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Interesting today to read Lorcan Dempsey’s latest blogpost on ‘Full library discovery’ noting trends to include a wider range of content either into the local indexes of discovery platforms or through API-based solutions, to cover content from library websites, help and support materials and even the names of subject specialist librarians, all accessed through a single search box.   It certainly looks like a interesting approach and starts to make me wonder about the future of library websites being little more than a single search box.  I remember a debate with a library colleague a number of years back when we were putting in Plone as an intranet solution, and talking about whether to just let people search for content rather than design an overt navigation based around the information archictecture.beta search screenshot

The bento box approach used by Stanford is an interesting approach and something that we’ve been playing around with in a beta search we’ve been testing.  Stanford’s approach of being able to present the results in a wider display format side-by-side is better than having the restriction of stacking the boxes, but we’re constrained by our frustratingly narrow template.  But nonetheless, feedback on the approach is so far quite good.

At the moment though we’ve ended up with distinct versions of our discovery layer for staff and students (sans catalogue for students).  We’ve added in our institutional repository into the discovery local index and will ultimately probably add in metadata for our developing digital library (using OAI-PMH).  But, as seems to be the case with all discovery solutions, coverage of our collections isn’t comprehensive so local ‘front-end’ style solutions that essentially intercept a query by checking local collections and offering them as a ‘did you mean?’ may have some value to users.  But what you lose is the single index and its relevance ranking.

Responsive web design
I’ve become pretty convinced that responsive web design is a better direction for our mobile-orientated offerings rather than dedicated mobile sites.  The content mobile and tablet users are viewing on our websites are now pretty similar.  Bohyun Kim’s latest slides on ‘Improving your library’s mobile services’ did however give me a little pause with some of the common problems (slides 56 onwards) with responsive web design.   Some important lessons about cutting down content, ensuring that there are options to get out of the responsive web design (not a dissimilar problem to getting trapped in a mobile website with cutdown content when on a smartphone or tablet), and sze download filesizes.  Quite a few things to consider with RWD.

Encouraged by some thinking about what sort of prototype resource usage tools we want to build to test with users in a forthcoming ‘New tools’ section I’ve been starting to think about what sort of features you could offer to library users to let them take advantage of library data.

Early steps
For a few months we’ve been offering users of our mobile search interface (which just does a search of our EBSCO discovery system) a list of their recently viewed items and their recent searches. The idea behind testing it on a mobile device Mobile search results screenwas that giving people a link to their recent searches or items viewed would make it easier for people to get back to things that they had accessed on their mobile device by just clicking single links rather than having to bookmark them or type in fiddly links. At the moment the tool just lists the resources and searches you’ve done through the mobile interface.

But our next step is to make a similar tool available through our main library website as a prototype of the ‘articles I’ve viewed’. And that’s where we start to wonder about whether the mobile version of the searches/results should be kept separate from the rest of your activities, or whether user expectations would be that, like a Kindle ebook that you can sync across multiple devices, your searches and activity should be consistent across all platforms?

At the moment our desktop version has all your viewed articles, regardless of the platform you used. But users might want to know in future which device they used to access the material maybe? Perhaps because some material isn’t easily accessible through a mobile device. But that opens up another question, in that the mobile version and the desktop version may be different URLs so you might want them to be pulled together as one resource with automatic detection of your device when you go to access the resource. Articles I've read screenshot

Next steps
With the data about what resources are being accessed and what library web pages are being accessed it starts to open up the possibility of some more user-centred use of library activity and analytics data.

So you could conceive of being able to match that there is a spike of users accessing the Athens problems FAQ page and be able to tie that to users trying to access Athens-authenticated resources. Being able to match activity with students being on a particular module could allow you to push automatically some more targeted help material, maybe into the VLE website for relevant modules, as well as flag up an indication of a potential issue to the technical and helpdesk teams.

You could also contemplate mining reading lists and course schedules to predict when there are particular activities that are scheduled and automatically schedule pushing relevant help and support or online tutorials to students. Some of the most interesting areas seem to me to be around building skills and using activity (or lack of activity) to trigger promotion of targeted skills building activities. So knowing that students on module X should be doing an activity that involves looking at this set of resources, and being able to detect the students that haven’t accessed those resources, offering them some specific help material, or even contact from a librarian. Realistically those sorts of interventions simply couldn’t be managed manually and would have to rely on some form of learning analytics-type trigger system.

One of the areas that would be useful to look at would be some form of student dashboard for library engagement. So this could give students some data about what engagement they have had with the library, e.g. resources accessed, library skills completed, library badges gained, library visits, books/ebooks borrowed etc. Maybe set against averages for their course, and perhaps with some metrics about what high-achieving students on their course last time did. Add to that a bookmarking feature, lists of recent searches and resources used, with lists of loans/holds. Finished off with useful library contacts and some suggested activities that might help them with their course based on what is know about the level of library skills needed in the course.

Before you can do some of the more sophisticated learning analytics-type activities I suspect it would be necessary is to have a better understanding of the impact that library activities/skills/resources have on student retention and achievement. And that seems to me to argue for some really detailed work to understand library impact at a ‘pedagogic’ level.

KPCB 2012 Internet trendsMobile trends
Although I’d picked up the growth of mobiles and tablets overtaking sales of desktop PCs and laptops, one thing that hadn’t become obvious to me was that we now seem to be approaching the time when the number of tablets/smartphones in circulation outnumbers the numbers of desktops/laptops.   December’s Internet Trends survey from Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers shows, in the graph reproduced here, that they’d expect that stage to be reached globally sometime this year.

Although I’d probably have a couple of caveats about smartphone adoption in the developing world slightly skewing the figures, and whether people might ordinarily have more tablets/smartphones than desktops/laptops, it nonetheless emphasises the point that mobile internet access is now mainstream.  For many people it may be their preferred means of accessing your services and their expectation is going to be that it should just work, and give an equivalent or better experience than the ‘traditional’ desktop browser experience.

But numbers of devices doesn’t yet map to the amount of usage of our websites.  For us our traffic is still under 10% from mobiles/tablets, so even if the numbers of devices in circulation is reaching parity, we aren’t yet at a stage where the majority of our use is coming from those devices.  But looking at the trends, that day is on the horizon maybe.

One of the interesting concepts in KPCB’s slideshow is the ‘asset-light’ idea.  KPCB 2012 Internet treands screenshotThe idea that more and more people, perhaps younger people especially, may be less inclined to wanting to own or acquire physical ‘stuff’ and have a more ‘mobile’ (as in being able to move more readily) lifestyle.  Characterised as having your music on spotify or iTunes rather than on physical CDs, or renting rather than buying your textbooks.  It also has in mind for me a personal version of the concept of ‘Just-in-time’ the production strategy based around reducing inventory in favour of delivery of items when you need them.  It’s the concept of ‘on-demand’ rather than ownership ‘just-in-case’.

Potentially, as characterised in this blogpost on Fail!lab it might mean major changes to our library websites, or even the concept of websites.  It’s a good and interesting thought.  For a while we’ve certainly been pushing content into places where students go, such as pushing library resources via RSS feeds into our VLE.  But these spaces are still websites.  Yet once you’ve got a stream or feed of data then you could push or pull it into numerous places, whether apps or webpages or systems.

The idea in the Fail!Lab blogpost around Artificially intelligent agents doing the ‘heavy-lifting’ of finding resources for users is something that Paul Walk raised as part of his Library Management Systems vision (slideshare and blog post) so it’s interesting to see someone else postulating a similar future.  For me it starts to envisage a future where users choose their environment/tools/agents and we build systems that are capable of feeding data/content to those agents and are built to a set of data sharing standards.  It suggests a time where users are able to write queries to interrogate your systems, whether for content or for help materials or skills development activity, and implies a world of profiles, entitlements and charging mechanisms that are a world away from the current model of – go to this website, signup and pass through the gateway into a ‘library’ of stuff.

I read an interesting blog post on the BBC Internet blog today  (tweeted by @psychemedia) about their new Antiques Roadshow play-along app that got me thinking about whether sound might be an interesting alternative to QR codes for QR code link to libwebrarian.wordpress.comadding links to videos.  Apart from the interesting play-along game of guessing the valuation before it is broadcast, what I found interesting was the idea about using a sound to pass information.  The BBC app uses ‘audio watermarking’ to send out signals during the TV programme.  These signals are inaudible to listeners but can be picked up by the microphone and interpreted by the app on the phone or tablet.

Obviously the BBC are able to broadcast sounds as part of their programmes in a way that isn’t available to most.  But with websites and videos many of us are now effectively acting as media producers.  I’m particularly thinking about the series of short animations that we’ve been producing over the last couple of years introducing topics like ‘Avoiding plagiarism’ or ‘Evaluating information’.  These short animations all tend to end with a link to somewhere to go to find more information and we’ve started adding QR codes to this screen to give people an easy way of following the link via a mobile device.   It would be interesting to see if it might be possible to add a sound to the end of the animation that passed on the link.

Bob animation screenshot showing QR codeOne piece of technology that does something along those lines is Chirp.  This tool ‘sings’ information from one device to another.  (For an example of Chirp in action have a look at Thomas Cochrane from AUT’s presentation at last year’s mLibraries conference.) This tool is only available for iOS devices at the moment but apparently they plan to offer it on other devices eventually.  It also differs from the BBC ‘audio watermarking’ in that it is an audible sound.

Looks like a potentially useful way of providing follow up links on videos at least.


Maps on mobile devices are a really great tool and something that I know I’ve quickly got used to as a way of finding your way around places.   It’s now routine to use the maps feature to find where a place is, or where the nearest something is to where you happen to be when you are somewhere unfamilar.  A couple of things have come up just lately that highlight how we’ve come to depend on them and what a problem it is when they don’t work.

Apple iOS6 maps
Apple’s much-publicised problems with the new maps function in iOS6 (reported here by the BBC) really brings home how important the maps function has become as a standard feature of a mobile device.  I know that organisations like Pew Internet carry out a lot of surveys on mobile phone use, but I’ve not seen anything that identifies how much use people make of the maps features on mobile technology.

Yes, it might be 4 miles away... but that doesn’t make it the nearest
The other thing that brought it home was standing in Helensburgh last week and trying to find the nearest petrol station.  Yell screenshot of Helensburgh petrol stationsIt’s not a place I know that well and we’d been staying nearby on the Clyde estuary and wanted to get some petrol before heading off north.  So the obvious answer was to look up petrol stations in Helensburgh on the mobile phone.  So a quick check on the phone on Yell gave the nearest petrol stations, just 4 miles away.  Maps of petrol stations near Helensburgh from YellExcept, they aren’t the nearest petrol stations, unless you happen to be driving a boat, as they are in Greenock, across the other side of the Clyde estuary.  Most of the petrol stations it picked up (and Yell doesn’t seem to be the only site that has the same sort of issue) may well have been the nearest locations in terms of distance but they simply aren’t going to be the quickest places to get to.

And that strikes me as really odd that sites like Yell don’t give you the nearest site in terms of how long it will take to get there.  Looking for a petrol station, it’s probably likely that you are in a car and driving.  So how far is it to get there using the likely route you would have to travel, and what are the traffiic conditions, i.e. are there any traffic delays.  Which seems to me to suggest that a cross between the maps, route planner and directory system is what you actually need, or a car that turns into a boat.

PS.  It’s actually 27.9 miles or 47 minutes to the petrol stations in Greenock according to the AA Route Planner  and the even more interesting thing, is that actually there’s a Tesco Express Tesco helensburgh website screenshotpetrol station in Helensburgh itself, which didn’t show up on Yell search.  Ironically the Tesco’s website that does show the Helensburgh petrol station also shows Greenock as being nearby, so has exactly the same problem.


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.

Top ten trends in academic libraries

Catching up with reading after a few days away led me (via a RT from @benshowers) to ACRL’s latest article on ‘2012 top ten trends in academic libraries’.  (ACRL  are the US Association of College and Research Libraries and part of the American Library Association).   It’s an interesting list:

Communicating value; Data curation; Digital preservation; Higher education; Information technology; mobile environments; Patron driven e-book acquisition; Scholarly communication; Staffing; and, User behaviors and expectations.

Some are obvious, IT, mobiles, the changing nature of higher education.  But I find it quite interesting that user behavior and expectations is flagged up as a top ten trend.  Driven in part maybe by increased expectations as the cost of higher education to the student continues to rise, but also by our students being better informed consumers of online information.  Their experience of library search (for example here in this blog post by @carolgauld) contrasts markedly with their experiences of the web, through online shopping and social networking.  And it’s a big challenge for libraries and publishers.  All too often it seems that library systems are built with librarians or researchers in mind rather than users.

I also find it interesting that getting across library value is a top trend and that seems again to be something that libraries always struggle with.  It’s timely that ACRL have their White Paper ‘Connect, Collaborate and Communicate: A report from the Value of Academic Libraries Summits’ out now.  That includes material from Carol Tenopir’s work that I was fortunate to hear about first hand last year.  Top of the recommendations is about ensuring that librarians understand how libraries contribute to student learning and success.  Work such as Huddersfield’s Library Impact Data Project are demonstrating that there is a connection between library usage and attainment and it’s important that libraries get involved within their institution to make sure that library data is contributed to ‘data warehouses’ and other management information systems so library use is taken account of when measuring student achievement.

Two further things in the list stand out for me: Data curation and Digital Preservation.  Mainly because it’s an area I’m becoming more involved with as we plan and build our new Digital Library ( , but also because it seems to me that a lot of library time is being spent (and going to be spent) in this area of work.  Although there’s clearly a step between managing collections of physical items (books and documents) to managing collections of digital items, there’s a sense to me that curation of stuff the library owns, is a more ‘comforting’ space for libraries to operate in.  Handling access to stuff we license (the subscribed resources world) starts to seem like a different type of activity maybe, a ‘blip’ on the landscape of libraries as curators of collections of stuff the library owns?

New mobile search screenhotThe new version of our mobile search for our library website went live earlier in the week.  This uses the Ebsco discovery API to access licensed resources.  There’s a screenshot on the left as access is I’m afraid limited to OU students and staff.  The new version owes a lot to the work of the developer on the MACON project and has been adapted by our library website developer (@beersoft).  Access to be mobile version can be gained from a link on the bottom right of the desktop version or by autodection if you are already on a mobile device.

New features include showing the last five items that you have viewed as well as your last ten searches.  These are features that are thought to be particularly useful for mobile users as the less time spent fiddling around with retyping URLs or search strings the better.   The feature also includes access to an advanced search screen that allows Keyword, Author, title, Published after and Published before searches.

Search results appear within the interface with the search words highlighted.  You can choose to have 10, 25 or 50 results per page.  Links to the item take you to the EBSCO interface, or, if there is a DOI, to the publisher website via an EZProxy link.   It looks like a nice step forward with the search system and it’s good when work that is strongly influenced by work from projects like MACON and RISE gets through into service.

Library performance metrics screenshotAfter blogging about Carol Tenopir’s fascinating library value seminar the other week I was interested to see a view about how librarians are struggling with library value metrics in this slideshow ‘Refining the Academic Library’ (courtesy of a Google+ post from Ben Showers). The slides are from the Education Advisory Board in the US. The Education Advisory Board ‘provides best practice research and practical advice to academic, business, and student affairs leaders at the nation’s leading universities.’

The slides themselves cover the challenges facing libraries and talk through the transformation steps involved in changing the model of delivery from a face-to-face, print-based, ‘just-in-case’ business model, to a digital, ‘just-in-time’ model.  Ranging through the issues of the rising costs of journals and how libraries are increasingly being disintermediated (although interestingly that view contradicts a comment from Carol Tenopir that academics may not read journals in the library but still the majority were using library resources as their main source for journal articles), through to looking at the power of Google’s digitisation potential compared with a typical academic library, the slides are a really good summary of the issues facing academic libraries and how academic libraries might move forward.

A lot of the content covers the challenges facing institutions with large physical collections and a building that is the focus of many of their traditional services, so some of that isn’t relevant to my particular interest.  But many of the challenges and solutions around eresources, ebooks and support services are very relevant. Going Where students areOne of the slides advocates ‘Going Where the Students Are’ which is something that we try to do as much as possible.  So we have Library Resources embedded and linked within the Virtual Learning Environment and links to various library websites.  We also have information literacy activities and have the goal of embedding as much as possible into VLE courses.

But that isn’t without issue.  By closely intergrating the library so students can follow a link to resources directly from their course materials you can easily make the library invisible to users.  The value of the physical library is that it makes it clear to students that when they go through the door, the resources within are provided by the ‘Library’  Replicating that feeling when in a virtual environment is quite a challenge and something that library portals have tried to address.  A ‘brought to you by the Library’ pop-up message is feasible to do but potentially intrusive and irritiating to users when it pops-up on every single library resource link.

The slides give a really good run through the challenges and issues for libraries with lots of useful material that are going to be quite helpful in telling the sort of stories that we will need to put across over the next few years.  As a final thought it’s also interesting to see the NCSU mobile services being mentioned in the slides, as they have been something that we have looked at quite a lot when planning the new mobile library website that we now have made available here

ipad iOS 5 screenshotI’ve been part of a few discussions this week about various aspects of mobile and tablet devices, from the institutional data security aspects through to the implications for website development and for helping library staff to support users using these types of devices.  So it was interesting to hear about another aspect, app collection management, blogged about here by Emily Clasper. 

It was good to see the thought processes about the requirements for buying and maintaining the apps set out so clearly.  And to read the conclusion that, ‘choosing content for the iPad was pretty much the same as developing any library collection’.   It’s reassuring to see that the standard tried and tested library acquisitions processes of  stock objectives, stock plans and stock policies still have relevance to digital devices and apps.

I do wonder though if there is a bit of a difference compared with other library selection processes.  In a lot of cases library material is being pre-selected by the library stock supply industry and presented to librarians for them to choose from, so there is some weeding out of unsuitable material.  There are tools to help stock selection that may not yet have caught up with a need to include apps. And finding apps can be a bit of a hit and miss affair.  

Apps can also be quite unreliable and prone to bugs, but you could say the same of computer games and many libraries have been happily lending them and using them for a long time.  But you do have to factor in time to update the apps at regular intervals.

I’d also wonder about the detail in some of the license conditions with some of the apps.  Tablets are pretty much expected to be ‘personal’ devices, so the license conditions on an app aren’t likely to cover their use on a shared device in the library.

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July 2020

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