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.