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I was interested to hear that Elsevier have agreed to provide their content to Discovery solution providers (Summon here and EBSCO here) as the gaps in content with these type of solutions is one of the big issues for users and librarians.  We’ve even had people comparing the new EBSCO Discovery solution we’ve implemented unfavourably with the previous federated search tool simply because of the less-comprehensive content coverage.    I’ve been surprised how much resistence there seems to be from publishers to adding their metadata into discovery systems.

I think it’s odd that publishers would want to keep their content out of these systems.  They clearly see it as somehow compromising their commercial advantage and no doubt there’s some competitive element where publishers see the systems that are being pushed by content aggregators/publishers as not being in their interests.  But I do find it strange that publishers seem to consider metadata about their journals to be part of the content rather than just being the signpost to the content.  It seems to me that metadata is a piece of advertising.  You want to push your metadata and links to as many places as possible don’t you?  Wouldn’t you want your content to be visible?

It strikes me that from a library perspective content that isn’t accessible through our Discovery interface isn’t visible to the majority of our users.  They tell us constantly that access to electronic library resources is confusing.   While higher level students and researchers are comfortable with using publisher interfaces the majority of undergraduates seem to be searching for a ‘google-like’ experience that is simple to use and connects them to everything that is relevant to them.  If you are a publisher, you sell content to a library and your content isn’t in the Discovery solution that your library uses… then your content isn’t discoverable alongside other publishers content.  If it isn’t discoverable it isn’t going to be used as much as it could be.  And with budgets now being stretched in libraries then decisions are going to be based on how content is being used.   Put baldly, if your content isn’t in the discovery service then your content has less value to the library, so we’d be expecting to pay less and we’d be more likely to think that actually, we might have to do without those journals.

Well, I’ve had my Kindle for about six months now and the use of an ipad for slightly less. So, time for a bit of reflection on how I’m using them, pros and cons and likes and dislikes, and whether it has changed my behaviour.

I’ve bought about a dozen books for the Kindle.  I’m still buying print books, but actually I think I’m buying less print books from Amazon, although I still buy books in the high street, driven by the ubiquitous 3 for 2 or half price hardbacks.  I do try to see which is cheapest as the Kindle version isn’t always the cheapest option.  I like the fact that if you do buy books on the Kindle they appear really quickly, so maybe that is why I’m not ordering print books online and waiting for delivery?

Although I’ve got the 3G version of the Kindle I find I rarely use the browser.  It’s OK if you’ve no option but not a great user experience as navigation is clumsy and speed slow.  I’m tending to use the Kindle on the bus, or if I’m going somewhere out of reach of wifi.  Then I might use the browser for something like  But the keyboard is really too small and clumsy to use with having to use the SYM for anything that isn’t a letter of the alphabet.  Now I’m using an ipad I find I’m rarely using the Kindle at home as I’m tending to use the ipad.

I’m glad I got the 3G version though as it does mean that books you are reading sync to the latest point if you’ve been reading them on another device.  I’ve got the Kindle software loaded on the ipad and PC to sync all the books in my collection so I can read them wherever I am and whatever device is to hand.   So I’ve settled down to largely use the ebook reader to read ebooks, hmm.. no great surprise then, but I think my use is affected by having access to an ipad.

I’m using an ipad provided through work.  It’s the first Apple device I’ve used for any length of time and I’m pretty impressed with it as a day to day tool.  Whereas I used to take my laptop around with me at work I now tend to take the ipad.  There are some limitations and frustrations, mainly to do with not being able to get into our main document mangement system on the ipad (although theorectically it might be possible to browse the folders with one of the network apps you can get).  Not being able to edit MS Office documents is a bit limiting.  I find I generally end up putting documents into dropbox and taking notes in the notes feature and then emailing them.

I find that the ipad connects to wifi networks at both work and home fine.  The speed the device starts up is impressive and the ease of setting up email account access make it an easier tool to access email.  Much quicker then Outlook Web Access.

It’s obviously a good web browser platform although not sure why it seems to have a limit of 9 browser “tabs”.  I don’t much like the itunes and apps store lists of apps tools they seem to have a really poor user interface which seems designed to make if difficult to find anything in a logical way.  Typing on the device itself isn’t the best experience but is OK.   Using the ipad for web browsing does point out quite how many sites either don’t work well on this type of tablet or force you to go to a mobile version of the site with limited functionality or rely heavily on flash.

Would I buy an ipad myself?  Probably not at the current price.  If I’d bought an original ipad I’m not sure I’d want to buy an ipad2.   But a tablet that could edit MS Office documents without having to go through converting them with different packages, that was multiuser, multitasking and could access networks would be a pretty useful tool.

I’ve been to a couple of presentations in the last month about the Lucero linked data project, this is a JISC-funded project run by the OU’s Knowledge Media Institute, that has been working to publish a fairly wide range of university material as linked data.   One presentation by the Project Director Mathieu d’Aquin covering the wider project aspects to a university-wide audience, the other by the Project Manager, Owen Stephens, to a library audience. 

It’s a project I’ve been fortunate enough to have some involvement with and it has some impressive achievements for a short project.   Establishing as the first University-wide linked data repository, being able to release a range of different datasets from institutional repositories to course data, and not least, going some way to getting the concepts of linked data out from the laboratory and into an area where they can start to be discussed as a practical technology.

Linked data
For anyone who isn’t familiar with Linked Data it’ described by its proposer Tim Berners-Lee on his website thus:

‘The Semantic Web isn’t just about putting data on the web. It is about making links, so that a person or machine can explore the web of data.  With linked data, when you have some of it, you can find other, related, data’ 

[If you are interested in finding out more about Linked Data then is a reasonable starting place to explore].

I always find it interesting with new technologies how people describe them to other people.  Mathieu described it as essentially publishing a raw database of data onto the web as RDF with the data being addressable using a URI and talked of creating ‘a very big distributed dataspace’  That’s certainly something that is well-illustrated by the ‘traditional’ linked data cloud image (without which no linked data presentation is complete).  From more of a library perspective Owen used the example of Charlotte Bronte as the creator of Jane Eyre as an illustration of the subject, object and predicate ‘triple’.

Libraries and Linked Data
What has been particularly interesting from a library point of view is the way that linked data allows systems to extract data in new ways.  So for example, publishing course materials in RDF format has allowed queries to be created that make it possible to list all courses available in a particular country, something you can’t easily do from current websites.  And you start to see all kinds of possibilities for libraries and search systems.  You are potentially less constrained in having to decide in advance what type of queries users can make of your data.  I was interested in a comment made by Mathieu that the art of expoiting linked data was to build many small applications rather than a few big applications. 

Also last month there was the news that Archives Hub through the LOCAH project have released some of their content as linked data as a proof of concept.   So it seems to me that we are at an early stage for libraries in thinking about how Linked Data can be of use.  Certainly for us one of the things we have to think about is does it mean that we need to start to change our cataloguing practice.  It’s clear that the way we catalogue isn’t ideal if we want to convert our catalogue data to Linked Data. 

The process to decide on how you are going to express your data as Linked Data is quite a time-consuming one and a process that is very much an on-the-fly activity. Which I think is where libraries may start to feel a bit uncomfortable, without the safety net of some clear frameworks. 

I think we’ve a way to go before this type of activity starts to be commonplace, and maybe we need some tools that help us to present our resources in Linked Data more easily.  I think the analogy is obviously the early days of the web when the first website swe built were with raw html.  But it wasn’t long until tools came along such as Frontpage and Dreamweaver that meant you could build sites without knowing too much html. 

But I still think that there is massive potential within  the Linked Data world and libraries need to engage with it and start to build prototypes that can show the benefits.  Certainly I’m hopeful that we’ll have the chance to do some further work in this area with our Digital Library.

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June 2011

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