Archive for the 'Europe' Category

Another pulse taken: Special collections in the UK and Ireland

Monday, February 18th, 2013 by Jackie

Hurrah! After about 18 months of enjoyable collaboration with new colleagues from RLUK (Research Libraries UK, the ARL equivalent over there across the Atlantic), our rather hefty report was co-published by OCLC Research and RLUK last week. The project was launched on the heels of our predecessor project that studied research libraries in the US and Canada, which was published as Taking Our Pulse in 2010. The projects were similar in two basic respects: both populations comprised a disparate array of special collections research libraries across multiple nations, and data gathering for the UK/Ireland was based on a variant of the US/Canada survey instrument.

A lot of similarities in the data exist as well. The top six “most challenging issues” were the same for both populations (though not in the same order): outreach and user services, space and facilities, born-digital materials, digitization, cataloguing and metadata, and preservation (“collection care” in the UK/Ireland). In general, the use of all types of material by all types of users increased over the preceding decade. Collecting and management of born-digital archival materials remains in its infancy in both sectors. Use of minimal-level processing techniques is used (at least sometimes) by strong majorities of both populations. For staff education and training, born digital was the most frequently cited area of need. Collaborative collection development is relatively common but is invariably informal and within a localized area.

On the other hand, we saw some big differences. External funds (e.g., gifts or endowments) for acquisition of materials are far larger in the US/Canada. Interlibrary loan of original rare or unique materials, which has become increasingly common in the US, is rarely practiced in the UK. A significantly higher percentage of archival finding aids are online in the UK and Ireland–perhaps due to the strong national hubs that exist.

RLUK was very interested in seeing how their data would compare with that of ARL libraries, which was a key reason for keeping the two instruments in synch, so we took a close look at similarities and differences in a nine-page section toward the end of the report.

There’s no way I could have done this project on my own. The expertise and perspective brought by my UK co-authors was essential, and their esprit de corps made the entire process a delight. The effort was coordinated by David Prosser and Mike Mertens, the RLUK executives, whose collegiality and make-it-happen attitude were equally essential.

Not yet available for your mobile devices, but easy enough to haul around in your dropbox!


Enjoying the Scots

Friday, August 31st, 2012 by Jim

I had a very enjoyable conversation today with Martyn Wade, National Librarian and Chief Executive, of the National Library of Scotland. He made me aware of the relatively new legislation that updates the purpose and functions of the National Library. The library had been operating under legislation that dated from 1925. The new legislation positions the Library to fulfill the kind of role that the citizenry and other national and higher education institutions expect in the digital age. The legislation is brief, to the point, seems actionable and aims to be ‘future-proof’. It’s worth a quick look at 20 very generously-spaced pages. I was particularly taken with a subheading under NLS Functions:

NLS is to exercise its functions with a view to—
(a)encouraging education and research,
(b)promoting understanding and enjoyment of the collections,
(c)promoting the diversity of persons accessing the collections, and
(d)contributing to understanding of Scotland’s national culture.

I’m not aware of other library mission statements that explicitly call out the need to ensure that their collections are enjoyed. I like that very much.

In passing Martyn mentioned the library exhibit called Going to the pictures: Scotland at the cinema. In connection with this exhibit on the library’s Facebook page there was an opportunity to “Scot-ify” famous lines from the movies – Scotland at the Cinema Strikes Back. It’s ongoing and has been very successful. It’s charming and funny. Worth a look. Postcards made from some of the submissions will, of course, be available for sale in the library shop.

The tail of the COMET (Project)

Thursday, October 27th, 2011 by Jim

1962 Mercury Comet Coupe

1962 Mercury Comet Coupe

Today the University of Cambridge released the final dataset from its COMET (Cambridge Open METadata) project. The final dataset contains more than 600,000 records derived from OCLC’s WorldCat available as both Marc21 and RDF triples under an Open Data Commons Attribution License (ODC-BY). All the previous data sets released, as well as this one, have been enriched with links to the FAST subject and VIAF name authority services provided by OCLC. This is the final step in the project and brings the total bibliographic records released to more than 3,600,000. OCLC Research was a formal partner in the project which was officially announced in February 2011.

While this JISC-supported project formally ended some time ago this final dataset release is noteworthy because of the license regime that has been applied. One of the goals set by the Cambridge University Library team was to release data derived from WorldCat in a fashion that was compliant with the rights and responsibilities of the cooperative. In that spirit they engaged OCLC in a discussion about the type of license that would be suitable and wondered whether OCLC had a recommendation. We didn’t at the start of the project but by the end we had engaged in enough other conversations and done enough investigation to recommend the Open Data Commons Attribution license with an explicit reference to the community norms embodied in the document WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities for the OCLC Cooperative (WCRR).

It was quite clear to us that many libraries would be engaging in data experiments similar to this Cambridge project and OCLC would be obliged to make a recommendation that could be viewed as a best practice by the members of the cooperative. Whatever recommendation we made needed to be consistent with the expectations of semantic web practitioners both in and out of the library community. That meant a standard license created by a neutral body operating globally that would be both widely used and generally understood. For a variety of reasons we settled on ODC-BY. It is a license that provides for attribution as set out in the WCRR document. Moreover from an intellectual property perspective it reflects the difference between the rights over a database as a whole, such as OCLC claims over WorldCat, and the rights over the contents of a database – the record data in WorldCat for example.

We were very pleased that Cambridge, particularly the project principal, Ed Chamberlain (an arcadia@cambridge Fellow) was willing to work with us to establish a low overhead implementation of the license as part of this final dataset release. OCLC Research and OhioLINK recently released datasets used in the OhioLINK collection and circulation analysis project under the same ODC-BY license. That project and the COMET project effort gave us real-world experience in the license implementation and an opportunity for the policy discussions that will result in a consistent recommendation to OCLC members wanting to honor the community norms expressed in the WCRR.

Ed and the project team, including the indefatigable Hugh Taylor, head of Collection Development and Description at the Cambridge University Library, with whom I’ve worked across many years, produced a project with very interesting results, sensible ongoing commentary and openly shared their experiences as they struggled with the specifics of the data and the vexed nature of library catalog ownership.

It’s worth reading Ed’s COMET blog, particularly the final entry summarizing what he learned and offering advice e.g. “‘Enliven’ linked RDF data”.

And for those who have not seen it yet, Hugh’s document describing problems inherent in understanding the origin of a MARC-encoded bibliographic record must be read. He made an heroic attempt to sort out the origins of Cambridge records with fascinating results. His analysis makes clear that most large library catalogs were created by collecting and combining whatever ingredients were at hand. And in this hobo stew the profile of rights under contract and license are complex and unclear. I was gratified to see that the conditions surrounding the WorldCat-derived data are quite clear relative to the range of records and vendors from whom they were sourced.

Congratulations to the COMET team. Working with them helped us to understand what kind of advice OCLC members want regarding the release of their catalog data and took us a long way towards a standard recommendation on a responsible and consistent licensing regime for cooperatively-sourced bibliographic data.

The photo is by Randy von Liski. Good stuff

The Empires Fight Back – Globalization and Area Studies

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011 by Jennifer

Last week at our FutureCast meeting, Deborah Jakubs, University Librarian at Duke, gave us a thoughtful analysis of internationalizing education and research collections. She was commenting on Ben Wildavsky’s talk about an increasingly mobile academy, the emergence of global universities, and the role of global rankings. Deborah  put Wildavsky’s thesis about globalization and higher education in a research library context. I asked Deborah for her notes, and she has allowed me to post them. I have made my own personal selections here.


  • Higher education has gone global
  • Language learning/fluency very important
  • Increased collaboration with research partners, co-authors,  beyond the US
  • Access for non-US researchers to scholarship produced in the US and internationally


  • Title VI funding for area studies is threatened precisely when language/cultural expertise is needed
  • Research libraries see continued decline in “foreign acquisitions”
  • Trend in libraries to justify expenditures on use, ROI
  • Limited and/or uneven production of and access to digital scholarly resources worldwide
  • Contradiction between globalized universities and diminishing focus on global acquisitions
  • How will needs of scholars for access to non-English, often obscure, materials be met?
  • Erosion of the mission of research libraries to focus on the most-used or most-requested, turning away from more specialized
  • Implications of just in time vs. just in case for foreign materials?


  • Focus more on less available materials;  “core” is easily found (see Hathi Trust, etc.)
  • Treat foreign materials as special collections
  • What’s the information landscape beyond the US, in developing countries?
  • Can we develop centers of strength?
  • Given the partnerships between US and non-US researchers/institutions, we should develop parallel partnership with libraries in other countries

It will come as no surprise to many that Deborah is on the task force on International Engagement of ARL Libraries.

The video recordings of the FutureCast plenary sessions and response panels will be posted shortly.

Research dissemination and ‘the archive’

Monday, April 26th, 2010 by John

Ithaka S+R recently published its Faculty Survey 2009: Key Strategic Insights for Libraries, Publishers, and Societies. It considers the way faculty views of the library are changing, and analyses library roles into three key functions:

“The library is a starting point or ’gateway’ for locating information for my research” (which we refer to as the gateway function). “The library pays for resources I need, from academic journals to books to electronic databases” (which we refer to as the buyer function). “The library is a repository of resources – in other words, it archives, preserves, and keeps track of resources” (which we refer to as the archive function).

Ithaka’s analysis shows that the gateway function has declined (its importance rating has dropped from 70%-58%) over the six years in which the biennnial studies have been made, while the buyer function has steadily increased (81%-90%). The archive function has remained relatively static at just over 70%.

Many of the findings in this report are interesting, and relevant to us as we focus – via our Working Group on Research Services – on the specific topic of Support for Research Dissemination. We have chosen the word dissemination with some care. What we will be looking at is researcher behaviours and practices concerning institutional repositories, individual websites, subject archives, virtual research environments, blogs, blog aggregations and other social venues. In other words, every research dissemination venue except the conventional (and still overpoweringly influential) modes of scholarly publishing – the journal, the monograph and the conference paper. We will look at the way researchers use these alternative venues to disseminate their work, and the factors that account for the types and rates of dissemination. Read the rest of this entry »

All futured out: UK public funding and risks to libraries

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by John

The future, it seems, has never been as popular as it as at the present time. We talk, think and write about it endlessly. The transformations in the world we live in over the past few decades have induced so much uncertainty that we look to the future because we crave a place where certainty and sureness return. As librarians, curators and archivists, of course, it is a professional duty to keep looking at the future in order to plan ahead, to prioritise, to make maximum impact from available resource and to prove that we manage well. But the current preoccupation with prediction goes much further. It seems likely that we are living through the most future-obsessed era our profession has ever experienced.

My first awareness that librarianship was a profession deeply concerned about its future was with the publication of James Thompson’s The end of libraries, in 1982, which was still a relatively recent work when I first went to library school. Thompson, University Librarian at the University of Reading, was interested in library technology and its potential to liberate libraries from what he saw as a paralysed state of continual growth unrelated to use. In an article of the same title as his book which was published in the then new journal The electronic library the following year he wrote:

One way to by-pass problems would of course be to store in the electronic memory not just the surrogate references, but the full text of the documents.

He didn’t imagine Google, but he did perhaps foresee the changes which are now underway, though he would doubtless have been surprised that they would take 30 years to occur. If the changes have been slow, the pace of future-gazing has intensified over these 30 years, and seems to be currently experiencing rocket thrust. On a recent visit to the National Library of Scotland, I was given a copy of its new discussion document Thriving or surviving? National Library of Scotland in 2030. The National Library of Wales has been less daring by ten years, producing Twenty-twenty: a long view of the National Library of Wales. Both institutions are taking on the challenge of providing national library services within a new sector – what the Scottish report calls small, smart countries. Read the rest of this entry »

Scholarly content and the cliff edge: the place of subject ‘repositories’

Friday, February 5th, 2010 by John

The famous (and famously reclusive) author J.D. Salinger died on 27 January this year, two days after the anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns – a day which is celebrated across Scotland and in many parts of the world. Salinger and Burns are of course connected, since the title of Salinger’s most famous novel, The Catcher in the Rye, is based on a mishearing of the Burns song Comin’ Through the Rye by the protagonist, 17-year old Holden Caulfield:

… I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.

Salinger, J.D., The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 22

The idea of being a ‘catcher’ struck me when I attended a conference held at the British Library last week, Subject Repositories: European Collaboration in the International Context. Neil Jacobs of JISC mentioned Glasgow University Library’s policy of seeking to ‘catch’ researchers close to the end of funded projects to ask if they would like help with their outputs. Certainly, it is easy to argue for libraries to be the ‘catchers in the rye’ when it comes to digital scholarly works and outputs – and the obvious place to deposit these materials is the institutional repository.

However, we were gathered at the BL to hear about subject repositories – including EconomistsOnline which was being launched during the event. And we heard about several very successful subject repositories in a number of very good presentations. The event left me reflecting on a number of things. For example, some subject repositories are success stories almost against all odds. Services like arXiv and RePEc have captured their respective corners of academia so effectively that they go on existing and attracting even without much resource (almost none in the case of RePEc), and their proven value is such that people probably would pay to maintain them (as arXiv is now proposing for its heaviest users). This makes them the inverse of many institutional repositories, which can’t attract content almost irrespective of the amount of resource invested. Read the rest of this entry »

ORCID and ISNI: Author, Swineherd, Taxman, Alcohol Researcher

Saturday, January 30th, 2010 by Jim

At recent meetings I attended in Washington D.C. there was significant hallway discussion about the Open Researcher Contributor Identification (ORCID) initiative. Given the science orientation of the meetings this initiative to resolve the problem of name ambiguity and attribution in scholarly publication was particularly welcomed. As you’ll see if you visit the ORCID site this is early days for this pre-competitive multi-publisher effort whose goal is to establish

“an open, independent registry that is adopted and embraced as the industry’s de facto standard.” Their mission is “to resolve the systemic name ambiguity, by means of assigning unique identifiers linkable to an individual’s research output, to enhance the scientific discovery process and improve the efficiency of funding and collaboration.”

Meeting one was convened by Thomson Reuters and Nature Publishing not long ago with the first meeting in November 2009. The roster of participants is impressive and the continued involvement of Elsevier made those with whom I talked hopeful that this would be as successful an effort as CrossRef has been. A recent editorial in Nature Credit where credit is due (pdf) is quite to the point about the implications of success.

My colleagues, Thom Hickey and Janifer Gatenby, have been involved. OCLC has much to contribute here given Thom’s leadership of the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF) effort and Janifer’s in the development of the International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI). The scope of ORCID is narrower than ISNI as the latter is intended for the identification of “identities used publicly by parties involved throughout the media content industries in the creation, production, management, and content distribution chains.” This goes across all fields of creative activity not just science. As Janifer said,

“ISNI could become a cross domain identifier so that a researcher who also plays in a rock band (and wants it known that he is one and the same) can be identified.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Libraries and research excellence

Thursday, January 14th, 2010 by John

Last month I mentioned the publication of A comparative review of research assessment regimes in five countries and the role of libraries in the research assessment process, which had been produced for us by Key Perspectives. It is a detailed report, and I also said that we’d shortly issue a companion report with some background information on the question of research assessment – ie the system by which universities are evaluated for their research performance by the bodies that fund them, with some of the key findings for each country, and with some recommendations for research libraries. That companion report, Research assessment and the role of the library, was published yesterday, and I thought I might draw attention here to the recommendations for research libraries that it makes. These are:

  • Libraries should be sources of knowledge on disciplinary norms and practices in research outputs for their institutions
  • Libraries should seek to sustain environments in which disciplines can develop while co-existing with political constraints
  • Libraries should manage research outputs data at national and international scales
  • Libraries should take responsibility for the efficient operation of research output repositories across research environments
  • Libraries should provide expertise in bibliometrics
  • Libraries should provide usage evidence
  • Libraries should claim their territory
  • These challenges are easy to state, and most of us would readily assent to them. Some academic librarians may even claim to be doing several of them already – particularly in the operation of repositories, and in the provision of expertise in bibliometrics in some cases. But how many non-library organisations would recognise these as library roles? Would our funding bodies? The President’s or Vice Chancellor’s Office? Our research councils? Research publishers? Our politicians? Until these roles can be seen from the outside, we have not ‘claimed our territory’. Read the rest of this entry »

    National systems of research assessment and implications for libraries

    Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009 by John

    Research assessment is a very big deal in some countries. Countries whose university systems are largely publicly-funded routinely check up on the research quality of individual universities to ensure that they are squeezing the best possible performance out of their systems. They do this because they see a link between high-quality research and economic development. The economic potential of research is growing in importance as national ‘knowledge economies’ recognise the need for international research excellence, and see universities as a key driver.

    We have just published a report which reviews the research assessment regimes of five countries, and the role of libraries in the processes of assessment that exist. This report was produced by Key Perspectives Ltd, a UK consultancy, and it surveys the research assessment situation in the Netherlands, Ireland, the UK, Denmark and Australia. We chose countries that we knew were doing interesting things in assessment – or in preparation for its introduction. The high political stakes involved were evident even as the report was being written. In the UK, the pilot exercise for the system that will replace the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) ditched one of its proposed new thrusts (bibliometrics) and found another (economic impact) for the country’s universities to stress about. In Australia, a recent change of government led to temporary abandonment of a system that tied assessment outcomes to government funding, and arguably lost the country some ground in the international scramble for both reputation and economic advantage.

    The Review provides a fascinating account of different cultural understandings of the purposes of assessment, and a glimpse of the trend of concentrating research excellence in a small number of top universities that is now taking shape in many countries, as the competition for research income, top faculty and students becomes one that occurs within a single international marketplace. We found countries that tied research assessment to large amounts of government funding, and others that did not (yet); countries that operated systems based on bibliometrics and others that mistrusted them; countries that devised league tables of journals and awarded points to researchers on those they published in – and others that assembled national panels of experts to determine the rankings.

    Libraries are involved in these assessment exercises in a range of ways, from the clerical (data entry) to the highly strategic, and from the specialist (bibliometric expertise) to a role as providers of general infrastructure (institutional repositories). Whatever differences there may be in the assessment systems adopted by different countries, they all share a focus upon the research outputs produced by their researchers and faculty. These outputs are managed by libraries – both indirectly (via publications) and, increasingly directly (via arrangements with the authors themselves at pre-publication stages). Does this suggest that libraries play a central role in research assessment within their institutions? Or that they should? At the very least, shouldn’t libraries seek a shared view on this question?