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When I was looking for an image to start off the RISE presentation I tried to find an image that visualised the challenge and issues that users face in finding and accessing library resources. So the phrase ‘needle in a haystack’ came to mind, particularly as the first slide was about the difficulties that users found coping with the old federated search tools we used in 2009. And I found a great image to use.

The intended metaphor was that the difficulty of finding resources was the ‘needle in a haystack’, but the image of the oversized needle also seemed to me to be symbolic of our aim of improving our systems.  So introducing a new discovery system and creating a system through RISE to provide activity data-driven recommendations would make the process of finding library resources easier for users.

It’s probably a good thing that there is a person on the right of the image to give a sense of scale.  Otherwise you could intrepret it differently. The needle isn’t oversized at all, but is normal size. And it’s the haystack that has shrunk as library budgets shrink and our haystack (the licensed content) shrinks in size. But maybe that is rather too pessimistic?

JISC Activity Data programme and Learning Analytics
A couple of things this week about the activity data projects that JISC funded last year as part of their Information Environment programme. I noticed that Huddersfield are going to be doing some more work on LIDP (the Library Impact Data Project) over the next few LIDP phase 2months. This phase two includes work on more data sources and a possible data shared service. The screenshot on the left lists the work they are planning to do. More details on their blog. It will be interesting to see how this goes.

On Tuesday this week we did a short lunchtime session for library and other OU staff on the work we did last year on the RISE activity data project. So I did a short presentation on what we did in the project, and Liz (@LizMallett) covered the user evaluation and feedback. We also had a presentation by Will Woods (@willwoods) from IET on the University’s work around Learning Analytics.  Learning Analytics has now become an important project for the university and it is interesting to see how this moves forward in the next few months.   There is a short blog post on the event on the RISE blog here that includes embedded links to the presentations on RISE.  

Moving forward with Activity Data
Since RISE finished we’ve been looking at ways of embedding some of the recommendation ideas into our mainstream services. We’ve still been routinely adding EZProxy data into the RISE database.  At the moment we are moving the RISE prototype search interface and the Google gadget across to a new web server as we are closing down the old library website. That should keep the search prototype running for a bit more time. It’s also a chance to tweak the code and sort out any bits that have degraded. 

Our website developer (@beersoft) has been building some new features based on the ideas around using activity data. The live library website already displays dynamic lists of resources at a title level in the library resources section on the website

One of the prototypes takes the standard resource lists (which are at a title level) and shows the most recently viewed articles from those journals, using the data frscreenshot of beta search including activity data from RISEom the RISE database. The screenshot shows one of the current prototypes.  So users would not only see the relevant journal title (with a link at the title level), but would also see the most recently viewed articles from that journal.  For users that are logged in it would also be feasible to show the articles viewed by people on their course, or even their own recently viewed articles.

We’ve been starting to think about how best to present these new ideas on the website as we want to gauge user reactions to them  Thinking at the moment is that we want to keep them separate from the ‘production’ spec services, so would have them in a separate ‘innovation’ or ‘beta’ space.  I quite like the Cornell CULLABS or the Harvard Library Innovation Lab as a model to follow.

The proposition
I’ve spent the last couple of days at a fascinating JISC/SCONUL workshop, ‘The Squeezed Middle? Exploring the future of Library Systems.  ‘The Squeezed Middle’ referring to the concentration of attention in recent months on electronic resource management (in the SCONUL Shared Services and Knowledge Base + activities) and Discovery Systems (such as Summon, EDS and Primo), that has rather taken the focus away from other library systems, notably the Library Management System.  In part, it was explained, this was deliberate, as developments in open source LMS (such as Kuali OLE and Evergreen) and developments of new systems such as Alma from ExLibris that look at unifying print, electronic and digital resource management, have been (and still are) in development and there needs to be some maturity.  But we are now starting to see these developments moving on and open source starting to be adopted (by Staffordshire University library for example).  So the time is right to start to focus on these systems afresh.

The workshop
Punctuating the workshop were a series of deliberately provocative and challenging ‘visions’ of the future library of 2020 and a video from Lorcan Dempsey.  [Paul Walk has blogged his here.] Against this background we looked at several topics such as collections, space, systems and expertise around the library systems domain.  Overnight we looked at a series of sixty-odd themes and activities and followed that up today looking at prioritisation and value of those activities to try to understand what might be some priority tasks.

A few things came to mind for me during and after the workshop.  Firstly, there maybe isn’t a clear definition of the boundaries of this space and really no common view of what aspects of print/electronic/digital processes and collections we are scoping and addressing.  It also struck me that a lot of the issues, concerns and priorities were about data rather than systems or processes.  So they included topics such as licenses for ebooks, open bibliographic metadata, passing data to institutional finance systems and activity data for example.  I do find it particularly interesting that despite the effort that goes into the data that libraries consume, there are some really big tasks to address to flow data around our systems without duplication or unnecessary activity.  (Incidentally, there’s a concept used in Customer Care, termed ‘Unnecessary contact’ and there used to be a National Indicator NI14 where local government had to reduce unnecessary contact.  In other words reduce the instances where customers have to contact you for further clarification. So you aim to deal with the issue at first point of contact.  I start to wonder whether there’s a similar concept that we might apply to libraries when we carry out extra processing and cataloguing instead of taking ‘shelf-ready’ books and downloaded bibliographic records – unneccessary refinements maybe?)

I also found it interesting how the topic of reading list solutions came up as a hot issue.  It’s a particular interest to me given involvement in the OU’s TELSTAR reference management project. The Reading-List-Solutions JISCMail list has been busy in the last week talking about the various systems (often developed in house).  And it was really fascinating to see how such a fundamental and time-consuming part of our daily work hasn’t really been solved, let alone integrated completely into the procurement and discovery workflow. Although I know that there’s some significant complexity there I find that particularly strange that it hasn’t been a feature built into the LMS.

Final thoughts or library systems of the future

It seems to me that there are some general principles that you could think about for future library systems in this space.  And I suppose I’m thinking beyond the next generation of systems such as Alma.  And these may be completely of-the-wall ideas.  But there are few things that come to mind as we move towards 2020. So what might a 2020 LMS look like?

> the systems are component’ised (think Drupal CMS), so both libraries and users can choose which components they use.  And they are largely about flowing data, workflow and process rather than about storing data.

> users control their own profiles (and data) – we (institutions) give them a ‘key’ to access collections we have paid for (so authentication is at a network level or with aggregators?)

> catalogues are distributed – linked data uses the most appropriate vocabularies, most not even run by libraries – local elements are added at the time you choose to procure – there is no ‘catalogue record’ as such but a collection of descriptive elements – you choose where you get your records from, but you don’t download them to ‘your’ lms database

> discovery interface is at the choice of the user – collections are packaged/streamed? and contributed to the aggregators

> rather than a model where libraries buy licensed content and then run systems for their users to access that content – so all institutions largely duplicate their systems – the content owners/aggregators provide the access maybe? as they already start to do with discovery systems?

> there is a ‘rump’ of an LMS database that is your audit trail of transactions and holdings (but with network-level unique IDs that link to descriptive data held at the network level), statistics are held in the cloud (JUSP+++),

> so we contribute our special digital and electronic collections – either to national scale repositories or to open discovery systems?

Maybe not very realistic and fanciful, but something that is a world away from the monolithic LMS that even the open source and new generation systems seem to be building.

All round it was a really good and enjoyable workshop and I’m glad I had the opportunity to go.  I hope the stuff we’ve done helps to inform the future thinking and directions.  Thanks to SCONUL and JISC for organising/funding it and to Ben Showers and David Kay.

Latest project
From February I’m going to be involved in a new project, STELLARSemantic Technologies Enhancing the Lifecycle of LeArning Resources (funded by JISC).   In some ways the project connects with previous work I’ve been involved with in the Lucero project in that it will be employing linked data, and will be working with learning materials, in that I’ve had some involvement with our production and presentation learning systems through the VLE.  But STELLAR will be dealing with a different area for me, in that we’ll be looking at my institution’s store of legacy learning materials.   So it’s a good opportunity to learn more about curation and preservation and digital lifecycles.

STELLAR is particularly going to be looking at trying to understand the value of those legacy learning materials by talking to the academics who have been involved in creating those materials.   There are quite a few reasons why older course materials may still have value, they might be able to be reused in new courses on the basis that reusing old materials might be less costly than creating new materials.  They might have value in being able to be transformed into Open Educational Resources.  Or, for example, they might have value in being good historical examples of styles of teaching and learning.  So STELLAR will be exploring different types and models of expressing the value of those materials.

Finding out about the value that is placed on these materials can also be an important factor when trying to understand which materials to preserve as a priority, or where you should expend your resources, and we’d hope that STELLAR would help to inform HE policies as institutions build up increasing amounts of digital learning materials.

As part of STELLAR we will be taking some digital legacy learning material and transforming it into linked data (with some help from our friends in KMi). This gives us the opportunity to connect old course materials into the OU’s ecosystem by linking to existing datasets on current courses and OER material in OpenLearn.  By transforming the content in this way we can then explore whether making it more discoverable changes the value proposition, makes the content more likely to be reused or opens up other possibilities.  It should be an interesting project and one that I’m looking forward to, as there are going to be a lot of opportunties to build up my understanding of these issues and aspects.

Last time I heard the results of a Funding bid we’d submitted I was sitting in a conference in London.  It seems to be becoming a habit as we had the results of our latest funding bid just before Christmas.   This time I was sitting in a coffee bar in Yorkshire, and it was a nice surprise to hear that we’d been successful as I wasn’t expecting the results before Christmas.  We’d put in a funding bid back in November and all being well with the clarifications on a few points, are going to be doing some work starting next month with our digital legacy learning materials and linked data.  We’re looking forward to getting started on STELLAR.

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January 2012

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