Category Archives: technology

Digital Library User Experience – A video from the future!

I was asked to present a short ‘provocation’ on the topic of the Digital User Experience for the SCONUL winter conference 2012, and the impact this will have on the future of library skills.

The strangest thing happened on the way to the conference…

A stranger appeared as if from nowhere and presented me with a usb stick. He told me I had to play the video contained on the stick at the conference instead of the slides I had prepared.

He said it was of the utmost importance.

So, here is the video I played:

As I am sure you can imagine, I was very surprised! But, despite the surprise I was able to jot down a few notes on what I thought were the implications for the future of library skills.


Librarians need to learn how to code?

A number of interesting themes emerged during the conference. One of the most interesting discussions actually moved from the conference hall onto Twitter, and centered on whether or not librarians would need technical (i.e., programming/developer) type skill sets in the future.

This is an interesting thought – and one that reflects my personal opinion that many of the skills we’ll associate with librarians in the not too distant future (say 2020), will be very different from the ones we currently associate with the profession. While ‘soft’ skills, like communication etc, are essential, they do not differentiate the profession from any other.

What are the skills that really define the profession and its future? 

I plan to blog about these ideas and some of the other themes that emerged during the conference in another post – there are far too may nuances for me to do them justice quickly here. But I suspect that the profession will become increasingly associated with aspects of technical development that we currently see as still separate from librarianship.

These differences will begin to break down, and the technical development and librarianship roles will converge to such an extent that there will be no meaningful distinction. 

However, if you want some reading for over the break there’s a great post by the LMS Change project on New Skills for a New Era which does a good job of summing up the conference and some of the themes and discussions that took place.

 Imitation is the greatest form of flattery: So thanks to my colleague Andy McGregor who graciously allowed me to steal his idea!

JISC Guidance on eBooks

JISC Observatory have launched the draft version of a new report on eBooks in Education.

This report updates previous work researching the usage and adoption of ebooks within academic institutions and examines recent developments that are shaping how academic institutions can respond to growing interest in ebooks:

As ebooks become mainstream and the percentage of academic publications delivered as ebooks rises steadily, this report explains the importance of preparing for the increasing adoption and usage of ebooks in academic institutions. Specifically, this report: 1) introduces the historical and present context of ebooks; 2) reviews the basics of ebooks; 3) considers scenarios for ebook adoption and usage; 4) addresses current challenges; and 5) considers the future. This report also provides a glossary to help clarify key terms and a ‘References’ section listing works cited.

The preview version of this report is open for public comments from 27 September to 8 October 2012. A final version, taking into account feedback received, is scheduled for publication around the end of October.

See news item for more information and an opportunity to comment.

Alongside this report, JISC is developing further practical guidance.  Building on  JISC Collections ebook expertise,  the Digital Monographs Study and JISC Digital Media expertise, later this year we will be releasing Digital Infrastructure Directions guidance on the Challenge of eBooks in Academic Institutions.

The guidance is being co-designed with experts in the sector using a project development wiki.  The project covers the creation, curation and consumption of eBooks. There are many issues to unpick: the Bring Your Own Device (BOYD) trend, the role of libraries, changes in publishing and purchasing models, accessibility and access considerations and so on. We will make this a helpful tool for institutional managers to navigate the choices signposted in the JISC Observatory report.

Some prototype guidance will be available soon and we will be seeking input on how to ensure that it meets the needs of decision-makers in institutions. The guidance authors will be watching the comments on the JISC Observatory report preview to ensure that they address the challenges surfaced.

In summary please comment on the JISC Observatory Draft Report: Preparing for Effective Adoption and Use of eBooks in Education and watch this space for more!

 

Amber Thomas, JISC

Preparing for Mobile: Supporting institutions in a mobile world.

I recently facilitated a workshop at the Institutional Web Managers Workshop (#IWMW12) entitled: Preparing for Mobile. This is a slightly delayed (by holiday) write up of the event and some of the things I took away from the session.

The aims of the session were:

  1. to share some of the resources JISC (and others) have developed for institutions attempting to understand, and adapt to ubiquitous mobile devices;
  2. give delegates an opportunity to share their current practice, experiences and tips, and finally;
  3. provide JISC with a perspective on how mobile is being addressed in institutions and its impact.

I began the session with a presentation of some of the resources and work JISC has done on mobile within a teaching, learning and research context.


Delegates were then invited to discuss the issues and experiences they have had in groups. The groups were arranged around four themes: content (this was a self-forming group by the delegates themselves); strategy; design and delivery; tools and techniques.

After a period of discussion, each group was asked to present back for 3 minutes on their discussions to the whole group, outline their top 3 tips for their area and their top disruptor for HE in terms of ‘mobile’.

Content (is King)

Content remains the bedrock of what web managers do in terms of their day-to-day job: The technologies and strategies may change, but delivering the content does not.

Content tips:

  • You can use mobile as a driver for content change; its another driver to push clean, consistent user friendly content.
  • Speed is no longer the issue, its the data. The costs of data access is high. Big images, fat videos, think carefully when delivering content.
  • Let your content be free! Rather than lock it away, do everything possible to make it accessible by the user through whatever device or entry point they choose.

Content disruptor

The seduction of delivery distracts us from the content. Content is King.

Strategy

It was generally agreed that any strategy development should look beyond just mobile to a broader e-strategy or similar. But there is an urgency in institutions getting this right – access via mobile devices is growing exponentially.

The strategy group were also very clear about the need to engage and understand users. It was clear any strategy needs to begin with an understanding of the user and work from there.

Strategy tips

  • Utilise responsive web design rather than native web apps. If your institution gives you lots of money for app development use it to train the team in responsive design instead!
  • Choose open formats
  • Give users choices between web or desktop – don’t assume they’ll only want the mobile version.

Strategy disruptor(s)

Unhappy being restricted to just one, the group came up with three!

  1. HTML CSS future web techs will remove need for most native apps.
  2. Network speeds, cost will change things
  3. Apples standards become the de facto standards; watch it carefully

Design and Delivery

It was clear that for most of the delegates mobile was something they were ‘dipping their toes into’. This meant that few had useful strategies for adapting to the growing importance of mobile access and most mobile delivery was being done on an ad hoc basis.

Design and Delivery tips

  • Understand and engage your users; understand what they use, how they use it;
  • Test on real devices, not just emulators, speed etc will be different;
  • There is a need for a clear and joined up strategy (that goes beyond mobile).

Design and delivery disruptor

Devices beyond mobile (the new desktop?): Impact of users accessing institutional content via plasma screens, Google tv (already get Xbox, PS3). What’s a TV anyway….?

Tools and Techniques

Much of the decisions being made on tools for delivering content are based upon the CMS that’s currently employed by the institutions.

The group also made it clear that as a sector we borrow from each other a lot (and there is always the need for those outliers and cutting-edgers). So it’s important to look out beyond the institution for support and advice, especially via blogs.

Tools and techniques tips

  • Share work early;
  • plug into the community, there’s lots of sharing between web managers;
  • Do well structured HTML and CSS if you’re going to do mobile.

Tools and techniques disruptor

There will be something cross-platform that will disrupt all our current tools – something finally to end the debates and disagreements about formats etc.

  Many thanks to my colleague Amber for helping facilitate the session and taking wonderful notes and photos!

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!)

 

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)

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.

Does the library have a role to play in the Digital Humanities?

What role does the library have to play in the increasingly data driven, technologically evolving humanities?

Humanities and the social sciences have traditionally been disciplines aligned closely with the institutional library and its resources and services. Increasingly, in my conversations with librarians, there is a concern that while the library as a space remains popular, this masks a growing distance between the services the library provides and the needs and expectations of researchers (to say nothing of undergrads).

As subjects like digital humanities find themselves transformed by their engagement with technology, is the library facing the threat of redundancy?

There has been a flurry of research recently including the RLUK report: Re-skilling for Research and JISC Collections’ UK Scholarly Reading and the Value of Library Resourcesexploring the evolving role of the library in supporting researchers.

Similarly, Ithaka S+R in the US is exploring the changing support needs of scholars across a variety of disciplines. The researcher-centric programme has recently published a ‘memo’ on the interim findings of their NEH funded History project (they are also exploring Chemistry, funded by JISC). And, as the report makes clear:

To many in the history field and in libraries, it is unclear what the role of the library should be in digital humanities. This is not to imply that there is no role for libraries – only that this role has not yet been widely developed and adopted effectively. Libraries remain very much in transition when it comes to expanding models for supporting research on campus

So, I wanted to explore some of the roles that libraries might have in the Digital Humanities:

  • Managing Data: This has undoubtedly become a cliche, but it’s the transformative factor changing research practice. Humanities researchers are increasingly interacting with large corpora; how do libraries support them in this, and the data that is an output from this type of research? This might involve libraries supporting the data management infrastructure, or providing one-to-one support for departments and researchers on best practice. I see libraries playing a role in the collection, re-purposing and organising of data that may lead to further analysis by individual researchers or (sub)departments. What’s critical is that libraries work collaboratively with the researchers/departments: This is not ‘selling’ library services; it is about understanding researchers  needs and providing the right support.
  • Closely connected to this point is the idea of the ‘embedded’ librarian: Providing the support wherever the researcher is; a distributed approach to library services. The librarian becomes the campus Flaneur: Inhabiting the campus and acquiring an understanding of its practices. This active role participates in the activity of the academic metropolis, while always maintaining a distance. The embedded librarian provides immediate support, while always maintaining an eye on the evolution of research practice and relevant support.
  • Digitisation and Curation: The examples above assume that much of the data being managed by the library will, in some way, be created by the researcher themselves. Libraries, are of course, great sources of content and this means they often hold the expertise and infrastructure for digitisation. Libraries have a very meaningful role in the digitisation and curation of that content.
  • Digital Preservation: Libraries, probably better than anywhere else on campus, understand preservation. It is unlikely that developers and researchers involved in a DH project probably do not, although they will acknowledge its importance. Closely linked with sustainability this is a significant area for libraries to play a role. Close collaboration early on will ensure the library is able to provide advice and guidance on standards and best practice. However, as the Preservation of Complex Objects Symposia makes clear – digital resources tend to be complex and their preservation far from straightforward. This is an area that libraries can build on and start having a real impact on these research outputs and their ongoing preservation.
  • Discovery and Dissemination: Libraries are increasingly judged by the services they provide, not as a large store of content. This means that for digital humanists the library can play a critical role in enabling the discovery of content from across academic, and cultural heritage.  Furthermore, this role may evolve into one of dissemination of scholarly outputs. Whether this is through campus-based publishing or aggregation of research outputs, advising on metadata and formats to enable dissemination and discovery, and tracking impact across new platforms and interactions (what is increasingly being termed altmetrics).

Questions remain around the ability of the library, and the wider institution, to adapt to the changes that are affecting scholarly practice. While much of the focus of research has been on the library services and how these can be made attractive to researchers, it is clear that a researcher-centric approach needs to be adopted to ensure requirements and future needs are clearly understood.

Finally, I wonder if the values the library represents (openness, access, contemplation etc…) might also be something that needs ‘capturing’. If we only focus on researcher needs, is there a danger that what they see as the value of the library is lost? Is the library an expression of knowledge and prestige within the research community, and does this have a value in itself?

Mobile Infrastructure for Libraries – New Projects

As part of the Mobile Infrastructure for Libraries programme I am pleased to announce that 6 new projects have recently received funding, with projects starting in November and finishing in August 2012.

The majority of the projects are innovating around library content and services to develop prototypes for the innovative delivery of scholarly content and library services.  The projects will also be producing rich case studies documenting their work and the lessons learnt.

There is also a community support project that will aim to build a body of evidence and practice around the notion of m-libraries and the provision of services and content to mobile devices.

The support project will also help support, build and engage this community of practitioners both within the programme and beyond.

I will be updating the Emerging Library Opportunities webpage shortly with details of the programme.  Until then, here are some brief details of the projects:

Supporting the Mobile Library Community
Evidence Base (Birmingham City University)
Partners: Owen Stephens

This project will provide a mobile library community support project to help support and engage the emerging m-library community by reviewing and synthesising existing research and  evidence-based guidance.

PhoneBooth
London School of Economics
Partners: Edina

PhoneBooth will repurpose the Charles Booth Maps, Descriptive of London Poverty and selected police notebooks, which record eye-witness descriptions of London street-by-street, for delivery to mobile devices. The project will enhance the current online delivery by enabling content to be delivered directly to the location to which it refers.

MACON: Mobilising Academic Content Online
The Open University
Partners: EBSCO

MACON will address challenges involved in delivering quality academic content to mobile devices in a seamless and user-friendly manner. The project will work with EBSCO, a major content and systems provider in order to prototype a mobile friendly resource discovery interface which will discover and expose quality academic content from both third party & local collections.

M-Biblio
University of Bristol

The project will enhance the learning and research activities of the University of Bristol’s academic community by developing a mobile application that can record and organise references to books, journals and other resources. These references can be added actively by scanning barcodes and QR codes, or passively by automatically recording RFID tags in items being used for study and research.

Mobiles and Public Electronic Displays (MoPED)
City University, London

The project will develop the MoPED system, which will combine mobile phone interaction with a public display in City University’s Main Library. The aim of the
project is to investigate how to encourage the adoption of mobile services through a two-fold strategy: first, a strong, user-centred design process, commencing with an
investigation of which mobile services are most likely to be beneficial; second, using an in-situ public display to promote (and assist getting access to) the library’s mobile services and to connect online services to the space of the library itself.

Learnmore Mobile App
City University, London

The project will develop the Learnmore Mobile Application using a user-centred design process. Building on the current ‘desktop’ Learnmore content, the interface
and content will be tailored to the actual needs of students using mobile devices, with considerations including the preferred media, topic and content size for mobile
consumption.