‘Information on the move': a mobile conference in the city of roundabouts

I must admit Milton Keynes (aka the ‘Roundabout City’) was never on my top list of places to see, as it is not very easy to move around on foot, being designed for the car. But the quality of speakers and workshops at the recent M-Libraries-Conference on mobile technologies in libraries more than made up for taking our life in our hands every time we walked from the hotel to the venue!

‘Hype Cycle’ -Jo’s graph plotting ‘Visibility’ against ‘Time’ for libraries’ mobile services – leaving its mark on an OU whiteboard!

The keynote speeches drew on what became a common theme : where does a library or information service place itself on what our very own Jo Alcock from Evidence Base calls ‘the hype cycle’? Or to put it another way : where we between ‘wow?’ and ‘wow-but-can-we-do-it-now?’

So Steve Vosloo’s summary of what UNESCO ‘s work, (with a statistic echoed by Bob Gann from the NHS : ‘there are more mobile phones in Africa than in USA’ ) showed us some great programmes delivered on phones that some might not consider ‘smart’ –  but they work. You might think retro-fitting technology to a literacy service for boat schools in Bangladesh or using cellphones to run an SMS check on drugs (in countries where 30 percent of medicines are fake and can kill you) is a far cry from introducing mobile tech into a UK library – but these are good examples of working out where you on that hype cycle. 

The lists of possibilities were endless – from QR codes – (we’ve got one already on our Summon posters and our library cards) to the case studies mentioned by JISC m-libraries project – which include Chris Langham’s post on here about using SMS in a successful way to reach students.) Another useful overview was from Ellyssa Kroski from New York in her presentation, Libraries to Go.

 I personally like Bath Library’s idea using QR codes to link to audio tours – (I use SoundCloud as a musician, and using mobile apps as sound-recorders and even mixers certainly is more flexible then what we did ‘in the early days’ by trying to record and edit our library induction on Sony minidisc – remember those?.) As you would expect, there were also some great demos : using Augmented Reality browser to overlay fragments of papyrus with teaching materials from John Rylands University, Manchester ; or the PhoneBooth project from LSE, a digitally mapped overlay of Charles Booth’s London survey that could be accessed on mobiles.

Thomas Cochrane’s closing keynote ended with the powerful statement that mobile technologies can transform existing ways of teaching  – and for libraries in particular that means thinking differently about how we teach students, and thinking about about student-generated content. We want to encourage students to map and document their library space, not just get us librarians to do it for them. He showed us a video by students at Auckland on QR codes – done as a project before the library even started promoting them! . He also ran a live demo of Chirp – a technology that sends digital data such as pictures via sound, that could be used in lectures.

As I began writing this post – a student came to the library help desk struggling to view a MyiLibrary book on her battered-but-still-servicable 8-inch tablet. She was still trying to access the book on our library catalogue, and therefore was struggling to access it in a way that she needn’t have done had she searched Summon. It struck me that by searching what is essentially a repository of physical objects (the library catalogue) for an electronic item, she was doing the equivalent of trying to cross a roundabout meant for cars.
We need to make clearer to the student where they look for ‘analog’ or ‘physical’ content, and where they look for ‘digital’. In the course of crossing that digital divide, lets make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes of the Milton Keynes planners.

Capita briefing

I attended a Capita Briefing event last week in London which provided a good overview of current & future developments of its services. Its always interesting to hear from the company and see what direction they are heading as well as getting the opportunity to feedback.

I was particularly interested to hear about their developments regarding a mobile version of the library management system, Alto, which they are currently calling iLMS. The aim is to provide a ‘lite’ version of the LMS, a web interface, on devices such as a tablet, laptop etc. For example a scenario could be changing a borrowers details  or even issuing an item while out on the library floor via a tablet. At a time when many libraries are looking at moving away from being behind a desk and  finding ways to bring services and information to the user at point of need, this looks like it could be a very helpful service. An area which I think would really benefit from a mobile LMS is  stock management, it would be great if a mobile LMS and RFID could be integrated so stock changes could be made at the shelves. I really liked the idea of focusing on some of the key functions of the modules with the LMS and decoupling them from the client based LMS to provide a web interface opens up some great potential.

Resource Discovery is a topic the elibrary team have been following for a few years so it was interesting to hear about Capita’s augmented search, which allows other collections to be searched alongside Prism 3 (the library catalogue).  I personally see this as providing a similar service to Summon (more on that to come) which we are in the process of implementing. I am however interested to see how this develops especially with regards to the potential integration of the library catalogue services and other collections. Alongside ‘augmented search’ Capita continue to develop Prism 3 and one of their latest features is the idea of ‘community collaboration’ allowing students to tag items, rate books, create wish lists, write reviews etc. I think the idea of ‘community collaboration’ is very timely as we are constantly looking for new ways to communicate and engage with our students, although I can also see the potential for problems in terms of the validity of the recommendations etc. I would however be delighted if our students invested the time in providing critical feedback on our collections.

I am very interested in how resource discovery will develop, I can see potential in providing a customised search ie searching across a borrowers wish list & reading lists for items, although then this does begin to sound like the ‘Google search, plus your world’ feature which has a number of flaws having just read Phil Bradleys blog post on it.

I have also always been interested in exploiting any qualitative and quantitative data gathered on user search behaviour, ie search logs etc and whether this could help improve subsequent searches.

Capita have also recently commissioned some research on – what students want and what they do with the data – and will be sharing their findings which I am looking forward to reading.

It was a useful day with interesting people and I even managed to catch a glimpse of the changing of the guard having got a little lost on the way to the venue.

For further details on Capita

new phone

I’ve had one of HTC’s new android 2.1 phones for a couple of weeks now and was pleased to find an app for WordPress recently. When I get used to the touch keyboard & random spelling suggestions I may get around to some mobile flogging…. err … blogging.