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.