectors that we needed to update at Watzek was our link resolver. Upon receiving a citation for a book, the resolver used to do some screen scraping of the INNREACH-based Summit catalog to figure out whether the book was available at our local library and/or within the Summit consortium. This feature is also built into our ILL requesting system so that patrons don't ILL request books in Summit.

Now that Summit is on WorldCat, the logical move was to use the WorldCat API to check if a book is in our local catalog or in Summit and provide links accordingly. The API lets you throw an ISBN at it and optionally returns the OCLC numbers of holding libraries near you. By simply doing an array_intersect in PHP with a list of the Summit libraries' OCLC symbols:

array ("Chemeketa"=>"CHK","Clark"=>"CCV","COCC"=>"CEO","Concordia"=>"CCD","Central Wash"=>"CWU","Eastern OU"=>"EOS","Eastern WU"=>"WEA", "George Fox"=>"GFC", "George Fox Portland"=>"WEV", "LCC"=>"OLE","Lewis & Clark"=>"OLP","Lewis & Clark Law"=>"ONS","Linfield"=>"OLC", "Linfield Portland"=>"OLL", "Marylhurst"=>"MRY","Mt Hood CC"=>"MHD","OHSU"=>"OGE","OHSU"=>"OGI","OHSU"=>"OQH","OIT"=>"OIT","Oregon State"=>"ORE","Oregon State"=>"OR1","Pacific U"=>"OPU", "PCC"=>"OQP","PCC"=>"OQY","PSU"=>"ORZ","Reed"=>"ORC","SMU"=>"WSL","Souther Oregon U"=>"SOS","Seattle Pacific"=>"OXF","Seattle U"=>"WSE", "Seattle U"=>"W9L","TESC"=>"ESR","U of Oregon"=>"ORU","U of Oregon"=>"UOL", "U of Portland"=>"OUP", "U of Puget Sound"=>"UPP","U of Wash"=>"WAU","U of Wash Law"=>"ONA", "Willamette U"=>"OXG", "Warner P"=>"OWP", "Western Ore U"=>"WOS","Whitman"=>"HTM");
it's easy to figure out if the book is held in Summit and/or in our library.

If you don't have an ISBN, the SRW features of the API allow one to do author/title search. If an author/title search results in just one match, it's easy to check if Summit holds the book. If there is more than one match, I just left it for the user to check the catalogs themselves, but there are other approaches that one could take.

Link resolvers seem to be used most often for articles, but research databases like Philosopher's Index have lots of books in them. Here's an example. Lots of people put books in RefWorks, which offers OpenURL linking out. Often, these citations (some examples) have no ISBNs and are often a little funky. Hence, the resolver can have problems with them. Here's an example of a book citation from RefWorks.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


The Europeana digital library just launched today. It's running slow. Currently, it's very heavy on French materials.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

design matters

I want to echo Dan Cohen's belief that "design matters" not only in digital humanities, but also in academic library websites.

Academic libraries, even small ones, need to meet user expectations for good design in their websites and digital collections. They need to get beyond the do-it-yourself HTML mentality of the early web. The also need to do something more than tap into a parent institution's content management system if they want their website to be an optimal research gateway and marketing tool.

When possible, libraries should get staff members on board with design expertise. They should learn to how to contract out for design services when needed. When set aside the thousands of dollars that a small academic library typically spends each year on licensed e resources, a couple thousand every few years for web design of the portal to those resources provides a lot of bang for the buck.

We're working with some professional web designers on accessCeramics right now, and I'm looking forward to learning from the experience.

Friday, November 14, 2008

finding full text with Google Scholar

The Google Operating System Blog had a post the other day that alerted me to a relatively new feature in Google Scholar. For each article in a result set, Google Scholar will point you to a free, unrestricted copy of the article on the web (if available) with a little green .

With many academic journal publishers allowing authors to post copies of their articles on their personal websites, it is now common for scholarly articles in subscription journals to be available for free on the open web. Below is an example of an article, with a copy available from a website in an academic domain (sorry for the tiny image).

This is a good example of Google Scholar leveraging the Google web index to provide something you can't get within the research systems that libraries have built and licensed. It's also yet another reminder that libraries and publishers have lost their role as sole provider and intermediary for academic content.

I've pointed out previously in this blog that creators of research products for libraries do not (or are not able) to take advantage of web indexes as they create their products. I wonder if openurl resolver vendors or someone like OCLC could offer this feature by tapping into something like the Alexa Web Search service to mine the web for full copies of a given article? It might be hard to do on the fly with a resolver request.

I'm guessing that Google Scholar will have 90%+ of scholarly articles in existence in its index at the citation level in the not-to-distant future. It is able to mine so many places for citations: web sites, scanned books and journals, and many publishers' archives, etc.

As OCLC loads article citations into Open WorldCat, I wonder if they have considered a more "brute force" approach to finding citations. They could mine the web for them like Google. Of course, this would introduce all sorts of possibilities for errors and lack of bibliographic control. Google Scholar must have lots of errors in the citations it collects, but it seems to efficiently collate like citations together and recognize which citations are the most referenced.

thinking locally, acting globally

As our library discusses moving to WorldCat Local as our "primary" library catalog, the catalogers have been voicing their concerns about relying on the master records in the WorldCat database for our local catalog. They are very concerned that the corrections and augmentations that they apply to our local bibliographic records will no longer be visible. These often take the form of local subject headings, genre headings, corrections, etc. The logical move of course is to make those changes in the WorldCat database where they can have a global benefit.

The move to WorldCat as the live local database should force the issue of truly cooperative cataloging, and I think that's a good thing. It should give incentive to OCLC to be more inclusive about who can edit and enhance records and it should embolden catalogers to work in the global catalog, not just their local one.

In the networked environment we're doing more and more work in libraries that benefits a global community, rather than just our local community. Digital collections projects are a good example. When we digitize unique art, photos, manuscripts, or historical documents, our work provides value to the world. These collections are contributing to the de facto world digital library that is the Internet. Our print collections, especially the more unique pieces within them, are also making a more global contribution as ILL systems become better lubricated.

How do this work benefit the parent institutions that fund us? Should we only be doing projects with a global benefit if they provide a benefit to our institutions equal to their cost? In some ways this seems logical: we take action when there is a clear local benefit and view any global benefit as a positive side effect. Sort of akin to a "national interest" foreign policy doctrine.

I think about this as I spend time working on It's very satisfying to be developing a resource for a global audience rather than just our local one. We can see the visitors coming in from around the world on Google Analytics. But our library like most any academic library is structured and funded as an organization that provides a wide set of rather generic services to a very defined audience. We're not really optimized for developing a narrow, niche collection that we serve up to the world. The Internet has taken away many of the barriers for doing this, however, and we are starting to forge ahead with collections like these.

In some ways, the model for academic libraries doing niche collections is like humanities scholarship, where the revenue from teaching subsidizes research. The services a library provides to a primary audience of students and faculty are akin to the teaching and the niche collections with a global benefit are equivalent to the research. In the same way that an academic's research benefits their teaching (or does it?), does a library's curation of niche collections make the library better in the primary services that it provides to its patrons: reference, instruction, discovery to delivery, etc.?

The local benefit of a digital project can obviously hard to measure, but clearly some unique collections have particular relevance and value to a community. Historical documents that support a niche area of scholarship that is a strength of the institution, a photo collection about the surrounding community, etc. accessCeramics supports a strong tradition of ceramic arts instruction at our institution.

Many niche projects raise the profile of the parent institution broadly and have the potential to boost funds coming in from grants and donors. Libraries tend to take pride, rightfully, in the work they do that has global benefit and, indeed, most wish they had more staff resources to undertake such projects.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

EDUCAUSE 2008 wrap-up

EDUCAUSE is a fun conference, even it it is polished up with kind of branded, corporate veneer and in a grotesque place like Orlando's Convention Center. There is an overflowing exhibitor hall and scads of corporate sponsored dinners and cocktail hours. I was lucky enough to partake in a few of these this time around.

I actually met a lot of counterparts from small college libraries, and this was enjoyable and perhaps a surprise at a national conference for higher ed IT. We didn’t necessarily talk about anything too serious but it was nice to make connections and compare notes on a few things. I did learn that Macalester, in addition to leading the way on Google Apps is also an early adopter of WorldCat Local.

It was unnerving to hear that in light of the financial crisis many liberal arts colleges are making serious budget cuts and putting budget freezes in place, something we haven’t heard much about at my institution.

What did I learn from the formal program?

  • I hit a presentation about data curation projects at some big universities: Indiana University, UC San Diego, Purdue. They involved collaborations between the library and technical computing centers. One of the major challenges was getting someone at the table as research projects that involve data were being proposed, funded and implemented.
  • One of my favorite presentations explored mashup type video projects in undergraduate education at Dartmouth and Penn and made a strong case that these develop a new important kind of literacy. Assignments like this are making their way across the curriculum in poli-sci, composition, language classes.
  • In a discussion session on IT/library collaboration, I learned that our library is behind the curve in experimenting with various merged service desk configurations. Most liberal arts colleges in attendence had done some fruitful experiments with merging IT and library support functions and mixing professional and non-professional staff at support desks.
  • A panel on space planning offered some interesting suggestions on user-centered planning, including impromptu interviews with students working in various spots on campus. It also showcased an ultra-flexible space at Georgia Tech. The guy from Georgia Tech recommended the Convia system for flexible wiring, data cabling, and lighting.
  • Chad Kainz of the University of Chicago gave an update on project Bamboo a rather amorphous humanities cyberinfrastructure planning effort sponsored by Mellon. I won’t try to explain what it is, but it sounds pretty cool.
  • The next day, Kainz also moderated a discussion session on "Faculty: Scholars or Software Developers": the question was how to support faculty that could now go out in the cloud and get or build what they need. The discussion descended into some mundane support issues, but I was able to pipe up about our use of Flickr in accessCeramics as an example of going beyond traditional enterprise-supported systems for a faculty sponsored project. Some people seemed to think it sounded a little risky to use Flickr in such a way.
  • I caught a lunchtime discussion by campus web professionals. Almost everyone is using Google Analytics. Many people put in a plug for Sharepoint, Microsoft's enterprise Wiki/collaboration/content management system. There was some discussion about centralized vs. decentralized control of web design and branding. Most institution-wide designers like some kind of control of the campus brand and there was talk of ways of enforcing this. I'm sympathetic to both the centralized and decentralized schools of thought.
I saw a few other sessions that were kind of lukewarm, so I won't post on them. Overall, though, it was a worthwhile conference.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

NITLE cloud computing event report

Checking in from sunny Orlando Florida. I caught a ride from the Convention center zone to Rollins College in Winter Park Florida for the NITLE cloud computing event today. Overall, Rollins has a charming campus. The on- campus food wasn't bad either.

We heard a couple Google Apps migration stories from some CTOs. In one case, Wesleyan U, the school was only planning on switching students over, whereas at Macalester they had switched the whole enterprise, students and staff. Interestingly, in the Macalester case, the switch was done in a matter of days as the old email system failed. It seems that a crisis situation really served as an important catalyst and brought the community together. Now Macalester is ahead of the curve as it takes advantage of the whole Google Apps suite.

Jerry Sanders of Macalester said that with Google Apps, IT's role had become more "consultative" and "less reactive." It was now more about discussing the possibilities with these new web 2.0 applications than troubleshooting problems. He likened this shift and the renewed sense of unknown possibilities to the introduction of personal computers and the advent of the web.

We heard from the D-Space federation, who has some plans to enable D-Space to run on cloud-based storage. I continue to think that D-Space is not the right model for digital repositories in these times. It was designed before the Web 2.0 and Cloud Computing era and remains positioned as an isolated silo of data for supporting a single institution.

David Young, CEO of Joyent, gave his view of the cloud. Joyent provides infrastructure for some huge applications on the web. He disagrees with Carr's view that the cloud will be dominated by a few small companies and sees it as a more heterogenous beast. It was kind of fun to listen to an industry insider throw around jargon like "cloud stack" and "cloud primitives." A couple quotes:
cloud computing=aggressively distributed
a cloud should abstract away all consideration except the application and its operation
Young seemed a little concerned that some cloud providers where creating a situation where they would lock users into their platform...perhaps Amazon is trying to do this with its EC2 virtual machines. He said that Joyent's philosophy was "openness is lock in," akin to Southwest Airlines' flexibility in reservations. Using open application stacks like RoR keeps users the more data users put on your servers, the less likely they are to move (the dirty secret of cloud providers).

Finally, we heard form Lee Dirks of Microsoft's Education division. He said that MS sees academics as "extreme information workers." Microsoft has developed a few open source applications based on their Sharepoint platform that are designed to facilitate research, including software that can do conference planning and facilitate peer review. I was a little skeptical of some of these scholarly collaboration platforms--how far beyond more generic collaboration software do they take it? I'd have to have a closer look.

The day ended with some heated dialogue about information privacy and security concerns when using SaS providers. Many of the CTOs felt like it would be a big hurdle to get their campus legal counsel to agree to putting their data on external servers, but pretty much all agreed that this was the direction things are going.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Economist article on cloud computing

The wife and baby are in Wisconsin this week visiting relatives while I head to EDUCAUSE in Orlando. There might be more blogging as a result.

The Economist has a piece this week on cloud computing. It's a pretty good overview of the concept for those who haven't been following it closely. Overall, however, I think it overemphasizes what I would call the raw, technical aspect of the phenomenon and under-emphasizes network-effects angle.

The idea of highly flexible computing power is a pretty cool one, and the piece cites an Amazon Web Services case study demonstrating just that. Using AWS, a Washington Post Engineer built a digital library of a massive collection of potentially newsworthy government documents about Hillary Clinton in nine hours. What a contrast to the timelines we're used to in libraries!

The most powerful aspect of the cloud computing phenomenon, in my opinion is the aggregation of data and the network effects that rise as systems get larger. The key feature of a cloud application is that it's data is part of a greater organic whole, and that it's able to do things that an isolated application can't. This is where the distinction between Web 2.0 and Cloud Computing gets fuzzy. The piece starts to touch on this concept when it brings up Tim O'Reilly
A raft of start-ups is also trying to build a business by observing its users, in effect turning them into human sensors. One is Wesabe (in which Mr O’Reilly has invested). At first sight it looks much like any personal-finance site that allows users to see their bank account and credit-card information in one place. But behind the scenes the service is also sifting through its members’ anonymised data to find patterns and to offer recommendations for future transactions based, for instance, on how much a particular customer regularly spends in a supermarket. Wireless devices, too, will increasingly become sensors that feed into the cloud and adapt to new information.
We now use Mint to track our home finances...for some reason we didn't like Wesabe. It knows how to categorize purchases on our credit card statement because it picks up on the ways other users categorize purchases with similar labels. Much nicer and easier than using Quicken used to be.

The piece brings up a concept of "industry operating systems" that will arise to allow businesses to become more modular and flexible, while relying more heavily on the services of others.
Both trends could mean that in future huge clouds—which might be called “industry operating systems”—will provide basic services for a particular sector, for instance finance or logistics. On top of these systems will sit many specialised and interconnected firms, just like applications on a computing platform.
This is interesting to contemplate. You could almost argue that Flickr fits this model. It provides the basic operating system and then so many other firms jump in and provide specialized services image service: prints, calendars, cards, etc. In this case the industry is totally virtual.

I liked this quote:
Twenty years ago, he argues, 80% of the knowledge that workers required to do their jobs resided within their company. Now it is only 20% because the world is changing ever faster.
There's a parallel here with libraries. We've seen a similar flip in terms of information residing in-house vs. outside. We're preparing students for the business world where information is also in the cloud.

I've been reading the Economist for 20 years now but I've come to realize that they are a bit technologically stodgy. Their online stories have no hyperlinks within them.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

thoughts ahead of NITLE Cloud Computing Event

I'm attending the NITLE "Changes in Provisioning and Supporting Enterprise Technology Tools" event at Rollins College next week. The leader of the even t asked us to send our comments and questions ahead of time, which I have neglected to do up to now.

This event is devoted to discussing the implications of the "Big Switch" for information services at liberal arts colleges. What are some of the big issues in my mind regarding this transition?
  • I see strong parallels between the challenges faced by libraries and IT departments in the move towards cloud computing. The web has allowed the aggregation of more and more content via licensed electronic resources. Along the same lines, IT departments now have increasing opportunities to purchase software as a service from companies like Google.
  • It is questionable how much value the library and the IT department can add to these external services and content. In order to be viable, we need to demonstrate our expertise in the selection of these services and in their integration within our local environments.
  • We also need to educate our communities. We need to work on raising expectations about what's possible with the extremely deep and powerful resources emerging on the network.
  • IT operations and libraries face increasing competition from "free" consumer oriented services in the cloud that compete with institutionally provided ones: Google Docs vs MS Office, Google Scholar vs library research database, Google Books vs. library catalog, NetVibes/Voicethread/Google Groups, ____Web 2.0 app vs. of Blackboard, Flickr vs. of ContentDM, Google Research vs. DSpace, etc.
  • With the web as the medium, it becomes that much easier to take the IT department (or the library for that matter) out of the loop when provisioning software or academic content. The HR department, the development office, or an academic department can select content or services over the Internet that meets their needs. User communities for cloud software and services can easily transcend institutional boundaries and make what used to be isolated choices seem less so. Nick Carr recently discusses how cloud computing is exerting a centripetal force throughout the web as a whole, with a trend toward centralization. In the context of an organization, it's exerting a centrifugal force: it is now much easier for a department or professor to deploy a multi-user application (eg VoiceThread, a NITLE favorite) without the participation of the IT department.
  • In some ways, small colleges should be able to benefit from these developments, as they decrease our competitive disadvantage due to our size. With more and more resources on the network, we should be able to provide "research level" computing and library resources. In the fast changing environment, should also be nimble enough to capitalize on opportunities quickly.
  • Open source projects like Moodle have worked well in the last decade, but in some respects they will have trouble competing against network level applications that feature a single, continually updated installation and benefit from the network effects of a centralized user base. Open source projects need to be reinvented to take advantage of the cloud computing model.
I have a feeling that some of the event will be devoted to discussing the practical application of some of these "cloud" applications like Google Apps for education.

As an example from the field, I would offer our library's transition to WorldCat Navigator for the Summit consortium and soon WorldCat Local for our local catalog. It's a move that moves our library catalog functionality from our local ILS server to a network level application. As I've discussed in previous post, it's as much about sharing data as it is about sharing an application.

Friday, October 10, 2008

system migration therapy

I just came across this advice in an email from Kyle Banerjee regarding the upcoming Summit Migration to WorldCat Navigator:
The stages of migration

Having been through a few major systems migrations, I think that you'll find this process easier if you're aware of certain stages people naturally go through.

The first stage consists of unfavorable comparisons of the new system to the old system. INN-Reach is good at what it does. People know its strengths and know how to get the most of it. Especially in the beginning, staff will naturally think about Nav the way they do about INN-Reach. Since Nav doesn't do some things the same and its strengths will be different, staff will quickly discover weaknesses while not being able to capitalize on the strengths. Some staff may use the system in a way that magnifies these differences. This stage is typically accompanied by nostalgic sentiments towards the old system, negative feelings for the new system, and a high level of stress.

In the second stage, people start getting used to the system. They learn how to do what they need, discover a few neat tricks, and develop workarounds for the weaknesses discovered in the first stage. During this time, people settle into a groove and things operate smoothly. Feelings towards the new and old system become more balanced as people perceive them as the different beasts that they are.

In the third stage, people figure out what the new system does best and reconfigure their workflows to maximize the system's strengths while minimizing the impact of its weaknesses. By this time, people see the migration as a positive event, and many can hardly believe the things they used to do.

Most of you have undoubtedly been through at least one migration and probably recognize the stages listed above. My point is that if you feel stressed at the beginning, it's important to recognize this is a natural part of the process. Things won't just get better -- soon enough they'll be better than they've ever been.
I wonder if Kyle offers therapy sessions for working through these stages? Seriously, though, I think he speaks the truth.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

e paper

I just got back to work after taking a month off to spend with my wife and 2 1/2 month old boy. It was a some great family time involving some short jaunts around Oregon-to the coast, the high desert, and the Mt Hood area. The weather was characteristically perfect Oregon September weather. I was pretty successful in breaking away from work duties, but I probably spent too much time in front of a screen doing other putting our CD collection on iTunes, following political and economic news, and otherwise futzing around.

When I got back here to Watzek, I heard that there had been a bunch of problems with the printers in our computer labs. Of course, this is a perennial problem. The library is part of a larger IT-run system for printing in which students have accounts, etc. It's pretty well designed, but always prone to failure. Something about combining the large capacities of todays digital media with the more limited capacities of a mechanical device just spells trouble.

I'm wondering if we should start trying to steer our students away from printing documents and encourage them to read documents on the screen. The Plastic Logic electronic reading device is the first device that I've seen that seems like it would work well as a substitute for printing out our PDF electronic reserve documents on paper. It's due out in the Spring.

It's got some strengths over the Kindle, in that it's as wide as a normal piece of paper and much more durable than glass case electronic devices. It's designed to be a "business" reading device rather than a recreational reading one, which might mean that it's well suited for academic type reading.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008 project linking to

I just heard that the collection of site-based research resources that our Environmental Studies program has created using (see previous post) is linking into whenever it references a book or article (when the article citation is included in WorldCat). Many of these references are examples.

In some previous iterations of this project, they had been linking to references for books and articles in RefWorks. But such a reference isn't as useful for someone who finds this reference from outside our institution. provides a nice authoritative reference point for academic resources because it provides the means to acquire the resource through your own library. Amazon often fulfills this role for books, but its nice to see WorldCat step into the picture.

I'm assuming that when Summit goes live on WorldCat Navigator, it will be easy to move from a record in to that delivery system.

I know that has loaded lots of journal articles recently. The more, the better! Someday, perhaps, it will be an "authoritative" location for journal article citations.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

talking with art historians

With a new baby in the house, I've been taking a break from work and blogging. I do occasionally get a change to hop on the laptop when the baby is hanging out in his bouncy chair. But it is a changed world.

I did come back to work for a few days at the end of July. The L&C Visual Resources Curator Margo and I got a chance to talk to L&C's team of three tenure track art historians about ways that the library's Visual Resources center could help them. It was an interesting conversation, and a few themes emerged.

The personal collections of images that they use to create lectures are of great interest to them. One of the art historians keeps his collection on the network using ARTstor, the other two keep their images in folders on a PC. They all seemed interested in services we could provide them to help build these personal collections--like scanning/metadata creation and/or training students to do so. They mentioned that sharing images between other scholars was sort of a catalyst for professional/social contact. I tried to nudge them toward Web 2.0 approaches like Flickr for organizing/sharing their personal images.

As you might expect, they don't differentiate between institutionally-licensed image collections and those freely available on the web. One of their favorite sites for acquiring images was the Web Gallery of Art. They described ARTstor as useful and a sort of "Walmart" for images and differentiated between its broad stroke approach and more niche websites that focused on more specific areas of art.

Creating physical places where students could discuss and critique art was a potential priority for them and they thought the Visual Resources space could play a role in this. They also expressed a desire for someone with expertise in "visual literacy" as this was a concept that emerged for the Art Department in the recent accreditation visit.

They asked for someone to help them navigate the technical complexities of delivering high quality images in the classroom, especially regarding configuration of computers and projectors. They also wanted help with preparing images for submission in professional publications.

In the era of slides, I would guess that art historians would be lobbying for the institution to purchase slides for the institutional collection to support their courses. Now, the institutional collection isn't as important to them. The two "collections" that are important are their personal collections and publicly-available, network-level collections. Increasingly, the library's job is to facilitate creation, use and navigation of these two types of collections, not to build an organizational collection of images akin to a slide or book collection.

We do have an institutional collection of digital images to support the curriculum on MDID; it's comprised of some licensed images and some scanned images. Likely, we'll be exposing this collection in the ARTstor platform so that it can be incorporated in the critical mass of content and functionality that resides in that network-level collection.

The two publicly available, network-level collections that we have built here are accessCeramics and L&C digital collections.

Monday, July 7, 2008

IT Consumerization

Thanks to Bryan Alexander and Liberal Education Today for pointing out this piece, which summarizes a phenomenon known as "IT Consumerization." The idea is that the best information technology now starts out in consumer hands and then works its way into the technology used by organizations. "Retail" or "business to consumer" hardware and software have created higher expectations for software run in an organizational setting.
The end result is that the office has gone from being the place where you spend time with cutting-edge technology, to a technological boneyard where you're perpetually trapped about three years in the past.
The piece also points out:
This phenomenon is also at work on the network, where users develop their sense of how networked apps (messaging, collaboration, and archival) should look and function through daily contact with the lively ecosystem of consumer-driven Web 2.0 applications. Next to something like Facebook or Google Maps, most corporate intranets have an almost Soviet-like air of decrepit futility, like they're someone's lame attempt to imitate for a captive audience what's available on the open market.
My observations:

Universities used to expose students to cutting edge information technologies; now the information systems with which students interact at school often seem antiquated when compared with consumer applications. For the last ten years, libraries have been fretting over their inability to provide users with an experience that is equivalent to Amazon and Google. These are just examples of the above phenomenon.

Is this lag temporary or permanent? Will the makers of enterprise software catch up? At the network level, it makes the most sense that the most advanced applications will be those that can target the broadest possible audience, and consumer applications fit that bill. Niche applications will always be at somewhat of a disadvantage due to scale.

To some extent, I think the problem is about IT departments making the "big switch" to software that can be delivered over the web. I can think of several organizationally oriented software apps that we use around here that meet the higher Web 2.0 expectations: Basecamp, Google Analytics, and Google Docs.

Another aspect of the article was the idea that employees will soon want to use their own devices (PCs and phones) at work instead of IT supplied and maintained machines. This seems like a kind of inevitable trend that may be driven by cost incentives as well as the general idea that devices like phones and laptops are highly personalized.

Monday, June 30, 2008

the publishers' views

This piece in the Chronicle about a meeting of scholarly publishers has some interesting tidbits of information in it for academic libraries.

First, it mentions a lawsuit going on between Georgia State and three publishers about fair use and electronic reserves.

Second, some university presses are now selling more titles through Amazon than to all libraries combined:

But the online bookseller also emerged as a powerful steadying force for university presses. Douglas Armato, the director of the University of Minnesota Press, shared the news that his press's sales figures through Amazon were 26 percent greater than its combined sales to libraries. Other directors and editors reported seeing similar effects. Some speculated that in an Amazon, print-on-demand world, nothing really has to stay out of print—as long as you can figure out who owns the rights.

Is this a sign that Amazon is effectively functioning as a library for some in academia, especially now that it can cover more of the out-of-print realm? Of course, our library buys some books from Amazon so I don't know if they're correcting for that.

Another interesting observation is that University Presses are no longer whining about Google digitizing their books. They finally have come around to realize that being in Google
Book Search actually is good for sales.

University presses have also, for the most part, made their peace with Google—or at least Google Book Search. Since Microsoft has dropped its competing Live Search Books program, the Google option has become "the main game in town for discovering scholarly monograph content online," as the conference program put it.

All but a handful of university presses—that is, all except no more than six, according to Chris Palma, strategic partnership development manager for Google Book Search —have signed up.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

accessCeramics article in code4lib

An article about accessCeramics by Watzek Library's own Jeremy McWilliams' just appeared in the code4lib journal.

Among discussion of machine tags and the applicability of the Flickr platform to library digital collections projects, there is also a great photo of his dog, Stella, who incidentally is an amazing trail runner. I always give Jeremy a hard time about including pictures of family members in presentations and such.

I wonder if I will do such things once kid #1 arrives.

NITLE workshop on cloud computing

NITLE is hosting a workshop on cloud computing (focusing on the EC2 platform) and having a post-EDUCAUSE meeting on changes related to supporting enterprise applications
Server virtualization, software as a service, cloud computing, and open source software systems are all key technological and business factors that are dramatically changing how campuses select, deploy, and support enterprise software systems. This event will illuminate the fiscal and operational implications of these innovations for campus computing and library units. Featured presentations will include reports from campuses that have been investigating and exploiting these innovations.
It's great to see NITLE taking these issues head on. It'll be interesting to see if some colleges come up with interesting ways of using EC2. A researcher at a small college using powerful remote computers that their institution would never be able to provide is really what cloud computing is all about.

Also, its interesting that this is using a commercial entity for "cyberinfrastructure" rather than something designed specifically for academic research (though these projects could be more administrative than academic in nature).

Monday, June 23, 2008

organizing research resources with

The Environmental Studies program at Lewis & Clark just moved to as their system for developing a collection of research resources focused on local and regional/international research sites. This development relates to my recent post on the systems that they have been using up-to-now for their Mellon Research Initiative.

The move to using generic Web 2.0 applications to push forward academic projects like this one and accessCeramics is interesting. These applications aren't built for organizational use in the academy, but they are so far ahead in flexibility, usability, and Web 2.0 philosophy of what we have to use within our academic specific software realm (RefWorks, Moodle, etc.) that they become compelling.

I like because of its flexibility and simplicity. One library uses it to drive their research guides (explained in code4lib).

Here's the L&C Environmental Studies tag cloud so far:

Friday, June 20, 2008

web archiving as institutional repository

I like this historical tour of the University of Bath's web page, link courtesy of Lorcan Dempsey. Yet another PicLens enabled site.

As we at Watzek Library have pondered the idea of an institutional repository that would maintain an institutional record of born digital documents here at Lewis & Clark, I've often thought that it would make more sense to do wholesale web archiving of the entire Lewis & Clark web presence.

With an institution's web site acting as the defacto storage space for all sorts of documents and files, from faculty meetings, to programs for symposia, to course materials (some open, some not), an application like Archive-It (from Internet Archive) might be a lot more effective as an "institutional repository" than something like D-Space, which requires lots of time consuming user intervention to save things.

Luckily, the Internet Archive does this for us in a rudimentary sense even if we don't ask them to.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

moving into to the cloud with Google Analytics

My experience with web statistics applications provides a good example of the move to cloud computing. Back in 2001, I recall painstakingly configuring our $900 copy of WebTrends desktop app and having to remember to download log files once a month. Then in the mid-2000s, we switched to the open source Webalizer, which conveniently is web-based and resided on our Linux server. Still, there was plenty of monkeying around with log files and cron jobs to get it to record the right data.

About a year ago, I got turned onto Google Analytics. It's powerful, super easy to configure and customize. It resides in the cloud. And its "free".

The usage pattern for the Watzek Library web site goes in pretty consistent waves, with troughs as the weekend approaches and and crests as the week starts.

Every hit on our website now gets registered on a Google server. So many sites are using Analytics now, it's amazing how much traffic and data Google is digesting. With "utility" services like Analytics, they are truly making themselves part of the basic infrastructure of the Internet. Their offer to host popular Javascript libraries fits into this as well.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

on research methods and expectations

It's always interesting to hear opinions about academic libraries from non-librarians. The Burnt-Out Adjunct has some interesting comments about a piece in Inside Higher Ed covering some initiatives aimed at improving undergraduate research methods.

One of the themes that he touches on is the fragmentation of library search systems in a Google/iTunes world.
Here is where the fault lines of generational expectations come into stark relief: Profs expect students to march into the library and acquaint themselves with the subject’s/discipline’s fiefdom. If not, then the student is lazy and lacks the necessary drive or will. The Natives don’t expect to have to navigate fiefdoms. For them, at least thus far, knowledge and data have been without borders. It does not occur to them that there would be a specific database for articles about Colonial literature that is not accessible through a quick key-word search from their dorm.

So, committees will form, grants will be given and studies will recommend that individual professors seek to imbue a research skill-set into their objectives. And without a standard (either a collective standard (MLA) or an organizational approach (ie Google)), the Natives and the Profs will continue to lament just how odd, lazy, out-of-touch, etc. the other is.

I think that one of the ideas that s/he's sort of putting out there is that if search systems for academic content were really good, we wouldn't need to worry about teaching students research methods. I just don't think that's the case.

First, things like Google Scholar, general academic research databases like Academic Search Premier, already provide an experience that is pretty much akin to Google. An undergrad can go to one of these places and find three scholarly articles on a topic very easily, arguably as easily as doing a Google Search.

In order to really do good research, however, students need to know the scholarly communication system. They need to understand the differences between the various types of things that come up in a Google/Scholar search. Arguably, the scholarly communication system is getting more complex, not less, with all sorts of preprints, gray literature, blog posts, etc. getting put out there by academics.

Expectations for the research that undergraduate students do should be rising with the proliferation of digital sources, search systems, and tools for analysis. Students should be expected to cite more sources now when writing a paper on a given topic. Given all of the primary material out there in digital archives of various types, they should be using more primary sources, and doing more sophisticated things with those sources.

This is only logical given the networked world that college graduates will work. I don't care what industry you go into: law, medicine, business, higher ed, things are getting more complex and globalized, and you need to be able to find, organize, analyze, and manage huge amounts of information to be successful.

Academic libraries will only survive and thrive with rising expectations about research. If students just need to submit those three articles, Google Scholar will replace us and we'll whither away.

Interestingly, the piece in Inside Higher Ed does not use the term "information literacy" anywhere. I think that it has gone out of style.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

on Google Books, yet out of reach

A long time friend of mine, Patrick Michelson, recently completed his PhD thesis in Russian history at University of Wisconsin-Madison. News of this brings me back to my days as a grad student in history at UW in the mid 1990s.

More than the academics, graduate school was really about the distractions: frequenting the smoky bars of Madison, watching old movies, acquiring a taste for bourbon and country music, hunting for prized possessions at garage sales, sailing and windsurfing on Lake Mendota, taking backpacking and canoing trips, and...working at the library.

Back then, Patrick and I both worked at the Memorial Library Information Desk under the venerable Information Librarian and Building Manager Dennis Auburn Hill. "Working at the library" usually meant doing some reading and shooting the shit with other library employees and friends while holding down the desk. Indeed, it was probably the cushiest job in the library outside of the late night study id checker. In fact, at Memorial after 5 p.m. underemployed graduate students sort of took over the library by running the various service counters throughout the building.

When we both finally overcame the distractions and procrastinations that kept us from completing our MA theses back in the summer of 1996, we had but one way of paying tribute to the friendships and pastimes that gave meaning to our humble existence at the time: the acknowledgments page. This was an opportunity, using veiled references and inside humor, to interject a little personalization into a weighty academic document. We packed it to the gills with mention of mentors, friends, and family.

I was delighted to find that my MA thesis as well as Patrick's have been digitized by Google. My first instinct was to look at that acknowledgments page. I was really bummed to find that the document is restricted to snippets. I'm not sure who to blame? The University? Google? University Microfilms? Or me for not giving permission? The whole beauty of the Google Project is to get obscure and generally insignificant works like these out in the public domain.

I felt honored to make it into Patrick's acknowledgments again in is PhD thesis. One of the things I asked Patrick about his thesis was whether he got to put a hardbound copy in the library. Having your thesis in the basement of the library along with all the "giants" who preceded you always seemed like a big part of the reward. (We also used to take pride in looking ourselves up in OCLC WorldCat, was at least as exciting as finding your own name in the phonebook.)

He said that the library still was putting a paper copy in the stacks, though now its a tinier paperback version. For future dissertators, it'll probably eventually shrivel down into a digital copy .

Friday, June 13, 2008


Jeremy recently made a couple of our sites, Watzek New Additions and accessCeramics, PicLens compatible. The new additions browsing is pretty cool. It lets you scan through images of book jackets.

Basically, this requires search results to be in a format called media RSS.

This is a good example of making a website extensible so that it's content can be repurposed in another application and potentially another context.

on ARTstor, MDID and moving to the network level in visual resources

ARTstor just released a new interface--probably in beta. I think it does away with the Java in favor of modern AJAX techniques, a good move. ARTstor and, more generally, the provision of images of art and cultural objects to academic populations is a good example of how things are moving to the network level.

Visual Resources is one of my areas of responsibility here at Watzek, and its interesting how much faster things are moving in this area than in "mainstream" library collections. The continued viability of the monograph has kept the pace of going digital relatively moderate in library stacks.

With our College slide collection, however, we've seen our users (mainly Art faculty) almost totally abandon slides over the course of five years. It would be quite a shocker if library stacks fell into disuse at that pace especially because there is so much organizational and physical infrastructure surrounding them.

When Margo, the Visual Resources Curator, and I approached the problem of "going digital" in visual resources back four years ago, the route we choose was to build an institutional collection of digital images using MDID. The images would be a combination of images scanned for faculty and purchased high quality digital images. MDID software is designed to provide a comprehensive environment for teaching with digital images. It stores an institutional collection of digital images, has a space for personal images, and a suite of presentation tools geared towards teaching Art or Art History. Our vision was that MDID would be the central place to find and work with digital images for teaching.

Though MDID@LC has grown and faculty use it to find high quality stuff, things haven't quite turned out as intended. Faculty, especially the ones that are confident technologically, have their own tools that they know and like to use for presentation, chief among them, Powerpoint. They also like to maintain their own collections of images on their own computers. (It would be nice to nudge them along to networked software for their personal images like Flickr, but that's another topic).

Except for the faculty that follow our guidance directly (those that tend to be the least confident technologically) most folks don't use MDID to present. It's just another silo that they check when they are looking for images, along with ARTstor and the web. This is leading us to the conclusion that in the interest of breaking down silos, we should mount all of our institution specific images in ARTstor.

Fortunately, ARTstor offers a hosted collection feature which does just that, albeit with a few limitations. In the past, when libraries purchased collections of digital images, they had to host them themselves in their own digital asset management systems. Now, when we want to license a set of images from a company like Archivision, they just "flip a switch" and the collection shows up in our ARTstor account. We can also upload our own collection of images into ARTstor at certain intervals (which will need to be increased to really use ARTstor to provide our image services to faculty).

ARTstor is a great example of the advantages of "moving to the network level." It's platform that's being continually improved and a collection of resources that's being constantly expanded. One of the cool things about it is that it groups together different images of the same work of art--sort of a FRBRization of images.

Our experience with both ARTstor and MDID really shows that building isolated, institution focused collections just doesn't make sense. In this networked world, our local assets need to co-mingle with those on the network and become part of that greater whole. I suppose this is also the idea with the platform and its various permutations. To invest heavily in our local library catalog database and its search platform bears some similarity to investing in MDID.

Now, I'm not saying ARTstor couldn't go further. I've always thought that they should "mobilize" their content by syndicating thumbnails of their content in search engines. And then there's the matter of the academic Flickr.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

virtual bookshelves, shared bibliographies

L.D. has some commentary today on Google's patent application for a virtual bookshelf, covered in the SEO By the Sea blog.

In the last few years we really have seen quite a few online applications emerge for organizing "intellectual resources", be they websites, articles, books, etc. On the Web 2.0 end of things, comes to mind as well as LibraryThing . On the academic side, there's Zotero and Connotea, and CiteULike, among others.

Our Environmental Studies program here at Lewis & Clark is really trying to develop interdisciplinary student research. Part of the vision is, over the years, to develop a collection of research resources and data that students can draw and build upon as they do their research. Some of these resources would be primary, that is work generated by the students, and some would be secondary.

So far they've been using Moodle's out-of-the box build your own database feature to put this shared collection together. This presentation, from NITLE's Scholarly Collaboration workshop at Pomona last January, explains the system.

But they're looking to move to something different, something more flexible and social with tagging capabilities, but also with some ability to add structure to metadata. The problem is, most of the above mentioned apps are geared towards personal collections, not group collections. Some have a group feature or a sharing feature, but none really support a robust collaborative bibliography feature. For example, RefWorks supports publishing bibliographies to a shared campus wide web page, but its a really primitive feature.

My read is that it could really be useful to develop software that supports creating fairly sophisticated shared bibiliographies. Such software could offer multiple ways to organize resources, including concept maps and perhaps various other visual approaches. Integration with library resource management systems like link resolvers and catalogs would be key as well as integration with the personal bibliography software. This kind of software could enable an academic department, a group of scholars, or a whole college or university to collaborate more across disciplines and enable student research that better acknowledges and builds on research that was done before. If it was done right, it could be a really attractive resource for students as they do research and find themselves curious about what others have done.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

crowdsourcing and history

This piece in the Boston Globe about digital approaches to history really gets across the point that doing digital humanities is about more than just digitizing the printed word. I think it can be hard for scholars to get that, as Dan Cohen has pointed out.

It emphasizes projects like the 9/11 Archive and Flickr Commons as ways that crowdsourcing can contribute to primary material that historians have to work with.
Cohen sees the potential for partnerships between the lone professional historian and crowds of helpers, particularly as the quantity of historical material increases. It's possible, for example, for a historian of Colonial America to read every document written by the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (though such a task would still be time-consuming). It's altogether another thing for a historian of modern America to tackle the vast output of the Bush White House. "One person can't read it," explains Cohen, "but a hundred or thousand could read individual documents and tag them with keywords."
The title of the piece, "everyone's a historian now" is a little deceptive, perhaps to provoke a reaction. At the end of the article, the importance of the professional historian is reaffirmed.
Having the crowd on your side is a good thing at certain stages of the research and publication process," says Cohen. "But at other times, historians will still want to be by themselves, sitting at their computer screen, using their own words to knit things together and make sense of the past."
As someone who did some graduate work in history awhile back, I always enjoy reading Dan Cohen's take on digital humanities.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

trail run 2.0

This past weekend, I did the Mac Forest 50K, an ultramarathon that winds its way through trails in a very hilly research forest managed by Oregon State University in Corvallis, OR. It was my 2nd 50K.

It's a pretty hard run and finishing it has been my goal for awhile. The funny thing is that for many of the serious ultra types around me, this was just a throw-away run, their equivilant of a 10K for a typical marathon runner. They are all gearing up to do 100 milers like the Western States.

One thing I love about Oregon is that people are so hardcore about their recreation.

After I got done, got home and had a good meal and a couple beers, it wasn't long before I was searching the web for traces of the run: blog posts, photos, race results. Its funny how quickly that stuff appears, and how it can be hard to find at first.

I got a few pointers to photos on Picasa from a Yahoo Groups running group I'm on. Searching Google Blog Search also yielded a few posts. But there was no easy way to really watch the social web response to this event unfold.

Having a common tag to use to refer to the event could have helped. I've been noticing a trend toward that at conferences recently. It would be cool if there was some way to easily transmit that tag to social software from the event web site. And it would be nice if the race website could display the latest commentary on the race from the social web, probably in a somewhat moderated way.

Running results are also a good semantic web application candidate. If you'd like to see your results across races done by different organizations a kind of centralized database or merged set of databases could be useful.

Monday, May 5, 2008

how could Google help search in academic libraries?

John Wilkin has an interesting post about various ways Google Scholar could add functionality that would help academic library patrons get to the specialized databases provided by academic libraries. Interestingly, he brings Anurag Acharya, the guy who created Google Scholar, in on the discussion. The ideas generally have to do with learning about the user's needs and then pointing them to the more specialized resources. The post really addresses the problem of metasearch, that is, finding a way to give users a simple, single search box and get them from there to some of the richer, more powerful databases produced for academic research.

But what about once a library patron is in a research database like MLA Bibliography, Historical Abstracts, or Psychinfo? Many of these resources are fairly primitive when it comes to the search functionality and content that they cover. Often you get to search the citations, abstracts, sometimes the fulltext of academic articles. Sure, sometimes more is less, but typically, they don't cover the increasing amount of scholarly material that is out there on the open web. They also certainly don't offer the fulltext of books.

If Google (or another big search vendor) offered a platform that database vendors could mount their systems on, those vendors could make so much better products. Services available to the vendor could include:
  • access to Google search software
  • ability to create an continually updated index of portions of the web alongside proprietary data
  • ability to provide advanced search functionality and data analysis specific to the needs of a particular discipline
  • access to Google Books index
Google already sort of offers some of this functionality with its APIs, which could allow mixing results from things like Google Custom Search and Google Books into results from an external resource. But I'm thinking here of an even deeper level of integration. Imagine Historical Abstracts if it also included high quality history websites (including digital archives) and the full text of books in its results.

I suspect that it wouldn't be worth it to Google to design a product for the library research sector. This would need to be an infrastructure product that could span proprietary search needs of multiple industries.

When we got a Search Appliance here at Lewis & Clark, I have to admit, I was kind of disappointed playing around with the admin interface, that you couldn't easily mix in parts of Google's web index with your own proprietary stuff. Guess this is sort of what I'm asking for here.

Scirus is sort of a development in this direction, that is a hybrid of the research database and search engine. Another sort-of-related idea: Dan Cohen has called for Google Books to open up its APIs for scholarly inquiry.

Some folks will no doubt be horrified that I'm suggesting putting more of our eggs in Google's basket. But the idea really is about bringing web scale infrastructure to the service of more specialized, niche needs. Not giving ourselves over to Google, but rather using their data and software as a platform on which to accomplish bigger things.

Friday, May 2, 2008

architecture images in academia: moving into the cloud

The Society of Architectual Historians just received a Mellon grant to build "a dynamic online library of architectural and landscape images for research and teaching."

One thing that's notable in the description of the project is that it aspires to move visual resource collections away from building separate collections at each institution (as has been the case with slides, and initially with digital images) to collaborative creation of a shared collection:
It is the expectation that SAH AVRN will change the way Visual Resources and Art/Architecture Librarians at those institutions conduct their work. Instead of developing separate, independent collections of architectural images for each institution, librarians will contribute images and metadata to SAH AVRN, a shared resource that will be widely available. Initially images will be contributed to SAH AVRN by scholars at the same three institutions who have agreed to share thousands of their own images that were taken for research and pedagogical purposes.
Another intriguing aspect of the proposal is its mention of the development of new technology that will allow the contribution of images by front line people.
Building upon the existing ARTstor platform for storage, retrieval, viewing and presentation of images, ARTstor is going to develop two new tools to be used in conjunction with SAH AVRN. The first is a tool that will enable scholars, practitioners, librarians and others to contribute images to the shared resource of SAH AVRN. The second set of tools will be a content management system that will enable sophisticated processing and management of those images.
Is this the 'academic Flickr' that we've been waiting for?

Monday, April 28, 2008

changing spaces in academic libraries

Over the past few years, I haven't been much interested in library buildings and their interior spaces. My feeling has been that the revolution is happening online and that building new libraries, renovating existing ones, and filling them with fancy furniture are just high ticket distractions, designed to please the eyes of donors and add feathers to the caps of administrators as much as to address real needs.

I must admit, however, that throughout my career, I've enjoyed working in a couple great library buildings nestled in forested areas in Oregon: Watzek Library perched up here on Palatine Hill in Southwest Portland and the recently renamed Barber Library at Central Oregon Community College, which sits among ponderosa pines on the COCC campus on Awbrey Butte in Bend, OR. There, I had a view of Mt. Jefferson from my office. Even back in Wisconsin in grad school, I had an affection for the dreary stacks of Memorial Library. I've always liked the library as place, even if sometimes I've taken it for granted.

I came across this piece in The Economist by way of Lorcan Dempsey. It's a fascinating discussion on the "nomadism" enabled by computer networks and how that is breaking down traditional patterns of where people live and work. The article describes nomadism as an approach to work that is one or two steps evolved past telecommuting with a fixed home office and a fast Internet connection.

One major point in a section that discusses architecture (that Dempsey highlights) is that specialized spaces are not as important anymore because of ubiquitous, networked technology. It used to be that spaces had to be specialized: you worked in your office because it was close to files that you needed, work colleagues, a phone line, etc. In the networked world, specialized, compartmentalized spaces like cafeterias, offices, meeting rooms are going out of style for multi-functional spaces. The traditional library is a good example of a space that had a fairly specific function (information storage and retrieval).

There's also a sense that there is a higher expectation for aesthetics in these newer, multi-functional spaces:
The new architecture, says Mr Mitchell, will “make spaces intentionally multifunctional”. This means that 21st-century aesthetics will probably be the exact opposite of the sci-fi chic that 20th-century futurists once imagined. Architects are instead thinking about light, air, trees and gardens, all in the service of human connections.
For a long time now, there has been a lot of discussion about redeploying library space in the digital age to make it more flexible and usable for a variety of purposes. As the footprint of library stacks slowly recedes, the library can expand into other roles: cafe, meeting place, group study, teaching and learning center, etc.

In a future vision of the library, "lending out" flexible multi-purpose physical space becomes just as important as lending out books. Whereas in the past, academic libraries and stacks had a kind of dismal if sometimes charming, utilitarian quality, the new expectation is that libraries will be beautiful, comfortable, and social places.

Once the goal is a comfortable and beautiful space rather than one that serves as a utility for information retrieval (library stacks), expectations become much higher and harder to meet. For instance, the library is trying to become a cool hangout, it's going to be competing with other places on campus like the student union that want to be the same thing. When the library tries to become an art gallery or a cafe it really moves into new territory. Do librarians even have the training for this kind of thing in planning, architecture, interior design, etc? Maybe we need to find ways of bringing in that kind of expertise.

In academic libraries, I don't think we've really grasped the ongoing strategic importance of offering flexible library space as a key service. When it's time for a new building or major renovation these ideas are brought to the forefront, yes. But shouldn't space configuration and deployment be an ongoing part of library work? Shouldn't we be reorganizing and adjusting the layout and look of our buildings as regularly as we reconfigure our virtual spaces?

At Watzek Library, we have many aspects of our building that we'd like to adjust. Potential changes on the radar include:
  • a new spot for the recently acquired William Stafford archive
  • a combined IT/library computer lab space
  • office space for new staff
  • reposition reference/instruction librarian workspace so that it is more accessible to students
  • a broad shift in the collection to accommodate slow and high growth areas
  • move audiovisual materials from behind closed stacks
  • trim the space taken up by print reference books and journals,
  • reduce our traditional A/V machinery (VCRs, DVD players, etc.) because more happens via the network
  • bring in other service units like the visual resources center and a faculty teaching/learning center
These kinds of changes should be able to made flexibly and incrementally on an ongoing basis. Many of them are the result of forces happening in the quickly changing virtual environment. They shouldn't be things that need to wait around for a major building renovation.

The reality is that these we tend to get somewhat immobilized because of the costs and planning involved in moving physical objects. Highly modular building design and furniture might really help. But the problem also exists because we're just not used to doing this sort of thing as part of our regular work.

Friday, April 18, 2008

an Academic Flickr

I couldn't agree more with this post by Peter Brantley, in which he is discussing a conversation with Raymond Yee. In it, he calls for an 'academic Flickr'.

He's right on the money when he emphasizes the importance of an open interfaces that permit reuse:

What I realized through the course of my conversation with Raymond was that the most critical aspect of a new Flickr like service is not really an attractive user experience. Certainly, that's essential to help find images and associate data with them; it's also what makes an application desirable enough to initiate use. However, what will make the application ultimately successful is the availability of open services that permit re-use: mashups that encourage integration with other services and content.

It is this feature - the ability to disintermediate the content, at least partially, from the restricting frame of the application - that is the most fundamentally important virtue of Flickr, and should be for any application that is premised on widespread internet adoption and use. Support for re-use enables a plethora of user experiences to be designed and developed. The needs of mobile users are distinct from highly interactive uses in in-world education, and in turn vastly different from many research imperatives.

This reminds me of a comment by Richard Wallis at Talis about a "reading list" (UK speak for course reserves) product that they were coming out with that he (somewhat boastfully) noted, doesn't even have a user interface. It simply provides data feeds and APIs for syndication/integration of content in other contexts like the course management system.

Really, you'd get three main things with an 'academic Flickr' that you don't get with the kinds of curated digital collections done now in libraries:
  • network effects of a shared web scale database (shared tagging, comments, search, etc)
  • a great best of breed user interface that allows convenient uploading, tagging, organization, image editing, and licensing of content
  • an open API to permit reuse of content
Our experiment with accessCeramics on Flickr aspires to take advantage of all of these things. Of course, Flickr has shortcomings (especially in the concept of longer term curation) when used for an academic sort of project like ours. That's where 'academic Flickr' could come in.

Monday, April 14, 2008

OCLC's competitive advantage

In a previous post, I mentioned the "cloud computing" aspects of the platform when used in the form of WorldCat Local or WorldCat Group to replace an ILS based catalog. A couple weeks ago, I got some more thoughts together on this, but some other distractions pulled me away.

Last year, as part of my work with the Orbis Cascade Alliance's Catalog Committee, I got to survey the market for next generation library catalogs/discovery systems. In my mind, OCLC's WorldCat Group/Local option stands out against both the open source and commercial competition. Why? Because of network effects.

Competitors making products like ExLibris's Primo and Innovative Interface's Encore simply don't have access to the data that OCLC does, and neither does the open source community. OCLC's holdings data lets them do relevance ranking by the number of libraries that own the item. Its global database allows the potential of expanding a search beyond a single library or group of libraries to a global database with built-in ILL. WorldCat offers records that are updated and improved over time by shared cataloging, and the possiblity of enrichment of those records by web-scale social networking (reviews, tags, etc.). WorldCat is a living organism that can't simply be replicated on someone else's server.

These advantages are byproducts of the cataloging and resource sharing networks that OCLC has had in place for years. They are more about a community committed to sharing resources than about technology.

It's also about exclusive access to data, which fits in nicely with Tim O'Reilly's Web 2.0 tenant, data is the next Intel Inside.

Another way to think about this is that OCLC is in a position to be a sort of EBay for libraries. EBay is valuable precisely because of its wide user base. It is the dominant player in online auctions because it offers the widest possible marketplace for buyers and sellers. That same comprehensiveness and global scope also has value when building a search system for books and doing resource sharing.

Traditional ILS vendors have little tradition of sharing data between their customers. I really can't imagine Innovative Interfaces putting together any kind of product that involves mixing customers data (that weren't part of a consortium doing direct business with them). The whole idea of mixing customer data seems like it would run counter to traditional notions of enterprise level systems, and would really be hard for a longstanding software company to grasp (though I have to point out that Talis is very much an exception). Most customers buying enterprise software wouldn't want to share their data with peers anyway, right?

But that is really a non-issue for libraries, and precisely what this Web 2.0 world calls for, and what OCLC has been doing for a long time. OCLC has this valuable data, and great potential to develop things with it, as well as a general current towards network-level computing moving in its favor. When libraries compare OCLC's products with that of a traditional ILS vendor, they need to see that the OCLC product is more than technology. Rather, it is an extension of a community, a network. The commercial vendors just can't offer that.

OCLC doesn't really have a monopoly on bibliographic data. But they definitely are one of the largest players out there, and their data could put them way out ahead. They are in a position to create an impressive platform with their line of products. As they do this, they should build it so that it's open enough that other companies and organizations can build products on top of it.

The model I'm thinking of is Flickr. Flickr is a great global platform for photo sharing, but through their API, Yahoo also lets other firms get in there and add value to it. OCLC should be build WorldCat as an information ecosystem that allows the library community to have a healthy marketplace of technology products. (They sort of have this model going with ILL, but there aren't too many competitors out there to OCLC's ILL management product, ILLIAD.) OCLC's new APIs for WorldCat are a sign that they are moving in this direction.

OCLC's competitive advantage in holdings data and shared cataloging applies largely to print materials. They really don't have any such advantage in the realm of electronic information: e journals, digital collections, etc.. They might be going after this with acquisition of companies like Openly Informatics and the ContentDM software, but even so, they are not in possession of data that gives them a competitive advantage in the same way as their cataloging and resource sharing networks. Many companies like ExLibris and Serials Solutions have e-serials holdings data. And data about library digital collections is generally open for harvesting/crawling.

Even in print material, Google Books could be a viable competitor to OCLC in the library search arena, especially because they have the advantage of full text searching. They have lots of data that OCLC doesn't. It would even be possible now with the Google AJAX search API to create a Google Book Search that linked back to your library catalog for books held in your library.