Tuesday, March 24, 2009

thinking more about OneBoxing WorldCat Local

I just checked with our implementation guy at OCLC about including some code in the header of our WorldCat Local instance that would allow us to add customized widgets into WorldCat Local search result screens. Sounds like it's a no go for now. WorldCat Local has a refreshingly simple branding customization options compared to what we're used to with Innovative's OPAC. But that simplicity will keep us from inserting some magic Javascript to achieve the OneBox effect.

I'm not sure if I was clear enough about what I'm interested in. Another way of looking at this is analagous to Google Ads. Google has established that placing context sensitive ads alongside search engine results is an effective way to drive traffic to advertiser websites.

If WorldCat Local becomes our library's search engine, shouldn't our library be able to put context sensitive "ads" next to results? These "ads" (or OneBoxes) would appear based on the search term and offer things like:
  • links to library created research guides that seem relevant to search at hand
  • links to course reserves if a prof's name is searched
  • results from a site search of our library's site
  • image results from ARTstor (ala Google images)
  • results (if any) from the library's digital collections
To offer something like this, OCLC wouldn't need to do anything unprecedented. Lots of web applications (including this one I'm using right now, Blogger) allow you to embed bits of HTML. Javascript widgets inside OPACs have been around for awhile too, a prime example being LibraryThing for Libraries. If OCLC put the search results data into some nicely formated JSON and allowed Javascript to be inserted in various places, it wouldn't be hard for libraries or third parties to build these little things.

The WorldCat API is nice and all, but who (besides Terry Reese) wants to build an entire interface from scratch using it?

Click on the image above for an illustration of the WorldCat Local OneBox concept.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

OneBoxes for WorldCat Local

In thinking through the options for placing the searchbox for WorldCat Local on our website, I'm inclined to argue for a single search box on the homepage rather than the somewhat confusing tabbed box that we have now. After all, WCL should get us to our "catalog" content, journal titles, and provide a general article search.

The problem with offering a single search box to patrons is that we miss content that they might want from a library site search: links to research database, course reserves, library hours, librarian contact info, etc.

WorldCat Local might be improved if it had the option to integrate Google style "OneBoxes" in its results display. A little box off to the side might highlight items like course reserves or matches from a site search.

I have a feeling, I'll probably lose the argument regarding a single search box on our website. After all, even Google offers users multiple silos of content to search (Books, Web, Blogs, News, etc.).

academic web pages and student recruitment

Given the uncertainties about enrollment at colleges in general and my institution specifically, there's a movement afoot at our campus to get faculty to update their web pages. Our admissions office knows that prospective students browse our website intensively to help decide whether or not they want to enroll. They don't simply gloss over the top level pages, either. They drill down deep into departmental and faculty pages to get a sense of what's going on here. The idea is that if faculty express more about the interesting kinds of things that they are doing, the more attractive the institution will be to incoming students.

I think this is a great idea.

There are a couple approaches that faculty can take to address this. They can view their website as a kind of brochure that they update once a semester or so with details about their teaching and research.

Or they can actually do some of teaching and research through the web medium, posting syllabi, research data, photos, blogs, etc. More and more faculty are doing this, though in some cases its behind the password wall of a CMS.

This movement to make our academic activities more visible on the web kind of breaks down the barrier between an external, recruitment focused web presence and a more internal academically focused one.

We've generally thought of the library website as mostly an internal tool, but indeed it must play a role in recruiting students as they explore our virtual presence.

Monday, March 16, 2009

on e books

Our library is dipping its toes into e-books. It's a complex world. A small academic library has a few options for providing e books:
  1. Public domain e books from Project Gutenberg, Google Books, etc.
  2. Licensed packages of ebooks paid with a yearly fee
  3. E book aggregators that sell books by the title, the big ones being EBrary and EBL
This is a good discussion of academic library options regarding e book purchasing.

I'm most comfortable with the licensing option because it doesn't seem like as long term of a commitment as paying full price or more to purchase permanent rights to individual titles on a potentially questionable platform. We recently licensed the ACLS Humanities e book collection and are trialing the Safari digital library and the EBrary platform.

Safari is a good example of providing e book content in a way that makes sense for the web. It is surprisingly pleasant to use. All book content is browse-able as HTML web pages and there are links between relevant sections of materials. Books may be downloaded via PDF and used on mobile devices. New titles in the library are available via RSS feed. It seems like the content used was designed from the ground up to be navigated digitally.

Ebrary presents itself as a clunky web interface plus a reader plug-in that lets you do various things to the book like cut and paste, notes, etc. Seems like sort of a "walled garden" approach. This doesn't strike me as very practical or realistic. It's unlikely that patrons are going to adopt research habits that take advantage of a subset of features only available on some electronic content. Ebrary books feel like old fashioned books shoe-horned into an electronic interface. EBrary has titles from many academic publishers that are availalbe to purchase at full price from library book vendors like Yankee and Blackwell.

The ACLS collection also has a somewhat clunky interface, but at least they are not pushing you to download a reader. It looks somewhat JSTOR inspired. Weirdly, you can download books in PDF format, but only in 5 page chunks. You can also see the plain text, but in a hard to read format.

The Google Books interface has a nice way of flipping between the scanned image and the plain text and is also generally pleasant to use considering it's working with mostly analog-derived content.

Unsurprisingly, the library sector vendors are behind the curve in user interface design. I don't think our patrons will have much sympathy for this.

I hope that we can eventually buy all our e books so that they may be used in a best-of-breed interface. I'm also hoping that we can leverage our regional consortium's buying power with e book packages and individual e books. Right now, purchasing an e book for our library is a bummer because it provides no broader benefit to the consortium collection. A shared e book collection is on the Orbis Cascade Alliance Strategic Agenda, I'm told.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

at CAA in LA

I had the pleasure of heading down to LA last week with Margo Ballantyne to speak at the College Art Association Annual Conference about accessCeramics. This is the main professional conference for art and art history profs.

The trip started out great on Wednesday evening with mojitos courtesy of Margo at the Figueroa Hotel (a Morrocan themed place that looks better and better as night falls and more mojitos are consumed). Then our panel headed out to the breathtaking Getty Center for the conference's opening reception, which featured the academically fashionable CAA crowd, excellent wine, food, and desserts as well as open access to many of the Getty's galleries and research center.

The next day I was a part of a panel presentation put on by the Visual Resources Association with the theme "You can do it, we can help: building digital image collections together."

The panel started off with an introduction by Maureen Burns from UC Irvine about a shared image collection for teaching that the University of California schools are creating using ARTstor software.

I kept thinking that this would be a perfect collaborative project among NITLE schools. I'll bet someone has already thought of that. Next, Margo and I did our bit on accessCeramics, Lewis & Clark's own collaboratively created digital collection that uses flickr as the underlying digital asset management system.

Next, Alka Patel, a scholar of Islamic Art and Architectual History at UC Irvine described the process of publishing her personal image collection with ARTstor.

We also heard from Ann Whiteside of MIT about the SAHARA project, another collaborative project with ARTstor that will allow scholars of architectual history, librarians, and others to develop a shared collection of archictecture images. It also aspires to be a kind of framework for digital scholarship around the images. Loyal readers of synthesize-specialize-mobilize might recall that I mentioned this project when it was first announced last spring.

Finally, we heard from Cara Hirsch, Assistant General Counsel at ARTstor about the intellectual property issues surrounding collaborative collection building.

ARTstor is clearly interested in distributed collection building and moving into this space on several fronts. Given its network-level software platform, ARTstor is in a good place to do this. With our relatively tiny flickr-based project, Margo and I kind of felt like we were the renegades among the group, though it was clear that our project shared many similarities with the others.