Category Archives: shared services

Shared Library Systems and Services, Part 1

As part of the Library Systems Programme, two reports have been published exploring the potential for shared library systems across Universities in both Scotland and Wales.

In the first of two posts I wanted to briefly introduce you to the two recently published reports, and their main findings/recommendations. In the second post I want to highlight some of the other developments on the shared library systems landscape, and highlight some of the implications.

A Shared LMS for Wales (WHELF)

The  Welsh Shared Service Library Management System Feasibility Report focussed on the most prevalent and practical issues for a shared all Wales HE library management system in broad terms:

  • A set of high-level agreed consortium requirements for a shared LMS.

  • A proposed governance model for the consortium.

  • High level recommendations on integration requirements for local systems; map communications standards which are applicable to the project against standards in use by suppliers.

  • A business case for a Wales-wide consortium LMS, including cost matrices for the different approaches presented.

  • Recommendations on the most cost-effective approach for software, hosting and ongoing management of the LMS.

The report makes the following recommendations:

The Project recommended setting up an All-Wales Consortium with formal governance. This requires the consortium to formally agree which processes, working practices and configurations will be adhered to by all members as a whole.

A cloud solution hosted by a vendor (or open source vendor) is the preferred option, because this will provide the most cost-effective resilient solution.

Further work will be required to develop a clear statement on the vision for shared LMS services in Wales, ensuring clarity of purpose and providing a compelling statement of intent for senior stakeholders and staff to achieve buy-in to the strategic direction proposed.

Next steps…

The report suggests a phased approach to implementation; anticipating that the first implementations will be no sooner than Summer 2014.

The report also suggests a task and finish group should be convened to quickly put together a high level plan, costs and cost allocation (i.e. funding) for the establishment of a project team.

The Benefits of Sharing (SCURL)

The Benefits of Sharing project has also just released a summary report of its work exploring a simple question:

How would a shared library management system improve services in Scotland?

While the question is simple, the answer is a little more complex. Indeed, the project began looking at the question with an initial workshop and subsequent report.

It then broke the problem into 3 parts:

  1. Users

  2. Systems, and;

  3. Content

The project also published a summary report which concludes with a number of recommendations, including the following:

From a systems perspective, sharing technical infrastructure and support structures would offer benefits of economies of scale, with more efficient use of staffing and greater expertise than any single library could offer. System options such as Open Source (OS) alternatives to ‘off the shelf’ commercial products could, therefore, become viable. It is recommended that at the tender and procurement phases of a shared LMS, all options, including OS systems, are reviewed and assessed.


Both reports make very interesting reading – and also tell us a lot about the current library systems landscape. In particular there is a renewed vigour in the potential for sharing and collaborating around services and systems between libraries and institutions.

There is also a clear recognition that open source solutions are viable options for the community, and may represent a feature of this new library landscape.

In the second post on shared library services and systems I’ll explore some of the other developments within this landscape, and the implications they have for institutions, libraries and systems vendors.

Institutional Web Managers Workshop 2012: JISC support for web professionals

I attended the institutional web managers workshop 2012 this week. It is a conference that has been run by UKOLN since the mid 1990s and is a great opportunity for people to share their challenges and good practice.


I contributed to a session where Brian Kelly described changes to the context of web management in UK FE/HE over the years and Mike Nolan did a lighthearted but very informative description of life as a web manager. I had the task of describing the work of JISC and its relevance to web managers, in 5 minutes. Luckily, although half the audience were new to the conference, most were already aware of JISC, so I tried to cram in as much as I could. I promised I’d share the many links I referred to in my whistlestop tour, so here we go …


Are you a web professional working in UK further or higher education? Here’s what you should know about JISC!

As this timeline shows, JISC was born in 1993 and is now nearly 20 years old. JISC offers leadership and support to UK educational organisations at a local, national and international level. We provide resources, knowledge and expertise that colleges and universities would struggle to source individually due to cost and resource. By staying abreast of developments across information and digital technology we help the UK education community make investment decisions that ensure they deliver the learner experience their students demand. We are the driving force behind major shared services which are responsive, agile and fit for purpose in a rapidly changing environment. We provide access to the world-class Janet(UK) network, quality and cost-effective digital resources and a range of specialist advisory services. What’s more, our innovation programmes and projects are seeding the core services of the future, as I’ll signpost below.

JISC has developed the network, janet, that underpins institutional digital infrastructure, the federation, UKAMF, that supports seamless single-sign within and between institutions, and supports eduroam that allows you to access other universities wifi networks around the world.

It is by working together as a sector that we achieve so much in the UK. JISC Collections brokers deals to high quality content, jiscmail enables a massive network of academics to communicate, and we run a wide range of services, from content provision to geomapping.

We don’t just provide you with the infrastructure and content, we also support web professionals in education with high quality advice, including on digital media, accessibility and inclusion, legal issues, and more, through JISC Advance.

JISC is always moving things forward, and our innovation work engages experts from across the sector in meeting emerging challenges. With its focus on libraries, web and research infrastructure, UKOLN runs Institutional Web Managers Workshop and also developer-focussed support, as well as an ongoing programme of R&D of importance to web professionals. Their fellow Innovation Support Centre, JISC CETIS has a focus on teaching and learning infrastructures and interoperability. The Digital Curation Centre has is expert in data management, and OSSWatch supports open source software development, deployment and licensing.

We also work closely with the community on particular areas of importance, where we co-invent innovation programmes, funding institutions and other experts to work through key challenges together. The sorts of areas of interest to web managers where JISC has made strategic investments include open access, open educational resources, e-content, digital literacies, resource discovery, research management, relationship management, activity data, course data, emerging opportunities for libraries, cloud computing  and more!


Thus endeth my tour of current key JISC resources for web managers. Hope that was useful (and tell me what I’ve missed!)


Beyond Grid vs Cloud – EGI Community Forum 2012

‘The grid? Shouldn’t they all be doing cloud computing now?’ As a JISC programme manager working with the National Grid Service (NGS) project people ask me this question more and more often. ‘Absolutely’ and ‘not at all’ is the seemingly contradictory answer I usually give, for instance the other week when I mentioned I would attend the European Grid Infrastructure Community Forum 2012 in Munich.

the delights of cloud and grid computing: cake

conference coffee break revelations: EGI delivers -- cloud, grid and cake!

I give this answer because the question originates from a double misunderstanding. The first is about the nature of cloud computing that, despite some marketing claims, is not the answer to everything and in some ways more a new business model than a new technology as such. The cloud is neither the solution for all computing needs, nor is it always the cheapest option – as a recent study commissioned by EPSRC and JISC (PDF) shows. The second misunderstanding relates to branding and the history of research computing. When projects like the National Grid Service were envisaged, grid computing was the dominant paradigm and their names reflect that. These days however, they are looking at a broad range of technologies and business models for providing compute resources, and mostly refer to themselves by their acronyms: NGS and EGI in this case. So at least for the initiated it was no surprise that the EGI conference was as much about the cloud as it was about the grid.

The conference, hosted by the LRZ supercomputing centre and the Technical University of Munich, was a five day event to bring together members of the research computing community from across and beyond Europe. With several parallel strands and many session to attend I won’t summarise the whole conference but instead pick out a few themes and projects I personally found interesting.

First of all I noticed there was a lot of interest in better understanding the use of e-infrastructures by researchers and, related to that, the impact generated by this. In some ways this is a straightforward task insofar as easy to capture and understand numbers can be collected. The EGI for instance now has over 20,000 registered users. You can count the number of cores that can be accessed, monitor the number of compute jobs users run and measure the utilisation of the infrastructure. However, this becomes more difficult when you think of a truly distributed, international infrastructure such as the EGI. Will national funders accept that – while the resources they fund may used by many researchers – much of that usage originates from abroad? If we want to support excellent research with the best tools available we have to make it as easy as possible for researchers to get access to resources no matter which country they are physically based in. Thinking in terms of large, distributed groups of researchers using resources from all over the world, often concurrently, the task of understanding what impact the research infrastructure has and where that impact occurs (leading to who may lay ‘claim’ it in terms of justifying the funding) can make your mind boggle. We need business models for funding these infrastructures that don’t erect new national barriers and address these problems from the angle of how to best support researchers.

Business models, not surprisingly, was another theme I was very interested in. Complex enough already, it is made even more difficult by commercial vendors now offering cloud nodes that for certain, smaller scale scenarios can compete with high performance computing – how do you fairly compare different infrastructures with different strengths and very different payment models? Will we see a broadly accepted funding model where researchers become customers who buy compute from their own institution or whoever offers the best value? Will we see truly regional or national research clouds compete against the likes of Amazon? What the conference has shown is that there are emerging partnerships between large academic institutions and vendors that explore new ways for joint infrastructure development. One example is a new project called ‘Helix Nebula – the Science Cloud’, a partnership that involves CERN, the European Space Agency and companies like T-Systems and Orange. Such partnerships may have a lot of potential, but finding legal structures that allow projects based in academia to work in a more commercial environment is not always easy. A presentation from the German National Grid Initiative explored some of these problems and also the question of developing sustainable funding models.

In order to develop good models for funding e-infrastructure we also need to understand the costs better. As far as institutional costs are concerned these are mostly hidden from the researchers, whereas the costs of commercial providers are very visible – but not always easy to understand in terms of what exactly it is you get for a certain price per hour. As our cloud cost study shows this is an area where more work needs to be done, and so I was happy to find a European project that aims to address this. e-FISCAL works on an analysis of the costs and cost structures of HTC and HPC infrastructures and a comparison with similar commercially offerings. It already lists a useful range of relevant studies and I hope we will see more solid data emerge over time.

In the commercial/public context I found it interesting to see that some academic cloud projects aim to take on commercial players. BeeHub, for instance, was presented as an academic DropBox. Now, to be fair to the project it aims to be an academic service for file sharing in groups and to address some of the concerns one might have regarding DropBox, but I wonder how successful they will be against such a popular offering.

I was also very interested to learn more about initiatives that address the critical question of training. Usually these are researcher training or more technically focussed programmes, but the EU-funded RAMIRI project offers training and knowledge exchange for people (hoping to be) involved in planning and managing research infrastructures.  Because of the increasing complexity of this task in terms of legal, cultural, technical and other issues better support for those running what often are multi-million projects is highly desirable.

As I cannot end this post without referencing the more technical aspects of research infrastructure let me point you to a project that shows that grid and cloud can indeed live together in harmony. StratusLab is developing cloud technologies with the aim of simplifying and optimizing the use and operation of distributed computing infrastructures and it offers a production level cloud distribution that promises to marry ease of use of the cloud with grid technologies for distributed computing.

To sum up, it is not a question of grid versus cloud. It is about selecting the technologies that are best suited to facilitate great research – and then do deal with the non-technical issues from training to sustainability and cultural change that will decide how well we will be able to make use of the potential the technology offers.

The OER Turn

At ALT- C I participated in several discussions around open content, and then this week we ran the closing programme meeting for Phase Two of the HEA/JISC OER programme.  I feel that a new perspective on academic-created open content is emerging.

I think it’s sometimes useful to think in terms of foreground and background: most of the elements are there and have been there all along, but some take centre stage. It’s a question of weight and attention given to the different activities, a question of where the discussions happen.

2009 Foreground 2011 Foreground
Focus on provision Focus on use
Focus on educator as provider and user Focus on non-educators as users
Open courseware, the course online Rich media, beyond text
Embedding in courses or free searching online Tutor or peer or social recommendation
CC BY NC ND  for editing by educators CC BY for remixing by anyone
Focus on licensing is key Focus on licensing might be distracting
Institutional workflows Institutional support for open practice
Storage and presentation services Brokerage services
OERs Open content

Just to stress, all of these views are evident in part in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and even before that. My interest is just in what is shifting in the foreground. This is just my first take and I hope it will stimulate discussion. It would be really interesting for others to write their own lists.

I think that enough of the focus has shifted that the space has changed.  I christen this The OER Turn. The OER Turn is characterised by the working through of the following topics:

  • visible and invisible use
  • the importance of licensing
  • the role of the university

Visible and Invisible Use

The Value of Reuse Report by Marion Manton and Dave White of Oxford, produced for the OER programme, uses an iceberg analogy of visible and invisible use. It helpfully guided our discussions at the end of phase two programme meeting. Previous to this, David Wiley’s “toothbrush” post was the example cited of this conundrum. The fact that it was so divisive amongst OER people shows that it hit a nerve (excuse the pun). I think the iceberg diagram draws on this and illustrates the problem of visibility.

The general consensus amongst people involved in UK OER Programme is that reuse of web-based resources does happen, all the time, but it is usually private, mostly invisible to the providers and often not strictly legal. So there is above waterline use and below the waterline use.

The visible use of open content tends to be institutional-level use that is itself more visible because it is openly shared again: it is being relicensed out again. Where institutions want to reuse content in aggregate open resources, it may influence the types of content they reuse, and they way in which they do it.


  • Visible use has characteristics that may not be shared by invisible use: we should not extrapolate too far from the visible uses to the invisible uses
  • Institutional content might make more use of resources that are clearly pedagogically described and fit with their structures course provision. So the most visible reuse we see might be that. But that might not be the main use case for open content.

On reflection, perhaps the top of the iceberg fits most closely with 2009 foregrounded conception of OER, the majority of the iceberg is what is being given more attention in the 2011 conception.

The importance of licensing?

Naomi Korn’s video introduction to licensing and IPR issues illustrates the concept of rights in > rights out. The more rights you want to give out to users, the more you have to restrict yourself to content you have obtained broad rights in for. As the risk management calculator illustrates, if you use content licensed as CC BY NC ND, you cannot licence it out as CC BY NC, because that doesn’t not include the ND clause. And CC BY SA can only be licensed out as CC BY SA, so cannot be remixed with anything less than CC BY or more CC BY SA. Share-Alike is quite restrictive. This is counter-intuitive but true. Play with the calculator and find out for yourself.

It may be only when reuse is more visible, such as formal institutional adoption of third party resources (above the waterline) that the risk of reusing un-cleared content is high enough to make the open license a key aspect of OER.Institutions as providers of content may wish to choose different licences to what institutions as  users of content want. They may want to publish content as (c) all rights reserved. If it is a choice between that or nothing, what should they choose?  Note that they could publish something as (c) all rights reserved unless otherwise stated, and have clearly marked CC elements. Polarising a simple open or not open isn’t helpful. As Naomi Korn put it, “what is the opposite of open”? Paid-for? Authenticated? Not editable? Open content needs to be viewed as part of the wider ecosystem of content. What it “affords” will be specific to the use case. Interestingly this is a good parallel with accessibility: “accessible to who to do what?”

Reflecting with Naomi Korn we shifted our recommendation from “whichever CC licence suits” (1) in phase one to “ideally CC BY” in phase two. John Robertson has summarised licensing choices made by the projects.  This is an example of how the programme has pushed forward our understanding of this area, including that of the legal experts. If we knew the answers at the start, it wouldn’t be an innovation programme!

Thinking above to the points about visibility: if the open content is not shared out again under an open licence then it might be being used but not so visibly. It might show up as web stats, but even then, once the content has been copied to another place, as any CC licence lets you do, then the content proliferates, as does the usage. Usage becomes even harder to see.

Another implication of described use as above below the waterline is that the risk is significantly less. The feeling was that this is an appropriate risk evaluation.  So, open licensing does matter for formal institutional use, less so for practice that is “under the waterline”.


  • Mixed economy of content is the reality for most end use cases.
  • The benefits of licensing to providers and users are different; of courses users would like as many rights as they can have, but which use cases really need those rights? Can the content be made available under a more restrictive licence and still be useful to the majority of use cases?
  • There is an emerging use case of intermediary/brokering services: aggregation, fusion, curation, which perhaps does require CC BY. Not because the end user needs them but because the middleware needs them in order to remix and represent content. Often though I suspect it is the feed or metadata that needs to be licensed rather than the content. Open metadata might turn out to be more important to open academic content than open content licensing.

We are genuinely learning together on this: as open licensing spreads and models of use develop, we will need to be alert to the mechanics of remixing content. And also open to the possibility that the end point of the supply chain need not be open: not all content will be licensed out again.

A great example of the OER Turn is how  OER Commons includes resources described as “read the fine print” licenses. Or Therese Bird’s work on iTunesU.

However … I still want to hear more about the rights that Creative Commons licenses grant to translate and shift formats, for above the waterline activities. Examples please! This could be key.

The role of the university

Alongside the previously dominant narrative of OERs as exchanges between educators and each other, and educators and their learners, there is also the potential for academic open content to connect academics with the public. I explored that a little in a previous post, Tony Hirst further in his post on OERs and public service education, University of Nottingham, Oxford University and other institutions also see their open content as part of their public engagement.

In some scenarios opening up universities through open practice is about OER, in the top of the iceberg sense. But much of the benefits of opening up knowledge to the public can be achieved without open content licensing (unless the brokering services need it). Initiatives like Warwick Knowledge also draw on the notion of the university as a pubic knowledge organisation.

So there is a strong argument for focussing more on the public and global use of open content.

Sidenote: Critics of the toothbrush analogy might say that this is what they meant all along. I’m not sure that is true. If it is, it wasn’t very well articulated. Because we still need to understand the drivers behind provision and how the benefits of public engagement can be articulated.  Academic staff are a university’s most precious resource. The needs of institutions, who pay academic’s wages, need to be factored in to how open practice can be supported.

The pursuit of global knowledge is not owned by universities. Wikipedia, Slideshare, YouTube, Twitter, Delicious have all seen a blossoming of thoughtful quality input from a huge range of sources. The role that academics play in this open content space is as one type of contribution. Learners contribute too. But so do millions who are outside of formal education.

OER is dead. Long live academically-created content appropriately licensed and formatted to support intended users

Not quite as catchy, is it? However I am increasingly hearing suggestions that OER is not a useful term any more, aside from a supply-side term relating to the visible tip of the iceberg. I have recommended for some time that we drop the term and focus instead on open content and open practice.

Having asked a year ago what the “O” in OER means, now I find myself asking what the “Open” in Open Content means. Well, it definitely means free (not paid). And it means easily linkable, which means not authenticated (not closed). However what about near-ubiquitous controlled access through gmail or facebook? Sometimes the format matters, sometimes the licensing matters. Maybe this matters a lot for content to cross language boundaries, maybe it matters a lot for accessibility. In which case do we need to articulate the costs and benefits of open content for those use cases? We don’t want to kill open practice dead by focusing too strictly on definitions of openness any more than we want to kill open content by diluting the promise to users seeking editable re-licensable content. What questions should be asking about open content?

What do you think?

Amber Thomas

Creative Commons Licence
OER Digital Infrastructure Update by Amber Thomas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

Footnote (1) The wording was  “Examples of suitable licences include those with the “Attribution” and “Share-Alike” clauses. We would encourage projects not to use the non-free Creative Commons variants (such as “Non Commercial” and “No Derivatives”), as these negatively affect the reusability of resources. However, we do recognise that in some specific circumstances this may not be possible.” (Thanks to David Kernohan for extracting)

Rethinking the Library: Innovation in a time of limited resources

Below are the main outcomes from the ‘Rethinking the Library’ session at the JISC conference 2011.

Following the session on ‘rethinking the library’ at the JISC conference 2011, I thought I would try to capture and share some of the outcomes and discussions that resulted from the session.

Although the aim was somewhat grand, in attempting to ‘rethink’ the library we have an opportunity to re-conceive the value libraries provide to the research and teaching communities they support, and to re-model the ways in which they deliver that value more efficiently and effectively.  Such opportunities are often accompanied by uncertainties, with a paucity of information and support for those attempting to plan for and envision that future.  This session tried to give those involved a chance to explore some strategies and tools for undertaking this analysis.

It is also worth noting that the format of the session was a little different as well:

  • A speaker is at each table, and will present (or rather pitch) from there for 6 minutes.
  • The ‘pitch’ will include details of an activity or discussion that will occur for the rest of the session.
  • At the end of the presentations delegates can choose which table they want to go to based on the ‘pitch’.
  • Each group will pick two or three key points to communicate back to the group in the final few minutes of the session.

The three facilitators for each of the activities focussed on the following themes:  Innovative approaches to planning, exploring shared services and the opportunities of scale and how we can enhance library service provision by taking advantage of new asset appraisal technologies.

Tools and Tactics to Support the Appraisal of Digital Assets

Neil Grindley. Preservation Programme Manager, JISC

Rethinking Libraries: selection appraisal (Presentation)

Neil began by asserting that behind the seemingly orderly and neat world of digital provision assets still need to be managed and kept under control, whether they physically sit on shelves or virtually reside on electronic media.

After acknowledging the richness and variety of available models and frameworks that summarise the information management lifecycle, Neil showed one example: the ‘Greening Information Management Assessment Framework’.

This is a 3 phase approach that incorporates baselining, selection and assessment activities in relation to the implementation of seven suggested techniques for managing information.

The discussion from the group exploring this theme began by addressing the question of whether or not these type of asset management frameworks were really used within institutions and libraries?

The general consensus was that they were not… not because they weren’t important but because the participants felt that the focus was still on the management and ‘weeding’ of the physical resources, not the electronic ones.

For physical collections the benefits of managing the collection were clear: space and storage.  For e-resources these benefits were harder to articulate: is it to remove clutter from search results? Are there costs associated with storing and backing up all this data?

Maybe more importantly, the management of your digital assets helps libraries define their collections policy – allowing strategic and policy based decisions on the resources an institution is acquiring.

Furthermore, it was noted that e-resources present libraries with a very distinct form of problem in that they are inherently in a state of flux: journals moving in and out of bundles, libraries never certain of what’s been subscribed to.

There is, it was suggested, a loss of control within the e-environment.

Exploring the asset management framework helped highlight how these types of tool might help collection curation move from what was termed a ‘dark art’ (i.e. without a conscious method, coherence or wider applicability) to something more ‘mechanical’ (reproducable, implementable and fundamentally usable).  This, it was felt, is the role JISC plays in this area, helping institutions and libraries confront and deal with these issues.

Finally, it was decided that e-resource management is an aspect of institutional policy: what kind of instituion does the library belong to, and what impact does this have on its resource management?

Shared Approaches to Services and Infrastructure

Anne Bell. Director of Library services, Warwick University

Anne gave a brief introduction to her activity by outlining the benefits and opportunities that present themselves when libraries look to share services and exploit the opportunities of scale.

Anne outlined some of the work that JISC and SCONUL have undertaken around the area of shared services, including the most recent collaboration looking at user requirements for a shared electronic resource management system (ERM).

Anne also highlighted the successful bid to HEFCE by JISC for funding to develop a shared electronic resource management system for the UK library sector.

The activity for this session was for her group to contribute their ideas to a shared services matrix to explore as a group some of the opportunities that might be available at a shared (or local) level.

After some very lively discussions the group managed to fill the matrix with ideas that highlighted opportunities libraries have to rethink their services and provision.  Some of the most interesting examples that were discussed include:

  • Shared student study spaces – this is an interesting solution to the issues of space, and the rethinking of the library’s physical space. It’s interesting to note the movement of this idea from the ‘local’ axis of the matrix to the shared axis as the idea was discussed.
  • Cataloguing – this theme seems to have been discussed a great deal, and there are clearly opportunities here.  It would be interesting to know what form the discussions took, were they about the data (i.e. metadata), about the cataloguing front end (i.e. a shared OPAC) or more generally about how a shared and sector-wide approach to issues such as metadata quality could help resolve some of the issues.

A number of barriers were identified that might need to be addressed when we try and exploit the opportunities of developing shared services, these included:

  • Whether the sector had the capacity and skills to develop these services, or whether commercial vendors were a way to leverage the sectors capacity, with the skills and business models of the commercial sector.
  • How do these shared systems take into account the content that exists outside the library ecosystem e.g., open resources.
  • Issues of control and trust – who is the service provider for these systems and services, do the libraries have trust in them?

It was interesting to note some of the relationships between ideas on the matrix.  For example, there was a feeling that there were definite opportunities locally for customised interfaces on the library OPAC.  However, this could be complimented by shared software, developed to allow recommender services etc., that the whole community could exploit thereby eliminating the need for unnecessary duplication:  Something that has been explored in the JISC Library Management Systems programme.

Planning for an Innovative Future

Michael Jubb.  Director, Research Information Network (RIN)

Michael’s session was based around the scenario planning tools that have been developed through collaboration between JISC, Research libraries UK, RIN, British Library and SCONUL.

These Libraries of the Future scenarios allow libraries to forget the immediate concerns of the services they deliver and the economic and academic contexts in which they are located, in order to improve decision-making and plan effectively for the future.

The discussion and outcomes of this session have been captured and blogged by one of the participants here.

This is a great record of the session, and clearly identifies the benefits of this type of approach to planning and the main themes that emerged from this discussion.

The post concludes with the following idea that helps demonstrate how thought-provoking the session proved:

There continues to be much talk of shared services and of collaboration between universities and private providers. Perhaps one option that might appeal to the Vice-Chancellor would be to use this opportunity to reshape the library as an exemplar in the subject areas the university specialises in, with the aim of becoming a net provider of services to other institutions. Having a library regarded as a centre of excellence which exports its expertise would be a selling point for the institution and would have the attraction of an additional income stream for the institution. A risky strategy perhaps but in these challenging times, it is more appropriate to take a risk to try and get ahead of the pack?


To find out more about each of the sessions, and to discover some of the resources and tools that are available, please visit the conference page for the event.


Why do repositories quickly become so complex? One answer is simply scope creep – repositories have roles in dissemination, research information management and curation and, facing these three ways, it is inevitable that the demands placed upon them mushroom. Without wanting to open up any arguments around SOA or RESTful approaches, one answer is to go back to Cliff Lynch’s 2007 description of the institutional repository as “a set of services that a university offers to the members of its community for the management and dissemination of digital materials created by the institution and its community members”. This approach seems to be having a revival.

The California Digital Library (CDL) is charged with providing a environment that enables those at the University of California to curate digital assets effectively. Rather than adopting a single solution, they have pioneered an approach based on “micro-services”. In this approach, the fundamental curatorial functions are disaggregated and provided by a managed and defined set of discrete services. They claim that this increases the flexibility of the environment, its ability to exploit changing technologies, and enables it to develop sufficient complexity to deal with evolving demands without becoming baroque. The approach has also been adopted at Northwestern University and Penn State in the US. The topic was of considerable interest at the recent Scholarly Infrastructure Technical Summit (SITS) meeting.

It’s an approach followed in several current projects, including Hydra. The discussion at the SITS meeting seemed to focus in part on the degree to which such micro-services can be standalone, as some of the CDL ones can be seen, or require that certain assumptions can be made about the environment in which they will be used, as in Hydra (Fedora). In reporting on the SITS meeting, Dave Challis notes that “I’m not convinced the specs for these are well defined enough for general purpose use yet”. There may be useful lessons from initiatives such as the e-Framework on the circumstances in which such definitions are feasible.

Relatedly, perhaps, it was interesting to hear Chuck Humphrey (Head of the Data Library, University of Alberta) speak at the recent SPARC Repositories conference describing the approach taken in Canada whereby a distributed OAIS environment is being established based on discrete services deployed across the country. Previous JISC work such as the Sherpa DP and PRESERV projects explored some of the options a few years ago, and these lessons may be worth revisiting in the light of the micro-services discussions.

There is probably some further learning to be done about what constitutes a viable, usable and sustainable micro-service and, with real examples out there now to use, there is a chance that people’s experiences of providing and using them will be shared.

Event Report: Gaining Business Intelligence from User Activity (July 2010)

On 14th July 2010 David Kay from Sero Consulting facilitated the above workshop, which built on the findings of the JISC MOSAIC project.  The event report and presentations from the workshop are now available.

The following are few reflections from the workshop:

There are a small number of projects (e.g. MOSAIC, PIRUS2 and Journals Usage Statistics Portal projects) working in the area of activity data, however the potential for the Education sector to derive a wide range of business intelligence information from these data, is at the moment largely underutilised.  The commercial sector, with the likes of Amazon and Tesco, already exploit this type of data to give them competitive advantage.  The following economist article “Data data everywhere” talked about “the trail of clicks that internet users leave behind from which value can be extracted that is becoming the mainstay of the internet economy.”  So how do we take advantage of this area in the education sector?  The presentation from Dave Pattern at Huddersfield University Library demonstrated that the business intelligence derived from the library circulation data has provided them with collections development strategies and allowed them to provided added value recommender type services on top of their library OPAC, which has seen the increase of library loans.  Just to note that it was made clear in the workshop that this was not just about Library systems but also included administrative, virtual learning environments, student registries research environments etc.

The following were the main reasons why we should be investing in this area

  1. Resource discovery, improving all the classic information retrieval genres, search, browse, etc (this can lead to more exploitation of the wider collection and wider reading by students; may be related to the student experience and hence perhaps student satisfaction, retention, progression).
  2. Stock management (this is related to business efficiency for, e.g. the library – as above better exploitation of stock, value for money).
  3. ‘Customer’ profiling, across the institution, to inform the work of support services, academics, strategic management.
  4. Deep log analysis and its various uses, e.g. to inform longer term investment in infrastructure at institutional and national level.
  5. Digital / information literacy – there was a lot of discussion about recommender systems and their effect/contribution to literacy.
  6. Management information: where to invest and where to cut.  Better running of business.  What contribution can this data make to e.g. lean processes, organisational development, business process re-engineering.

Discussion around the issues and what we do next:

  1. Technical and analytical skills: getting the data out of the systems and then making sense of the data in a consistent way was an issue. Developing institutional capacity, skills, etc was seen as an important aspect to enable institutions to take advantage of these opportunities, in terms of existing services and innovation to provide institutions with their competitive advantage.
  2. Interoperability and standards – PIRUS2 project and the MOSAIC project have also focused on the issues with interoperability and standards for the repository and library landscape, but more advice and guidance is required for this area. Also effective communication with system vendors and publishers was seen as essential.
  3. Linked to 1 and 2 above, developing the appropriate algorithms and tools for the HE sector.
  4. Data Protection issues – It was clear that as long as the data did not have any personally identifiable information attached to it (names age etc) then it did not contravene the data protection act but there was concerns that there could be isolated cases were the user might be inadvertently identified through a “mashing up” of different data.  There are also issues of database rights – who owns this type of data? The individual, a collective, a trusted broker, a multinational, a public body?  Advice and guidance on good practice in anonymising data, complying with legal frameworks was seen as vital in this area.
  5. In addition, JISC work needs to uncover and present evidence on the opportunities and risks associated with public and/or commercial solutions.  What is the public interest?  What is the HEI interest, especially at a time when HEIs need to marshal evidence of their value to government?
  6. We also need to present evidence in support of the business case for the use of these data in different contexts in support of the core business of HE.
  7. Accountability – Any work in this area needs clearly to link to HEI-level benefits.    The work needs to be configured to demonstrate and lead clearly and quickly to value for money, return on investment, shared services and efficiency.
  8. There was discussion on what does a shared service look like in this area? – there would need to be a business case to support this – also there may be a need for a trusted platform for (linked) data, to aggregate and make this available – but also what are the implications for identifiers and vocabularies?
  9. Students and staff need to be aware of the uses to which ‘their’ activity data can be used, to be literate about the opportunities and risks.
  10. There may also be a requirement for a representative body to ensure that the development of any international infrastructure / practice is undertaken in such a way as to reflect the interests of UK HE.
  11. Any JISC work needs to be iterative, but can be agile as the technology is available – however it should be considered as the HEI landscape is complex.  Where we can make quick wins, we should do so.  For example to advocate to institutions to start to collect these data, in anticipation of exploiting these data at a later date.

It was clear from the workshop that delegates were engaged in this area of development and that they were interested in fully capitalising on the benefits of exploiting activity data.

Building on the relevant projects and the discussions from this workshop JISC will be releasing a Call in September 2010 which will include a strand on Activity Data.  Also JISC will be releasing a Business Intelligence Call.  Both Calls are distinct but will have interesting overlaps, which we will explore and report on throughout the programme.  Further information about the Call can be found on the Information Environment Programme blog