Archive for September, 2009

A Timely Debate: Whither (or wither) Academic Libraries?

Monday, September 28th, 2009 by Ricky

An RLG working group is writing a manifesto for academic libraries, addressing the need for change to better support research. The recent clamor over Dan Greenstein’s intentionally provocative remarks about the future of university libraries has prompted us to offer a preview of our work.

The reactions to Greenstein’s remarks certainly validate this paragraph from our current draft:

As budgets across higher education are shrinking, some in the academy are questioning the continued value of large academic libraries. At the same time, many academic libraries are providing vital and innovative services and resources in support of emerging forms of research, publishing, and information management. While some would argue that academic libraries are playing an increasingly important role in scholarly research, others fear that they are on the brink of extinction and must change radically to survive.

In an effort to rise above the debate on the current and future value of libraries, the draft suggests a set of principles to guide academic libraries in improving research support in a changing environment.

The principles drafted to date are:
–Heed the ever-changing work patterns and needs of scholars and change library practices in response.
–Design services around the parts of the research process that cause scholars the most frustration.
–Embed library services in scholars’ workflows, integrated with services provided by others.
–Redefine reference as research consultation instead of fact-finding.
–Ensure that staff training and hiring reflect the new modes of scholarly research.
–Contribute to community solutions that address common needs, so you can focus on what is unique to your institution.
–Demonstrate the value of library services to funders; while providing services that may seem invisible to scholars.
–Commit to long-term preservation of and access to datasets that researchers judge to be of lasting value.
–Promote use of alternative modes of scholarly publishing.
–Recognize that discovery will happen outside of libraries and provide the organization that makes content discoverable.

We recognize that this is not a particularly radical list, and that many academic libraries already embrace some of these principles.

Are any academic libraries embracing all of them? Are all of the principles essential to facilitating effective research? Are there significant principles we left out? Join the debate!

Mendeley scrobbles your papers

Thursday, September 24th, 2009 by John

Mendeley is a social web application for academic authors that has been receiving quite a lot of attention recently. Victor Keegan wrote about it in The Guardian last week, likening it to the streaming music service

How does it work? At the basic level, students can “drag and drop” research papers into the site at which automatically extracts data, keywords, cited references, etc, thereby creating a searchable database and saving countless hours of work. That in itself is great, but now the bit kicks in, enabling users to collaborate with researchers around the world, whose existence they might not know about until Mendeley’s algorithms find, say, that they are the most-read person in Japan in their niche specialism. You can recommend other people’s papers and see how many people are reading yours, which you can’t do in Nature and Science. Mendeley says that instead of waiting for papers to be published after a lengthy procedure of acquiring citations, they could move to a regime of real-time citations, thereby greatly reducing the time taken for research to be applied in the real world and actually boost economic growth. There are lots of research archives. For the physical (but not biological) sciences there is ArXiv, with more than half a million e-papers free online – but nothing on the potential scale of Mendeley. Around 60,000 people have already signed up and a staggering 4m scientific papers have been uploaded, doubling every 10 weeks. At this rate it will soon overtake the biggest academic databases, which have around 20m papers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Clarification on OCLC/OAIster Transfer

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009 by Roy

Earlier in the week I posted “The Straight Dope on OAIster” in an effort to bring the OAI community up to date on the transition of this service from the University of Michigan to OCLC, and our intentions for it going forward. A comment on that post, as well as chatter via Twitter and on some mailing lists has prompted us to clarify the terms and conditions to make it absolutely clear that they only apply to the harvested metadata.

It was never our intent to harvest anything other than metadata. Unfortunately, the terminology used in the OAIster terms and conditions did not accurately state the rights that OCLC needs to make the OAIster data available.  As a result, the OAIster terms and conditions have been corrected and are being re-sent to OAIster data providers.

We are sorry for causing a misunderstanding. Our intent has always been to simply transition the good work of the University of Michigan to our infrastructure and support. We will strive to be more accurate and clear in the future so as not to distract us all from the important work of maintaining and expanding access to open access content.

The Straight Dope on OAIster

Monday, September 21st, 2009 by Roy

As many of you are probably aware, OCLC and the University of Michigan announced last January that OCLC was taking over the OAIster aggregation of metadata harvested from OAI-compliant repositories. The University of Michigan was no longer able to support it, and was looking for assistance in sustaining this valuable community resource. As Kat Hagedorn remarked in regards to our agreement, “Hosting anything of this size quickly got out of hand for UM Libraries, and it took us a long time to realize it. Besides, greater access for more folks? Sounds win-win to me, as long as it’s continuously freely available.” [reported by Dorothea Salo]

I have heard lots of questions since we started contacting contributors with the most recent phase of the transfer plan, so the purpose of this post is to bring everyone up to date on why we are doing this, where things are, and what we hope to accomplish in the future. Read the rest of this entry »

Edinburgh University Library comes full circle

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009 by John

I was invited back to Edinburgh University Library last Thursday to attend the launch event for the opening of the refurbished Ground Floor – part of a long renovation project that began last year with the opening of its excellent Centre for Research Collections on the upper floors. The library that I left almost two years ago has been beautifully and gracefully transformed. The booklet that was published to celebrate the opening states in its Vision section:

The Library was founded in 1580 when Edinburgh Advocate Clement Litill bequeathed his collection of 276 volumes to the Toun and Kirk of Edinburgh. The University admitted its first students three years later, and the library collections have since become of national and international significance. The University has transformed its Library in significant periods of its history. It created the Playfair Library during the Enlightenment, and in the sixties commissioned Sir Basil Spence to design a new Main Library in George Square – which opened in 1967. The current redevelopment renews the service which supports the intellectual activity of the University.

Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin is one of the University’s most famous contemporary graduates, and he spoke entertainingly at the event. The University has made him the focus of a short video on the revamped Library, which features him being shown round by Director of Library Services Sheila Cannell. Rankin talks of the shock of arriving at the library for the first time as an undergraduate coming from a small Scottish town and a comprehensive school. That shock is a more pleasant one now. My wife studied at Edinburgh at the same time as Rankin, and remembers him from the literary society. She and I could both identify with Rankin’s memories. I recall meeting her in the more forbidding upper floors that are still waiting to be transformed – but we now have two sons studying there who will at least find the Ground Floor beautiful, if this review is typical of student reaction.

I am very impressed with the artwork that features in the redevelopment, not least the Interleaved series of 100 mesostics by the artist Alec Finlay. Created in collaboration with staff and students, these are based on books in the Library, and have been affixed to shelf-ends and produced as bookmarks. The one included in my booklet was based on Death in Venice and reads con-men and decadent invalids. Cut into paving stones at the front entrance is the title poem Interleaved mesostic circle poem (for a library) which has been produced from the source text Thair to Reman, the foundational wish of Clement Litill.

Crowdsourcing Lessons

Monday, September 14th, 2009 by Roy

The Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, more RLG Partners and others have participated in the Flickr Commons, all to try to leverage what’s become known as “crowdsourcing” — “the act of taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people or community in the form of an open call,” as Wikipedia describes it. By posting content on the web in places where many people frequent, the Library of Congress and others are hoping to attract descriptions, subject labels, and other useful content to enrich their finding tools. And this has undeniably led to enriched descriptions.

But tossing something out on the “interwebs” and creating an effective crowdsourcing environment are two very different things. And this article, from the Nieman Journalism Lab, describes lessons from the Guardian newspaper in the UK that recently used crowdsourcing in their amazing unveiling of the British Parliament expenses scandal. The “four lessons” they point out include:

  1. “Your workers are unpaid, so make it fun.” Make it feel like a game, even if it seems like work to you.
  2. Public attention is fickle, so launch immediately.” If it is newsworthy, in other words, strike while the iron is hot.
  3. “Speed is mandatory, so use a framework.” Again, applies if something is newsworthy and has a limited span of time to attract attention. Luckily, there are fast ways you can get going with a site.
  4. “Participation will come in one big burst, so have servers ready.” Also important for when you have a short but intense focus of attention. The Guardian used Amazon’s EC2 infrastructure, for which during the brief span of their project they figure they spent somewhere under 60 pounds. Right, chump change.

Although these tips are definitely skewed toward a crowdsourcing opportunity tied to a newsworthy situation (and therefore of a short-lived attention span), libraries, museums, and archives are not immune from such events. Therefore, it would be good for us to be ready to exploit such opportunities when they arise. For example, what about the 100th anniversary of an author’s birth? That’s a newsworthy event, were an archive chock-full of that author’s content and papers able to exploit the crowd in some useful way. Just sayin’.

Note: Thanks to Rose Holley, of the Australian Newspapers Project and a member of our RLG Partnership Social Metadata Working Group, for pointing this out.

What Library Administrators Need to Know About Technology

Saturday, September 12th, 2009 by Roy

I blog in several places, almost as if I had never heard of the dangers of diluting one’s “brand”. But whatever, I’m already spread out and now I have to deal with it. So forgive me when I first send you off to another spot where I blog to read “The Top Ten Things Library Administrators Should Know About Technology”. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

I chose that location to blog about that topic since is a site I created to provide “The essence of information technology for library decision-makers.” You will find a number of summary sheets on library technologies as well as other information that potentially would be of use to library managers. My only regret is not having enough time to keep it a frequently-updated site. But I digress.

So now that you’ve read the “ten things”, what do you think? Do any of them resonate with you? Would you argue against any of them? I ask, really wanting to know your opinion. This is a conversation we really must have to help us all move forward more effectively. Also, I have it on good authority (being on the planning committee) that the upcoming Digital Library Federation Fall Forum, still on for November 11-13 in Long Beach, California, will be focused on addressing an important topic that ties in well with my “ten things”. More information will be coming soon.

Meanwhile, what do you think are some useful strategies to enable your organization to make the most effective use of technology? What are the barriers that prevent you from achieving your goals? Having laid them out on the table, then we can move on to addressing them, and become more successful in the process. And what’s not to like about that?