Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I'm Tired of Hearing This From Library System Vendors:

"...our development folks have talked about...I'll let them know of your interest in such functionality and we'll consider it as potential enhancement to the system"

I was at OhioLink yesterday attending a demo of the OCLC / Illiad system. Since the presentation was by a sales rep I sent this email to Atlas after the meeting:
"As you may be well aware, a general library trend is figuring out ways to get into our customers workflow. We can no longer expect our customers to want to come into each of our silo library systems. To that end, we have been doing some pilot testing of various Google and Facebook gadgets. It makes a great deal of sense that one of the systems which we can create gadgets for is the Illiad customer interface. We would love to be able to provide our customers with an easy view of their pending requests from their iGoogle home page or their Facebook profile. We are interested in building such gadgets, which are customizable so that any Illiad licensee could modify them for their local system."

"Are their any APIs or Web Services available from Illiad/Atlas Systems which would enable us to build such gadgets for the Illiad community?"

"Exposing such services in those spaces would enable all libraries to raise the profile of the Illiad service."

The top of this post was a part of the reply I received (sigh).

Before I continue, I want to say that Illiad is a very powerful system that can save valuable staff time. The efforts that Jason Glover and Atlas Systems team have made in developing and promoting an open standard for Internet document delivery (even if as a community we continue to support a proprietary closed system as the defacto standard) are commendable.

Based on my past interactions with Atlas, part of me expected (hoped?) that they would have already thought of this. The response is unfortunate. It appears that Atlas has simply grown up into just another library system vendor, waiting until there is a large enough group requests an enhancement.

The problem is that this is exactly the kind of functionality we desperately need from our systems - today. If we are going to continue to rely upon hosted or licensed solutions we need vendors to be thinking about integration between products before we say we need them.

The reality is that by the time that a large enough group of Illiad customers realize the potential of such functionality and communicate it to Atlas, and it is developed, yet another window of opportunity will have closed behind us. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

If It's Free, It's For Me (?)

I just read that at midnight tonight (9/18) the NY Times is no longer requiring a TimesSelect subscription to access much of its online content. They found that they could make more money by opening access and selling advertising. It appears that readers started coming to the site from search engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to NYTimes.com. These indirect visitors, unable to gain access to articles and less likely to pay subscription fees, were seen as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue.

This is a similar approach that that Elsevier is using on a new website aimed at oncologists that provides registrants free access to articles from 100 of their journals, including The Lancet and Surgical Oncology.

I have also been playing around with a new free music download service called SpiralFrog which supports itself through advertising.

This is part of a growing trend that the potential ad revenue from increased traffic at 'free' sites outweighs subscription fees. Of course, nothing is really free. Most 'free' sites require registration that provides the site with important demographic information which can be used to target advertising, assuming one is truthful when filling in the forms.

Hmm. Knowing what percentage of people are always truthful when filling out the forms would be an interesting study - assuming one can count on those responding to be truthful. The marketing folks probably already know this information and have it in their algorithms. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Future of Libraries is in Web Services

In her post The future of Web Services isn't the Library website, Karen Coombs highlights the challenges that many of us are facing:
  • Most of the library sees the redesign process as about “fixing” the current website so that it is more usable, up-to-date, and attractive.

  • Trying to make a site that works equally well for everyone has two consequences; huge amounts of resources are devoted to crafting multiple permutations that have to be maintained and you end up with a mediocre site that no one hates or loves.
She also states:
  • The redesign is about defining the types of content the library has to offer its users and getting that content into pieces that can be reused and repurposed elsewhere.

  • Focusing on content rather than look and feel will allow us to provide these different types of services. It will also allow different types of users to potentially selectively access content.

  • These kinds of services that will make of break a library’s virtual presence not the library website.

In my five-part post on Service-Oriented Architecture, I argue that the adoption of the SOA models can help libraries to aggregate the information they create and manage.

The traditional web site represents a siloed information system. The structure of the data/content we create becomes fixed within the web site. The costs in real dollars and staff time required to export, convert, and import into the new site are significant. The question is whether if we should be spending our limited resources running around on the web site gerbil wheel, or, on ways to better manage and syndicate our content.

In SOA, all our information systems would be designed to be loosely coupled. Direct connections to each of our data sources would be available from any of our our web presences. The user experience is enhanced since they could gain access to any of the resources from any of the user interfaces. For example, one could search the course management system and receive results from the eJournals collection.

With SOA, the library could create a single Facebook-like portal which would aggregate all networked resources. New library 'web services' could be built and simply plugged in by the customer. This approach to the design of library systems represents a radical departure from what we have today. At the same time, it provides libraries with an unprecedented ability to create and maintain systems that can quickly adapt to the changing networked information infrastructure.

SOA has the potential to get our resources out to where our customers are instead of, as Karen puts it spending "all our time caught up in look and not enough time working to make the library meet users where they are and be a seamless part of their work processes."

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, September 14, 2007

2007 ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and IT

The Educause Center for Applied Research (ECAR) Study of Undergraduates and Information Technology, is a longitudinal study of students and information technology based on interviews with 27,846 freshman, senior, and community college students at 103 higher education institutions. It focuses on what kinds of information technologies these students use, own, and experience; their technology behaviors, preferences, and skills; how IT impacts their experiences in their courses; and their perceptions of the role of IT in the academic experience.

The 2007 results are now available. Some random key findings:

- 94.7% use their library's web site
- 91.5% have high speed connectivity
- 84.1% use instant messaging
- 82% has used a course management system
- 81.6% use social networking sites (e.g. Facebook)
- 78.3% play computer games
- 75.8% own a personal laptop. 34.5% of those are less then a year old
- 74.7 own a music/video device (e.g. iPod)
- Engineering majors are online the most at 21.9 hours per week. Life sciences are online 16.3. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Elsevier Provides Free Journal Access ... With A Catch

An article appearing in the September 10, 2007 New York Times describes how Elsevier has started a new website aimed at oncologists that provides registrants free access to articles from 100 of their journals, including The Lancet and Surgical Oncology.

The site will provide registrants limited access to other publishers’ journals, too including summaries of cancer-related articles from 25 other leading journals, like the Journal of the American Medical Association and The New England Journal of Medicine.

Since there are more than 500 cancer drugs in the pipeline oncologists are a pretty research oriented group. The primary market will be those oncologists not affiliated with academic medical centers, who actually see a large percentage of all cancer patients. While oncologists affiliated those those centers generally have access to local subscriptions, those that do not generally rely on materials available on the Web for their research.

The catch is, and there has to be one since there is nothing that is truly free, is that Elsevier is planning to sell advertisements, especially from pharmaceutical companies with cancer drugs. Another revenue stream is the sale of their anticipated registration list of 150,000 professionals to advertisers. Since more of the general public is performing their own research online I would not be surprised that they actually make more money by using this model by opening up their resources beyond the professional. They could create custom banner ads and sell those registrant names to advertisers selling consumer products.

If the model works one can also expect it to move beyond medical information - Elsevier also owns Lexis-Nexis. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

LibGuides: Where Are the RSS Feeds?

Boston College Libraries recently revealed their new subject guide service using the LibGuides application. Several librarians have already commented on LibGuides, and in general the service has been well received.

LibGuides is a hosted service which enables libraries to create locally branded subject guides. LibGuides is a service SpringShare, founded by Slaven Zivkovic, who once worked at the Orradre Library Santa Clara University and co-found Docutek Information Systems. According to the FAQ, the cost of annual license for LibGuides depends on the size of the institution and the number of libraries involved with fees ranging from $899 to $2,499.

Each subject guide includes a profile of the individual responsible for managing the guide including a photo, and contact information. There is also an IM link! These guides can incorporate all kinds of content, pull in RSS feeds, embed videos, podcasts, custom search engines, etc. Customers can search or browse for a guide by subject or alphabetically. There is also a Facebook application.

While it appears that one can pull in RSS feeds when building a guide, it does not appear that a library can syndicate a guide. While Slaven has come up with an interesting service in LibGuides, such syndication is essential as libraries move towards a more service oriented approach to our systems. Syndication would serve several purposes:
  • Libraries would allow customers to subscribe to any guide and get a feed of any changes made to it. There is already an email update feature (although limited to newly published guides with specific tags or by specific librarian) why not RSS?
  • Libraries could use RSS feeds to export the content of a single guide into other systems, such as a course management system. A librarian could make changes within a specific LibGuide and have it appear in the library resources section of a course. Several different guides could be brought into a single course, or, a single guide could be placed into every course shell.
  • Librarians spend a great of time managing content. We also have a tendency to embed our content into our applications. This continuously creates migration challenges. The reality is that LibGuides has a limited shelf life. As new technologies and ideas come around we will want to move the content out of the service. RSS would be a relatively painless method of exporting the content.
  • Since there is an option of printing the entire guide, it would seem to be relatively trivial to create an RSS version.

Lastly, while everyone has to make a living, LibGuides would make a terrific open /community source project. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Where are the Library Mashups? Well....

The Krafty Librarian has asked the question: Mashups What Happened?:

"So what happened? Are the mashers too busy working on their latest creation to be discussing it online? Are mashups still too technical for the average person to create to be popular in the library world? Are librarians victims of their closed systems, thus limiting the amount of mashups created and used?

If the discussion is specifically about library resource/service mashups, then unfortunately I feel the last question gets to the crux of the reason.

Libraries rely upon commercial systems from vendors that often use proprietary technologies instead of those that support open standards. These closed systems have made solutions such as mashups very difficult to build, if not impossible, primarily since our systems can not talk to one another.

There are many ways that one can build a mashup, with the most common being through RSS and APIs. The core of what makes many of the more powerful mashups work - the API - remains one of their their most tightly guarded core intellectual properties and revenue streams. The vendors place a death grip on those very APIs which would allow libraries to create mashups using services provided by disparate systems. I would love to build mashups to pull information out of our III system in a more elegant way then screen scraping.

While libraries have embraced consortia solutions for most large scale purchases, for some reason we have not gotten together (projects like PINES being one exception) in open systems development that would result in new library systems based on open standards. Such systems could be built using an open architecture and shared with the library community. Community source, if you will.

At the very least, I believe our library leadership and professional organizations need to begin demanding that vendors begin using open standards and opening up their APIs. By continuing to embrace proprietary vendor solutions - as they decide to build them - we may be destined to remain two or three years behind the technology curve. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Are Faculty Loyal to Current Scholarly Communications Peer-Review System?

It appears so.

The University of California Office of Scholarly Communications just released “Faculty Attitudes and Behaviors Regarding Scholarly Communication: Survey Findings from the University Of California.” The report analyzes over 1,100 survey responses covering a range of scholarly communication issues from faculty in all disciplines and all tenure-track ranks. The report provides summary and detailed evidence of a UC community of scholars that:

  • There is limited but significant use of alternative forms of scholarship, with 21% of faculty having published in open-access journals, and 14% having posted peer-reviewed articles in institutional repositories or disciplinary repositories. Such publishing is seen as supplementing rather than substituting for traditional forms of publication.

  • Faculty appear unwilling to undertake activities, such as forcing changes on publishers, that might undermine the viability of the system or threaten their personal success as traditionally evaluated.

  • Many respondents voiced concerns that new forms of scholarly communication, such as open access journals or repositories, might produce a flood of low-quality output. Faculty showed broad and strong loyalty to the current peer-review system as the primary means of ensuring the quality of published works now and in the future, regardless of form or venue.

  • On matters of tenure and promotion Assistant Professors show consistently more skepticism about the ability of tenure and promotion processes to keep pace with or foster new forms of scholarly communication.

  • The survey results overall suggest that senior faculty may actually be more open to innovation than younger faculty. Senior faculty are free from tenure concerns, and although many are still driven by a desire for promotion, they appear more willing to experiment, more willing to change behavior, and more willing to participate in new initiatives. Therefore, senior faculty may well serve as one starting point for fostering change. Furthermore, because senior faculty are both involved in making academic policy and serving as role models for junior faculty, their efforts at innovation are likely to have broader influence within their departments.
Sphere: Related Content