Archive for the ‘library’ Category

R2 Retreat

August 6, 2007

On Friday the library had a follow up retreat to discuss the R2 recommendations. For some reason the idea of a retreat made me think of this scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail with the knights all retreating and yelling “run away!”

In reality the retreat was a series of discussions based on a process called “The World Cafe.” There were 10 topics under discussion with three rounds of 45 minutes each. There was one table devoted to the CDI and metadata, which is where I ended up staying for all three rounds. I think I would have enjoyed participating in other conversations (particularly: “Emerging Collections and Services”), but I also think that the CDI currently operates under the radar of many people in the library, and that to have an informed discussion about its future it was helpful to have someone with CDI knowledge at the table. Since Chris was on vacation that pretty much left me.

These were the recommendations for topics to be discussed for the CDI and metadata:

  • Integrate selection for the institutional repository into existing collection development responsibilities
  • Increase expertise with non-MARC metadata
  • Engage UVM administration in a dialogue about university records
  • Enhance OPAC display with reviews and other metadata

I really think the topics should have been rephrased as “what is the CDI’s projected role in the University and how can it grow to meet those needs.” This prevents the CDI from being locked into the dubious distinction of being UVM’s institutional repository, but opens the door to an expanded role outside of Special Collections or the libraries.

In general we had some very interesting discussions. I think because the CDI is kind of low profile we didn’t directly address internal CDI issues much, although we did talk about additional staff, namely a programmer and a metadata librarian. There was a general consensus (unprompted by me, since I obviously have a stake in it) that the CDI should operate as its own department, be permanently funded and be appropriately staffed. There was also some discussion about whether or not the CDI should be a University wide resource, when there are so many library based projects, and the realities of our staffing situation have to be kept in mind.

We also discussed cataloging working with the CDI for metadata, and moving a staff cataloger to the CDI. While moving a staff cataloger to the CDI was an R2 recommendation, it was suggested by the catalogers that staff shouldn’t be moved into the department, rather they should remain part of the cataloging unit with strong ties to the CDI. I think that having staff cataloger working for the CDI but not as a part of the CDI may exacerbate our organizational and management issues, but this could perhaps be handled with better communication, a clearly defined reporting structure, and training.

There was a very interesting discussion about the library cataloging resources that it doesn’t own. Having Collection Development work with faculty to get appropriate web resources into some sort of discovery system (voyager was suggested, but I think as the discussion matured we realized that voyager may not be the only option). There was also a lot of discussion about “hidden” resources on the UVM campus, either faculty research collection such as the Landscape Change project, or data sets like those from the Gund Institute. These resources are hard to find, and the library should be situating itself as a research portal for the University (rather than just an access point to materials owned or paid for by the library) where it aggregates data from or about these resources and helps users find and access them.

This then moved the discussion to the topic of enhanced OPAC display, where I suggested perhaps we should stop thinking in terms of the an OPAC, and broaden our expectations. We should be looking for a discovery tool that intelligent access all of the resources discussed above. The catalog, the 2 special collections databases, the CDI, thesis, campus resources (as appropriate) ect. Even if this tool does not provide access to our article databases it could provide some measure of integration. For example, a result set could be examined, subjects analyzed, and then a list of subject appropriate databases could be presented under a heading “looking for articles? Try these databases.” When a user selects a database their search would automatically be submitted to the database; rather than being dumped out on the start page, they would immediately get a set of results.

There was also some discussion on what kind of service the CDI could be providing the libraries and other university departments and what an expanded role for it could look like. I think we steered away from the term institutional repository, and ended up talking more about an expanded role for the library in general as a “University Community Research Tool.” I think the most interesting discussions at the table happened in a broader sense than just the CDI & metadata issues, and I think these discussions indicate a role that the CDI can play in embracing, encouraging, and providing education about new technologies, and new information management and retrieval possibilities.

One of the ideas not discussed by our table, but that I’m very interested in is the “Discover and Delivery Council,” a recommendation by R2. Unfortunately this idea was generally disparaged, or at least the need for yet another committee was strongly questioned. However, I think that dislike for the idea was most likely a result of a misunderstanding of what this group might do. I see them as keeping up with all these exciting new possibilities that are available in libraries such as: vuFind, PennTags, reviews, tagging, zotero, libraryFind, ect. Figuring out what will most benefit our users and then going ahead and implementing them. I also see the a great need for this group to do outreach and education within the library to make sure our library is educated about what is going on elsewhere in library land and the possiblities available to us, and what implementation would involve.

There was also a comment made during the report back session on how people though that improving the catalog would require too much work, “putting in all those new links and stuff” and we would be smarter to put that work into other areas. This caught my attention because of the way it was stated. I think it shows a general misunderstanding of what it could mean to improve our catalog, and I think it would be really helpful for our faculty and staff to see some demo’s of what these improved catalogs look like, and understand that for some of these open source solutions, much of the hard work has been done. (Yes, I’m still thinking of vuFind, and Antonio’s fairly snappy install time.)

There did seem to be a general consensus (at my table) that voyager may have outlived its usefulness, at least as a front end system. There was also some interesting discussion on changing how we catalog, and perhaps adding more useful information, perhaps gleaned from publisher’s records, such as table of contents, abstracts and such. There are some valid cataloging concerns, but I’m happy to hear this discussion getting started. I think the focus is certainly on the user, and most people are trying as best they can to meet the users needs. We just need more education about how we do that, which I think could/should be part of the Discovery and Delivery Council’s job.

It is unclear to me what happens next, but I think a continuing discussion both face-to-face and virtual will be helpful. Other UVM library opinions can be found here and here, results of the retreat will most likely be posted here.

vuFind for UVM?

July 26, 2007

Last Thursday, Andrew Nagy introduced vuFind on the code4lib listserv. The more I look at vuFind the more I find to like; the display is attractive, easy to use, and fairly intuitive. There are great extras such as a “book bag” like feature; also, on item records you are given the option to cite the resource (and provided with the citation in two formats, MLA and APA), you can link to related items in a an easy and intuitive manner, and I find the tabbed layout for displaying item description, holdings, comments, review, and staff view, really attractive. Although still in beta, vuFind provides much of what I discussed in my talk on innovative interfaces (and since the announcement came out on Thursday I was able to talk briefly about it during my presentation). The really exciting part, to me, is that this is a tool I could see my library adopting. I think so many of the technical barriers are down that the logistics of getting it working with our existing system could be fairly simple. (I haven’t tried installing it myself, but I was impressed by Antonio’s experience. ) So all that really remains is swaying library opinion. ;-)

I’ve already started talking about vuFind here, and I will be revisiting my innovative interfaces presentation at a UVM library form, where I will get a chance to talk about it some more. What is interesting to me is some of the responses I have already gotten, particularly the interest in having vuFind as an additional (not replacement) option. I understand people, particularly those who have to deal with irate patrons who want to know why an interface has changed, would hesitate to adopt something new. But having an additional interface option for patrons already confused by the current set of options doesn’t really make any sense. Also, I firmly believe that if you pay enough attention to the design and functionality of your new interface, these complaints will be at a minimum. The whole point of the new interface is to provide users with something that is intuitive to use. We won’t have to “train” them on a new system, the interface will do most of that work for us. I think vuFind does this admirably well, Roy Tennant is right vuFind “rocks the house.”

Innovative Interfaces: making the most of the data we have

July 23, 2007

On Friday I presented at VLA‘s (Vermont Library Association) College and Special Libraries meeting. I had contacted Meredith before putting together the final version of my presentation, and I think we managed to complement each other rather than repeat each other. I ended up speaking quite a bit about library OPACs and the need for change in both the interface and the back-end technology. I did not talk much about what I see as a need for a change in cataloging practices, because I feel like I’m on shaky ground with that topic, although I did talk about LCSH (Library of Congress Subject Headings) and how they could be made more useful by being able to use them as both pre and post-coordinated topics, which could allow users to “walk” back up the path of a pre-coordinated heading to steadily broaden their results. I also discussed at the end of the presentation, how libraries need to embrace a culture of change in order to stay relevant in today’s information society.

All-in-all I think the presentation was well received, and sparked some interesting discussions. I’ve posted my slides here. If you want to learn more, here are a few places you could get started:

Presentation woes

July 9, 2007

I have a presentation to put together for July 20th. Originally I was asked to present something about the changing face of the catalog (kind of like this post, where I pointed to some efforts to un-suck the OPAC by creating new interfaces, mash-ups and more). I demurred, because I don’t actually know a whole lot about the OPAC, my everyday activities rarely necessitate any interactions with the OPAC, and I think I have more of an end users view of the library website than a librarian’s.  I purposed the following presentation as an alternative, “Innovative Interfaces: making the most of the data we have.”

The presentation should be about 30 to 45 minutes long (gulp), and I will be following ALA mover and shaker Meredith Farkas, who is presenting “Social Software in Libraries.” I was just going to whip through a bunch of examples on libraries that are making the most of their data, such as NCSU, Penn Tags, Ann Arbor Public Library, Villanova’s myResearch Portal, BibbApps, LibraryThing, maybe Evergreen, etc. However, I went though some of Meredith’s slides from former presentations on social software in and I hate to say it but it looks like she covers quite a bit of what I was going to talk about, and much more.

I was actually asked to speak because the other presenter, who was going to talk about LibraryThing, was unable to make it and I work with the woman who is organizing the event. I wonder if I can manipulate my presentation to be about XForms instead? Or Solr, or anything else I actually deal with on a day-to-day basis. However, I was told I should probably keep my presentation non-technical, so I have my doubts that any of those topics would be a good match.

I suppose I could talk about the importance of interface design and information architecture. Although information architecture sounds almost anti library 2.0, I think a well designed interface, both graphic design and information architecture, is key to a successful interface. Here is an example I worked on recently:

This is the same information, but with a new layout that separates the information into task based groups and uses basic graphic design elements such as color, icons and lots of white space to make important information stand out. This information is very non library 2.0, but the same principles apply to most interfaces design issues, even for interfaces that can be manipulated by the users. This doesn’t exactly qualify as an “innovative interface” though.

So, I’m stuck for a topic. In the meantime, my to-do list is steadily growing.

Library Realignment

May 11, 2007

The library recently hired a consulting group to help us evaluate our workflow and think about restructuring and repurposing existing staff openings to best fit the changing library model. We got the report back yesterday.

I’m intrigued by the recommendations, and what seems to me to be a few curiously large holes in them. In particular there was a heavy emphasis on the library’s move towards more digital content, but no mention of a library webmaster. There was a significant amount of discussion about digital access, and there is a recommendation for a “Discovery and Delivery” group, which would investigate additional ways of meeting virtual information needs, but I fail to see how these can be implemented with the current staffing structure. Currently the library website is maintained by committee and while the committee manages to keep the library website mostly up to date, there is no one dedicated to implementing new features, or staying on top of web technologies. I think that it is very important for the library to have a full time professional dedicated to the libraries virtual presence, and by virtual presence I mean more than just updating the website. There are a lot of possibilities for getting content to users in different ways, remixing current library content to be more context relevant, and to improve existing interfaces and tools. (Check out this post to see some interesting developments in libraries.) This kind of work can not be done by part time members of a committee who all have other jobs and professional interests to keep up with. Although this hole in the recommendations doesn’t really effect the CDI it does have a huge impact on my workload, as I’m on the web team and part of the current redesign efforts.

The report was generally very positive for the CDI. The CDI is listed as a “strategic initiative” which indicates a continued commitment from the library. They recommended that my position be made permanent (yay, because funding runs out soon), with the addition of two new positions; a metadata librarian and a programmer. They also suggested the possibility of repurposing a copy cataloger to do metadata work. Which means I need to get those XForms polished and ready for primetime. (We have also had some interest in our architecture, eXist, XForms, and Solr from the Center for Teaching and Learning.)

But here is where things get a little wonky. Currently the CDI is situated under Special Collections, actually I believe it is called Research Collections. I had mentioned in my interview that I thought this may not be the best place for the CDI, as it could give the impression that the CDI was a Special Collections project rather than a university wide resource. I suggested that the CDI should be its own department. The reason I thought, and still think, the CDI could be its own department is that as a digital library, the CDI has many of the same operations that a physical library has (although we don’t do much in the way of reference service). We have cataloging (metadata), collection development, systems, and some unique CDI functions as well. I also mentioned in my interview that the CDI in its current incarnation has some organizational issues. Because there isn’t a clear (in my mind) head of the CDI there are a lot of loose ends, and some unsupervised work flows.

In the report the consultants recommended the CDI be gradually moved under Collection Development. They went on to qualify that this would only be the collection part of the CDI, the rest could live… elsewhere.

“As the grant funding that enabled CDI development wanes, it will be important for UVM to decide how it wants to use these new capabilities. At bottom, decisions related to content and priorities are collection development decisions, and we believe the CDI program should be driven by Collection Development. (We’re referring specifically to content decisions; the actual operation and technical infrastructure of the CDI could reside elsewhere.)”

Huh? I don’t understand how this solves the organizational problems that I mentioned in my interview with the consultants, as a matter of fact I think it confuses rather than clarifies organization, essentially further diversifying CDI functions and farming them out all over the library. I suppose this is one way of running the center, but the I think a diversified model will only exasperate our organizational/management issues.

The more I think about the issue of where the CDI should live in the organizational workflow chart the more agnostic I become. I’m not sure it matters so much. We will still need to interface with systems, collection development, technical services and reference, what we actually need is internal clarity in our management structure. Someone who is in charge, and can oversee all the different aspects of the CDI operations (scanning, metadata, collection development, relationships with faculty, policy and procedure creation and management). This is kind of a touchy subject, who is managing the project, and I don’t really care who is doing it (well maybe I do, a little), I just think there needs to be someone who can devote the necessary time, and has the right skills to oversee the project. A lot of this I have been doing myself with the metadata portion handled part time by the Curator of Manuscripts, but if it is my job (unclear) then I think I need to have more of a mandate, and also more time to devote to project management.

One other issue that the report raises is the issue of an institutional repository. The report assumes a natural evolution of the CDI from special grant funded project to “something more like an institutional repository.” I’m not sure if the consultants understand the implications of an institutional repository, but I’ve been very careful about not throwing around the phrase “institutional repository” in relation to the CDI. The CDI was built as a digital library project, and while it is pretty flexible, I’m fairly confident it is not heavy hitting enough to function as an institutional repository. Nor do we have the mandate to insure we get participation in an institutional repository from the university administration. Not to mention all of the other issues associated with an IR. (And I follow Dorthea‘s blog, so I have at least a vague idea, of the craziness we could be getting into.) I have a feeling this is more a misunderstand of what an IR is than of what the CDI is. We have talked a lot about the CDI being a place for faculty research collections, and creating long-term classroom use collections, all of which I think the CDI is poised to accomplish, but I think that is a far cry from an IR.

I guess the recommendations are generally very positive for the CDI and I look forward to see where the discussion in the library goes from here.

Other discussions on the R2 recommendations can be found here, and here.