Category Archives: Uncategorized

Blogging the ebooks landscape

Over the next few weeks we plan to blog a series of posts covering some of the main topics surround the creation, curation and consumption of ebooks in teaching, learning and research.

There’s little doubt about the growing use and importance of ebooks within universities.

Statistics compiled by the University of York, for example, show that the number of ebooks provided by the library has increased massively: by 22,878 in 2010/11 to a total of 576,689 in 2011/12.

One of the reasons for this rapid and exponential growth is that they provide access to library collections 24/7, every day, off-campus, for students and researchers and from their preferred device.

However, research by Jisc, Jisc Collections and others has highlighted the barriers that pose serious challenges to institutions who wish to exploit the potential of ebooks and ebook technology.

A recent Jisc project “The challenges of e-books in academic institutions” by Ken Chad has produced a number of case studies to illustrate how ebooks are created and managed by institutions and analysed the ways in which ebooks are used.


In a series of blog posts we‘ll try to give an overview of the current ebook landscape based on the work of the project and by adding further relevant content.

Each post will describe a particular topic and highlight challenges, lessons learned and emerging trends. Some of the topics we’re thinking of covering are:

  • Patron Driven Acquisition
  • Campus based publishing
  • ebooks and the role of the library
  • Beyond the pdf
  • Licensing and legal issues
  • Preservation of ebooks
  • Impact – the usage of ebooks and the student experience

We’re also going to include examples and links to further resources for each topic.

Stay tuned for more on new purchasing models for ebooks later this week!

The value and impact of the British Atmospheric Data Centre (BADC)

Jisc[i] in partnership with NERC[ii]  have commissioned work to examine the value of impact of the British Atmospheric Data Centre (BADC). Charles Beagrie Ltd, the Centre for Strategic Economic Studies Victoria University, and the British Atmospheric Data Centre are pleased to announce key findings for the forthcoming publication of the results of the study on the value and impact of the British Atmospheric Data Centre (BADC). The study will be available for download on 30th September at:

Key findings:

The study shows the benefits of integrating qualitative approaches exploring user perceptions and non-economic dimensions of value with quantitative economic approaches to measuring the value and impacts of research data services.

The measurable economic benefits of BADC substantially exceed its operational costs. A very significant increase in research efficiency was reported by users as a result of their using BADC data and services, estimated to be worth at least £10 million per annum.

The value of the increase in return on investment in data  resulting from the additional use facilitated by the BADC was estimated to be between £11 million and £34 million over thirty years (net present value) from one-year’s investment – effectively, a 4-fold to 12-fold return on investment in the BADC service.

The qualitative analysis also shows strong support for the BADC, with many users and depositors aware of the value of the services for them personally and for the wider user community.

For example, the user survey showed that 81% of the academic users who responded reported that BADC was very or extremely important for their academic research, and 53% of respondents reported that it would have a major or severe impact on their work if they could not access BADC data and services.

Surveyed depositors cited having the data preserved for the long-term and its dissemination being targeted to the academic community, as the most beneficial aspects of depositing data with the BADC, both rated as a high or very high benefit by around 76% of respondents.

The study engaged the expertise of Neil Beagrie of Charles Beagrie Ltd and Professor John Houghton of Victoria University, to examine indicators of the value of digital collections and services provided by the BADC.

The findings of this study are relevant to the community attending the conferences below hence the announcement.

13th EMS Annual Meeting & 11th European Conference on Applications of Meteorology (ECAM) | 09 – 13 September 2013 | Reading, United Kingdom

2013 European Space Agency Living Planet Symposium

The British Atmospheric Data Centre (BADC)
The BADC, based at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK, is the Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC) Designated Data Centre for the Atmospheric Sciences. Its role is to assist UK atmospheric researchers to locate, access, and interpret atmospheric data and to ensure the long-term integrity of atmospheric data produced by NERC projects. There is also considerable interest from the international research community in BADC data holdings.


Activity data – delivering benefits from the data deluge

We are pleased to announce a new report that explores how activity data and analytics can benefit universities and proposes how institutions can cope with the associated challenges and opportunities. The report is called Activity data – delivering benefits from the data deluge and is available on the Jisc website now. The eagle eyed will have spotted a link to it in the current issue of Jisc inform.

The report was written by David Kay of Sero Consulting and Mark van Harmelen of Headtek and it builds on the work we have been doing with activity data over the last couple of years. Over those two years it has felt that activity data has moved from being a relatively fringe and immature area in universities to something that is likely to be of vital importance in the next few years.

I think that this is emphasised by a flurry of exciting new developments. My colleague Myles Danson has worked with CETIS to release the Analytics Series. This is a series of seven useful and interesting reports that explore analytics from a number of different angles. This includes thinking about the implications for research and teaching and learning.

I’ll pause here to explain what I see as the difference between analytics and activity data. Analytics is a broad heading for the mining of data to inform business decisions or provide improved services to end users. Activity data is one type of data that falls under the analytics heading. Activity data specifically focuses on the data recorded about a user’s actions when they interact with a website or software or even a physical space.

Another exciting development is a project to explore a shared library analytics service. This project is seeking to develop a pilot shared service that builds on some of the experiments we have been doing in our activity data work. It is expected to complete in Autumn 2013 and should provide libraries with a useful new way to study how their services are working and to gather data to inform crucial decisions over allocation of resources. More detail will be available on this soon.

One project that will be an important part of delivering the library analytics suite will be Huddersfield’s Library Impact Data project. They released version 2 of their toolkit last week. So if you can’t wait for the library analytics suite to start exploring your library activity data then head over to their blog for more information.

So, there is a lot going on. That makes the Activity Data report even more timely since it provides an accessible and useful introduction to the topic. The report discusses the benefits that are on offer to institutions. It includes case studies on UK and US institutions who are leading the way with activity data. It finishes by offering some pointers on strategies that may be useful in getting ready to seize the opportunities offered by activity data.

This is a fast moving area and it looks like 2013 should see some even more exciting developments.

Technology developers: local, connected and strategic

Further / Higher Education (F/HE) in the UK is in the fortunate position to have talented and experienced developers working in its organisations, driving both service development and applied research. Because of this, developers in F/HE frequently contribute to a particularly rich source of technical innovation to the sector.

At ALT-C Paul Walk and I ran a session exploring the concept of the Strategic Developer.  Paul is the Deputy Director of UKOLN and oversees DevCSI, a JISC-funded initiative to focus on the development of technical talent with in the UK FE/HE/Research sectors. An experienced manager of developers himself, Paul has been looking at the ways in which technology staff are situated in decision-making processes. Back in the spring, his colleague Mahendra Mahey and I ran a discussion session at Dev8eD about the role of developers in e-learning and the ideas UKOLN are exploring clearly had some resonance. This session was a discussion on the issues around in-house technology expertise in a learning and teaching systems context. Our focus was on the hard technical skills end of the technology spectrum: it is about the coders, hackers and integrators, the people who build and develop software solutions.

Paul’s slides below describe the ideas around local developers, connected developers and strategic developers which underpin the DevCSI initiative.


We had a small but very experienced group of participants.

A-Z by surname: Suzanne Hardy (Newcastle), Martin Hawksey (JISC CETIS), Jo Matthews (UCL), Mark Stubbs (MMU), Jim Turner (JMU), Scott Wilson (JISC OSSWatch).

My take-home messages from our discussions are below, and I hope that other participants will add their thoughts.

Key Points

The cloud, and software-as-a-service model is often conflated in people’s minds with the outsourced model. In truth there are many models of SaaS that have greater and lesser levels of control for the client. This reminded me of one of my favourite talks Dev8eD: Alex Iaconni on different sorts of hosting . Paul’s observation is that the push into the cloud is sometimes mistakenly associated with a reduction in expertise required from the client. Cloud and SaaS just make some aspects of the system remote, not necessarily all, they certainly don’t always negate the need for in-house expertise.

That said, there are some trends where complexity moves up to the “above campus level”. The sorts of shared services that libraries use are changing the division of labour between technical experts within libraries and those working at a vendor/supplier level. Certainly in JISC’s work on repository and curation infrastructures we are seeing potential for abstracting some functionality (and its expert design) up to a network level. I am interested to see whether e-learning will see similar trends: with some specialisms focussed at the shared service level rather than locally.

In open source, we also see that pooling of technical expertise across employer boundaries. Certainly moodle is a really good example of technical skills distributed between institutions, service providers and the developer community in its own right. The recent case study on MMU’s use of ULCC’s hosted moodle solution is a good example of that. The point was also made that OS coders are connected developers out of necessity and that brings the benefits of greater awareness of other software and approaches.

Thinking now about big contracts for outsourced services, we discussed how an institution needs in-house technical expertise to:

  • specify technical requirements to vendors
  • evaluate proposals
  • negotiate technical detail
  • oversee technical delivery
  • integrate the external service with local integrations

and so on. In short, to act as an “intelligent client”/”intelligent customer” to ensure that institutions are getting value for money from their suppliers. The complexity of university technical infrastructures mean that vendors who overpromise or underperform are hugely costly to universities. When we’re talking about huge contracts like that at London Met  the potential for inefficiency is huge and those suppliers must be carefully managed.

I think Paul’s diagram is worthy of reproducing here:

the role of the developer when the outlook is cloudy (Paul Walk, UKOLN)

Incidentally I’m not suggesting here a crude “them and us” characterisation of suppliers and customers. I’m arguing that for IT contracts to deliver effective solutions there needs to be a meeting in the middle. I would argue that it is a good test of a vendor that they are happy to get “their guys” talking to “your guys” as soon as possible. Any supplier who is happy to be judged on results will want to get it right and they would rather have frequent access to accurate technical information than to a contract manager with no mandate for decisions. I would love to hear from developers working for suppliers on whether that rings true, but in all my experience, they need to be met half way by the client on getting the technical implementation right.

We also discussed the way in which in-house technical expertise is managed, and on reflection we were describing some common variations, each of which combines to make institutional set-ups quite diverse:

  • institution size matters: a small institution may provide more space for a networked and strategic developer
  • seniority of developers matters: some will be more involved in procurement decisions described above
  • e-learning developers might be central or embedded in departments
  • VLEs treated as part of the enterprise suite or as specialist applications supported by e-learning team
  • Whether IT/library is converged or not also impacts on where e-learning developers sit in the organisation
  • Patterns of home-grown systems/tools becoming integrated or discarded
  • In-house open source solutions mean in-house expertise, but externally hosted OSS has more variation
  • Mix of core staff and contracted staff (both long and short term)
  • Mix of external technical consultants and coders and the ways in which their knowledge is sustained
  • Extent of tactical use of internal and external project funding to enhance in-house technical capacity
  • Extent to which developers technical skills and approaches are actively nurtured
  • Extent to which developers soft skills are developed in areas like pitching, presenting, supporting users, business analysis, cost assessments etc

Even within our small group there was considerable variation. That certainly suggests that in sharing our emerging models of managing distributed and cloudy infrastructures, we need to clearly state our local contexts.

It was a thought-provoking discussion. It emphasised to me the value of JISC’s support for connecting developers, and the need to continue investing in in-house technology expertise.


Amber Thomas, JISC

Sustaining OA infrastructure

The Knowledge Exchange, of which JISC is a member, has just released a report on the sustainability of OA services and infrastructure. The report identifies services that are considered critical, and what they are critical for. It then considers the perspectives of a range of stakeholders, and considers the value offered to them by these services. It is the first part of a series of reports, with the next one being undertaken now under the auspices of SPARC in the US, focusing on discrete business models and related issues (governance, etc).
The KE report is important for JISC, as we are working with the UK and wider repositories community to develop a repositories service infrastructure. You may know that this is based around RepositoryNet+ at Edina, includes an “innovation zone” at UKOLN, and strong relations with centres of excellence such as the Universities of Nottingham and Southampton, and MIMAS. The repositories infrastructure, including services such as Sherpa/RoMEO, needs to be sustainable and cost-effective, and the KE report helps us understand what that means in particular cases. In a time of constrained resources, and a strong policy direction in favour of open access, we will need to be creative in sustaining the repositories infrastructure. We need business planning perspectives to complement vital technical and academic expertise and understanding.
The same challenges, in a more commercial context, face Gold OA. The UK Open Access Implementation Group is already working hard with others on interoperability and service models, eg for an “intermediary” in Gold OA transactions.

Open data challenges

There was an interesting report released yesterday on the UK Government’s progress towards their open data goals. The report revealed that the Government was on track in terms of the volume of data released but it highlighted some significant challenges that need to be addressed in order to ensure the data is useful to those who want to use it. In the higher education sector we are facing similar challenges.

You can read the full report on the parliament publications page. Or, if you’re after more of a digest, the Guardian report is good.

The report highlights a lot of challenges but in my reading of it these resolve into the following main questions that need to be answered:

  • How can the data released be made easier for the public to browse, consume and reuse?
  • How can the Government ensure that the right information is released and that it is adequate to meet the transparency objectives?
  • How can the Government ensure that the data released allows for easy comparison and analysis?
  • What are the costs and benefits involved in the release of the data?

These questions apply equally to the pursuit of open data in Higher Education. In the DI team we have developed programmes that experimented with the use of open linked data in higher education, with the use of open and linked data for libraries, museums and archives and with geospatial data. All of these areas offer real potential for higher education in terms of more efficient services and in terms of useful new tools to support research and education.

As a result of the JISC linked data projects we scoped and commissioned a report that Curtis and Cartwright produced on the benefits of linked data to higher education. This report includes a benefits map which provides a useful outline of the potential of engaging with linked data (pages 13 and 15).

We are seeing widespread engagement with open and linked data in the library, archive and musuem world with the British Library, Harvard University, OCLC, the British Museum and many, many others all releasing data and conducting experiments. In JISC we have been active in this area through the Discovery programme and are learning how and when open data can deliver benefits to libraries museums and archives.

Southampton University and Lincoln University are making interesting progress with open data. Both institutions have dedicated open data sites:

And both have interesting examples of the ways in which this data can be used. In Lincoln, students have used the open data to develop tools that they need. In Southampton open data has been used to develop a whole raft of apps including a catering search to find out where the snack you want can be bought on campus.

I think it is fair to say that the Government has so far focused on getting data released and is now starting to deal with the challenges that this open data is posing. In JISC we have had a similar focus as we believe a useful first step is to work out the processes involved in releasing data and to build up a decent corpus before starting to address these difficult challenges in earnest. Any future work we scope in this area will start to grapple with these key questions. We believe that the work we have done so far in this area and work done by others in higher education has indicated that there are significant benefits on offer if we get this right so these questions are well worth the effort required to develop answers.

It will be interesting to see how the Open Data Institute helps to address these challenges when they are up and running. We’ll be keeping a close eye on their work and other Government efforts as any progress they make is bound to be relevant to our work in Higher Education.

CASRAI in the UK and beyond…

Great progress is being made on the emerging UK community working with CASRAI (Consortia Advancing Standards in Research Administration Information). We are drawing together members of our existing research information management network, other subject experts and our CERIF friends to drive this exciting collaboration forward.

We now have the kernel for a UK standards committee to help adapt the existing CASRAI data dictionary, as well as the beginnings of a dedicated standards committee for the research impact parts of the global dictionary. A real buzz is building around the proposed new Canada/UK joint standards committee looking to add research dataset metadata to the dictionary, and Simon Hodson and David Baker are identifying and will soon be inviting the stakeholders and experts to form this joint committee. The vision at the moment is of a common global dictionary (with discipline and national extensions) that will start by targeting known needs, for example incorporating the information needed for a data management plan template to meet funder requirements.

These joint initiatives are community-centred, and their activities have caught the eye of research funders in the UK, as well as in Canada and the US. Interest also exist in developing shared models for designing research data management programmes across Europe, as illustrated by the JISC-led EC-funded sim4rdm project. This international attention really reinforces the value of this initiative to cross-border research collaboration The focus on the re-use, sharing and comparing of research information is more important than ever in an era of global research in which the best researchers are themselves globally active. This is borne out by the recent analysis of the UK’s research performance which found that the most effective researchers not only collaborated internationally, but worked and moved across borders. In this context, the value of this initiative to researchers, and to funders, is clear.

As more UK collaborations take shape, and the CASRAI/UK dictionary begins to be used in earnest in UK research management, I think we’ll see real benefits from, for instance, the full integration of CASRAI and CERIF. These initial collaborations around targeted areas of research management will help us to identify the next UK priorities for developing further the common global dictionary, as well as demonstrating the power of the expertise that has been built up in research management in our respective communities.

David Baker, CASRAI Executive Director, will be providing an update soon on the newest developments, so keep an eye out for his blog post for more news…

UK Copyright – Update

As part of its implementation work following the Hargreaves Review of IP, the Intellectual Property Office has just published the Government’s policy on modernising copyright licensing following the latest consultation to which JISC amongst others has submitted various responses. In this policy, the Government has signalled its intention to publish draft legislation to facilitate new schemes for commercial and non commercial use of Orphan Works (works in copyright for which the rights holders are unknown or cannot be traced), voluntary extended collective licensing of copyright works, subject to a number of important safeguards, and to require collecting societies to adopt codes of conduct based on minimum standards. There are likely to be further opportunities to respond to any outlined measures once the draft legislation has been published.

The Government has also indicated that it will be publishing similar policy statements relating to extending the copyright exceptions later on in the year.

JISC will be working to ensure that the needs of the FE/HE sectors are represented.


Amber Thomas, on behalf of JISC

Digital Identifiers the New Persistent Identifiers

2011-12-02. British Library, London. The EU (FP7) funded Digoiduna project has come out with its recommendations on what it is calling “digital identifiers”, which (for lack of a better phrase) seems to be ‘a re-branding exercise’ for the “Persistent Identifiers” community.  However (as I understand it), “Digital Identifier” as used by the Digoiduna project is actually an umbrella term that includes “persistent identifiers” as just one of the layers in the identifiers stack; the additional layers they have put atop the technology stack of PIDs include:

  • A.) interoperability (both machine and human), e.g. do URNs and DOIs both do content negoations to machine readable data or do the humans even agree that ‘content negotiation’ is the correct method to expose machine readable metadata from the identifier?
  • B.) stakeholder engagement, e.g. what reputation does the identifier have: do scholarly think links are Academic or DOI links are more academic?
  • C.) cultural influences, e.g. does the UK respect centralised big business companies as the sole priopritier of their most important links in comparison to how the US feels about government providing centralised leadership?
  • D.) temporal status, e.g. what are realistic models for persisting citable links over time, not just flippant statements like “forever” but real cost models for 10 years, 50 years, 100 years, 500 years and so on, how do we actually start to compare models for time?

The Digoiduna project analysis of "Persistent Identifiers" has resulted in a new definition for PIDs (and therefore new multi-dimensional 'brand') now called 'Digital Identifiers' (DIs).

While we still need to look over the full Digoiduna report in depth, this change in perspective (the new ‘DI’ brand) for PIDs is a welcome change from JISC’s PoV as our previous reports in the area support a complex view of identifiers which are primarily driven by the user need (personally, I think Digoiduna could be a bit more user-centric in their presentation of this new identifier stack), but on the whole their call to action to “mobilise resources” is a welcome one:

“…promote actions to mobilize technical, human, financial resources aiming at triggering a wider demand of usage…”

This recommendation clearly support the previous work JISC has been done in Persistent Identifiers and in fact we are hoping to take more real world action in supporting further end user technologies, to quote from our own report:

“JISC should draw a line under long-running arguments about particular persistent identifier schemes and instead should focus its efforts on enabling HEI’s to choose and implement schemes appropriate to their needs… [support] should be provided on how an HEI might choose between identifier schemes based on their own needs and contexts…the pros and cons of various approaches in different circumstances, for different purposes, should be outlined… [especially on how] the adoption and management on the various identifier schemes available.” –JISC Consultation on Identifiers 2010

The other encouraging aspect of the Digoiduna work is that they are highlighting efforts such as the Den Haag Manifesto which *is* ‘drawing a line under long-running arguments’ and embracing the potential there is to be had by persistent identifier and linkeddata communities coming together.  While the Den Haag manifesto might still have some technical difficulties it is the importance of not always arguing about the correct way forward and just trying to move forward in areas where we can collaborate and interoperate without trying to claim one is better (aka more persistent) than the other (just do it).

This hope for the community adopting a “fail fast; fail soon” attitude was further supported by the announcement by Salvatore Mele of CERN and Jan Brase of Datacite and the German National Technical Library that they would be looking to work together to make author identifiers (OrcIDs) and scholarly resource identifiers (DOIs) interoperate (hopefully via linkeddata methods); naturally this kind of bibliographic metadata profile that DOIs can provide cross-linked to author profile metadata (OrcID) is one where real value could be generated on behalf of the scholarly community by using both linkeddata and persistent digital identifier techniques (e.g. content negotiation, redirection, abstraction, etc).

Finally, I’ll end this post with a bit of gossip that JISC is itself hoping to launch a couple of new projects in the identifier space that will take action in providing end users tools that easily integrate “Digital Identifiers” into scholarly workflows (this alongside the ongoing work we already have done in this space).

In short, the PID arena has been ‘too much chatter and not enough action’ for some time and that needs to change; accordingly, we are currently looking at taking forwards some new efforts in the space that could really help make scholars lives easier in their day to day use of identifiers. These projects are in planning and as yet not guaranteed to happen…but fingers crossed they will. Stay tuned 🙂

Post written by David F. Flanders (with help from his Digital Infrastructure team colleagues, special thanks to Rachel Bruce and Neil Jacobs for suggested amendments).  David is an Innovation Programme Manager for the Digital Infrastructure Team.

Use Cases for OER Rapid Innovation Call

This blog post is a supplement to the requirement in the Call for Proposals for OER Rapid Innovation: enhancing digital infrastructure to support open content in education.

Paragraph 24 states that bidders must submit a Use Case.

“24. Bidders should note the requirement detailed in the Bid Form to produce a Use Case to accompany the proposal. These use cases must be made available as Creative Commons BY SA. Please see examples of Use Cases. “

As the definition on Wikipedia definition shows,  “Use Case” has a range of meanings. Depending on the context it can mean explaining what something is for (using a key to open a lock), through to a specification of a problem and description of the solution, through to a specified methodology as part of a software development approach such as agile .

In software engineering, a use case is a technique for capturing the potential requirements of a new system or software change. Each use case provides one or more scenarios that convey how the system should interact with the end user or another system to achieve a specific business goal. Use cases typically avoid technical jargon, preferring instead the language of the end user or domain expert.

It is always about describing how a solution will solve a problem. It always has measures of success defined with in it: if the key breaks in the lock, it doesn’t meet the use case. There are other terms such as user stories or scenarios that can also be used to describe issues that are being tackled, in some contexts they are used interchangeably with use case.

In terms of the OER Rapid Innovation Call, then, this is what I mean by “Use Case”

  • What is it that users want to be able to do and currently can’t?
  • What will you change to make it possible for them to do it?
  • How will you know if you have succeeded?

This is NOT a job to be done AFTER you have written your proposal: this is a key task in scoping your project. If you can’t articulate a clear use case at the point you are granted project funding, you will struggle to deliver useful technical solutions within 6 months. To increase the quality of bids and resulting outputs, it is a requirement of this Call that a use case submitted with every proposal (as part of it or as a link).

The use case should be made available as Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY). This is to ensure that the thinking done by bidders does not go to waste. It is possible that bidders may identify a crucial use case but not have the technical or skills requirements to solve it. I therefore want to be able to share the use cases and make them available to others who may be able to create the technical solutions. Digital infrastructure for open content is global and distributed, there are experts all around the world that we could collaborate on solutions with. (Feedback on this approach is welcome, I recognise it is unusual).

There is no template provided for the Use Case. It is for bidders to identify the best way to structure and describe the problem the project will tackle. As a rough guide for this Call, aim for one page of text / diagrams.

Useful links given in the Call: , ,

In addition, here are some further examples of useful approaches:

Use cases

Edina Usability Service Enhancements to Digimap User requirements and Review of existing technology options

ALUIAR Project working through an issues list

Rave in Context open innovation blog

Readers of this blog will know of good guidance and examples of Use Cases – comments and links would be very welcome, please do suggest further reading!

Amber Thomas

JISC Programme Manager: digital infrastructure for learning and teaching materials