Category Archives: developers

Redesigning Library Systems and Services

Who’d have thought that a redesigned library website could attract quite so much attention.

Yet, the recent announcement by Stanford’s University Library that it has redesigned its website seems to have triggered a significant amount of interest.

stanford library website

At JISC colleagues have been discussing it for a number of reasons, from the development and UX approach to the fact it has been  blogged throughout the redesign process on the library website.

The changes in the website also provoked an interesting blog post from Lorcan Dempsey that reflects on two interesting consequences of the website, which Lorcan terms:

  • Space as a service, and;
  • Full library discovery.

What the Stanford website clearly highlights is that the traditional (siloed) library systems can no longer be conceived of as separate from the range of physical and virtual spaces.

The library web presence offers an opportunity to go beyond the binary opposition of online and physical, to one in which the library (website) itself becomes a navigation tool between a range of spaces, systems and services.

The distinction between online and physical becomes increasingly blurred – instead the focus is on appropriate services and resources wherever they may reside.

In some ways Lorcan’s second point: ‘full library discovery’ is an extension of these issues – the discovery experience itself flows beyond the traditional confines of the catalogue. It pours over into searching the website itself, guides, staff pages and so on.

The design of the site, with its central navigation banner, is also very mobile friendly – it is surely not long until the library web presence provides a siri like experience… is it?

These considerations are particularly interesting in terms of the current work JISC is undertaking looking at the future of library systems. In particular the ‘pathfinder’ projects that make up the programme and the range of system challenges they’re exploring, from shared LMS systems to patron-driven acquisition and shared collection management tools.

This work follows up some of the themes and motivations that emerged from the Library management Systems programme a few years ago. The programme was an explicit attempt to address some of the issues library systems faced in terms of usability, user experience (UX), and integarting with the wider web and other institutional systems.

Indeed, a number of the projects in that programme explicitly explored the potential for library systems to crossover into more social online spaces, like Facebook, and collaborative academic spaces, such as VLEs.

The current Library Systems programme is trying to make sure it captures interesting developments as they occur on the LMS Change blog to inform the programme as a whole.

Stanford’s website redevelopment certainly poses a number of important questions for other libraries in how they design and deploy their services and systems.

For more background to the development there is an interesting series of posts on the redevelopment from Chris Bourg, a Librarian at Stanford University.

Digital infrastructure for learning materials: update July 2012

This is a summary of notable developments around work on technology issues around learning materials, mostly by JISC. It’s aimed at the technical and semi-technical and comments/additions are very welcome.


Back in late May we ran our first Dev8ED. It was a great event, with developers supporting course data, curriculum design and delivery, distributed VLE and OER programmes coming together for two days of technical work and training.

There is a buzz of technical activity at Jorum. They are trialling the beta of their open usage statistics dashboard . To see the many reasons why open usage data is a good idea, see this post by Nick Sheppard. He and Brian Kelly (an advocate of open usage data) are both on the Jorum Steering Group and we’ve long been aware of the importance to users and contributors of being able to see how Jorum is being used. The Jorum team are also upgrading to dSpace 1.8 which will bring a raft of improvements including some clever search/browse interfaces. Its all part of a re-engineering process to make Jorum work better for institutions. UPDATE: Read more from Jorum.

Talking of usage, the JISC Learning Registry Node Experiment, JLeRN, is exploring how this emerging global architecture can work for the UK. It’s all about surfacing the “context with the content”, as Suzanne Hardy describes it. Think big data approaches for learning resources. So far we have learnt that the local “nodes” are fairly easy to set up and feed with data. The challenge is making use of it in this incubation stage: building tools and interfaces over variable data sets. This is exactly what we intended to explore, so the team is now working closely with some handpicked projects to work our way through the challenge. Some early work by the SPAWS project is making good progress, and it will be great to see the learning start to emerge from these pilots.

If you like the notion of “paradata” (social and contextual data derived about content and its use), then you’ll see how it fits well with the idea of Learning Analytics. JISC Cetis and others have been examining emerging practices and the issues around this concept. Paradata seems to be a bit of bridge between web content analytics and activity data, so those of us working with digital resources for teaching and learning would do well to catch up on these concepts.

My Open Educational Resources Rapid Innovation (OERRI) Projects are past the halfway mark now. These are all designed to enhance the digital infrastructure for open content in education. They are 15 projects, each with grants of £25k or less, and running for 4-6 months. Summaries follow (in my words, with some links to nutshell descriptions)

An honorable mention too for PublishOER, an OER Themes project rather than OERRI. It is working with JISC Collections and Publishers, and includes development of improved technical support for permission seeking and licensing requests.

Meanwhile, colleagues have been busy with the WW1 Discovery projects.
Sarah Fahmy worked with the British Library on an WW1 Editathon, nicely summed up in a quick video, and there was an interesting tweet experiment from WW1 Arras project too. On the more technical side, Andy McGregor updated me that King’s College did some research into what researchers want out of an online WW1 research collection and what are the valuable collections that could be aggregated into such a research collection. Building on this research, Mimas will develop an exemplar research aggregation of WW1 content. The King’s research discovered that not many of the most valuable collections have working APIs. Therefore Mimas will build APIs for a number of the collections identified then build a service that will aggregate these collections and enable people to build services that allow researchers to work with the aggregated content. The project is expected to deliver in November 2012.

July saw the Open Repositories conference in Edinburgh and there was a wealth of useful discussion and outputs as always. For those of us working with learning materials I’d particularly recommend looking at the reflective posts by Kathi Fletcher and Nick Sheppard. I’m keeping a close eye on developments around the digital infrastructure for open access to research. It’s interesting to see an increase in discussion about formats and licensing. Perhaps, as Laura Czerniewicz , Martin Weller and others have been saying, the next step forward is in more a more holistic view of building services to support open scholarship that incorporate teaching as well as research. My colleague Balviar Notay is leading JISC’s work on repositories and curation shared infrastructure and we are very mindful of the delicate balance between building for research use cases and risking scope creep by trying to be inclusive of other uses.

Friday 27th July saw 20 experts gathered together for an online meeting on and the Learning Resources Metadata initiative (LRMI) that Phil Barker is engaged with. The discussion was very rich, and my take home message was that over the years JISC and its services (especially CETIS, UKOLN and OSSWatch) have developed real expertise in standards development and adoption. Working with innovators and early adopters we have a deep understanding how technology develops, in the relationship between aspiration and implementation. UPDATE: Read a brief summary of the webinar.

On the horizon …

The OER IPR Team are currently producing a follow-up animation to Turning a Resource into an OER and this one will be about open licensing for your data. More about that when it is released!

Inspired by the booksprint session at Dev8ED, in August I will be working with Lorna Campbell, Phil Barker and Martin Hawskey on our ebook. Our working title is “Small Pieces Loosely Joined: technology stories from three years of the JISC/HEA OER Programme”. Or something like that. It will be our way of drawing out the lessons for future development in this area. We like a challenge.

The theme of ecosystems will inform my contribution to the UK Eduwiki conference in early September. I’ll be on a panel about openness in HE, and I hope to reflect the many varied ways that educators and learners can help develop the ecosystem around wikipedia.

Then I’ll be off to ALT-C where I’m running two sessions. One, with Paul Walk is on the role of the Strategic Developer in HE. I work with so many talented technologists who add great value to their institutions, this session is a chance to explore the benefits of investing in in-house development expertise. I’d love to hear from anyone in that sort of role who has been doing CMALT (please get in touch!) . The other session, with David Kernohan, is about the trajectory of open education, including some of the key concepts around badges, MOOCs and other hot topics. I’m particularly interested in how we can learn lessons from the route taken by open source and open data movements. I suspect ALT-C will be noisy with talk of MOOCs! From a technical perspective, JISC Cetis is keeping an eye on what platforms and tools people are using to deliver online courses. UPDATE: Read about what technologies people are using for some MOOCs!

Finally, I’m pleased to announce that I will be working with JISC Collections, JISC Digital Media and other experts led by Ken Chad, on guidance on the Challenge of eBooks. It will be the next step on from the forthcoming JISC Observatory report on ebooks: it will look at the creation, curation and consumption of digital books of all types, and the opportunities for institutions to respond coherently to the challenge. Watch this space for news of both!

With so much going on, I’m sure there are things I’ve missed in this update – do get in touch!


Amber Thomas

July 2012


The JISC ebooks universe

My colleague Ben Showers has recently been looking across the work taking place around digital books in all their forms: open textbooks, digital monographs, epub, web-based books. For educational institutions the need to keep up with the content needs of learners and researchers is paramount but so much is happening at the moment, with hardware, content formats, the emergence of new authoring tools and rising user expectations, so where do you start?

We have pulled together some key information for decision-makers, with a distinct JISC flavour. Particular thanks to Caren Milloy from JISC Collections and Zak Mensah from JISC Digital Media for their help.


Legal (Licensing, IPR, DRM)

Business Models

  • Frances Pinter (Bloomsbury Academic) – Frances Pinter future of academic monograph slides and : video
  • e- textbooks on mobile devices: JISC Collections is working with the University of Lincoln to licence ebooks for use on mobile devices but downloadable via the VLE.
  • Pilot of a consortia model for e-books: JISC Collections is working with Swets to pilot the model used by the Max Plank Society
  • E-books for Skills: JISC Collections is looking at the business model to support licensing ebooks to ACL, WBL and Offender Learning
  • PublishOER is looking at the sorts of negotiations needed between OER producers and publishers and how the business models might work
  • The future of the scholarly monograph in humanities and social sciences: OAPEN-UK
  • Living Books for Life: A sustainable, low cost model for publishing books
  • Economic implications of alternative scholarly publishing models: Exploring the costs and benefits: Houghton Report (not directly linked but the models around research articles could lend themselves to a similar move in the area of books/learning resources)
  • e-Textbook business models (JISC Collections)
  • E-books for FE eTextbooks Business Models report looked at the barriers to the adoption of textbooks in FE
  • JISC eBooks for FE explored standard subscription / purchase model and more recently, the Patron-Driven Aquisition model at a national level
  • Wikieducator Open Textbook book explores the use and adoption of open textbooks for teaching


Technology and Standards


User behaviour/Requirements

What have we missed?

Please let us know what resources you find most useful, from JISC and elsewhere, in meeting the challenge of ebooks in your institution.


Ben Showers and Amber Thomas, JISC Digital Infrastructure Team

May 2012

(last updated 28th May 2012)

Putting the User at the Heart of Education

This is an update on a recent Usability workshop held by Ben Showers and Torsten Reimer as part of their work on the Usability and Adaptability of User-Interfaces.


As universities and academic institutions increase the focus and investment on improving the ‘student experience’, so the ‘user’ needs to find their way into the heart of everything the institution does, not just the teaching and learning.

Usability and user experience (UX) have become important considerations in the design and creation of new websites, software and systems for universities. With increasing investments in digital infrastructure and content, addressing the needs of the users is one of the best ways to ensure the uptake of these investments – be it in research, administration or learning.

UX should become a critical tool in the sector’s response to the challenges of rising student fees, the need to make every investment count in the light of reduced budgets and increasing expectations from students and staff who are used to new sleek gadgets and web 2.0 environments.

In light of this context, Torsten and I recently held a two day workshop exploring usability in higher education.

The first day focused on JISC funded projects that were exploring the Usability and Adaptability of User-Interfaces. The second day involved a broad range of delegates from both within and outside universities, including the library, institutional web managers, systems managers, usability consultants and academics.

The workshop resulted in some very rich discussions from the delegates, and we have attempted to capture some of the themes and main topics of conversation below.

Emerging themes

We have grouped the themes under some broad headings:

Affecting the project/development culture

Embedding Usability

It was clear that usability and considerations of the user are usually a ‘bolt-on’ to institutional developments and projects. The workshop reiterated the need for usability to be part of the project from the start – furthermore it should be the framework from within which you undertake your project. This point was echoed by a number of the projects that took part in the JISC usability programme (an example being the British History Online project).

Indeed during a ‘programme design’ session it was suggested that future usability project funding should aim to embed usability into the institution. This could be achieved by a kind of ‘pay it forward’ idea whereby the successful project then initiates its usability lessons into another of the institutions developments.

Strategic buy-in

Connected to the above poin is the need to make strong arguments to the senior managers who make the decisions about resources as there may not always be a strong appreciation of the benefits of a user-centred approach.

An appeal to the usability of the product is a first step, but more may be required. One suggestion was exposing senior managers to the user’s pain – let them watch the UX sessions you undertake. Let them see every grimace and hear all the expletives!

Training and Skills

It was clear that there are a number of significant skills gaps within the current training and teaching of developers and project managers for usability practice and methods. JISC programmes of work are often addressing the skills gaps in their area specifically, and this may be something that any future work in the UX environment should confront.

However, there was agreement that it’s important to be able to share best practice, and enable institutions to have conversations with each other and experts to ensure they’re able to get hold of the right skills externally if necessary (one of the projects: UsabilityUK, has exactly this remit).

Demonstrating Impact

One of the most interesting discussions at the event was the difficulties involved in demonstrating the impact of usability. Functional requirements are easy to quantify (it either does or doesn’t do as requested), non-functional requirements (like usability) are harder to measure.

What potential does including metrics in the National Student Survey, as an example, have to demonstrating the impact usability could have within HE? Maybe more fundamentally having a clearer idea of how you measure impact more generally could help clarify how the user experience is evidenced.


Usability by any other name…

I am guilty of it in this post, and I even started day two of the workshop with an admission of guilt: I would use the phrase usability without unpacking it. Worse, I used it as a synonym for a group of similar terms (user experience, user-centred design, human computer interaction).

However, this may well be one of the issues that contributes to a misunderstanding of usability, and confusion around the different terms. A number of the delegates felt it would be beneficial to ensure terms were well defined. If you’re communicating with non-experts, such as developers, you need to be sure they’re able to understand you and your requirements.

On reflection, I do wonder whether this is a reflection of usability as a research discipline. Is the real message that the user needs to go at the heart of everything the academy does; it needs to become truly user-centred. Does the concern for semantics get in the way of this goal?


Connected to the above is the difficulty of communicating with the members of your team or project. While you might be able to capture the requirements of your users, it is essential you’re able to then communicate these directly and precisely to your developer.

One potential answer is a very agile approach to development that sees the developer coding with the user(s). This was an approach that the ALUIAR project took at Southampton, and it worked well for the project.

Not always talking to the converted

One of the interesting aspects of the workshop was that we had a pretty good mix of professional UXers, researchers, institutional system people, librarians and learning technologists. However, most had a very good appreciation of the benefits and importance of UX to their institutional mission.

Indeed, a number of delegates made the point that it was important that we addressed the un-converted.

Usability is dead, long live usability

Finally, two points seem to provide interesting conclusions to the workshops discussions:

In its practical application within an HE environment, usability is closely meshed with other similar issues: impact; accessibility; sustainability. The aim is simply to make software easier for users.

Usability should be the driving principle behind projects within HE (especially in JISC funded ones); but this doesn’t that the only way to address this is through a usability programme. Rather, usability should pervade projects without defining them.

What’s next…?

The workshop was incredibly useful as a way to start thinking about how JISC might continue to help support usability practice within HE.

Indeed, it gave us a clear message that usability/accessibility is one area of the HE picture that is in real need of some focused activity. Torsten and I already have a few concrete ideas we’d like to start developing – if all goes well nthrough JISC-funded activities later this year.

Watch this space for more news!


Many thanks to the delegates and projects who made the workshop so successful and the discussions so rich. And to Addy Pope of Edina and the USED project for the use of his camera and pictures.

Digital Infrastructure for Learning Content Update: February 2012

So much has been happening since my last update in November 2011, I thought it would be useful to round up the news around JISC work on digital infrastructure relating to learning content.


The Call for OER Rapid Innovation Projects closed on Friday 27th January and I’m pleased to say we received 34 bids. Thank you all for your hard work! The bids are out for evaluation now, and in parallel we are looking at how to best present the collection of Use Cases. Bidders should hear back by early March. Note there is likely to be a big UKOER Programme Meeting on 26th March, venue tbc. So if you’ve bid to run an OER RI project, please pencil it in your diary. You should know a few weeks beforehand if you’re successful, so there will be time to make travel arrangements then.

Other news on the UK Open Educational Resources (UKOER) Programme:

OER beyond the UK OER Programme

Our sister strand in the eContent programme, OER digitisation is now underway, and the OER WW1 project will shortly be announced.

Open is a major theme for JISC in 2012. I blogged my individual take on openness in My Story of O(pen) but watch out for future JISC activities in Open, building on the Open Access section and case studies but taking it broader and deeper and drawing on the richness of JISC-supported work. This includes a study I’ll be managing on the Open Landscape (see below). I hope you saw the pieces in the current JISC Inform on  Joi Ito: education is at the core of creative commons and the Round up of what’s happening in open access publishing. There will be more about openness in the next issue.

Globally, March 2012 will see the very first Open Education Week , and April 2012 is the joint OCWC and OER conference, so expect to see more around the issues of supporting open content and open practice.

Developing supporting infrastructure: including two developer challenges!

The JISC Learning Registry Node Experiment (JLeRN)  is coming to life, see their introductory blog post. They ran a Hack Day on 23rd January for people to understand how they might work with these approaches. They are also sponsoring a Challenge for Dev8D

“Are you interested in capturing, sharing, mashing up or otherwise using paradata, AKA data about the use of open educational resources?

Are you thinking about exploring where and how teachers and learners are using resources, or sharing them via social media, or what they are saying about the resources?”

See The JLeRN Experiment Paradata Developers’ Challenge at Dev8D 2012

The Jorum team are doing so much at the moment its hard to know where to start. See their blog for an inside update. Highlights for me would be they are exploring how best to provide analytics to users, as part of that they are developing a dashboard approach. They are also running a Challenge for developers;

Are you interested in exploring new ways to extract, share, visualise, search, collate or mash up the thousands of open educational resources available in Jorum?

See The Jorum Developers’ Challenge 2012 at Dev8D: Releasing Open Educational Resources into the Wild

Pssst … If you’re a developer working on educational technologies, then I will whisper a rumour at you that it might be worth keeping 29th & 30th May pencilled in your diary for our very first DevEd event. Shhhh! We’ll tell you more as we plan it!

Meanwhile, the UKCoRR repository managers community ran a session on OERs on 27th January. The presentation from Phil Barker is a really useful whistlestop tour of different approaches to managing and disseminating OER

Funding opportunities for digital infrastructure work

There is currently a major Call for Proposals out from the Digital Infrastructure team . Most closely related to the area of digital infrastructure for learning resources, I would flag up the potential of Research Tools – Projects to Develop Sustainable and Open Vocabularies for Research and Information Management  , and also a Synthesis Project. Worth watching also will be the access and identity management projects arising from this Call.

Also due out very soon are a set of Invitations to Tender for a range of Reports on Digital Infrastructure Directions.  I’ll be managing a report on Embedded Licences: What, Why and How, and an Open Landscape study that focuses on how openness supports institutional objectives. Also requested will be a Report on the Advantages of APIs and one on Activity Data: Analytics and Metrics, one on business models around open source, and one on citation.

Sign up to JISC announce to get funding opportunity alerts via email.

Some hot topics

E-books, i-books and open books have been a big topic recently (E,I,E,I,O!). Apple caused a stir with their announcements. If you’re interested in ebooks, there is a wealth of technical material and guidance in the JISCPub Technical Monograph Landscape Study . JISC Digital Media are running a webinar on Getting Started with eBooks on 22nd February.

There is a growing interest in the role of libraries and librarians for OER. CETIS have been tracking this opportunity . A nice edtechpost sums up what this might mean all for emerging roles. Talking of libraries, my colleague Ben Shower’s post on the future of Library Management Systems, the Squeezed Middle has implications for how the role of content management within institutions might develop.

I had the pleasure of joining a NIACE workshop on open educational resources on 20th January. I gave a presentation on the benefits of content sharing and reuse . The big take home message of the day for me is that in HE we have a wealth of support, content and tools for both adult learners and the people to teach, tutor and support them. There is so much more we can do to promote open and free learning beyond HE, as highlighted in the soon-to-be-released OER Report on Open Practice across sectors .

JISC has been busy behind the scenes coordinating evidence and responses to Hargreaves review of copyright. That warrants a whole blog post which I won’t attempt here!

… (pause for breath) …

Coming soon …

Major reports due out soon which may be of particular interest :

  • a report on the Mobile Web, from the JISC Observatory
  • a set of case studies on HTML5
  • a report on TextMining
  • OER evaluation and synthesis team outputs
  • and not quite a report, but watch out for a cute animation from OER IPR Support Team

I’ll be out and about a bit this month too. I’ll be running a session at Dev8D with CETIS’s Lorna Campbell about digital infrastructure directions for learning content, 2-4pm on Wednesday 15th Feb .  As well as attending the Learning Registry session at the CETIS Conference , I’ll be contributing ideas on the potential of social network analytics for education and research on 23rd February.

And thus endeth my update for February 2012.

Hope this update is useful! A lot of this work has involved my colleagues in the UK OER Programme, JISC CETIS and Mimas, as well as the many expert projects we are lucky enough to work with. Feedback on this update is very welcome.

The Squeezed Middle: Exploring the Future of Library Systems

Last week saw a two-day workshop, held at Warwick University, exploring the future of library systems.  I wanted to briefly highlight the format of the two days, and reflect on some of the outcomes from the event.  In particular, how the workshop has helped inform a new funding call that will be published in early February.


Not so long ago the library management system was the neglected sibling of the library world; but the landscape is changing and it is starting to become centre-stage once again. Yet this is a very different world to even just a few years ago.  While it regains its moment in the lime-light, it is constrained on either side by the emerging importance of resource discovery and e-resource management.
Entitled: ‘The Squeezed Middle’ the JISC and SCONUL sponsored event was a chance for directors and senior library managers to review the evolving role and requirements of the institutional Library Management System (LMS).

Specifically the workshop focused on the key developments impacting the shape of library systems, given the current work that is taking place in both Resource Discovery (  and developments in the management of subscription and e- resources (Knowledge Base+).

Since 2008 and the publication of the JISC LMS landscape report and the jiscLMS programme things have changed significantly in the library systems environment. A number of open source systems are emerging, including Evergreen, Koha and Kuali OLE. More importantly, UK higher education has seen the first implementation of open source LMS at Staffordshire University – open source library systems have become a viable option.

The landscape is also seeing a number of Unified and web-scale systems in development, including: Ex libris’ Alma, and OCLC and Serial Solutions web-scale solutions.

The workshop aimed to explore this complex landscape, and end the two days with a clear direction of travel  for what the future of library systems might look like (and some concrete ways to get there).

Workshop Format

The role and functions of the LMS are, to say the least, fairly well embedded in the workflows and everyday business of the academic library. It’s a cliche to invoke the paradigm word, but it could be argued that much of the discussion within this space is caught up in a historic paradigm that has, for a long time, prevented the evolution (let alone revolution) of this business critical system.

The format of the workshop aimed to disrupt this paradigm.

The workshop began with some contextual information on the current library systems landscape.  The first day of workshop was divided into two group discussion sessions focused around four themes: Space, Collections, Systems and Expertise.

The workshop watched a short video presentation by Lorcan Dempsey of OCLC that provided some business modelling context to the discussions. Lorcan’s full video is available here:

Each of the break out discussions sessions were interrupted by four ‘provocations’ from within and beyond the library world. These short, provocative presentations were designed to help extend the discussions around library systems, and prevent the groups from falling back on long held assumptions and arguments. These future visions (they were meant to be a vision of the library world in 2020), were both very creative, and helped provide talking points for the groups.

An example of the presentations can be found on Paul Walk’s blog and Paul Stainthorp’s blog. The other two were by Ken Chad (Ken’s provocation can be found here) and David Kay, and all their presentations will be made available shortly.

The day ended with some ‘homework’ where delegates were asked to prioritise and comment upon some 60 ‘objectives’ on the future role and functionality of the LMS.

The second day was focused on cementing the discussions and explorations of the first day – groups prioritised some of the identified objectives from the homework exercise and slowly a number of critical themes emerged.

Emerging Themes and Priorities

A number of core themes emerged during the two day workshop. Below I have very subjectively chosen a couple to highlight. A full list of the prioritised list of library systems ‘objectives’ that was the main outcome from the workshop can be found here. This was very kindly collated by David Kay who helped facilitate the second day of the workshop.

Data Data everywhere, and not a drop to…

I agree with Richard Nurse from the Open University who attended the workshop and blogged about the event here, who said:

It also struck me that a lot of the issues, concerns and priorities were about data rather than systems or processes… I do find it particularly interesting that despite the effort that goes into the data that libraries consume, there are some really big tasks to address to flow data around our systems without duplication or unnecessary activity.

I think this is an interesting point. In the conversations I joined it was clear that a lot of discussion was taking place around the data across the library (and the campus) and how a library system might bring this together. Someone mentioned the LMS as a dashboard that aggregated disparate data sets from across the library and campus.  The system becomes secondary to the data.

This also came out in the discussions around ‘non-traditional assets’ and how libraries are able to integrate services such as reading lists with resource discovery, VLEs and repositories.

Skills and roles

This was a theme that seemed to run throughout the two days. In particular there was significant discussion around the future and transformation of library systems and its impact on current and future staff roles and the skills required.

This issue runs through the library from the practitioner librarians and the new skills and roles that are developing, to managers and senior managers and how they adjust to managing and obtaining these new roles. these new roles may also be frequently outside the physical library, or roles that are not traditionally recognised as part of the library skill-set, and so new ways of working and adaptation to those roles will be required.

Furthermore, there may be a tension between another of the themes, sharing services and systems, and the ability to develop, maintain and justify the relevant skills locally. There was a lot of discussion around whether the outsourcing or sharing of infrastructure (systems in this case), actually affects the local skills the library has. Infrastructure and skills are often thought of as separate, yet the two are more intimately connected than might be expected.

The reality, however, is I suspect more complex than this. Institutions may have already outsourced or shared services and systems; the question is then whether they are able to still develop skills and new roles. Furthermore, there might be some potential for shared services to become central ‘pools’ for developing and deploying these new roles and developing skills.  Deployed locally when necessary: enabling institutions to continue to innovative and collaborate.

Shared Infrastructure

Unsurprisingly this was a big topic of discussion – both in terms of skills as discussed above, and in terms of defining those services and functions that are maintained locally and those that can benefit from above-campus infrastructure.

There was also some interesting suggestions around a UK research reserve for monographs (something that has been discussed at JISC as well), and considerations around national union catalogues and similar initiatives. Resurrecting the notion of a national union catalogue did somewhat divide the delegates; it was clear that discussions around such infrastructure should be driven by requirements, rather than the assumption that a union catalogue is the answer.

While I don’t think it was ever articulated openly, there seemed to be a sense that the large, one size fits all shared LMS (whether local or shared) was no longer viable, or particularly attractive. Instead new models are needed – I don’t know what these are necessarily, but they seem to demand a new vision of shared infrastructure around library systems (and services).


It was clear that any future library system (whether local, shared, above campus etc) would provide the user with the ability to personalise, and to a greater extent, control their library experience. This relates back to the considerations of data earlier, but more significantly the user is able to take that data with them as they both progress within the institution and move beyond it (warning: I may be straying slightly into Paul Walk’s future vision of the library!).

JISC has done significant amounts of work around personalisation, in particular the activity data work could be very instrumental in understanding this area further. Iportant work still needs to be done on simple issue around ownership of the data and legal issues, before the more technical issues can start to be addressed more fundamentally.

Concluding remarks

The discussion was far richer than my abve comments might lead one to believe, but I just wanted to outline some of the highlights.

One of the critical things I took away with me was the need to constantly place these kinds of discussions within wider institutional strategic contexts (research etc). It is easy to deal with these types of issues as if they are hermetically sealed, whereas the reality is much more complex, with various different drivers and barriers.

As I mentioned above, the workshop had a very clear purpose: To help shape a new vision for library systems. This aim was made concrete in a recent funding call I have written and that will be published in very early February: see here for details. This workshop therefore provides a baseline that I can look back on in 12 months time and see what the landscape looked like in early 2012!

[All the presentations and provocations will be made available online as part of the forthcoming Library Systems Programme on the JISC webpages].

Usability Workshop – Emerging Themes from jiscUX

The following blog post is a brief report from a recent usability workshop held in central London.  Programme managers Ben Showers and Torsten Reimer describe some of the themes that emerged from the day.

The Usability and Learnability programme recently held a small workshop in central London where the 12 projects making up the programme were given a chance to get a glimpse of the UsabilityUK project prototype system, test it and offer feedback. The projects also discussed progress of the programme, their experiences and lessons learned as well as future plans.

UsabilityUK will create an authoritative usability resource for UK HE (and beyond) and a first port of call for HE projects and institutions who have a user facing component to the work they plan to do.

The Usability and Learnability programme aims to explore practical usability techniques and the improvement of user interfaces for research tools to help provide a better experience for users. This includes general usability work, but also an exploration of techniques for developing user interfaces that are easy to learn and can adapt to different users and use cases.

Workshop themes:

The day included some good discussions, and it seems worthwhile briefly reflecting on some of the themes that emerged from the day:

  • Among the usability methods discussed, the use of personas attracted much interest, especially as it was seen as a good way to help developers understand the needs of the users. The point was made that developing personas should not take too much time if it is done as part of initial requirements planning for a project.
  • A number of the projects present made the point that adopting a more user-centric approach to their work meant that usability became a framework in which to undertake a project, rather than a workpackage within a project. Usability becomes a way to understand and manage the entire project, rather than a nice add-on that takes place at some point before the project finishes.
  • The usability resource needs to provide ‘a foot in the door’ for those that are coming to the website without any real prior engagement in this type of work. This might be a short piece of text that could also serve as an introduction to usability and relevant concepts, and it should include some ‘pathways’ that help users navigate a route through the resource. Developing different routes for different user groups is also a general theme of the whole programme and something that that the learnability projects are exploring as a core part of their work.
  • Sharing and de-duplication:  A lot of feedback concerned the fact that the UsabilityUK prototype was squarely aimed at sharing best practice and helping projects find existing resources, rather than having to re-do work over again.  One of the aims of UsabilityUK is to ensure that future projects are able to skip some of that preliminary work that has been done many times before by many others.
  • One of the most interesting discussions surrounded the way information is gathered for the resource, and whether a form was the best method.  Despite the often repeated mantra: forms, damned forms and reports many of the group voiced the opinion that an online form of some description would be a necessity.  It was good to hear that the group were willing to consider a bit more form filling to help share their work and improve the resource for other projects benefit.

You can follow the progress of the Usability and Learnability projects via the JISC website.

This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Glimpse into the Future of Repositories: videos now available!

DevCSI Challenge @ Open Repositories 2011

As usual the standard of the entrants were very high and the solutions were diverse.  There was also high energy and an infectious buzz in the room during the presentations!  See videos at

JISC Prize:


“Repository as a Service (RaaS).  Stuart Lewis, Kim Shepherd, Adam Field, Andrea Schweer, and Yin Yin Latt (University of Auckland, DSpace Committers, EPrints services and the library Consortium of New Zealand.

Repository as a Service (RaaS) is the idea that the repository is a commodity which provides a service. In order for current repositories to act like this they need standard interfaces to get data in and out.  Once these standard interfaces are in place, the repository becomes a commodity which can be swapped in and out, and the ‘repository service’ can be provided by many repositories or one.  The entry demonstrated an Android mobile app that used SWORD to deposit photos into both DSpace and EPrints.  Then using solr indexes as a common interface for getting access to the items in the repository, a tool called Skylight was demonstrated that could display the repository collections.  Identical experiences were provided by both EPrints and DSpace because of the common interfaces in and out.  In addition, the repository as a commodity was shown to be useful for providing further services – examples including translating the content of the repositories using the Microsoft Translation API, and extracting geo-location data from GPS-tagged photos.  The idea for RaaS was conceived and worked up during the conference and it demonstrated strong collaboration and agile development.

JISC Runners up:

“Distributed Research Object Creator” D-ROC Patrick McSweeney and Matt Taylor, University of Southampton

D-ROC is a data driven interface collating resources which already exist on the web to tell a story of research from the research object creators perspective. The author uses a tool to explain how resources from web sources like institutional repositories, slideshare, data repositories, youtube and other online sources are linked together to make up a full piece of research. Behind the scenes this makes an RDF linked data document which could be reused in a number of ways. For their competition entry Patrick and Matt chose to make a data driven website which aggregates attention metadata (views, dowloads, citation counts) from the various web sources but they invision far wider scoped applications for this kind of rich data. One of the key selling points is that a user can imediately see value from there time invested using to tool. To be able to design a project website in half an hour illustrates the power of the tool.

Microsoft Prize:

“Dynamic Deep Zoom Images and Collections with Djatoka” – Rebecca Sutton Koeser, Emory University Libraries

This entry used the Microsoft and Deep Zoom and Pivot applications on top of special image collections in their Fedora repository.  This has wider application to other image-based repository collections and it was impressive to see what was achieved in the time constraints of the developer challenge.

Special mention goes to Sam Adams from Cambridge University for his use of the PIVOT tool over the chempound semantic data repository (JISC Clarion project) which allows rich domain access to physical science data.

Special mention goes to Dave Tarrant from Southampton University for using the XBOX Kinect technology to drag and drop items into ePrints.  It was very ingenious and entertaining watch.

Use of SWORD prize:

RaaS  – same as above.  The project produced a SWORD App for Android mobile devices to allow photos to be deposit from smartphones.  The potential for this implementation as a mobile deposit device is fairly extensive, potentially allowing for geo location, orientation, audio, video, stills to all be recorded to an archival location in near real time, or to enable ‘citizen science’ via data collection from thousands of remote devices.

Thank you to:

  • University of Texas at Austin for hosting or11 and supporting DevCSI.
  • Microsoft Research for supporting DevCSI
  • Mahendra Mahey for organising the event
  • Peter Sefton for supporting the event and chairing the presentations and keeping the judges in order