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“Every day I wake up and ask, ‘how can I flow data better, manage data better, analyse data better?”
Rollin Ford, the CIO of Wal-Mart
Quoted in A special report on managing information: Data, data everywhere
Economist, The (London, England) – February 27, 2010 Page: 71
Libraries and their attitude to user activity data.
In the commercial world there are countless examples of how the private sector uses the data about their customers, from Wal-Mart’s CIO (quoted above) through to supermarkets use of loyalty cards and to the recommendations that are commonplace in websites such as Amazon. But examples of libraries use of this type of data are still quite rare and libraries have been very slow to take advantage of the vast pool of data they have about the behaviour of their users. Libraries have long been used to using systems to count how many item have been borrowed or bought, but have been strangely reluctant to look in detail about what people are borrowing and use that data to help users make better informed choices.
Some work has been done through the TILE and MOSAIC projects, and the latter included anonymised circulation data made available by Huddersfield University and used to run a competition to encourage ideas around the use of that data. JISC also ran an event earlier in the year about this area ‘Gaining Business Intelligence from User Activity Data’ which has been written up here and in the ALT newsletter. Dave Pattern at Huddersfield is probably furthest along in working with this area and his blog is a good source for ideas about what can be achieved with user activity data.
Following on from the event in the Summer JISC have clearly been thinking about how to increase the pool of examples of how user activity data can be used so have included it as one of the strands in their recently announced Funding Call 15/10. With £500k available for 7/10 six month projects to take place in the early part of 2011, there’s the opportunity for libraries to get involved in developing new ideas about how to use user activity data.
User Activity Data is a particularly interesting area for me as a good deal of the work that has been done so far has been around the use of loan data. Working in a library where students don’t borrow books from us, or even visit the library, we’ve got to look at other areas of data. Most of our users engage with us through using our e-resources and that’s an area that we are looking to see how we can collect, analyse, and use that data to improve services and offer recommendations to help users get more out of their e-resource usage.
Listening to a thought-provoking presentation by Martin Weller recently on ‘Blogging and Academic Identity’
http://www.slideshare.net/mweller/blogging-and-academic-identity raised a few questions about the challenges that digital scholarship sets for libraries.
Broadly, the idea is that some academics are increasingly building an academic identity using social networking tools. Essentially they are building academic networks in the web 2.0 environment and are starting to publish to the web as an alternative to traditional academic publishing models.
For libraries a model of academic output that uses blogs, slideshare and flickr as much as peer-reviewed learned journals represents a major challenge and potentially leads to a fundamental rethinking of how libraries approach the management of resources. Some of the issues include:
- the potentially ephemeral nature of blogs, forums and other shared-spaces
- how do librarians evaluate the value of material published in ‘social academia’?
- how do librarians track down relevant links in blogs and evaluate the significance?
- what about conversations that take place in shared spaces amongst networks of academics?
- who is first to cite a twitter-stream? as evidence of thoughts or concepts
The potentially ephemeral nature of web content in the social networking arena brings to mind the world of antiquity where our knowledge of some of the great ‘ lost works’ of ancient literature are only known to us by references to them in later works. A curious situation for the 21st century