I did a thing yesterday

I spoke at the VIVA User Group meeting on some of the workflow and tools I use to gather information about our faculty’s scholarly output for an annual reception co-hosted by the Libraries and the Provost’s office. If you were there and want the slides/details of what I said, they’re now up on Slideshare with speaker’s notes. If you weren’t there and are curious, I hope you find it interesting/useful.

checking access to your library eresources

DSC01328
photo by daniel

If you don’t already read (or browse the table of contents) The Code4Lib Journal, I suggest you start now. Occasionally, there is content that is very relevant to eresources/serials/acquisitions.

The most recent issue contains an article written by¬†Kristina M. Spurgin, the E-Resources Cataloger at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She created a Ruby script to check all the links and look for key words in the HTML or text that indicated if there was a problem with access. Of course, each platform has different ways of indicating whether or not a user from a particular IP range has access to an article/chapter, so each one has it’s own configuration, built into the script. She plans to eventually move them into their own files that can be selectively used by others as appropriate to their collections.

This is still a work in progress, and she notes that it’s not a perfect solution for several reasons, including random errors caused by one of the scripting libraries. That being said, I’m excited to see a potential open source solution to a problem we all have. Automated access checking requires the program to be a smart as an experienced eresource librarian, so it makes sense that a smart, experienced eresource librarian would be writing it.

print holdings & javascript

Topeka Public Library Periodicals area, ca. 1953

What does print holdings mean to you? If you said “the books/journals in paper on a shelf in the library,” then you’re probably a librarian. Our students don’t know what it means — most of them think it has something to do with printing something from a computer. And yet, that’s what we have had our print holdings labeled as in our “journal locator” (aka A-Z list and link resolver) for years. Until two weeks ago, when I changed it.

It never occurred to me that “print holdings” would be confusing to someone, since it’s pretty clear to me what it means. But I don’t think like an undergraduate student anymore, much less an undergraduate student in 2011. It wasn’t until I had spent so much time looking at our print journal holdings that it dawned on me that this language may not be very clear to our modern students.

My main project this summer involved taking information from an inventory of our print journal collection and adding the coverage dates to the entries in our A-Z/linking list. In addition, I added notes about the location (we have journals in four main locations, with a few in the book stacks and the archives) and any anomalies. Now when someone looks up a title, it will say “University of Richmond Libraries” followed by the location (i.e. “Boatwright Periodicals – Second Floor”).

I’d love to change the name “periodicals” to something else, but I’m not sure what. Also, it’s the location name in our catalog, and I’m trying to be consistent. At least it’s not “print holdings” anymore.

The next phase in my efforts to make our A-Z/linking list more useful to the novice was to add icons for peer-reviewed titles (example). I’m using the code that Karen Coombs developed a couple of years ago. Took me until now to realize that it’s not that complicated to implement, particularly once I realized that we’re using JQuery on our website already, so getting it set up and maintained is not my responsibility.

Next, I’m hoping to add links to RSS feeds where available, but I can only find references to the code for that. I’ll keep digging, but it’s dropping lower on the priority list.

nifty enhancement for the A-Z journal tool

Not sure if I’ve mentioned it here, but my library uses SerialsSolutions for our A-Z journal list, OpenURL linking, and ERMS. I’ve been putting a great deal of effort into the ERMS over the past few years, getting license, cost, and use data in so that we can use this tool for both discovery and assessment. Aside from making the page look pretty much like our library website, we haven’t done much to enhance the display.

Recently (as in, yesterday) my colleague Dani Roach over at the University of St. Thomas shared with me an enhancement they implemented using the “public notes” for a journal title. They have icons that indicate whether there is an RSS feed for the contents and whether the journal is peer reviewed (according to Ulrichs). The icon for the RSS feed is also a link to the feed itself. This is what you¬† see when you search for the Journal of Biological Chemistry, for example.

Much like the work I’m doing to pull together helpful information on the back-end about the resources from a variety of sources, this pulls in information that would be tremendously useful for students and faculty researchers, I think.

However, I have a feeling this would take quite a bit of time to gather up the information and add it to the records. Normally I would leap in with both feet and just do it, but in the effort to be more responsible, I’m going to talk with the reference librarians first. But, I wanted to share this with you all because I think it’s a wonderful libhack that anyone should consider doing, regardless of which ERMS they have.

it could be worse

Have you noticed the changes Google has been making to the way they display search results? Google Instant has been the latest, but before that, there was the introduction of the “Everything” sidebar. And that one in particular seems to have upset numerous Google search fans. If you do a search in Google for “everything sidebar,” the first few results are about removing or hiding it.

Not only that, but the latest offering from the Funny Music Project is a song all about hating the Google “Everything” sidebar. The creator, Jesse Smith, expresses a frustration that many of us can identify with, “It’s hard to find a product that does what it does really well. In a world of mediocrity, it’s the exception that excels. Then some jerk has to justify his job by tinkering and jiggering and messing up the whole thing.”

Tech folks like to tinker. We like making things work better, or faster, or be more intuitive. I’ll bet that there are a lot of Google users who didn’t know about the different kinds of content-specific searches that Google offered, or had never used the advanced search tools. And they’re probably happy with the introduction of the “Everything” sidebar.

But there’s another group of folks who are evidently very unhappy with it. Some say it takes up too much room on the screen, that it adds complexity, and that they just don’t like the way it looks.

Cue ironic chuckling from me.

Let’s compare the Google search results screen with search results from a few of the major players in libraryland:

Google

ProQuest EBSCOhost

CSA Illumina ISI Web of Knowledge

So, who’s going to write a song about how much they hate <insert library database platform of choice>?

Kindle 2 is kind of cool, actually

I’m not going to gush about how I fell in love with the device, because I didn’t.

My library (as in, the library where I work) has the good fortune of being blessed with both funds and leadership that allow us to experiment with some emerging technologies. When Amazon released the first version of the Kindle, we purchased one to experiment with. It was simply the latest in a long history of ebook readers that we had hoped to be able to incorporate into the library’s function on campus.

I took a turn at using the Kindle, and I was mightily unimpressed. The interface seemed very clunky, to the point of preventing me from getting into the book I tried to read. When the Kindle 2 was released and we received permission to purchase one, I was skeptical that it would be any better, but I still signed up for my turn at using it.

Last week, I was given the Kindle 2, and since it already had a book on it that I was half-way through reading, I figured I would start there. However, I was not highly motivated to make the time for it. Yesterday afternoon, I took the train up to DC, returning this morning. Four hours round trip, plus the extra time spent waiting at each station, gave me plenty of time to finish my book, so I brought the Kindle 2 with me.

I’m not going to gush about how I fell in love with the device, because I didn’t. However, I finished the book with ease before I arrived in DC, and out of shear boredom I pulled down a copy of another book that was already purchased on our library account. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to go from one book to another without having to lug along several selections from my library “just in case” I ran out of something to read.

Right now, I’m at least a third of the way in on the second book, and I plan to finish reading it on the Kindle 2.

I don’t think I’ll end up buying one anytime soon, particularly since I’ve put a stop to buying new books until I’ve read more of the ones I own. However, I have a better understanding of those Kindle enthusiasts who rave about having their entire library (and more) at their fingertips. It’s pretty handy if you’re someone who often has time to kill away from your library.

virtual services in libraries

This started as a comment response to David Lee King’s admonition, but by the time I got to paragraph three, I decided it would be better to post it here instead.

My library (small private academic university) offers both IM and email reference services. There is a note on the IM page of the website which states, “Users at the Main Service Desk have priority over IM users. IM users are taken in a first-come, first served order. If you would prefer not to wait, you may always email a librarian.” Essentially, this is the only way we can manage IM reference service with one person handling it at the same time they are answering questions at the desk and responding to email queries. So far, our users have been understanding, and IM reference makes up approximately 10% of our reference interactions.

I don’t see this as discriminating against our virtual users. Anyone in customer service will tell you that the person standing in front of you takes priority. The culture of IM is such that a delay in responding is acceptable, if not expected. Chat doesn’t mean that you drop everything else — we’re all used to multi-tasking while having an online conversation. Chat provides a faster back and forth than email, which is why many prefer it for reference interactions, but that doesn’t mean they expect instantaneous service.

The libraries with explicitly stated response times that DLK points out are large institutions serving large populations. My library can get away with fast response times because we might get one or two IM questions an hour, at most. Larger populations result in more questions, and depending on how in-depth those questions are, it may take several hours or longer to respond with all of the information the user is seeking. I often conclude a basic IM reference transaction by providing the student with the contact information for their subject librarian and the personal appointment request form. Some research needs can’t be met exclusively in an online environment.

I get what DLK is trying to say, and I agree that we should treat our online users with the same courtesy we do our in-person users. However, the limitations in online reference tools, staffing, and resources all combine to make it difficult to create a virtual library utopia. We should strive for it, yes, but making librarians feel even more guilty because they can’t do it (for whatever reason) is not going to improve the situation.

thing 12: Rollyo

Blogcritics used Rollyo for a while a couple of years ago, and I was never happy with the search results or the way they were displayed. It could have been some setting that BC used, but I assumed it had more to do with the way Rollyo works.

When I was at Blogworld last fall, I chatted with the folks at the Lijit booth for a while and made a note to take a look at their product when I got home. Apparently so did Phillip Winn, the Blogcritics Chief Geek, because not long after, Lijit replaced Rollyo as the site’s search tool. It’s worked out well.

Rollyo’s web search is powered by Yahoo Search, so I can’t see why I would want to use it as a general search engine. I think that Rollyo’s best value is as a search engine that looks at a specific collection of websites. This might be handy in a library if you have, for example, a number of different digital collections being served up from different domains or subdomains. With a Rollyo (or similar) service, you could build a single search interface for them. That is, if you don’t mind sending your users to a site that mixes in six paid links for each page of ten results, in addition to side-bar advertisements.

managing electronic resources

Longing for the perfect ERMS….

In 2003, I attended the ACRL conference in Charlotte. One of the sessions I sat in on was about home-grown electronic resource management tools. After having dealt with digital and manilla folders of stuff, constantly searching for info, and not having any sort of long-term archiving plan for getting at the information, the idea of having a system that did that for me seemed miraculous.

Fast-forward five years. I’ve now had the pleasure of working with two moderately functional commercial ERMS, and neither are the miracle solution I had hoped for.

Now that I’ve had the opportunity to get under the hood of “traditional” ERMS, I have an idea as to why they are flawed — they’re approaching electronic resource management as a metadata storage problem, rather than a workflow problem. Creating a system that includes all the fields recommended by the DLF ERM Initiative is a good start, but it’s only a start. We need something that goes beyond that to creating a workflow that can include input and required actions from various different people similar to the workflow outlined in the DLF document.

My ideal ERMS is one that make it easy to input licensing and acquisitions data, automatically triggers alerts for follow-up, and provides relevant license information to users and staff. I’m currently managing more electronic resources than ever. I need a tool that makes keeping track of them as simple and painless as possible. Unfortunately, I don’t think the commercially available products are at that point yet, and as far as I know, no one is working on an open source solution.

Learning 2008: Tools to Simplify Research

Presenters: Andy Morton & Laura Horne

Andy, being Andy, started the presentation with the YouTube video of Steve Ballmer going crazy. He did not do his own version of that intro.

RSS (the Common Craft video covers the basics) pulls in content from a variety of sources to one location, saving them to be read at your convenience. You can use web-based readers like Google Reader or Bloglines, or desktop tools like Outlook 2007 or NewsGator. [side note: Andy says that the university is moving to Office 2007 this summer. Gah! I thought I had escaped that nightmare….]

Undergraduate research is project focused, whereas scholars (faculty) will hold on to information for a long period of time because they are developing their field of study. This effects how both groups approach their information discovery. Scholars can use RSS to keep up with particular journals through publisher table of contents feeds or topics built using search alerts in specific databases.

CiteULike is del.icio.us for scholars, with a few additional organizational tools and features that makes it almost a hybrid of social bookmarking tool and a bibliographic management tool. There are far fewer users than on more general sites, which can be a positive or negative, depending on your perspective.

[side note: I did not have a computer with me when I took notes for the opening keynote, so I’ll be typing them up and adding them later.]