UKSG 2010 : two tribes ?

desk fan from UKSG

desk fan from UKSG

The programme for the recent UKSG conference that I attended covered a fascinating mix of topics from across the entire spectrum of e-resources.  Many of the sessions were blogged about ‘live’, and a constant stream of delegate tweeting with the hashtag ‘#uksg’ ensured debates both on and off the main conference platform.

Why my title ‘two tribes’ ? Some of us might remember the Frankie Goes to Hollywood video of ‘Two Tribes Go to War‘ – and there certainly were two ‘tribes’ of librarians and publishers in evidence upstairs on the conference platform, (whilst downstairs the real horse-trading was being done over coffee!). But there have been other more complex divisions : a librarian called Meredith Farkas blogged recently on whether EBSCO was the new ‘evil empire’ over its practice of exclusivity (‘you can’t have the journal if you’re not in the club’ approach) – a practice which earlier this year drove Gale/Cengage to publish an open letter to EBSCO.

A time of war is usually a time of increased technological consumption and certainly the librarian-technologists were out in inspirational force: Richard Wallis (Talis) flagged up early on in his talk that that the ‘student doesn’t care where resources come from’ & we should be using technology to bring the resource directly to them; a theme taken up by Tony Hirst (Open University) and Lucy Power(Oxford Internet Institute) as they showed how researchers use social networks and other Web 2.0 tools for resource discovery.

Looking ahead, Richard Padley also pointed the way to the benefits of the ‘semantic web‘ of open, linked data (highlighted by the recent release of free government data – an event significant enough to draw comment from EDINA, who in a recent press release seem to be holding back details of their new DIGIMAP deal whilst they absorb the impact of this.) In this session, Richard spoke tellingly for me about how commercial pressures could lead to an  ‘arms race’ as each publisher creates ‘big silos of content’, with a different interface.

In terms of resource discovery, though they are all looking much the same: from what I saw of  Proquest’s new interface (for all CSA and Proquest databases) it adopts the standard ‘one search to rule them all’ ; facets down the left and a googlised ‘did you mean’ search.  The market is still dominated by the big deals, the big aggregators & their even bigger business lawyers. Ted Bergstrom spoke of the case last year when Elsevier attempted to block public release of license terms by taking Washington State University in court. Closer to home, we’ve had Murdoch’s paywall leading to titles being taken off Lexis- Nexis. It’s a shame Denis Potter is no longer with us – I would have like to have heard him respond : he was good on Murdoch.

Where are librarians in all of this? Do we retreat to the warm, comfortable bunker of the catalogue cave, to measure, count and classify? Sue White and Graham Stone gave an excellent presentation on how they had used statistics at the University of Huddersfield to ‘maximise use of their library resources’ – showing how good results correlate to good use of e-resources. One starting point for Huddersfield was their logins to ExLibris’ Metalib (doing this sort of stuff is so much easier when an institution has a login-point for e-resources).

There were other useful debates on metrics – and it was said more than once that statistics achieve a kind of ‘fetish-like status’. Hugh Look (Rightscom) drew on  Claude Levi-Strauss (the ‘father of modern anthropology’), and linked his theories of the  ‘raw and the cooked’ in early societies to the ‘unmeasured’ and ‘measured’ in the world of  library metrics. He spoke of the ‘rise of the managerial class who are the main beneficiary of a measurement culture’.

It struck me that the losers in any such Cold War are the students : and the few sessions that focussed on their experience were immensely valuable. Alison Brock from the Open University looked at e-book readers – though even here the publisher’s favourite weapon  (propietary format control: you can download library content on a PC not on a Sony reader : put me in mind of why I don’t like Apple but that’s another story). The other breakout session I attended was from Philippa Sheail – a brilliant reality check: how the student doesn’t really care where this stuff comes from , and who publishes it – they just want access.

So is the case –  as Winston Churchill said – more recently in Doctor Who – of  ‘KBO ‘ , doing nothing? We like the Daleks – they are our friends ? The last word went to satire and to Marc Abraham‘s presentation on the IgNoble prizes – one of their ‘winners’ for the Peace Prize managed to get the following published in the Journal of Forensic Medicine for determining — by experiment — whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full bottle of beer or with an empty bottle : “Are Full or Empty Beer Bottles Sturdier and Does Their Fracture-Threshold Suffice to Break the Human Skull? “.

Note the publisher. But before you click on the PDF, (isn’t that helpful, that the link to it comes up first) – you probably won’t get in. We’re not in that particular club.  Or, put it another way : that journal is not in our collection. It’s not the first paywall we’ve seen and it won’t be the last.

As Frankie says, ‘When two tribes go to war/A point is all you can score’.


Reframing the Past

Janice Bell and John Ridgway have been leading a project called ‘Reframing the past’ which involves working with a student who is looking at how to raise the profile of the rare books collection at Gosta Green library and the potential monetising of images.

Alhambra Vol 1 121Alhambra Vol 1 121

One of the ways of raising the profile is looking at digitising some images. UCEEL have already done a lot of work in digitising items from the rare books collection. The have digitised the Plans, Elevations, Sections, and Details of the Alhambra: from drawings taken on the spot by the late M. Jules Goury and in 1834 and 1837 by Owen Jones’ and have also digitised The Works of James Gilray and The Herbal or General History of Plants.

There are some wonderful images in these rare books and also fascinating content which will be of use to researchers, students, staff etc.

One of the outcomes of the project is to look at creating a flickr set of some of the images to help showcase the treasures that are available. A source of inspiration is the Glasgow School of Art Archives & Library’s photostream on flickr. I think some images of our rare books would be a good addition to our flickr account.

Works of James GilrayWorks of James Gilray

Do let us know you have any ideas of other photos we could add to the Birmingham City Univeristy, Library & Learning Resources flickr account.

JISC Conference 2010


Fiery-blooms at Kew 2009

The theme for the jisc conference this year was  ‘Technology: at the heart of education and research’ and links to presentations and more is available in the Virtual Goody Bag

The keynote speaker Martin Bean set the tone of the day with an enthusiastic, dynamic talk on the ‘learning journey’. Even though I wasn’t completely convinced of everything he said I was encouraged by his visionary outlook and he reminded me of the value of education.

He saw a clear place for libraries  but with a move from helping students retreive information to helping students make sense of the information and saw ‘trusted content’ as key. Personally I have always seen part of the information retreival process as identifying the trusted content first. I look forward to the day when we can spend less time showing staff and students how to access the content easily and have less authentications problems to resolve.

The 3 parallel sessions I attended were focused on collections and discovery. In the morning I went to the session on ‘Navigating the UK’s libraries, museums and archives: A vision for resource discovery’. Their vision was ‘UK students and researchers will have easy, flexible access to content and services through a collaborative, aggregated and integrated resource discovery and delivery framework which is comprehensive, open and sustainable’

I think this is an exciting vision although the complexity of the landscape is a worry. During other sessions in the day I learnt more about  new collections being built and developed. As the landscape continues to grow and become more complex I was left wondering how this vision to provide easy flexible access is achievable. I am also not completley sure what place ‘resource discovery solutions’ have in this landscape as they build their large indexes of aggregated data. I am however looking forward to seeing this develop and there are looking at some quick wins in this area which was encouraging to hear.

Another trend I noticed from the sessions I attended was the importance of showing value, an outcome of the current political and economic climate. Alongside showing value was also the need to be flexible and find sustainable business models, as talked about in the session ‘Business models for sustaining digital resources’. It was interesting to hear how the National Archives are generating £7m of income. The growing trend in interest in family history has been effectively targeted by the National Archives to help generate income . The, an archive of french TV & radio are also looking at monetizing their collection, through DVD sales although do also provide free access to their content as well.

The final session I attended was ‘Community collections and the power of the crowd’. It was fascinating to hear about how networks and communities are creating such valuable  & exciting resources.  Oxford were able to show the difference in cost in creating a crowdsources collection the ‘Great War Archive’ compared to the cost of a professoinal sourced collection ‘First World War Poetry Archive’ and not unsurprisingly it was much cheaper to crowdsource, £3.50 per image as opposed to £40. They encouraged people to submit their own scans & set up roadshows for people to bring along items to digitise. While this approach was experimental they were pleased with its success and are now providing a resource for others to do something similar, RunCoCo. It is interesting to see how these collections fit in & compare with more established publisher colletions.

Over lunch I also had the opportunity to hear about some work Mimas had done to get feedback from users. They were able to get some good qualititative and quantative data in a short period and to use to show their value. I was especially interested to hear what feedback there got from academics and researchers on their use of Zetoc, COPAC and Archives Hub and was encouraged to hear how much value they place on these services. I think this helped confirm my belief in them as a trusted source and a reason to recomend them

I enjoyed the day and the highlight for me was the opportuntity to meet more professional staff whose enthusiasm and vision make be have confidence in the future of education and the role of technology