Archive for the 'Supporting Scholarship' Category

Herbert’s Adventures In Linking

Thursday, February 5th, 2009 by John

The title of this post is my homage to another famous Belgian.

I have been posting from the 9th International Bielefeld Conference in Germany. In yesterday’s closing keynote, Herbert Van de Sompel gave a most unusual presentation. Preparing, on his return to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, for a six-month sabbatical, he used the occasion to review the work he and his various teams have done over the past 10 years or so – and bravely assessed the success or otherwise of the major various initiatives in which he has been involved – SFX, OpenURL, OAI-PMH, OAI-ORE and MESUR (not for the acronymically faint-hearted). Incidentally, the 10-year boundary was as much accident as design. With the exception of one slide (pictured) showing his various project clusters, he had not prepared a new presentation, but instead paced around in front of a succession of old ones – some looking pretty dated – displayed in fabulous detail on the gigantic screen in the Bielefeld Convention Centre main hall. With a plea for more work on digital preservation, he stated that he had discovered that those Powerpoint presentations which were more than 10 years old were no longer readable.

The SFX development work, done at the University of Ghent, has resulted in some 1,700 SFX servers installed worldwide, which link – at a conservative estimate – to some 3 million items every day. Less successful, in his view, was the OpenURL NISO standard. It took three years to achieve, and – despite his ambitious intentions at the time – is still used almost exclusively for journal article linking. Reflecting on this, he remarked that the library community finds it hard to get its standards adopted outwith the library realm.

Herbert was also ambivalent about OAI-PMH. The systemic change predicted at the time of its development has not happened, and may never happen. He remarked that ‘Discovery today is defined by Google’, and in that context PMH did not do a good job because it is based on metadata. Ranking is based on who points at you (see my earlier post on the Webometrics ranking). ‘No one points at metadata records’. But it still provides a good means of synchronising XML-formatted metadata between databases.

He feels that we are moving on from a central concern with journal articles in any case. ‘What do we care about the literature any more? It’s all about the data (and let’s make sure that the data does not go the way of the literature!)’. He offered some reflections on institutional repositories in passing. They are not ends in themselves (though often seem to be). There is a difference between their typical application in the US and in Europe. European libraries use them more for storing traditional academic papers – versions of the articles which appear in peer-reviewed journals. In the US, there is a tendency to use them for ‘all that other stuff’. They are relatively unpopulated due to the fact that authors find it hard to care once they have had the paper accepted by their intended journal. But the other problem is workflow. Most repositories require deposit procedures which are outwith faculty workflows. Worse – content is being deposited by faculty all over the web – on YouTube’s SciTV, on blogs, in flickr. They have no time left for less attractive hubs. We need a button with the simplicity and embeddedness of the SFX resolver button to be present in these environments before we will truly optimise harvesting of content into the repository. There is a challenge …

The ORE work learned lessons from PMH. PMH did not address web architecture primitives. That was why Google rejected the protocol. It did not fit with their URI-crawling world view. ORE therefore used the architecture of the web as the platform for interoperability.

As for the MESUR project, directed by his compatriot Johan Bollen, Herbert described it as ‘phenomenal’. MESUR took the view that citations as a measure of impact were appropriate for the paper-based world. But now we should assess network-based metrics (the best known of which is Google’s PageRank). A billion usage events were collected to test the hypothesis that network metric data contains valuable data on impact. The hypothesis, he believes, was proved correct. There is structure there, and the ability to derive usable metrics. Indeed, the correlations produced by MESUR reached the fairly radical conclusion that the citation analysis data we have been using for decades is an outlier when compared with network-based methods.

Overall then, more plus points than negatives. And not only was his audience not inclined to criticise, but he was urged to stay and complete his presentation even though it ran over his allotted time by about 20 minutes at the end of an intensive day. How many people in our profession could discuss their work with reference to so many iconic projects? He concluded with a simple message – which he had come to see clearly as he prepared this review: we do what we do in order to optimise the time of researchers. Some recent studies, such as the UK Research Information Network’s Activities, costs and funding flows in scholarly communications (discussed earlier in the conference by Michael Jubb, Director of RIN), and the more recent JISC report, Economic Implications of Alternative Scholarly Publishing Models: Exploring the costs and benefits, express researcher time in cash terms. It amounts to billions of pounds each year.

How much money has been saved and so made available for further research by the projects developed and overseen by Herbert and his colleagues? There is optimisation to be proud of.

Optimisers, One and All

Thursday, February 5th, 2009 by John

Librarian can be a fragile and even uncomfortable designation in today’s world. Nonetheless, as our roles continue to expand, change and develop, it seems that librarian as an anchoring designation can become more necessary. We could easily imagine it sitting at the centre of a mind-map, with dozens of roles spidering out of it. On Tuesday, the first day of the 9th International Bielefeld Conference here in Germany, Wendy Pradt Lougee listed some new capacities which she would like to see in entrants to the profession. One of them was Leverager – a word that does not work well at least in UK English because leverage used as a verb is much rarer than in US English. One which I might add, on the basis of at least two of yesterday’s presentations, is Optimiser.

Isidro Aguillo, Director of Madrid’s Cybermetrics Lab (CCHS-CSIC), spoke about the optimisation of university websites. CCHS-CSIC publishes the international Webometrics Ranking of World Universities.

Isidro discussed the new indicators of institutional web presence strength which his group is developing, classified into three types. Impact (link visibility and analysis) and Usage (visits, downloads) are well known. More challenging is Activity (number of web pages and documents; number of academic papers in Scholar and other databases; frequency of invocation of researchers’ names; distribution of content and its translation into other languages; blogmetrics). Activity indicators are becoming more important, and librarians may have particular expertise to offer their universities as they seek to optimise their web presences through them.

The Cybermetrics Lab provides a Decalogue of good practices in institutional web positioning. I provide here an edited version.

The following recommendations are intended to give some advice to Universities and R&D institutions worldwide in order that they have an adequate web presence. Their websites should represent correctly their resources, activities and global performance, providing visitors with a true vision of the institution. We encourage medium and long term projects that give priority to the publication of large volumes of quality content under Open Access type models.
1. URL naming
Each institution should choose a unique institutional domain that can be used by all the websites of the institution. It is very important to avoid changing the institutional domain as it can generate confusion and has a devastating effect on the visibility values. The use of alternative or mirror domains should be disregarded even when they provide redirection to the preferred one. Use of well known acronyms is correct but the institution should consider including descriptive words, like the name of the city, in the domain name.
2. Contents: Create
A large web presence is made possible only with the effort of a large group of authors. The best way to do that is by allowing a large proportion of staff, researchers or graduate students to be potential authors.
3. Contents: Convert
Important resources are available in non-electronic format that can easily be converted to web pages. Most universities have a long record of activities that can be published in historical websites.
4. Interlinking
The Web is a hypertextual corpus with links connecting pages. If your contents are not known (bad design, limited information, or minority language), the size is small or they have low quality, the site probably will receive few links from other sites. Measuring and classifying the links from others can be revealing.
5. Language, especially English
The Web audience is truly global, so you should not think locally. Language versions, especially in English, are mandatory not only for the main pages, but for selected sections and particularly for scientific documents.
6. Rich and media files
Although html is the standard format of web pages, sometimes it is better to use rich file formats like Adobe Acrobat pdf or MS Word doc as they allow a better distribution of documents.
7. Search engine-friendly designs
Avoid cumbersome navigation menus based on Flash, Java or JavaScript that can block robot access. Deep nested directories or complex interlinking can also block robots. Databases and even highly dynamic pages can be invisible for some search engines, so use directories or static pages instead.
8. Popularity and statistics
Number of visits is important, but it is as important to monitor their origin, distribution and the reasons why they reach your websites.
9. Archiving and persistence
Maintaining a copy of old or outdated material in the site should be mandatory. Sometimes relevant information is lost when the site is redesigned or simply updated and there is no way to recover the vanished pages easily.
10. Standards for enriching sites
The use of meaningful titles and descriptive metatags can increase the visibility of pages.

Virtual Research Environments with Gravity

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 by John

Wikipedia gives the story of the running joke among Germans – that Bielefeld does not in fact exist. I began to wonder it if was more than just a joke after arriving on Monday by plane at the nearby international airport (Hannover), from which I then required two hours of train travel and an icy cold one-hour stop-over at Hannover main station before being able to shake off my doubts.

It does exist, and very pretty parts of it are too. The 9th International Bielefeld Conference is taking place in an impressively large convention centre near the city centre. The conference kicked off yesterday, with a good first half-day programme. One theme which came through interestingly in two of the presentations was that of virtual research environments. Juan Garcés from the British Library spoke about the Codex Sinaiticus, whose website states:

Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world. Handwritten well over 1600 years ago, the manuscript contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. Its heavily corrected text is of outstanding importance for the history of the Bible and the manuscript – the oldest substantial book to survive Antiquity – is of supreme importance for the history of the book … The Codex Sinaiticus Project is an international collaboration to reunite the entire manuscript in digital form and make it accessible to a global audience for the first time. Drawing on the expertise of leading scholars, conservators and curators, the Project gives everyone the opportunity to connect directly with this famous manuscript.

The Project involves a large international collaboration, with the four principal partners being the British Library, Leipzig University Library, St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai and The National Library of Russia in St Petersburg.

It wants to create a scholarly user community around the Codex Sinaiticus. One of its tasks will be to develop an expertonomy (term coined by Garcés). He presented the Project as an example of the development of a special collection over time, portrayed in a community dimension as well as simply a resource dimension. Such items or collections have conventionally begun their digital life by being described and preserved by librarians and consulted in their original formats by a few expert readers. Via digitisation they can be transformed into a thriving communal resource co-developed by librarians and a large number of expert readers in the form of a virtual research environment. Juan Garcés built up this portrait eloquently and convincingly, in an animated slide which I tried to capture on my iPhone.

Will this community thrive? Ronald Milne of the British Library told me he was amazed at how web-active the papyrologist community is. Incidentally, Juan Garcés presented this work excitingly within the context of a recent decision by the British Library to mass-digitise its entire collection of pre-1600 manuscripts.

From papyrologists to bioethicists. The afternoon keynote was given by Wendy Pradt Lougee, University Librarian at the University of Minnesota (which, she announced, has just received the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) 2009 Excellence in Academic Libraries Award). She discussed Minnesota’s Mellon-funded 2006 Multi-Dimensional Framework study , which I mentioned in an earlier post, and which we are using as a reference point in our RIM work. One of its blossomings has been the development of the myLibrary service within the myU portal. Customisation for service delivery has been developed by means of affinity strings which characterise granular groupings of faculty and students – described by Lorcan in a recent post – providing a high degree of customisation potential (there are 9,500 of them!).

Another important outcome is the Mellon-funded EthicShare virtual research environment for the global ethics community, with an initial emphasis on bioethics. Given a strong focus, virtual research environments, or communities, can be widely adopted. Any such undertaking must be given some time to see how much gravitational pull it exerts. Communities built around particular resources like the Codex Sinaiticus may have an immediate advantage in the gravitational attraction of the resource, and a toolset to accompany it. For EthicShare, Wendy intends that community building and community management will be a new role for subject librarians. With Minnesota’s librarians having access to a wealth of researcher behavioural data, and authoritative affinity strings, they ought to stand a good chance with their own bioethicists at least.

Tried but not yet trusted

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009 by John

Reputation and trust are closely related and hard won. Two snippets dealing with the evolving landscape of reputation capital in universities caught my eye in this week’s Times Higher. The first relates to the proposed European Reference Index for the Humanities, funded by the European Science Foundation, which had announced it would grade journals into categories A (‘high-ranking international publications’), B (‘standard international publications’) and C (‘publications of local/regional significance’). Rather as has happened in Australia whose league table of journals I mentioned in a previous post, there has been opposition to this idea – chiefly from academic editors of journals. So many of them have now threatened to boycott the index that the steering committee has been forced to drop the idea of the classification. It is doing so reluctantly, claiming that the classification was never intended to denote hierarchy. This might be indicative of a certain naïveté, or it may reveal, ironically, just how deep the concern about reputational damage potentially caused by rankings now runs, particularly in the UK where bibliometric measures of various kinds are being considered by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) for the new Research Excellence Framework (REF). Academics worry about any new measure which might be tossed into the bibliometric mix – and it is rather difficult to see how publication in a journal deemed of important local/regional significance but explicitly not of high-ranking international significance is a category judgement rather than a value judgement.

The second reveals that Evidence, a UK data analysis consultancy which has been working with HEFCE as it designs the REF, has been acquired by Thomson Reuters with whom it previously had a ‘strategic alliance’. Since HEFCE was making use of Evidence to test the value of Thomson Reuters’ Web of Knowledge data relative to Elsevier’s SCOPUS data for the purposes of bibliometric analysis, it seems rather like a clear case of gamekeeper turned poacher. Evidence reject this, but HEFCE have confirmed that Evidence will now be confined to the use of Web of Science data, and

we will conduct an in-house analysis to compare the databases … taking independent external advice as we do this.

This sounds rather like an unexpected and probably unwelcome cost increase, but it is probably wise of HEFCE to do so. Employ a company to provide an impartial report upon its own products? That could tarnish its own reputation. As the landscape continues to shift, there are a few authoritative bodies whose products or services are coming to be trusted – albeit very cautiously in some cases. The Times Higher list of the world’s top 200 universities is one. The Shanghai Jiao Tong University index is another. University funding agencies cannot risk losing the trust of the academic community whose funding they administer. But ERIH’s task of earning the trust of European humanities researchers must now be a difficult one.

Moving library services into research-flows

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009 by Constance

I’m pleased to announce the publication of the latest title in our series of white papers, an expert literature review on disciplinary research behaviors that we commissioned from Carole Palmer, professor in the Graduate School of Library & Information Science at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign.  With colleagues in the Center for Informatics Research in Science & Scholarship (CIRSS), Carole has produced a splendid report synthesizing decades of literature on scholarly information practices and highlighting implications for library service development.  It’s a significant piece of work that deserves a wide readership, particularly within the research library community, where there is much discussion about where local development resources should be directed.

I was privileged to have the opportunity to draft the scope of work for this report and read (and comment on) successive iterations of the text.  In the course of doing so, I created a kind of companion piece:  a list of the sources cited in the report that are included in WorldCat.  I did this as an experiment, as I was interested to know how much of the literature was indexed in the WorldCat database.  Most of it is.  The advantage of producing this list in WorldCat is that the citations link directly to information about library holdings.  So, if you are actually interested to read the source material, it is relatively easy to identify potential suppliers.  Much of the literature on the topic of ‘information work’ is quite dense and it is for this reason that we invited Carole and her colleagues to provide a concise synthesis. It will be interesting to see what kind of readership this report (and the referenceable WorldCat bibliography) attracts.

A PEER of the research publishing realm

Monday, January 5th, 2009 by John

Nancy Elkington and I were involved – with Stephen Pinfield at Nottingham, and others – in drafting the bid to JISC for the SHERPA Project in the UK, back in 2002. The acronym was my invention, which I mention only because it is rarely given in its uncontracted form: Securing a Hybrid Environment for Research Preservation and Access. It is fairly indigestible, I will admit, but the ‘hybrid environment’ we envisaged was one in which libraries and publishers collaborated over research publication, by means of mechanisms we could not yet foresee, within a terrain which featured freely available institutional repositories as well as commercially produced published journals. SHERPA’s aim was to kick-start these repositories.

PEER is a new, pioneering collaboration between publishers, repositories and the research community, funded by the European Commission, which has just published invitations to tender for two of three important studies to be undertaken over the next few years. PEER will make an important contribution to the debate over whether the sort of hybrid environment envisaged by SHERPA is achievable, by gathering the evidence in the form of an Observatory which will sit at the heart of these studies. In the news release email, Chris Armbruster of the Max Planck Digital Library, who will lead the Observatory, emphasises that the starting point is one of openness among the players:

Significant about the PEER project is the cooperation of the various stakeholders in the scholarly publishing cycle without prejudice.

Participating publishers have agreed to make available at least 16,000 peer reviewed manuscripts destined to become journal articles in ISI-ranked journals for archiving every year for three years. The work will focus on what the project documentation calls ‘stage-two’ research outputs – i.e. the author’s final peer-reviewed manuscript, not the unrefereed preprint (‘stage one’) nor the final published version (‘stage three’). The December news release, posted to various lists, states that

The aim is to investigate the effects of the large-scale deposit (so called Green Open Access) on user access, author visibility, and journal viability.

At the heart of the project an Observatory will be built to gather evidence about the impact of systematic archiving of stage-two research outputs. Three strands of research will be tendered:

Behavioural Research: Authors and Users vis-à-vis Journals and Repositories (Call mid-December 2008, Deadline mid-February 2009). The objectives will be to:

  • Track trends and explain patterns of author and user behaviour in the context of so called Green Open Access
  • Understand the role repositories play for authors in the context of journal publishing
  • Understand the role repositories play for users in context of accessing journal articles.
  • Usage Research: Journals and Repositories (Call mid-December 2008, Deadline mid-February 2009). The objectives will be to:

  • Determine usage trends at publishers and repositories
  • Understand source and nature of use of deposited manuscripts in repositories
  • Track trends, develop indicators and explain patterns of usage for repositories and journals.
  • Economic research: The deposit of journal manuscripts in repositories (Summer 2009). The objectives will be to:

  • Compare the efficiency and cost effectiveness of methods of deposit, e.g. publisher-assisted vs. author self-archiving
  • Compare the efficiency and cost effectiveness of access, e.g. repositories vs. publisher systems.
  • PEER is based on the selection of 200-300 ISI-ranked journals, from which manuscripts will be selected for deposit. Publishers will hold a control group of equivalent journals from which no manuscripts will be deposited. Half of the manuscripts will be deposited directly by the publisher, but the other half will require action by the author before archiving. Authors will be invited to deposit in repositories participating in the PEER project.

    Partners in PEER are The International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM), the European Science Foundation, Göttingen State and University Library, the Max Planck Society and l’Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique (INRIA), supported by the SURF Foundation and the University of Bielefeld, which will contribute the expertise of the EU-funded DRIVER project. The funding comes from the European Commission’s eContentplus Programme.

    The PEER project has nominated a Research Oversight Group consisting of

  • Justus Haucap, Professor of Competition Policy, University of Erlangen. Professor Haucap chairs the German Monopolies Commission.
  • Henk Moed, Senior Researcher at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies, Leiden University. Dr Moed has been the recipient of the Derek de Solla Price Award.
  • Carol Tenopir, Professor of Information Sciences, University of Tennessee. Professor Tenopir has received the International Information Industry Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • Who is Number One at Christmas?

    Thursday, December 18th, 2008 by John

    The excitement I remember when I was young as we awaited the announcement of the Christmas singles chart has been easily surpassed this year on university campuses. The RAE results are published today, and the general mood in UK HE seems to be one of celebration. David Eastwood, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Council for England, writing in the Times Higher says:

    Amid the excitement of celebrating local achievements, we should not lose sight of an important story of national success: we enjoy the benefits of a well-established research base that stands among the world leaders in major disciplines. Statistics may be dulled by repetition, but for a country of our size to hold second place globally to the US in significant subject fields is no mean achievement, and we should not apologise for returning regularly to this leitmotiv.

    Although the results this time were presented according to subject profiles, the Times Higher, like other newspapers, immediately compiled a league table based on a Grade-Point Average approach. Their Top 10 is as follows:

    1 Institute of Cancer Research
    2 University of Cambridge
    3 London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
    4 London School of Economics and Political Science
    =4 University of Oxford
    6 Imperial College London
    7 University College London
    8 University of Manchester
    9 University of Warwick
    10 University of York

    The Institute of Cancer Research and the LondonSchool of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine score very highly in a very few disciplines, and their specialisation allows them to take 1st and 3rd spots in the table. It is good to see six of our UK Partner institutions in the top 10. The University of York emerges as the leading 1994 Group institution (small, research-intensive universities).

    Looking at our other Partners, Edinburgh climbs four places to 12th; Leeds jumps 12 places to 14th; SOAS drops one place to 31st; Glasgow drops four to 33rd; Aberdeen rises nine places to 38th; and Liverpool climbs one to 40th.

    In Scotland, the ranking within the top 50 emerges as Edinburgh, followed by St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Heriot-Watt and Strathclyde. Scotland’s experiment in cross-university research collaboration also appears to have been vindicated. The Herald reports that:

    As a result of weak performance in a number of subject areas in the 2001 RAE, the Scottish Funding Council has been instrumental in setting up so-called research pools, where departments from different universities work together.

    Research pooling is based on the simple concept that, working in isolation, researchers can end up competing with each other, whereas together they can become an international force.

    The first research pools were in the disciplines of economics, physics, chemistry, nursing, midwifery, allied health professions and some areas of engineering. The amount of research in all of these areas has significantly improved.

    In particular, EaStChem, a chemistry collaboration between Edinburgh and St Andrews, emerges as one of the UK’s top five Chemistry schools.

    This was the sixth and final RAE. The libraries of all of these universities will now be readying themselves to contribute within improved systems of research information management which universities are developing for the REF (Research Excellence Framework) which will now replace it. As they do so, they might glance with some puzzlement at the league table for library and information schools. It puts Sheffield at the top, and King’s College London in 2nd place. King’s College has no library or information school, but was permitted to enter its Centre for Computing in the Humanities in the Library & Information Management category. Below King’s come UCL, Wolverhampton, City University and The Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. Loughborough sits in a surprising 9th position.

    And not everyone is quoting the Times Higher. An alternative Power Table is produced by the international researcher publication ResearchResearch, which uses a different formula for its rankings. It puts Oxford ahead of Cambridge, and insists that the top 6 positions are unchanged from 2001 (Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Manchester, Edinburgh and Imperial). The quibbling starts now.

    Reputation, Refutation, Concentration

    Tuesday, December 16th, 2008 by John

    Reputation in the university sector has never had a higher premium than at the present time, as the world’s universities compete with each other more overtly and more globally than ever before. Later this week, the results of the UK’s RAE 2008 exercise will be released by the UK university funding councils. Universities across the UK are holding their collective breath to see whether their stock has risen or fallen since the previous exercise, in 2001. The results affect more than simply reputation, since the sharing out of £1.5b of UK research funding by the government for the next several years will also be determined by them. Although they won’t be issued in the form of a league table, you can rest assured that the press will very quickly compile one. The Times Higher Education is appearing a day early to coincide with the publication of the results. This blog will give a quick summary of the key findings.

    Will Oxford, Cambridge and London still predominate? Who will have jumped the furthest since last time, and who will have fallen most spectacularly? Will the Scottish universities, forcing themselves to collaborate in ‘research pools’ in order to compete with the southern ‘golden triangle’ find their efforts vindicated? And, further down the line, which Vice Chancellors might fall on their maces as a result of poor showings or failed strategies in the submissions? Which deans will suddenly find early retirement attractive? Which departments might have to close as universities desperately adjust to an altered financial picture ahead, and the pressure to concentrate on the strongest subjects in order to win back lost income next time round becomes even more intense?

    Of course, it is not just the UK which gets itself into a frenzy over rankings. The Times Higher last week reported that the Malaysian opposition leader has declared that the country should be ashamed of the poor performance of its ‘leading’ universities in the Times Higher’s own ranking of the world’s top 200 universities. What is somewhat extraordinary about this is the credence given by academic leaders, surely among the most critical and intelligent people on the planet, to league tables whose methodologies are often criticised as being of dubious value. What we see is the reality of media control over impact: the rankings may count for little in themselves, but once they are published and in the media, they are very hard to refute. Those who do complain about their inaccuracies or criticise the methodologies concerned – and it is likely that the academic press will once again contain a flurry of such comment after this UK RAE – will be ignored, or accused of being bad losers. And academics, attempting to make points about methodologies and statistics, can of course be easily dismissed as indigestible to the media.

    In our Workflows in Research Assessment project, we are drawing upon the expertise of two Australian colleagues in our Expert Advisory Group – Colin Steele (ANU) and Ross Coleman (Sydney). Colin recently drew my attention to a background paper issued by the Group of Eight – Australia’s association of top research universities – which very usefully summarises the efforts of a range of countries across the world to concentrate research excellence as far as possible. The reason for this is that many countries which fund research largely out of the public purse now believe that the UK model has proven its worth, and that concentrating research makes countries more economically successful. Research assessment is therefore no longer really the point; what the effort is now aimed at is research excellence concentration (hence the term excellence in both the UK and Australian new versions of the exercise). The paper states that

    Research by Ellen Hazelkorn (2008) for OECD demonstrates that the new body of comparative information, especially institutional rankings and research output metrics, has rapidly become installed in the perspectives, performance measurement systems and objectives of both national governments and higher education institutions; and is entering into the funding decisions of corporations, philanthropists and donors. Hazelkorn surveyed and interviewed institutional leaders in 41 countries on their response to university rankings and league tables. Almost universally, respondents testified that ‘rankings are a critical factor underpinning and informing institutional reputation’, affecting applications, especially from international students; university partnerships; government funding; and the employer valuation of graduates.

    Countering those in Australia who question the policy of research concentration, the paper provides the evidence for a worldwide trend in countries with large amounts of public funding provided to research:

  • Canada has set itself the goal of ranking amongst the top four countries in the world in terms of R&D performance
  • The United Kingdom has now undergone several rounds of externally reviewed assessments of research quality which have increasingly concentrated funding for research, research training and research infrastructure
  • France is investing in competitive clusters, with 10 ‘supercampuses’ sharing EUR5 billion to form French centres of excellence to rank among the world’s top universities
  • Germany has taken a major change in policy direction through its EUR2 billion Excellence Initiative
  • China has concentrated funding in its top performing universities via its 211 and 985 projects, with the aim of increasing Chinese representation amongst the world’s leaders
  • India has established 12 new central universities, alongside plans to set up five new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, eight new Indian Institutes of Technology, seven new Indian Institutes of Management, and 20 new Indian Institutes of Information Technology
  • Japan has established the World Premier International Research Center (WPI) Initiative. It provides concentrated support for projects to establish and operate research centres that have at their core a group of very high level investigators
  • Singapore has concentrated investment in building world class nodes, to create the ‘Harvard and MIT of Asia’
  • Brain Korea 21’s first phase expired late in 2007. The government has doubled spending for the second seven-year phase to $2 billion.
  • Complementing RIN

    Monday, November 24th, 2008 by John

    The UK’s Research Information Network (RIN) has just published a document aimed at UK university Vice Chancellors, Presidents and Principals, Ensuring a bright future for research libraries. Jim Michalko, Lorcan Dempsey and I met with representatives of RIN, along with other European library and research organisations, after our recent European Partner meeting in Paris, and it seems clear – as Lorcan remarks in his blog – that our work agenda for the RLG Partnership coincides in various ways with the work being undertaken by RIN. Here are a few examples.

    In Linking library content and collections to research strategies they state:

    No single institution can provide all the publications and other information resources – digital and non-digital – that their researchers need to consult in the course of their research… HEIs therefore should … seek to exploit the potential for collaboration with other libraries, including the national libraries and the five designated major research libraries in England.

    In our Shared Print Collections programme, we say that

    A new business model is needed that will enable research libraries to establish partnerships capable of sustaining the long-term future of print collections, distributing the costs and benefits of acquiring and preserving content in tangible formats, and allowing aggregate holdings to be “right sized” in view of aggregate demand.

    They also recommend that universities

    should … develop and implement policies and procedures to determine which information resources should be managed and preserved over the long term and how; which can be disposed of within a shorter time, and how such disposals should be managed … establish polices for managing their holdings of low-use printed material where the content is available in digital form; and participate in the UK Research Reserve and other collaborative initiatives to ensure that they adopt a planned and coherent approach to disposal

    Our project to Deaccession Materials held in Print and Electronic Form, which we are running with the help of Ithaka and JSTOR, takes as its starting point

    There is clearly a need for aggregated information about costs associated with storing, preserving and delivering material from print back runs of e-journals, as well as data on the costs of discarding titles before and after they have been placed in storage. A comprehensive roster of print archives and access agreements would also be a worthy contribution to efforts in this area, particularly a title-by-title registry of which instituions are committed to retaining which materials, and providing access to them.

    Under the same heading, they request that universities Explicitly relate the development and acquisition of special collections of rare material to the research strengths of the institution. Our new theme Mobilizing Unique Materials includes a project to Define the State of Holdings and Description for Archives. This will use datamining methods to provide data which should help with that explicit identification of rare materials and research priorities within institutions.

    Providing institutions with a system-wide view of archival collection descriptions would provide a new input into these prioritization decisions and could help inform funding agency support.

    Under the theme of Cataloguing, navigation, discovery, delivery and access they ask universities to

    encourage their libraries to share catalogue records with other libraries; to make them available through collaborative catalogues and online discovery services, both national and international; and to ensure that they are exposed and made available to users through Google and other search engines

    In our Share Best Practices for Metadata Creation Workflows Project (within the Knowledge Structure theme) we say

    Information professions are eager to know what workflows work best in different environments that could be applied to their own and that would facilitate metadata flow in and among libraries, archives and museums.

    Our Infrastructure theme, meanwhile, has a range of work going on within the Web Enablement programme.

    RIN advises universities to encourage their libraries to work with others in developing innovative services that integrate into researchers’ workflows. In our new programme, Support for the Research Process, we are just starting on an Academic Research Landscape Project

    As a foundational stage of the program, we are carrying out an analysis of research workflows and research information management practices, to ‘anatomize’ the area into its various components.

    RIN has a strong focus on scholarly communication, patchily tied in to research evaluation in the UK via the national Research Assessment Exercise and its developing successor.

    HEIs … should …develop clear policies and procedures as to the roles that institutional and/or subject-based repositories should play in promoting access to institutional research outputs, as well as in facilitating the creation of registers of these outputs for research evaluation

    They go on to address the library’s potential role in the contentious area of bibliometric approaches to research assessment. Institutions should

    draw on the expertise and advice of library and information professionals in making use of bibliometric and cybermetric tools, which are likely to play an increasing role in the assessment and evaluation of research outputs and impact at international, national and institutional levels.

    Our new Workflows in Research Assessment programme is in the process of commissioning a Survey of Current Practice which will

    survey the research information management landscape across its various dimensions – cultural (what are the research assessment drivers?), geographic (which countries have well-developed infrastructures and systems?), technological (what systems are being employed or developed?) and institutional (how are libraries embedded into research information systems?).

    The scope document for that survey makes explicit reference to analysing bibliometric approaches in use in a range of countries.

    Finally, we have recently categorised our outputs into four main areas: Change and community (challenging editorials, Partner events, workshops, etc); Best practice architecture & standards; Beta development & tools; and Evidence – business intelligence and user observation. Business intelligence in one form is represented by reports and other outputs based on datamining. RIN urges UK universities to

    seek to benchmark their library and information services for the support of research against comparable institutions both in the UK and overseas; and participate in collaborative work that seeks to identify and where possible to quantify the benefits and returns from investments that they make in their library and information services

    This emphasis on return on investment is also a key theme for RLUK, as stated in its Strategic Plan 2008-2011 (as Demonstrating Value). Our programmes and projects provide many opportunities for assembling data which support the demonstration of value both institutionally and at various levels of collaboration.

    The RIN report boldly asks Vice Chancellors, Presidents and Principals to invest more in their libraries – and points to libraries as sources of leadership on campus in new areas where establishing that authority will take strong and concerted effort:

    The services that librarians and information professionals provide have … changed fundamentally over the past decade. They can now do much more to provide leadership that brings improvements in research performance and effectiveness … Librarians and information services need the resources and the continuing top-level support within their institutions to ensure that they can fulfil their potential and meet these challenges.

    Let’s hope they listen! We are keen that the work which we are undertaking within OCLC Research in so many similar areas can add breadth to RIN’s work, and can gain some depth of understanding of the UK context from it. In conclusion, they come down to earth with a well-understood library case for the cooperative approach:

    recognise that there is scope for cost savings through the sharing of information resources and expertise, and through the development of collaborative services

    We couldn’t have put it any better.

    The Google Book Search settlement – a summary

    Wednesday, October 29th, 2008 by Jim

    Our colleague, Arnold Arcolio, entertained himself by reading over the actual Google settlement documents. I thought you’d welcome this thoughtful summary.

    Share your thoughts on whether his understanding is correct and what implications it might have for us and others.

    Quoting from Arnold’s email of this morning to me:
    “My understanding of the settlement between Google, AAP, and the Authors Guild, which comes mostly from reading the Google press release , the books rightsholders settlement,
    and especially the proposed Notice of Class Action .

    It seems to me that the basic operating distinction is not between books which are in copyright and books which are not (which is a matter of fact, though sometimes hard to determine) but rather between books which are in print and books which are not (which Google will determine and publishers or authors can dispute; the Books Rights Registry is the organization that hears and arbitrates these disputes).

    A books database, perhaps what Paul Courant refers to in his excellent post – The Google Settlement: From the Universal Library to the Universal Bookstore – as “the product,” will include all out of print books, whether in copyright or not, except those explicitly withdrawn by rights holders. It will include no in print books except those explicitly contributed by rights holders. Google may offer subject-based subsets of it. Google will produce and operate whatever system provides discovery and use. Use means gazing and page printing; institutions which subscribe for access and individuals who purchase access to individual items may also copy, paste, and annotate. A “research corpus” version with just about the same content as the product will support qualified researchers–it isn’t clear that they’d be from outside Google. The research projects that are offered as representative all have to do with making Google Book Search better.

    It seems to me that a settlement serves Google better than a victory would, because it doesn’t open the way for similar efforts on whatever scale by others under a clarified definition of fair use. It does sound, however, as if the Book Rights Registry, an agency that collects and distributes payments, should support “similar programs that may be established by other providers.”

    Out of print books, including those in copyright, can be previewed online more fully than they are now. This supports increased discovery and selection for out of print books. This generates chances for Google to sell fuller access to individual consumers. Authors and publishers will be compensated for purchases of books in copyright. For others?

    Out of print books, including those in copyright, can be “viewed in full”–gazed at–at designated computers in US public and university libraries. Google cannot be charged with making these books any less accessible than they were. In fact, more books are available. However, they are in as illiquid a form as ever. This generates chances to sell fuller access to items or consumers or subscriptions to institutions. “The Public Access service will provide the same access to Books as Google offers in the institutional subscriptions, except that users will not be able to copy/paste or annotate any portions of a Book. At public libraries that are able to charge for printing, and at all libraries at higher educational institutions, users will be able to print from the Public Access terminals for a per-page fee.”

    Consumers can purchase “online access” to many in-copyright books.

    Institutions (including academic institutions) can subscribe. Will this “subscription for online access” add “copy/paste” and “annotate any portions” functionality.

    “Upon Registry approval, Public Access terminals may be made available for a viewing and per-page printing fee at commercial businesses such as copy centers, which will share those fees with Google and the Rightsholders.” And while “users will be able to print from Public Access terminals for a per-page fee” will it provide any other functionality?

    Contributing institutions may be permitted to make “non-display uses” of books.

    These parts of the notice were particularly interesting to me:
    Read the rest of this entry »