Archive for December, 2009

READABILITY – a new year lagniappe

Thursday, December 31st, 2009 by Jim

Best wishes to our readers from all of us at hangingtogether and OCLC Research. We’re grateful for the attention you give our thoughts and hope to continue contributing to the design of the future library, archive, and museum.

As a final thank-you for the year I urge you to install Readability in your web browser. It makes reading on the web much more comfortable by removing all the clutter from those crowded web sites that studiously avoid everything Jakob Nielsen has tried to teach web designers.

I’ve promoted it before in the commentary of our Above the Fold newsletter (to which you should subscribe; we work hard to find relevant articles that you might not see in the ordinary course of professional reading).

I was motivated to offer it up here because it made David Pogue’s Best Tech Ideas of the Year 2009 column in today’s New York Times. Here’s what he said:

READABILITY The single best tech idea of 2009, though, the real life-changer, has got to be Readability. It’s a free button for your Web browser’s toolbar (get it). When you click it, Readability eliminates everything from the Web page you’re reading except the text and photos. No ads, blinking, links, banners, promos or anything else. Times Square just goes away.

You wind up with a simple, magazine-like layout, presented in a beautiful font and size (your choice) against a white or off-white background with none of this red-text-against-black business.

You occasionally run into a Web page that Readability doesn’t handle right — no big deal, just refresh the page to see the original. But most of the time, Readability makes the world online a calmer, cleaner, more beautiful place.

Go forth and install it.

Here’s to a clear-eyed and comfortable time in 2010!

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?

Digital Strategies for Heritage (DISH) – the 2009 conference

Thursday, December 17th, 2009 by Jim

I’ve recently returned from the Netherlands (Holland as the locals call it and Rotterdam to be more specific) where I attended the 2009 Digital Strategies for Heritage Conference (DISH2009). The main organizers of the conference are the Netherlands Institute for Heritage and the DEN foundation. The latter organization, Digital Heritage Netherlands is the Dutch national knowledge platform for information technology and cultural heritage run by my long-time friend and colleague, Marco de Niet. I was on the advisory board for this biannual event and chaired a panel during the conference.
rotterdam delfshaven

It was very well-done. I believe that this gathering has now become the most important heritage conference for Europe (it would be the equivalent of a combined WebWise and Museums on the Web in the United States). There were over 600 delegates from twenty-three countries in attendance. They were a good mix of digital heritage practitioners, project leaders and administrators and they approached the conference from a shared vision of mobilizing heritage materials on the web that doesn’t exist in the US.

There were a small number of American attendees most of whom had keynote or other significant roles on the conference program. I think that some of them didn’t understand the extent of the investments that have already been made in the Netherlands and more generally in Europe nor the extent to which a shared motivation has taken hold. This was not an audience that needed to be hectored about the need to present their collections and their institutions on the web or the imperative of a user-centric perspective in doing this work.
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Getting to Know Pebbles

Friday, December 11th, 2009 by Roy

Recently I’ve required access to more computing power than I normally have available, since as part of the “Cloud Library” project managed by my colleague Constance Malpas we need to process millions of records from WorldCat, the Hathi Trust, and a regional storage facility. Luckily, OCLC Research sits on quite a bit of processing power, and it’s called “pebbles”.

Pebbles is a cluster of computers that consists of one “head” node and 32 “compute” nodes. Each node has 4 CPUs, 16 GB RAM, and around 1.5 TB of disk storage. The cluster takes its name from the fact that we use the Rocks open source cluster administration software to manage our cluster. Those of you who have been paying attention will remember that my colleague Thom Hickey wrote about this cluster when it was new, some 2 1/2 years ago.

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Library, Archive and Museum (Journals) Collaboration

Thursday, December 10th, 2009 by Günter

Two out of three journal special issues on library, archive and museum collaboration edited by Paul Marty have now been published. You’ll find articles from Archival Science and Museum Management and Curatorship at their respective websites behind a paywall. The Library Quarterly issue seems to be due in January.

I can only imagine the organizational effort it took to coordinate these LAM issues, and Paul lived to tell the story:

“Creating one unified special triple issue on this theme involved working with three different publishers, three different journal management systems, and three different publication schedules. Even with the good will and full support of everyone involved (including the publishers, editors, and authors), the act of putting these issues together was challenging.”

I searched Google, OAISter and, for good measure, E-LIS for pre-prints of the articles, and I leave it up to your imagination to divine which search surfaced the two pre-prints I found. Luckily enough, I already knew where the pre-print for the article Ricky and I wrote lives, so that makes three.

If you are an author of one of the articles below, and your contract allows you to publish pre-prints (as the Archival Science and Museum Management and Curatorship seem to, judging by the precendent), please make your article available in pre-print to maximize the reach of its ideas. You can comment on this post with your link. I’ve received my copies of the journals through the amazing folks at our OCLC in-house Library, and I’ll post impressions when I’m done reading. Look for the journals at a library near you here (L), here (A) and here (M).

Below is the list of articles from each journal, as well as links to the three pre-prints.

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Europeana at the Halfway Mark

Monday, December 7th, 2009 by Ricky

For the recent LIBER/EBLIDA workshop on digitization at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague, I was asked to provide a view on Europeana from the US perspective. Of course, I neither speak for the US nor do I have inside information about Europeana, but I’d been following it from afar and had read just about everything I could get my hands on, so I gamely took the challenge. [Only someone as bloodied by digital paper cuts as I would dare to take on Europeana.] I wasn’t bombarded with rotten tomates, courgettes, and aubergines, so I guess it went OK. My remarks are now available in Volume 19 (2009), No. 2 of the LIBER QUARTERLY.

Another reason we’re not like the Japanese: e-book sales

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009 by Jim

During my last two visits to Japan I met a very interesting fellow who works for one of the country’s biggest publication distribution companies. His particular role is to manage the electronic distribution of a wide-range of publications. Manga are the biggest portion of what is sold in this form. Because the numbers he showed astonished me so much he was kind enough to share the relevant slides from his presentation.

The slides show the total sales volumes and the target platforms for the Japanese market over time. According to the International Digital Publishing Forum total wholesale e-book sales in the US for 2008 were $53.5 million. Japanese e-book sales for the same period were $464 million and that’s when there were 100 yen to the dollar (if you adjust it to today’s exchange rate it would be more like $533 million). The market thus looks to be 8 to 10 times as large as here.

What was even more interesting to me was that the vastly preferred target platform is a mobile phone (not an e-book reader – a phone. Despite lots of subway and train trips I never saw one of those). Eighty-six percent of e-book sales are for phones. That’s an enormous market of $400-430 million depending on the exchange rate.

Below I reproduce his two charts which were very helpfully translated by my colleague, Ms. Natsuko Furuya.

The commuter culture (lots of time and demand for easy, portable reading), manga (a genre whose frames are ideal for mobile phone story-telling) and the large numbers of young career woman (who often live at home and have sizable disposable income) certainly explain a lot of this phenomenon. I wonder whether there’s any comparable confluence of trends that will flip the e-book switch here in the US.

ありがとうございます Obata-san