So, it’s time for the Research Methods module.  The assignment will involve a detailed research proposal, which will likely be the one I undertake next year as my masters dissertation.

I’ve been considering one topic for quite some time.  However, very recently, I have wondered about another alternative.  I thought I’d try exploring my ideas here first, as it may help clarify my decision.

Possible Topic 1: The measurement of the use of library resources.  Trends in gathering information, and the value of usage statistics in decision making.

This topic is one I’ve had floating around my head for a while.  Largely, it’s the fault of one John Ewing of the American Mathematical Society, on whose opinion seems to rest the entire AMS approach to usage statistics.  His paper is mostly talking about the flaws of using the impact factor as a measure of journal quality, and makes a number of valid points.  However, he then goes on to talk about they way librarians use usage statistics in a very (no doubt deliberately) provocative way, basing his distaste for librarians counting the number of times a resource is downloaded on a mailing list post from 2001.

The other thing is that measuring how many times a resource is used is not new (one paper from the 1950s that I’ve spotted mentioned an obsession among librarians with measuring how many times a resource is used).  So I was thinking of doing a study on how librarians gather and use usage data to support decision making, and to see whether they rely too heavily on usage or whether this is just a part of that process.

Possible Topic 2: Using social media to gather qualitative feedback on public library services.

This struck me as a viable area for research, and was inspired by Gary Green’s challenge to mashup data gathered under a number of hashtags.  This would have the advantage of an option to research techniques (i.e. play with tech!), but I fear that the usefulness of the project will have disappeared by the time it’s finished (not until the middle of 2012).

Possible Topic 3: Changing attitudes of library users-as-customers since the introduction of fees.

@samanthahalf suggested that this could be an interesting topic for a dissertation:

and I’m inclined to agree.  However, it seems like a topic that could be far better understood by someone with a more customer-facing role.  I’m not sure I could do it justice.

I think, having reflected on this for a while, I will stick with my original topic.  I need to do a lot of reading, to narrow it down and focus it, but it’s an area I get very excited about which bodes well for focusing on it for the next 18 months.

Wiltshire Libraries have been rather slower than some authorities to announce cuts.  They’ve taken an approach of rationalising their management structure before tackling the frontline services.  As I understand it, some levels of management have been removed, and this will represent part of their savings.

Last week they made their proposals public.  Helpfully, their press release went on the website on Friday, giving you a grand total of one working day (today) to peruse the documents (library report p.46-73)  before they are discussed by cabinet tomorrow.

They are proposing:

  • To install RFID for book issues to reduce staff time in processing books
  • Rationalising opening hours (seemingly to make them consistent across the county, although the impact on my local library will mean that the time I visit every week would be cut.  Unless I volunteered to staff it.)
  • To support 10 community partnership libraries (i.e. volunteer run).  This is not the worst council proposal I’ve seen, as there is evidence that these would be supported by central professional staff and a volunteer coordinator.
  • To maintain the 21 largest libraries.

On the whole, this could have been a lot worse.  There seems to be a commitment to supporting services across the county.  But it makes me nervous that they are cutting evening services, and while one or two of the smallest libraries might work well (in the Buckinghamshire vein), there are a couple (Lyneham springs to mind) which are not taking into account the local situation.

No doubt this will kill my weekly routine if they close at 7pm (I’m not always home in time to go any earlier), and I have already expressed my concerns about volunteer run libraries.  But overall, they seem to have taken the most pragmatic route available with the current ideology-led cut frenzy the coalition are inflicting on our public services.  Let’s hope the council approves the RFID investment.

One of the best of the articles by authors about the reason that libraries need to be maintained has been written by Shoo Rayner.  The quote that particularly stood out for me (as a mother) was:

Wonder why literacy levels are falling? Literacy is not about school records or results. Literacy comes from reading lots of books. It takes a lot of practice to get good at reading.

I read a lot, and I want my daughter (currently two years old) to enjoy books as much as I do.  We go to the library every week.  We have messy piles of books on her shelves, and I have to limit the number of books we read at bedtime, otherwise we’d be there ’til midnight.  Recently, she’s started insisting on reading them to me first, before I read them.  Obviously she doesn’t know more than a couple of simple letters (her initial, O), but she loves trying to mimic what I do, saying her favourite lines and pointing to the pictures.  She’s also big on poems – AA Milne is a favourite, and she loves saying them along with me, recognising the pictures that go with her favourites.

I try to give her free choice at the library, even though she often picks books which are very simple.  Sometimes, she’s right – a basic animals book she chose the other week had several animals she didn’t recognise yet.  Sometimes she glances at it once and isn’t interested again.  But really, that’s OK.  That’s exactly what I do – sometimes I read easy stuff, no, actually, often I read easy stuff, just because it appeals to me.   Has it stopped me reading more intellectual stuff sometimes?  Not at all.

It’s hard as a parent not to encourage your child to stretch themselves, but one of the wonderful things about a public library is that it offers children a chance to explore their own interests and decide for themselves.  It’s one of the nice things about it as an adult, that you can experiment with something you might not spend money on.  I’ve discovered a few great authors, simply from trying something that didn’t look like my sort of thing.  For children, this is vital – my interests are quite different to those of my parents, and I expect the same will be true of my daughter.

When councils talk of closing public libraries, they are talking about cutting off access to this freedom of choice: for many families, investing in a genuine range of books is almost impossible, and keeping children interested in reading is vital for their future literacy.  Schools will teach them the competency of reading, but fluency will only come with practice.  It is vital for a civilised and properly literate society that the mechanics of reading are supported by a sufficient range of reading materials to ensure all citizens can at least engage meaningfully with written materials.

OK, so it’s a few days late (perhaps the first resolution should be “Make New Year Resolutions”!), but better late than never.

1)  I will lose some weight, but more importantly, do more exercise.  We’ve acquired a Wii over the holidays, and I really need to use it.  So far, so good.

2)  I will continue to make an effort towards my academic new year resolutions.  I have still found myself finishing coursework at the last minute, and need to improve – that will not do next year for the dissertation!

3)  I will remember to put my laundry in the basket, not leave it on the floor until it gets in my way.


Real Home Library

Just seen this… ummm… concept linked to.  It starts off very nobly, and suggests:

“With a little attitude and some space, we can easily create a wonderful dream home library. Let’s try it out.”

Collect and classify your books

No doubt, as a true book lover, you already have the collection – some loved and dog-eared, some well-thumbed, some nice (read once, kept it), some pristine (on the “to read” list).  Although you will wish to leave some space for new acquisitions, in reality, there is not enough shelving to accommodate a bibliophile.  Classification should be pragmatic – cookery books near/in the kitchen, fiction by the bed, children’s books in the children’s rooms, reference by the coffee table, library books in the hall.

Decide the area

You love books: the area will be “any available shelving” throughout the house.

Fetch smart furniture

Or, frankly, any flat surface.  If you run out of room, do not be afraid to double-stack the fiction.  The loft is a useful archiving space if you are really squashed in.

Right reading lamps

Working light-bulbs are a must.  If your lighting isn’t that great, there’s always large print.  If it’s really dark, try audio-books.

Do the placing

It’s best to avoid arrangements where the double-stacked books are in danger of falling off.

Maintain hygiene

If you keep humorous reads in the toilet, it’s probably best not to reshelve them with your other books after without giving them a good wipe.

Supplement the home library with a public library card – this will ensure you can keep up your reading habit without risking bankruptcy.

Thanks to Gary for the link 🙂

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.


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.


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.


  • 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).


  • 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.


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.


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.


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!

Below is my twitter reporting of the Digital Information Conference 2010.  I’ve re-ordered it so the first posts are at the top, but otherwise it is just a copy of what I said.

(NB: I should also point out that it’s mainly for my future reference rather than because I really believe anyone else wants to read it!)

#digi10 just started, opening keynote aims to be stimulating. Predictions will not be advanced enough.
#digi10 influence publishers thru cancellations.
#digi10 trend of blurring of content and delivery likely to continue
#digi10 expectation of instant answers not just access. Hope to embed library in normal work flows
#digi10 end users are target or at least should be. Approaches to info changing.
#digi10 is speed of publishing or quality more important?
#digi10 pricing models will need to change. Mobile devices could introduce fee services
#digi10 need measures of usefulness not just usage.
#digi10 next talk on emerging technologies
#digi10 internet connects people together. Change inevitable
#digi10 should you be a portal or a signpost? Know your market.
#digi10 next talk on digital challenges in academic libraries
#digi10 rate of change means library must reconfigure dynamically
#digi10 don’t forget there are still some non-internet users
#digi10 global community of users expect 24/7 service and support.
#digi10 challenges for managing records and information on floppy disks
#digi10 should library become more active as a research centre? A libratory?
#digi10 great possibilities for analysis when special collections are carefully digitised
#digi10 providing more access points is opens library collections to non-traditional users
#digi10 high usage could undermine the long tail
#digi10 E-resources mean that many now don’t see value and skills of libraries and librarians
#digi10 forum session now. What should CILIP be doing?
#digi10 MP CILIP should be encouraging sharing of info and knowledge
#digi10 MF representation also important
#digi10 definition of library vs everything in google
#digi10 MF move from quality information to value for money info
#digi10 MH embrace shift from info store to info management and info lit skills. Also integrating with teaching. Role in procurement
#digi10 MP what have librarians ever done for us? Apart from…
#digi10 relationship between libraries and publishers especially in marketing
#digi10 MF feedback really valuable from vocal librarians
#digi10 MH how well do we really know our users?
#digi10 dealing with arts and non text resources
#digi10 MH capability of machines to understand these will improve findability
#digi10 MF dealing with museums and collections rather than publishers.
#digi10 american resources more advanced
#digi10 no easy solutions. Small collections hard to exploit in an iTunes style business model
#digi10 issues of rights to use digital versions.
#digi10 publishers perspective session. RSC growing business to stay visible
#digi10 evolution analogy. Innovations – semantic publishing: colour coding, disambiguation, but not used
#digi10 did understand what was being published. Can idea be done better – not with day glo articles
#digi10 new platform aims to be simpler, reduce clicks and PDF preferred
#digi10 60% of users come from elsewhere. Widgets small part of value
#digi10 mobile enabled sites but no iapps yet. Seems users want fewer interfaces
#digi10 acquired chemspider which is free and experimental system to see how community contributed and good enough content works
#digi10 targeted innovation – lead where you can, prepare where others are going
#digi10 next talk tyranny of choice
#digi10 licensing from one place more cost effective, but not realistic.
#digi10 monopoly not good but would simplify things
#digi10 challenge to remain competitive while feeding surplus into organisation aims
#digi10 complex training and negotiations behind the scenes to offer databases on range of platforms
#digi10 taking out complex features can improve discoverability
#digi10 balance between library and end user needs. There is a cost in providing things like counter stats
#digi10 parallel session a opens with comments on publishers association announcement
#digi10 lots of hype about ebook readers. Not necessarily positive.
#digi10 comments from ebook observatory. Use in libraries related to licensing more than content
#digi10 eink does give user a comfortable reading experience
#digi10 can foresee possible scenario of students collecting course reading at start of term
#digi10 not yet reality – formats vary, is quality of learning as good? Children love them.
#digi10 some ebook providers only allow use of book online
#digi10 content students want often not available online
#digi10 aggregators should ensure licences allow download to portable Reader
#digi10 users miss content if it doesn’t all fit on one page
#digi10 one user turned to pirated textbooks as they were much more usable
#digi10 lack of colour still an issue in some subjects. Also issues around viewing images and tables
#digi10 current ebooks are facsimile print books. Bookmarks useful, notes less useful as not reliable
#digi10 interactive exercises wanted but not available.
#digi10 interfaces clunky. New book types mean new relationships with authors
#digi10 moving in the right direction.
#digi10 is the library of the future a corridor? Chance meetings lead to ideas. Smart phones enable instant connection
#digi10 real work is not necessarily static.
#digi10 mobiles are small and always on.
#digi10 bandwidth going to rocket when 4G comes in
#digi10 location specific tech may link schedule and files
#digi10 what about printing?
#digi10 IT not aiming to be easy but to make money.
#digi10 vision of library of birmingham in Ariadne article
#digi10 publishers should avoid single platform approach
#digi10 multi-modal device – also immediate
#digi10 lock-in important in tying people to a make of phone
#digi10 who decides what the mobile strategy is?
#digi10 the time is now to address mobile issues. Rethink opportunities. Communications of the ACM oct 10
#digi10 this is beginning of a huge revolution
#digi10 summary of parallel sessions
#digi10 libraries are not yet ready for ebooks. Still some real problems.
#digi10 evidence needed for value in education. Formats not good at interactively.
#digi10 mobile devices taking over laptops for info on the move. No obvious single platform for devices.
#digi10 threats to business model for newspaper industry
#digi10 business model not keeping up with publisher tech developments
#digi10 will paywall model work? Advertising likely to provide lower margins
#digi10 changes brought about by aggregation.
#digi10 reuse of info. users have no rights but permissions.
#digi10 Digital economy act may not be implemented. Still hope for libraries
#digi10 closing keynote. How can info professionals make a difference
#digi10 life after CSR10?
#digi10 demands on public sector info. 5 year plans will be dead.
#digi10 impact will vary in different areas
#digi10 moral pressures – cut back office activities to keep child support?
#digi10 frontline services will need to streamline. E.g. Self service
#digi10 flexible working as default?
#digi10 routine activities may be delegated to para-professionals
#digi10 take an overview and target cuts.
#digi10 confidence in info to achieve this is very low. Not a strong reliance on evidence based decisions
#digi10 task needs information skills not technology. Care needed to make info assets reliable
#digi10 top managers see assets as money, people and buildings. Should look at information too
#digi10 info professionals need to influence and make case for thoughtful info management
#digi10 info sharing vital, while thinking about privacy. Culture changes needed
#digi10 retention of files important. Destruction policies equally so.
#digi10 info professionals often far removed from where they can be influential
#digi10 need to put your head above the parapet. Need to become politically aware

On Thursday 28th October 2010 I went to the Digital Information conference 2010.  I’m not a huge fan of social gatherings, but realise I need to try and improve my social skills, and there’s no real substitute for practice.  This conference had an interesting programme about a topic I am planning to work on this year, so it seemed like an ideal opportunity.  The other development activity I was carrying out was that of trying tweeting from the conference.  I am a relatively new convert to Twitter and thought it was about time I tried using it as a reporting tool, rather than just a networking tool.

The presentations themselves were consistent in their message: we should be doing something about mobile devices.

Mark Furneaux’s opening keynote, future perspectives of the library community on information technology and 21st century libraries, aimed to stimulate his listeners’ imaginations, but feared his predictions would not go far enough.  He felt that libraries needed to influence publishers through cancellations, although I felt that this is not really practical, as so much content is unique.  There is a trend of content and delivery blurring into a service model, and user expectations have changed.  Users are expecting answers, not just access, and Mark felt that there should be a move towards embedding the library into users’ workflows (e.g. opening the library app when booting up your computer, rather like many people do with their email software).  Essentially, the end users are not the ones purchasing the content, and this disconnection can cause frustration all round.  While libraries are looking for quality content, users value speed of publishing more highly.  Another major change for users is the willingness to pay for mobile applications (apps), whereas the expectation of web content is often that it should be free.  Whether this lasts is yet to be seen, but it may offer publishers a route to provide added-value services to users for a small fee.  Librarians need measures of the usefulness, not just the usage of resources, and this was a theme picked up in other talks.

The second presentation was from a non-librarian (gasp!), Max Hammond.  His background is as a chemist, and he gained significant experience in information systems while working on his PhD.  He then went on to work as a technology consultant, and therefore had a useful perspective as a kind of super user.  He made use of the Gartner Hype Cycle to illustrate the relative maturity of a range of technological developments.  He outlined the functions of a library, and highlighted the need for libraries to understand their users (preferably by talking to them).  The internet has enabled a conversation, it connects people to information and other people.  The question will be whether the library is a portal or a signpost.  The answer will be with your users.

The third talk was from Michael Popham, who runs the Digital Library at Oxford University.  This talk was pertinent to me, as he talked specifically about digital challenges in academic libraries.  He described the speed of change, and the implications that has for the library: as a research library, Oxford face the additional challenge of providing services for external users, a significant minority of whom are not Internet users.  However, the global community of users which has developed through increased distance learning programmes means that there is a real expectation of 24/7 access and support.  He also highlighted some of the difficulties with computerised services, such as trying to extract records and information from floppy disks (one by one…).  It is unclear at this stage which direction library services should be taking.  Should the library become more active as a research centre? A “libratory”?  Oxford University has a significant set of special collections.  This opens up exciting possibilities for digitisation and analysis of items, and provides additional access points, which can open up library collections to non-traditional users.  The other main topic of Michael’s presentation was about e-resources.  These pose special problems for libraries, in that the library and librarians are often invisible to the end user and therefore the value and skills of librarians are not obvious (especially as they are mostly visible when the system isn’t working in my experience).  Additionally, focusing library electronic collections on high usage could undermine the long tail, which has been exploited so well by online sellers such as Amazon.

I spotted the person behind me had an iPad and took a quick opportunity to ask her about it as I’d never seen one before.  After this, we all went for a refreshment break.  Taking a deep breath, I got my cup of coffee and lurked near a chap on his own.  Soon we had a discussion about e-resources in different types of library (he was from an NHS library).  They had invested in iPads for users, but were not yet able to use  them outside the library.  Plus ça change…

Following the break, the three speakers were gathered together for a forum discussion.  The audience asked questions, such as what should CILIP be doing about the issues presented (encouraging sharing and providing representation), the library vs. Google  (we may see a move from quality information to value for money information, shift in professional skills including more teaching), the relationship between libraries and publishers in reaching users (feedback from vocal librarians is valuable, do libraries really know their users?), how to deal with non-text resources (machine understanding will improve findability, often dealing with museums and collections rather than publishers, US resources seem more advanced, issues around business models and rights of use).  One comment struck me as relevant in the current climate:  “What have libraries ever done for us?  Apart from…”  Visibility is clearly a serious issue.

Richard Kidd from RSC then spoke to us about the developments they had made on their platform.  They are deliberately growing their business to stay visible.  They are keen on innovation, and spent some time developing semantic publishing formats, however user feedback indicated these were not really used.  However, it did mean RSC had a much better understanding of what they were publishing, and considered ways of using the information more helpfully (not just highlighting to the point of day-glo articles!).  Their research suggested users mostly wanted to download a PDF as easily as possible, so they reworked their platform to make it simpler and to reduce the number of clicks needed to acquire the PDF.  The majority of users also do not start with the RSC website, but are brought in from elsewhere.  They have optimised their site to provide a mobile version, but are not yet considering separate applications.  Finally, they have worked on ChemSpider which they acquired in 2009 to provide a free system which experiments with community contributed and “good enough” chemical information.  Richard summed up their philosophy as being that of targeted innovation – lead where you can, but prepare yourself for where others are going.

After this another publisher, Andrea Powell from CABI, spoke about the decisions facing publishers when trying to balance the competing demands of users, librarians, budgets and, in her case, a commitment to provide funds for other projects.  For me, this was the best talk of the day – not only was Andrea eloquent and engaging as a speaker, but she really opened my eyes to what happens at the publisher end.  CABI’s approach was to try and provide the best possible user experience, but this was often interrupted by obliging other needs – e.g. it’s useful to have the database hosted on a range of provider sites, but this means that users coming to the CABI site via Google may not be authenticated (if their institution has access via, say, Ebsco).  There are complex training needs and negotiations behind the scenes to provide databases on a range of platforms, to accommodate different platform functionalities and ensure data is loaded correctly.  Taking out complex features can improve discoverability.  They also have a balance between providing end users with an excellent service, and providing librarians with tools such as COUNTER compliant statistics.  I felt particularly inspired by this, as statistics are one of my pet topics, but also it had not really been apparent to me (one of those awful librarians who asks for COUNTER statistics) that there would be trade-offs – if they provide the stats, then they can’t provide a user experience improvement.

The JISC TechDis Publisher Lookup Awards were presented next.  I had briefly chatted to one of the TechDis people earlier, but had not really been aware of it before the day.  Essentially, these awards celebrated publishers who provide an outstanding service in supplying alternative formats of books for users with disabilities.

Lunch was a bit of a disappointment.  Despite having spoken to the organisers a couple of weeks in advance about my dietary needs, and having been told what dish would be prepared for me, there was nothing there.  This meant I ended up standing around for about half an hour waiting to be fed, being fussed over by catering staff who were quite annoying after a while.  Thankfully Jason from CILIP came over and sorted them out, and I did get a perfectly good lunch in the end, but as one of my aims was to network with other attendees, it was a serious frustration to be standing around waiting for food.  I did, however, managed to lurk around a table once I’d eaten and have a chat with a few people.

After lunch, there was a choice of two parallel sessions.  I attended both the stream one talks, the first of which was from Chris Armstrong who I had chatted to while waiting for my food.  He talked about e-book readers, but opened with some comments on the recent Publishers Association announcement, which has been frowned upon by many librarians as a very regressive move.  There has been lots of hype about ebook readers, which hasn’t necessarily been positive.  Feedback has been gathered through the JISC ebook observatory, and it seems that many of the issues in libraries relate to licensing rather than content.  E-ink does give the user a comfortable reading experience, assuming the user can get the content onto the device in the first place.  A future where students could add reading list resources to their e-reader at the start of term is not unrealistic (technologically speaking at least).  There is also little evidence of whether the learning quality is as good from e-readers as it is from print, although it has been shown that children love them, so they certainly build interest.  Some ebook providers only allow viewing of content online, so they can’t be downloaded onto the more comfortable devices.  Additionally, there isn’t yet a sufficient range of resources available to meet all students’ needs, especially in the area of textbooks.  Aggregators should be providing the facility for users to download books onto portable readers.  Poorly designed formats can also mean that users miss content, for example not scrolling to the bottom of a page, but just reading the top half on each page(!).  One student surveyed as part of the Observatory confessed to using pirated textbooks as they were significantly more usable – they were just a PDF file.  Lack of colour and legibility of tables and diagrams are also problematic for some subjects, although technology is progressing to solve this problem.  Some features, such as note taking are not very useful as they are not transferred to a central place.  Others, such as bookmarking are used, and there is interest in a more interactive experience, especially for end of chapter exercises and quizzes in textbooks.  Interfaces are not smooth for many e-books, and there was a discussion of why – possibly copyright issues with format changes, also catering to different standards and platforms.

After an embarrassing break (note to self: check skirt is not tucked in underwear before leaving the bathroom), the second parallel session in stream one considered mobile technologies.  Martin White posed the question: is the library of the future a corridor?  It is common to have productive discussions from chance meetings, and smartphones enable users to connect instantly to resources and to other people.  Real work is not necessarily static and desk-based – mobiles are small and always on – they are easy to use on the move.  The technology is developing extremely quickly, and bandwidth available to data users is likely to rocket when 4G is implemented, while geolocation technologies may be able to provide context-aware services (e.g. bringing up appropriate files when arriving at a particular meeting destination).  However, some issues are not yet resolved, such as printing.  IT companies do not have ease of use as their main aim – they are in the business to make money.  Publishers should avoid a single platform approach, but apps are important to phone manufacturers as they commit the user to a particular device.  The Library of Birmingham demonstrates one strategy for mobile library services in an article in Ariadne.  It is important that a strategy is considered, even some of the less avant garde organisations are now realising just how important mobile devices are becoming.

We then had a break where I talked to a lively group, one of whom is working in a virtual communities role, which sounds very exciting.

Following this, we were given a summary of all four parallel sessions, so we all had an idea of what was being discussed.  One focused on threats to the business model for the newspaper industry, due to the fall in revenue from online advertising and the yet uncertain outcome of paywalling content.  The other discussed the re-use of information and emphasized that users do not have rights, but permissions.  The Digital Economy Act may not be implemented by the new government, so there are still some glimmers of hope in that direction.

In his closing keynote, Chris Head asked how information professionals can make a difference.  The Comprehensive Spending Review is still very fresh, and it is almost impossible to plan even 5 years ahead.  The impact will vary in different regions and different sectors, and libraries and information services can be vulnerable to moral pressures (e.g. is the library really more important than child protection?).  Even if all possible cuts are made to back-end services, frontline services will still need to streamline to meet the levels of cuts.  Perhaps flexible working will become the default mode, with requests for physical office space being the exception.  There is also likely to be a shift towards delegating more routine activities to para-professionals.  It will be important for everyone to target cuts carefully, however the information available to decision makers is not necessarily reliable, and evidence-based decisions are not the norm.  Information professionals have a role here in ensuring information assets are as good as they can be.  This will involve influencing top management, who may not even consider their information to be an asset.  Thoughtful information and records management, considering sharing vs. privacy, and retention/destruction policies will be vital.  Information professionals can take on this challenge by becoming politically aware and “putting their heads about the parapet”.

Overall, I found the conference to be valuable, in that I have a lot more evidence to back up the ideas I had been forming about mobile information generally.  I found the networking side of things to be a little easier than normal, as I had specifically gone with that in mind, which motivated me to approach people.  I did feel a little awkward, and I am sure I talked too much at some people, but it certainly wasn’t as uncomfortable as I’d feared.  Hopefully I didn’t come across as a gabbling fool!

Had a very busy week last week, with a hectic Monday – Wednesday finishing the main chunk of periodical renewals, then two events – Digital Information 2010 on Thursday and Mashed Libraries Mash Spa on Friday.  I am planning several posts on these, but I’m starting off with a request for help (known as crowdsourcing an answer as far as I can tell).

So, what I’d like to achieve is an RSS feed (or something similar) which incorporates the content of an existing feed with an excerpt from the page each item links to.  I’ve managed to build a yahoo pipe which extracts the information I’m interested in, but where I’m stuck is how to re-integrate it with the original list.

The pipe is here:

@domicus helped out a bit (thank you!), but it’s still not quite cracked.

Any ideas?

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