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.

library day in the life round 6

I plan on using Twitter and Flickr to capture my week this time. CoverItLive will show the tweets below, and you can follow my Flickr feed or check the widget under CiL to see what I’ve posted there.

eclecticlibrarian's items tagged with libday6 More of eclecticlibrarian’s stuff tagged with libday6

Delicious is still tasty to me

I can’t help feeling disappointed in how quickly folks jumped ship and stayed on the raft even when it became clear that it was just a leaky faucet and not a hole in the hull.

I’ve been seeing many of my friends and peers jump ship and move their social/online bookmarks to other services (both free and paid) since the Yahoo leak about Delicious being in the sun-setting category of products. Given the volume of outcry over this, I was pretty confident that either Yahoo would change their minds or someone would buy Delicious or someone would replicate Delicious. So, I didn’t worry. I didn’t freak out. I haven’t even made a backup of my bookmarks, although I plan to do that soon just because it’s good to have backups of data.

Now the word is that Delicious will be sold, which is probably for the best. Yahoo certainly didn’t do much with it after they acquired it some years ago. But, honestly, I’m pretty happy with the features Delicious has now, so really don’t care that it hasn’t changed much. However, I do want it to go to someone who will take care of it and continue to provide it to users, whether it remains free or becomes a paid service.

I looked at the other bookmark services out there, and in particular those recommended by Lifehacker. Frankly, I was unimpressed. I’m not going to pay for a service that isn’t as good as Delicious, and I’m not going to use a bookmarking service that isn’t integrated into my browser. I didn’t have much use for Delicious until the Firefox extension, and now it’s so easy to bookmark and tag things on the fly that I use it quite frequently as a universal capture tool for websites and gift/diy ideas.

The technorati are a fickle bunch. I get that. But I can’t help feeling disappointed in how quickly they jumped ship and stayed on the raft even when it became clear that it was just a leaky faucet and not a hole in the hull.

LibFest: Telling your Story with Usage Statistics — Making data work

presenter: Jamene Brooks-Kieffer

She won’t be talking about complex tools or telling you to hire more staff. Rather, she’ll be looking at ways we can use what we have to do it better.

Right now, we have too much data from too many sources, and we don’t have enough time or staff to deal with it. And, nobody cares about it anyway. Instead of feeling blue about this, change your attitude.

Start by looking at smaller chunks. Look at all of the data types and sources, then choose one to focus on. Don’t stress about the rest. How to pick which one? Select data that has been consistently collected over time. If it’s focused on a specific activity, it’ll be easier to create a story about it. And finally, the data should be both interesting and accessible to you.

By selecting only one source of data, you have reduced the stress on time. You also need to acknowledge your limits in order to move forward. You can’t work miracles, but you can show enough impact to get others on board. Tie the data to your organizational goals. Analyze the data using the tools you already have (i.e. Excel), and then publicize the results of your work.

Why use Excel? It’s pretty universal, and there are free alternatives for spreadsheets if you need them. Three useful Excel tools: import & manipulate files of various formats (CSV files), consolidate similar information (total annual data from monthly worksheets), and conditional formatting (identify cost/use over thresholds).

The spreadsheets are for you, not the stakeholders. Stop relying on them to communicate your data. The trouble with spreadsheets is that although they contain a lot of data, it’s challenging for those unfamiliar with the sources to understand the meaning of the data. Sending a summary/story will get your message across faster and more clearly.

Data has context, settings, complexities, and conflicts. One of the best ways of communicating it is through a story. Give stakeholders the context to hang the numbers on and a way to remember why they are important. Write what you know, focus on the important things, and keep it brief and meaningful. Here is an example: Data Stories: A dirty job.

Data stories are everywhere. It’s not strictly for usage or financial data. If you have a specific question you want answered through data, it makes it easier to compose the story.

Convince yourself to act; your actions will persuade others.

presenter: Katy Silberger

She will be showing three scenarios for observing user behavior through statistics: looking at the past with vendor supplied statistics, assessing current user behavior with Google Analytics, and anticipating user behavior with Google Analytics.

They started looking at usage patterns before and after implementing federated searching. It was hard to answer the question of how federated searching changed user behavior. They used vendor usage reports and website visits to calculate the number of articles retrieved per website visit and articles retrieved per search. They found that the federated search tool generated an increase in article/use. The ratios take into account the fluctuation in user populations.

Google Analytics could be used to identify use from students abroad. It’s also helpful for identifying trends in mobile web access.