Friday, June 30, 2006

HDCP: More Alphabet Soup

Now that you have your high definition television you may be sights on a new HD DVD or Blu-Ray high definition video player, once the prices drop. These players promise superior video quality.

However, not on all televisions are capable of playing these discs in high definition.

High-bandwidth digital-content protection (HDCP) is a specification developed by Intel for protecting digital entertainment content. HDCP encrypts the transmission of digital content between the video source ( e.g. computer or DVD player) and the display (e.g. monitor, television or projector)

The problem is that HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc players will allow content providers to only output full-resolution signals using HDCP. If such a player is connected to a non-HDCP-enabled television set and the content is downsampled 960x540p signal, or standard DVD quality.

Many high-definition television sets currently in use in the United States that do not have an HDMI port (XBox360's as well) are not HDCP-capable. This initially negates the key benefits of HD-DVD and Blu-ray for those consumers.

In order to see HDTV with HDCP using a DVI connection, both the source and display devices must be enabled for HDCP. So, if you are thinking about a high definition display and want to play the next generation discs on it, your best bet is to make sure it has an HDMI port. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Do Customers Expect Libraries to Innovate?

The University of Minnesota Libraries release their final report on a project supported by the Mellon Foundation entitled A Multi-Dimensional Framework for Academic Support, which has been receiving some attention.

The goal of the project was to develop a model for bringing greater coherence to distributed resources through physical and virtual means, and also a research support environment that could be modeled, prototyped, and evaluated. The study also assisted the academic leadership in understanding how libraries can promote the "physically boundless nature of inquiry and information use."

From over 50 individual interviews with faculty from 16 College of Liberal Arts departments and roundtable discussions with graduate students they constructed a general picture of scholarly practices and habits. I didn't find any real surprises in the report. My short summary: Graduate students need a stable place to study. Faculty researchers find interdisciplinary and collaborative research difficult. Everyone wants more electronic access to the libraries resources but values the physical collection.

There was, however, one question directly relevant to the discussion of the Librarian's Dilemma:
  • Q18.How important are the University Libraries for the following aspects of your research process: Resource for finding and retrieving; place for research or study; collector and purchaser; repository/preservation; developer of technology?

    39.3% thought the library’s role as a developer of technology was quite important.

While this is a response to one part of a single question, it would seem that at the UofMinn library customers have an expectation that the library be a leader in the development of new technologies. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, June 26, 2006

FeedYes: Content Feeds for Dummies

Although RSS is becoming a popular method for distributing library news and information many libraries still prefer to use email distribution lists. Why? Many still do not understand how to create RSS content feeds.

There are many problems with email lists. For one, if you want to stop receiving messages you either need to locate the "welcome" email to locate the web server to unsubscribe or track down the owner to be removed. When you go on vacation you need set the list to nosend. Screw up your autoreply and all the world becomes well aware you are on vacation.

In many ways content feeds are more customer friendly. They give individuals control over what content they receive and when they wish to read it. If the content is not interesting, or is updated too often or not often enough, the individual can unsubcribe. The feed content just sits there patiently waiting to be read, or marked as read. Most inportantly, the content does not fill up the in-box or get pushed into the spam filter.

In my effort to come up with a quick and easy way to create feeds while we wait for the issue to hit critical mass, I uncovered a service called FeedYes.

The purpose of FeedYes is to allow every website and even every page on a website its own unique feed - even when a website does not supply regular feeds by itself. With FeedYes, librarians can create feeds for their web sites or for any specific page they want to follow using their RSS aggregator. I was able to create a news feed for our library fairly quickly.

One problem is that the tuning of the feeds is not great. For example, each of our news stories include about 200 characters and then a link to "the rest of the story. FeedYes picked up both which created a feed with two links to each story. I wish there was an option to edit each feed item, or perhaps add items which are there but for some reason were not picked up. Perhaps there is a option I am not seeing.

Still, if you would like a quick and simple solution to content RSS feeds take FeedYes for a test ride. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, June 23, 2006

Library Best Practices Wiki Redux

Just in case you have not seen or contributed to it...

About a year ago Meredith Farkas, Distance Learning Librarian at Norwich University in Vermont, developed Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki. Since the site is approaching it's anniversary I think it deserves another round of publicity...

This wiki was created as a collaborative tool for librarians to share successful programs and innovations. There are lots of great blogs out there sharing information about the profession, but there was no one place where all of this information is collected and organized.

At this site one can uncover how other libraries are using technology to create internal sites for departmental process and proceedures, online tutorials, or developing technology training for staff. Most content areas have plenty of content, but suprisingly (or not!) Management and Leadership is very weak.

As with any collaborative site, it is only as good as the contributors. If you are doing something interesting, please share! Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Wanted: Innovation Librarian !

In an earlier post I evaluated job titles and descriptions in an effort to uncover if libraries are placing value on technology and innovation. I detailed a nonscientific study of job postings on the ACRL job site from Jan - May 2006. Based on that I concurred that academic libraries were currently not recruiting MLS professionals for such positions.

A post by Jenny over at the Shifted Librarian contained a couple very interesting non-academic library position descriptions (in addition to her own NEW job description- congrats Jenny!) that were close to what I was looking for :
What remains unclear is what additional resources are being provided to the individuals in these positions so they can innovate. It is one thing to hire an innovation professional, but another to provide the human, fiscal, and organizational resources to actually innovate.

On a related topic, make sure to read Michael Stephen's Into a new world of librarianship in OCLC's NextSpace edition that focuses on Web 2.0. It provide a nice overview of the skills a responsibilities that would be hallmarks of such position descriptions. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What Library Customers Want vs. What They Do? Part 2

An article by William C. Taylor entitled To Charge Up Customers, Put Customers in Charge appeared in the June 18th online edition of New York Times. The article begins by discussing customer-based shoe design and involving customers with brands by way of co-creation.

The article quotes MIT Sloan College of Management professor Eric von Hippel who calls this bottom-up phenomenon "lead-user innovation." He argues that companies that aspire to stand out in fast-moving markets would be wise to invite their smartest users into the product design process. His quote sounds strangely familiar:

"This is not traditional market research - asking customers what they want. This is identifying what your most advanced users are already doing and understanding what their innovations mean for the future of your business."

This discussion is exactly what many have been discussing, including myself, in relationship to to library innovation and the Librarian's Dilemma.

With the availability of software tools and the relative ease in creating new ones, it is getting cheaper for library customers to innovate on their own. By involving our customers in the creation of new library systems we will in effect be involving our customers ownership of the library. In the end, customers would likely be more willing to use library systems they had a hand in creating. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, June 19, 2006

Morgan's Technology Trends 2006

Eric Lease Morgan has presented his top library technology trends for ALA 2006. In looking the list over I found no real revelations. Then again, I find that Eric and I are generally not too far apart on our visions.

He does discuss the growing discontent over OPACs that has appeared on many blogs over the past month or so. Eric states: "library catalogs need to go beyond inventory control systems for librarians to information tools for students, instructors, and scholars." I would go one step further to say that the library catalog and web site should be combined in some fashion and presented using a meta-search interface similar to Gnosh.

Meta-search. Say, isn't that a topic Eric states has not lived up to expectations? In the context of search accross multiple legacy database/indexing systems, that is correct. However, many of the services that are "out there" make their API's available. This availability makes meta-searching across web-based services a relatively simple task. It also allows for the creation of hybrid applications, or mashups. Gnosh utilizes such APIs.

Eric closes by stating "I just can’t figure out why OCLC doesn’t try to provide open source software library application support for a fee." I wonder why OCLC does not push the concept of open source systems and champion the case for open standards for all library systems. For example, OCLC already markets/distributes the Illiad/Odyssey ILL management software. The Odyssey document delivery module is built on an open standard. So, why is OCLC not heavily promoting this as an alternative to existing proprietary solutions?

Imagine how easy meta-searching, document delivery, and library system design would be if all systems utilitzed open standards and made their APIs available.

6/20 Update: Yahoo just opened Messenger to developers and Google has made an AJAX Search API available. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The PINES ILS: A Library Open Source Consortium!

On May 26th, 2006 the Georgia Public Library Service released a beta of an open source Integrated Library System (ILS), named Evergreen. The software is being developed and maintained by for use by the Georgia Library PINES Program, a consortium of 252 public libraries. The project is partially funded by the Library Services & Technology Act through the Institute for Museums and Library Services.

Anyone can download the staff client and connect to their demo system at or one can grab the source code from their CVS repository.

This was an exciting announcement to read since I have been advocating the creation of open source consortiums for some time now. My arguement has been that libraries have been creating consortiums for a hundred years in order to gain an economic advantage of one type or another. However, for some reason, libraries have not created consortiums to create library systems.

Instead, in 2005 libraries spent $535 million on ILS systems alone!! Add in other systems we licence and we are talking near $1 billion. In essence, library administrators may be creating our own budgetary crisises by failing to look at open source as a way to release some budgetary pressure. It is also a way to address the state of the ILS.

The project team consists of four individuals lead by Brad LaJeunesse, a fellow "rebel" from the Library Journal Mover and Shakers class of 2005. Think about it. They have four people building a system for 252 public libraries. That is extremely economical.

Kudos to Georgia PINES!!!! Sphere: Related Content

Increasing Use of Technology Requires More Resources

Yesterday I presented "Technology and Innovation: The Librarian's Dilemma" at the TechConnections7 conference held in Dublin, OH. The conference was attended primarily by public librarians. The challenge in presenting theory at such a conference is that many librarians and IT support staff are looking for practical solutions that they can apply today. Of course, I really had nothing to help them out.

Some of the issues and concerns expressed in my presentation were highlighted by a question I received at the end from a gentleman from a (I'll assume small) public library in rural Ohio. He framed his question by stating that his library keeps on adding more and more computers and technology, but not more staff. He was essentially a part timer. At the same time, he was instructed by the library director to go out and find new and emerging technology that the library can use.

Few library directors would extend library hours without adding additional library staff to support that service. Yet, all too often not much thought is given to adding additional staff when adding more technology and electronic services. Too many fall into the thinking that an organization can keep adding technology without additional human and fiscal resources. The reality is the more an organization uses technology the more resources they need to invest into technology.

I felt bad for this gentleman since he was simply expected to do everything he was already doing plus come up with new technology and add that to his workload as well.

With all the other responsibilities that a library director has with dealing with budgets, staffing issues, crisis management, political matters, etc. it is no wonder they do not really understand technology. Technology professionals can hardly keep up, how can a director? At the same time, it is also all too common for a library director to make technology decisions in relative isolation. They hear or read about a technology then turn to their IT staff and say make it so. Or worse, they authorize the purchase of more machines or a system without engaging the IT staff!

Again, it would be a rare event for a library director to turn to the head of the circulation department and say add more hours but then provide no additional human resources.

It is a really an unfortunate reality that technology is often taken for granted. Library IT professionals are a hard working and creative group that has learned to do more, no, had to do more with less. Yet, there is a breaking point. I simply do not know how any library director today can expect to provide any services without investing more resources into human IT support. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, June 09, 2006

Is Ordering a Hot Dog Like a Library Web Site?

I was just reading the humorous (probably in hindsight) posting about Library Lessons from Unlikley Places by Steve Lawson over at See Also..... regarding interactions he had at the DMV and Sonic drive through window.

After recounting the interactions he states that it occurred to him that library patrons must feel a similar sense of confusion when confronted with a library home page or list of databases such as "TIGER catalog? WorldCat? Databases? Interlibrary Loan?" In the end he just wanted a hamburger book!"

In fact, I was equally confused the first time I went into Gold Coast Dogs in Chicago. The place was noisy, there was little signage, and in general it was a stressful experience. Think of a cross between the Seinfeld's "Soup Nazi" episode and Saturday Night Live's The Olympia Cafe "cheeburger" skit.

There was nobody there to help or guide me through the process of ordering a hot dog (if you have ever had a real Chicago dog it is not a simple task!). I was left to watch and learn by going through the experience. I went to Gold Coast many more times and I learned what to order, how to order it, and how not to get frustrated by the first timer standing in line in front of me. The reason I kept going back to Gold Coast is that they have a great product. The product was worth it.

When recalling this experience it occurred to me that their service was oriented towards the novice and advanced customer, not the first timer. The return customer can get in and out relatively quickly. After all, it is the repeat business that they earn their ROI. They do not orient their service towards the first timer. The placed the responsibility for learning the protocol required to order a hot dog on the customer.

So, what does this have to do with a library web site?

All too often libraries try to design web sites to be all things to all people. We try to design to appeal to the first timer, the notice, and the advanced customer. The problem is enhanced when libraries get their LibQual results back and see that customers have issues with the usefulness of the library web site. The assumption that is made is that the site needs to be redesigned to meet all the users needs. (I will not get into questioning why everyone I have talked to had a similar LibQual result and why libraries are thinking redesign).

I wonder if we should be putting so many resources into making sure that library web sites are usable to all customers. Instead, should our resources be spent making sure the sites be designed to get the returning customer in and out quickly, since after all, is it from the repeat business that we get our ROI? Shouldn't we be placing the responsibility for learning the protocol required to use the web site on our customers?!

I also wonder if Gold Coast would be as popular if their service was designed for first timer. Had employees been available to hand hold newbies through the process would the entire system slowed down? Would the business have been as successful if the return customers has longer waits? Would they have gone to a competitor that can get them in and out more quickly? (Google?)

As I recounted my story I mention it was worth going back and going through the process of learning the protocol since the product was worth it. In a similar vein, I wonder if most of our human resources should be spent on the management of content not the interface! If libraries focused on making sure the content was superior wouldn't that first time customer keep coming back even if they had difficulty dealing with the interface the first few times? Wouldn't the content alone serve as the motivation to keep coming back and to learn the protocols?!

While on the content thread, should libraries also be focused on making sure that the content is findable regardless of what tools our customers are using? Is the notion that our customers should be coming to our library's web site to get to our content antiquated? Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

What Library Customers Want vs. What They Do?

I was delighted to see the post More On Learning What Users Really Want by StevenB over at the ACRLog site that continues the discussion about ethnography. Ethnography is a great concept which I also discuss in LibQual and the Librarian's Dilemma.

The only comment I have to the post is with the statement:

"to better understand our users and what they really need - as opposed to what we think they need."

The issue is not a gap between what librarians think our current customers need and what they think they need. In fact, we are pretty good about understanding our current customer's basic needs (yep, they need everything online so they can print it off!).

Instead, the gap is between what our customers think they need and what they are actually doing! This is the question that ethnography tries to answer.

The challenge is that libraries are structured to facilitate the design and support of its dominant services and current customer base. Traditional survey techniques ask our current customers about the services we currently offer and libraries allocate resources towards sustaining those current services. Such information is virtually useless in planning for future library services that support customers that will never step foot into our buildings.

Another challenge I see is that ethnograhy requires out of the box thinking. Unfortunately, there are library administrators that think out of the box alright - that is, they think about solutions that come out of a box! Like LibQual!
Sphere: Related Content