Moving Up to the Cloud, a panel lecture hosted by the VCU Libraries

“Sky symphony” by Kevin Dooley

“Educational Utility Computing: Perspectives on .edu and the Cloud”
Mark Ryland, Chief Solutions Architect at Amazon Web Services

AWS has been a part of revolutionizing the start-up industries (i.e. Instagram, Pinterest) because they don’t have the cost of building server infrastructures in-house. Cloud computing in the AWS sense is utility computing — pay for what you use, easy to scale up and down, and local control of how your products work. In the traditional world, you have to pay for the capacity to meet your peak demand, but in the cloud computing world, you can level up and down based on what is needed at that moment.

Economies, efficiencies of scale in many ways. Some obvious: storage, computing, and networking equipment supply change; internet connectivity and electric power; and data center sitting, redundancy, etc. Less obvious: security and compliance best practices; datacenter internal innovations in networking, power, etc.

AWS and .EDU: EdX, Coursera, Texas Digital Library, Berkeley AMP Lab, Harvard Medical, University of Phoenix, and an increasing number of university/school public-facing websites.

Expects that we are heading toward cloud computing utilities to function much like the electric grid — just plug in and use it.

“Libraries in Transition”
Marshall Breeding, library systems expert

We’ve already seen the shift of print to electronic in academic journals, and we’re heading that way with books. Our users are changing in the way they expect interactions with libraries to be, and the library as space is evolving to meet that, along with library systems.

Web-based computing is better than client/server computing. We expect social computing to be integrated into the core infrastructure of a service, rather than add-ons and afterthoughts. Systems need to be flexible for all kinds of devices, not just particular types of desktops. Metadata needs to evolve from record-by-record creation to bulk management wherever possible. MARC is going to die, and die soon.

How are we going to help our researchers manage data? We need the infrastructure to help us with that as well. Semantic web — what systems will support it?

Cooperation and consolidation of library consortia; state-wide implementations of SaaS library systems. Our current legacy ILS are holding libraries back from being able to move forward and provide the services our users want and need.

A true cloud computing system comes with web-based interfaces, externally hosted, subscription OR utility pricing, highly abstracted computing model, provisioned on demand, scaled according to variable needs, elastic.

“Moving Up to the Cloud”
Mark Triest, President of Ex Libris North America

Currently, libraries are working with several different systems (ILS, ERMS, DRs, etc.), duplicating data and workflows, and not always very accurately or efficiently, but it was the only solution for handling different kinds of data and needs. Ex Libris started in 2007 to change this, beginning with conversations with librarians. Their solution is a single system with unified data and workflows.

They are working to lower the total cost of ownership by reducing IT needs, minimize administration time, and add new services to increase productivity. Right now there are 120+ institutions world-wide who are in the process of or have gone live with Alma.

Automated workflows allow staff to focus on the exceptions and reduce the steps involved.

Descriptive analytics are built into the system, with plans for predictive analytics to be incorporated in the future.

Future: collaborative collection development tools, like joint licensing and consortial ebook programs; infrastructure for ad-hoc collaboration

“Cloud Computing and Academic Libraries: Promise and Risk”
John Ulmschneider, Dean of Libraries at VCU

When they first looked at Alma, they had two motivations and two concerns. They were not planning or thinking about it until they were approached to join the early adopters. All academic libraries today are seeking to discover and exploit new efficiencies. The growth of cloud-resident systems and data requires academic libraries to reinvigorate their focus on core mission. Cloud-resident systems are creating massive change throughout out institutions. Managing and exploiting pervasive change is a serious challenge. Also, we need to deal with security and durability of data.

Cloud solutions shift resources from supporting infrastructure to supporting innovation.

Efficiencies are not just nice things, they are absolutely necessary for academic libraries. We are obligated to upend long-held practice, if in doing so we gain assets for practice essential to our mission. We must focus recovered assets on the core library mission.

Agility is the new stability.

Libraries must push technology forward in areas that advance their core mission. Infuse technology evolution for libraries with the values needs of libraries. Libraries must invest assets as developers, development partners, and early adopters. Insist on discovery and management tools that are agnostic regarding data sources.

Managing the change process is daunting.. but we’re already well down the road. It’s not entirely new, but it does involve a change in culture to create a pervasive institutional agility for all staff.

IL 2012: Discovery Systems

Space Shuttle Discovery Landing At Washington DC
“Space Shuttle Discovery Landing At Washington DC” by Glyn Lowe

Speaker: Bob Fernekes

The Gang of Four: Google, Apple, Amazon, & Facebook

Google tends to acquire companies to grow the capabilities of it. We all know about Apple. Amazon sells more ebooks than print books now. Facebook is… yeah. That.

And then we jump to selecting a discovery service. You would do that in order to make the best use of the licensed content. This guy’s library did a soft launch in the past year of the discovery service they chose, and it’s had an impact on the instruction and tools (i.e. search boxes) he uses.

And I kind of lost track of what he was talking about, in part because he jumped from one thing to the next, without much of a transition or connection. I think there was something about usability studies after they implemented it, although they seemed to focus on more than just the discovery service.

Speaker: Alison Steinberg Gurganus

Why choose a discovery system? You probably already know. Students lack search skills, but they know how to search, so we need to give them something that will help them navigate the proprietary stuff we offer out on the web.

The problem with the discovery systems is that they are very proprietary. They don’t quite play fairly or nicely with competitor’s content yet.

Our users need to be able to evaluate, but they also need to find the stuff in the first place. A great discovery service should be self-explanatory, but we don’t have that yet.

We have students who understand Google, which connects them to all the information and media they want. We need something like that for our library resources.

When they were implementing the discovery tool, they wanted to make incremental changes to the website to direct users to it. They went from two columns, with the left column being text links to categories of library resources and services, to three columns, with the discover search box in the middle column.

When they were customizing the look of the discovery search results, they changed the titles of items to red (from blue). She notes that users tend to ignore the outside columns because that’s where Google puts advertisements, so they are looking at ways to make that information more visible.

I also get the impression that she doesn’t really understand how a discovery service works or what it’s supposed to do.

Speaker: Athena Hoeppner

Hypothesis: discovery includes sufficient content of high enough quality, with full text, and …. (didn’t type fast enough).

Looked at final papers from a PhD level course (34), specifically the methodology section and bibliography. Searched for each item in the discovery search as well as one general aggregator database and two subject-specific databases. The works cited were predominately articles, with a significant number of web sources that were not available through library resources. She was able to find more citations in the discovery search than in Google Scholar or any of the other library databases.

Clearly the discovery search was sufficient for finding the content they needed. Then they used a satisfaction survey of the same students that covered familiarity and frequency of use for the subject indexes, discovery search, and Google Scholar. Ultimately, it came down that the students were satisfied and happy with the subject indexes, and too few respondents to get a sense of satisfaction with the discovery search or Google Scholar.

Conclusions: Students are unfamiliar with the discovery system, but it could support their research needs. However, we don’t know if they can find the things they are looking for in it (search skills), nor do we know if they will ultimately be happy with it.

ER&L 2012 – Between Physical and Digital: Understanding Cross-Channel User Experiences

UX Brighton 2011 - Andrea Resmini
photo by Katariina Järvinen

speaker: Andrea Resmini

He starts with a brief description of the movie The Name of the Rose, which is a bit of a medieval murder mystery involving a monastery library. The “library” is actually a labyrinth, but only in the movie. (The book is a little different.)

The letters on the arches represent the names of the places in the world, and are placed in the library where they would be in the world as it relates to Europe. They didn’t exactly replicate the world, but they ordered it like good librarians.

If you don’t understand the organizational system, it’s just a labyrinth. The movie had to change this because it wouldn’t work to have room after room of books covering the walls. We have to see the labyrinth to be able to participate in the experience, which can be different depending on the medium (book or movie).

Before computers, we relied on experts (people), books, and mentors to learn. With computers, we have access to all of them, at any time. We are constantly connected (if we choose) to streams of data, and the access points are more and more portable.

“Cyberspace is not a place you go to but rather a layer tightly integrated into the world around us.” –Institute for the Future

This is not the future. It’s here now. Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare… our phones and mobile devices connect us.

Think about how you might send a message? Email, text, handwritten, smoke signals, ouija… ti’s the same task, but with many different mediums.

What if someone is looking for a book? They could go to the circ desk, but that’s becoming less common. They could go to a virtual bookshelf for the library. Or they could go to a competitor like Amazon. They could do this on a mobile phone. Or they could just start looking on the shelves themselves, whether they understand the classification/organization or not. The only thing that matters is the book. They don’t want to fight with mobile interfaces, search results in the millions, or creepy library stacks. They just want the book, when they want it, and how they want it.

The library is a channel, as is the labeling, circ desk, website, mobile interface, etc. Unfortunately, they don’t work together. We have silos of channels, not just silos of information.

Think about a bank. You can talk to the call center employee — they can’t help you if it’s not a part of their scripted routines. You can’t start an online process and finish it in a physical space (i.e. online banking then local branch).

Entertainment now uses many channels to reach consumers. If you really want to understand the second and third Matrix movies, you have to be familiar with the accessory channels of information (comic books, video games, etc.). In cross-channel experiences, users constantly move between channels, and will not stay in any single one of them from start to finish.

More companies, like clothing stores, are breaking down the barriers to flow between their physical and virtual stores. You can shop on line and return items to the physical store, for example.


  1. Information architectures are becoming open ecologies: no artifacts stand alone — they are all apart of the user experience
  2. users are becoming intermediaries: participants in these ecosystems actively produce and re-mediate content and meaning
  3. static becomes dynamic: ecologies are perpetually unfinished, always changing, always open to further refinement and manipulation
  4. dynamic becomes hybrid: the boundaries separating media, channels, and genres get thinner
  5. horizontal prevails over vertical: intermediaries push for spontaneity, ephemeral structures of meaning and constant change
  6. products are becoming experiences: focus shifts from how to design single items to how to design experiences spanning multiple steps
  7. experiences become cross-channel experiences: experiences bridge multiple connected media, devices and environments into ubiquitous ecologies

VLACRL Spring 2011: Building an eReaders Collection at Duke University Libraries

They started lending ereaders because they wanted to provide a way for users to interact with new and emerging technologies.

Speaker: Nancy Gibbs

They started lending ereaders because they wanted to provide a way for users to interact with new and emerging technologies. The collection focus is on high circulation popular reading titles, and they do add patron requests. Recently, they added all of the Duke University Press titles, per the request of the university press. (Incidentally, not all of the Duke UP titles are available in Kindle format because Amazon won’t allow them to sell a book in Kindle format until it has sold 50 print copies.)

They marketed their ereader program through word of mouth, the library website, the student paper, and the communications office. The communications press release was picked up by the local newspaper. They also created a YouTube video explaining how to reserve/check-out the ereaders, and gave presentations to the teaching & learning technologists and faculty.

For the sake of consistency and availability of titles, they purchase one copy of a title for every pod of six Kindle ereaders. Amazon allows you to load and view a Kindle book on up to six devices, which is how they arrived at that number. For the Nooks, they can have a book loaded on apparently an unlimited number of devices, so they purchase only one copy of a title from Barnes & Noble. They try to have the same titles on both the Kindles and the Nooks, but not every title available for purchase on the Kindle is also available on the Nook. Each of the books purchased is cataloged individually, with the location as the device it is on, and they will appear to be checked out when the device is checked out.

When they first purchased the devices and were figuring out the local workflow of purchasing and loading the content, the tech services department (acquisitions, cataloging, etc.) were given the devices to experiment with them. In part, this was to sort out any kinks in workflow that they may discover, but also it was because these folks don’t often get the chance to play with new technology in the library as their public service counterparts do. Gibbs recommends that libraries purchase insurance options for the devices, because things can happen.

One of the frustrations with commercial ereader options like the Kindle and Nook is that they are geared towards individual users and not library use. So, unlike other ebook providers and platforms, they do not give the library any usage data regarding the books used, which can make collection development in these areas somewhat challenging. However, given that their scope is popular reading material and that they take patron requests, this is not as much of an issue as it could be.

Side note: Gibbs pointed out that ebook readers are still not yet greener than print books, mostly because of the toxicity of the materials and the amount of resources that go into producing them. EcoLibris has a great resource page with more information about this.

library lending with the Kindle

kindle with newspaper
Amazon Kindle

I’m sure by now that you’ve heard the Amazon announcement that they will be offering a service to allow libraries to lend books to Kindle users. Well, the thing that got this academic librarian excited is this line from the press release: “If a Kindle book is checked out again or that book is purchased from Amazon, all of a customer’s annotations and bookmarks will be preserved.”

One of the common complaints we received in our pilot programs using Kindles in the classroom was that because the students had to return the devices, they couldn’t keep the notes they had made in the texts. Of course, even with this model they won’t be able to access their notes without checking out the book again, but at least it’ll be an option for them.

Of course, there is a down side to this announcement — the lending will be facilitated by OverDrive.  Unless you’ve been a library news hermit for the past few years, you’ve heard the complaints (and very few praises) about the OverDrive platform, and the struggles of librarians and users in getting the materials checked out and downloaded to devices. I hope that because Amazon will be relying on their fantastic Whispersync technology to retain notes and bookmarks,it will just as easy to check out and download the Kindle books through OverDrive.