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Absence from blogging over the last few months feels very much like some form of winter hibernation but it’s mainly been a case of not having too much time for reflection in the middle of a library management system implementation.  We haven’t quite finished yet but are a long way through the proceBeadnell wadersss and have been live on a cloud-based LMS for just over a month. So I can try to put together some early thoughts about the process and experience.


I worked on our project proposal around Christmas 2012 for a project we termed Library Futures that included a library management system and discovery procurement and implementation.  But that wasn’t really the start of the process.  We’d spent a bit of time looking at what our needs were and working with some consultants to get a better idea of the best options for us.  I’d also had some involvement with the Jisc LMS Change project, all of which helped us to understand what was out there and what our options were.  So that takes us back into 2011 and maybe a bit earlier.  And a lot of the thinking was about the best timing for changing systems as the LMS market was in the early stages of the ‘Software as a Service’ reinvention and products were (and maybe still are) at an early stage.  So by my rough calculation that’s a couple of years in the planning, followed by a year to secure approval, followed by an eighteen month or so procurement and implementation stage.  It takes a long time and a lot of effort, and the final stage of implementation isn’t the most time-consuming part.

In the procurement stage we went the full EU tender route and for our requirements catalogue (specification) made extensive use of the LibTechRFP exemplars not just the UK Core Specification but also the examples for the Library Services Platform, Electronic Resources Management and Search and Discovery.  And we also needed to add in our own requirements and cut out features aimed more at a traditional ‘physical’ university.  It ended up with quite a large and detailed catalogue of requirements.  But I’ve always felt that to be important for library systems as the detail is vital (and not just because the successful tender response forms part of our contract).  Library management systems have to cover a lot of functions and it’s important to get the detail to understand what using that system will mean for you in practice.  Interesting to me though was to find some of our search requirements already getting reused in another systems requirement document in the institution.
I’m always on the lookout for useful new tools for projects, website and so on.  So it was good to see a tool like Basecamp being used by the supplier we chose. It isn’t a free tool (other than for an initial period) but it worked well as a way of sharing files and having the sort of discussions that you need when going through the implementation process.  I felt the to do list feature worked a bit less well.  As a communication tool it worked neatly without being too formal or time-consuming.  We’ve ended up using it on two different projects with two entirely different suppliers so it is obviously doing something right.

Other thoughts
Final thoughts for the moment are about the range of skills needed in a team putting in an LMS.  Some obvious ones such as systems and IT knowledge, procurement and project management, and for libraries obvious areas such as knowledge of the library acquisitions, cataloguing/metadata and circulation processes.  But also ones that can get overlooked around training expertise, administrative support, decision making, business analysis and data quality.  And above all some determination and team spirit to get through an immense to do list.

Picture of flowerOK, so it’s the time of year to reflect back on the last year and look forward to the new year.

I’ve definitely blogged less (24 posts in 2013 compared with 37 in 2012 and 50 in 2011), [mind you the ‘death of blogging’ has been announced, and here and there seem to be fewer library bloggers than in the past – so maybe blogging less is just reflecting a general trend].  Comments about blogging are suggesting that tumblr, twitter or snapchat are maybe taking people’s attention (both bloggers and readers) away from blogs.  But I’m not ‘publishing’ through other channels particularly, other than occasional tweets, so that isn’t the reason for me to blog less.  There has been a lot going on but that’s probably not greatly different from previous years.  I think I’ve probably been to less conferences and seminars, particularly internal seminars, so that has been one area where I’ve not had as much to blog about.

To blog about something or not to blog about it
I’ve been more conscious of not blogging about some things that in previous years I probably would have blogged about.  I don’t think I blogged about the Future of Technology in Education conference this year, although I have done in the past.  Not particularly because it wasn’t interesting because it was, but perhaps a sense of I’ve blogged about it before and might just be repeating myself.   With the exception of posts about website search and activity data I’ve not blogged so much about some of the work that I’ve been doing.  So I’ve blogged very little about the digital library work although it (and the STELLAR project) were a big part of some of the interesting stuff that has been going on.

Thinking about the year ahead
I’ve never been someone that sets out predictions or new year resolutions.  I’ve never been convinced that you can actually predict (and plan) too far ahead in detail without too many variables fundamentally changing those plans.  There’s a quote attributed to various people along the lines that ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy’ and I’d agree with that sentiment.  However much we plan we are always working with an imperfect view of the world.  Circumstances change and priorities vary and you have to adapt to that.   Thinking back to FOTE 2013 it was certainly interesting to hear BT’s futureologist Nicola Millard describe her main interest as being the near future and of being more a ‘soon-ologist’ than a futureologist.

What interests (intrigues perhaps) me more is less around planning but more around ‘shaping’ a future, so more change management than project management I suppose.  But I think it is more than that, how do those people who carve out a new ‘reality’ go about making that change happen.  Maybe it is about realising a ‘vision’ but assembling a ‘vision’ is very much the easy part of the process.  Getting buy-in to a vision does seem to be something that we struggle with in a library setting.

On with 2014
Change management is high on the list for this year.  We’ve done a certain amount of the ‘visioning’ to get buy-in to funding a change project.  So this year we’ve work to do to procure a complete suite of new library systems (the first time I think here for 12 years or so), in a project called ‘Library Futures’ that also includes some research into student needs from library search and the construction of a ‘digital skills passport’.  I’ve also got continuing work on digital libraries/archives as we move that work from development to live, alongside work with activity data, our library website and particularly work with integrating library stuff much more into a better student experience.  So hopefully some interesting things to blog about.  And hopefully a few new pictures to brighten up the blog (starting with a nice flower picture from Craster in the summer).

I’ve just realised that I’ve been working in the HE library sector for just over a year now.  In line with trying to be more reflective it seemed a good time to put together a blog post to think about some of the differences and similarities between HE libraries and the public library sector where I’ve spent much of my working life.

I think the first reflection is that in many ways I’m working in an HE library that is atypical.  Most students never visit the library building, print collections are mainly for academics and researchers and resources for students are electronic.  So a number of the differences are purely a reflection of that different service model.  It’s quite a change from working in a public library building where your users are always present and visible and their preoccupation is still overwhelmingly with your print collection.

Technology is one of the big differences. Ostensibly there are similarities in the systems being used.  Both public and academic have library management systems, library catalogues, user PCs, wifi and self-service.   But there are a whole layer of systems such as SFX, ezproxy and remote authentication systems that don’t really appear on the radar for public libraries as they don’t have large collections of electronic resources.   Public libraries are starting to look at new OPAC systems such as Aquabrowser that include federated search capabilities but HE libraries have been working with federated search for some years and are now moving to aggregated search systems such as Summon.

Many public libraries have started to offer e-books and downloads through services such as Overdrive but their collections are tiny in comparison with the tens of thousands of titles that HE libraries typically have available.   Many are reaching the stage where electronic acquisitions are higher than print acquisitions. 

There’s another area with library systems where public libraries and HE libraries seem to differ.  Developments for library management systems in the HE sector seem much more likely to be developed in house or by taking code available from elsewhere.  In public libraries changes are likely to be provided by suppliers or third-parties.  So there seems to be more willingness or technical ability to customise OPACs and the LMS.

RSS feeds, XML, moving data out of one system and into another seems much more common in HE libraries.  That isn’t to say that there is less innovation in public libraries with library management systems, but it tends to be more focused on management information, management information or implementing third-party innovations.

I was struck at one of the first HE seminars I went to that there’s a very different approach to conference attendance.  Almost everyone has their laptop/netbook or other mobile device.  They are checking emails, blogging and/or twittering throughout the day in a way that I’d never come across at any public library focused event.  That is something that took a bit of time to get used to and find a method that worked for me. 

Blogs, wikis and other social networking tools are pretty much ubiquitous and although there is some public library use, in my experience public libraries often find their efforts frustrated by corporate communications departments  seeing it as being something that is outside of their control and therefore not allowable.  

Reference management, information literacy and information management are all high up the priority list for academic libraries whereas for public libraries it is much more about literacy in its broadest sense and access to services (and not just library services).  Although both have education at their heart it is quite interesting to discover quite what that means in practice.

I started finsihing off by writing a list of the different technologies that I’ve learnt something about in the past year and realised that it was a longer list than I’d expected.  So rather than a boring list, a slightly less boring wordle Wordle of new things to me

(although I’ve now realised that I’ve missed Wordle off the list and because of the number of times Google appears on the list (for Apps, Custom Search Engines and suchlike) it makes it appear that I’d never heard of Google!)

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July 2020

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