Archive for the ‘Library Science’ Category
I’ve been behind on my blog reading (and posting) lately. School and family crises will do that. I just read John Blyberg’s post on the Darien Statements on the Library and Librarians. I found the whole post thought provoking, but I especially enjoyed the bullet points of things librarians must do under the Preservation of the Library section. My favorite was “Endorse procedures only if they guide librarians or users to excellence.”
This is the list of things they fill compelled to do at Darien. Are there things that you, personally, would add or eliminate from the list?
I’ve been working with DSpace recently, and I am amazed with the power of this wonderful repository system. It is an incredible platform for long term preservation, access, and dissemination of content. It has incredible OAI and indexing abilities. It is well developed, well funded, and well … well, let’s just say I can’t heap enough praise on it. I think it’s the best repository system available, bar none.
The version of DSpace with which I’ve been working is 1.5. Version 2.0 is currently in development. I don’t know what chanes are in order for this next major release, but I know that it needs a good dose of web 2.0 in version 2.0. What do I mean? I mean that DSpace should become more user-centric. So, here’s my top 10 list of things that I think DSpace developers need to do in version 2.
- Make the easy stuff easy. – It’s easier to explain this by example. A few days ago, I was working on making a minor change to the user interface that would allow for streaming media. To make it work, I needed to be able to generate the URL for the primary bitstream. In short, there was no way to do this. Even though the URL is present in the default interface, there is no method for calling the URL on its own. At times, DSpace is SO object oriented, that it prevents system administrators from making minor tweaks such as this one. Giant blocks of code may be easier to maintain (I really don’t think they are), but they circumvent customization. Take a page from the scripting language developers: make the easy stuff easy.
- Make the media stuff seamless. — It is a YouTube/Flickr/Amazoogle world. Embed or you’re dead. ‘Nuff said.
- Make the waiting stuff apparent. — No one enjoys load screens and status bars, but everyone hates the alternative: not knowing whether the application is doing anything. A nice little status bar would ease users’ minds.
- Make the U the basis for the UI. — This goes along with the previous two points, and the next point. Some aspects of the UIs for DSpace are just clunky and ugly. Whether I’m using the administrative interfaces, or the regular user interfaces, I find my eyes jumping all over the place to find stuff. The interface may be well-ordered, but it doesn’t feel like it is. Tasks could often be bundled in a way that would reduce the number of clicks for users (especially in the approval process under JSPUI). In some ways, the XMLUI setup is better with some themes, but there’s still much to be desired (like having a common administrative interface for XMLUI, instead of the Drupal-like changing of administrative UIs). Perhaps developers could take a page from Automattic’s recent development of the WordPress Administrative UI. They used Ball State’s Center for Media Design to drastically change the interface, and, well…it just works. UIUC’s Archon is another project that recently saw a beautiful interface redesign (public, not administrative).
- Make the themes more available. — Someone should establish an XMLUI theme library. Perhaps there is one, but if so, I am not aware of it. Anyone could establish such a library, but I really think it would help those less fortunate potential adopters that don’t have entire teams of web designers and Java gurus.
- Make the XML-based stuff database driven. — A couple examples are in order. First, the controlled vocabulary functionality should be in a database. IMO, there should be a way within DSpace to edit and add to controlled vocabularies. There’s not. One has to maintain a controlled vocabulary within a separate system, and then store the CV as XML.Second, the welcome message (I’m thinking of XMLUI here, but it may also be the case in JSPUI) should be in a database. In my opinion, if it’s content that can be changed by the user and is not binary data, it should be stored in a database. Items like welcome messages, sidebar content, and controlled vocabularies are all good candidates for treating in this way. I long for the day when XML will be treated merely as a transport format or medium for structural layout, rather than a storage format.
- Make the batch process streamlined. — Anyone who has used the batch process knows what I’m talking about. It’s easier to rope goats than it is to use the DSpace batch uploader. The software should have a utility that allows a user to select a whole bunch of files which are automatically uploaded. The utility could also extract metadata from the files (Exif, IPTC, or whatever) to write to the database as the file’s descriptive or structural metadata. At present, one either has to manually package the files appropriately and write Dublin Core for each file to be batch uploaded, or create some sort of program that will package the files and write the Dublin Core. I know, it’s a difficult thing to do. Still, if Flickr can do it for Exif data, then it can be done.
- Make the documentation readable. — I’ve seen worse, but I’ve seen much, much better as well. It would be nice if the documentation had a “How to do simple stuff” section that covered a lot of the really simple things one finds in the DSpace wiki — things like making adjustments to headers and footers. I believe that a lot of the questions that get asked repeatedly on the listserv would stop being asked if the official documentation addressed them clearly.
- Make the mental switch to Rails. — DSpace has a certain musty, 1.0 kind of odor about it. As soon as you unzip it, this smell, tantamount to descending into your grandmother’s basement, wafts up from your computer. As you look around at it, you realize that it’s been around for a while. It’s reliable — like the old pedal driven Singer sewing machine in the corner of your grandmother’s basement — but it also feels a little antiquated. More and more, users are accustomed to web apps that have a 2.0 feel. We’re used to sites developed in things like PHP and Rails. We’re used to sites that give us a good user experience. DSpace needs to become that. It needs to transition. It needs to be more “Rails-ish.” I realize that the developers are probably not going to scrap the whole codebase and start over with a new framework and language. But Java can look like Rails, feel like Rails, and have a certain Rails kind of quality to it. However, it takes developers thinking like Rails guys (and gals). I hope this happens. If so, version 2.0 of DSpace could very well look and feel 2.0.
I’ve noticed lately that librarians and archivists commonly use the abbreviation ETD to refer to electronic theses and dissertations. It is an abbreviation for plural words. The abbreviation often appears with an ‘s’ at the end to denote its plurality. For example, Virginia Tech’s stellar ETD site is called “ETDs at VT.” Since the words represented by the abbreviation are plural, is the ‘s’ really necessary. Should it not be “ETD at VT” ?
I’ve been reading a little Carol Kuhlthau lately (as an assignment, not by choice), and I’ve actually enjoyed some of what she says about the information search process. Some of her ideas seem to be similar to things expressed by some of the Library 2.0 crowd, especially the idea that realizing where library users have uncertainty should help us design systems that actually help researchers get past the uncertainty. That’s a very user-centered idea of libraries (imagine that concept) and library services. I really wonder how much Kuhlthau has influenced other writers that I enjoy reading such as Jenny Levine, Michael Stephens, Michael Casey, and John Blyberg? They seem to say many of the same things, although all of these are much more readable than what I have read from Kuhlthau.
I was reading this morning from chapter 7 of Rubin’s Foundations of Library and Information Science and a thought occurred to me — Libraries and library science have a history of diversity.
That probably seems like the ultimate truism. After all, librarians tend to pride themselves on their recognition of diversity. It seems that you cannot peruse a library science periodical without some mention of diversity. It’s even outlined in the mission statements of LIS programs. For example, the mission statement of the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Kentucky (the school I attend) is “is to extend and enhance the quality of information services in a culturally diverse, technological and global society.” The school also seeks “To attract and admit a diverse student body.” Diversity language pervades library science literature to such an extent, that many probably many who read the title of this post groaned. “Oh great. Another librarian talking about diversity.”
In posting this, I’m not trying to laud diversity. I’m simply pointing out that the history of libraries and library science is a diverse one. Seemingly every centralized, economically viable, politically stable society since 3000 BC has contributed in some form to librarianship. Sumerians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Europeans, and Americans have all made contributions. No one discipline has cornered the market on library holdings. Libraries have held financial records, literary works, legal documents, religious treatises, philosophical works, historical accounts, and medical handbooks. No one religion has a corner on contributing to librarianship. All of the world’s monotheistic religions made significant contributions to the field of librarianship, and every religion has contributed some content. No one single reason for collecting has dominated. Some libraries were founded for education and the public good, others to collect public records and promote the interests of a nation, and still others were established to extend human hubris. Historically speaking, librarianship would seem to be one of the most diverse disciplines ever developed.
A library in Ohio just migrated to KohaZoom, the open-source version Integrated Library System. This particular version of Koha appears to be developed by a vendor, LibLime. You can see The system in action here.
Notice anything about it? That’s right, folks. It looks just like Amazon, and it uses Amazon images. Bye, bye, usability problems. Hello instant street cred with patromers.
Needless to say, I want one.
For those who have not seen the news, Ex Libris is changing hands. Francisco Partners is purchasing EL. Francisco Partners also owns these companies. I am not sure what, if anything, this will mean for the future of the company. It appears that EL is the only library services vendor that Francisco partners owns.
I like digitization. I like for people to be able to access books and other resources remotely. I understand that digitization costs money. I know that the various vendors who digitize usually need to get some sort of return on their investment. But this is ridiculous. Logos Bible Software company is willing to sell the “J. A. Broadus Preaching Collection,” a digital collection of three John A. Broadus books, for the low, low price of $59.95. That’s the price with $15.00 off, folks. They assure you it’s a bargain, too. They could “only locate a single copy of Sermons and Addresses anywhere on the web–available used for $100!” They should have looked harder. Alibris has five copies right now, the most expensive of which is $34.95. They are also willing to sell you A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons as part of the package. All well and good. The only problem is, there are already two free, standards-compliant, online editions of the work here and here (you can also get this free). Both of these editions are older than the Dargan-edited edition that Logos is offering.
Look, I know Logos probably has major $$$ invested in equipment, workers, and the like. Still, I think the price on this software is a little exorbidant. I am willing to bet that
- Logos paid nothing for the books, because they used copies from a theological library.
- Logos paid nothing for the copyright, because they are in the public domain.
- Logos could probably sell three of the collections at that price and more than make up for any amount of money it cost them to have an employee scan the books.
I know there are attendant costs with digitization, but it seems crazy to me to charge that much for something that libraries are trying to provide for free. If you are going to charge a good bit, provide a good bit of content. For example, Baptist Standard Bearer’s Baptist History Collection costs $59.95, but you get 43,298 pages with it.
Of course, the whole discussion brings up the concept of the invisible web, because the library versions of Broadus’ work are buried or non-existent in a good Google search, while Logos’s product is the second entry. Libraries need to do a better job of bringing their digital resources to the fore so that these types of digitization ventures do not occur.
Kudos to the folks at Ex Libris for jumping into the library 2.0 discussion. Many librarians are currently complaining about the slowness of vendors to react to changes within computing culture. To be fair, the employees for some vendors are doing the same. For example, Stephen Abrams, SirsiDynix's VP for Innovation, bemoaned this slowness during his section of the Dead & Emerging Technologies Forum at CIL2006. It looks as if Ex Libris is working to at least stay close to the curve, if not ahead of it.
Patrons today probably expect that all library resources should be able to be found in one place. Federated searching and link resolvers are a nice start, but Ex Libris has gone one step further. Today, they officially published that they are developing a tool called Primo, "a complete solution for the discovery and delivery of diverse content types." I had a chance to speak with the folks at Ex Libris during the recent CIL2006, and I have to admit, they have my curiosity peaked. I like the fact that they are trying to bring all of a libraries resources into one place. I am extremely excited that they decided to make a fopac-like product that allows for tagging and comments. I cannot wait to see how this functions, and I think I would love to be in on the testing of this product.
I do have a few questions, though.
- Will Primo work in conjunction with other Ex Libris products such as MetaLib, or will it be a total replacement for it? I know the newsletter says, "Primo uses the metasearch capabilities of MetaLib to perform the searches on remote databases," but I am not exactly sure whether this means Primo has MetaLib built-in, or whether MetaLib will be separate. I think it means that one has to have MetaLib as a separate product, but I am not sure.
- Will institutions be able to add online resources to Primo? I assume they can. What if I want to use Primo to access several search engines? Can I do that?
- Will it generate RSS feeds and permalinks for searches?
- I know it is customizable, but can it be OpenSearch-like? Or can it be incorporated into OpenSearch?
- Given Paul Miller's recent article on the death of the OPAC, will Primo soon be unnecessary? FWIW, I highly doubt it, but I just thought I would throw it out there.
If anyone has any other questions, feel free to leave them in a comment. Perhaps someone from Ex Libris will come over and discuss all this. Whether they do or not, kudos to them for trying to give librarians what they say they want!
My administrator had a great idea recently. He wanted to be able to discuss important books and ideas with the staff, and yet he did not want to overly tax our time. So, he enlisted the help of a bright, active patron to write brief book reviews and present ideas that our staff could discuss a couple of times a month. Since he started this activity, we have discussed such books as Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat and Oliver O’Donovan’s Common Objects of Love and discussed the potential impact they could have on our library. He recently had the patron, Matt Crawford, research the concept of Library 2.0 for the staff. Some of our staff were very familiar with the concept, and others were not. I thought Matt did a pretty good job of presenting the idea, so I asked his permission to publish his piece on my blog. So, if you would like to read a patron’s summary of Library 2.0, you can download it at the link below.