#libday8 day 3 — never-ending powerpoint!

"PowerPoint effects" from Noise To Signal by Rob Cottingham

I had just enough time to log on and clear out the email inbox before the first team of vendor reps arrived to demonstrate their discovery service, and then it was off to the auditorium where I would spend most of the rest of the day.

These presentations are the latest iteration of our years long internal debate over whether or not the current crop of “web-scale discovery services” can fulfill an unmet need for our students (and faculty). We’ve considered several in the past, but could not get sufficient buy-in from the research & instruction librarians to request the funds to pay for them. After a cooling period, and many discussions with key individuals, we sent out an RFI to some targeted companies, and now we’re providing the opportunity for them to give live demonstrations/pitches.

It’s an unusually warm day here in Richmond, and the library’s HVAC — like most large buildings with sections of various ages and walls that didn’t exist when the building was originally designed — isn’t keeping up with the change. So, after a much-needed lunch break, I came back to the warm auditorium for rounds two and three.

I wish I could share my thoughts about the day’s presentations, but I can’t. Ultimately, there were many examples of things done well and things done not so well, both in the products and in the presentations. We know where the bar has been set, so now it’s a matter of matching our expectations to what can be delivered. There is one more presentation to go, and these have been quite valuable for clarifying what is important to us in a discovery service.

After one last pass through the email inbox, bumping most action items to tomorrow, library day in the life round eight day three has ended.

musings on web-scale discovery systems

photo by Pascal

My library is often on the forefront of innovation, having the advantage of a healthy budget and staff size, yet small enough to be nimble. Frequently, when my colleagues return from conferences and give their reports, they’ll conclude with something along the lines of “we’re already doing most of the things they talked about.” At a recent conference report session, that was repeated again, with one exception: we have not implemented a web-scale discovery system.

I’m of two minds about web-scale discovery systems. In theory, they’re pretty awesome, allowing users to discover all of the content available to them from the library, regardless of the source or format. But in reality, they’re hamstrung by exclusive deals and coding limitations. The initial buzz was that they caused a dramatic increase in the use of library resources, but a few years in, and I’m hearing conflicting reports and grumblings.

We held off on buying a web-scale discovery system for two main reasons: one, we didn’t have the funding secured, and two, most of the reference librarians felt indifferent to outright dislike towards the systems out there at the time. We’re now in the process of reviewing and evaluating the current systems available, after many discussions about which problems we are hoping they will solve.

In the end, they really aren’t “Google for Libraries.” We think that our users want a single search box, but do they really? I heard an anecdote about how the library had spent a lot of time teaching users where to find their web-scale discovery system, making sure it was visible on the main library page, etc. After a professor assigned the same students to find a known article (gave them the full citation) using the web-scale discovery system (called it by name), the most frequent question the library got was, “How do I google the <name of web-scale discovery system>?”

I wonder if the ROI really is significant enough to implement and promote a web-scale discovery system? These systems are not cheap, and they take a bit of labor to maintain them. And, frankly, if the battle over exclusive content continues to be waged, it won’t be easy to pick the best one for our collection/users and know that it will stay that way for more than six months or a year.

Does your library have a web-scale discovery system? Is it everything you thought it would be? Would you pick the same one if you had to choose again?

my twitter infographic

my twitter infographicIt’s a mashup of two of my favorite things — data visualization and social media. Of course I’m going to make one.

The interesting thing is that for some reason I come across as a gamer according to the algorithms. Unless you count solitaire, sudoku, and Words with Friends, I’m not really a gamer at all. The PS2, games, and accessories I bought from my sister last November that is are sitting in a corner unassembled are also a testament to how little I game.

Anyway, click on the image to get the full-sized view, and if you make your own, be sure to share the link in the comments.

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.

NASIG 2011: Books in Chains

Speaker: Paul Duguid

Unlike the automotive brand wars, tech brand wars still require a level of coordination and connectivity between each other. Intel, Windows, and Dell can all be in one machine, and it became a competition as to which part motivated the purchase.

The computer/tech supply chain is odd. The most important and difficult component to replace is the hard drive, and yet most of us don’t know who makes the drives in our computers. It makes a huge difference in profit when your name is out front.

Until the mid 1800s, the wine sold had the retailer name on it, not the vineyard. Eventually, that shifted, and then shifted again to being sold by the name of the varietal.

In the book supply chain, there are many links, and the reader who buys the book may not see any of the names involved, and at different times in history, the links were the brand that sold it. Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling tried to trademark their names so that publishers could not abuse them.

In academia, degrees are an indication of competency, and the institution behind the degree is a part of the brand. Certification marks began with unions in the US, and business schools were among the first to go out and register their names. However, it gets tricky when the institution conferring the degrees is also taking in fees from students. Is it certification or simply selling the credentials?

Who brands in publishing? We think the author, but outside of fiction, that starts to break down. Reference works are generally branded by the publisher. Reprint series are branded by the series. Romances are similar. Do we pay attention to who wrote the movie, TV series, or even newspaper article?

What happens when we go digital? The idealist’s view is that information wants to be free. The pragmatic view is that information needs to be constrained. Many things that are constraints are also resources. The structure and organization of a newspaper has much to do with the paper it is on. Also, by limiting to what fits on the paper, it conveys an indication of importance if it makes it into print. Free information suffers from a lack of filters to make the important bits rise to the top.

We think of technologies replacing each other, but in fact they tend to create new niches by taking away some but not all of the roles of the old tech. What goes and what stays is what you see as integral.

data-crunching librarian

Officially, my title is Electronic Resources Librarian, but lately I’ve been spending more of my time and energy on gathering and crunching data about our eresources than on anything else. It’s starting to bleed over into the print world, as well. Since we don’t have someone dedicated to managing our print journals, I’ve taken on the responsibility of directing discussions about their future, as well as gathering and providing e-only options to the selectors.

I like this work, but I’ve also been feeling a bit like my role is evolving and changing in ways I’m not entirely cognizant of, and that worries me. I came into this job without clear direction and made it my own, and even though I have a department head now, I still often feel like I’m the driver. This has both positives and negatives, and lately I’ve been wishing I could have more outside direction, in part so I don’t feel so much like I’m doing things that may not have much value to the people for whom I am doing them.

However, on Monday, something clicked. A simple comment about using SAS to analyze the print book collection use over time set all sorts of things firing away in my head. About all I know with SAS is that it’s some sort of data analysis tool, but I realized that I had come up with several of my professional goals for the next year in that moment.

For one, I want to explore whether or not I can learn and use SAS (or SPSS) effectively to analyze our collections (not just print books, as in the example above). For another, I want to explore whether or not I can learn R to more effectively visualize the data I gather.

Maybe some day down the road my title won’t be Electronic Resources Librarian anymore. Maybe some day it will be Data-Crunching Librarian.

Sounds good to me.

multitasking & efficient use of resources

Lukas Mathis wrote recently on his blog Ignore the Code about multitasking and what that means for humans versus computers. He made one point that resonated with me:

“The fact that the iPad only lets me see one app at a time often does not help me focus. Instead, it forces me to switch between apps constantly, thus preventing me from focusing on my task. Every time I have to deal with the iPad’s task switching, I’m interrupted.”

I noticed this when I was using the iPad at the last two conferences I attended. It was great for focusing my attention on the speaker and content, because I had to leave the note-taking app and open the Twitter app if I wanted to check on the back channel chatter. However, it was frustrating for that same reason, as it also meant that if I wanted to toss out a pithy quote from the presentation, it meant taking a chance on missing something important while I switched programs.

When I’ve had a laptop or netbook with me for note-taking, switching between programs was a simple keystroke that took a fraction of a second and barely any of my mental focus, and more often than not I could have Twitter and my note-taking program open side-by-side. While I was using only one resource at a time, by being able to switch between them quickly, I could “multi-task” efficiently.

Thankfully, I don’t often have need to do this on a mobile device like the iPad or my Android phone, so right now this isn’t a problem for me. However, if these types of interfaces become the new standard for computing, someone will need to find a way to allow for multiple screens running multiple programs that can be moved between with the flick of a finger. Otherwise, we will have even more problems focusing on the task at hand.

CIL 2011: In Pursuit of Library Elegance

Speaker: Erica Reynolds

Elegant solutions/designs are often invisible to the user. Observe what is happening, and look at what could be removed (distractions/barriers), rather than what needs to be added.

Simple rules create effective order. The more complexity in an equation, the more doubtful that it is true.

Another aspect of elegance is seduction. Limiting information creates intrigue. Libraries could play more on curiosity to draw users to information. Play hard to get, in a way. Don’t be so eager to dump information in response to user questions.

Restraint and removal can increase impact and value. Encourage people to use their brains. Why do we act like they are so stupid that they need signs everywhere in the library?

Limited resources spark creativity and innovation. The creative tension at the center of elegance: achieving the maximum effect with the minimum of effort.

The path to elegance begins with: resisting the urge to act; observe; ensure a diversity of opinions and expertise are heard; carve out time to think and not think; get away from your devices; get some sleep; and get outside.

Speaker: John Blyberg

The primary intent of our website may not be about getting you from point A to point B. It could be about building community and connection.

They found that when they removed the fortress that was the old reference desk, it was much more popular and approachable. Like Apple not including a manual with the iPhone, your library should be intuitive enough to use with minimal signage or instruction. Digital signage can evolve and be interactive, which will spark curiosity and inquiry.

trying out the iPad

I have borrowed an iPad from work to take notes on at ER&L next week. So far I’m learning that I can’t touch type on it, so I’ll have my head down a lot. Also, the screen is very sensitive, so I’m making typos when my fingers get too close. Will be needing to hone my hovering skills.

I’m also bringing my laptop, so I can switch to that if this gets frustrating.