The announcement yesterday of Olso public library’s new open-source linked data discovery interface comes just a few days after JSTOR unveiled their new prototype text analyzer. JSTOR’s text analyzer takes a piece of text or image and then extracts meaning from it, before finding recommendations from JSTOR for resources that might be relevant.   It’s a simple process and there’s a neat interface showing the results on one side, with an easy route directly to the PDF of the article.  The left hand side of the screen picks out the entities analysed from your text and gives a slider feature to let you adjust your results by giving more weight to some concepts than others.

I’ve not been able to find any detailed description of how it works but it looks very much like some form of semantic search feature, with processes in place to analyse the concepts in the submitted text and match them against the index of concepts from the JSTOR database.  In a lot of ways it isn’t dissimilar to the DiscOU tool we used in the Stellar project (and that development made use of semantic technologies, with entity recognition, semantic indexes and a triple store).JSTOR text analyzer screen shot of rsults page

Oslo’s linked data library system is a different approach, but again with linked data at the heart of the product.  It’s open source and looks to be making use of Koha the open source library management system, so essentially acts as an add-on to that product.  It has much the same clean look and feel of some of the latest commercial discovery products, with facets on the left and the main results on the right.  It will be interesting to see how it develops.

It’s particularly interesting to see this new development and it’s a contrast to the approach from Folio who are building their open sourcce library management system, but currently seem not to be aiming to include a discovery interface.  Makes me wonder about the potential of this development as the discovery interface for Folio?.

Interesting news this week that Elsevier have bought Plum Analytics from EBSCO.   It seems to be part of a trend for the big content companies to expand their reach by acquiring other companies in associated fields.    There’s a fascinating blog post from Roger Schonfeld from Ithaka ‘the strategic investments of content providers‘ that discusses what this might mean for the library sector and why these companies might be looking to diversify.

I’d probably reflect that library sector technology companies have a long history of mergers and acquisitions – a glance at Marshall Breeding’s chart on how companies have evolved over the years quickly shows how companies seem to change ownership or merge with great regularity, it doesn’t seem to be an especially stable marketplace.  Yet libraries typically keep library management systems for quite long periods of time, ten years doesn’t seem unusual, and often upgrade with the same vendor, but maybe that slow turnover of systems might be related to the mergers and acquisitions as parent companies realise that their investment in a library systems supplier doesn’t provide quite the level of return they wanted?  But recently there’s been a large number of systems procurements, particularly in academic libraries.  A look at HElibtech’s procurements page shows a lot of recent activity.

With EBSCO’s involvement with the FOLIO open source product and Proquest’s acquisition of ExLibris, I wonder if that means Elsevier is looking for a suitable library systems or discovery product?  Or does the acquisition of Plum Analytics mean that they are looking more at the world of citation systems, altmetrics and bibliometrics?

 

 

I think it was the quiet concentration that made the first impression on me.  Going into a room where a group of library staff were busy carrying out a cognitive mapping exercise.  Everyone was engrossed in the activity, heads down, trying out a technique that was new to most of them.

This was part of a different type of staff meeting – with @mirya and @d_r_jenkins running a great session on UX and ethnography and intoducing people to three different UX techniques: cognitive mapping, directed storytelling and love-letters/break-up letters.  With only an hour to run the introduction and try out the techniques it was quite a short time, but enough to give people a flavour of the power of these approaches.

It’s been a bit of a journey to get to this point.  About eighteen months ago we identified ethnographic techniques as being potentially immensely valuable and something we needed to know more about, experiment with and use as part of our UX practice.  The UXLibs conferences and the presentations and blogs about the topic got us up to speed enough to see the potential and to start to talk to people here about it.  Primarily we’ve been looking at the approaches from the perspective of how they can be used in our digital service development work around websites but the wider potential is clear.  The Futurelib initiative at Cambridge has been really useful to demonstrate the potential of the techniques.  So when the chance came to send some people to a UX day organised by a neighbouring institution with Andy Priestner (@andytraining) that was a great opportunity to spread knowledge about the techniques across the library.

We’re already using these techniques in online sessions with students looking at the future direction of our library websites as part of our digital services work.  Our Research Support team are using them with research students in face-to-face sessions.   And the session with library staff quickly brought up some other examples where people soon started to see other work where they could be used, in work with tutors maybe.

It was great to see such engagement and enthusiasm with the approach and really interesting to see the different maps that people  drew in the cognitive mapping exercise.  Given that we are a group of staff using a standard set of equipment (PCs, ipads for example) and tools it was remarkable how much variation there was in the maps.  That gives a lot of food for thought for the digital capabilities project that is just getting started.

 

 

 

The news, reported in an article by Marshall Breeding in American Libraries, that EBSCO has decided to support a new open source library services platform is a fascinating development.  To join with Kuali OLE but to develop what will essentially be a different open source product is a big development for the library technology sector.     It’s particularly interesting that EBSCO has gone the route of providing financial support to an open source system, rather than buying a library systems company.  The scope and timescales are ambitious, to have something ready for 2018.

Open source library management systems haven’t have the impact that systems like Moodle have had in the virtual learning environment sector and in some ways it is odd that academic libraries haven’t been willing to adopt such a system, given that universities do seem to have an appetite for open source software.   Maybe open source library systems products haven’t been developed sufficiently to compete with commercial providers.    Software as a Service (SaaS) is coming to be accepted now by corporate IT departments as a standard method of service provision, something that I think a couple of the commercial providers realised at quite an early stage, so it is good to see this initiative recognising that reality.  It will be interesting to see how this develops

Analytics seems to be a major theme of a lot of conferences at the moment.  I’ve been following a couple of library sector conferences this week on twitter (Talis Insight http://go.talis.com/talis-insight-europe-2016-live #talisinsight and the 17th Distance Library Services Conference http://libguides.cmich.edu/dls2016 #dls16) and analytics seems to be a very common theme.

A colleague at the DLS conference tweeted a picture 2016-04-22_1535about the impact of a particular piece of practice and that set us off thinking, did we have that data?, did we have examples of where we’d done something similar?    The good thing now is that I think rather than thinking ‘it would be good if we could do something like that’, we’ve a bit more confidence – if we get the examples and the data, we know we can do the analyses, but we also know we ‘should’ be doing the analyses as a matter of course.

It was also good to see that other colleagues (@DrBartRienties) at the university were presenting some of the University’s learning analytics work at Talis Insight. Being at a university that is undertaking a lot of academic work on learning analytics is both really helpful when you’re trying to look at library analytics but also provides a valuable source of advice and guidance in some of our explorations.

[As an aside, and having spent much of my library career in public libraries, I’m not sure how much academic librarians realise the value of being able to talk to academics in universities, to hear their talks, discuss their research or get their advice.  In a lot of cases you’re able to talk with world-class researchers doing ground-breaking work and shaping the world around us.]

 

wooden chart

Wooden chart tool created for a programme on data featuring Hans Rosling

One of the great things about new projects is that they offer the opportunity to learn new skills as well as build on existing knowledge.  So our new library data project is giving plenty of opportunities to learn new things and new tools to help with data extraction and data analysis.

MySQL workbench
After a bit of experimentation about the best method of getting extracts of library data (including trying to doing it through Access) we settled on using MySQL Workbench version 6.3 with read-only access to the database tables storing the library data.  It’s been a bit of a learning curve to understand the tool, the SQL syntax and the structure of our data but direct access to the data means that the team can extract the data needed and quickly test out different options or extracts of data.  In the past I’ve mainly used tools such as Cognos or Oracle Business Inteligence which essentially hide the raw SQL queries behind a WYSIWYG interface, so it’s been interesting to use this approach.  It’s been really useful to be learning the tool with the project team, because it means that I can get SQL queries checked to make sure they are doing what I think they are doing, and to share queries across the team.

In the main I’m running the SQL query and checking that I’ve got the data I want but then exporting the data as .csv to do further data tidying and cleaning in MS Excel.  But I have learnt a few useful things including how add in an anonymised ID as part of the query (useful if you don’t need the real ID but just need to know which users are unique and much easier to do in SQL than in Excel).

Excel
I’ve certainly learnt a lot more about Excel.  It’s been the tool that I’ve used to process the data extracts, to join data together from other sources and (for the time being at least) to present tables and visualisations of the data.  Filtering and pivot tables have been the main techniques, with frequent use of pivot tables to filter data and provide counts.  Features such as Excel 2013’s pivot table ‘distinct count’ have been useful.

One of the tasks I’ve been doing in Excel is to join two data sources together, e.g. joining counts of library use via ezproxy and by athens, or joining library use with data on student results.   I’d started mainly using VLOOKUP in Excel but have switched (on the recommendation of a colleague) to using INDEX/MATCH as it seems to work much better (if you can get the syntax exactly right.

The project team is starting to think that as we learn more about SQL that we try to do more of the data manipulation and counts directly through the SQL queries as doing them in Excel can be really time-consuming.

SPSS
SPSS has been a completely new tool to me.  We’re using IBM SPSS Statistics version 21 to carry out the statistical analyses.  Again it’s got a steep learning curve and I’m finding I need frequent recourse to some of the walk-throughs on sites such as Laerd statistics e.g. https://statistics.laerd.com/spss-tutorials/one-way-anova-using-spss-statistics.php  But I’m slowly getting to grips with it and as I get more familiar with it I can start to see more of the value in it.  Once you’ve got the data into the data table and organised properly it’s really quick to run correlation or variance tests, although it quickly starts to flag up queries about, which test to use and why, and what do the results mean?  I particularly like the output window that it uses to track all the actions and show any charts you’ve created or analyses you’ve undertaken on the data.

What’s next?
The team is in the early stages of exploring the SAS system that is used for our institutional data warehouse.  Ultimately we’d want to get library use data into the institutional data warehouse and then query it alongside other institutional data directly from the warehouse.  SAS apparently has statistical analysis capabilities but the learning curve seems to be fairly high.  We’ve also thought about whether tools such as Open Refine might be useful for cleaning up data but haven’t been able to explore that yet.  Similarly I know we have a need for tools to present and visualise the data findings – ultimately that might be met by an institutional SAS Visual Analytics tool.

 

I was particularly interested in a term I came across in a blog post on innovation on the Nesta blog the other week.  Innovation in the public sector: Is risk aversion a cause or a symptom? The blog post talks about Organisation Debt and Organisational Physics and is a really interesting take on why large organisations can struggle with innovation.  It’s well worth a read.  It starts with referencing the concept of ‘technical debt‘ described in the blog post as “… where quick fixes and shortcuts begin to accumulate over time and eventually, unless properly fixed, can damage operations.”  It’s a term that tends to be related to software development but it started me thinking about how a concept of ‘technical debt’ might be relevant to the library world.

If we expand the technical debt concept to the library sector I’d suggest that you could look at at least three areas where that concept might have some resonance:  library systems, library practices and maybe a third one around library ‘culture’ – potentially a combination of collections, services and something of the ‘tradition’ of what a library might be.

Library systems
Our systems are a complex and complicated mix.  Library management systems, E-resources management systems, discovery, openURL resolvers, link resolvers, PC booking systems etc etc  It can be ten years or more between libraries changing their LMS and although, with Library Services Platforms, we are seeing some consolidation of systems into a single product, there is still a job to do of integrating legacy systems into the mix.    For me the biggest area of ‘technical debt’ comes in our approach to linking and websites.  Libraries typically spend significant effort in making links persistent, in coping with the transition from one web environment to the other by redirecting URLs.  It’s not uncommon to have redirection processes in place to cope with direct links to content in previous websites and trying to connect users directly to replacement websites.  Yet on the open web ‘link rot‘ is a simple fact of life.  Trying to manage these legacy links is a significant technical debt that libraries carry I’d suggest.

Library practices
I think you could point to several aspects of library practices that could fall under the category of technical debt but I’d suggest the primary one is in our library catalogue and cataloguing practices.  Our practices change across the years but overall the quality of our older records are often lower than what we’d want to see.  Yet we typically carry those records across from system to system.  We try to improve them or clean them up, but frequently it’s hard to justify the resource being spent in ‘re-cataloguing’ or ‘retrospective cataloguing’.  Newer approaches making use of collective knowledge bases and linking holdings to records has some impact on our ability to update our records, but the quality of some of the records in knowledge bases can sometimes also not be up to the level that libraries would like.

Library culture
You could also describe some other aspects of the library world as showing the symptoms of technical debt.  Our physical collections of print resources, increasingly unmanaged and often unused as constrained resources are directed to higher priorities, and more attention is spent on building online collections of ebooks for example.  You even, potentially see a common thread with the whole concept of a ‘library’ – the popular view of a library as a place of books means that while libraries develop new services they often struggle to change their image to include the new world.

One of the first Bird flocks and sunsetprojects I worked on at the OU was a Jisc-funded project called Telstar. Telstar built a reference management tool, called MyReferences, integrating RefWorks into a Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).  Well, that MyReferences tool shortly reaches, what the software people call ‘End-of-Life’, and the website world like to refer to as ‘Sunsetting’, in other words, MyReferences is closing down later this month.  So it seemed like a good time to reflect on some of the things I’ve learnt from that piece of work.

In a lot of ways several things that Telstar and MyReferences did have now become commonplace and routine.  References were stored remotely in the RefWorks platform (we’d now describe that as cloud-hosted) and that’s almost become a default way of operating whether you think of email with Outlook365 or library management systems such as ExLibris Alma.    Integration with moodle was achieved using an API, again, that’s now a standard approach.  But both seemed quite a new departure in 2010.

I remember it being a complex project in lots of ways, creating integrations not just between RefWorks and Moodle but also making use of some of the OpenURL capabilities of SFX.  It was also quite ambitious in aiming to provide solutions applicable to both students and staff.  Remit (the Reference Management Integration Toolkit) gives a good indication of some of the complexities not just in systems but also in institutional and reference management processes.   The project not only ran a couple of successful Innovations in Reference Management events but led to the setup of a JiscMail reading list systems mailing list.

Complexity is the main word that comes to mind when thinking about some of the detailed work that went into mapping reference management styles between OU Harvard in RefWorks and MyReferences to ensure that students could get a simplified reference management system in MyReferences without having to plunge straight into the complexity of full-blown RefWorks.  It really flagged for me the implications of not having standard referencing styles across an institution but also the impact of not adopting a standard style already well supported but of designing your own custom institutional style.  One of the drawbacks of using RefWorks as a resource list system was that each reference in each folder was a separate entity meaning that any changes in a resource (name for example) had to be updated in every list/folder.  So it taught us quite a bit about what we ideally wanted from a resource list management/link management system.

Reference management has changed massively in the past few years with web-based tools such as Zotero, Refme and Mendeley becoming more common, and Microsoft Office providing support for reference management.  So the need to provide institutional systems maybe has passed when so many are available on the web.   And I think it reflects how any tool or product has a lifecycle of development, adoption, use and retirement.  Maybe that cycle is now much shorter than it would have been in the past.

 

 

A tweet from @aarontay refering to an infodocket article flagged up the relaunch of Microsoft Academic Search.   Badged as a preview of Microsoft Academic from Microsoft Research on their site it says that it now includes ‘over 80 million publications’ and makes use of semantic search, as well as including an API, the Academic Knowledge APIMicrosoft Academic screenshot Trying it out briefly with a subject that’s a current hot topic and it quickly brings back good and relevant results.  It sorts by relevance as a default but offer a re-sort by Newest, Oldest or Most citations.  Sorting by newest brings back some up to date results from 2016 so it seems to have up-to-date content. Sorting by citations brings back results in citation order but also shows some form of subject tagging but it isn’t clear how they are arrived at?

There’s an advanced feature but it seems to have quite a limited function currently, maybe other features will be added, but at present it mainly controls the results presentation. Microsoft Academic advanced

Where there are results with the full text available there are links or links to PDFs for what are presumably open sources.   There’s a fairly extensive list of facets for Year, Authors, Affiliations, Fields of Study, Journals and Conference proceedings.  Some of the links seem to go to Deepdyve.com which offers a subscription service to academic content, others seem to make use of DOI’s linking to sites such as the Wiley Online Library.   When you filter down to individual journals you get a block appearing on the right with details of the journal and you can drill down to links to the journal.

Results appear quickly and look to be relevant.  What doesn’t seem to be there at the moment is an ability to be able to configure your local ezproxy-type settings to link through to resources that you have access to through an institutional subscription and I wonder if it will offer the ability for institutions to publish their subscriptions/holdings as they can with Google Scholar.  It will be interesting to see how this develops and what the long-term plans are.  But it might be a useful alternative to Google Scholar.

The end of 2015 and the start of 2016 seems to have delivered a number of interesting reports and presentations relevant to the library technology sphere.  So Ken Chad’s latest paper ‘Rethinking the Library Services Platform‘ picks up on the lack of interoperability between library systems as does the new BiblioCommons report on the public library sector ‘Essential Digital Infrastructure for Public Libraries in England‘ commenting that “In retail, digital platforms with modular design have enabled quickly-evolving omnichannel user experiences. In libraries, however, the reliance on monolithic, locally-installed library IT has deadened innovation”.

As ‘Rethinking the Library Services Platform‘ notes, in many ways the term ‘platform’ doesn’t really match the reality of the current generation of library systems.  They aren’t a platform in the same way as an operating system such as Windows or Android, they don’t operate in a way that third-parties can build applications to run on the platform.  Yes, they offer integration to financial, student and reference management systems but essentially the systems are the traditional library management system reimagined for the cloud.  Much of the changes are a consequence of what becomes possible with a cloud-based solution.  So their features are shared knowledge bases, with multi-tenanted applications shared by many users as opposed to local databases and locally installed applications.   The approach from the dwindling number of suppliers is to try to build as many products as possible to meet library needs.  Sometimes that is by developing these products in-house (e.g. Leganto) and sometimes by the acquisition of companies with products that can be brought into the supplier’s eco-system.  The acquisition model is exactly the same as that practised by both traditional and new technology companies as a way of building their reach.  I’m starting to view the platform as much more in line with the approach that a company like Google will take with a broad range of products aiming to secure customer loyalty to their ecosystem rather than that of another company.  So it may not be so surprising that technology innovation, which to my mind seems largely to be driven by vendors innovating to deliver to what they see as being library needs and shaped by what vendors think they see as an opportunity, isn’t delivering the sort of platform that is suggested.  As Ken notes, Jisc’s LMS Change work discussed back in 2012 the sort of loosely-coupled, library systems component approach giving libraries to ability to integrate different elements to give the best fit to their needs from a range of options.  But in my view options have very much narrowed since 2012/13.

The BiblioCommons report I find particularly interesting as it includes within it an assessment of how the format silos between print and electronic lead to a poor experience for users, in this case how ebook access simply doesn’t integrate into OPACs, with applications such as Overdrive being used that are separate to the OPAC, e.g. Buckinghamshire library services ebooks platform, and their library catalogue are typical.  Few if any public libraries will have invested in the class of discovery systems now common in Higher Education (and essentially being proposed in this report), but even with discovery systems the integration of ebooks isn’t as seamless as we’d want, with users ending up in a variety of different platforms with their own interfaces and restrictions on what can be done with the ebook.  In some ways though, the public library ebook offer, that does offer some integration with the consumer ebook world of Kindle ebooks, is better then the HE world of ebooks, even if the integration through discovery platforms in HE is better.  What did intrigue me about the proposal from the BiblioCommons report is the plan to build some form of middleware system using ‘shared data standards and APIs’ and that leads to wondering whether that this can be part of the impetus for changing the way that library technology interoperates.  The plan includes in section 10.3 the proposal to  ‘deliver middleware, aggregation services and an initial complement of modular applications as a foundation for the ecosystem, to provide a viable pathway from the status quo towards open alternatives‘ so maybe this might start to make that sort of component-based platform and eco-system a reality.

Discovery is the challenge that Oxford’s ‘Resource Discovery @ The University of Oxford‘ report is tackling.   The report by consultancy, Athenaeum 21, looks at discovery from the perspective of a world-leading research institution, with large collections of digital content and looks at connecting not just resources but researchers with visualisation tools of research networks, advanced search tools such as elastic search.  The recommendations include activities described as ‘Mapping the landscape of things’, Mapping the landscape of people’, and ‘Supporting researchers established practices’.  In some ways the problems being described echo the challenge faced in public libraries of finding better ways to connect users with content but on a different scale and includes other cultural sector institutions such as museums.

I also noticed a presentation from Keith Webster from Carnegie Mellon University ‘Leading the library of the future: W(h)ither technical services?  This slidedeck takes you through a great summary of where academic libraries are now and the challenges they face with open access, pressure on library budgets and changes in scholarly practice.   In a wide-ranging presention it covers the changes that led to the demise of chains like Borders and Tower records and sets the library into the context of changing models of media consumption.    Of particular interest to me were the later slides about areas for development that, like the other reports, had improving discovery as part of the challenge.   The slides clearly articulate the need for innovation as an essential element of work in libraries (measured for example as a % of time spent compared with routine activities) and also of the value of metrics around impact, something of particular interest in our current library data project.

Four different reports and across some different types of libraries and cultural institutions but all of which seem to me to be grappling with one issue – how do libraries reinvent themselves to maintain a role in the lives of their users when their traditional role is being erroded or when other challengers are out-competing with libraries – whether through improving discovery or by changing to stay relevant or by doing something different that will be valued by users.

 

 

 

 

 

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