Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The disintegration and redistribution of the library

Back in 2005, Roland Dietz and I wrote an article called the “Disintegrating World of Library Automation.” This past week however, I realized how much this trend has accelerated.

The CNI Task Force Meeting was in Arlington, Virginia this past week (Dec 12-13, 2011) and as I sat through the various sessions, it was obvious the extent to which we are now witnessing the disintegration and redistribution of an increasing number of the functions of the library. This is not to say that those functions are disappearing, disintegrating into the bins of history, or that they will. Rather, it is to say that we are steadily watching the functions of libraries breaking into very discreet units that are being redistributed outside the walls of the physical library and reintegrated in new and highly collaborative environments where far greater efficiencies can be achieved.

  1. Virtual reference. This is now widely available from numerous sources on the web and many libraries are now shutting down their virtual reference service. In the current economic environment, given the usage statistics for library virtual reference services, it simply becomes a reality that other organizations are doing this more efficiently.
  2. Circulation. The paper book increasingly bears a striking resemblance to a dead man walking. No doubt, there are many that will proclaim this untrue. I agree it may continue to walk for another 20 years, but the trend is becoming pretty obvious. Digitization efforts and remote, collaborative storage facilities are growing. Ebooks are a major topic in the news these days. As a result, Amazon and other ebook companies continue to chip away at the edges of traditional library circulation models that serve many citizens. These new models give instantaneous delivery while all too many libraries still want members to come and pick up physical items. Library members don’t have time for that, nor will they tolerate it any longer than they must. With the rapidly dropping cost of e-readers, this technology becomes available to more and more people. Libraries are testing ebooks, but I fear by the time the sort out the related issues the other suppliers will have built significant momentum. It is clear the ebook vendors are testing out their business models at this point, frequently to the exclusion of libraries, but once they’ve sorted those models out, I fully expect to see a major ramp-up and rollout and high levels of usage. This will likely have a major impact on library circulation numbers.
  3. Acquisitions are increasingly being moved outside of the library to the library membership. The recent Charleston Conference had numerous sessions on how libraries are implementing this model. Once done, those members can initiate the order and are promptly notified by the systems when the item has been received and processed and is ready for them to use.
  4. Serials/Journals are beginning to move from a recognized name being a title that contains articles, to individual articles residing on that name as a platform. Usage is increasingly being done via rentals or sales of individual copies of articles. Again the recent Charleston Conference had some speakers showing how they were saving money and seeing greater usage of a broader range of content as a result. Coverage of this fact has been increasing in publications. The trend will continue and in it, the libraries are at best, middle-people. That alone should give us pause and cause, to stop and think.
  5. Cataloging is increasingly being done collaboratively, or by the supplier and metadata is being shared more openly. We see technology increasingly being utilized to develop and extract metadata elements and pre-populate records before being touched by a traditional cataloger. While much of this functionality will remain in existence, it will migrate to centers supporting numerous institutions (See the 2CUL project for an example ). These types of efforts will easily expand to include e-resource management, collaborative collection development, and digital preservation.
  6. Cloud computing is moving many of the basic functions of the IT department out of the library and into the cloud. Indexes, discovery tools, management systems are also smartly moving to the cloud where numerous benefits and greater collaboration can be derived.
  7. Reading recommendations are increasingly being driven by automation, as they should be given the born-digital nature of so much information and the need to sort through the vast supplies of that information to find the right information to meet the library member needs.
  8. Mobile systems. Library members now are increasingly accessing collections and information resources from mobile devices. They are having resources delivered wherever they are, at any time, on any device, from only from the library but from the many other sources they consider equivalent to libraries. Many users of libraries may never set foot over the physical threshold we know as the library.
  9. Research data and datasets are, as I’ve written in other posts, an opportunity for librarianship, but even here we must realize that we can’t afford to house these datasets or the expertise needed to understand them. Almost certainly, given the volume involved and the need for wide access, this will have to be done via some collaborative model, using cloud computing.
We’re all painfully aware that administrators, provosts, government and community leaders are starting to seriously question the value of the library and certainly the need for existing or additional physical library buildings. Many colleges and universities are reducing and/or combining libraries. We're likely to see more of this as the functions of the library increasingly disintegrate and migrate elsewhere.

So what does this mean for librarianship? In my mind, the reality of this convergence of trends and technology is that librarianship will become, for those nimble enough to re-engineer their libraries in the near future, a series of very focused value-add services and activities upon the vast reservoirs of digital information now available. (See the recent article in American Libraries, for an excellent article entitled “Avoiding the Path to Obsolescence” by Steven Smith and Carmelita Pickett to prime your thinking here). While many of these services will have massive technological underpinnings, librarians must develop new services and rethink the existing to leverage that technology and their allocated resources, or they too may see their skill sets dispersed into other departments and functional units of their organizations.

For example, while noted above that eScience offers new opportunities for librarianship, the subject and research process expertise required is specialized enough that it might easily result in those functions being better placed within the departments doing the research. Only if librarianship can develop compelling reasons (i.e. clear value-add) for these functions to bind together and reside in the library, will they do so. Clearly those reasons exist, such as metadata creation/management, cross-silo awareness, discovery expertise and much more, but we must, as a profession, move outside the walls of our libraries to actively promote those skill sets to the other departments on our campuses, so that we build awareness and demand for that value.


The disintegration of many of the functions of libraries and librarianship outside the walls of the library is well underway. Those functions will, through their redistribution, reformulation and reintegration into new highly collaborative environments, mobile devices and mobile services, provide better services. The challenge for us as librarians however, is to ask ourselves if will we have be prescient enough in this process to have clearly defined new roles for ourselves and to have promoted them well enough for their value to be understood and even demanded? Or will librarianship also disintegrate and disburse, soon to be reintegrated outside of the library in ways that ultimately leave the profession unrecognizable?

As many of you head into the next ALA Mid-Winter Conference I encourage you to focus your attention on identifying those new roles and opportunities, learning about them and when you get back to your library, implementing them and promoting them.

Librarianship is important. Let’s build upon our foundations, a new definition of it for tomorrow, that makes that importance equally obvious to everyone.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A New Bibliographic Framework -- Time To Speak UP!

As a longtime supporter of NISO’s efforts, I want to bring to your attention an important topic that NISO, and others, are raising. The current (November 2011) NISO Newsline, in the lead article by NISO’s Managing Director Todd Carpenter, examines the “A Bibliographic Framework for the Digital Age” announced by the Library of Congress.

Carpenter quite correctly notes: “There is much to admire and appreciate in LC's leadership here.” However, he goes on to ask a critically important question: “…whether this should be led by LC alone?” He also comments that: “The community that uses MARC records encompasses nearly every library, nearly every software provider, and the countless organizations supplying records to the community.”

In reading what LC said when they announced the initiative, they stated:
“This work will be carried out in consultation with the format's formal partners -- Library and Archives Canada and the British Library -- and informal partners -- the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek and other national libraries, the agencies that provide library services and products, the many MARC user institutions, and the MARC advisory committees such as the MARBI committee of ALA, the Canadian Committee on MARC, and the BIC Bibliographic Standards Group in the UK.”
However, as Carpenter notes: “Inclusive is not the same as openness and collaborative doesn't necessarily imply consensus outcomes.” This is a key point. Consultation is very important, but we live in a collaborative environment today and these are two very different approaches with two very different results.

Karen Coyle (a member of our Community Catalog Advisory Group and a very respected metadata consultant) has written a number of blog posts on the subject and in one noted:
“Also not included are the academic users of bibliographic data, users who are so frustrated with library data that they have developed numerous standards of their own, such as BIBO, the Bibliographic Ontology, BIBJson, a JSON format for bibliographic data, and Fabio, the FRBR-Aligned Bibliographic Ontology. Nor are there representatives of online sites like Wikipedia and Google Books, which have an interest in using bibliographic data as well as a willingness to link back to libraries where that is possible. Media organizations, like the BBC and the U. S. public broadcasting community, have developed metadata for their video and sound resources, many of which find their way into library collections. And I almost forgot: library systems vendors. Although there is some representation on the MARC Advisory Committee, they need to have a strong voice given their level of experience with library data and their knowledge of the costs and affordances.”

I believe both of these individuals, through their writings, raise a critically important issue: This effort needs to benefit from a truly collaborative approach. Coyle said it well in her post:
“The next data carrier for libraries needs to be developed as a truly open effort. It should be led by a neutral organization (possibly ad hoc) that can bring together the wide range of interested parties and make sure that all voices are heard. Technical development should be done by computer professionals with expertise in metadata design. The resulting system should be rigorous yet flexible enough to allow growth and specialization. Libraries would determine the content of their metadata, but ongoing technical oversight would prevent the introduction of implementation errors such as those that have plagued the MARC format as it has evolved. And all users of bibliographic data would have the capability of metadata exchange with libraries.”
I deeply appreciate what the Library of Congress has done in understanding the need for change in our bibliographic framework and for the leadership, thought and effort devoted to the topic thus far. However, as a community, let’s take the opportunity LC is giving us when they say:
“We are posting this general plan for your comments. Please let us know what you think. We are grateful for your interest, and we appreciate suggestions for improvement. We encourage you to post your thoughts to the Bibliographic Transition listserv.”
Take a step back and review the questions being asked at this stage by Carpenter, Coyle and others and think hard about your answers. If you aren’t comfortable with those answers, then speak up. If you want to see a truly open effort lead by a neutral organization involving more and different parties in a truly collaborative effort, this is the time to say so.

It is really important for us to raise our heads above the daily chaos our lives and jobs impose on us and give careful consideration of where this next framework is going to take us. Is it the right destination? When we get there, will it be where those who can best benefit from our data, services and information are also going to be located? Or will they be in another destination(s), having moved in a different direction(s)? If so, that would be a most unfortunate consequence for our libraries. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. Get involved. Read the blog posts and columns. Speak up. This is a critically important component of the future of librarians and library services.

Collaboration depends on participation.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New book on Cloud Computing in Libraries

I just wanted to give readers a heads-up that there is a new book out on cloud computing in libraries. It’s called “Getting Started With Cloud Computing” and is edited by Edward Corrado of Binghamton University (and an Ex Libris customer) and Heather Lea Moulaison of the University of Missouri School of Information Science and Learning Technologies. It also contains a foreword by Roy Tennant of OCLC. A good start, right? It gets better as there are chapters by Marshall Breeding, H. Frank Cervone and numerous other practitioners and professionals, including yours truly. (Now just in case you’re wondering if I’m plugging this book to make some money, let me be clear that I was paid absolutely no money, nor will I be, even if you all turn this into a NY Times best seller -- unlikely I know, but one can always hope…).
Having now read the full work, I can honestly say that I think this work will prove useful to anyone interested in learning about cloud computing technology as well as the concerns and benefits. There are also very useful sections on some the actual technologies available in the cloud environment today and a host of case studies containing useful assessments and evaluations.
Cloud computing is going to substantially reshape many aspects of librarianship. This book will serve as an excellent background and reference to those interested in understanding how to best utilize this technology.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Library Linked Data Model – from a librarian/vendor point of view

The discussions about the Library Linked Data Model indicate that many people clearly feel it is an important topic for librarianship. The desire to make hundreds of silos of data more accessible, usable and maintainable are shared by the community and it is equally of interest to the many organizations that provide products and services to that community. Ex Libris, as one of those organizations, frequently gets asked: How we feel about this topic and where do we see it fitting into our plans? As you might suspect, the answers, while seemingly simple, are actually far more complex.

I was at the ELAG 2011 conference in Prague in the Czech Republic recently and was sitting on a panel when an attendee asked the vendor organizations on the panel (a representative of OCLC and me): What were our plans concerning Library Linked Data? The audience, as indicated by the Tweets that followed, was concerned when they learned that neither organization had detailed plans to share. Clearly, thought and movement is being given to the technology in both organizations, but uncertainty exists. For organizations, like Ex Libris, that enjoy the reputation for being forward thinking, one might wonder what are the reasons for that?

It includes a lack of clear understanding of what exactly are the problems being solved for the profession by this technology that can only be solved with the Library Linked Data model or that can’t be otherwise solved? Are these problems shared across the profession, across institutions? Is it agreed that the Library Linked Data model is the solution? If so, how many institutions, or even personal services, are in production status using this model to solve those problems?

Please don’t misunderstand or think that we read the benefit statements and fail to understand them. That is simply not the case. We totally get it. We see the potential of unleashed innovation, the embodiment of the concepts of the Semantic Web. We understand the stated benefits and possibilities. We too are excited by what this technology could bring to end-users. The drive for innovation could certainly help transform librarianship and enable it to become more dynamic in meeting the needs of end-users. We agree upon all points.

However, as stated in the title of this post, take a moment and slide around the table and sit in our chair. From here, what you’ll see is a situation best described by the E.M. Rogers, “Diffusion of Innovations” Bell curve which was later enhanced by Geoffrey Moore, when he introduced the concept of “Crossing the Chasm” into the model. It’s a fascinating description of how technology goes from being an idea to a product on towards the end-of-life. Rogers does this by dividing the technology market for any product into five segments. Moore introduced the chasm in the model, into which many technologies fall and fail if they can’t successfully clear the gap between the first two segments and those that follow. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s focus on those first two segments as they are particularly relevant in the discussion of Library Linked Data at this point in time:
  • Innovators, or Technology Enthusiasts. This is the “bleeding edge”. Typically about 2.5% of most markets. Organizations here comprise the initial leading edge of the curve. They represent those who like to be the first because they believe it will improve life. Organizations in this group rarely have much money.
  • Early Adopters or Visionaries. About 13.5% of organizations. These are the revolutionaries, those who will actually break with the past and embrace a new future. They also like to be known as visionaries, so they’re very good about talking about what they’re doing. Better yet, in most markets, these organizations have money to implement their vision. However, these organizations also want products customized to meet their needs, sometimes asking for things few other organizations will want.
Those two groups together constitute what Rogers/Moore calls the “early market”, i.e., the leading thinkers. Together they constitute about 16% of any technology market segment. The other 85% are called Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards. Each bears its own behavior patterns and descriptions (and if you want to read about them, Moore’s book is excellent). The point is this; that 85% form the majority of any market for a product/service. For a vendor, taking the technology across the chasm between the leading edge and the market majority is the key to being successful and clearly it is no easy task. It’s a combination of timing, development and management and certainly even an element of luck.

What most developers/providers of products analyzing the potential of Library Linked Data would see is that at this stage, this technology is very much in the research stage. There are a lot of ideas being discussed, a lot of possibilities described and a lot of unanswered questions being asked. In terms of pushing forward with implementation, the vendor sees that the first 16% of the market consists of 3.5% that typically (but not always) has no money to spend and consequently their participation will be solely through in-kind donations of brainpower and people time. This is not to be minimized. It is a very important contribution to the development of new technology and helps to bring ideas to life. However, at this stage, for a vendor, it doesn’t help to pay our staff or bills. When we do the business case study, we need to wait until at least the 13.5% of a market that more likely has money engages. However, even then, we have to factor in that this market is already facing extremely challenging financial times and they have little time for fully exploiting their existing technology, much less exploring the possibilities of new technology. It’s just a reality of the times. At the end of that business case analysis we come up with some very, very small numbers over which to spread the costs and return it will take to implement this major overhaul in core data structures and related software that runs on top of those structures. Which makes the product unaffordable at this point in time.

Someone will ask: Isn’t this why you do R&D? Isn’t this how you develop a new market? If you want to be leading edge, shouldn’t you be engaged? Again, fair questions but let’s continue our examination from the vendor view in order to answer those questions. Specifically, we see the following issues needing more narrative, more agreement and resolution:
  1. Let’s start by going back to the critical need to answer the question about the problems being solved for the profession by the use of this technology that can only be solved by using this model? To answer that, I’ll repeat what customers tell us all the time when we bring them new products, services and ideas: “Show me”. Yes, it can be frustrating to face that question. However it is the nature of this marketplace. Not without good cause. We understand that the majority of this market is buying products/services with money that is entrusted to them to be spent very wisely. As a result, the profession of librarianship is very careful. They want to see what they’re buying before they buy it. The challenge becomes to develop some working demonstrations of Library Linked Data, that can be widely shared, widely used and clearly and easily demonstrate the remarkable benefits. If one of the main benefits is “unleashed innovation”, how do you show that? Not easy, but we do need at least a few really good examples. This will help to fuel the interest in moving this technology forward. One possible answer? For the innovators; technology enthusiasts, early adopters and visionaries to bind together and develop some working examples of the innovative possibilities. Use a limited set of data, but develop some demonstrations and, at the same time, try to answer some of the points below through those demonstrations.
  2. How this technology will get implemented also needs more clarity. Do we see it as technology that will be implemented only with newly created data? Can we, as a profession, afford to wait the amount of time that would take? That doesn’t seem likely. So, if not, how are we going to convert data from the existing data structures and silos into this format? Who is going to do that, when and how? Will it be something expected of the vendors? Certainly to get the data to work with our end products, we know we will have to write some amount of conversion software. To do this, any organization will need a lot of details in order to spec out the amount of time and effort and therefore cost it will take to achieve answer this need.
  3. How do we see this data being maintained? We all know, and numerous posts have pointed out, the data is dynamic. It’s constantly being corrected, updated, revised and enhanced. Maybe not in huge quantities compared to the total body of data, but still it must be accommodated. Certainly the possibility for linked data to reduce the number of times the data will need to be replicated streamlines this need. However, the need still exists. So we need to understand how exactly this will get done, by who and how frequently? Our customers will not want to capture the benefits of linked data and then seem them slowly erode due to the data increasingly becoming outdated over time. The answers to these questions are an essential component.
  4. If the answers to some of the points above are to come from open communities, be it open-source or others, we also need to factor in the maturity and sustainability of the tools that are put forth. In some instances, we’ve had experiences where we moved to adopt OSS tools only to find the development/maintenance resources behind those tools vaporize and the tools languished. Yes, of course we realize that we could pick that up that task, but like most organizations, we have our development resources tightly scheduled far in advance and therefore this is not always an immediate option for us. So we’ve learned to adopt such tools after they’ve demonstrated a level of independent sustainability. Ex Libris, with thousands of customers, has to ensure that anything we incorporate or rely upon is stable and sustainable. It’s important for all our customers, but especially important for the very many large, enterprise level organizations that use our products.
All of this information will also be factored into the cost to move to using this technology, converting our thousands of customers, and therefore pricing the final products and testing that pricing with customers. This is needed to help us assess the viability of developing products using this technology. In the end, we’ll perform a business case analysis to determine if the return on the investment will meet or exceed that of other ideas and technology that we’re considering implementing. This can be challenging because assigning value to things like “unleashed innovation” intuitively seems easy. However, when you’re trying to show sharp-penciled funding authorities that value, they like to see numbers and they like accountability around those numbers. Like all organizations, we have limited resources and we want to make sure we make wise choices in order to provide that accountability and that will ultimately serve customers and our best interests. This is not easy to do without solid answers and informed, well-grounded projections.

Conceptually, we’re on board with the ideas behind the Library Linked Data model and in fact, we’re designing our new system Alma with the necessary capabilities at the core to support the Library Linked Data model. We’re actively developing it. However, from a business perspective, the technology and the ideas that will result from the model seem too nascent for us to be able to provide the answers and projections needed in order to bet major development resources. We believe that will change. It’s going to take more time. Until then, we plan on putting the foundation in place, participating in the discussions, contributing ideas and information where possible and planning for the day when we’ll have those answers in hand and to be able to offer a firm development schedule for the delivery of the Library Linked Data model in our products and services.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Part 2 - Time for accountability from ALA when talking about strategic plans

Dear Keith:

Thanks much for your comments on my last post. While I certainly didn’t expect you to say anything other than you think the plan is moving in the right direction, I’m delighted that you’re willing to engage in some debate and discussion on the topic.

While I want to deal with some of the specifics of your remarks, I want to restate that I think the main point is being missed here which is that objectives provide concrete, measurable, steps for achieving the goals.

Since I get the feeling we aren’t on the same page regarding the definition of goals vs. objectives, let me provide a neutral reference here we can all use as a basis for this discussion:

“Goals are long-term aims that you want to accomplish. Objectives are concrete attainments that can be achieved by following a certain number of steps… Goals have the word ‘go’ in it. Your goals should go forward in a specific direction. Objectives have the word ‘object’ in it. Objects are concrete. They are something that you can hold in your hand. Because of this, your objectives can be clearly outlined with timelines, budgets, and personnel needs. Every area of each objective should be firm. Unfortunately, there is no set way in which to measure the accomplishment of your goals. You may feel that you are closer, but since goals are de facto nebulous, you can never say for sure that you have definitively achieved them. Objectives can be measured. For example, ‘I want to accomplish x in y amount of time’ becomes ‘Did I accomplish x in y amount of time?’ This can easily be answered in a yes or no form.”
Using that definition, I think we need to agree that what has been put before the membership and called “objectives” is clearly not.

Furthermore, the “vivid description” at the end of the 2015 Strategic Plan document, (although I must admit after reading it, I think the phrase “vivid imagination” probably would have been a better use of terms) leaves me feeling equally uncertain about the specifics of HOW we are going to get from where we are to what this section describes. To save others from looking for this, let me quote it here:
Vivid Description of the Desired Future: ALA is recognized as leading and supporting a continuous transformation of libraries of all types in response to the changing needs, expectations, demographics, and technologies of the populations they serve. Libraries and their staff are perceived as vital to the communities they serve; connecting people and ideas to each other and to the world.

All people have wide access to knowledge, information and their cultural heritage, when and where they need and expect it. Users are the primary advocates for libraries, recognizing library services as essential to learning and to individual and societal enrichment.

Libraries are widely recognized as key players in economic development, in building strong and vibrant communities, and in sustaining a strong democracy. Libraries are also recognized as an essential component of the educational system, providing critical youth literacy services, enriching formal education, and supporting lifelong learning. They are key providers of free and permanent public access to government information and e-government services.

School libraries are considered fundamental to a student's education and school librarians are seen as indispensable instructional leaders. Academic and research libraries and librarians are indispensable in advancing learning and scholarship and preserving our cultural heritage. Public libraries are recognized as the interactive place where people find the best resources, programming, and learning opportunities and use information to solve problems and build bridges between people. The services of libraries of all types are readily accessible and welcoming to all, including persons with disabilities.

Libraries collaborate effectively with each other, with museums, archives and other information providers to increase public access to information. They offer access to local and global resources in a vast variety of print and electronic formats. Library users have access to physical libraries that serve as community learning centers, and online access to library resources 24 hours a day, and through a variety of technologies. Libraries embrace technology and are seen as trusted leaders in the information age.

As a result, all types of libraries are adequately funded, librarianship is a sought after profession, librarians are leaders in the information community, information is accessible to all and all people in the United States are literate library users.”
Maybe I’m just way too literal to understand the plan here. I’ll freely admit this is a description of an outcome we’d all like to see, but my stated concern remains after reading it: HOW?? To quote the old Japanese proverb:
“Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.”
This is a plan without those actions described in the detail needed and thus could contribute to a nightmare outcome for this profession.

The statements in this “vivid description” and in the overall "2015 Strategy Plan" remind me of what we hear from most politicians all the time: grand and sweeping, sounding good if not wonderful, but certainly lacking substance, not backed with data and certainly with no specific steps that will be taken to get there, much less by which to actually measure the progress or achievement of the objectives defined. It’s a “feel good” document. It ignores the realities of today and describes a vision that is apparently rooted in the belief that somehow everyone will come to their senses about libraries and librarianship and things will magically start moving in the right directions. I find that disingenuous and a disservice to the profession. We don't need a feel good document. We need a substantive, detailed plan that offers not only accountability for ALA management and organization, but for each of us as members of the profession and organization.

If, as you say, the next step in the plan is to offer a description of what the “transformed library” will look like and that will fill in the gaps then I certainly hope we’ll all make sure that some real objectives are inserted so that accountability can truly be offered and if not achieved, corrective actions taken. (Although I would note here that I think we should be describing the transformation of librarianship, not libraries. Doing it in that order would lead to both and focuses us where we need to be focused.)

Finally, regarding your statement:

“As far as accountability, I guess I would argue that ALA has the highest accountability standard of all: What our members think about the job we're doing.”
It seems to me that it isn’t quite as positive as you imply.

Using the statistics on ALA’s website, there are around 150,000 librarians in the field in 2010. ALA’s membership appears to be around 60,000 or 40% of those people. Why is it that low? Why are we not appealing to those many others? Why are they not members?

Also, I note that ALA’s last financial report for 2010 contains the following statement: “Further it is assumed that membership will fall 2.5% year to year at 55,000 members on the roster.” Using your statement that:

“ALA members vote with their feet”
I guess we'd have to say that it does appear the vote is coming in. Are we paying attention to that fact?

Maybe inserting some reality and accountability into our strategic plan would help reverse that trend.



Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Time for accountability from ALA when talking about strategic plans

I know what I’m about to voice concern over is something that happens frequently in all types of organizations. However, it just irritates me to no end when I see educational organizations commit this error because they should know better. There IS a difference between “goals” and “objectives”.

Goals are general statements of direction, an aim being taken. On the other hand, objectives are specific, measurable statements. They allow you at the end of the stated time period to step back and say “we achieved ‘x’ against our goal of ‘y’ ”. It is perfectly acceptable to have objectives tied to goals if they support the goal and serve the purpose of allowing the measurement of progress in achieving the stated direction of the goal.

So yesterday, when I saw the American Library Association, come out with this story which contained the heading: “The Digital Revolution and the Transformation of Libraries; Transforming libraries and the 2015 Strategic Plan” it grabbed my attention. It is exactly what we need in this profession – a true strategic plan by which to set our course in these turbulent times.

As before however, when it comes to ALA and strategic plans, when you open up the document and start reading, you’ll find this kind of language:

“The goal outlines four objectives:
  • Increase opportunities to share innovative practices and concepts across the profession, nationally and internationally, and among all libraries.
  • Increase recognition of and support for experimentation with innovative and transformational ideas.
  • Help libraries make use of new and emerging technologies by promoting and supporting technological experimentation and innovation.
  • Increase leadership development and training opportunities designed to support the ongoing transformation of libraries.”
In other words, what you’ll find are more goals masquerading as objectives. There are no real objectives in sight.

Using their language we must ask: how do we measure success in achieving these things? How do we know if we succeeded? How do we hold the elected and administrative officials of ALA accountable? Especially when all we get for a strategic plan is mushy sentences like these? I want to know HOW??

The profession of librarianship needs real objectives linked to clearly stated goals. We need to align behind them to make sure the measures are achieved. Furthermore we need accountability from our elected and administrative officials that lead ALA in achieving those goals and objectives.

eScience and Librarianship; An exciting new opportunity

I've been on the conference circuit for the last couple of months, sometimes speaking and sometimes listening. Certainly one of the topics being much discussed by librarians is that of eScience.

It represents a very interesting opportunity for librarianship. I've summarized below what I've heard and some thoughts on the subject that I'm sharing with others when asked.

It is my opinion that eScience is a major new opportunity for librarianship. It is one we should eagerly embrace, help define and ultimately lead in many respects. It's important for us to realize that eScience is not a new field of science. Instead, it is methodology, process and procedures that are intended to empower scientists to do their research faster, better and in different ways. It takes science and makes it a communal and participatory process.

eScience is resulting because everything in research is increasingly computational in nature. The result is massive stores of digital data, software and software infrastructure to manage, analyze, and produce the associated data.

While data was previously tied to a specific hypothesis, now it is subject to reuse, re-testing and recombination with other data. Furthermore, whereas in the past we needed bring the data to the computer, now we need to centrally locate the data and take the computation to the data. The power of networks, cloud computing and numerous other variables are bringing about important changes with regard to handling eScience data.

The intersection of eScience & librarianship ends up largely being about data. Networked data, that drives science. We need to store it, find it, retrieve it and make sure it is reusable and ultimately, can be combined and analyzed with other eScience data.

This intersection brings about many new and emerging roles for librarianship in dealing with that e-data. As librarians we need to address these needs by understanding the data, curating it, helping create relationships between data sets that researchers don't see on their own, creating the metadata to assist in finding and reusing it as well as understand that librarians need to become researchers themselves, so they can learn and see how to add value to data sets.

This is not to say that eScience doesn’t come with major challenges, because it does. However, therein lies the chance for us as librarians to apply our skills and to help bring together the answers needed.

Here are some of the challenges we’re facing.

1. Right now, we have vast amounts of data being generated without organization, description, preservation, or curation. As a result it is very easily lost. Cloud computing and digital preservation systems bring us some answers. Cloud computing brings along economy of scale and will help to make overall prices far more affordable for computing, storage, network, preservation and overall administration. Yet, we have challenges in how to move the data into the clouds because this poses major issues for our networks. Digital preservation systems now exist to ensure future access to data, but these systems bring along with them a whole host of new requirements for librarianship.

2. For instance, eScience data requires some subject expertise in order to understand it and to make it useful. As librarians, we’ll need to understand the standards, practices, values, norms and culture of the research field. We’ll need to teach users the basic concept of databases, how to query those db's and the file formats. We’ll need to understand which formats and data types are appropriate for different research questions the researchers are posing.

3. We also have to worry about data ownership and rights. In order to do that we’ll need to understand the ethics of the field. We’ll have to work with and train people about acknowledging reuse of data when they do so. Certainly we’ll be able to apply our knowledge of intellectual property, privacy and confidentiality to the eScience field, but it won’t be easy. eScience will bring new players and problems to the copyright discussions.

4. eScience data needs to be opened up. We need a strong push for data not to be stored behind firewalls so it can more readily be data mined, analyzed and reused. Having the data be open will help ensure it is reusable and not tied to any specific software silos. Data sets tied to proprietary research software, as many are today, are increasingly becoming a problem for researchers. Much of science is still done using proprietary software and this will continue to be the case. However, the problem is that the resulting data sets also become proprietary. When this happens, it means in order to make the data reusable, we either need to map it to an open format, which might strip out some of the usefulness of the data, or we need to also store a copy of the software, which brings along a whole host of issues concerning licenses, use of software by others not to mention creating emulation environments in order to be able to reuse that data. There are some initial efforts underway here with regard to data. For instance:

a. From the website the Open Data Protocol, they say: “The Open Data Protocol (OData) is a Web protocol for querying and updating data that provides a way to unlock your data and free it from silos that exist in applications today. OData is being used to expose and access information from a variety of sources including, but not limited to, relational databases, file systems, content management systems and traditional Web sites. It makes a deep commitment to URIs for resource identification and commits to an HTTP-based, uniform interface for interacting with those resources (just like the Web). This commitment to core Web principles allows OData to enable a new level of data integration and interoperability across a broad range of clients, servers, services, and tools. OData is released under the Open Specification Promise to allow anyone to freely interoperate with OData implementations.”

b. DataCite is another such effort. Their website says: "The aim of DataCite is: i.) establish easier access to scientific research data on the Internet, ii.) increase acceptance of research data as legitimate, citable contributions to the scientific record, iii.) support data archiving that will permit results to be verified and re-purposed for future study.

c. Finally, because we frequently find research by the researcher, another important effort is ORCID. Name ambiguity and attribution are persistent, critical problems imbedded in the scholarly research ecosystem. Per their website: “The ORCID Initiative represents a community effort to establish an open, independent registry that is adopted and embraced as the industry’s de facto standard. The goal is to resolve the systemic name ambiguity, by means of assigning unique identifiers linkable to an individual's research output, to enhance the scientific discovery process and improve the efficiency of funding and collaboration.”

5. Right now, we have way too many publishers and institutions hurting science because they're hiding content behind firewalls. In order for us to fully exploit the data and to build new knowledge, we need the ability to do data mining across publisher and institution content. Progress is needed here.

6. Discovery and Acquisition of Data. Today, and until we can move to centralized repositories for data, we need to locate disciplinary data repositories. We need assist in importing data and converting it when necessary so it can be used by a downstream process. And we need to work with researchers to have their data sets stored in central repositories that will ultimately provide for the preservation of that data as well.

7. Data management and organization. We’ll need to understand the lifecycle of data resulting from research. As part of this we’ll need to help outline and develop data management plans and keep track of the relation of subsets or processed data to the original data set. In North America, the call by the National Science Foundation (NSF) for data management plans as part of grant applications has created a flurry of activity and work in this area. But note, these are only plans at this point, there is no actual call yet to implement those plans. Yet, we as librarians will need to work with researchers to create a standard operating procedure for data management and documentation.

8. Data Conversion and Interoperability. While the immediate pressure here is to keep the data usable short term, this is also a huge ongoing issue in terms of data preservation. So, as librarians, we’ll need to become proficient in migrating data from one format to another or knowing about the tools that will do this. We’ll need to understand the risk and potential loss or corruption of information caused by changing data format. Furthermore, we’ll need to be able to explain those risks and benefits to researchers so they understand and support the benefits of making data available in standard formats for use downstream.

9. Metadata. Here we must apply our existing skills to these new data sets. We’ll combine our skills at creating metadata with newly acquired subject expertise so that we can proficiently annotate and describe data so it can be understood and used by other workgroups and external users. To do that however, we really understand the structure and purpose of data which underscores our need for subject expertise.

10. Quality Assurance of data. This is a huge challenge, but once we accept the data into our repositories and have made commitments of our ability to preserve it, it will be too late to blame problems down the road on the quality of the data we accepted. So, we’ll need to resolve any apparent artifacts, incomplete or corrupted data sets on the front end. The good news here is that there are digital preservations systems today that will support these kinds of tools being used.

11. Data Preservation and Re-Use. We need to educate researchers to recognize that data may have value beyond the original purpose. It might be used to validate research or for later reuse. Digital preservation is complex and can be costly, but the technology now exists. We’ll need to help educate researchers to understand the benefits and costs and for us to be able to recommend the best practices. This is vital to support community driven e-research. Bottom line, as data is created, it must be prepared for its eventual reuse.

12. Data Analysis/Visualization. This is an emerging field for librarianship, but it is rapidly becoming a vitally important one for science. These tools allow data mining and detailed analysis as well as taking that data and creating visual maps of it so as to increase our knowledge of what it is capable of telling us. Again, to do this we’ll need to learn and know basic analysis and visualization tools that can be used with data.

To summarize. eScience creates all kinds of new roles for librarians; data scientist, subject expert, librarian, creator, curator, translator and manager are all possible roles. There are also times we’ll need to serve as a broker, negotiating things between researchers. We’ll be building new collections as part of this; major research data repositories that also provide data preservation capabilities. Again, this will allow us to apply skills we have in some new and exciting ways.

That’s a lot to do and much of it will require a great deal of work. But the most critical need today is to be sure you have a seat at the table, anytime, anywhere a discussion is started that will result in the creation of digital research data that needs to be maintained and managed. Don’t wait until data is at the output stage. That is too late. You will need to start with working with researchers to assemble those data management plans, what they consist of and how they’re done.

You may want to start implementing those plans, but I would heartily recommend that you work across your organizations to build support for data management before you implement a plan. The output of this early process is to produce and share a data management plan with the researcher/researchers.

For that to be successful, you’ll likely need to educate administrators about the costs and staffing required, the increasing legal issues involved in these plans and the training and tools you’re staff will need to implement those plans. It is equally important, that in doing those steps you’ll want to explain to them how librarianship is adding value to the data along the way. Librarians need to be thought of as researchers and an essential part of any research project. We want researchers to automatically think of librarians as a member of their research team.

I’ll close with the story the author of “You are not a gadget”, Jaron Lanier, told at ACRL. He pointed out that in Japan, as you would expect, there had been a lot of research into tsunamis by hydrologists. Yet, all the models they developed were never coordinated with geologists’ data concerning earthquakes. He noted that researchers are understandably very focused people. Yet there is an opportunity here and an important one that he felt was missed. He pointed out that if we, as librarians, had pointed out the relationship between those two sets of data and helped bring those groups of researchers together, think of what they would have known about what could (and did) happen. Think of what we could have helped prevent, if we’d just helped those researchers connect their data sets.

Jaron Lanier was right - it shows us the possibilities and why we should embrace this opportunity.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cloud-Computing Solutions; Preparing Library Staff for the Move.

Library Directors are obviously thinking increasingly about how the move to cloud computing solutions like Alma will change their libraries and they have questions as a result. A couple of questions are common to most conversations so it seems like a good time to summarize and share some thoughts in response:

Q: How will the next generation environment change the typical library systems department?

A: The change in responsibilities for your systems people will vary considerably depending on degree of control and flexibility you wish to maintain locally.

For instance, if you go with a total services approach, then a great deal of what the systems department does today will be off-loaded to your vendor. The vendor assumes responsibility for upgrades, basic customizations needed, assuring the system is available, optimized, backed up, etc. Some libraries choose a more reduced set of services from their discovery solution vendor, and in those situations, a higher level of customization might be retained and done by the systems staff and your staff might take on some level of maintenance activities.

However, it is important to remember that moving common infrastructure tasks to the cloud offers your systems staff a chance to become more valuable to your organization. It will be the opportunity for them to develop new skills and perform new tasks that allow your library to excel in adding value for end-users, all in the pursuit of achieving your goals and mission for the library.

It will also likely mean your systems staff will need to learn those new skills. Cloud based solutions are accompanied by "Service Level Agreements" that need to be administered. Such systems (like Alma and Primo) typically come with API’s that can be used as a platform from which to develop and implement specialized capabilities that meet specific site needs. Learning how to use these tools is a valuable skill set. This will also likely become the method of interfacing with other cloud-based systems used by your library and university. The system staff will need to expand their knowledge of authentication, privacy and copyright management systems so that they can be seamlessly integrated, used and related services extended. They'll certainly want to become knowledgeable and competent about privacy regulations all the way from the campus/system regulations, to the state and national legislation that covers this area.

The systems staff, as they see more and more solutions implemented in the cloud, will need to become far more conversant and experienced in "partner management". Understanding how to get all these vendors to work together, often when those same partners compete with one another, takes a whole new level of finesse and expertise.

The systems staff, without these steps, might view the "cloud" with great skepticism and even pose a bit of a roadblock to the move. The Dean taking the time to make sure they understand their role is changing, and not disappearing, will smooth the transition. Show them the path forward and what training you're going to invest in them. This will allow them to see how they continue to make an important and needed contribution to the library going forward.

Q: What changes in responsibilities are occurring or what new skills do libraries need to think about when moving away from the legacy ILS?

A: This is really a substantial topic and could easily be an article, not a blog post. However, here are a few thoughts.

An important part of answering this question will be addressed by the Director’s vision of what the library needs to become in the future. Certainly, as we all know, the role of the academic library is changing rapidly in today's environment.. Given the strategies most frequently heard and discussed, the following list of skills would be highly recommended:
  1. Knowledge of digital preservation processes/workflows. (See my previous blog post with information on available training in this area)
  2. Strong, strong customer service skills. In one of our recent Regional Director meetings, one participant said this was the most important skill set he wanted to see in staff.
  3. Marketing/outreach skills. Libraries have to compete with other information sources and they have to be able to differentiate and explain why that differentiation matters to the end-users, be it students, staff, faculty or administrators.
  4. Data set and e-data management knowledge. Obviously an area of growing opportunities for librarianship this skill set will continue to grow in value and importance.
  5. Data analysis skills. Analytics are a huge part of the future of libraries both to understand how to better serve the end-users and how to demonstrate value for their administrators. Analytics as they exist today are tools and understanding how to use these tools requires training to develop the skill sets.
  6. Partnership management. Libraries will need to move more and more into working closely with other departments on campus. Understanding what motivates the partner and how to ensure their success is key to establishing future partnerships..
  7. Knowledge and experience in developing/deploying mobile applications/services. Recently heard at a conference was the statement that many kids now starting out will never own a traditional desktop or laptop PC. They'll start out on mobile phones/tablets and as that technology becomes more and more powerful, that is all they'll ever know and use. PC's as we know them are facing end-of-life. We need to start investing in mobile applications/services today so that libraries stay on top of this important trend.
  8. Survey development. We have to ensure librarians are externally rather than internally focused and they have to be able to understand how to connect/collect input from users.
  9. Interface design skills. Vendors deploy interfaces that serve a broad range of users. An important way for institutions to add value for their end-users is to tune that interface to meet their local end-user needs. However, good interface design is an art as much as a science (think Apple vs. Microsoft) and good skills here are always in demand.
  10. Skills in understanding scalability. Far too often librarians build face-to-face and un-scalable solutions to meet end user needs. Doing that means the solution is destined to ultimately fail. Students, faculty and staff may be teaching or taking courses anywhere and never even set foot on the campus. The university becomes merely the platform, where all of these groups may come from across the state, nation or world libraries to connect and learn. As a result, the library has to be in all those same places and the only way to do that is with scalable cloud-based solutions, accompanied by mobile interfaces (see above). While face-to-face solutions are always nice, the reality is that they can't really meet the needs of tomorrow’s learning environment. We have to always remember to ask ourselves when developing solutions; Will this scale? Do you have the people in place that understand what that means?
There is a lot more to be discussed on preparing staff for the transition to the cloud, but hopefully this will help get the discussions started at your library. As always, we at Ex Libris stand ready to assist you and to share thoughts and ideas.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Keeping an eye fixed on the far horizon

The 2011 Horizon Report is a document to be read and contemplated by librarians everywhere. It will cause one to think about the future technology that education and educational institutions like colleges, universities, museums and libraries will need to utilize.

Last year’s report listed the following major technology trends:
  1. Mobile computing and Social Media.
  2. Open Content
  3. Electronic Books
  4. Augmented reality and location based services
  5. Gesture based computing, and the Semantic Web
  6. Visual Data Analysis
This year’s report identifies:
  1. Electronic books
  2. Mobiles
  3. Augmented reality
  4. Game-based learning
  5. Gesture-based computing
  6. Learning analytics
The major change in the last year between the two lists is that “open content” was replaced with “game-based learning.” Interesting, but certainly not alarming.

The Executive Summary lists some Key Trends that are certainly applicable to libraries:
  1. “The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators in sense-making, coaching and credentialing.”
  2. “People expect to be able to work, learn and study whenever and wherever they want.”
  3. "The world of work is increasingly collaborative, giving rise to reflection about the way student projects are structured.”
  4. "The technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based, and our notions of IT support are decentralized.”
These are accompanied by “Critical Challenges” which included (and again are equally applicable to libraries):

  1. “Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession.”
  2. “Appropriate metrics of evaluation lag behind the emergence of new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing and researching.”
  3. “Economic pressures and new models of education are presenting unprecedented competition to traditional models of the university.”
  4. “Keeping pace with the rapid proliferation of information, software tools and devices is challenging for students and teachers alike."
The sections that detail the emerging technologies are also worthy reading. While much of what is described for e-books is well known to librarians, the section on mobiles contains information that deserves serious consideration including:

"By 2015, 80% of people accessing the Internet will be doing so from mobile devices. Perhaps more important for education, Internet capable devices will outnumber computers within the next year or so.”

“Specialized apps are available that, for many, replace a standard web browser for mobile access. It is not unusual to use several different applications to access online financial information, read and contribute to social networking sites, check email, browse and upload media, and so on. Tasks that were once gathered into a single piece of software – the web browser – are now distributed among many specialized [and optimized] applications”.
The section on Augmented Reality builds on last year’s report but again, contains new information. Clearly this technology is continuing its penetration. As stated:
“It can be used for visual and highly interactive forms of learning, allowing the overlay of data onto the real world as easily as it simulates dynamic processes… This interactivity confers significant potential for learning and assessment.”
Just think what we as librarians could teach people about using using data in a learning environment with technology like this! Next, is the section on Game based learning, which is very similar to the augmented reality section and the results are as well.

However, the section on Gesture-Based Computing helps one to realize how deep we already are in using this technology today. Any user of an iPhone, iPad or mult-touch Surface from Microsoft is already using this technology. Even as I type this post, I find myself increasingly interacting directly with a screen, rather than keyboard and mouse -- gesture based computing in action. Yet, it is only the beginning of what is to come. As the report says, this technology will be “transformative and disruptive” and “will require intensive interdisciplinary collaborations and innovative thinking about the very nature of teaching, learning and communicating.”

Which is an excellent segue to a conclusion. As librarians, this report helps underscore the need for us to be increasingly externally focused and to build broad collaborative arrangements among our educational peers wherein we can embrace and utilize these new technologies. By so doing we’ll help inform them and our end-users on ways that libraries and librarians can provide value through services that transcend technology and remain as applicable to end-user needs in 2015 as they are today.

Now certainly in these challenging economic times and conditions, the very thought of engaging in such forward thinking as is outlined in this report might seem like wasteful, if not wishful thinking. Ideas that won’t be realized for a very long-time to come. But that’s simply not true. The report lists at the end of each section on an emerging technology trend, sites (including libraries) that are doing these things today. I suspect these are organizations that regularly evaluate the use of their resources in light of the value generated. When they see that greater value can be generated by reallocation of those resources, I’m betting they make a change. I’m also betting these are libraries that will be doing fine in 2015. It is the only way forward.

So before you say this is wishful thinking, ask yourself how you think you’re library will be doing in 2015? It’s only 5 years from now. Will your library be on the leading edge in utilizing these technologies? If not, maybe reading this report and thinking about how you can lead your library forward might be a very worthwhile effort. Then call us at Ex Libris and we’ll help your library get started using cloud-computing solutions and we’ll show you what is coming with regard to decisions that benefit from analytic derived data. We can get you on your way.

Finally, let me close with a quote from the Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskj├Âld who said: “Only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find his right road.” It just seems appropriate.