Leeds Needs Well Met

A trip to Leeds Metropolitan University to meet up with Nick Sheppard was the order of the day recently.  Nick is Repository Developer at the Headingley Library and was on hand to share his views and experiences of implementing intraLibrary as their open access research repository.

Repository projects at Leeds Met were originally funded by JISC as part of the UKOER programme and, after looking at various options, intraLibrary was identified as the most suitable platform.  The fact that it is designed more for learning objects, rather than the research output that Leeds intended to use it for, led to a fair amount of further development work and customisation.

After a blisteringly fast-paced, and tangent-shifting yet insightful morning running through the highs and lows of this process, we moved on to look at the practical side of dealing with CLA requests using intraLibrary. 

This is similar to the process we use here for our own CLA book chapter and journal article requests.  To see the same steps followed via intraLibrary was beneficial and highlighted similar advantages and similar issues to those often experienced here using UCEEL / Formtek. 

We looked at adding collections, metadata templates, coversheets, uploading items, tutor notification, and renewals.  The interface may well look a little different, but the principles and workflows remain much the same. 

All in all, it proved to be a very useful visit, even if the final pulse-pounding dash for the train could have been filmed for an eLibrary version of The Bourne Identity.  Look out for the exciting trailer coming to a blog near you soon.

So, a big thanks to Nick and co at Leeds Met.


SSUGUK : conversations about content, and a community of users

Several of us attended a useful SerialsSolutions User Group day hosted by University of Surrey, the first part of which was setting out the scope of such a usergroup, raising product issues & also the developments and product enhancements planned by SerialsSolutions.


The session was hosted by Dave Pattern who took us through in the morning session the different ways in which we could share solutions and raise issues to the company including the Summon Community wiki, and the LISSERSOLUK mailing list. It was good to see a full complement of Serials Solutions representatives there who listened to points that were made from the floor about a number of issues : how do you reduce the number of newspaper articles and book reviews cluttering up Summon (the response came that can pre-set these in a widget – personally I think there should be an admin setting that should last for the whole of your Summon session not just your landing page, but at least we got the issue raised), an issue with linking through to EBSCO databases (due to be addressed in the next release of Summon).

Other themes included how to use EZProxy (some insititutions run it through Shibboleth which gives a cleaner authentication, we don’t as we currently only have an old version of AthensDA), and the perennial problem of working out what content we have and how to switch it on in the Client Center. An easy example (close to our hearts) is MINTEL for example. It’s great that MINTEL reports can be surfaced in Summon, but in order to work out what to best switch on in the knowledge base we have to know (from the rep) which library codes apply to our subscription (otherwise we get the whole package of reports which we don’t subscribe to).

Switching on content in Summon would be easy if the publishing market was neatly packaged, but it is a complex landscape, as Liam Earney outlined in the afternoon when he went through the challenge facing KB+, now in Phase One of its life cycle. As an institution that only has one NESLi2 deal at the moment though, this first phase might seem irrevelant to colleagues here – but any work that shows that publishers (and subscription agents) need to put their house in order when providing us with content, (and ourselves when we buy that content & consequently legitimize it).

However I think that the issues start to kick in when we move outside the deals/packages, and start wading through the undergrowth of individual titles. For example we have to set up access to Practical Diabetes International – because it seems recent content has not been loaded onto Swetswise  and we needed an alternative access point. Searching for that title on SerialsSolutions’ Client Center gave 48 places where that title is published, with 45 relating to Wiley. Which one to switch on?

The fun starts with holdings : if I ignore 7 or so backfiles, there are 36 places where holdings dates start in 2000 as a default. A quick look in Wiley’s admin area says ‘Holdings Report – Under Construction’ – so no help there. So I go back to the Client Center, ignore any journal bundles and look for Practical Diabetes International in something called ‘Wiley-Blackwell Journals (Frontfile Content)’ that sounds non-bundled. Out of the 1961 titles in this particular group, I find the right journal, tell it that we ‘subscribe to only some of the titles in this database’, check the start date on Wileys’ pages (which is 1996, different from Swets), and add it to our collection.

The point of this is that switching content on in a resource discovery tool like Summon means getting to grips with which collections you have. At both macro and micro level. It was good to see SerialSolutions engaging with the issue of content, but I did notice that a lot of their development talk was on 360 Resource-Manager – a product which we don’t have. However the day was a great way to discover that we weren’t the only ones struggling with content issues, and I felt that at least those conversations had begun.

Hitting a moving target : ejournals, subscription agents and holdings

In light of the recent posting by Mitchell Dunkley at DMU, I thought it might be useful to share some of our recent experiences about trying to track down ejournal content. We share what seems to be a similar problem : that of actually finding out what holdings we have – and particularly for ejournals, there are different issues than with ebooks.

Stormtrooper plays human target for kids. Image credit : PopCultureGeek.com

Our main point of contact for ejournals data (as opposed to journal titles in databases) has been our subscription agent Swets, and following a recent account meeting with them we flagged several inconsistencies between content available Swetswise Online Content (SWOC) and content available via some publisher’s sites. Swets are still looking into this for us but uncovering some of these problems has raised several issues that I think are generic and the examples below apply across the board. (I have used screen shots from http://screencast-o-matic.com to amplify some of these points – in this the small set of journals happen to be from Oxford Journals.)

1) Differences in holdings between subscription agent and publisher. There seemed to be often a wide variety of conflicting data depending where we looked: for example we found 37 OUP titles on SWOC but only 29 listed on Oxford Journals site. I found downloading information from SWOC problematic and unfriendly – we had to break up a download into several spreadsheets and couldn’t download one spreadsheet for all our holdings.(see this screenshot : http://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/clf0XPCns). We have no idea of how often our subscription agent and the publisher update each other – these conflicts may be a simple mistake, or a reporting error that has lasted for years. Again OUP was only one example, we know of at least two other publishers where this is happening.

2) Publishers approach the problem of ejournal data in different ways. If we turn to the publisher, the Oxford site in this case seems to be structured around a  volume issue-based system – which is great for an individual user but access entitlements are shown as being an long HTML through which we had to scroll down http://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/clf0IlCel. It was difficult to work out our holdings start and enddate from this, and as far as I can see an Excel list of holdings was only available on request from Oxford’s help desk.

Not all publisher administrative sites are the same – and in fact access to ejournal holdings may be reported differently depending on whether the publisher is showing holdings via our subscription agents entitlements or via a different account.The package under which a group of titles is accessed or set up may also efffect access – for example we also get Oxford titles through Oxford University Press Archive via JISC http://www.jisc-collections.ac.uk/Catalogue/Overview/Index/1171. Bundles of titles tend to be reported better than individual ongoing ejournal subscriptions.

3) Technical reasons :any discrepancies about content entitlement are often compunded by technical confusion – because of an IP-check the publisher’s site  will often say the user is recognised as belonging to the University but then is prompted to login : see http://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/clf022Cek (incidently this is a article we can currently access via SWOC but not via OUP ).This is often compounded when the user logs in off-campus – we have licenses with other publishers where off-campus accesss has not been made available.

4) Every institution has a different subscription history  : ‘retrospective’ entitlements to content may be complicated by insititutions not maintaining a print run in the past –  broken runs or cancellations can lead to an interruption in electronic access. This similar to the problem that has been mapped by the KB+ project  : http://knowledgebaseplus.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/historical_entitlements/ ; and the reality is (like in most things) there is no single source of truth. 

Country pursuits : Image Credit neilrickards

5) Free access – is often used by publishers as a marketing tool, which leads to difference between what content the library says is available and what the publisher is actually offering. There is usually no clear statement on how long the offer is for. Publishers vary in how they signal it.

The national work being carried out at KB+ (a JISC project led by @liamearney) is relevant here, but the key question for us is that of scale. When these issues are scaled up per publisher, the inaccuracies can be too resource-intensive to deal with en masse, especially in the light of implementation of a resource discovery system such as Summon. This adds another layer of dependency into the the mix : for example our Elsevier Freedom collection titles also appear in SWOC and we initially found that  there are around 390 titles (about 18%) in Summon’s KnowledgeWorks’ definition of the Freedom Collection that don’t appear in our Swets holdings.

It may be that in implementing a resource-discovery system we have to review where we get the data from, and who best to trust. And also be preprared to be flexible. There’s no guarantee. Put up the best that we have, when we have it then take it down later. Journal holdings, like clay pidgeons, never stay still.

More EZProxy, a visit to Wolverhampton, some cake and Athens LA

Robin and I had a very productive visit to Wolverhampton University yesterday to talk about authentication, EZProxy, OpenAthens LA, football and also consume some of these.

Ben Elwell from  Wolverhampton was able to share with us their latest news on how they had implemented Summon as- ‘the new Library Catalogue‘.

He reinforced the point that having access to resources in Summon without any proxy at all was a major stumbling block because the student found it hard to navigate between the provider’s logins. This was something we had also experienced.

Although they were running EZProxy for a few resources, Wolverhampton are moving to a later version of Athens, Athens LA 2.2  – which also includes an integrated proxy and improved statistics. One observation to make is that this appears to have better support for username and password protected resources, and configuration seems lot a easier than in EZProxy. 

In a tweet exchange with Eduserv they say there are 60 database configurations out of the box, and more will be contributed by the user community – so Athens LA 2.2 as a alternative solution to EZProxy seems definitely worth looking at.

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

Netskills webinar: Supporting researcher engagement with social tools

Today I attended (if that’s the right word) my first webinar entitled “Supporting researcher engagement with social tools”. The session was presented by Alan Cann (Leicester University) and hosted by Netskills. When I first logged in to the webinar I was concerned about whether I would be able to follow the discussion as there was a webcam of Alan, the slides and a chat box where participants could post questions or comments. When attending a conference I am always in awe of people who can listen and tweet at the same time, I am yet to master this skill. Despite my inital concerns I was able to keep up and what followed was a really interesting discussion on how, through the use of social media, researchers can improve the quality of their work as these tools facilitate their ability to find, use and disseminate information.  Alan and some colleagues at the International Centre for Guidance Studies have written Social media: a guide for researchers which hopes to enable people to make informed decisions about getting the most out of social media. They took quite a broad definition of social tools, covering these aspects:

  • Communicative (e.g. twitter, LinkedIn)
  • Collaborative (e.g. Delicious, CiteUlike)
  • Multimedia (e.g. Flickr, Second Life)

(for a full list of what they classed a social media go to page 7 of  Social media: a guide for researchers).

Alan presented some case studies of researchers who feel that using social tools has made them better at what they do, using them has become  an integral part of their working life which has resulted in to name a few; effective data sharing, information being found much more quickly, networks are established with respected individuals. In  fact one participant of the webinar cited an example where she has had a proposal, which was written in collaboration with someone they met on twitter – they have not met face to face -, accepted.

There was a discussion about the differences between visitors and residents of social media. Alan suggests that some people feel like they don’t have anything relevant to say or contribute so ‘lurk’ on the parameters of these tools.  Sometimes I feel like that, a lurker, reading blog posts and not commenting, not tweeting in response to a discussion and this is something I need to redress, hopefully in part by participating in #cpd23, it’s a confidence thing.

There was also a look at some of the criticisms levelled at social media; privacy, banality, work-life balance. It was nice to see a couple of people comment that they don’t mind the banal aspects as it makes the person seem more ‘human’ and can give an alternative perspective on that person’s life , their ideas and motivations. (Good to know when my tweets are probably high in the banal quotient ).

Alan also talked about good and bad networks and I think this is the key thing I am taking from the webinar – it’s not about the social tools themselves, it’s about how they are used to create the right network, an effective network.

Library Assistants – their future role

On 1st June 2011 I attended an event organised by WESlink (West Midlands HE Library training group) which looked at Library Assistants and their future role. This was a manager’s workshop and a few months before the same session had been run with Library Assistants. The structure of the event meant there was feedback from the library assistant session, an update of changes that were occurring at Warwick University followed by small group discussions around what changes were happening at each institution and the (potential) impact on a library assistant; skills required, type of person needed, and what staffing models should be implemented.

In terms of the changes and challenges being faced by academic libraries it was a similar and familiar picture and below are some of things discussed:

 Wordle - library assistants

It was interesting to hear about the positive things that were happening at other universities, for example, the library at Newman University College is moving into a new building in time for the start of the new academic year and at Warwick they have developed an app for the iPad to record enquiries when staff are roving out on the library floor.

Concerns that Library Assistants have about their role were also talked about. A common experience was that when a library assistant left the role would not be filled or the post would be changed to term-time only. At some places students were being employed to participate in projects such as discards or to staff IT help desks. This begged the question of whether the days were number for a library assistant. To partly address this and develop the skill levels of library assistants some institutions have adopted a rotational approach so, after say 12 months experience in Document Supply the library assistant will move on to Technical Services or  Collection Management or another site to consolidate their knowledge and experience. From my experience this is a good thing, when opportunities arose for me to move departments within the library I took this up and it has given me a good overall view and understanding of working within an academic library and how things fit together.

I think the main thing I took from the discussion is that there are exciting but unsettling times ahead working in libraries. I have been following some of the #SLA 2011 tweets on twitter and there were two comments I read today which resonate with this WESlink session I attended:


@annenb Getting rid of librarians because everything is online = getting rid of accountants because everyone has a calculator on desk. #sla2011



If I could sum up the common message of most (or all) of the library thought-leaders I’ve heard speak, it’d be… #sla2011 (1/2)

 (2/2) Libraries & librarians are actually on the cusp of an incredible opportunity, so let’s not stuff it up, & let’s be BRAVE. #sla2011


Things have changed, things are changing, things will continue to change and staff who work in libraries and information need to be flexible, adaptable, forward thinking and accept that change happens (which can be difficult), so change within an organisation needs to be communicated well, managed effectively and sensitively.

Are you being served? – ALPSP Conference

“The big deal is the best thing since sliced bread” Dirk Haank, CEO of Springer Science and Business Media

Haank made these comments in the January 2011 issue of Information Today but after attending the ALPSP  ‘Are you being served?’  conference a few weeks ago it appears that many from the library and publishing world would challenge this remark.

My understanding of big deals is perhaps limited compared to others. To give some context I work as a Serials Librarian and have done for just over a year and my predominant focus has been print subscriptions. The post has now relocated to the eLibrary team and now I am attempting to inhabit two worlds. I have not been involved in the setting up of any big deals for my institution but my awareness of their restrictiveness came from completing my first renewals process last summer when I had to inform some Collection Management colleagues they were unable to cancel certain titles because they formed part of a big deal package. Nick Lewis (Library Director at UEA)  one of the speakers described it as “irresponsible”  to continue to sign these big deals because of their lack of flexibility and that libraries and publishers need to work together to develop new business models. This idea was echoed by Chris Bennett (OUP) who suggested that deals need to move away from being linked to print subscriptions and this is one of the problems I have come across.

Big deals were brought up periodically throughout the course of the conference but it wasn’t the main focus. Instead it was ‘shared services’, looking at how librarians, publishers and intermediaries can work together to make services sustainable in what are difficult and challenging times.

There are a number of interpretations of shared services but JISC (2008) has defined it as:

“Institutions cooperating in the development and delivery of services, so sharing skills and knowledge, perhaps with commercial participation”

Louise Jones from Leicester University gave an interesting talk about the considerations that need to be given when addressing shared services including “What shared services should be developed?” and “Who do you collaborate with?” as there may be various options:  Locally  Vs. Regionally Vs. Nationally Vs Internationally Vs. Other sectors.

There were also talks on some examples of shared services with updates on the following projects:

SCONUL shared services; KBART ;  & JUSP .

 What was apparent was that for shared services to be successful there needs to a culture of collaboration and the system needs to be supported by all levels of the institution.

Sharing services also raises concerns about how a library maintains its ‘brand’ and reputation.Marketing libraries is something which needs to be developed and it was suggested that perhaps we need to draw on the experience and expertise in the publishing world to help build the library brand.Another potential threat to shared services is the competitive advantage that will become more prominent as universities charge higher fees – could this mean that institutions pull away from shared services and lead to fragmentation? Anne Rossiter (SCONUL) suggested that to minimise this we need to be clear about what services we are sharing (ie tasks which are duplicated or repetitive) and clear about where there would be local differentiation, thus helping with the brand recognition. 

 Another key theme throughout the day was about how we can add value and Return on Investment (ROI). Ann Lawson (EBSCO) looked at it from the subscription agent point of view outlining their role in adding value through, for example, outsourcing basics, providing better licensing terms, making more content available. Whilst Carol Tenopir (University of Tennessee)  condensed nearly 30 years of research and experience into a 30 minute slot! Carol’s research focus has been to look at how to measure the value of academic libraries through implicit, explicit and derived (ROI) measures, thus providing evidence that library collections contribute to income generation such as research grants. Carol is now involved with JISC  & 6  UK institutions to conduct similar research here and the findings should be collated Summer 2011 so it will be interesting to see the outcome.

All in all it was a full programme, giving me the opportunity to see how shared services are developing.

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

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 ina.fr, 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