The Benefits of Open Source for Libraries

The following post appeared as a question and answer piece in the August edition of the Cilip Update magazine

What are the main benefits to the library of adopting open source?

There are some well known benefits that open source could bring to libraries, these include:

Lower costs: Open source offers a lower total cost of ownership than traditional library systems. There are none of the traditional license costs associated with open source. Libraries are able take advantage of the reduced costs the cloud offers by reducing local support and hosting costs (if it is supported and hosted by a third party).

No lock-in: Libraries are, in a sense, removed from the traditional lock-in associated with library systems. There is a greater opportunity to pick and choose components, and take advantage of what is, generally, better interoperability with open source solutions. Related to this is also the idea that open source is more sustainable: If a vendor goes out of business the software may disappear or be sold-on. With open it is always available, and there is usually a community involved in it to continue its development.

Adaptation and Innovation: Connected to the above is the greater capacity that libraries have to innovate with open systems and software. There is no need to await the next update or release, instead in either isolation or collaboratively, can develop the functionality required. This enables much more agile services and systems, as well as ensuring user expectations are exceeded.

A richer library systems ecosystem: A less direct impact of open source is a richer library systems ecosystem. This is both in terms of the library solutions available (a healthier marketplace with both proprietary and open solutions) and in terms of collaboration and engagement between libraries themselves. Libraries are able to collaborate and share code on the functionality and fixes they require. Indeed, there are open source systems such as Evergreen, which were developed as an open source library system for a consortial approach.

While these benefits are the headline grabbing ones, it might be argued there are more subtle, but none the less powerful benefits in the adoption of open source in libraries, especially within higher and further education. There are broader trends and themes emerging (and some fairly well entrenched) within the new information environment that make open source particularly timely for libraries. These developments include: open (linked) data; managing research data; open scholarship and science; Open content such as OERs; crowdsourcing, and, of course, open access. Open source solutions for the library fit very well into this broader open momentum affecting the academic world at present.

Away from the academic world it is difficult not to notice the close correlation between the open, learning, sharing and peer-production culture libraries embody and that of the open source culture.

So it may be that one of the greatest benefits of adopting open source is that it mirrors the very philosophy and values of the library itself.

Is it something all libraries should consider, or are there limitations to its usefulness as a solution (if so, what are the limitations)?

There are very few barriers to any library adopting an open source library system. The business models that surround open source library systems are currently based on third parties offering support and hosting services for libraries looking to implement a solution. Effectively, this means any library could take advantage of an open system.

There can sometimes be very pragmatic limitations to the systems themselves – the open source management system Koha, for example, doesn’t include an inter-library loan module (although they recognise this and have a wiki to collect the requirements for the module’s development).

For me, open source offers libraries an exciting opportunity: better understand the skills, roles and processes that are critical to the library’s community of users (whether academic, public or other). Open source can be about simply outsourcing your system and support to a third party; but it can also be about re-evaluating services, systems and understanding where the real value of the library lies. This may mean that support for the open source LMS is outsourced to a third party, so the local developers can work with librarians to ensure the services are innovative and meeting the needs of users.

Open source is an opportunity for the library to become more agile, and adopt a more ‘start-up’ like culture to the development and deployment of services.

What are the main barriers to a library adopting open source? (fear of the unknown, lack of technical ability etc)

It would be simple to blame the slow adoption of open source systems on fear – fear of the unknown, cost, security, perception, the list could go on. These are real concerns within the library community. But, it would miss the fact that libraries are using open source software. There are discovery interfaces that include Blacklight and VuFind. These open products themselves often run on top of the open search platform Apache Solr, for example.

Search and discovery are critical functions of the library, so these are not inconsequential adoptions.

Furthermore, there is a small, but growing recognition of the viability of open source for libraries. Halton Borough Council was the first to adopt open source for its public libraries, the University of Staffordshire was the first UK university to adopt an open source management system . These early adopters are helping raise the profile of open source and helping make it a visible alternative.

These developments point at potentially more entrenched barriers to adoption. One such barrier is the impact institutional and organisational procurement processes have on the decision making process (This, it might be argued, is a barrier to the development and adoption of proprietary systems as much as it is to the adoption of open source) . The procurement process for libraries (certainly in the academic sphere) has not been one that has traditionally explored innovative approaches – instead it has focused on relatively static and core specifications. This has had the effect of reinforcing the type of system, and the systems approach institutions and organisations adopt in their tender to suppliers.

For many organisations it might be summed up as simply as: who do you put a tender out to in the case of an open source solution?

However, many of the more superficial barriers are already largely redundant within the sector – the viability of open in general has been proved with the adoption of open source operating systems such as Linux in most sectors including business. Some of the more embedded organisational issues may take time to resolve, but already these are starting to dissolve as institutions seek to make effeciencies and adopt new approaches to procurement.

Are there issues over ongoing support? and do libraries need a decent IT dept to even consider open source?

As I mention above, IT support isn’t necessarily an issue for the library, this can be outsourced to a third party if necessary . But, having the right technical skills in the library is essential; it’s essential whether or not you’re choosing an open source solution.

However, the IT department does play an important role (whether they are in the library or wider organisation) as they are the people you’ll be talking to a lot about your decision. I think they key issue regarding the IT department is making sure they understand what you’re doing, and get them on your side!

There are also opportunities for libraries to engage in projects which share many of the characteristics of open source, but which have a slightly different approach. Examples include shared community activity such as Knowledge Base+ in the UK (a shared community knowledge base for electronic resources) which is a collaboration between HE libraries to improve the quality of e-resource metadata. Or the US ‘community source’ project KualiOLE (an Open Library Environment designed by libraries) where you pay to join the project to affect development, but the code for the system is open source. These examples build on the library’s tradition of openness and collaboration, and provide similar kinds of benefits to straightforward open source software.

Finally, it might just be that the greatest issue of open source facing libraries has already been overcome. David Parkes, Associate Director at University of Staffordshire, jokes that you should never be first. Of course, Staffordshire was the first HE institutions to implement an open source library system, so in many ways he’s removed the biggest hurdle to adoption there is!


Observing the Web

Like a lot of people, when I think about it, or when I’m reminded about it, I understand that the Web is a place where someone is always watching what you do. I understand that … but then I think, well … the Web is such a huge beast; such a vast ocean; such a giant metropolis where the comings and goings of individuals are insignificant. How and why would anyone notice what I’m looking at and which links I’m clicking on?

Then up pops Tom Barnett from Switch Concepts Ltd. at a meeting yesterday to tell us that ‘Google has a file the size of an encyclopedia on everyone in this room.’

Hmmm … that’s not a particularly comfortable idea for someone to put in your head. I start to feel a vague sense of paranoia creeping through my mind.

And then I think, c’mon Neil, pull yourself together! Google really doesn’t care who you are. They just want to put things in your line of sight that are more rather than less likely to get you to open your wallet and part with your wages!!

Such were the thoughts that were buzzing around my head yesterday at an event organised by the Web Science Trust (

The meeting was entitled ‘Observing the Web’ and the purpose was to highlight some of the work that the Web Science Trust and their partners and collaborators are doing to build a global network of Web Observatories providing an open analytics environment to drive new forms of Web research. We went round the room doing introductions and Dame Wendy Hall ended up branding us a ‘motley crew’. Academics, industry players, not-for-profits, technologists, funders, charities, a lawyer. (Quite a respectable looking motley crew in the very smart surroundings of the Royal Society I might add). But ‘motley crew’ felt about right for a topic and a collaborative, academic, open activity that is still exploring the territory and testing new ground. Presumably in contrast to the well-resourced, sophisticated and highly developed (but opaque) methods employed by the corporate observers of the Web (Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo etc.).

The point of all of this ‘observing’ is not to try and take account of every little bit of data and content on the web, but rather to understand what the aggregated use of the Web can tell us; how trends and fashions and changes of behaviour in relation to the Web might illuminate aspects of our society and culture, both now and for future students and researchers.

This was all of great interest to Jisc. We are currently working with the British Library, the Oxford Internet Institute and the Institute of Historical Research on an initiative that aligns very well with the notion of the Web Observatory.

The Big Data project (


the AADDA project (

are both using a copy of the Internet Archive’s collection of UK domain websites collected over the period 1996-2010, to examine new ways to engage with the web at domain level, and develop new forms of research that leverage the scale of the web. As the name of the Oxford project says … it’s all about using ‘Big Data’.

This was work that emerged from influential JISC-funded reports commissioned in 2010 –

Researcher Engagement with Web Archives

As we heard at the meeting, the academic observatory is a very different proposition to the corporate observatory and comes with enormous challenges including: interoperability (how do we link observatories?); access (asides from Twitter which of the big corporates will let us use their data?); privacy (will people feel spied upon?); and sustainability (what is the business model?).

A fascinating meeting and big topic. There will be more discussion in Early May at the ACM Web Science Meeting in Paris.



Licensing Data as Open Data

One of the findings that has emerged clearly from the UK OER Programme and from the UK Discovery work is that for a healthy content ecosystem, information about the content needs to be available to many different systems, services and users. Appropriately licensing the metadata and feeds is crucial to downstream discovery and use.

The OER IPR Support Project have developed this fabulous animation to introduce the importance of open data licensing in an engaging way.

It was developed out of the UK OER Programme but informed by the work of several other areas including UK Discovery, Managing Research Data, the Strategic Content Alliance, and sharing XCRI course feeds. With thanks to the many people who helped in the storyboarding, scripting and feedback: particularly Phil Barker, Tony Hirst and Martin Hawskey.

You may remember the same OER IPR team produced the Turning a Resource into an Open Educational Resource (1,700+ hits and counting). The team is Web2Rights (Naomi Korn, Alex Dawson), JISC Legal (Jason Miles-Campbell) and the animator is Luke McGowan. The whole animation is (c) HEFCE on behalf of JISC, and Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0.

We hope it will have wide usefulness and we very much welcome feedback.

Amber Thomas, JISC

When ideals meet reality

At ALT-C in early September I ran a session with David Kernohan on Openness: learning from our history. The theme of the conference was ” a confrontation with reality” so it seemed fitting to explore the trajectories taken by various forms of openness. What follows is just a short thought piece that I contributed to the session about some of the patterns I have observed over the past decade or so.

Altc openness idealsmeetreality from JISC


Curves and Cycles

The first thing to say is that we are all different in our encounters with new approaches Whether they are new technologies like badges or new delivery models like MOOCs. We are each on our own learning curves and changed curves, and we meet new ideas and solutions at different points in the hype cycle. That is a lot of variation. So when we meet new ideas, we can respond very differently. My first message is that every response is a real response.


It’s to easy to characterise people as pro- or anti- something It’s too easy to present things as a debate for or against But polarisation often masks the real questions, because we don’t hear them properly.

“The use of technology seems to divide people into strong pro- and anti-camps or perhaps utopian and dystopian perspectives” Martin Weller, The Digital Scholar [1]

Dialectics of Open and Free

There is usually a dialectic around open and free: free as in freedom, free as in beer [2].  “Open as in door or open as in heart”: Some courses are open as in door. You can walk in, you can listen for free. Others are open as in heart. You become part of a community, you are accepted and nurtured [3]. I always add: open as in markets?


To follow on from free as in beer …A great example of branching is the trajectory of the open source movement. there were big debates over “gratis vs libre” and that gave birth to the umbrella term Free AND Libre Open Source Software term – FLOSS. By enabling the practices of open source to branch off, to allow the community to branch off, we saw a diffusion of innovation. Towards profit-making business models in some areas, free culture models in others. Its interesting how github supports the whole spectrum

This has also been the approach of the UK OER Programme. We have been quite pluralistic about OER, to let people find their own ways. We have certainly had tensions between the marketing/recruitment aspect and the open practice perspective. What’s important to note is that often it’s not just one model that comes to dominate.

Tipping points into the mainstream

We don’t always understand what brings about mainstreaming. We very rarely control it.

Consider a story from open standards: the rise and fall of RSS aggregation. Is it netvibes or pageflakes that made the difference? Or google-reader? At what point did twitter and facebook start to dominate the aggregation game and overtake RSS? The OER programme gave freedom for each project to choose their platform. They didn’t chose a standard they chose a platform. It’s often when open standards are baked in to platforms that we see take-up without conscious decision making.

I’m not sure we always notice: sometimes when mainstreaming happens we don’t recognise it. When did e-learning become part of the fabric of education?


Finally, change can take a lot longer than we hope. The 10 years since the Budapest Open Access Initiative [4] can feel like geological time. And yet the OA movement has achieved so much. Perhaps we need some time-lapse photography approach to recognising the impact of changes we started back then. So many more people understand OA now. So many more people care.

Change takes longer than you think

Key Messages

We are all unique in our encounters with new things. Polarisation often masks the real questions. There is often a dialectic around open and free. Often it’s not just one model that comes to dominate. Sometimes when mainstreaming happens we don’t recognise it. Change can take a lot longer than we hope.








Data-Driven Library Infrastructure: UKSG 2012 Presentation

Below is a copy of the plenary presentation I gave to the UKSG conference 2012. I have also included a much reduced transcript of the talk to provide some context to the slides.

My presentation was about looking at library services and systems from a data-centric point of view. Specifically, it was about the potential that library data has for the creation of new services and improved systems.

This isn’t a radically new vision – indeed the idea of data-driven is something that seems all pervasive at the moment (data-driven journalism etc). Rather it is a way to refocus, or possibly to re-align our thinking so what may appear problems at the present are viewed as new opportunities.

There is also a video of the presentation available:

I began my presentation with a video. The video was made by University of Lincoln students without formal permission from the university and upoaded to YouTube.

Incredibly it got over 2.1 million hits. Is this the most watched University recruitment film ever!? Even more impressive is that it will be watched by exactly the demographic Lincoln would want to appeal to – young people. Lincoln recognised the potential of the film, and officially branded it and it is now a part of their advertising.

So, I think the film highlights nicely the three main themes of my presentation:

  1. Situating services and infrastructure within the wider ecosystem (this might be institution; community; society etc) – allow innovation to flourish anywhere, and ensure you’re in a position to take advantage of it;
  2. Redistributing effort – focus on the services that have an impact for users, ensure you have the talent to recognise those emergent opportunities and embrace them;
  3. Covering all eventualities: Future proofing –  become agile and more entrepreneurial. The barriers for students creating the video were incredibly low: flip cam and youtube. Barriers to students using library data should be low too
Why is this so important to libraries…? Well, I think there are three compelling reasons why libraries should take a data-centric approach to their systems and services.

1. Ecosystem

Taking a data centric approach enables the library to affect the entire ecosystem that they inhabit.

Focusing on the data forces us to think about the other sources of important data within the institution: the Repository, VLE’s, student records etc.  The wider data ecosystem becomes evident, and the potential of the data underpinning those systems can be realised.

A really good example of this is the Discovery work that’s currently being undertaken by JISC and RLUK and Mimas at the Uni of Manchester. Discovery’s aim is to provide a metadata ecology’ for UK education and research – and it does this by focusing on open and accessible data.

When you start to think like this you realise there is incredibly rich and important metadata describing content outside of HE libraries – museums, galleries, archives, museums. Researchers and students want this content as much as anything in the library – so why wouldn’t you include that?

What was largely hidden or difficult to find becomes visible. The possibilities of those large, cross-sector discovery tools can be realised, as well as those small, un-thought of possibilities for individual researchers to create their own unique discovery tools, searching a corpus of data they curated and specific t their research.

What happens, suddenly, is the data ecosystem starts to mingle with the human ecosystems libraries are inevitably a part of. The free flow of data provides the fertile ground for new ideas and services to grow – Innovation is allowed to flourish everywhere on campus – not just within the confines of the traditional walls of the library.

Libraries and their institutions need to ensure an environment where this flourishing of innovation can happen,  and that there are the right skills and people to recognise those opportunities, and help develop further the ideas and prototypes.

2. Effort

If you think only of shared services as a way to reduce effort then you lose the ability to respond and build on the opportunities that may emerge from your fertile data ecosystem. It’s not of reduction of effort, but of redistribution of effort.

The aim is to reduce the effort on those chore jobs – admin, back office functions – critical, but not what the user sees as having an impact. This refocus allows you to redistribute effort to the core services you provide.

Shared services such as JUSP and Raptor are great examples of how you can stop doing the administration, and use those services to provide you with the data to make changes.  

These shared services also demonstrate the way data begets data: the way data is used produces more data, that enables better understanding of how the data is used and how it can be improved.

Data seems to bestow the need for iterative thinking – to constantly revisit, act, think, revisit.  Providing a virtuous circle of data, action, data.

Another example is Knowledge base+: a shared academic knowledge base for electronic resources – a great example of how you enable libraries to do something once and share it with everyone so they don’t have to repeat it locally. KB+ also recognises that the innovative services built on top of data do not necessarily have to be undertaken by the project itself, but can emerge from the community as well as third parties and commercial suppliers.

One interesting aspect of KB+   is it’s focus on data means that the use cases for it can develop over time. While the focus at the moment is on e-resources and their management, it may enable innovations around inter-library sharing of content, collection management etc.

Indeed, the use cases can quite happily shift from individual institutions:from those that envisage a use-case as an ERM, to those who see it as a backup for their local holdings and helping facilitate easy movement between external systems.

As librarians we’re very aware that the past needs protection from the future; but we need to recognise that the future needs to be protected from the past – I don’t know what will be needed in a few months time; but it probably won’t be the thing I think it will be based on my past experiences.

3. Eventualities

So, this leads me onto my third E! How a data-driven approach ensures that services and systems are Future proofed.

This is about libraries being able to be, at a fundamental level, more entrepreneurial. I want to pick up on an earlier point about the iterative imperatives of data: data – action – data: the process is one similar to how a small start up company might work.

There are some wonderful examples of libraries playing with this kind of innovative approach.  At the University of Huddersfield they have taken the generally unappealing library circulation data and turned it into a game for students:  Lemon Tree.

The library experience is gamified, and in a way that engages students and enhances their experience.

Supporting this kind of thinking are technical infrastructures like the JISC Elevator: A platform for new ideas to be posted, and for members of the community to vote on them and then for JISC to potentially fund.

This is about agility, and moving quickly.

This is again where the importance of redistribution of effort is so essential – the negotiation between shared above campus services and local capabilities is incredibly important. The negotiation between what is shared and kept local defines the institution, and how effective they can be in meeting the rapidly changing needs of their students and researchers.

As libraries begin to understand and curate their own data effectively it begins to demonstrate the libraries potential role in an increasingly data-driven academic environment.

As data management and curation become the next big problem for institutions, libraries can position themselves as the experts.

My Story of O(pen)

Here at JISC we think a lot about openness: what it means, how to support it, where it takes us.

This is my contribution to that thinking. It is very much my individual views, but informed by the work we do at JISC, and by the Open Knowledge Foundation, amongst others.

My open narrative

Open makes things visible.

The everyday sense of “open” is open rather than closed – letting people see what is there, what is happening.

The web enables you to;

  • do some of your processes/practices online, visible to others
  • share some of your products/outputs online, visible to others

Open makes access easy.

This is where open–as-in-open-access comes in: open without needing to log in, and open without payment.


Open is social.

The “many eyes” principle of sharing open data and the open innovation model encourage others not only to view but to comment, to feed back, to engage. This speeds up the process in hand and improves the quality of the resulting work.


Open makes things usable by others.

Open standards exist to encourage as many developers as possible to adopt them.

This is where open licensing comes in: granting others explicit and generous permissions to use your content.


Open can be a way of working.

Doing open working and openly releasing outputs can make a person feel differently about what they do. Researchers might call this collection of activities open scholarship, technologists might call their activities open development, project teams might call it open innovation. Each of these types of open practice has elements in common and elements specific to the sorts of activities the practice involves.


Open is not exclusive

Open source can mean both the open development process and the open source software. They are not always found together: open development processes can produce non-open software, and closed development processes can produce open source software.


Opens are mutually beneficial

There is a virtuous cycle when open process and open products combine. In open scholarship, both creating and using open content and using open ways of working, the content feeds the practice feeds the content.

I’m watching the Openness in Education course with interest and I expect this whole meta open concept to deepen in 2012.

A Diagram of Opens

Its important to note that is is an abstracted diagram: in my view, open is not a replacement for the  way things currently work. There is not ever going to be a total transformation to open. The reality is a mixed economy. Business models matter. Practice models matter.

Open can be good for business, open can be good for practice but it exists in a bigger ecosystem of technologies and behaviours. Good is not enough, it needs to be useful. That’s what JISC and other advocates of openness are working hard to surface.

Ultimately I think open is good because it is a good way of working.

Amber Thomas

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Activity data and data protection – what am I allowed to do?

JISC has been engaging in scoping the potential for activity/usage data for the HE sector under the Activity Data Programme with 9 projects.  There is much potential that activity data brings in terms of business intelligence for various uses such as recommendation services, collections management etc.  A very engaging synthesis of the work has been produced plus high level guides for activity data.

However up to this point, the relationship of usage data and the potential arising from data protection issues has not been explored in depth. Following on from a report commissioned from JISC Legal together with a briefing paper by Naomi Korn and Charles Oppenheim, certain issues have been explored in depth which are not clear cut such as the creation and subsequent use of anonymised data which does not contain any personally identifiable information (name, age etc) but where the mashing up of this data could lead to a user being identified.  Services therefore need to be mindful of this but not let it prohibit the potential that activity data affords. The papers and accompanying FAQs explore these cases as well as instances where consent has been given to use personally identifiable information, the importance of seeking consent, how consent might be given and when?

Berlin 9 conference

I am just back from the Berlin 9 conference. The “Berlin” series of conference are named after the Berlin Declaration on Open Access, and this was the first time the annual conference has been held in North America. It’s very hard to summarise my reactions from the conference, there were so many stories showing how opening up scholarship can lead to real benefits, in health, development, innovation and our quality of life. For example, Cyril Muller from the World Bank described how that organisation has adopted an open approach to the work it funds, and to its own operations, and is encouraging the governments with whom it works to do the same. Laura Czerniewicz from the University of Cape Town showed how open education resource, configured for SIM-enabled mobile devices, can make a real difference to some quite seriously disadvantaged students. And Elliot Maxwell highlighted some wonderfully elegant research studies, showing clearly how, when scientific findings and resources are made open, it leads to a greater diversity, quality and application of knowledge. Of course, there are implications. Michael Crow of Arizona State University argued that all this requires us to re-think the university as a social technology, and Philip Bourne highlighted some of the challenges we have in moving to a research practice that is native to the digital environment, genuinely reproducible, and that rewards researchers who move in that direction. The overwhelming impression, though, was of a scholarly community now adopting more open approaches, and beginning to see tangible benefits from that. Berlin 10 is on the African continent for the first time. I hope it will bring new voices to be heard in this community.

Shared Academic Knowledge Base (KB+) – Library Directors event

Yesterday saw the shared academic knowledge base (KB+) briefing day for approx. 60 library directors and senior managers take place in London, at the Wellcome Trust.

The project, known as KB+, is developing a shared community service that will improve the quality, accuracy, coverage and availability of data for the management, selection, licensing, negotiation, review and access of electronic resources for UK HE.

The aims of the day were to:

  • Provide an update on the progress of the shared academic knowledge base project;
  • Surface and share some of the questions, concerns and ideas participants may have about the project and the management of electronic resources in general;
  • To let participants know what will be happening next with the project and how you can get involved if you would like.

The day began with Ben Showers (JISC Programme Manager) providing some context to the work and situating the project within the wider subscriptions management landscape. The presentation can be found here: Shared Academic Knowledge Base: Context and Landscape

Liam Earney, the project lead from JISC Collections, then went on to outline the vision and approach that the project will be adopting, as well as providing the participants with an idea of what will happen next and how, if institutions wish, they can get involved.
Liam’s presentation can be found here:  shared academic knowledge base: Approach and Vision

The meeting engendered a large amount of discussion about the project, with participants freely sharing concerns, ideas and possible solutions to some of the issues that surfaced.

Extensive notes were taken from the Q&A sessions to help inform the project, but instead of repeating verbatim the questions and answers I have tried to highlight some of the themes that emerged during the meeting below.


A number of themes emerged during the day and, while this is not an exhaustive list, these are some of the recurring or critical issues that were surfaced:

Transformation of current practice

It was acknowledged that this project was potentially transformative; it has the potential to change what might be termed the bread and butter of library work.  Therefore its impact on the community, and how it works, could be significant.

This means that the community, from senior managers to practitioners and beyond will be keenly interested in the developments and the project will need to build trust and facilitate the involvement of the whole library community. Which brings me on to another of the days themes:


This was a theme that seemed to surface at regular intervals during the day. There was a clear message that the project needs to be able to communicate regularly with the library community on both progress and developments as they take place.  This might manifest itself in a newsletter such as that employed by the Discovery programme, or utilising existing communication channels from JISC, JISC Collections and other sector bodies (or indeed a combination).

The combination of communications channels is also important given the range of stakeholders interested in the developments, from commercial vendors and publishers to librarians in the UK and internationally.

Under this theme there were issues surrounding how the communication channels would allow for more interactivity than might otherwise be usual in a JISC funded project given both the high profile nature of the project, as well as the need for ongoing community engagement in the work.


Closely related to communications was the topic of engagement.

Specifically a lot emerged on how the community, especially ERM librarians and similar, could be engaged in the project in a useful and meaningful way.

In his presentation Liam made it clear that the project hopes to ‘recruit’ a number of embedded librarians where the project will pay for a proportion of their time to work on the project.  It was made clear by the participants, however, that it would need to be made clear what expectations any involvement might have, from the skill levels and expertise of the person, through to the time length they might be involved.

Clarity on these issues would be key to maintain sector engagement.

It was also suggested there might be the need for something like an ‘advocacy pack’ so that library directors had the arguments to convince senior staff of the benefits of engaging with the project.

An interesting sub-theme within engagement was the power of the institutions themselves to help engage with the commercial companies and organisations they work with to put pressure on them to both work with the project as well as implement the recommendations and standards the project might recommend.

The message was clearly that this was a partnership.

Collaboration and leveraging other work

It was expressed a number of times how important it will be for the project to leverage this work and funding with other initiatives and projects that can help the KB+ project deliver its outputs.

It was acknowledged how much work was currently taking place around this area, such as national projects such as KBART , TERMs and JISC funded projects such as the journal usage statistics portal and e-journal archiving work including Peprs and the entitlement registry, as well as international projects such as the Open Library Environment.

This helped reinforce the projects own ambitions of engaging with, and where possible working with these complimentary projects and initiatives.

Sharing problems

This is a shared service, but it will be important that when issues are surfaced by an individual institution, or indeed a problem is resolved by someone, that the whole community can be made aware of this.

What tends to happen now is a problem will be reported to a supplier and that problem is then normally resolved, but no one other than the originating institution knows about this.

Further points of discussion

There were a number of other points of discussion including:

  • The potential conflict between aiming for quality of data and ensuring its timeliness.  It’s essential that quality doesn’t impact on the ability of libraries to deliver services to users as and when they want them.
  • Print subscriptions: The briefing day concentrated largely on electronic resources, but it was clear that participants wanted to see print incorporated in the work.  The project is taking a unified approach so this won’t be an issue, although electronic will remain the focus for much of the work.
  • The Identifiers elephant! It was clear that participants also felt that the issue of how the project deals with identifiers (be those institutional, journal title etc) will be a critical.
  • Decision making and workflows will be two potential aspects of the final service, but it is important to recognise that a focus on the decision making components that the service will deliver could help strengthen potential business models, and demonstrate real value to institutions.

As the event demonstrated, there will be a lot more work going on over the next few months to get the project into a position where it can successfully transfer to a service.

In the meantime, this won’t be the last you’ll hear of the project, with plans already in place to start communicating and engaging with the community over this important shared service.

If you would like to find out more about the project, or have any questions them please feel free to contact Liam Earney at JISC Collections.

Marketing and other dirty words

I have been thinking a lot recently about how to move beyond the rhetoric of “open equals good” towards identifying where open approaches help us meet key business cases. A notable quote from the Power of Open book launch was that “open isn’t a business model, its a part of a business model”. I’m seeing this trend in open educational resources, open access repositories and open innovation. It’s how open source became more mainstream, and we need to be learning from that journey. If we want to see open approaches sustained, we need to get businesslike about how make the case, however contradictory that might sound.

Earlier this month I spoke at a UKOLN event on metrics and the social web, and the discussion there reinforced the potential of using the web more effectively to underpin our key business goals in further and higher education.

On 26th July I am presenting at the Institutional Web Managers Workshop 2011 and I will be developing this theme further, paying particular attention to the way that web managers can support open access, open educational resources and open social scholarship.

In reflecting on how open access and OER can contribute to the core business cases of universities, I think that activities particularly worthy of more attention include:

  • Profiling academic expertise
  • Supporting REF impact metrics
  • Enhanced research publications
  • Cross-linking open content to open course data
  • Social media listening tools
  • Web analytics and visualisation

My presentation on slideshare: Marketing and other dirty words

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