Down the rabbit hole: from click, touch to drag


Recently the Wired Magazine ran a comparison on two portable e-book readers – the new Kindle from Amazon, and the Sony Touch. They came down slightly in favour of the Kindle – with its superior display and Whispernet Wireless connectivity.

But what struck me was that the smartphone users I showed these devices to, immediately touched the screen to load the book  – functionality which you get on the Sony but not the Kindle which uses a joystick (see our ‘home’ videos that demonstrate the difference : Sony TouchAmazon Kindle ).

We know that the sales of smart phones have rocketed – and as they become more and more widespread amongst students in the next few years, the disconnect between our traditional web and commerical mobile patforms will be become more and more obvious – one of the biggest is that of interaction : touching, dragging, moving the ‘stuff ‘ on the screen that you are looking at.

The coming of the iPad only accelerates this drive, to react with, to converse with, annotate, share a text : so that in an academic context learning is no longer a solitary experience.  (See how the page-turn works on an iPad here, using their iBooks app.)

Google (and other’s) answer to the iPad are on their way – so as the market for mobile reading expands this may prove interesting for established aggregators in the e-book field such asMyiLibrary, who are already moving away from their existing pdf reader because this form of delivery does not work well with mobile devices.

The race down the rabbit-hole is on ; not to replace the printed book but to make reading/teaching/discovering academic texts more tactile, and more interactive.

As Alice says, ‘what is the use of a book, without pictures or conversations’ ?


Librarians: gatekeepers or sneck-lifters?

IMAG0049I recently attended the JIBS-Eduserv Seminar, ‘Where next for resource licensing?’ – and it struck me that unfairly or not, librarians have always attracted the label of ‘gatekeepers’. The issues discussed here (live blogged on the day) were no exception. We have to deal with an increasing fragmentation in our user base, and at a time of budget cuts, universities will continue to recruit from every where and anywhere just to pay the bills. Several speakers including Jenny Carroll from Eduserv  (‘It’s all a question of scale – joint initiatives in HE institutions’) and Louis Cole from Kingston (“Thorny issues in licensing: an institution’s view”) covered the increasing number of partnerships, validations, alumni, walk-in users,’ non-doms’ etc that are now part of our licensing landscape – and the contradictions that ensue from these.

The technologies for managing these different users is already here : in his talk Ed Dee from EDINA  told us how Shibboleth authentication can be exploited for granularity – although interestingly he said that its potential was under-developed : not many institutions had gone beyond releasing basic attributes.  Matt Durant from Bath Spa took us through a demo of how Open Athens LA 2.0 would manage differing user-groups.  He focussed on the student experience, which was overlooked in my view by some of the designs of pop-up screens for e-journal articles shown by Mark Bide, from EDItEUR in his presentation on machine-readable licences.

But expressing complex licenses in XML isn’t easy : though the forthcoming JISC Collections’ online Licence Comparison and Analysis Tool will definitely help. And it also struck me that the further removed some of these user groups are from our home brand, the questions ‘What is Athens, (etc.) how do I log-in’ will be naturally even more insistent.  Once upon a time, for most a students a library was just a building, but that model is challenged not least  by the rise of mobile devices. Owen Stephens’s keynote speech Where are you: Does physical location matter in the digital world? showed how the old definitions of ‘walk-in user’ may need rethinking – and I would agree it is a confusing concept. What does walk-in really mean when most institutions have a VPN or use EZProxy to emulate their institutional proxy? When the numbers of students with smartphones wanting access to our services will soon start to take off?  When those courses who ask for ‘walk-in’ are often many miles away?’

You might be wondering what all this has got to do with the picture alongside – this particular tipple (which I can warmly recommend to you by the way) was named after ‘a man’s last sixpence, allowing him to lift the pub’s door latch and purchase a pint, whereupon he hopes to make enough friends that they may offer to buy him further rounds’ (see

A wise investment methinks –using limited funds to allow us to discover more resources to share with a wider audience is better than barring the door to that audience altogether.

Strangers in a strange land

Summer training event

Summer training event

I recently attended one of this years summer training event looking at the International Student experience. It was an interesting session and thanks again to the organisers.

We had a speaker from the ASK Student Services who provided a useful overview of some of the challenges facing international students especially in the first few weeks of arrival. One of the group exercises was to list the differences an international student will face coming to the UK, ie the diet, weather, expense, social etiquette, humour etc. There is more information on the culture shock of arriving in a new country available on the ASK webpages.

We also had the opportunity to hear from an international student about his first impressions of coming to the country. The pace of life took a while to adjust to alongside the balance between an academic and social life. Something I was interested in, but unforutnately owing to time didn’t get a chance to ask, what are the highlights to studying in the UK.

After the talks we had the opportunity to reflect on what we were doing well as a service and where improvements could be made. One of the areas mentioned was the recent successful bid for extra funds to purchase books on the british culture for 3 of the libraries.

A key fustration/challenge that was raised was the language barrier,  which sometimes makes it difficult for staff to get a message across to students. While the students are required to meet a level of english, this may not always be possible especially during the early months of arriving to the UK where some of the services we provide could be of real value.

Some of the solutions suggested was to get a better understanding of the needs of international students to help inform our services. The library has recently held focus groups with international students aw well as using a social networking tool for students to raise issues and then prioritise them. This will be repeated with the new intake in Sept and then hopefully provide an interesting and useful body of evidence as well as recomendations.

Personally I think technology could also be useful, whether helping to create social networks, provision of online resource, translational tools, provision of online material in various languages and format etc