Monday, March 31, 2008

Hostile User Interfaces

Last week, I attended the NISO Next Generation Discovery: New Tools, Aging Standards held in Chapel Hill, NC.

I had the pleasure of co-presenting “ A Peer-Review Research Discovery System” along with with Dave Munger. I made sure to thank NISO since their invite to present allowed for Dave and I meet for the first time. Here is a flickr photo of our introductory slide taken by rakerman. (a.k.a Richard Akerman) I had the chance to talk to both Richard (quite a while) and Karen Schneider (briefly) over lunch. Peter Murray and I had extended chance to talk since we shared the same cabs/flights.

My next few posts will be based on some of the ideas I took away.

Richard presented the keynote entitled "Building SkyNet for Science: Discovering New Fountiers Using Embedded Knowledge." Richard started by presenting the idea of SkyNet, of Terminator fame. It is a neural net-based artificial intelligence system built by Cyberdyne Systems. There is one problem, however. It has a very hostile user interface. I had to chuckle when the slide fell forward with a thud to reveal the Terminator.

I believe that the user interface is a significant issue that libraries need to deal with, now. Each of our information systems have unique user interfaces, ranging from hostile Terminator to cutsie Hannah Montana. Our customers must must face a hostile interface if the content they need to get at is embedded in that system. We compensate for the Terminator interface by spending resources to wrap a Hannah Montana interface around it.

The challenge is libraries, more often than we care to admit, license information systems from vendors as vertical solutions. This creates a library system landscape that is dotted with independent systems that do not talk or share content with one another. We are stuck with hostile interfaces or have to build more usable ones ourselves. We simply seem to be much to happy to take what they will give us, even if they use proprietary standards or formats, and content to allow the vendors to decide which enhancements we get.

Libraries need to take a different approach with how we design our systems. We need to begin to think about syndicating content horizontally across our systems rather then vertically, as we have today (thank you, Michael Winkler). We need to open up web services to allow for content to be discovered from many different user interfaces. We need to open web services so library staff can maintain content in one system while exposing and making it discoverable in others.

We need to begin to demand that vendors open their systems either by using open standards or publishing their APIs.

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, March 21, 2008

Calling All Librarian Learning Communities

Librarians are often tasked with developing a new services and coming up with procedures for supporting them. We not only find ourselves creating innovative services for which there are no standards, but services which are likely to be replaced in 18-months. Historically, librarians have relied upon the literature and conferences as their primary learning tools. An idea for a services is gauged and weighed against what others are doing. The short service lifespan provides little time for best practices to emerge, let alone to be documented using traditional communications methods.

So, where can a librarian go for answers and support when creating innovative services when standards and best practices don't exist? Today! At this point, you are probably thinking that this is going to be another post touting the important role blogging can play in the evolution of librarianship. Nope. Instead it is about the growing need for librarian learning communities.

Within a learning community, a member seeks assistance from a virtual workgroup instead of consulting traditional learning tools and professional networks. In effect, the informal community itself plays an active role in the problem solving process and he archiving of solutions. There are many challenges to this approach. This first is that there must be a legitimate self-interest to sustain individual participation. Community members must each feel a personal return on their investment in their involvement in the group.

Getting librarians to think in terms of mutual, collaborative support is a challenge. Given the pace of change and the demands for expertise, we are at a point where we really have little choice. We must learn to share our expertise to survive in an environment with commercial competition.

Perhaps the most notable librarian learning community is WebJunction, established in 2002 with a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant awarded to OCLC. WebJunction is now supported in part by OCLC, grants from IMLS and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, our partners in state library agencies and other library service organizations. Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki is also a very helpful site. The number of topics has grown a great deal. It is a great jumping off spot, especially for those that I am a novice.

What other librarian learning communities do you know of out there? Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Librarian Reading Habits Captured

SteveB posted over at the ACRLog the results of his unscientific survey about librarian reading habits.

"College & Research Libraries is the most read of the three scholarly journals that focus on academic librarianship with 215 responses, and I suspect most of those folks get the issues with their membership. Journal of Academic Librarianship clocked in with 114 readers and portal came last with 89 readers. Twenty-six brave souls admitted they hadn’t read any of the three in six months or more.

"Many (81) do print out or copy articles to read them later on, but nearly as many (75) indicate they just scan and rarely read any of the articles. Many fewer (36) report reading the complete text of more than two articles, and yet others (23) scan a few of the articles they copy or print and then file them away neatly just in case they should be needed in the future."

" the articles in these journals provide strong evidence that tenure for librarians leads to a glut of unnecessary or pointless scholarly articles (our discipline isn’t the only one) ... the respondents depend on their rss feeds and blogs for news and readable content - not these journals ...librarians open the journals quickly to see who published and to look at job ads - and it’s downhill after that... despite all of the above it’s still important to read these journals."

Personally, I am a scanner. I find that the blogosphere provides me with much more information about those topics that effect me today. I seem to tap into the traditional journal literature exclusively when I am working on my own 'traditional' publications or when someone asks me to specifically "look into the literature..."

Based on the response rate, nearly 1/3 of librarians appear to simply scan journals and many will open the journal to see who got published and read the job ads. We still seem to support journals either out of duty or professional guilt (doing what we preach) or simply because of the need for a place to publish scholarly articles as evidence for tenure.

Lorcan Dempsey chimed to highlight his ‘dreary literature’ post where he suggests that there is a growing gap between the positions that the library profession takes with respect to the literature more generally and the state of its own literature.

I do not see this changing until, as a profession, we begin to acknowledge the value of other forms of scholarly communications. Personally, I get more out of Lorcan's blog in a month then I do out of a print journal in a year. In fact, I may get more out of reading a month of posts by all the great librarian bloggers out there then all the library-oriented journals that pass by my desk in a year. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The 65-mph Library

No, this is not about a bookmobile...

Two indicators I use to sense that Spring is approaching is when all the new gadgets start to appear out of the CES and when the Auto Show comes to town.

One of those emerging technologies marrying the two is a device/service being marketed by Autonet Mobile. AutoNet In-Car RouterThe service provides broadband Internet access and local Wi-Fi connectivity. It is an Internet router for your car.

The device connects to the Internet using both 3G (WiMax) and 2.5G (EV- DO) cellular data networks. It then provides WiFi service allowing passengers to connect their wireless gadgets to the Internet either in-car or up to 100 feet away. High speed access ranges from 600Kbps-800Kbps with upload speeds about 200Kbps. The Wi-Fi connection is secured with WEP encryption and supports VPN pass-through.

(unfortunately, I now forsee the day we will see drivers with a laptop on the about distractive driving)

Their inital partnerships include Avis Connect locations in San Francisco, New York LaGuardia, Las Vegas, Chicago Midway and O’Hare, to name a few. Autonet serves as the ISP and customers must subscribe to their service. I have located several auto dealerships that are planning to resell Autonet Mobile at around $400 for the device and $39-49 per-month for service.

So, I guess libraries need to start thinking about how to develop and market services for this new form of mobile customer. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Teenager 'Cruising' Experience Has Changed

I grew up about a mile from the Niagara River, which connects Lake Erie with Lake Ontario with Niagara Falls in between. It was a rite of passage to turn 16, get a learners permit, and 'cruise' the riverfront in the family car. As my friends also got their permits, and eventually their own cars , the riverfront became the place to hang out and socialize. Well, at least during the warmer months. This was north of Buffalo, after all.

Last summer, I returned to my home town for a visit. Instinctively, I drove down to the riverfront for a cruise. My initial reaction, right after how my social status would have changed if I had the car then I have today, was where are all the cars? Were the days of cruising the river well behind? Sure, I would have been seen as that out of place older guy. But, what about tradition?

I came across a recent New York Times article that noted a new Federal Highway Administration report that the national rate of licensed 16-year-olds dropped to 29.8 percent in 2006 from 43.8 percent in 1998. Rationale was that State laws restricting driving, rising insurance costs, expensive driving schools, and safety are all reasons teens are waiting to drive.

This decline in licensed drivers may be a part of the reason for the riverfront being void of cars. The reason for the decline in licenses, however, may have less to do with laws and safety and more about teenagers not needing cars to get to places they can socialize.

Instead, 'cruising' with text messaging and online social networks has replaced cars. Teenagers do not know how lucky they are. They don't have to use the family avatar. Sphere: Related Content