Sunday, 21 December 2008

Nature requires wikipedia entry as well as peer-reviewed paper

I love the RNA Biology journal's new guidelines for submissions, which state that you must submit a Wikipedia article on your research on RNA families before the journal will publish your scholarly article on it:

This track will primarily publish articles describing either: (1) substantial updates and reviews of existing RNA families or (2) novel RNA families based on computational and/or experimental results for which little evolutionary analysis has been published. These articles must be accompanied by STOCKHOLM formatted alignments, including a consensus secondary structure or structures and a corresponding Wikipedia article. Publication in the track will require a short manuscript, a high quality Stockholm alignment and at least one Wikipedia article; Each centered around the RNA in question.

As my source for this points out, Nature (the publishing organisation behind the RNA Biology journal, and co-producer of Science Foo Camp with O'Reilly and Google) already synchronises a database with Wikipedia. Apparently there's a core of scientists who do most of the edits, but also a lot of other scientists who pop in sporadically to fix or add information.

Kudos to Nature for doing something imaginative to increase the commons. Journals wield a huge amount of power in the scientific world, and it's wonderful to see them using that power to incentivize good.


Friday, 12 December 2008

Free book usage data

Tony Hirst pointed me to this intriguing post.

I'm very proud to announce that Library Services at the University of Huddersfield has just done something that would have perhaps been unthinkable a few years ago: we've just released a major portion of our book circulation and recommendation data under an Open Data Commons/CC0 licence. In total, there's data for over 80,000 titles derived from a pool of just under 3 million circulation transactions spanning a 13 year period.

I would like to lay down a challenge to every other library in the world to consider doing the same.

This isn't about breaching borrower/patron privacy — the data we've released is thoroughly aggregated and anonymised. This is about sharing potentially useful data to a much wider community and attaching as few strings as possible.

I'm guessing some of you are thinking: "what use is the data to me?". Well, possibly of very little use — it's just a droplet in the ocean of library transactions and it's only data from one medium-sized new University, somewhere in the north of England. However, if just a small number of other libraries were to release their data as well, we'd be able to begin seeing the wider trends in borrowing.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Google to index popular magazines

From the Google Blog...

Today, we're announcing an initiative to help bring more magazine archives and current magazines online, partnering with publishers to begin digitizing millions of articles from titles as diverse as New York Magazine, Popular Mechanics, and Ebony.


Friday, 5 December 2008

Browsing backwards in time

Huge quantities of information are never more than a few clicks away on the Web, but it's not always easy to see what things were like yesterday. News stories and blog posts might be archived, but other information often gets lost. For instance, while it's trivial to find a book's sales ranking on Amazon today, it's less simple to see what it was last week. And for anyone curious about how news evolves, it might not be obvious how a story's prominence has changed--did it get top billing on news sites the day it broke, or was it buried at the bottom of the page? A new tool called Zoetrope is designed to help track such information by letting users browse backward through time.

Other projects, such as the Internet Archive, already preserve historical versions of websites. But Mira Dontcheva, a research scientist in the Advanced Technologies Lab at Adobe Systems, where Zoetrope was developed, says the new tool makes it much easier to browse through this kind of data. "Having access to temporal information can help us come up with more compelling stories of what's going on around us," she says.

A user can peer back in time through Zoetrope in several ways. Simply pulling a scrollbar at the bottom of the browser winds a Web page back to show what it looked like hours, days, or months ago. Or, if the user is interested in one specific piece of information, like the price of a certain product, he or she can draw a "lens" over that area of the page to see how it changes.

An experienced user can perform even more-advanced analysis. For example, configured correctly, Zoetrope will recognize a price as it goes up or down and will show the results as a graph. It's also possible to draw lenses on different websites and sync them in order to carry out a historical comparison. For example, a user could use one lens to track weather information and another lens to track movie-attendance figures. Looking at how both lenses change over time might reveal a correlation between bad weather and high movie turnout. Zoetrope can also track some pieces of data as they move about a page over time.


PDF of research paper available from here.

LILAC conference

Librarians Information Literacy Annual conference:
2009 conference themes are as follows:

  • Inquiry based learning and IL
  • Emerging technologies
  • Information literacy for life
  • Supporting research
Might be interesting to see the full programme when it comes out.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Guardian Education Supplement - digital student

Using technology can be highly successful but embracing change isn't always easy

Web 2.0 tools facilitate interaction, sharing and collaboration
Technology is at the heart of a profound transformation in the attitudes and expectations of students
How is iTunes U reshaping university?

.. you get the idea.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008


Microsoft Research has just published a research paper on what happens when people seek health information on the Web. Abstract reads:

The World Wide Web provides an abundant source of medical information. This information can assist people who are not healthcare professionals to better understand health and disease, and to provide them with feasible explanations for symptoms. However, the Web has the potential to increase the anxieties of people who have little or no medical training, especially when Web search is employed as a diagnostic procedure. We use the term cyberchondria to refer to the unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptomatology, based on the review of search results and literature on the Web. We performed a large-scale, longitudinal, log-based study of how people search for medical information online, supported by a large-scale survey of 515 individuals’ health-related search experiences. We focused on the extent to which common, likely innocuous symptoms can escalate into the review of content on serious, rare conditions that are linked to the common symptoms. Our results show that Web search engines have the potential to escalate medical concerns. We show that escalation is influenced by the amount and distribution of medical content viewed by users, the presence of escalatory terminology in pages visited, and a user’s predisposition to escalate versus to seek more reasonable explanations for ailments. We also demonstrate the persistence of post-session anxiety following escalations and the effect that such anxieties can have on interrupting user’s activities across multiple sessions. Our findings underscore the potential costs and challenges of cyberchondria and suggest actionable design implications that hold opportunity for improving the search and navigation experience for people turning to the Web to interpret common symptoms.

Mobile internet usage on the rise
according to this BBC News story.

How useable is the Science Portal on mobile devices? (never having used one myself!)

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Meebo widgets and Voyager

I was reading this post:

and wondering if it would be easy to do with Newton? (I guess this is really a question for Ed and Lihua).

Ed replied:
Newton (or Voyagers web interface, both the old version and the forthcoming version now used by OU) are niggly about returning 'no results', both preferring to stick a message at the top of the screen that basically says 'you suck at searching', rather than giving the user anything useful, or even much space to add a search box.

The newer version will come online for us at some point next year (currently an issue of some debate), so we could experiment with that. It is XML based, so could be re-jigged to include helpful information more easily. As always, we would need to ensure that a human was at the other end of the chat interface. Otherwise, we would just be saying 'your searching sucks and I don't want to talk to you'.

On a similar basis, I would like to pass the search term to Google's spellcheck API, although currently a limit on daily usage prevents this from being workable, otherwise everyone would have done it.

Also of interest is the BL's new pages:

Clever search results there, with a 'top 5' of everything being shown.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Mike Wesch is US Professor of the Year

Mike Wesch has been awarded one of the U.S. Professors of the Year awards. Acceptance speech is here.

The MacArthur report on digital natives

The Macarthur Foundation funded a big study on digital natives. The report, entitled "Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project" is now out. Excerpt from the press release reads:

The most extensive U.S. study on teens and their use of digital media finds that America’s youth are developing important social and technical skills online – often in ways adults do not understand or value.

“It might surprise parents to learn that it is not a waste of time for their teens to hang out online,” said Mizuko Ito, University of California, Irvine researcher and the report’s lead author. “There are myths about kids spending time online – that it is dangerous or making them lazy. But we found that spending time online is essential for young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent citizens in the digital age.”

The study was supported by the MacArthur Foundation’s $50-million digital media and learning initiative, which is exploring how digital media are changing how young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life.

Over three years, Ito’s team of 28 researchers interviewed over 800 young people and their parents, both one-on-one and in focus groups; spent more than 5,000 hours observing teens on sites such as MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and other networked communities; and conducted diary studies to document how, and to what end, young people engage with digital media.

The researchers identified two distinct categories of teen engagement with digital media: friendship-driven and interest-driven. While friendship-driven participation centered on “hanging out” with existing friends, interest-driven participation involved accessing online information and communities that may not be present in the teen’s local peer group.

I have a copy of the report, but pdf is available from here.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Science Portal continues to attract comment

For example, this from Tony Hirst at the OU.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Net Gen (contd.)

The Economist has a glowing review of Don Tapscott's new book.

In the past two years, Don Tapscott has overseen a $4.5m study of nearly 8,000 people in 12 countries born between 1978 and 1994. In “Grown Up Digital” he uses the results to paint a portrait of this generation that is entertaining, optimistic and convincing. The problem, he suspects, is not the net generation but befuddled baby-boomers, who once sang along with Bob Dylan that “something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is”, yet now find that they are clueless about the revolutionary changes taking place among the young.

“As the first global generation ever, the Net Geners are smarter, quicker and more tolerant of diversity than their predecessors,” Mr Tapscott argues. “These empowered young people are beginning to transform every institution of modern life.” They care strongly about justice, and are actively trying to improve society—witness their role in the recent Obama campaign, in which they organised themselves through the internet and mobile phones and campaigned on YouTube. Mr Tapscott’s prescient chapter on “The Net Generation and Democracy: Obama, Social Networks and Citizen Engagement” alone should ensure his book a wide readership...

Monday, 3 November 2008

Plagiarism in Cambridge?

Almost half of students admitted to plagiarism in a poll carried out by a students' newspaper at the University of Cambridge.

The Varsity newspaper reported that students admitted to copying material found on the internet and submitting it as their own.

The survey also claimed that only one in 20 students had been caught.
The University of Cambridge says that it has policies in place to prevent this serious disciplinary offence.

Link (BBC Online News)

Friday, 31 October 2008

The Google Books 'settlement'

Interesting perspective on it by Dan Cohen. Main conclusion: the devil's in the detail and we don't have those yet. But he highlights the fact that the deal seems to allow humanities scholars computational access to the scanned works. That could be a big deal. plus, of course, the fact that the deal seems to allow any library that pays a subscription terminal access to full text of everything in the database. If true, that changes the game.

Just for interest, here's a piece I wrote about the Google Books project when it was first announced four years ago.

My most recent comment is here.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

The 'We Generation'

Interesting essay on Strategic News Service.

A new generation is about to seize the reins of history: the Millennial generation. Born between 1978 and 2000, the Millennials currently include 95 million young people up to 30 years of age – the biggest, most diverse age cohort in the history of the nation. In 2016, they will be 100 million strong and positioned to dominate the American political scene for 30 to 40 years.

The Millennial generation has already begun to emerge as a powerful political and social force. They are smart, well-educated, open-minded, and independent – politically, socially, and philosophically. They are also a caring generation, one that is ready to put the greater good ahead of individual rewards. And they are already spearheading a period of sweeping change.

For our new book, Generation We: How American Youth Are Taking Over America and the World Forever, Eric Greenberg sponsored a major research study into the characteristics of the Millennial generation. It was conducted by Gerstein | Agne Strategic Communications, one of the most respected research organizations in the U.S., and included both extensive oral and written surveys and a series of in-depth focus groups. The Greenberg Millennials Study (GMS) offers the most detailed portrait available of the attitudes and values of today’s youth, and we’ve supplemented it with extensive research into other indicators of the behaviors and beliefs of the Millennials.

The GMS began with an in-depth national survey of 2,000 individuals of mixed gender, aged 18 to 29, conducted from July 20 to August 1, 2007. The study also included a series of 12 geographically and demographically diverse focus groups, conducted during the first week of December 2007. Each group focused on a particular demographic subset of the Millennial generation.

Taken together, the 12 focus groups captured a unique cross-section of various slices of the Millennial pie and provided some vivid personal stories and testimony to flesh out the more general observations made possible by the broader survey.

This research revealed that the Millennials are very different from Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers, and are now creating a new politics in America.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

SocialLearn at the Open University

My colleague Martin Weller is directing an interesting project at the OU. In a post to Terra Incognito he describes it thus:

This project comes on the back of two other major OU ventures, namely the OU adoption of the open source platform Moodle as its learning management system, and the OU’s Hewlett Foundation funded open educational resource initiative, OpenLearn. My colleague Andy Lane will talk about the latter in detail in his post, which will be posted on this blog soon after mine. The adoption of Moodle was significant for the OU for two main reasons: firstly, it signaled to the education community that we believed open source was a robust and sensible option; secondly, it gave out a strong message that the OU was still current and willing to take risks. In this sense it was as much a political decision as a technical one.

SocialLearn is the latest in these types of initiatives. Its aim is to develop a social network for learners, which is based around an open API, thus allowing any application to write to it. In this sense it could be one form of the almost mythical ‘eduglu’ that binds together a range of third party applications to create a Personal Learning Environment. What is perhaps more intriguing, though, is what will happen when we can mine the social graph data to help structure a learner’s experience. When a learner creates a goal, similar goals, relevant resources, and potential third party offerings (eg mentorship, tuition, formal courses) can all be assembled. The system, in effect, can do much of the filtering process that is currently performed by an educator (although it does not seek to provide the support or expertise of the educator, filtering is only one function). The potential of this is that the currently top-down, restricted curriculum is democratised. People learn about whatever is of interest to them - in effect we have an open curriculum.

Currently the project is under development, with a beta launch planned for early 2009..

Offline versions of Wikipedia

Wikipedia produces a downloadable version of the encyclopedia aimed at the schools, with content relevant to the national curriculum. Great idea, and one that could have some serious applications in developing countries where schools have difficulty getting a workable internet connection. The blurb describes it as

a free, hand-checked, non-commercial selection from Wikipedia, targeted around the UK National Curriculum and useful for much of the English speaking world. It has about 5500 articles (as much as can be fitted on a DVD with good size images) and is about the size of a twenty volume encyclopaedia (34,000 images and 20 million words). Articles were chosen from a list ranked by importance and quality generated by project members. This list of articles was then manually sorted for relevance to children, and adult topics were removed. Compared to the 2007 version some six hundred articles were removed and two thousand more relevant articles (of now adequate quality) were added. SOS Ch volunteers then checked and tidied up the contents, first by selecting historical versions of articles free from vandalism and then by removing unsuitable sections. External links and references are also not included since it was infeasible to check all of these.

The project is a joint enterprise with SOS Children's Villages.

Link via BoingBoing.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

External views of the Portal

I thought this comment (found via a link from Lorcan) was worth quoting as a possible slide in future presentations.

I’ve written about the value of enhancing federated search by providing contextual information and I’m happy to see Cambridge University wholeheartedly embracing this idea.

The portal includes these components:

* The ability to drill down to particular subject areas
* Subject-specific federated search pages that access Scopus and CrossSearch
* A page of links to databases, full text archives and other resources for each subject area
* A search engine for Cambridge University journals, by subject area
* A search engine for Cambridge University books
* Detailed context sensitive information for libraries related to each subject area
* Online chat with librarians
* RSS feeds to news articles
* Other useful links, by subject

I reported briefly in May how Cambridge University acquired federated search software and now we all get to see how they’ve built onto it. I’m very impressed at how Cambridge University has packed a wealth of useful services into a well thought out portal that is very friendly to students. I think the Cambridge portal will serve as a model for sophisticated yet simple search portals for some time to come.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Social search

Looking for an apartment online, day after day, can get tedious. Finding the right sofa at the right price can also be time consuming. A new search engine, called Yotify, is designed to make these kinds of persistent quests more tolerable, and hopefully more successful.

Much like Google Alerts and Yahoo Alerts, a Yotify search does not start and end in an instant. Instead, the search runs at regular intervals--either hourly or daily, depending on the user's preference--with results sent back to the user via e-mail.


Thursday, 9 October 2008

Your search is valuable to us

Interesting post by Martin Weller.

Tony was giving a talk yesterday as part of a workshop with me and Grainne, to the OU Library and he said something I hadn't really appreciated before - namely that because Google refines its search results based on your history (if you are signed in to Google), the results, say, that Tony gets will be different from the ones you or I get. I know it came out in 2005, I told you I was slow on the uptake.

This made me think that your search history is actually valuable, because the results you get back are a product of the hours you have invested in previous searches and the subject expertise in utilising search terms. So, if you are an expert in let's say, Alaskan oil fields, and have been researching this area for years, then the Google results you get back for a search on possible new oil fields will be much more valuable than the results anyone else would get.

There are a couple of interesting implications to this. Firstly, just as people who don't have the time will pay others to build up their characters for them in virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft, so the time you have invested in your search history may become a valuable commodity. Time is the commodity we don't have enough of, and anything that can only be realised through the investment of time has some value to someone.

Secondly, if you can assemble and utilise the expert search of a network of people, then you can create a socially powered search which is very relevant for learners. Want to know about really niche debates in evolution? We've utilised Richard Dawkins, Steve Jones and Matt Ridley's search history to give you the best results. Or if you prefer, the search is performed as the aggregation of a specialist community.

A compendium of beautiful libraries

Thinking about the library as a physical space, this link from my Camvine colleague, Thomas Hunger, seemed interesting (if a trifle nostalgic). But it raises the question: if we want to make virtual libraries work, how can we make them pleasurable spaces?

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Science portal gets noticed

Nice post in Lorcan Dempsey's blog. He particularly likes the contextual services.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Libraries as social spaces

One of the areas we should examine is the changing role of libraries as social spaces. There's an interesting Economist article on the way architects have been providing so-called 'third places' -- i.e. neither home nor office.

The academic name for such spaces is “third places”, a term originally coined by the sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his 1989 book, “The Great, Good Place”. At the time, long before mobile technologies became widespread, Mr Oldenburg wanted to distinguish between the sociological functions of people's first places (their homes), their second places (offices) and the public spaces that serve as safe, neutral and informal meeting points. As Mr Oldenburg saw it, a good third place makes admission free or cheap—the price of a cup of coffee, say—offers creature comforts, is within walking distance for a particular neighbourhood and draws a group of regulars. The eponymous bar in the television series “Cheers”, “where everybody knows your name”, is an example.

Mr Oldenburg's thesis was that third places were in general decline. More and more people, especially in suburban societies such as America's, were moving only between their first and second places, making extra stops only at alienating and anonymous locations such as malls, which in Mr Oldenburg's opinion fail as third places. Society, Mr Oldenburg feared, was at risk of coming unstuck without these venues for spreading ideas and forming bonds.

No sooner was the term coined than big business queued up to claim that it was building new third places. The most prominent was Starbucks, a chain of coffee houses that started in Seattle and is now hard to avoid anywhere. Starbucks admits that as it went global it lost its ambiance of a “home away from home”. However, it has also spotted a new opportunity in catering to nomads. Its branches offer not only sofas but also desks with convenient electricity sockets. These days Starbucks makes bigger news when it switches Wi-Fi providers—it dropped T-Mobile for AT&T in February—than when it sells a new type of coffee bean. Bookshops such as Barnes & Noble are also offering “more coffee and crumbs”, as Mr Oldenburg puts it, as are churches, YMCAs and public libraries...

The article cites the Stata Centre at MIT (by Frank Gehry) as an example of a different approach to building design:

Opened in 2004 and housing MIT's computer-science and philosophy departments behind its façade of bizarre angles and windows, it has become a new Cambridge landmark. But the building's most radical innovation is on the inside. The entire structure was conceived with the nomadic lifestyles of modern students and faculty in mind. Stata, says William Mitchell, a professor of architecture and computer science at MIT who worked with Mr Gehry on the centre's design, was conceived as a new kind of “hybrid space”.

This is best seen in the building's “student street”, an interior passage that twists and meanders through the complex and is open to the public 24 hours a day. It is dotted with nooks and crannies. Cafés and lounges are interspersed with work desks and whiteboards, and there is free Wi-Fi everywhere. Students, teachers and visitors are cramming for exams, flirting, napping, instant-messaging, researching, reading and discussing. No part of the student street is physically specialised for any of these activities. Instead, every bit of it can instantaneously become the venue for a seminar, a snack or romance.

The fact that people are no longer tied to specific places for functions such as studying or learning, says Mr Mitchell, means that there is “a huge drop in demand for traditional, private, enclosed spaces” such as offices or classrooms, and simultaneously “a huge rise in demand for semi-public spaces that can be informally appropriated to ad-hoc workspaces”.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Print what you Like

Useful web tool. Enables you to specify which areas of a web page you want to print.

Digital Nomads

The Economist has a good survey of how mobile communications are changing the way we live and work.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Fame at last

Jane Secker mentions the science portal in her blog after Yvonne's session at Oxford last week!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

User-generated science

This is the headline on an interesting piece in last week's Economist about the effect of the web on scientific publishing. Excerpt:

Peer-review possesses other merits, the foremost being the ability to filter out dross. But alacrity is not its strong suit. With luck a paper will be published several months after being submitted; many languish for over a year because of bans on multiple submissions. This hampers scientific progress, especially in nascent fields where new discoveries abound. When a paper does get published, the easiest way to debate it is to submit another paper, with all the tedium that entails.

Now change is afoot. Earlier this month Seed Media Group, a firm based in New York, launched the latest version of Research Blogging, a website which acts as a hub for scientists to discuss peer-reviewed science. Such discussions, the internet-era equivalent of the journal club, have hitherto been strewn across the web, making them hard to find, navigate and follow. The new portal provides users with tools to label blog posts about particular pieces of research, which are then aggregated, indexed and made available online.

Although Web 2.0, with its emphasis on user-generated content, has been derided as a commercial cul-de-sac, it may prove to be a path to speedier scientific advancement. According to Adam Bly, Seed’s founder, internet-aided interdisciplinarity and globalisation, coupled with a generational shift, portend a great revolution. His optimism stems in large part from the fact that the new technologies are no mere newfangled gimmicks, but spring from a desire for timely peer review...

The next big thing: free downloadable textbooks

From the New York Times...

SQUINT hard, and textbook publishers can look a lot like drug makers. They both make money from doing obvious good — healing, educating — and they both have customers who may be willing to sacrifice their last pennies to buy what these companies are selling.

It is that fact that can suddenly turn the good guys into bad guys, especially when the prices they charge are compared with generic drugs or ordinary books. A final similarity, in the words of R. Preston McAfee, an economics professor at Cal Tech, is that both textbook publishers and drug makers benefit from the problem of “moral hazards” — that is, the doctor who prescribes medication and the professor who requires a textbook don’t have to bear the cost and thus usually don’t think twice about it.

“The person who pays for the book, the parent or the student, doesn’t choose it,” he said. “There is this sort of creep. It’s always O.K. to add $5.”

In protest of what he says are textbooks’ intolerably high prices — and the dumbing down of their content to appeal to the widest possible market — Professor McAfee has put his introductory economics textbook online free. He says he most likely could have earned a $100,000 advance on the book had he gone the traditional publishing route, and it would have had a list price approaching $200...

Thursday, 25 September 2008

TOC feeds

"Are We Placing Too Little Emphasis On TOC Alerts

They provide an easy and powerful way to stay up-to-date with journal literature but I wonder if, when it comes to our faculty, we are doing too little to promote Table of Contents alerts. Nearly every major aggregator database and e-journal collection has this feature. The problem is that without someone bringing it to your attention you’d hardly know it was there. A recent study into the behaviors of faculty for locating scholarly material suggest that TOC alerts are highly valued. “How Readers Navigate to Scholarly Content” is a new report published by Simon Inger and Tracy Gardner for a consortium of scholarly publishers, including the Nature Publishing Group, that examines how scholars start their search for content and how they navigate different search resources. There is both good and bad news for academic librarians. Depending on what they’re trying to do and how much information they have, scholars may go right to a known library database or their favorite search engine. But figure 5 (pg. 18 of 32) asks “how often do you follow links to a publisher’s e-journal web site from these starting points” and TOC alerts is far and away the top starting point - that got my attention. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that we need to do a better job of making faculty aware of TOC alerts. We may be underestimating their value."


Sacred places? Or not?

Camden’s new libraries chief Mike Clarke has a vision of what a Camden library should look and sound like, and believes that unless the “silence please” notices are torn down and mobile phones welcomed in, future generations will desert them.
“People expect to be able to carry on their normal conversations and life, and we don’t want to stop them from doing that in libraries,” he told the New Journal in an exclusive interview this week. Mr Clarke outlined his priority as getting rid of “that whole silence in the library ethos and the idea you weren’t supposed to do anything except come in and be very, very quiet”.
Younger users are to be welcomed in and made to feel relaxed, libraries will be open for a further 45 hours each week, and book borrowers – a shrinking group – will check-out their tomes from self-service machines similar to supermarket tills.
Mr Clarke said: “Whenever people say libraries don’t have enough books or the right type of books, I ask them what they think is missing and I’ve never had a clear answer to that.
“Books are very important, but so are other formats.”
And Mr Clarke, who joined Camden four months ago from his prestigious role as director of the London Libraries Development Agency, warned that, without changes, libraries would become out of date and increasingly fewer people would use them. He said some groups, particularly migrants and teenagers, already find them forbidding places.
Also on Mr Clarke’s list of aims are “getting rid of the shouty notices telling people not to do things and putting up notices telling people what you can do”.
He will need courage to push his vision to completion, not least because his opponents have a very different view.

Thanks to Lorcan Dempsey for the Link.

Tag clouds -- the silver lining

I love tag cloud generators. Wordle, created by Jonathan Feinberg, is the nicest I've come across. This is a cloud from some transcripts I've been doing for the project website.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

A new publishing venture

Frances Pinter has launched her new publishing venture -- Bloomsbury Academic -- in conjunction with Bloomsbury, publisher of the Harry Potter books (among other things).

Bloomsbury Academic is a radically new scholarly imprint launched in September 2008.

Bloomsbury Academic will begin publishing monographs in the areas of Humanities and Social Sciences. While respecting the traditional disciplines we will seek to build innovative lists on a thematic basis, on issues of particular relevance to the world today.

Publications will be available on the Web free of charge and will carry Creative Commons licences. Simultaneously physical books will be produced and sold around the world.

For the first time a major publishing company is opening up an entirely new imprint to be accessed easily and freely on the Internet. Supporting scholarly communications in this way our authors will be better served in the digital age...

I'm on the Advisory Board, along with Hal Abelson, Lynne Brindley, Robin Mansell, Reto Hilty, Winston Tabb and Shira Perimutter.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

In a nutshell...

"Changing technologies have been accompanied by changes in research habits, scholarly communications patterns, campus roles, and more. These changes offer exciting new opportunities, but also pose significant challenges for those who serve the higher education community. In order to be effective, librarians, information technologists, academic administrators, and others concerned with facilitating research, teaching, and scholarly communication in a changing world must keep up with the complex and evolving needs and attitudes of scholars. For libraries in particular, a deep understanding of the information needs of a scholarly community and how existing services mesh with these needs is essential in order to effectively serve and remain relevant on the modern campus. To succeed in the internet age, libraries must be aware of which traditional roles are no longer needed and which potential roles would be valued, and strategically shift their service offerings to maximize their value to local users."

From ITHAKA’S 2006 Studies of Key Stakeholders in the Digital Transformation in Higher Education.

Thoughtful comment on it here which asks
why are we only considering the role of the academic library as gateway, archive and buyer? I would argue this report needs to add a new dimension for faculty to consider - the academic library’s role as learning center and instruction partner. Where this study seems dated to me is that it focuses on the academic library’s traditional role as collector, organizer and gateway provider.

Thanks to Lorcan for the link.

Interesting lecture?

Alan Liu: Digital Humanities and academic change

18 September 2008 at CRASSH in Mill lane


Taking as his starting point a series of digital projects created with colleagues at his department in California, Professor Liu shows how the digital humanities facilitate the reshaping of humanities departments, research and teaching in conjunction with other disciplines (all in the service of 'global humanism'). The talk scales between the micro-concrete to the global-theoretical. Some of the projects and courses that Professor Liu will discuss include:
* The Voice of the Shuttle
* Transliteracies Project on Online Reading
* Transcriptions Project
* Early Modern Center and EBBA (English Broadside Ballads Archive)
* The Agrippa Files
* Second Life Instructional Project
* Literature+ courses
* Toy Chest (Online or Downloadable Tools for Building Projects)

This event is free and open to all. To register, please email

Friday, 5 September 2008

We have an Administrator!

Good news. Glenna Awbrey (who has worked with Sue Mehrer) has started work. She will be based in Wolfson. Her email address is

Apologies to anyone who tried to email her -- and to Glenna. I got her address wrong first time :-(

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

good stuff from a conference

It's going on at the moment, so I'm sure there'll be more stuff added to the website in time, but some of the presentations at this Dutch conference seem quite interesting - particularly
  • The Scholar in Context: Behavior and Workflow by Wendy P. Lougee
  • Twenty Five Technologies to Watch and How by Stephen Abram (his slides are available)
  • Marketing of Research Libraries by Anne Poulson

lots of recommended reading plus PDFs of slides.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Hype Cycle 2008

One of the most useful analytical devices I've ever encountered when lecturing about new technology is the Gartner Hype Cycle.

Here's the one for 2008 (courtesy of TechCrunch).

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Easy does it?

Interesting post in Nick Carr's Blog.

A recent edition of Science featured a worrying paper by University of Chicago sociologist James A. Evans titled Electronic Publication and the Narrowing of Science and Scholarship. Seeking to learn more about how research is conducted online, Evans scoured a database of 34 million articles from science journals. He discovered a paradox: as journals begin publishing online, making it easier for researchers to find and search their contents, research tends to become more superficial...

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Arcadia Trust announces the project

It's official!

Arcadia has awarded a grant to the Cambridge University Library of the amount of $980,000. The grant will enable the library to create new programmes and services, particularly for undergraduates, and also improve the external environment of the library.

The Cambridge University Library is a renowned global research library. The large collections number more than seven million volumes in total and are kept in the main University Library and its four additional dependent libraries.

With our grant, the Cambridge University Library will create the Arcadia Fellowship Programme, undertaking new and special projects that will increase the library’s capability to provide its student with information in an era of ever expanding technological resources.


Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Mellon funds Open Source library systems project

Announcement: Mellon Funds Design of Next-Generation Library System

A $475,700 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the Duke University Libraries will lead to the design of a next-generation, open-source library system that is flexible, customizable and nimble enough to meet the changing and complex needs of 21st-century libraries and library users. The goal of the Open Library Environment (OLE) Project is to develop a design document for library automation technology that fits modern library workflows, is built on Service Oriented Architecture, and offers an alternative to commercial Integrated Library System products.

Leaders of the OLE Project, representing libraries in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, will involve the library community in the design process through workshops, meetings, webcasts and online discussions. Through those activities, they will develop a plan for a library technology system that breaks away from an emphasis on print-based workflows, reflects the changing nature of library materials and new approaches to scholarly work, meshes well with other enterprise systems, and can be modified easily to suit the needs of different institutions. The project website gives detailed information about the project and includes FAQs, recommended reading, and a comment section.

"The information environment is changing rapidly, but the technology of library management systems has not kept pace," said Lynne O'Brien, principal investigator on the project and Director of Academic Technology and Instructional Services for the Duke University Libraries. "This project is a wonderful opportunity to design a system that supports library innovation and better meets the needs of today's researchers." O'Brien is joined on the OLE Project team by colleagues from Duke as well individuals from the University of Kansas, Lehigh University, the University of Pennsylvania, the National Library of Australia, Library and Archives Canada, Vanderbilt University, the Orbis Cascade Alliance, Rutgers University, the University of Florida, the University of Chicago, Columbia University, the University of Maryland and Whittier College.

Because the OLE Project is a collaborative, community-based venture, there will be many opportunities for individuals from other libraries to participate in the project through regional and virtual meetings, discussion of plans and documents, comments via the project website and listserv and discussions at professional meetings.

In addition to its development of a design document, the OLE Project is intended to create a community of interest that could be tapped to build the planned system in a follow-on project.

Lynne O'Brien, Ph.D.
Director, Academic Technology and Instructional Services
Duke University Libraries or 919.660.5862

Monday, 4 August 2008

Cory Doctorow's lecture

Cory Doctorow's sell-out lecture at Robinson on July 22 is now on the Web. Worth an hour, if you have the time.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

A Vision of Students Today

A short video summarizing some of the most important characteristics of students today

Use of social software - flickr

North Carolina State University Libraries using flickr on their special collections

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Experiments with NetVibes

I'm wondering if NetVibes might be a useful tool and have mocked up a sample. Comments welcome.

Michael Wesch's Manitoba Lecture

Most people have probably seen Michael Wesch's YouTube videos about Web 2.0, but this is the first full-length exposition of his work that I've seen. It's over an hour in length, so you need to make some time (and maybe coffee) for it. But it's worth it IMHO, especially the first 30 mins in which he explains why the current pedagogical model of most universities is broken.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Critical article on Google Books project


The Google Books Project has drawn a great deal of attention, offering the prospect of the library of the future and rendering many other library and digitizing projects apparently superfluous. To grasp the value of Google’s endeavor, we need among other things, to assess its quality. On such a vast and undocumented project, the task is challenging. In this essay, I attempt an initial assessment in two steps. First, I argue that most quality assurance on the Web is provided either through innovation or through “inheritance.” In the later case, Web sites rely heavily on institutional authority and quality assurance techniques that antedate the Web, assuming that they will carry across unproblematically into the digital world. I suggest that quality assurance in the Google’s Book Search and Google Books Library Project primarily comes through inheritance, drawing on the reputation of the libraries, and before them publishers involved. Then I chose one book to sample the Google’s Project, Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. This book proved a difficult challenge for Project Gutenberg, but more surprisingly, it evidently challenged Google’s approach, suggesting that quality is not automatically inherited. In conclusion, I suggest that a strain of romanticism may limit Google’s ability to deal with that very awkward object, the book.


Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Another way of shortening long URLs

A new web-service -- Brief explanation (for programmers) of why it's smarter than TinyURL here.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

And another image!

Everything is Miscellaneous - podcast

I've been reading David Weinberger's book Everything is Miscellaneous and enjoying it a lot. Some time ago he was interviewed by Phil Windley of IT Conversations and they talked for over an hour. Well worth listening to if you have the time. Click here to listen.

How users view librarians?

Following on from John's comments I thought this was an apt representation of how library users see us -- the 'librarian action figure':

I, sadly, have one...

More relevant is that according to a 2006 report 'College Students’ Perceptions of the Libraries and Information Resources:A Report to the OCLC Membership'. Dublin, OH: OCLC, 2006 , only 2% of students start a search for electronic resources from a library website...and I guess that this figure has decreased even further over the last 2 years!

Saturday, 5 July 2008

2b or not 2b? The anatomy of texting

Fascinating essay by Professor David Crystal (who just happens to have an Honorary Degree from Cambridge).

Review of Zittrain: Future of the Internet

My review of Jonathan Zittrain's book is out in Management Today.

How do students visualise libraries?

Following on from the photograph I took in another university's library, I'm wondering if there are other images -- photographs, drawings, cartoons -- on the Web which give us an insight into how students see providers of library services.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Is the iPhone making us stupid?

Hmmm... This is beginning to turn into a meme.

That's one of the topics Walter Mossberg gestured at this afternoon in a talk on "the Future of the Internet and Rise of the Cell Phone," in which he declared that the PC has peaked, and that the future of the internet belongs to pocket computers like the iPhone. The future of the internet, and the future of us: "The internet is a grid," he remarked, "and we're all going to be living on it, and carrying it in our pocket all day long." Mossberg delivered this assessment with a strong note of techno-pessimism woven in: A lot of his talk had to do with the issues constant connectivity raises for deep knowledge ("people hate iPhone users," he remarked, "because you can never have an argument about facts without them whipping out the phone and looking up the answer" - a description that I'm afraid I resemble, even though I have a Blackberry and not an iPhone) and deep reflection (in the future, Mossberg noted, we may never be free of "that subtle feeling that maybe you need to check Slate, or Facebook")...

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Voice the content with Odiogo

Odiogo is a web based podcasting service. Any 'registered' user can create a podcast from any RSS feed in no time. Quality? acceptable... (it pronounces 'wikis' weird) The idea is that we can save time by listening to the posts rather than reading.

interesting people in the library world

I've just returned from a conference of european health librarian in Helsinki (hurrah!!) and was really impressed at the Dutch librarians who are using web2.0 - personal homepages, of the like of pageflakes, igoogle and netvibes - to deliver tailored services to their users, and themselves.

eg their talk

Space up your library: social networks and libraries
A.J.P. van den Brekel (Guus) (The Netherlands)

How to use Web 2.0 technologies in you library instructions
Dorine Kieft-Wondergem (The Netherlands)

is this stuff that is widely known in Cambridge? it does seem a very interesting way to go. (see for my own small foray into the new world)

Flash pages to be searchable

From Technology Review...

The Web would be useless without search engines. But as good as Google and Yahoo are at finding online information, much on it remains hidden, or difficult to rank in search results. On Tuesday, however, Adobe took a major step toward opening up tens of millions of pages to Google and Yahoo. The company has provided the search engines with a specialized version of its Flash animation player that reveals information about text and links in Flash files. It's a move that could be a boon to advertisers, in particular, who have traditionally had to choose between building a site that's aesthetically pleasing and one that can be ranked in a Web search.

The new software is required only to index Flash files, not to play them, says Justin Everett-Church, senior product manager for Adobe Flash Player. Web surfers don't need to download a new Flash player, and content providers don't have to change the way they write applications. "For end users, they're going to see a lot more results and a lot better results," says Everett-Church. "The perfect result may have been out there but trapped in a SWF [Shockwave Flash file]. But now they can find it."

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Interesting thinkers on libraries and the future

I'd like to compile a list of people who are regarded as interesting thinkers about the future of libraries. People like Lorcan Dempsey, for example. Apart from anything else, I'd like to invite some of them to Cambridge to give talks, seminars etc.

Who are your favourites?

What's the difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0?

Interesting article in First Monday by Graham Cormode and Balachander Krishnamurthy of AT&T. Abstract reads:

Web 2.0 is a buzzword introduced in 2003–04 which is commonly used to encompass various novel phenomena on the World Wide Web. Although largely a marketing term, some of the key attributes associated with Web 2.0 include the growth of social networks, bi–directional communication, various ‘glue’ technologies, and significant diversity in content types. We are not aware of a technical comparison between Web 1.0 and 2.0. While most of Web 2.0 runs on the same substrate as 1.0, there are some key differences. We capture those differences and their implications for technical work in this paper. Our goal is to identify the primary differences leading to the properties of interest in 2.0 to be characterized. We identify novel challenges due to the different structures of Web 2.0 sites, richer methods of user interaction, new technologies, and fundamentally different philosophy. Although a significant amount of past work can be reapplied, some critical thinking is needed for the networking community to analyze the challenges of this new and rapidly evolving environment.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Users' images of libraries

I know it's a cliché, but I went to a meeting in a room in a university library last Friday and guess what I found?