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So, one opportunity I thought I could make from the Fieldwork Placement module was a chance to explore a possible future direction for my career.  I am very interested in the technical side of librarianship, and am considering Systems Librarianship as a (long-term) next step.  As background, and as part of the course, I have gathered various job descriptions to get a picture of the typical responsibilities and skills involved, but I thought it would also be useful to “shadow” our Systems Librarian, Laurence, and find out more from him about what his work involves.

He spent a bit of time describing the way the role has developed since he started at the library, as he had kindly found a copy of his job description as it was when he started.  Initially, the role was quite focused on running the routine aspects of the LMS such as printing, but as print notices were replaced with email, this reduced, and the role developed to cover a broader range of library IT functions.

Laurence outlined some of the major projects and responsibilities which have become part of his role.  In some areas, he has been able to take advantage of solutions being developed in other parts of the university or elsewhere, while other developments which started in the library have been adopted more widely.  Major projects have included introducing a managed print system, which has since been adopted as a campus-wide system, as has the building access management system, which is based on the library cards.  The cards themselves have become the de facto university identity card.  In return, the library has been able to use systems such as the wiki, run by BUCS, to replace the old Intranet and EZproxy to improve the e-journal access management systems.

Laurence sees the role as having developed into a largely project-based one, which is exciting, but also requires him to be a champion for innovative ideas.  While the benefits of some systems changes are obvious to all, others require more persuasion.  It is also important for him to attend conferences and keep up to date with developments to ensure that we are aware of current interests and can assess the relevance of ideas to our situation.

The most satisfying aspects of the systems librarian role are problem solving and the ability to engage in creative projects.  However, there are also routine aspects of the role, which provide their own challenges, particularly when, for example, requests for particular reports are not regular enough to be memorised, but occur often enough to need consistent results.

We talked a bit about the computing skills required for systems librarianship.  This seems to vary widely between roles which are largely project management, to those filled by programmers and other IT specialists.  Laurence has found some programming skills to be very useful, and felt that Perl and PHP were probably the most widely applicable languages for the kinds of applications he has for programming.  Although he did take a course, it wasn’t as helpful as he’d hoped as it taught a less common language, which is rarely used.  However, the principles have enabled him to develop custom applications for the library.

Overall, I found the discussion enlightening, and I have a few more ideas of what I should be learning next.  I am fairly certain now that I want my career to continue to become more computer-oriented although whether that is within e-resources, or a more systems role is still very much open to opportunity.

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Last Wednesday, I attended the annual MSc presentation day.  This is organised by AULIC, a consortium of universities, and is a bilaterally useful event.  Recent graduates of the UWE course have the opportunity to present their research to practising colleagues, and we get to hear about research in a varied range of topics.  I went last year, and found it so inspiring, I thought I’d go again this year.  I was not disappointed.

Midwifery blogs: a portrait of bloggers and their information practices

Jennie Roe spoke first, and her topic was the one I was least familiar with.  However, her survey of informational (or ‘filter’) blogs was very accessible, and many of the issues she had uncovered resonated with my experiences of both blogging in a professional context and finding childbirth information on the Internet.  There were a small number of midwifery blogs ranging from those produced by organizations, to a personal blog giving information about DIY midwifery(!).  One aspect that really stood out though was that there was a significant trend of linking to each other’s blogs, creating a midwifery echo chamber that sounded very familiar from the library blog context.

Word problems: investigating modern methods of classification

Dom Fripp spoke about his research into automated text analysis, and ways this can be used to classify documents with less human interaction.  Rather than scaring us all with technical detail, he focused on the kinds of technologies currently available, and why they might be useful.  His presentation used diagrams to illustrate what he was talking about, which worked very well, as a few of the concepts would have been quite hard to understand otherwise.  It was easy to see from his presentation how long-established theories of classification applied equally well to the machine-processing of documents.  He wrote an article, “Using linked data to classify web documents“, which reads along similar lines, and is definitely worth picking up.

Cataloguing the curriculum: cataloguing and classification education on Library and Information Studies (LIS) courses

Megan Wiley explored the approaches to and availability of cataloguing and classification education in UK LIS courses.  She used information freely available online, as she was interested in the kind of information prospective students would have access to while deciding on a course to study.  After analysing the offerings, and ranking them with regard to whether the focus was more traditional or modern, she contrasted two courses, which seemed to be at different ends of the scale.  She checked the information she had against the reality by interviewing course tutors, and found that the courses did not differ as much as the course descriptions suggested, but there did seem to be significant differences in the institutional situation, particularly the amount of contact time available, which affected the kind of approach they could take.

The importance of sharing knowledge in an aging workforce: a public library perspective.

Jenny Wilcockson explored the area of knowledge management in a public library setting.  She looked at the problem of capturing knowledge from soon-to-retire librarians, and how her local authority managed the knowledge-sharing process.  Through interviewing those planning to retire, young librarians and senior managers, she was able to paint a picture of the culture, and identified the areas in which the authority could improve their approach.  Being a rural area, opportunities for informal knowledge sharing were particularly difficult, and needed planning as much as formal interactions.  There was also an uneven approach to development, with experienced staff not routinely being encouraged to share their expertise with newer members of staff, resulting in the information not being shared at all.  Jenny finished with a set of recommendations for improving the situation.

Overall, I found the morning very interesting, with all four dissertations being enthusiastically presented, in a way that was clear for the audience.  I was left with a little more inspiration for my research proposal, and it was also really good to see Jenny and Dom again, and to meet Megan, with whom I had exchanged emails a few times.

Last week, I was lucky enough to go on a writing skills course. If you read this blog, you will know that I started this to give me an opportunity to practise writing more often and I hoped this course would help me focus and get to an end product for an article I’ve been trying to write for the past year or so.  The tutor was Trevor Day, who is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow here at Bath, and he has a lot of experience in writing and education, and was one of the best prepared trainers I’ve seen.

The course was very creative, despite being aimed at work-related writing, but Trevor assured us that scientists and engineers also found the techniques useful, and encouraged us to try them out.  I find I don’t have too much trouble producing words, but for me, the research and planning stage is troublesome, as I’m a very poor planner of writing, but I love researching, so I tend to read far too much and then ramble about it.   Some of the exercises looked at the purpose and aims of my writing, while others looked at problems and barriers.

Writing to a prompt

This exercise gave the beginning of a sentence, which we were to complete.  This technique gets over the problem of the first sentence, and helps to explore what you want to achieve with your writing.  I found the exercise positive, as I was able to state quite clearly why I wanted to complete this particular piece of writing, whereas when I am trying to write it, I often feel I am going off topic.

Free Writing

Although useful, I found this task quite difficult, as I very quickly tapped into strong negative emotions.  However, it did make external my inner dialogue, and I could quickly see why it has taken so long to get going.

Space

Trevor provided us with a framework to plan a writing project, called Space (Self, Purpose, Audience, Code, Experience).  We filled in the first three sections in the session, and I found this very well suited to identifying exactly what I did and didn’t want to write about.  Certainly the purpose section was able to help me identify some aspects that may not be suitable for the project at hand, and could be written separately.  The Code section talks about the way the writing will be structured and styled, while the Experience section gives you space to explore what you still need to do to be able to begin writing.

The second part of the morning provided us with practical ways of improving our writing.  Many of these were fairly classic, such as checking appropriate use of the passive and active voices, and keeping relevant items together in a sentence.  It was helpful to have these brought together for reference.  There were also hints and tips on how to write reports and proposals, and how to write persuasively.  Finally, the different kinds of editing (e.g. for content, for style, for errors) were explained, and the information was summarized, with a little hint about using readability scores in Microsoft Word.  As most of us write for users, readability is always of high importance, and most did not know about this feature.*

Overall, I found this workshop both practical and stimulating, and I came away with a range of tools I felt able to apply to my writing.  I was immediately able to start work on my article again, and this time with a much better idea of what I want to write about and how I want to do it.  I was particularly impressed that the techniques were so flexible and applied equally well to personal writing projects as they did to professional ones.  I am also planning to try some of the techniques for my academic writing, as the research proposal in particular is somewhat intimidating.

* Incidentally, this post  has 8% passive sentences and a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of 11.7.

Monday 21st February 2011

Dealt with quite a few niggly problem journals today.  Lower demand titles, particularly where I’ve identified a problem through routine checking, rather than user feedback, can often sit around while higher priority issues are considered.  However, they cannot go without checking altogether!

Tuesday 22nd February 2011

CDG West Country meeting this morning.  It was a useful meeting, and we had some new members of the committee which was good.  After the meeting, we were shown round the building, which is the new Somerset Heritage Centre in Taunton.  This was a fascinating place to see behind the scenes, and they have some amazing treasures, including a document written in 705 which was truly awesome, as I got up so close.  Back to the office after the meeting for a quick catch up, then my late night.

Wednesday 23rd February 2011

Mostly caught up on things this morning.  The afternoon started with a meeting about our Moodle course.  We all agreed it needed a simplified version, but were quite divided on whether it should be a separate part, or whether the whole should be made easier.  I still think it’s better to have some more in depth details, but looking back, it could certainly be made less opaque.  So, I will attempt to make some of the descriptions into diagrams or images to make it less text heavy.

Thursday 24th February 2011

I had a few things to look forward to today.  In the morning, I had a meeting with some colleagues who also have some interest in library services and mobile devices.  At this stage, it is just a gathering of ideas, but it was fascinating how many different aspects there are to consider, and where everyone’s priorities are.  We’re putting together an outline paper for the systems team to look at, so not sure where it will go just yet.

In the afternoon, I spoke to two people from the JUSP team about usage statistics.  It was a very useful conversation, as it was a great opportunity to reflect on what is useful in a statistics package, and how I use statistics.  We are also using UStat, and it was valuable to compare the strengths of each.  I think I’ll write something about this for Piglet (our newsletter) in the next couple of months.

While I was on the phone, I seemed to be getting a couple of messages about my email not connecting.  By the time I’d finished, it was down completely.  I wasn’t too concerned, and assumed it would be back soon.  However, it wasn’t long before we found that we’d lost access for the rest of the day.  I set to work tackling some of the routine tasks that didn’t need email, and hoped it would be back tomorrow.

Friday 25th February 2011

There was still no email in the morning, so I went through some of the routine checks that I’d prepared on Thursday.  As the day progressed, it became clear that the email failure was going to continue.  We were able to set up forwarding to send messages to our personal emails, which alleviated the panic, but it was also a little frustrating, as it was not really possible to send messages.  Being an electronic resources librarian, having no access to emails is a serious handicap, not to mention I use it extensively to manage my work.

Actually, the email problem ran throughout the following week (hence the delay in posting this, as I thought it would be useful to reflect on the impact it had).  At first, there was almost a sense of relief, as the small number of emails to work with was a pleasant change.  However, it soon became apparent that I was very reliant on my emails as a kind of memory – I didn’t need to know the email address to send the file to, as I had kept the email.  I also use my email folders as a long-term to do list, as I put things in month folders to check later.  Normally, this works really well, but with no access to older items, I was floundering.

I now have to wonder whether this is the best system to use, or whether there is a more efficient way of doing things.  Should I be concerned that we will lose it all and back things up?  Or should I assume that this is a one-off problem, and continue as before.  I think one thing is certain: I need to be more disciplined in extracting information from emails – it’s all too easy to leave them for later, especially for things we need to keep, rather than things I need to refer to often.

Monday 14th February 2011

Started with more order deletions this morning.  This was just an administrative exercise, due to making a change in the way we distribute package payments.  Then on to database statistics.  Unlike journals, it’s much more common to have to do some creative thinking with database statistics, as many don’t provide COUNTER compliant (or even comparable) reports.

We participated in a pilot scheme last year to consider SCONUL e-measures, and one of the areas was gathering database statistics.  I’m still not very convinced that we’ve got useful measures yes for databases, as they cover such a wide variety of resources.  Some provide lists of how many items have been downloaded, while others record the number of searches.  There is no correlation between the search and the result in most cases – it’s possible that a database with a less intuitive interface looks “better” in statistics just because you have to do four or five searches to find the same set of results a better interface could have achieved in one search.  I gather some have considered “clickthru” statistics, noting the number of results where the user clicked for more information or content.  This would help improve the comparability of services (although wouldn’t compensate for the wide variety of database types).

Tuesday 15th February 2011

Unexpected day’s leave today as my daughter was sick.  I did spend some time in the evening revisiting my CV and have decided it needs a complete overhaul.

Wednesday 16th February 2011

More database statistics, pretty much covered the downloadable ones now, but still have to do a round of emails to providers for the rest.  I became aware of some problems with some of our links today.  The publisher has changed its available range, but the information provided to our link resolver supplier seems to have been wrong, as it matches the whole range available, rather than just the archive range.  It doesn’t affect a large number of titles, but if I were to manually correct them, it would overwrite the default.  That wouldn’t be a problem this year, but would mean that the dates weren’t automatically updated next year (or the year after, or the year after that).

Thursday 17th February 2011

Sorted out another access problem today, and reported a query to our resource discovery system provider.  I also put together the feedback from a course I was involved in running at the end of last year.  One of the aspects of my role is to train graduate trainees in my role, something I am not satisfied that I do well.  I am taking opportunities to get involved in running courses through the Career Development Group West Country Division, as this is giving me a chance to practice, but also because I think the real trouble is in the preparation.

My role is a very seasonal one, by which I mean that at certain times of year, I have certain tasks to complete.  Obviously some things, like enquiries, come in whenever they need a response, but some types of work only come round once or twice a year, and they take over for a while.  Our graduate trainees tend to spend a month with each section of Technical Services during a 6 month period, spending the remaining 6 months with Academic Services.  The other difficulty I face is that the work is quite technical, and being enthusiastic about technology, I generally get more involved with the technical side than might strictly be required.  Although some trainees take to e-resources work very quickly, I struggle with those who find it more of a challenge.  It would not really be possible to create a standard trainee programme, as I will not get trainees at the same time of year each time.

I suspect the best approach is to make some kind of modular training programme, with each activity described separately, and then fitting them together as appropriate for each trainee.  I’m going on a train the trainer course next month, which should be a great opportunity to develop my plans.

Friday 18th February 2011

Frequently, when a journal publisher transfers a journal to another publisher, chaos ensues – perhaps we lose access, or don’t have the archive, or suddenly have to pay double the cost as the print and online options are separated.  However, this year I’ve had two really good ones – one, which removed most of its archive last year, transferred to a publisher who has supplied an extra 5 years of content on top of what we should have had from the previous publisher, the other arrived today in the form of a letter asking us to activate access.  I duly entered the access key, and voila!  we have access online to a previously print-only title.  Marvellous.

Monday 7th February 2011

Annual Leave (post-Superbowl snoozing).

Tuesday 8th February 2011

Catching up on enquiries today.  I use a system in my emails, where I have folders for upcoming months, and move emails there if they’ll need action later, such as checking access to journals where there might be a grace period, or when I’ve been informed that resolving a problem will take a while (longest enquiry to date was the access enquiry that took 2 years to resolve!!!).

Tuesdays (well, alternate ones) are also my evening on the issue desk.  I quite like doing this, as it’s really valuable to see the enquiries that come in – my role is largely in the office, so I’m not really a first point of call in person.  It can be quite variable too – a couple of weeks ago, it was incredibly quiet, whereas today it was full of more involved subject enquiries.

Wednesday 9th February 2011

A while ago a colleague and I attended a training session on Moodle, a virtual learning environment.  I didn’t have much to do with using it, but occasionally get asked to provide links to e-resources for it, so I felt it would be helpful to see how it worked.  As a result, we were inspired to create a Moodle course describing how to link to e-resources.  We initially rolled this out to library staff so that anyone could help an academic, and created a slightly less reflective version for academics.  This proved useful, and a few months ago, we decided to focus on the one course for academics, rather than trying to maintain two courses.  Even this course needs updating, and my task today was to update the examples of linking.  Several publishers had changed their platform interface, some significantly, so new screen shots were needed.  I also added a link to my Ovid Link Builder, which was one of my first attempts at writing something useful in php.

Thursday 10th February 2011

It’s been rather quiet on the enquiries front for the last few weeks.  Not so today, as I had several.  Mostly the standard types of enquiries, but one did highlight a subscription that hadn’t renewed correctly.  We don’t check our e-journals in per issue, or even check access to all titles.  Experience has shown us that this is inefficient, although we do check changed packages and known recurring problems.  Mostly, we discover a problem with access as a result of a customer comment.  This may seem rather reactive, and we have certainly considered whether we are being too reactive.  However, to comprehensively check our whole collection would require manually checking around 15000 titles, which would be a whole year’s work that wouldn’t really help anyone.  I have looked at things like link sleuth, but they don’t tell you whether you have access, just whether the site is working.

Friday 11th February 2011

Today I had a couple of long conversations with colleagues about mobile devices.  This is looking to be our next hot topic, as we are getting increasing numbers of enquiries from users wishing to use a mobile device (e.g. phone, tablet or e-book reader).  The conversations were quite different though – one focused on the value of user consultation and highlighted areas in the university where academics are discussing these issues.  The other focused more on the technical side of things, and what our approach should be.  It seems like this would be a good area for a task group, our library’s way of tackling longer-term projects.

Monday 31st January 2011

Technically annual leave today, but this was so I could go to the Career Development Group national council (something I have volunteered for outside work).  I was somewhat apprehensive as I found the last meeting I attended rather uncomfortable, but this time was much better.

I am the Honorary Editor of Impact this year, which is a challenging year for the group as it is going e-only.  At the moment, the electronic version is created using a free online tool called Issuu.  While this is useful when the electronic version is an option, it didn’t seem to be the solution for a purely online publication, so I asked for a small amount of funding to set up a better system.  Thankfully the others saw the advantages of this, and I can go ahead!

The meeting was a very friendly affair, with lots of lively discussion.  Our end of the table did dominate a little (perhaps next time, us noisy ones should be separated!), but it was really good to see all the divisional representatives joining in so enthusiastically.  One of the really encouraging things about CDG is that the divisional structure is very strong, and gives the group a very democratic aspect.  We had a visit from Daniel Sabel from CILIP, and he was somewhat surprised at the value we placed in our divisional structure.

Tuesday 1st February 2011

A somewhat unproductive day, as I unexpectedly went to the staff Christmas lunch (postponed due to weather).  A colleague cancelled and an hour later there I was.  The day was otherwise concerned with downloading usage statistics, a biannual ritual, but storing the reports centrally saves a lot of time and effort for others.  We did a pilot last year which required quarterly statistics gathering, but that really was too much.

Wednesday 2nd February 2011

More statistics today, and some discussion of where to store some files – on the shared drive or on the wiki (our intranet).  I think most of the files are going on the wiki, so will no doubt be doing a lot of file transfers later this month.  Should make things more findable though, which is good.

Thursday 3rd February 2011

Some more statistics trickling in.  Most use a Counter or Counter-style format, but the occasional provider is fun with pivot tables instead.  I had one of those today.  Pivot tables rock.  However, the bulk of today is going to be about cancellations – we have a lot this year, due to some rearrangements of packages (some things now included that used to be separate etc.).  It’s important to delete old orders, otherwise budget holders can’t see what they still have available.

Friday 4th February 2011

Cancellations have been finished now (hurrah!), but there’s still some renewals work to be done next week.  I’ve done most of the package changes, most others are just the natural coming and going of titles, rather than major changes.  To do list for next week looks much shorter, which is good – always a satisfying moment when I can cross something off.

The other module this term is the Fieldwork Placement.  This is not a fixed placement as I am already in a relevant job, but a report based on my work.

I’ve been thinking a little about how to go about it, and I reckon it would be useful to blog about my working day over a month.  Now, I realise that no-one is going to want to read a post every day about the minutiae of my job, so I think I will set up some weekly blog posts and fill them in as I go.  I think it would be valuable to do, because I tend not to think in terms of development over a small period, and it would be interesting to reflect on the daily work for once, rather than the big picture aims (although, natch, those will feature in the report too).

So, the plan will be (I’ll link to posts when I write them):

Week 1: Jan 31st – Feb 4th

Week 2: Feb 7th – Feb 11th

Week 3: Feb 14th – Feb 18th

Week 4: Feb 21st – Feb 25th

There were a few themes which ran through both Digital Information 2010 and MashSpa, some of them library-related, some more general.  I thought I’d reflect on them outside the actual reports.

Catering

I have a large number of food allergies – not so serious that I’d go into anaphylactic shock, but enough that I could feel ill for the rest of the day (at least), which is obviously something I’d wish to avoid at an event.  Both events provided lunch, but they took different approaches which made a difference to the quality of the event for me.

I contacted both providers in advance of the event with a list of foods I can’t eat.  I know from experience this list induces panic in catering staff, and they almost invariably either a) produce a salad, full of things I can’t eat, or b) ask me for a suggestion.  Digital Information used approach b) which I happily supplied.  MashSpa mentioned that the catering was all vegetarian, and suggested it would be easier if I brought my own (and even bothered to mention that cakes would be provided in the afternoon and that I might like to supply my own cake too).

On the day, despite having agreed a dinner in advance, Digital Information failed to provide it until I’d stood around for about half an hour, being pestered by over-concerned staff.  It was evidently the fault of the venue rather than the organiser, but I felt very frustrated, given that they’d had two weeks notice of my dietary requirements.  In contrast, at MashSpa, I just pulled out my packed lunch and ate along with everyone else.

I know my allergies can make catering difficult, and accept that as a fact of life.  However, eating is a social part of an event, and standing around waiting for dinner to be provided (it’s not the first time this has happened) excludes me from that aspect.  I’d actually rather an event provider said, “Sorry, we can’t accommodate your dietary requirements”* than failed to provide an alternative at the same time as everyone else.

Atmosphere

The two events were pretty much polar opposites in terms of the atmosphere – Digital Information being a formal conference, MashSpa being more of an unconference.  However, the key difference was my familiarity with the other participants – at Digital Information, I didn’t know anyone and had just one person I planned to introduce myself to from Twitter, whereas at MashSpa there were a large number of participants who I followed on Twitter, and a few I knew in person (at least vaguely).  I found it much easier to direct what I did at MashSpa, feeling quite comfortable about setting up time with someone to look at a problem I was having, or changing my mind about which sessions I went to.  I also felt more comfortable striking up conversations with people I hadn’t met before.  There was also a much better feeling of enthusiasm and working together, whereas Digital Information felt more like people were keeping up appearances, and maybe not connecting as well.  However, at times MashSpa felt a little chaotic, with people talking in small groups in the afternoon, whereas Digital Information was cohesive, structured and focused.

Twitter – tweeting from an event

I tried tweeting from both events.  This was very successful at Digital Information, and I managed to produce a fairly constant stream of tweets from my mobile phone using the wifi, details of which had been provided in advance.  I found it quite addictive actually, but hard work, as I text about as fast as a snail…  I’d hoped to tweet much better from MashSpa as I took my laptop, but in the end, the wifi wasn’t able to cope with the number of people at the venue, which meant it was very difficult.  I couldn’t juggle the phone for tweets and the laptop at the same time, so gave up on the tweeting and resorted to Notepad.

Advantages:

  • Tweeting constantly meant I had a record of what was said
  • I had to think about the essence of what each speaker said in order to condense it into 140 characters
  • People interacted with me on Twitter and at the conference as a result (although I wasn’t able to respond and continue tweeting).

Disadvantages:

  • Thumb-ache!  I definitely felt uncomfortable after all that texting
  • Using my phone was not ideal, and a laptop would have been smoother (but my ancient machine is too heavy to lug into the city).
  • Tweeting from any kind of interactive session would be very distracting, and I didn’t attempt it.

Since the event, I read some good advice on using social media to amplify an event.  I think in future, I would definitely tweet again, if the wifi was good, and especially if I could use a laptop.  I would find it hard to tweet from a workshop style event, but am considering the possibility of scheduling tweets if I were running one.

Access to wifi

Access to wifi was provided at both events.  At Digital Information, this was pretty good, and details were sent out in advance so I knew how to access it.  At MashSpa, it was publicised on the presentation screen, but didn’t cope with the number of users.  This was quite a problem – it was very hard to get access to share ideas and resources, at an event where this would be expected.  Some help with DNS servers seemed to help for a while, but on the whole, it was not something I could count on.  In a sense, having advertised wifi access, expectations were raised to expect it.  It’s not something I’ve considered before at events, but having experienced it, I’d like to see it at events where possible.

Barriers

One of the themes which ran through sessions at both events was that of barriers – to using ebooks, to sharing data etc.  I took these in at a fairly theoretical level, something other people experienced.  However, last weekend I had a horrible, DRM-induced experience which I feel compelled to share.

I am part of a reading group.  I usually borrow the books from the library, but they weren’t able to get this month’s to me in time (I left it a bit late really).  So, as I don’t have an ebook reader, I thought I’d download an audiobook version.  I went to a provider I thought would be OK and they had it, so I signed up.  They are linked to a provider from whom I have bought music downloads in the past, an experience that has always been pain-free.  I went for a monthly subscription, as this made the book cheaper to download, and was cancellable.  I thought fondly of the audiobooks I might download in the future, and looked forward to using the service.

I clicked to buy this month’s book, and was taken to a download page.  I had to download some download-manager software, which presented me with a range of options for mobile devices that I found hard to find one that was like mine in.  I skipped that step – I could come back to it later.  I downloaded the book, which came in two large files (about 75Meg each).  I transferred the first part to my phone, and then pointed my phone browser to the address I got when I put in the device maker.  Wouldn’t install.  OK, let’s try the generic java app.  Nope.  Frown.  Tried copying the install off my computer, in case it was a download issue.  Nope.

Frustrated, I went back to the site.  I had seen that I could burn audio CDs, which was an alternative for me as I could half-inch my husband’s CD player for a week.  Oh, but apparently my normal burning software isn’t supported.  I have to download a different one instead.  One I have deliberately avoided installing.  Harrumph.  So, I download the software, and eventually burn ten CDs of the content.  This whole process took me the best part of five hours to do.

Now, I am keen on buying legal copies of things, and don’t want to use illegal file-sharing sites.  But experiences like this, where it takes me hours to access legal content, and a supply of CDs which are effectively wasted (I’m not likely to listen to the book twice!), make me understand the e-book observatory interviewee who used pirate copies of ebooks because they were easier to use.  By making legal access to stuff this difficult, surely it will drive users away from legal versions and towards copies which don’t ensure that the publishers, authors and narrators get their dues?

Funnily enough, I have cancelled my subscription, and do not plan to use that provider again.  I shall revert to borrowing what I want from my local library, and remember to be a bit more organised in future.


*Actually, plain ham or cheese sandwiches on white bread will do me fine.  I always mention this as an option!

Amazingly, given my track record for finding my way around Bath, I arrived at the arts centre without getting lost (too much).  I found a seat, and we were quickly offered tea.  I tried connecting to the wireless, but it was mostly useless.

There were three talks planned for the morning, with the afternoon being open for workshops and experimentation.

Open Bibliography

The first talk, by Ben O’Steen, was on open bibliography, which means publishing bibliographic information under a permissive license to encourage indexing.  The aim of open bibliography is to advertise the products they describe, by being included in Google Search Results (described by the speaker as “dictatorship-free ads”).

Ben described a sliding scale of discovery – identifying known items, discovering related items you believe you want, and serendipitously finding items you hadn’t considered.  The second and third parts of the scale are harder to do as they require keywords, abstracts, and other additional metadata (even the full text).  However, the first part can be done with just the factual data from the item (author, title, publisher etc.).

Surprisingly, even sites which are free to use are not necessarily happy to share the data with others for re-use, e.g. Pubmed which is free to use, but you can’t re-use it.  Also, restricting creative commons licensing to non-commercial use can rule out consultants and other independent users.

The other issue with sharing data is that of consistency.  When there is human input there is interpretation, which can result from a difference in meaning of words over time, usage of fields, or just different priorities.  Standards don’t bring interoperability in themselves.  In most cases, data has been entered for a purpose, not for large-scale sharing.  Library catalogue data quality is typically poor, e.g. one British Library catalogue record suggests the ISBN is £2.50.  With a closed dataset, you are only looking at it for one purpose, and therefore errors in some fields may not be important enough to fix.  Interpretation problems usually occur when mashing two or more sets of data.  Cataloguers take pride in their work, and may not be comfortable in admitting where the data isn’t so good.

“The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader” Derek Sivers’ TED talk.

(good video, I forget how it related to the talk though)

Ben then explored some of the techniques used to clean up and combine data.  This was all rather rechnical, and I won’t try and report it.  There are some problems associated with de-duplication of data, and using bundling rather than deletion to allow unmerging of duplicate records if they find they aren’t real duplicates seems to be a workable solution.

In terms of bibliographic data, there have been several effort so far in defining the works, but more work is needed on the links between data.  This may involve analysing citation patterns, or creating lists of works which have been disproved, redacted or withdrawn.  When citations become distanced from the original article, the actual content of orginal article can become distorted.

Ideas for RFID

Dan Willliams, who works for Pervasive Media Studio, which explores the opportunities offered by new technologies in creative ways, gave the next talk on the potential of RFID.  In fact, he spoke about a much broader c0ncept of the link between the physical and the virtual, and how they can be combined in new and interesting ways.  He illustrated the point with a short clip of magician Georges Melier, who experimented with the new medium of film to create effects – to the modern audience, it is clear how they were achieved, but at the time it was not so mundane.  He gave an example of how web technology can be used to create real world items by citing Things Our Friends Have Written On The Internet, which realised that newspaper presses are able to do very cheap copies in between major print runs.  This has developed into a business called Newspaper Club.

The nature of technology is that it evolves from previous technology and move to new context.  So, an idea to apply text messaging to groups evolved into Twitter.  Recently, foursquare got its first check in from space.  GPS has developed from guiding nukes to sharing which coffee shop you’re in.  In evolutionary theory, features are repurposed, a process known as  exaptation.  This has been evident in much older technological advances, such as Gutenberg who repurposed the wine press for printing books.  Of course the old technology can still be used (cue sigh of relief from room full of librarians worrying they’d have to choose between wine and books! ;o) ).

Libraries are already loaning out non-book materials.  Bristol Libraries loan electricity monitors, some US libraries are even loaning DIY tools (apparently most power tools are only used for around 18 minutes in their entire lives when purchased by individuals).  The Internet is rubbish for finding things – libraries have gone to the effort of editing stock down to just the items that are interesting enough to share.

Dan gave us some more examples of real/virtual world crossover technologies, such as wiki books, RFID radios, visualising Oyster card data, @GusAndPenny etc.  A library example was the ability to rate returned books, piloted (but not continued) at Haarlem public libraries, by returning them in themed buckets (good book, funny, heartwarming etc.).  He also showed us an almost useful gadget – laser scissors.

Using Linked Data in the Catalogue

Lukas Koster was the third speaker, and he described a collaborative project between the University of Amsterdam Library (UBA) and the Netherlands Theatre Institute (TIN).  He first described the activities in library systems in the Netherlands, contrasting it with activities in the UK.  In the Netherlands it’s not common to have a systems librarian post, so his experience with librarianship comes from being a sys admin in libraries, rather than being a librarian.  His current role involves responsibility for MetaLib/SFX, and innovative projects.  Holland has a small network of universities – just 13, although they also have professional schools.  There aren’t national networks across all library sectors, but there are smaller groupings.  There is a large Library (Bibliotheek) 2.0 community, but few linked data projects outside EU-controlled activities, and the implementation of mashups depends largely on the attitude of the particular institution.  They don’t have MashLibs, their version is the slightly newer Happe Nings (named after the social network site).

UBA and TIN are working together to enhance the catalogue with linked data.  They are using their Aleph catalogue system and mashing up data about theatrical performances from TIN.  It is based on an entity-relationship model (and thanks to my MSc course last term, it all made perfect sense to me – hurrah!), with the Person entity in the middle.
The entitities:

  • Person
  • Play
  • Production
  • Performance
  • Appearance
  • Location
  • Part

The project has thrown up a lot of questions, particularly around authority data, and how to process what is there.

They don’t have a lot of resources, so the project is training people through online tutorials, and building the project up in small steps.  Lukas then explained how they were going about creating URIs, and how the system was interpreting them to find the relevant piece of information.

Workshops

The afternoon consisted of several workshops.  I attended the Sixty Seconds to Save Libraries workshop, and a little of the gadgets workshop, and also spent some time asking for advice on my Yahoo pipe.

Sixy Seconds to Save Libraries was a very popular session, in a very tiny room.  The feeling of being some kind of underground resistance movement was heightened by the subject matter, which was how to demonstrate, in concrete terms, the value of libraries.  Some figures are easy to come by (e.g. visitor figures), whereas most of the benefit of libraries is somewhat intangible, and even the simple figures are not always released in such a way that people can actually use them.  We were asked to forget the wishy-washy, feelgood stories of libraries, but instead to think of hard facts that could be used to defend libraries.  As this was cross-sectoral, there were not many consistent themes, and the influence an academic library has over its future is quite different to that of a public library.  Some of the intangibles may not be measurable, but could certainly be given a concrete dimension – for example, someone using the public library baby rhyme sessions, thus having a safe, social activity to get them out of the house, might be prevented from suffering post-natal depression, saving the NHS money.  By putting the stories in context like this, it may be seen that public services have a real, measurable benefit.  I hope there is a chance to act on some of these ideas, before the “I’m all right, Jack” crowd shut down these vital services in favour of Google.

Inspiration

After cake, and discussions, I caught the end of the Gadgets session.  I didn’t see much, but we were encouraged to look at Julian Cheal’s RFID enabled bookshelf:

This made me realise that a) this idea is brilliant, and b) it could be used to provide self-service for visually-impaired library users.  In my public library days, it was not unusual for a member of library staff to spend quite some time with visually impaired users, reading the author, title and (if necessary) the back of the book to allow them to choose a title.  Wouldn’t it make it easier for these users to be able to use a small device to read this information to them?  It would be less intrusive, as they don’t need to communicate their choices to a librarian (unlikely to judge a customer on the type of book they read, but still…).

Overall, I really enjoyed the MashSpa event, and would certainly attend another Mashed Libraries event.  Although a lot of the technical details were way beyond me at the moment, it was a great opportunity to talk to other librarians and techies, and share ideas (and cake).  It was a shame the wifi was not really usable, as I would have liked to have done more practical stuff.  Also, I liked the big ideas of the sixty seconds session, but I have my doubts as to whether they can come to fruition.  I hope they do though!

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