Friday, April 28, 2006

Library Staff and Technology Buy-In

As I was still reflecting on my recent post about managing library innovation and the Librarian's Dilemma I had a chance to read Meredith Farkas's posting entitled On getting staff members to buy into a new technology.

My earlier posts point out the observation that companies that have successfully adopted disruptive technologies did so only when they created a separate organization to deal with the technology. The idea of a group within the library being organized and responsible for investigating emerging and disruptive technology issues fits into the pattern of companies that successfully managed their innovation.

The goal of this organization should be to play around with technology and to participate in rapid prototyping, not to create anything practical or plan for implementation. The focus should be on learning and discovery, not action.

Think technology group play.

I'm sure many library IT types have experienced blank stares when explaining a technology to staff only to see the light bulb go off when shown, as I recently did with our library toolbar. I feel such a demonstration is a more essential step in staff buy-in than involving staff in prototype conceptualization. Let's be honest, less technically oriented individuals may not be able to fully appreciate a technology until after they touch it. I therefore agree with Michael Casey and Michael Stephens' positions that such a group chould be more IT focused. Including people in the group that are uncomfortable with technology could inhibit the process.

Not only should devil's advocacy not be a played during the group's play time, they actually need to operate independently and outside a library's standard processes and procedures!

Any viable concepts resulting in protoypes need to move out of group play into a formal development and implemetation group. Once moved out of group play staff can provide their unique perspectives and contribute to additional functionality, usability, product placement, and marketing efforts. Staff buy-in occurs at this point.

The play group is then free to mess around with new toys in an effort to uncover the next disruptive technology - and the cycle is repeated. Sphere: Related Content

How Readable is My Blog?

Readability tests were first developed in the 1920s to determine the suitability of books for American students at a certain age, or grade level. An early form of the test was developed by Dr. Rudolf Flesch, author of Why Johnny Can't Read, in the 1940s. J.P. Kincaid modified the test based on work with Navy inductees' understanding of their training manuals. They jointly published their work on readability levels in 1975.

The use of reading level algorithms help determine he readability of any content and are only a rough guide, as they tend to reward short sentences made up of short words. They also do not take into account spelling or grammatical errors.

Gunning-Fog is a rough measure of how many years of schooling it would take someone to understand the content. The lower the number, the more understandable the content will be to your visitors. My blog came in at a 14.32, which is just under the 15-20 range provided to academic papers.

The Flesch-Kincaid, is also a rough measure of how many years of schooling it would take someone to understand the content. This site graded in at a 10.26.

Flesch Reading Ease is an index that rates the text on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand the document. Authors are encouraged to aim for a score of approximately 60 to 70. This site came in at a 46.14

This excercise was more about having an interesting thing to do on a Friday than it was to change my approach to blog writing.
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Are Libraries Managing Innovation in a Disruptive World?

Librarians apply traditional methods and models to everything we do, including technology innovation. We must do surveys, formal needs assessments, focus groups, usability studies, before deciding on a technology. However, this traditional approach may be leading librarians right down the path to the Librarian's Dilemma.

In his paper Central Problems in the Management of Innovation Andrew H. Van De Ven points out that there are four factors that faciliate and inhibit innovation:
  • people and organizations are largely designed to focus on, harvest, and protect existing practices than pay attention to developing new ideas. The more successful an organization the more difficult this is. (Christensen echoes this theory)
  • while the innovation of conception process many be an individual activity, innovation is a collective achievement of pushing and riding those ideas.
  • the process of transforming innovation into practice involves so many individuals that those involved may lose sight of the big picture.
  • Innovations transform the structure and practices of an organization. The problem is creating an infrastructure conducive to innovation.

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to identify any of the requirements and needs for a potentially disruptive technology. This is because we do not know anything about the technology. Therefore, the goal of the innovation process in libraries should be one of learning and the exploration of new ideas and not meeting the needs of our current customers. In order to manage disruptive technologies, libraries need to adopt new organizations and processes that are much different than what we are used to. Where traditional processes consist of planning before action, managing disruptive technologies requires action before planning.

Like the hard drive manufacturers in Christensen's book, libraries need to create new organizations designed to facilitate innovation. These new organizations can be as simple as new emergening technology task forces or committees. There needs to be a deliberate reallocate of resources away from supporting routine services and towards supporting innovation. Libraries then need to adopt different standards for evaluating both routine work and innovation.

Innovation is based on guess-work, estimation, and hypothesis. To get technology innovations out much sooner short development cycles are needed. Rapid Prototyping is a development approach based on the assumption a library may know the objectives that they wish to address but not know all the nuances of the data or the details of the system features and capabilities. An assumption is made as to how the system might work and then rapid iterations are used to quickly incorporate suggested changes and build a usable system.

Below are some of the characteristic differences between managing sustaining and disruptive technologies:

Primary Question: What do customers need? What do customers do?
Needs Assessment: Surveys and focus groups Ethnography
Innovation Goal: Planning before action Action before planning
Innovation Outcome: Meeting current customer technology needs Learning and exploration
Innovation Process: Structured and linear Dynamic and spontaneous
Organizational Models: Traditional models and roles New structures and quick development cycles

What are libraries doing to create new organizations and processes? What are the best practices that we can look at? A visit to the Library Success: A Best Practice Wiki provided an interesting insight. While other sections of the wiki are built out, the section Management and Leadership contained virtually nothing.

Does this mean that there are no best practices? Or, are library administrators simple not contributing because they are not actively engaged in the use of potentially disruptive technology themselves? If library adminstrators do not understand the technology environment we are in how can they affect organizational and process change to foster innovation?


Ruby on Rails. Ruby is a programming language just like Perl, Python or PHP. Rails is a web application framework written in the Ruby programming language. If you’re writing a Rails-based application, you’re writing Ruby code. Powerful web applications that formerly might have taken weeks or months to develop can be produced in a matter of days.

Sutton, Robert. "Why These Ideas Work, But Seem Weird" Design Management Review, Winter 2004 15(1):43-49

Van de Ven, Andrew H. "Central Problems in the Management of Innovation" Management Science, May 1986 32(5):590-607 Sphere: Related Content

Friday, April 21, 2006

Ambient Findability

Libraries can no longer assume that our customers are thinking about the library, or our online systems, to locate information. The stark reality is that library customers may never visit a library for information again if good enough answers can be found using Google.

Students particularly do most of their research off site and come to the library only if they need to. The library as place is becoming less and less where research is done and more and more as a space for studying or computing. A recent podcast from Arizona State University supports this perception.

Customers are no longer using library websites as their primary discovery tool. Instead of reading static web pages, library customers are now cataloging their personal libraries, organizing bookmarks, writing documents, and sharing information with others through new generation social software. What began with blogs and wikis is now the standard for sharing, collaboration, and customer involvement.

What matters more than where library content is located or organzied is if it can be discovered. As a result, libraries need to focus on making sure their resources cen be accessed in ways and in formats that accommodate the way customers are accessing information - via mobile devices, social networking communities, or search aggregators.

The focus of Peter Morville's writings of late have been on the concept of Ambient Findability. His work entitled "Ambient Findability: Libraries at the Crossroads of Ubiquitous Computing and the Internet" again covers this concept.

According to Morville, optimizing for findability involves design, coding, and writing, as well as information architecture. It has major implications for librarianship. When optimizing for findability, Morville suggests asking three questions, but the one I will focus on is "Can users find the content despite the Web site?"

It’s this question that Morville indicates findability goes beyond information architecture into search engine optimization (SEO). SEO guidelines include:

  • Determining the most common keywords and phrases that users from the primary audience are entering into search engines.

  • Include those keywords and phrases in your visible body text, navigation links, page headers and titles, metadata tags, and alternative text for graphic images.

  • Use of drop-down menus, image maps, frames, dynamic URLs, JavaScript, DHTML, Flash, and other coding approaches causiously since they may prevent a search engines from crawling your pages.

  • To increase page popularity ranking, create direct links from the home page, site map, and navigation system to important destination pages to

  • Use RSS feeds with backlinks to encourage subscriptions and visits and to boost search rankings.

  • Reduce HTML file size by embracing web accessibility standards and improve the density of keywords.

More Information

Boutin, Paul Search Optmization -- FREE!

Morville, Peter. Ambient Findabilty. O'Reilly: Sebastopol. 2005.

WebMonkey's SEO What? Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

LibX: (Yet Another) Browser Toolbar Redux

LibX is a Firefox browser extension developed by Virginia Tech's Newman Library that provides direct access to a library's catalog using a toolbar and context menu. The catalog can be searched by entering terms or select and drag-and-drop without having to navigate to the library catalog page.

The system currently supports III Millenium, Dynix Horizon, Ex Libris Aleph and the Endeavor Voyager. It is currently being deployed at Rochester Institute of Technology and Washington and Lee University. Version 1.0.2 of the system supports Firefox

According to the developers the creation of a new edition of LibX is relatively simple if the OPAC being accessed is already supported. The customization involves branding, changing the name of the catalog, the OpenURL resolver, and off-campus proxy. Currently, only EZ Proxy is supported.

While they are planning a web-based interface for creating new editions, to get a new version a library has to either:
  • Create a configuration file ("config") and provide two logos and send them to the developers. Library's also provide two logos, small and large: the small one must display well at 16x16, the large one is for the about box.

  • Those wishing to create an edition locally requires knowledge of CVS and you must work in a Unix-like environment, such as cygwin on Windows, Linux, or Mac OSX.

LibX is distributed under an open-source license and is only available for Firefox.

While I have not yet had a chance to use or customize a LibX toolbar
(I have my programmer looking at it and will post what he comes up with), such discovery tools are growing in popularity. The reason is simple, they fit better into the workflow and information seeking behaviors of the LiveWeb user. (UPDATE: Thanks to the developer we now have an Ohio State / III edition available!)

The challenge is that there are so many toolbars available there are usability issues. What there is a need for is a toolbar plugin system in which pieces of other toolbars can be used to create a single toolbar. This way a library could plug in the LibX functionality into their unique toolbar. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, April 17, 2006

LibQual and the Librarian's Dilemma

Today, I received an email requesting participation in a LibQual survey. LibQual provides "institutional data and reports that enable you to assess whether your library services are meeting user expectations." Armed with this information administrators and libraries allocate resources, set goals, and change or expand services.
This brought me back once again to Clayton Christensen's book
Innovator's Dilemma.

In my Librarian's Dilemma post I wrote that Christensen states that with few exceptions hard drive businesses with great managers who listen intently to their customers failed. The dilemma is that an organization structured to facilitate the design and support of its dominant product and current customer base allocates resources towards sustaining the current technologies rather than investing in the development of disruptive ones.

The purpose of the LibQual survey is to query current library customers to see if current services and technologies are meeting their expectations. Many of the "great" library administrators use LibQual results as a foundation for service change or even for strategic planning purposes.

According to Christensen, innovations are often targeted towards current customers because their needs are understood. In supporting sustaining services plans must be made before action is taken. However, with disruptive technologies action must be taken before careful plans are made. So, by following the LibQual model I fear that unsuspecting library administrators may be falling victim to the Librarian's Dilemma.

In order to deal with all the disruptive forces in today's environment library planning and research must focus on, and serve, a different purpose. Library administrators need to gather knowledge about their new customers and new services through discovery-driven expeditions.

So, if LibQual is not the best method for learning which disruptive and emerging technologies would best strengthen the library, which method is?

At the CNI Spring Task Force meeting I listened to a presentation by Nancy Fried Foster on the Ethno Project, which focuses on using the principles of user-center design for developing library services. Ms. Fried Foster is an anthropologist within the University of Rochester's River Campus Libraries. (An anthropologist on a library staff. That's a disruptive idea.)

Traditionally, the basic question that libraries ask themselves when assessing services is "what do our users need?" With user-centered research, or ethnography, that question changes to "what do our users do?" It is a qualitative research method that involves a high level of contact between the researcher and the researched that includes participant observation and interviewing.

The methods used by Ms. Fried Foster in the development of their institutional respository included interviewing students in dorm rooms and studying faculty work practices in their offices included:
  • Participants were provided cameras and ask to photograph "treasure hunt" items that they could interpret anyway they they wished.
  • Maps were provided in which participants were asked to keep track of where they went during a typical day on campus, places where they felt comfortable and uncomfortable.
  • Once all the materials were gathered they were reviewed in groups.
  • Team Brainstorming sessions were then held in which storyboards were developed based on research cycle.
  • Role playing was used where team members imagined that they were faculty that could magically have and use any tool that would make research easier or more effective.
The use of ethnography techniques may place libraries in a better position to deal with disruptive technologies than traditional survey methods which focus on current customers needs.


Design Research Resources

Ethnography (Web Resources)
Sphere: Related Content

Friday, April 14, 2006

From Database to Website to Workflow !

We are seeing the emergence of a user-centered LiveWeb world where people do most of their work, and play, within their web browser. Library customers encounter new systems and tools to help them do their research daily. As a result, the expectations that customers are placing on libraries for online interaction are changing.

Libraries are used to thinking about the catalog as the primary tool for resource discovery. The reality is that the catalog is not going to be the primary library discovery tool for the NetGen. They are going to utilize any discovery tool that fits into their information seeking workflow.

While libraries use web sites not only as a service and marketing tools, they are thought of as additional portals to resources. While libraries view the web site as an important discovery tool, it is not going to be the primary portal for the NetGen. They are going to utilize any discovery tool that fits into their information seeking workflow.

To provide access to the library's assets and services libraries must get into their NetGen's daily workflow. We need begin thinking about how to make our resources findable - regardless of the discovery tool used. We need to design and deploy applications that will work for all of customers no matter where they are and what tools they are using.

Neither the catalog or the library web site are a part of my daily workflow. I have to go out of my way to use them. If I am not a NetGen and I rarely use those discovery tools, how do libraries expect the real NetGen to use them? We need to begin thinking of new ways of unlocking the content contained in our systems in order to make it more findable.

I wish I could attended today's Library Camp (held on a Friday of a holiday weekend?). There should be some interesting sessions that would provide an opportunity for face-to-face discussion of these and other LiveWeb issues.

(Note: the title and inspiration for this post comes from a quote from a recent Lorcan Dempsey entry reacting to a Web4Lib discussion about exposing the contents of library catalogs to Google.) Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Librarian's Dilemma

I recently had the opportunity to begin reading Clayton Christensen's 1997 book Innovator's Dilemma. While an overly simplified summary, the book details the problems with innovation in the disk drive industry due to demands placed by current customers and resource allocation.

Christensen states that with few exceptions businesses that have great managers who listen intently to their customers often fail. This is in part because an organization's structure is designed to facilitate the design and support of its dominant product and current customer base. Resources are allocated towards sustaining the current technologies rather than investing in the development of disruptive ones.

However, managers that choose to set up autonomous organizations charged with building a new and independent businesses around the disruptive technologies were more successful. Companies that created new organizations that ensconce themselves among a new set of customers who want the disruptive technology enabled those companies to establish themselves in a timely position.

Libraries can learn from the disk drive industry. I was only 20 pages in I began replacing the words "manufacturer" with "library" and "management" with "library administrators".

If one applies Christensen's theory to libraries, many of our organizations are following the path that the unsuccessful disk drive manufacturers. The concern I have is that many library Internet innovations have been to simply sustain current service paradigms, such as document delivery, reserves, etc. We are listening to our customers and continue to allocating our resources to sustain current services.

We can only expect disruptive changes to increase in their frequency. Libraries need to reorganize themselves and reallocate their resources to address disruptive technologies more quickly. Otherwise, commercial organizations will address the information seeking behaviors and needs of our customers and place libraries at risk of becoming irrelevant

At the CNI Spring Task Force meeting I heard a presentation by Barbara Dewey and Julie Little from the University of Tennessee which discussed the creation of "The Commons" at the Hodges Library. The project was designed to deal with the changing the tools required to be successful learners and teachers.

Like the successful disk drive manufacturers, the UT library and Office of Information Technology reallocated resources and essentially created the Commons as a new organization. They reallocated 20 staff; half from the Office of Information Technology and the other half from the library. To do this, the library eliminated their periodicals reading room and all the associated services.

I suspect that customer surveys would have revealed that the UT periodicals service is one that their customers enjoy and would want sustained. A good library administrator that listened to their customers would have not reallocated those resources. Instead, UT reallocated resources from a sustaining service to support a disruptive one.

Under Christensen's theory this project has a high probability of success. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Just Gnosh It! Gnosh it Good!

I just got back from the CNI Spring Task Force meeting. There were a lot of interesting projects presented that I will discussing over time, but I have to start somewhere, and it is with Gnosh.

Gnosh is a social metatagging and aggregation tool that supports searches across a variety of search and social services developed by Michael Richwalsky, Web Administrator, at Allegheny College. He was joined by Bryan Alexander of NITLE at the presentation.

Gnosh pulls information from Google, MSN, the Wikipedia and Yahoo as well as Blogpulse,, digg, Feedster, Flickr, Icerocket, and Google Blog search and more. Users registering with the service can keep track of all the searches that they've done, and you can see if anyone else has done the search as well. Users can request to be added to their friends list and see what searches they have done as well.

When I was listening to this presentation I began to envision a different utilization of the technology.

One of the challenges I see that libraries are facing as we shift to LiveWeb environment is that our web sites are all Web 1.0 (DeadWeb?) technology. Libraries need to begin rethinking how we make our content findable when a "static" web site does not effectively get the information out to those utilizing NetGen discovery tools.

What if the Gnosh concept can be re-tuned to include provide access to ejournals, catalogs, and other "traditional" library resources? Having access to these resources within the context of the social search and tagging interface would seem to place our resources closer to where these users are living. It could turn into the Netgen MyLibrary system.

I haven't thought it out much more than that since I have too much else from the meeting to digest... Sphere: Related Content