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Ok so it’s not a bus full of books
I must admit that whenever someone talks about mobile libraries my first thought is still about a library on wheels.  In my defence for much of my library career it has been a bus full of books.  And a lot of my time has been spent on trying to find ways of getting technology onto the bus – from psion organisers to mobile networks to satellite systems to finally almost reliable mobile phone signals… if you can just move your mobile library a little way down the road (of course it’s easy to get approval to do that…).

But mobile libraries is now about providing library services through mobile devices and is now a big deal, with a lot of effort into developing mobile services for libraries and it’s own international conference series, m-libraries .  Mobile is big business and increasingly ubiquitous, (Pew Internet recently reported that 85% of american have a cell phone) (and the BBC recently reported on the surge of mobile use in Africa)

But in the last few months I’ve become less convinced that ‘m’ or mobile is really the most appropriate term for this whole area, and looking through Google’s recent ‘Navigating the new multi-screen world’ report, (and blog) started to crystalise it for me.  Their survey had the comments that 60% of smartphone use and 79% of tablet use was in the home, not out-and-about.  And it makes me wonder whether ‘mobile’ is really the right word to use.  Looking at Google’s survey they report quite distinct contexts between mobile phones and tablets – one short-focus and short bursts, the other more leisurely use.  Yet we categorise these devices into  a single set and call it ‘mobile’ when how people use them, what they are doing, and when and where, are quite distinct.

What I think we are wanting to do is to make our services available to whoever needs them, wherever they are, whatever part of our service they want to use, whenever the want to use them and on whatever device they choose to use.   In reality our users might not actually be ‘mobile’ or using a phone, to benefit from the tools and technologies that the ‘mobile’ developments need to offer.

I’m starting to think that ‘mobile’ actually breaks down into several distinct areas, some of which aren’t actually ‘mobile’ at all:

  1. Services for users who are ‘on the move’ e.g. location based – where’s my nearest library, where’s the nearest library to me with a free PC/this book/SCONUL access etc
  2. Services to users who want to do something quickly – and mobility isn’t especially relevant but might be a context – e.g. find some resources and bookmark them for later, book or reserve something, look something up/quick reference – and that might equally be look something up quickly on a mobile while sitting in front of a PC
  3. Services for users with more time to engage in activities -regardless of device – but that might be a tablet or an ebook reader or a smart TV
  4. Designing for multiple screen sizes – from small phones through to 60″ flat panel smart TVs and beyond – mainly with responsive web design rather than with autodetect systems
  5. User experience, usability and accessibility, which has to underpin all user interactions, whether on desktop or tablet or phone, but needs to adhere to the same basic principles.

It seems to me though, that while you might characterise these areas as somehow distinct, that there are connections and relationships between them, a workflow almost, where you might start something on one device and follow up on another, and where your personalised environment remembers where you are and what you are doing and meshes them all together.

FOTE 2012 app screenshot“When did someone from Amazon last come round to your door and say sorry, we’ve changed the interface, would you like some training?” (Dave Coplin from Bing, at FOTE 2012).

I’ve blogged before about the idea that you shouldn’t have to give your users training for them to be able to use your website, so it was quite interesting to hear someone from a large IT company like Bing say pretty much the same thing at FOTE the other week.  And Dave Coplin’s presentation is worth catching up with on the FOTE mediasite (link at the bottom of this blog post).

It was my second time at FOTE and last time one of my reflections was on the amount of effort they had put into getting android and iOS apps for the conference.  So there was a similar set of apps this year, in green rather than yellow and it was certainly good to have everything together in a nice neat app.  One thing though I did notice was that the attendance list in the app was a bit sparse with names.  Not quite sure why but presumably people had to opt-in to have their names included.  In some ways that was a shame as it made it difficult to find out who was there – I only realised that someone who works in the same building as me was at the conference when they asked a question from the audience.  Although a lot of the networking at conferences these days takes place on social networks, mainly twitter and Google Plus, while the conference is taking place, it’s still good to have access to a list of delegates.

Learning Analytics
The first presentation by Cailean Hargrave from IBM talked largely about their work in the area of Learning Analytics, using an example from FE. It was really interesting to see a fully worked through example of the power and reach of learning analytics.  To see the tool being used to drive a portal for staff, students and employers, throughout the student journey was fascinating.  To see examples of how it could be used to make suggestions to students on what they might do to improve their grades I think was really eye-opening and really touched on some of the potentially scary elements of Learning Analytics.  It goes a long way beyond recommendations into areas where you are trying to shape particular behaviours and touches on some of the ethical issues that have been raised about learning analytics.

Research Data
I was also really interested to hear about Figshare a cloud-based respository for researchers data, that plays into the whole open research data agenda, mentioning the recent Royal Society ‘Science as an open enterprise‘ paper and the push by funders towards open access of research data.  The model for the system seems to be supported through a tie-up with an academic publisher and it will be really interesting to see whether this is a sustainable model.  It’s certainly another alternative for researchers and at a time when many institutions are still gearing themselves up to deliver research data management systems is an interesting alternative solution.

For a short one-day conference FOTE packed in a wide range of content, from ipads in learning, through game-based learning, to ebooks and a debate on the hot topic of ‘MOOCs’ Massively Open Online Courses.  Some good things to take away from the day.

Presentations from FOTE are all available from:

I’ve seen quite a few new ebook developments over the past few days that have caught my attention and look like they will have some form of impact on the personal ebook market that has come to be dominated by the likes of Amazon Kindle.

Strange name but a really interesting development in ebook devices.  txtrbeagle has a 5″ e-ink display and is powered by battery.   Ebooks are added to the device through bluetooth, so the device essentially works with an app on your phone.  An android app is available with an iphone app to follow.  The app allows you to transfer ebooks from your mobile to the reader and looks to be positioned as a mobile add-on that offers a more comfortable reading experience than trying to read material on a small phone screen.  Although the storage space is quoted as 4gb that is only sufficient to store 5 books at a time, which seems to imply some form of transformation of the ebook format onto the device if 5 books take up so much space.

What is really interesting about the device is the price.  $13 or 10 Euros.  Almost a giveaway price.  But it opens the world of ebook readers to potentially a wider audience who wouldn’t want to pay $100, have already got a phone, but wouldn’t want to read a book on their phone.  Or lets you, say, control what your children can read on an ebook reader that it so cheap that you are happy for your four-year old to play around with it.

Bookshout is a book importer tool that lets you import your books directly from your Amazon or Barnes and Noble account into a single platform.  In itself that’s a great idea, as although tools like calibre can help with managing ebook content from multiple formats, DRM is often a restriction on being able to use the content on different platforms.  But there’s also another layer on top of that idea, which is to add sharing and social features into the tool, with Google+-like circles and the ability to share notes on the book you are reading, which look great for book groups.

The tool seems to have also thought about the perspective of authors and publishers, offering ways for authors to interact with readers and for it to act as a sales and marketing channel.  It’s an intriguing idea and even without the social dimension, offers a potentially useful tool to pull your ebooks into a single bookshelf.

wikipedia and ebooks
Wikipedia have recently announced a feature to allow users to export wikipedia content in an epub ebook format.  Called the Book creator, the tool lets you select pages or categories of material from wikipedia.  Once you’ve slected your content you can download into a small number of formats including pdf or epub or even order a print-on demand copy.  It’s a useful tool to quickly extract some content for wikipedia that you want to read offline.  The formatting from the epub version I tried was a little messy but all the content was extracted neatly and you end up with something that will work on your ebook reader or Adobe digital editions quite well.

At a presentation at FOTE last week about ebooks it started to become obvious that the idea of offering a feature to allow people to export content from your website in a ebook format, especially epub, is a really sensible idea and something that has interesting applications for repositories and digital libraries.  Packaging the content into a neat and easily consumable package is a really good idea for websites and something that projects like anthologizr are already working on with their eprints ebook work.

“Benchmarking is the process of comparing one’s business processes and performance metrics to industry bests or best practices from other industries. Dimensions typically measured are quality, time and cost. In the process of benchmarking, management identifies the best firms in their industry, or in another industry where similar processes exist, and compare the results and processes of those studied (the “targets”) to one’s own results and processes. In this way, they learn how well the targets perform and, more importantly, the business processes that explain why these firms are successful.”

It’s easy enough to describe what benchmarking is, but the critical question it seems to me is who do you benchmark against, particularly when what you are benchmarking, is a web-based experience.  Is it enough to benchmark against organisations who are competing for your customers directly in the market in which you operate, or do you need to look more widely?   For comparability you can argue that only those organisations who are in the same business as you are offer a way of directly benchmarking what you do with what the best the competition can offer.  And yes, I’d agree with that.

But I’d argue that you are also competing more generally with a wider group of comparators, in that you are competing for your customers (or potential customers) time and attention, and I think that you are competing on reputation with the best examples who are operating in the channel (i.e. the web) that you are using.  And I feel that that argues for a wider range of benchmarking comparators.

So what groups would I expect us to benchmark against?:

  • libraries in distance learning institutions who might be offering a similar set of services to us, both direct competitors in our own market, but also those in other markets
  • wider HE libraries – even campus-based, will all be offering an online experience – it might be additional to their location based service, and some of their services won’t be relevant – but may still have valuable lessons – and these again would not just be local competitors but would be from across the world
  • sector organisations and service providers – these could be the best of cultural organisations such as museums, or service providers such as discovery system providers or content providers or other organisations in the sector
  • commercial service sector providers – online shopping and online supermarkets, concierge-style services, other online public services and commercial services – all are competing for attention and define what an online experience should be like
  • social, communications, media systems and organisations – news organisations for example.  But these types of websites are often good examples of best practice and also environments where our users will spend a great deal  of time, influencing their perception of what makes a great website experience.

So there’s quite a range of different types of organizations and websites that I’d want to look at to see what we could learn about how to make our website better.  In the same way as the hotel industry has influenced  the concept of boutique libraries, then there are lessons that we can learn from other sectors that will help.  So for example, concepts around using recommendations for library resources can draw on practices from websites such as Amazon.

There’s one final thought about benchmarking, in that the most important group to ‘benchmark’ against is your own customers.  What are their expectations?  You may have a list of good ideas that come out of your benchmarking exercise, but which of them would your customers prioritise?

Twitter screenshot of twittergate searchTweeting at academic conferences
I’ve been following the “#twittergate” debate about tweeting at academic conferences (blogged about here by Tressie McMillan Cottom, here by Steve Kolwich and storified here) and have been reading through Ernesto Priego’s ‘10 rules of thumb‘ from the Guardian’s Higher Education network website (and they are a good list of guidelines), and wondering about how that relates to the live-tweeting that goes on at the professional events that I go to, which are mainly library-related, or educational technology related.

Library and technology conferences
It is one of the things I’ve found most notable of the HE library sector, and that is the amount of social media activity, particularly twitter but also things like lanyrd that surrounds these type of events.  It is something that I think adds to the value of those events but I know that there are some people who find that it is distracting.  I’ve been at conferences where the organisers have displayed conference tweets on screen live (twitterwall or tweetwall) but after a while taken them down during the conference.  One of the benefits of tweeting is that is does allow interaction and sharing with people who aren’t at the conference or event, which sometimes throws up interesting stuff, but I wonder whether there’s an element of resentment almost, from people who are attending towards people who aren’t attending getting to ‘share’ in some aspects of the conference?

I think that in some ways library and technology conferences are quite different in nature to academic conferences, even if they are ‘academic’ library conferences or about technology as it applies to the HE sector.  Many of the comments in #twittergate seemed to me to be about academics talking at conferences about their latest research at a stage prior to formal publication.  Academic library and technology conferences also have people talking about work they have been doing, often in advance of publication of that work.

But I think there’s a critical difference, and that is at least partly about academic reputation, and academics having a more pressing need to build and maintain their reputation, for reasons like REF, and for progression reasons.  As much of this is still based around ‘traditional’ notions of publication in formal channels as evidence of scholarship rather than the concepts of digital scholarship as described by experts such as Martin Weller  For librarians this is generally much less of a priority although not I suppose entirely absent.  As a librarian you’re not dependent on your publication record and it may be that simply speaking at the event is sufficiently ‘reputation-enhancing’.

I think there’s also another factor in that in most cases at a library conference you are looking to share your work or results widely.  Not just with a narrow group of experts who can almost act as part of a ‘peer review’ (although I think there is an element of that at play for librarians too).  At the stage that you want to talk about something at a conference it is part of your ‘dissemination’ plan more often than not.  Tweeting your presentation is a good way of pushing knowledge about it out to a wider audience, and it seems like most people speaking at these type of events buy in to that idea.

When not to tweet
I think that the nearest equivalent to academic conferences in the library world may be those project groups and discussions that take place as part of sector wide projects, Steering Groups, Collaboration Groups etc where I’m always more mindful that the discussions aren’t in the public domain and shouldn’t be tweeted.

One thing, though, does amuse me, which is the term ‘live-tweet’.  I know it is meant to parallel ‘live-blogging’.  But I tend to wonder, well, what other type of tweeting is there?

Twitter posts



October 2012

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