Tuesday, 30 September 2008

An Irish Example

It's great to hear some good news from libraries and the Irish libraries council has just that in the 2007 PLUS report (pdf) let's sing a few praises:
82% rate the book choice as Good or Very Good
81% said they were successful in finding what they wanted
98% found the staff service Good or Very Good
92% rated the staff's knowledge of library equipment Good or Very Good
96% said libraries are a safe place to visit
93%  rated the service overall as Good or Very Good

And visits are up 17% on last year....

Using Book Covers in Library Systems

LibrarianinBlack links to an interesting post on the LibraryLaw Blog which discusses the use of book covers by libraries. It's not uncommon for library system vendors to offer solutions which provide these but they're increasingly available for 'free' via services like LibraryThing (but not Amazon...).

I certainly feel that images make a huge difference to catalogue results - I haven't seen any research to say whether records with covers attached get more views (and requests) than those without but it wouldn't suprise me at all.  The LibraryThing service is really interesting in both it's aims and future opportunities - but Mary Minow's advice on LibraryLaw is worth consideration, and possibly review in different legal environments.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Building a Diverse Organisational Web Presence

Here's an interesting article from Lifehack about building credibility online. Although much of what is said is aimed at bloggers there's still a lot of useful information for organisations or professionals looking to engage with the diversity of a Web2.0 Internet.

One of the issues for any significant organisation (especially a public one) is about hitting our 'standards' when using external sites. Whilst we might have procurement guidelines, accessibility requirements and brand/identity constraints which we judiciously apply to our own domains we live firmly within the boundaries Facebook, Flickr and other Web2.0 sites lay down.

Anyone can create a page on most sites purporting to be "Neb Library" but to really tie into the core brand some element of content control and design needs to be put in place. Of course we absolutely have to adapt perspective, level and tone for different media (especially blogs) but we can hope to reflect our organisational identity across a multitude of environments through judicious use of branding.

Branding Breakdown

There are two ways to approach branding - as a product or as elements. It has been common in the past for projects and organisations to buy in a specific brand in one lump, hoping for "brand synergy". This has often resulted in people buying websites as a package: design along with functionality.

This is a universally bad idea. The resources for project sites in particular are often very low and functi
onality is always the first priority. If you can find a company capable of fulfilling the functional requirements and presenting even a passable design you're doing very well. 

The solution is to break down the brand elements into two areas:

Organisational Brand: Your logo, fonts, layout, requirements and framework

Specific/Project Brand: Any other brand elements, including sponsors and partners (subtlety is key here!)

By buying the core brand elements at an organisational level you not only get more value for 
money but also retain your identity from your main website, through projects and even into external Web2.0 services. It also allows you to use project resources to expand and update your brand elements if necessary whilst allowing the development-orientated suppliers to get on with what they're good at - fantastic functionality.

Now I am not a fan of the London 2012 brand but it does transfer mediums well - it can be static or animated, change colour to match sponsors and stands out (perhaps not for the right reasons though). This is the kind of approach we need to take - pulling out our core brand into different representations which work in all kinds of online and offline environments.

The Meaning of Beta

Lifehacker have tried to reflect on the meaning of Beta in the modern web. It's often difficult to define beta in a way which makes sense to a lot of web users. Compare, for example, wikipedia's entry with the short paragraph on the library.wales.org Cat Cymru service. Actually, one of the main meanings of beta today is "new" - and it's often flagged in the same way as mid-90s 'new' tags on links.

For projects that I've worked on we've used beta as synonymous for 'might not work, new
 feature, tell us what you think' - and it's been really great in engaging the professional community in particular with on-going project work. All too often we've become used to the classic project cycle - where the content and functionality are released at the final stages
, where funding is coming to an end, with a monolithic "Ta-Da!" launch event and press release.

If the shift towards beta in Web2.0 will break down this single process into multiple iterative cycles then that can only be a good thing - with better deliverables at the end of the day for us all. At the same time projects can begin to engage better with the communities they're seeking to serve and - hopefully - come up with a better solution before they enter the "sustainability" (aka maintenance-only) phase.

RLG Collaboration Report

As knowledge institutions Libraries, Museums, Archives and Galleries (GLAMs) have to work together - our boundaries are becoming more and more blurred as we move forward into the digital age. Lorcan Dempsey has posted on an RLG report on collaboration in the sector (link to pdf) with some interesting case studies which is well worth a read.

Seattle Law Professors Debate The Future of Print

Here's a really interesting post on how academics (in this case US law professors) see publishing moving forward - no firm conclusions came out of the meeting in Seattle but if there's going to be a dramatic change in publishing models it'll probably come from the academic publishers, many of whom are universities in the first place.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008


Today could well be a watershed in mobile technologies. The first phone running Google Android has been announced - T-Mobile's G1. Android is absolutely a new approach - the hardware is just a platform for the software and User Interface. This in itself isn't really that different from Microsoft have traditionally offered - and puts google right opposite Apple (the iPhone is a total hardware/software solution and Apple have taken steps to tightly control that software).

I don't think that google will cause a revolution for mobile use but I do think it adds fuel to the evolution that Nokia, Windows Mobile and the iPhone have been part of, and in this post I'm going to take a deep breath of realism and explore some of the issues that might well affect libraries in a 'mobile age'.

The web is a platform -  the mobile web as a separate approach is coming to an end. We need to move to technologies and systems which work on all kinds of devices- and we need to start now. This has some significant impacts on our catalogue technologies and especially on the navigation structures we have in place for our web content.

Geography is important - we can assume that phones will be location sensitive (GPS most likely) and we need to see if our services can be delivered spatially. People are beginning to expect maps on the web but the need for kml delivered via web and local applications is not far away.

Little Bits for Short Attention Spans - Don't worry, there's no criticism of the web ruining our ability to think long-term from me. My gut feeling is that we just value our attention more - and will no longer spend it on things which we can get in shorter time. We need to think about how we can present our resources in small 'bits' which people can consume on the move or in "attention gaps".

A SIM for Everything - One of the principles behind IPv6 was that more devices would be coming on line over the next 5-10 years and that these would all need IP addresses. The 3G SIM is likely to be the gateway to in-car, mobile and embedded networked connectivity and we need to think ahead to what might have a SIM in it in the future? In some ways it's hard to think of what won't... certainly any environment in which you spend any significant period of time will probably be home to a connected device.

Every part of our industry - from system vendors down to content makers - has to start thinking now about mobile technologies. Text message reminders for loans is all well and good but we have to provide our services in a more agnostic way to allow us promote use on mobile devices into the future - who knows what form they'll take.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Change or Be Changed?

It's great to see more publicity about 'modern' libraries but what interests me most about this article from The Times is the comments that have been left. It's not uncommon to hear librarians complain that Libraries are something that "people want to have, not to use" - that is to say that a library is a sign of a healthy society, even if it's empty.

Lots of the comments reference Camden's approach as "dumbing down" or attempting to pander to the "lowest common denominator" but the fact of the matter is if people want libraries to stay as quiet places of 'serious study' they need to start using them! You can't blame us for trying to actually get people to use Libraries can you?

Friday, 19 September 2008

Stats from Scotland

An interesting post about how Scottish school students are primarily using their libraries to borrow books. It's great that 67% of young people in Scotland use the borrowing facilities of their libraries but I wonder how this reflects on the emphasis being put on 'value-added' services (DVD rental, Internet Access and latterly video-gaming) - the Library 'brand' still means books for most, for better or for worse.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

DCMS Announce Review of Public Libraries in England

It seems that DCMS is looking to conduct a review of Public Libraries. Whilst DCMS's remit covers only the Public Libraries in England (something which doesn't come across very clearly in the articles I've seen) the results will be of real interest to us in Wales and Scotland. It seems clear that there won't be wide ranging changes but nevertheless there'll be some signs of what kind of library services the UK government sees as a priority, and what kind of resources will be available to deliver them.

Digitising Everything

It's interesting to read about the Smithsonian's plan to digitise their entire collections. One of the classic questions for memory institutions is whether to digitise whole segments of the collection (or even the entire thing) or to cherry-pick items to fit with particular themes.

I've seen both types of projects - yes, of course, some parts of collection based digitisation projects are not as interesting as others but the very nature of their presence in the collection means that they are an important element (if not a shining light, perhaps a supporting player). Overly selective projects can suffer from decontextualisation, resulting in a very pretty exhibition which doesn't fulfil longer term preservation and access goals.

Of course, the classic problem with selection is that huge emphasis is placed on the selection process. A digitisation programme can live or die based on the objects chosen as well as the way they've been presented. The Smithsonian's approach is deliberately aimed at avoiding this problem - they making everything accessible in an attempt to better engage with the talents which exist in the digital creative sector (and through these, school students).

This is a really bold move and it'll be exciting to see how things progress. As I'm sure they're keenly aware this kind of strategic approach requires a commitment to digitise everything that enters the collections from now on. Those whose job it is to prioritise (and, no doubt, seek funding for) the objects will constantly be weighing up the benefits of digitising the existing collections or the new, and exciting, things that have just been purchased.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

More on E-Books

This weekend's Independent on Sunday Magazine is devoted to the future of books - although for books read Novels in this case. One of the areas which didn't get much coverage is print on demand.

For me, it's print on demand that's really waiting for it's "Technology Trigger" - that golden moment when everyone goes "oh yeah". I think that E-Books have their uses - especially for
 high-density readers, those who want to cut down the weight, people stuck in hospitals, etc - but there's always going to be a need for bound paper.

Here's a couple of scenarios which I think will really bring Print on Demand for books into the mainstream.

Airport Bookterminals - Simply a 'vending machine' - hey if you can buy an iPod why not books? - which has a limited array of books pre-loaded which can be run off for you on demand. Multi-lingual, cheap, 24-hour and loads of selection - perfect for closed environments like travel hubs.

eBookstores - What's great about Amazon? Choice - The Long Tail. What's great about the high street? Immediacy. Bookstores with huge print on demand catalogues meet both of these needs - there's no need for anything to be out of print ever again, no need for short-run publishing, just a simple case of having a huge portfolio of eBooks which can be printed and bound as quality hardbacks or cheap paperbacks quickly and easily. Want a copy of Emma? - Which version. Fancy the newspaper from the day you were born? - No problem.
Now there's got to be a huge change in business models for publishers in order for print on demand to really take off. I can foresee a situation whereby publishers have to sell themselves to authors and rely on significant lock-in contracts. If the suppliers get on board with authors then they can split the profits, with authors working with publishers providing the editors, proof readers and marketing to those who want it.

But what for libraries? Well we could think about doing away with stock... just a thought but if our future is as a public-private memory space then a mixed provision of eBooks (for in-Library reading) and print on demand (take it home for a price, return it for free?) could work. Of course it's an interesting dilemma for Legal Deposit libraries - what exactly is 'publication' in this environment and who has the responsibility to deposit with you? International publication is more likely so the geography of publication becomes more complex. 

At the same time there's easy access to the Long Tail of material - what kind of impact might this have on the large-scale digitisation schemes? Will we sell our unique material via print on demand machines on the high street? I for one will be fasciated to see how the shift to e-publication and print on demand will affect us as all. 

UPDATE: Looks like the University of Michigan Library are already moving forward with print on demand. [via LISNews]

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Sharing Made Simple

I've just come back from a really interesting day at UW Newport on Web2.0 for Libraries, Museums and Archives facilitated by Brian Kelly of UKOLN. I was lucky enough to speak in the morning session (as a stand-in, admitedly) but I found the afternoon breakout sessions on the oportunities and barriers particularly interesting and it was a great chance to get at the key issues for GLAMs in Wales.

It made me reflect again on how useful the library.wales.org work really could be and that we do need to keep putting this message accross to libraries all over Wales. Not that we should try and compete with Wordpress, Blogger etc but just to say that "Ok, there's a space here for you - want to use it?"

It was nice to meet Andrew Eynon, who I've spoken to a few times by email/phone and whose blog is firmly in my feed reader. His 8 Library Quest sessions seem to be a great primer for anyone in Libraries who wants to get up to speed on Web2.0 quickly so take a look.

It's really great that we have these kind of centrally (CyMAL) funded sessions which really bring together people from different services.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Pimp My Bookcart

Now this is a great idea - looking at the results from last year it's one to keep your eye on... I don't think much of the prizes though! 

Ten Years, Five Lessons

Google is 10 today(ish) and has just pushed it's digitisation programme even further. After a decade of ubiquitous multicolour rule what does Google's success teach us? I've listed five quick lessons which libraries can draw from Larry and Sergey's approach:

1: Services not Products

Google has taught us that you don't actually need to sell a product to make money, only a service. It's especially good if this service is advertising. In fact, selling a simple service (Ads) through multiple services (search, email, calendar, etc) greatly increases both your revenue and your respect in the community. 

Libraries are already ahead of the game in this area as we're all about fantastic services aimed directly at our customer, what we have to remember is that we should avoid attempts to comodify those services into 'products' which limit our users and they way in which they can interact with them.

2: People Are Interested - if you are too.

Ever heard a rumour about a 'new' Google product? Or closed beta? The reaction from Android developers is a prime example of how keen people are to use Google's technology. The public are willing to invest time and energy into testing incomplete products primarily because they think that their feeback might be listened to and lead to a better results at the end of the day. 

The lesson here is simple - listen! It's easy enough to pay lip service to user feedback but true user engagement requires concerted effort but yields real results, we should always be happy to receive comments and suggestions, take them seriously and give credit where it's due.

3: Give Your Staff Space to Develop

Google is famous for being a great employer, and part of their approach is to give staff '20% time' in which to pursue their own projects. This doesn't mean slacking off, staff have to present on this work and take comments from colleagues. 

Libraries know full well that training is key to keeping staff providing great service but how much time do we give our staff to explore their own work-related interests? Let's not pretend that any of us have Google's capacity or funding but the lesson still stands - great staff need space to develop themselves and we should encourage that development whilst also ensuring that it's relevant by providing an environment where staff can present their work and comment on others'.

4: Employ Creative and Driven People

Ok, now here's a no-brainer - Google employs a large number of PhDs because they feel that they're creative and driven. Because their entire service portfolio is built around a core of information searching creativity is key, and new ways of working are essential to preserving their edge - the technology and development are essentially just adjuncts to the core information base. 

Libraries still need to pay attention here - it's just not about hiring chartered Librarians, it's about recognising the need to hire and develop creative people who are driven to work with information.  Because it's information, and we providing creative ways of working with it, that is at the centre of our business and everything else is adjunct

5: Change, but Don't.

Isn't it great that Google offers new services all the time? That the homepage logo reflects different events and that your gmail space is constantly ticking higher and higher? But deep down, under this ever changing fascia, is a stable core. A large part of the respect Google has is because it hardly ever compromises on it's central values. 
Now this is tough for any public institution - not least libraries. We all have to deal with changing wider strategic frameworks which sometimes make it hard for us to pursue our own long-term plans. However, we need to make sure that we retain our integrity whilst adapting and evolving to meet new challenges. 


Sunday, 7 September 2008

What About Web Archiving?

Some of my role involves working on a large web archiving project. One of the questions that's often asked by those who use the UK Web Archive, Internet Archive and the like, or are looking to start web archiving themselves, is about the 'quality' of archived web pages in comparison to the original.

The key issue to get across is that website aren't 'things' you can locate, pin down and put in a box - even the most static collection of HTML pages exists in the continuum between server, network, browser and screen. More simply, there's no such thing as a website1.

Web archiving is more akin to photography; most of what we do is to make copies of sites, trying to make them fit with our own individual construction of them at the particular moment and conditions of archiving. Similarly, the problems associated with archiving dynamic content can be compared to taking photographs of a city: images of 1940s Cardiff don't capture the entirety of the city but do provide insights and representations of a transient experience, just as an archive of Amazon.com will only give a glimpse into the constantly moving community beneath the surface.

The question we, as the custodians of information, have to ask ourselves is: is this enough? Should we strive for completeness even if that means emulation of servers and proprietary software and when all we'd be keeping is a shell of the original (akin to a digital St Fagans)?

With web archiving we need to engage with the content more directly. At the moment it seems cheaper to keep things than to select them but this isn't always going to be the case. If we take an object in to our collections we're looking to keep it in perpetuity - and the lifetime costs of keeping that single file will be infinite (this is true, of course, for physical things as well).

For domain level harvests it's clear that captures will only ever be superficial. It's my view that there will always be a place for selective archiving - both of sites which fall within collection policies of organisations but outside of the domain and in terms of effort put into the processing and checking of specific sites selected to be of special interest.

It's tempting to equate domain harvesting to the collection of printed material through legal deposit however there are some key differences. Firstly, the range of material (and therefore preservation requirements) of printed material is limited, not necessarily small but limited whereas web content will contain every obscure file format you can think of stored in all kinds of different ways. Secondly, there is a significant cost in printing material which reduces duplication (although, of course, it also reduces the range of material - for better or worse).

By putting our information on the web we're all becoming our own librarian-archivists (hooray!) - although we've not yet taken the next step and become records managers. (My Gmail currently tells me that I'm currently using 534 MB (7%) of my 7081 MB - if this keeps up I'll never need to delete anything and, as long as search technologies keep up, I will be able to find them again too.)

There is a movement within our information society towards keeping all the iterations of content as part of the services themselves. We're constantly seeing statistics which suggest that the amount of information available is increasing exponentially but, if Wikipedia and blogs are anything to go by, most of this will be drafts, previous versions and backups!

Similarly the web is notoriously difficult to time. Print and even 'formal' e-Journals are published on a specific schedule whereas blogs and other forms of social content can be started, flourish and die out in a short period of time (perhaps even between large-scale harvests). Part of our engagement with content has to be a realistic and positive in our engagement with content creators.

If you look at the short history of the web you can begin to see a shift from silos of content (personal and corporate websites, each with their own domain) to portals (where the silos are connected by indexes and directories) to dispersed content (where photos live on flickr, blogs live on wordpress.com, updates on twitter, videos on youtube and links on delicious)- it's easy to believe that this dispersal was the inevitable consequence of hypertext.

Of course this changes the way we archive and - more importantly - provide access to archived sites. If all the information on particular subjects is spread across user pages on multiple websites which are reliant on the major search indexes like google to link them together then we need to think about not only capturing the separate content but also the links between them. At the moment we work primarily at site level, preserving the links between pages but treating them as immutable objects - in the future we will need to let the harvesting agents roam freely, capturing snippets of content which make up a web2.0 website.

Ultimately, the archiving of the web is a positive thing and it's certainly a great area to work in, I know that every site we archive is a resource preserved for future research. The challenges that face us shouldn't put us off adding these important cultural assets to our collections but we do need to begin to engage with them before they seem insurmountable.

1 In fact it's this facet that really attracted me to working on Web Archiving in the first place. A substantial portion of my doctoral research was centred around the social construction of the web and the fallacy of the monolithic websites. If you ever want a long and overly detailed conversation about constructivism and the web you know where to come...

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Antisocial E-Books?

On the day that Sony launch their E-Reader in the UK (via Waterstones stores and online) I read this wired article which suggests that E-Books are 'antisocial' - admittedly only as a turn off to girls.

Interestingly enough, I've been conducting my own 'long term test' on the iLiad E-Book platform - not just me, in fact, but also my wife. We both devour books but she's found the ability to buy books online, on demand, very useful. Perhaps the problem for Charlie Sorrel is that he thinks that a iPhone is a good way to read....

Tuesday, 2 September 2008


It's not uncommon for users to mix up a library's OPAC and website and why not? Gone are the days when a database of any description was kept distinct from it's host website. In fact, libraries are some of the worst offenders in terms of drawing artificial lines between services.

So it's of real interest to me that Darien Library has just launched it's combined website/OPAC. Essentially they've built a Drupal module that ties, via a connector, to any ILS - more here. It's a really neat move, and one which I'm sure we'll all be watching with interest.

Microsoft Surface

Engadget has reported that Sheraton Hotels have started to install a few Microsoft Surface stations in their hotels. I think these are one of the coolest things ever for libraries. The Object Recognition element should be fantastic for anyone with digital content which can be used to enhance physical material.

Forget the capacity for actually accessing, flipping pages and interacting with digital content for the moment (although this does take the 'Turning the Pages' idea to a whole new level). Instead I can see the system recognising ISBN'd material lain on top of it from the barcode and unique material from the (equally unique) back surfaces.

From there you can see how interpretive data created by libraries and user comments can be lain around the surface, with the physical item linked to all kinds of complementary digital content - whether it be "See also..." type information, biographies or user reviews. In addition, library services can be marketed by laying them out next to relevant material.

There's not much information on how cultural organisations might use this kind of technology - Microsoft seems to be pitching this at Bars and, obviously, Hotels. It's a shame because I can honestly see museums loving this as a concept - and libraries should too.

Google Chrome Announced

Apparently today will mark the launch of Google Chrome - Google's own open source web browser which purports to be lightweight with better resistance to tab crashes taking down the whole browser. This is interesting for three reasons:
  • Google has put significant support into the Mozilla Foundation (home of Firefox).
  • Google chose to develop their own open source browser to fix what seems to me as a quite 'small issue' - why not fix it in one of the existing open source browsers?
  • The announcment echoes Google's web-app philosophy; " To most people, it isn't the browser that matters. It's only a tool to run the important stuff -- the pages, sites and applications that make up the web." which is could be an interesting look at the future of any browser wars: IE as a 'fully featured' browser, Chrome as a lightweight 'window to the web' only and Firefox and Opera somewhere in the middle (although, with all the user add-ons bloat is a severe possibility for Firefox).
All in all, there'll be a lot of talk on the web about a new browser war even though this may well be another short-term 'product to fix a problem' from Google.

(Typical Google, they launched with a comic.)

UPDATE: Ok, Chrome is fast! And on my little 12" laptop it's very nice - I can really see this as the start of a web-OS. (Oh, and all my websites work with it - yay!).

Monday, 1 September 2008

Online Poster Goodness

A fair few library bloggers have been singing the praises of the ALA Online Poster Maker which allows anyone and everyone to create their own poster to compliment the ALA's own promotional efforts.

What a great idea! Whilst 'outline' posters are available for lots of different library promotional programmes, allowing the public to make use of them is a new thing. The National Year of Reading website (for England only) allows you to play with the logo and 'design your own' - which is a nice touch - but the ALA interface really benefits from its simplicity (although, a few more designs would be nice).

Plus, "READ" is such a great slogan (if such a simple thing counts as a slogan) - it gets round the whole "shouldn't we say that libraries have more than books?" temptation that seems to raise it's head whenever more than three librarians get together. More please!