JISC International Repositories Workshop – some links

A couple of additional blog posts on the workshop – Maurice Vanderfeesten writes up his experience, with an identifiers focus, and Chris Rusbridge posts his take on the workshop.

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JISC Conference 2009

JISC just held its annual one-day conference, this year in Edinburgh. There appears to be quite a few interesting sessions; luckily for those of us who didn’t attend, JISC has put out the audio (and with the keynotes, video) of the sessions, accompanied by PDF’s of the actual presentations.

Links to audio / video / PDF’s can be found at http://jisc.ac.uk/events/2009/03/jiscconference09/programme.aspx.

Also, there was quite an active bit of tweeting during the conference – you can go back and read the tweets via #jisc09.

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JISC International Repositories Infrastructure Workshop

Amsterdam Sign

Amsterdam Sign

This week I attend the JISC International Repositories Infrastructure Workshop (This workshop was also sponsored by DRIVER and the SURF Foundation) The goal of the workshop was to identify shared agendas for action and coordination between major national and international stakeholders, for the purpose of developing an international federated network of repositories.

This was truly a workshop – the majority of the time was spent in breakout groups, working on specific issues in building out an international repository infrastructure. The four topics addressed by the breakout groups (one per group) were the concept of an international repository organization, repository “handshake”, repository citations, and repostiory identifier infrastructure.

Outside of the working groups reporting out, there were two talks – the opening keynote was given by Norbert Lossau of the DRIVER project, and the closing keynote by Clifford Lynch of CNI. Norbert kicked off the workshop by providing some history and context; he described some of the history and activities which led to the aims of the workshop. While much of his talk focused on work from DRIVER, his intent was to describe the general needs for building an international federated network of repositories.

After the opening keynote, the majority of the next two days was spent in the working groups. I participated mainly in the organization working group (I initially joined the handshake group, but after the first break switched over to the organization group). My take on the breakout groups was that it took most of the groups some time to get a proper focus on their activities (as is often the case with a new group of people coming together), but that in the end, each group was able to get some reasonable outcomes. The most difficult discussion probably occured with the organization group; the first day’s discussions extended to a variety of topics and opinions as to why there needs to be an organization, what an organization would do, who would be in the organization, etc. The second day the group facilitators had the group role-play different stakeholders (such as repository managers, funders, etc.) and address a set of questions about what each group might want out of an organization. I think this approach worked better; it may not have led to a concensus opinion on the what’s, why’s, and how’s of the organization, but it did provide some concrete data that will be useful as the efforts to create a governing organization move forward.

At the end of day 2, each of the four breakout groups reported out on their outcomes. I must admit, I was fairly tired at the end of nearly two days of intense workshop activity, and my notes on these outcomes are rather minimal. However, there should be a workshop report posted in the near future on the workshop website. My take from the outcomes was that the citation and identifiers groups made the most progress. I especially liked the diagram created by the identifiers group, which can be viewed on a (new-to-me) service called prezi.com.

The workshop wrapped up with a closing keynote by Clifford Lynch. As usual, Clifford did a very good job of summing up the outcomes of the two days, and providing his thoughts as to the near-future challenges with repository efforts. One thing we need to keep in mind, as we look towards the role of the repository within digital libraries, is that our repositories not only need enhance the provisioning of access to scholarly information to our users, but they also need to provision access to other services, repositories or otherwise. The repository is not an ends to itself, but it is a component of a larger infrastructure. Finally, while we are still understanding how institutionally we can best implement repositories, it is clear that repositories are key to the future of libraries.

One of the nice things about this meeting was that there was an active backchannel discussion via Twitter. You can see this discussion (and see what others thought) by clicking on this link.

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Amazon now rules eBooks, and Libraries should pay attention (or, why I’m not worried that Amazon will say “All your book are belong to us”, and even if they do, why it doesn’t matter)

Amazon got it right – again. Today, they released a Kindle app for the iPhone, thereby allowing iPhone users to access Amazon’s eBook collection. This is big; iPhone owners were already reading eBooks on their devices using one of a variety of eBook reading applications available for the device. Now, Amazon can leverage the iPhone user base, and dramatically increase the number of potential purchasers of eBooks (clarification: customers for Amazon provided eBooks). When Amazon first came out with the Kindle, I was a bit surprised; I never figured Amazon as a device manufacturer. I still don’t see them as a device manufacturer, in the long term at least.

What I did see (and still do) was Amazon wanting to shore-up the eBook market in the same way Apple has led the online music sales business. Up until Amazon released the Kindle V.1, the leading eBook device was the Sony Reader. When Sony produced their Reader, they also created an eBook store where owners of the Reader could purchase content. My guess is that this really got Amazon’s attention. If there was a future in eBooks, wouldn’t the world’s largest traditional book retailer also want to be the world’s leading eBook retailer? And there was Sony, selling not only eBook hardware, but also getting into the eBook retail game. So, I imagine Amazon looked at Sony’s activities, and looked at Apple’s success with iTunes, and realized that they wanted to be to eBooks what Apple was to digital music, and to do that, they were going to need to push the eBook industry forward by creating a device; this device would also allow them to grab (or maintain, perhaps) the market lead in the eBook retail sector.

Coming back to the present, Amazon has done that. They probably exceeded their own expectations with the success of the Kindle 1.0. They were able to create an eBook ecosystem where their customers purchased content solely through Amazon. As Apple had done with digital music, Amazon was now doing with eBooks. But then, today, came the truly inspired strategy – they decided to leverage the success of the iPhone! Risky? Nope. Not only did they open up their catalog to iPhone owners, they also made sure their content could still only be used within a controlled environment, in this case software instead of hardware. Without conjecturing too much about profit margins and such, I’m willing to guess that Amazon is not making a lot of money on each Kindle; their real income stream is the content (I’m not sure what Apple’s balance is in terms of profit realized from ipod / iTouch / iPhone sales relative to content sold for those devices, but Apple has historically had very good profit margins on its hardware products), and Amazon is at heart a retailer, not a hardware vender. The more devices running Amazon eBook software equals more purchasers of Amazon eBooks.

I don’t see Amazon stopping with the iPhone. I see them cutting deals with other eBook manufacturers and other eBook-capable devices. And I think this is brilliant strategy on their part.

So, Libraries need to pay attention –  not because this will have a negative impact on libraries, because I don’t think it will. Libraries need to start paying attention because eBooks are now going to be big – very, very big. This doesn’t mean people will stop reading / purchasing / borrowing traditional books, but it does mean that we should expect to see a big increase in the use of eBooks and eBook content. And if I am correct, and we start to see the Amazon eBook application on additional devices, we will need to start paying very close attention to how our users interact with eBooks. The Kindle, while it has a nice display, has limited functionality outside of allowing a user to consume content. Might we start to see some additional functions showing up on devices that might be capable of more? Perhaps on the iPhone, we might see some touchscreen capabilities showing up, such as the ability to annotate. Perhaps, as e-Ink technology improves, and as additional devices support the Amazon eBook ecosystem, we’ll start to see more electronic textbooks, with not only static, but multimedia content imbedded within. And maybe, if the academic / research sector of the eBook market takes off, we might start to see a variety of scholarly support tools embedded in the Amazon eBook application, taking advantage of the hardware capabilities of the device on which it resides. As long as Amazon can maintain a significant marketshare in selling eBook content, they will have incentive to develop new features and capabilities to support use of their content, not just in a consumptive role, but in a more interactive mode as well. Gather, create, share(1), all on your iPhone, there’s a thought.

Another thought: Amazon will have this feature-forward incentive, as long as there continues to be enough competition in the general eBook ecosystem. If there is not robust competition, then Amazon’s financial incentive to increase functionality in their eBook software will diminish.

A final thought: Libraries provision access to information. We are now about to experience a rapid shift over the next 2-3 years in how many of our users consume book-length resources. How they interact with this content is going to change as well. We need to pay very close attention to these changing use patterns, so that we can understand how to support our users digital lifestyles. What we do isn’t changing; how we do it is. If we pay attention properly, we’ll create new and exciting service which support learning and research, regardless of how that content is acquired by our users.

1. “Gather, create, share” is a phrase credited to the extremely insightful Raymond Yee. But you probably already knew this.

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Global Research Libraries 2020

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park/Gardens

Last week I attended the 3rd Global Research Libraries 2020 workshop, held this year in Taipai, Taiwan. GRL2020 is an event where the participants submit brief position papers (pdf) prior to the meeting, and then present and discuss their activities and ideas related to what research libraries might be in the year 2020. Previous instances of this workshop have been held in Europe and in the U.S.

The participants in this year’s workshop came from the U.S., Mexico, Taiwan, China, India, Japan, Australia, Germany, and Portugal. A fairly good, if not complete, global representation. As with many events, one of the big take-aways was getting to meet the other participants and to learn about their various projects and work. In fact, this was the best part of the workshop – while I was aware of a number of digital library efforts in the UK, Australia, and Europe, I was not familiar with the state of digital libraries in China, Taiwan, Japan, and India. What I learned is that digital libraries around the world are facing similar challenges in regards to information access and discovery, preservation, support of scholarship, and intellectual property.

(Most of the presentations are available from the website, and I highly recommend perusing them.)

One of the challenges with a 2-day workshop is finding an effective method of taking the combined knowledge of the participants and applying some focus to it to come up with actionable outcomes; I think this particular challenge presented itself at this year’s GRL 2020. Because of the wealth of knowledge and breadth of work presented, there was not much time for in-depth discussion activities. In hindsight (it is always easier to look back and critique), there probably needed to be more time devoted to break-out sessions for small group discussion. There were some interesting outcomes from previous iterations of the workshop, but I personally did not get a good sense of this year’s event extending on that work. That being said, with the number of presentations given in the workshop, it is hard to see where more discussion time could be had.

There will shortly be a post-workshop report that will be published to the website; I will write-up a post on that report once it is out. In the meantime, take a look at the position papers and presentations, as they are quite interesting and disseminate the unique and common problems our geographically distributed digital library communities face.

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Copying vs. Understanding

I’ve been catching up on my newsreader, and finally got to this post from the blog Signal vs. Noise. In summary, the post talks about what is lost when you copy a user interface – you lose the understanding of why that UI works. Without that understanding, it is difficult to maintain, grow, improve or even properly implement the design. When we started our work on LibraryFind, we did not try and copy Google, Yahoo, or other sites(1). We did, however, look at patterns of design within a variety of internet seach engines and discovery sites, and tried to tease out what patterns were inherently meaningful to users. For instance, we looked at the spacing of search results in Google, and noticed the results were typically of equal vertical length, and spaced evenly (without any divider lines). We adopted a similar approach / pattern to meet our goal of providing results that a user could quickly and easily parse. We then tested our assumptions in implementing this design approach through usability tests.

So, we copied an approach, after researching best practices from other popular tools, tools with which our users were already familiar. We then validated our choice by testing with our users. In essance, we chose not to copy, but to understand and adopt. We learned from this experience, and even if we had made a wrong assumption or design choice, that learning would still have been a positive for us (in fact, we did make quite a few incorrect assumptions with other design components, which were just as if not more informative than our correct ones).

It is this type of learning that I believe is critical to libraries and library staff. While we might choose to outsource our tools and website designs, while we might look to adopt and copy successful implementations of services and design from other libraries and information providers, we need to be able to build learning and understanding into whatever processes we use as we deploy our digital presence. We need to understand the patterns of use, not only of the data and resources we provide, but also with the tools and interfaces we provide to those resources. When we understand these patterns, we can then understand what technologies, softwares, tools, etc. make good use of these patterns and which ones don’t.

1. Note: For full disclosure, our initial prototype was based on copying the original Amazon A9.com design. For prototyping purposes, this served us well, but we also knew that we couldn’t just copy whole-heartedly something, especially without understanding its strengths and flaws. And we in fact went completely away from the A9 columned approach style, as we felt that that design pattern was not as common and as familiar to our users as other design approaches.

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Code4lib Conference

Next week is my favorite conference, code4lib. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend code4lib this year due to a conflicting commitment. I’m rather sad about this, as I think code4lib provides a unique opportunity for library technologists to get together, hack, converse, network (in all senses of the word), and build community. Community is extremely important – one of the great ways library technology staff can acquire the knowledge and support they need to be successful in their positions is to make connections and communicate with their colleagues in other institutions. Code4lib is all about making these types of connections, and building this type of community.

In that context, I’m also very happy to note that code4lib is one of the few (maybe only) library-technology conference that offers scholarships to promote gender and cultural diversity, two areas that the technology sector needs to continue to work on improving. This year, thanks to Oregon State University and this year’s conference host, Brown University, the number of scholarships provided doubled from two to four. Very cool.

I look forward to seeing the conference presentation videos when they are posted.

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Fixing the Apple mouse scroll wheel

Just a quick post on this, since it’s a problem I’ve run into with a number of apple mice. The scroll wheel has a tendency to stop working properly, usually because it will eventually get dirty and not track properly. When I looked up fixes for this in the past, it always involved opening up the mouse and messing with internal parts and screws and things I just didn’t want to mess with. However, a comment on this post related a solution that worked fantastically well. In order to clean the scroll ball, just hold the mouse upside down, and scroll the ball firmly on a mouse pad for about 10 seconds, scrolling in every direction. I tried this, and my scroll ball is now working beautifully!

Apple Mouse Ball

Closeup of the Scroll Ball

Upsidedown Apple Mouse

Scrolling the mouse, upside down.

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WPtouch – Automatic iPhone version

So, one immediate benefit to moving over to WordPress is the WPtouch plugin. This plugin provides an iPhone / iTouch version of my blog, without affecting the current web template and design. Very cool. And again, very ironic that this is easier to do via WordPress than on Apple’s own platform.


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Moving back to WordPress

Wordpress LogoAfter an extended experiment with iWeb and .mac (now MobileMe), I have decided to move the blog back over to WordPress. While I was enchanted with the .mac / MobileMe concept, it ended up being more hassle than added value. iWeb is not a robusts application – it tries to accomodate too much, and ends up not accomodating anything well. It’s biggest downfall is the fact that you have to keep your blog on one computer – since it is application based, and the application keeps all of the blog data local to the machine, you are basically stuck working on your blog from one machine. One thing I like about wordpress is that all of the blog-updating, etc. is done from the server, therefore I can add an entry from whatever machine or device I have handy (including my iphone, ironically).

My goal is to lower the barriers of writing to the blog, and I don’t anticipate changing the platform again anytime soon. Of the various platforms that I have worked with, WordPress seems to have the right balance of features and convenience, relative to the effort to install and maintain it. So, you may see me twiddle with the theme and other secondary features, but otherwise, WordPress it is.

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