Thursday, 26 November 2009

Reading List Management with Mendeley

If anyone ever asked, I'd be the first to admit that my knowledge of current citation/reference management tools and their capabilities is patchy, in part because I tend to live in the flow rather than the world of scholarly articles. That said, I do occasionally play with some of the free tools that out there such as Zotero:

and Mendeley:

Playing around with Mendeley earlier today, I started to wonder whether it might be an appropriate tool for publishing reading lists, and it seems that this is on of the possible use case that the Mendeley team have been exploring: Share recommended readings using Mendeley’s Public Collections.

The idea is to create a collection, add the reading list items you have selected to it, and then publish the collection as a public one. Once published, the recommendation list appears on it's own web page with tools that allow individual items to be added to another user's personal collection, as well as letting them subscribe to the whole list either in Mendeley or via RSS in a generic feed reader:

Mendeley public collection

The list can also embedded in a third party site as the following example demonstrates:

References collected using Mendeley

This approach looks like it might be particularly useful for reading lists that are built around journal references. A good example of such a list can be found at the Department of Plant Sciences in Cambridge - Part II Reference Lists: Module M1:

Plant Sciences reading list, cambridge

That said, it seems like the Plant Sciences folk have a pretty good system in place already - list contents can be displayed for the course as a whole, or for individual lectures, which I suspect is really handy; citations by author and journal can also be identified. What they don't do, though, is provide the portability that Mendeley Public Collections do via the Mendeley Collection subscription feeds...

PS just in passing, it's also interesting to note how the Plant Sci lists link trhough to documents - via DOIs: e.g.; I wonder - could they also offer a link for Cam users by running the resolved DOI through something like libezproxy to handle authentication issues?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Resource "Item Types" and Loan Periods in Cambridge University Libraries

One of the things I have come to realise about the wide variety of university related libraries in Cambridge is that they are, to a large extent, independent entities that make their own rules and lending polices, and maybe even use their own classification systems. Conveniently, however, they do all tend to make use of an account on one of the centrally managed Voyager catalogue servers, which meant I was able to ask for the made up records of a fictional undergraduate user who was a member of several college and department libraries to get a quick feel for the different sorts of loan policies (item_types) that are currently in place.

Although far from ideal (many of the x-axis column labels are missing) this chart shows the number of libraries using a particular item_type:

Impression of range of user types across cam libraries

Omitting singletons, we get the following duplicated types (count loan_period is actually a count of the number of libraries using the corresponding item_type):

CUL popular item_types

(Arghh - the data appeared to have a handful of duplicates... Never mind - if you discount the CYM and 14day Loan rows (!), the table is more or less correct (and it was intended only to be indicative anyway, given the sample of College and Department libraries used). Note: this disclaimer applies to the charts shown above and below as well!)

Within a particular item_type, there may be significant differences in the actual loan periods, which might cause confusion for an undergraduate who has borrowing rights in more than one library using nominally the same item_types.

So for example, if we look at Short Loans:

SHort loans CUL


CUL Reserve

or Overnight related:

CUL Overnight

we see that different Libraries interpret the same nominal item_type differently.

The case of Open Shelf is even more extreme: again the chart is not ideal (it was generated using my Google Datastore explorer tool which still needs some work!), but what it indicates is the loan period (y-axis, in days) for Open Shelf items across a wide selection of libraries:

Open shelf CUL

The most popular periods are 7, 14 and 28 days (can you spot where the duplicate entries came from?;-).

Now it might well be that the borrowing needs of undergrads across different departments and colleges is necessary, and represents differences in study patterns associated with courses in a particular department (or teaching style in a particular college?), or it might be that the differences are the result of historical accidents, but whatever the case: for a user of multiple libraries, it may not be obvious to them based on experience of other libraries how long they can borrow a particular item_type for!

PS I will consider in a later post how borrowing records and teaching calendars, along with local librarian knowledge, might be able to provide an evidence base for a simplified (maybe even universal...?!;-) set of item_types...

Friday, 20 November 2009

Doodling Ideas for a Mobile Library App

Chatting with Libby Tilley (English Faculty Librarian) yesterday, we got on to the topic of how students know what Libraries they have access to. On joining the university, undergrads are assigned a University Library number, but they also need to register with their College and Departmental Libraries.

Things being as they are, various policies relate to who can do what in which library (more on this in another post!). As I understand it, most departmental libraries allow anyone with a University Library card to use the Library for reference purposes, but College libraries are only open to members of that College (?). Members of certain departments, or students taking particular Subjects, may also be eligible for membership of Libraries outside their 'home' department. And so on...

Reflecting the complex nature of the Cambridge Library scene, the organisation of the OPAC is non-trivial. Looking on the Library homepage, we see links to 8 Voyager catalogues (University Library and Dependent Libraries, University Library Manuscripts and Theses, Departments and Faculties A-E, Departments and Faculties F-M, Departments and Faculties O-Z, Colleges A-N, Colleges P-W, University of Cambridge Affiliated Institutions).

(A side effect of this organisation is presumably the requirement that any updates to the system need to be applied eight separate times?)

There is also a link to a Universal Catalogue which I think represents a federated search over the independent Voyager installations.

Looking at a universal search result on Newton for a likely held book, you are presented with results of the form:

Universal search from UL

Finding which actual library holds the book, what it's status is (on shelf, or out on loan, for example), whether I (currently) have membership/borrowing rights in that library et cetera is none trivial (= lots of clicks).

So the question now arises:
- where can I browse just "a copy" of the Preliminary Studies for Philosophical Investigations (assuming I don't need a particular edition.translation)? i.e. supposing I just need to refer to it in a library and not borrow it;
- where can I borrow that work from *now* (i.e. where is it available for loan in a library I am a member of), and for how long?
- where can I borrow it from for an extended period (which may require recalling it from a library with a generous loan period bearing in mind which libraries I have access to)?

And this, it seems to me, is an ideal scenario for a mobile application, which I'll define in general terms as one that I can refer to while at a reading desk in a library via my phone.

So what does this app need to be able to support?

- I need to declare who I am, so it can look up what Libraries I'm a member of; [as previous Arcadia Fellow Huw Jones pointed out, this functionality exists in the Library Facebook app (available via the Library Toolbox) via a Library API call...]
- search for a book across catalogues and return availability by Library; [an email earlier today from Ed Chamberlain suggests an API call that is pretty close to this is currently under testing...];
- see a personalised results list showing where *I* (me, not just anyone, me, a member of certain libraries and in a particular year of my studies) can:
- - access those works now, in a reference context; [discussing with Huw, now is also sensitive to time of day and whether a Library is currently open or not....]
- - access those works for reference now-ish (or at a bookable time) via a stack request (see also Stack Request Delivery Slots service idea )
- - borrow those works (given the libraries I currently have access to) immediately (or via a stack request)
- - recall a currently on loan item so that i can borrow it (given the libraries i currently have access to)

A map display showing the location of works, maybe using colour coded markers on the map to denote "available now to you for reference", "available to you now for loan", "available for loan if you join this library (which you can)" etc, would bring in both elements of time and place to the display, both key features of a practical mobile app.

This sort of app would also act as driver for other services, and demonstrate an authentic way of how they might be combined together:

- what libraries am I currently registered with? [as mentioned above, a service for this already exists]
- search over an arbitrary set of libraries (not just universal, collegesA-F or whatever) [apparently a service that might fulfil this is currently under testing]; and hence
- search over libraries that I am:
- - allowed to use for reference;
- - registered with;
- - can register with;
[As far as I know, there currently is no way of filtering a set of Voyager results through a personal profile filter to only display books I can currently access. But this is just a case of filtering, if you know: which Libraries I can access, what time it is, and what time the Libraries are open. The Library opening time data is available after a fashion, but not in a structured form. A 1-2 day tidying up job could fix that...]
- Voyager results on a map (showing libraries where holdings are held); [as Huw pointed out once again, some library records point to a map display that locates a library a book is held in (eg this example for a particular book identified via the URI arguments. Looking at the data from the Library details webservice, not all Libraries have lat/long data associated with them, though they do have postcode data. I posted a Google MyMap that I had hoped to use to start collecting accurate-ish GPS data but that's not something I'v got round to yet,... sigh... (see By Way of Introductionfor a link to the map). One thing that would make building an app easier is to provide canned GPS data for all libraries based on postcode data to begin with, maybe with a flag that says it's postcode derived or verified as accurate? ]

If the app was architected as a potentially generic app, other time and place services that might be integrated include:
- my current lecture list CalMap (a map with calendar settings to show eg today's lectures, their times and locations);
- raven wifi access points i can use;
- Cambridge talks calendar-map (I've already done a mobile listings demo, though it doesn't (yet!;-) include maps... )
- More general local listings etc

We could also push "adverts" to the front page of the app, eg suggesting Library training sessions that might be relevant to a recognised user.

As to what it might look like, I started some doodles...

A simplistic front page:

ulm 1

A map of libraries I'm a member of (well, not me obviously ;-), pulling data from the service that feeds the Facebook app:

ulm 2

The info bubble could display the books I currently have on loan from that library, perhaps, or address info, etc etc.

That same data as a list:

ulm 3

Each of these items links to a page containing data from the Library info web service - address information, opening times, a link to the Library's home page etc, but either Yahoo Pipes has gone, or the Library's running a batch job or something, but the app has stopped working again and I'm sick to death of it wimping out on me for tonight, so there'll be no more screenshots tonight...!

ulm 4

(Seems I managed to find a cached copy...)

To make life easier, the app either needs to pull in the XML direct from the (same) browser, and parse it on the app, call on a JSON feed from the originating webservices (rather than go via a pipe) or pull in an HTML page via XHR that is generated on the server from the user's details. Note that the pipework I currently use annotates the list of libraries "I" have access to with the additional Library details from the library info service. If that info directly annotated the record of each Library I'm a member of, it would reduce the amount of pipework required.

PS I considered not posting this in case the local feeling was that a fully complete and working mobile app should be launched as if from nowhere; but then it occurred to me that three or four conversations really drove the thinking captured above and helped crystallise out what might be achievable given current service availability. If nothing else, I'd like for my time on the Arcadia project to demonstrate how free and open conversations can lead to innovation in an institutional setting, and record, albeit informally, one way of how that process might work.

PPS as to whether this sort of app is on the right track, here's a survey result from Keren's M-Libraries: Information use on the move [pdf] Arcadia report:


Thursday, 19 November 2009

The bookless library

Mark MacEachern has been speculating on what happens after libraries stop buying physical books. "Some libraries will cease and desist sooner than others", he writes. "Medical libraries, for instance, will cut back before Humanities libraries. But at some point 99% of all book purchases will be electronic. To be read online and on mobile devices – on devices that, I suppose, libraries will start lending out en masse. The other 1% will comprise rare books and other print curios. To be read in ill lit rooms by people wearing smoking jackets."

Which leads us to the next question: What will librarians be doing in this new environment?

In some ways, there mightn’t be much change. Librarians will still be milling about, helping those who need help, doing things that librarians in libraries typically do (i.e., sit in meetings, form committees to do stuff). But there won’t be as many of them. Not that there’ll be fewer librarians overall – just fewer in the library. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if librarians begin to live outside the library. In departmental offices. In more accessible locations, where partnerships and collaborations can more conveniently happen. I hold weekly office hours in one of my liaison departments and I’ve experienced the advantages of proximity firsthand. As more and more students attend university remotely, the less and less meaningful the centralized and well-defined librarian role becomes. Perhaps we’ll maintain a floating existence with amorphous responsibilities, moving from information need to information need, from the physicals to the digitals, without being tied to a specific library. Perhaps we’re already doing this.

There’s been much talk of the profession’s future over the years (and over the last few days), and the only thing that’s certain is that librarians will be doing completely different things in completely different environments. And, that's the extent of my oracular abilities.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Custom Search Engines On Library Websites

As part of the standard header of Cambridge's University Library web pages is a search box:

The search tool is actually a Google custom search engine, defined over the domain as well as a couple of other different subdomains, with an exclusion applied to an old part of the website. The results are returned in an embedded frame on the Library website, without adverts...

In the post Open Library Training Materials and Custom Search Engines, I showed how I created a Custom search engine that searches over UK HEI websites (a tutorial video on setting up Google CSEs is included in that post).

Adding additional sites, and search refinements that limit searches to a subset of those sites is easily achieved by adding search labels to selected sites.

Embedding a search engine is also trivial - the Google CSE Control Panel provides you with some embed code that can be cut and pasted directly into a document:

Embed code for google cse

So for example, the above embed code relates to a proof of concept "UK HEI Library Community CSE" that I have pulled together from resources in several other CSEs I've developed over the years - hopefully it should be embedded here:

UK HEI LIbraries Community CSE

Note that because the CSE code is quite clean, just on it's own it presents a reasonable mobile client (though the tabs can be quite hard to click on - so a minor style tweak is required there, I think...?)

CSE results in a mobile

You can try the CSE out here - UK HEI Library Community CSE (QR code)

As it currently stands, the UK HEI Library Community CSE has very little fine tuning - it's just a (sub)domain limited search engine over sites I've picked that may be relevant to the UK HEI community. However, it is possible to tune a Google Custom CSE quite significantly, which I'll start to explore in future posts.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Planning for the long term

From David Isenberg's classic essay -- "The Rise of the Stupid Network"...

Former Shell Group Planning Head, Arie deGeus, in his master work, The Living Company (Harvard, Boston, 1997), examined thousands of companies to try to discover what it takes to adapt to changing conditions. He found that the life expectancy of the average company was only 40 years - this means that telephone company culture is in advanced old age. De Geus also studied 27 companies that had been able to survive over 100 years. He concluded that managing for longevity - to maximize the chances that a company will adapt to changes in the business climate - is very different than managing for profit. For example, in the former, employees are part of a larger, cohesive whole, a work community. In the latter, employees are 'resources' to be deployed or downsized as business dictates.

This is interesting in the context of the Google Book Agreement and the responsibilities of academic libraries in the area of digital preservation and curation. When people say to me "why not let Google do it?" I ask: how many commercial companies have been around for 800 years?

Monday, 16 November 2009

Universal Borrowing Across Cambridge University Libraries?

A couple of news stories relating to the public library sector here and in the US caught my eye recently which might have some loose relevance to the fragmented (or should that be federated?!) academic library system that students are presented with in Cambridge.

To set the scene, and as I understand it, students, researchers and academics in Cambridge may be members of the University Library, their College Library, their Department Library, maybe another Department or college's Library, maybe a special collection, etc etc, each with their own user policies and terminology, none, all acting (as far as I know), independently of each other.

First up, universal borrowing - a few weeks ago now, it was announced that public library users with a valid library card would be able to borrow books from anywhere and return them anywhere (SCL [Society of Chief Librarians Announces Universal Membership).
From 28 September, more than 4000 public libraries across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are open for borrowing by any member of the public regardless of where they live. Customers will be able to borrow books from any library, and in some cases use other services such as DVD rental, online resources and classes. Library users simply need to show their existing library card, or proof of address, to join or access the library they are visiting.

The same is true for Cambridge's University, College, Department and specialist libraries, right? Erm, I think not...

Second up, a Netflix like subscription model from the US to get round the problem of fines. Subscribers to a variety of different monthly fee plans get to borrow a set number of books for an unlimited period of time - no fees attached (Hayward, CA Public Library Will Launch “Fines Free” Borrowing Packages Beginning at $2.99/Month). If a book that is unavailable because it's out an an extended/who knows when it'll come back sort of loan is requested by enough other users, the Library will buy another copy (seems like a reasonable collection policy heuristic to me!;-)

So I wonder, maybe there's a combined model here for academic libraries, either within the confines of Cambridge itself, or more widely across the UK. Imagine it: a 'Cambridge University libraries' subscription card that lets you borrow freely from any of the Cambridge University libraries, and return books to any of them, potentially for an indefinite period. Shocking thought...

I can already imagine the screams of indignation, of course, ("you can't do that - we need to make sure we can provide our students with the books they need at the times they need them"), to which I'd reply: maybe a bit of MOSAIC like usage data analysis could model - and thence predict - how the books might flow around the system? Maybe we need to start working loans data, or at least start looking at how whether supply and demand are optimally matched across the university libraries at the current time, and then question whether there is room for improvement? (See also: Lorcan Dempsey on availability and Libraries and the long tail: intro.)

Sunday, 15 November 2009

A Wheeze for Children in Need or Red Nose Day - Move One Library to the Left

One thing I picked up on quite quickly from chatting to the Cambridge University Library systems hackers was the confusing array of vocabularies and user policies across the different Cambridge libraries. So for example,

- one person's non-borrowable book may be another's reference work, etc;
- you can so many books out for so much time in one library, a different number of books for a different amount of time in another, etc.

Some of the differences may well be justifiable, some may reflect a NIH attitude within the different libraries, but whilst I can see that Cambridge thrives on the relative independence of its Colleges and Departments, each with their own ways that might well foster loyalty amongst their members by stressing local differences and customs, it can be confusing for the uninitiated, and a pain to maintain for the essentially centralised systems developers.

Anyway, it struck me that one way of highlighting these differences to Library staff members across the university would be to get them all to shift one Library to the left for a day. That is, rather than turning up for work normally, every librarian should turn up at another of the University libraries. Just for one day.

Despite having a largely centralised OPAC (the Newton online catalogue), the use of which presumably any of the Librarians should be able to support, the differences in policies, terminology, layout and potentially even book classification systems might provide an instructive lesson in which differences make sense, and which do not...

So here's my suggestion (not necessarily just offered in jest...!) - given the library staff are all professionals, and should be capable of working out how to use a library, any library - on one day of the year when mayhem is expected, Comic Relief, say, or Children in Need, every Library staff member should turn up for work at the Library to the Left (which left is, of course, a free choice;-)

If that's a little too radical, how about Library staff from different libraries pairing up, and doing a swap for the day (this would also support an easier way of debriefing and knowledge sharing after the fact).

For anyone who refuses to participate, they could be given the status of 'consciencious objector' and sent on the training course they are most resistant to. Purely for the benefit of their own professional development, that is...

Friday, 13 November 2009

Where does my money go .?..

Where does my Money Go ?

Not an insight into the minds of those in charge of ejournal budgets, but an amazing example of new visual interfaces for old data from the Open Knowledge Foundation.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Keeping Up With Events

Having spent the first few weeks of my Arcadia Fellowship in quiet reflection (?!), a couple of weeks ago I started browsing the various Cambridge events listings looking for things to do in an evening. Whilst the 'amplification' of public events might not immediately seem like a role that should be taken on by the Library, I think it can be argued as relevant if it is the Library's role to help maximise the findability or discovery (and hence consumption) of a university's intellectual and cultural output.

Anyway, anyway... the University has several 'centralised' online calendars that promote university related events, as well as separate listings on some of the College and Department websites. The central calendars I've found are:

-, a comprehensive listing of public talks, published via 'lists' that are maintained by event promoters:

- the Cambridge University "What's On" Event guide:

- the Cambridge University Student Union Events listings:

(The site actually provides a variety of ways of managing events and republishing, syndicating and/or embedding calendar events listing in third party websites, so there is much to be said for Colleges, Departments, societies, clubs etc using to manage their events listings, and then just pull the results into their own web pages from that site).

Feeds are available from some of the sites, (though not necessarily autodiscoverably ;-) - forthcoming events on the CUSU site (either across all events, or by category); events from lists on (though I couldn't find a feed of "Today's events"/events by date (hence the screenscraping pipe I blogged about in Cambridge Calendar Feeds (Part I) - Screenscraping with Yahoo Pipes). The site (I've just discovered), also offers XML and iCal support at a list level or venue level, though not date level?)

To try and make life easier for myself finding events, I thought it might be handy to try and pull a simple mobile application together that could aggregate "Today's Events" in a single place. Being lazy, it made sense to reuse a pattern I've used before - the iUI javascript library powered by Yahoo pipe JSON feeds - to prototype a really crude system to see if it was useful for finding events via a phone interface.

So here's what a first pass app looks like - it's a working demo that provides something tangible to talk around about what might actually make a mobile events app useful:

At the top, a simple listing to the separate listings sources:

Each link leads to a menu of today's (or in the CUSU case, upcoming) events:

Then we get minor details and a link to the actual webpage for the event:

The webpage is then delivered howsoever...

CUSU page in a mobil browser

So what would be obvious features to include?

- a full description of the event, and its location;
- a map view of the location of the event (ideally, a marker by the public entrance to a building within which an event is held, and hopefully from which access to the actual event is signposted!).

Building the app is one thing, getting the data is another of course. So what data access would help the app builder?

A feed or XML description of "today's events" containing:
- the title of the event;
- the time of the event;
- a description of the event;
- the location of the event (ideally lat/long coordinates);
- maybe written directions about finding the location;
- a link to the 'homepage' of the event.

To try the 'app' out via your phone browser, visit or go via this United Events of Cambridge QR Code.

Comments (and I think they're working now) would be appreciated...

[Note to self: merging calendars might also be useful... eg Merging Several Calendar iCal Feeds With Yahoo Pipes, Displaying Events from Multiple Google Calendars in a Single Embedded Calendar View]

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Take Responsibility...

Lawrence Lessig, Educause Keynote 2009

Lawrence Lessig, Educause Keynote 2009 via D'Arcy Norman

You/we have been warned...

Friday, 6 November 2009

Arcadia citation

My M-Libraries: Information Use on the Move report has been cited in the Journal of Academic Librarianship’s guide to professional literature.

The guide is
a selective summary of articles, books, reports, announcements, news items, and web-based information that the editors feel would be of greatest interest to academic librarians.

REINER, L. and STEBBINS, L., 2009. The JAL Guide to the Professional Literature. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(6), 609-619. (Citation on p609)

Do Libraries Cater for Today's Undergraduate Students?

Complementing the Researchers of Tomorrow interim report on young researchers' use of academic Libraries and their associated resources, (Do Libraries Cater for Today's Researchers and Research Students?), where it was suggested that research students favoutr Google and Google Scholar as a discovery engine above all other things, I thought it might be worth comparing that report with the results of Lizz Edwards-Waller's Arcada Fellowship report on Information Skills Provision for Cambridge Undergraduates [PDF], based on a survey completed by 1771 respondents*.

* Of the 1771 respondents, 57.5% were from undergraduates (n=1019), 34.1% from postgraduates (n=604) and 8.4% from clinical students (n=148). From the undergraduate survey population, 34.5% were first year students (n=352), 33.5% were second year students (n=341), 26.6% were in the third year of their course (n=271), and 5.4% were in their fourth year or more

So where do these students get their references from? [1005 responses]

Predominantly set material in first and second years, but then reference chasing kicks in as they progress through their student career.

On the usage of 'general' electronic resources, 860 undergrds, 488 postgrads and 140 clinical students responded as follows:

In free response, JSTOR was also mentioned as a useful resource by a significant percentage of students.

When trying to understand the motivation or expectation of searchers when looking for information, relevance and speed are key:

The 'higher level' factors - being able to cite a reference or rediscover a resource, are most keenly felt in the third year, presumably a time when individual research projects are being assessed.

So when it comers to seeking help for finding or sharing information, where is the first point of call? The Library?

Err, no! (Looooo-zerrrrr... #fail).

In terms of making use of Library induction offerings, the 796 responses were dominated by induction tours, rather than info skills sessions or online guides.

Finally, 60 Library respondents reported on how Library induction/training matters were communicated to users:

It is not reported how effective those communication channels were either felt to be important, or actually were...

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Do Libraries Cater for Today's Researchers and Research Students?

Apparently not...

A recent story in the Times Higher reviews an interim report from "[a] three-year study by the British Library, Researchers of Tomorrow, [which] is tracking the research behaviour of doctoral students born between 1982 and 1994 - dubbed 'Generation Y'" (Next-gen PhDs fail to find Web 2.0's 'on-switch', via Peter Morgan/@tweeterpeter) describes how researcher are making use of 'emerging technology' tools. The THES describes how interim results:
... show that only a small proportion of those surveyed are using technology such as virtual-research environments, social bookmarking, data and text mining, wikis, blogs and RSS-feed alerts in their work. This contrasts with the fact that many respondents professed to finding technological tools valuable.

Just under half of those polled used RSS feeds and only about 10 per cent used social bookmarking, with Generation Y students exhibiting the same behaviour as other age groups.

In addition:
The study also shows that when it comes to getting help with the tools, Generation Y students are likely to turn to their peers or supervisors rather than library staff. Dr Newman said this could suggest that library professionals need to rethink their work in this area.

The study found that Google and Google Scholar are the main sources used by doctoral students to locate information; that only about half have been trained to find journal articles; and that far fewer have received any training in using more advanced technological research tools, such as e-research.

We can find a full copy of the report (PDF)) - which was not linked to from the THES story? - on the project website Researchers of Tomorrow Project.

So what sort of training is acknowldged in the 5,408 completed questionnaries:

'Finding/using subject based resources' and 'using own instituional portal' seem to do best... Presumably, the subject based resources relate to things like database collections subscribed to via the institution?

So what sorts of information do research students look for?

And where do they look?

Ask a teen how the libraries are doing and they'd probably say: "looooo-zerrrrr". Or maybe #fail.

Libraries are go to places for support though, right?

Well, maybe, for some things... What jumps out at me though, is the low uptake in alerts, and 'subscriptions' to possibly by extension subscription to persistent search feeds.

This is borne out by the relatively low proportion of people who make use of subscription RSS/alerting services:

(For more on this, a separate small scale study with only 21 surveyed participants looked at how young researchers uses subsciprion tools (Preliminary findings of user trials (Bayesian Feed Filter). Whilst 11 researchers used email alerts, only 2 used RSS feeds. Discovery of new and interesting papers was predominantly (16 people) by searching (my emphasis) latest articles.)

I'd like to think that the increasing ease of use of geo-related tools and visualisation tools will be reflected in the increasing uptake of these tools, although there again I'm not sure that I'd immediately think of going to the library to ask how I might visualise on a map all the UK HEI Libraries (a 5 minute job if you know: a) where to find the data; b) how to geocode it using free tools; c) render it on an embeddable map)...

This question of whether it's the Library that should be the go to place for information (let alone the use of information visualisation tools) about online information tools is ne I touched on very briefly in IT Skills or Information Skills?.

If the Library is there to serve the information needs of the learner or researcher, then it requires the provision of support in the use of available electronic information technologies, as well as card catalogues...

But whilst many Libraries do already offer skills training on the more effective use of 'public' services such as Google (e.g. search for google (training OR tutorial) on UK HEI Library websites (via Open Library Training Materials and Custom Search Engines), could they be doing more?

As patrons get more of their information needs satisficed from sources outside the immediate control of the Library, if the Library is to contribute to developing this activity (in terms of maximising its effectiveness), then this part of the Library's role needs to shift towards supporting how patrons discover those resources, whether or not the Library has any say in the way those resources have been collected.

Consider it this way: if you believe that one reason why Libraries develop collections is in order to support discovery of proven quality resources, then the Library can still fulfil this role. For example, it can play a role in developing an understanding about how to make effective use of everyday tools to support discovery and management of resources. Just because the folk previously known as library patrons no longer access information via the Library, does that mean that the Library shouldn't be a go to place for students and researchers who want to access the information that the Library might traditionally have provided unique access to, but that is now more widely accessible through a variety of routes. If part of the Library's role is helping people find resources, then if you look back from those resources to the tools that most people use to discover the resources, aren't those the tools you need to support in some way?

Finally, what must be remembered is that the tools that are most likely to be used, (particularly when a student graduates from the academy), are likely to be free public tools.... but they are no less powerful for being that...

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

What If? Livescribe Book Support

At the Cory Doctorow Arcadia Talk last night (more on that later...), I sat next to Quentin Stafford-Fraser and noticed that he was taking notes with a Livescribe computer pen. These pens - that work as pens as well as audio recorders - use a special notebook that allows a digital copy of your handwritten notes to be made and synched with an audio recording made at the time.

A few things immediately struck me about the device - firstly, that it would be great in a legal interview setting; secondly, that it might be handy if you could replace the pen's audio track with a higher quality recording after the fact (the talk last night was 'officially' recorded for podcast release somewhen soon, for example); thirdly, that it would be really handy if you could 'record' your own interface drawings and associate them with arbitrary bits of code.

So for example, in the video above, starting around 2minutes 0 seconds in, there is a piano demo where the user can draw a small piano keyboard, and then play it with the pen.

(Note - if you don't already know this trick, you can deeplink into Youtube movies by adding things like #t=2m0s onto the end of the video id - so e.g.

All when and good, and I didn't really get any further than the idea that it would be good if you could draw/record your own interfaces, though I had no real idea what form that might take.

But as I was dropping off to sleep, I started wondering what sort of paper based note taking interface might be useful for working alongside a book or print journal article. For example, what sorts of mechanism might devices like the Livescribe offer in terms of pulling in additional context around a book that a readr was taking notes on (as in LibraryDNS, cf. RadioDNS: Books that Can Phone Home).

The first thing that came to mind was that it might be hand to make a reference to a book (e.g. by ISBN, or in the case of a journal article, a DOI) and then by page.

Here's one way I thought it could look like:

Livescribe book ref idea

Using the pen display, it could then display a shortcode to the book reference (e.g. pointing to a page like, or if an audio version of the book were available on the pen, it could play from that reference. (The above notation supports multi-page references e.g. pp 76-78, the two dropped p lines specifying a - separated range of pages.)

What this in turn requires are book websites that have full text copies of books available on them to use URIs that can be readily constructed around an ISBN and a page number.

So for example, on Google Books, if you can find a book ID from its ISBN, you can deeplink into a page (if preview or full view is available) directly:

I'll try and ponder some more possibilities, and plausible use cases, over the next week or two... And as with my thinking about all mobile library applications, they'll be driven by a mind's-eye view of someone sitting at a desk somewhere, maybe a library, maybe not, maybe with print material (journals and/or books) around them, maybe not, maybe with a pad or notebook, or a laptop or mobile phone, or even a computer pen, just trying to get some information related or related information activity done...

PS in passing, it never ceases to surprise me how many websites that deal with books are not capable of identifying an ISBN and then searching by ISBN when an ISBN is entered into a search box...

Monday, 2 November 2009

Tony Hirst's Most Recent Arcadia Related Bookmarks

LibraryDNS, cf. RadioDNS: Books that Can Phone Home

Someone once called me a butterfly, because of the way way I flit from domain to domain, trying to recast ideas from one domain into another. So to start the week, here's an idea from the world of radio that might be relevant to the world of library books: RadioDNS.
That FM radio in your mobile phone could, if it wanted to, connect to the internet to discover more about what it’s listening to. The DAB radio in that wifi radio you have at home can similarly connect to the web to get lots of information about the current broadcast. And listening to radio on your MP3 player could interact with the internet when it docks to your PC. In short, there are a lot of radio sets hidden within connected devices.

However, just because your radio also has an internet connection within it, that doesn’t instantly mean that it can find more information about what it’s listening to.

Which got me wondering - if I take a book out of the library, does that book provide me with any means of connecting to the wider context around that book via the web?

Books as social objects

Not directly...

That’s where RadioDNS comes in. Put simply, it uses information that is already broadcast to create a kind ‘pseduo [sic] Domain’, which, by using standard DNS technology on the internet, can point your radio quickly and simply to the broadcaster – and from there, to advertise to the radio what this broadcaster supports.

So what information does the book carry? ISBN, possibly. If I've borrowed it from a library, it will almost definitely have a barcode attached to it somewhere (although is this necessarily the case with RFID'd books?) But just given the library affixed labels in the book, is there any direct link back to a web context for it? There isn't in the case of the book shown above, for example - no URIs anywhre in sight, (and the bar code isn't recognised by my phone's barcode reader, either... Hmmm...)

In Visual Links - Sharing Links With QR Codes, I suggested that there is a library catalogue shortcode available for each book in the Cambridge Newton catalogue of the form ul-4528529 (there's an example resolver on that page), so in the Cambridge context at least there is a local identifier available that resolves directly to a web page for the resource:

BOok info on Newton

(The Subject Links lead to lists of resources related by subject/category, albeit two clicks away.)

So if I've borrowed a book from the Library, or I'm sat at a desk in th Library with a book and a web connection, how might I raise the web context for the book, and what might I want to do within that context? Here's what RadioDNS is looking at:
RadioDNS can support applications that combine broadcast and IP technologies. There are some applications already in development within the RadioDNS project:

* RadioVIS, a way of adding text and visuals synchronised to the radio programme
* RadioEPG, an electronic programme guide, that also allows a “universal preset” which will find your station wherever in the world you might be
* RadioTAG is a really interesting technology, not unlike Radio Pop, allowing you to ‘tag’ bits of the radio you find interesting. Whether it’s your favourite song, an interesting news story, or just something the presenter said that you thought was amusing. It’s then up to the broadcaster to keep those tags, to let you interact further when you’ve the time.

I imagine that RadioDNS endpoints will also support content negotiation (as in BookServer - Like URIPlay, but for Books...?), to provide you with content in a format appropriate for your local conditions (device, browser/client, locale, connection speed, subscription details etc.)

In RadioDNS, then, we see RadioDNS as providing a vector from a radio station you are listening to back to a web context for that station, a context that might include more information not just about the currently playing track, but also items related to that track, programme, station, community, and so on.

RadioDNS thus potentially provides a way for the radio station as listened to, to be seen more directly as a "social object" (cf. Why some social network services work and others don't — Or: the case for object-centered sociality ). That is, RadioDNS provides a vector relating the radio station as listened to, to a web located context for that station and its output.

In the case of a book, the previous screenshot from the Newton catalogue provides links to both more information about the book, as well as related books, although it does not support a community around the book.

Some libraries are looking at how to support communities around books, though, as Lorcan Dempsey describes in a recent post on Community bibliography, where he explores an instantiation of Bibliocommons on the Ottawa Public Library Website:
What jumped out at me was how the block at the bottom of the screen was named: Community activity seemed like a very good name in this case.

The community features are interesting and feel familiar from other environments. A reader can 'connect' with others who have selected the item being viewed. The connections work across libraries in which Bibliocommons is deployed.

This adoption of a public social layer that can be federated across library catalogue UIs is something that it yet to be proven, although it's something I'd like to see succeed (I'm not sure if Aquabrowser's social tools operate across instances?)

(I'd also like to see loans data shared for the purposes of making better academic book recommendations, via initiatives such as JISC MOSAIC...;-)

What's also missing at the moment is any sense of course or research group context around a particular group. A couple of entries in the JISC MOSAIC competition tentatively explored the degree cotnext around books with a given ISBN, although not at a module level (where for example, related suggested readings, curricula, teaching materials and exam questions might also be brought in to play (cf. Looking Out for "Linked Course Data" and The Library's Role in Organising "Course Knowledge").

So many pieces, so nearly joined... (but not quite... at least, not yet...)