Professional Development

During March 2008...

Carolyn at NISO Forum on Next Generation Discovery: New Tools, Aging Standards

Monday, March 31, 2008 10:15 am

On March 27-28, 2008, I attended NISO‘s 2-day forum on Next Generation Discovery: New Tools, Aging Standards in Chapel Hill. Todd Carpenter, NISO’s Managing Director, began the conference by referencing discovery as being one of the primary reasons people visit libraries either in person or virtually and, that the standards and systems that are currently in use at many libraries are beginning to fray. Libraries are not keeping up with advancing technologies. Out of this meeting, he hopes ideas will come to the forefront in areas of standards and development that NISO needs to address.

I took notes fast and furious so as not to miss anything. Here are some of my interpretations of highlights from Day 1 talks. I hope that they are accurate reflections of what was said. Any misinterpretation is this writer’s fault.

The keynote speaker, Richard Akerman, Technology Architect and Information Systems Security Officer of NRC CISTI, began his speech with the example of SkyNet, a term from science fiction used in the Terminator movies. Terminator fans will remember that the machine (i.e. Terminator) was cold and heartless and employed a hostile user interface. Akerman went on to say that exploring ways of getting machines to function in manners that users want is vital. Machines are not meeting all users’ expectations, and that Google crawlers have shaped all discovery expectations of users today.

How can we as humans better serve the machines our users utilize? Because machines don’t speak our language or have a deep contextual knowledge, humans need to be knowledge translators for the machines so as to enable machines to bring greater discovery to users. Some suggestions he offered included:

  1. Produce information in formats that machines can easily understand, and in parallel formats that are human readable.
  2. For every web resource and its machine reader,the number of formats should be kept simple so as to enable interchange easily.
  3. Bibliographic metadata should be a first class citizen by using OpenURL and COinS. Embedding metadata in webpages can provide bibliographic services around that metadata. Functionality to users can be added by using embedded knowledge.

Humans are seeking rich information experiences, and the general OPAC is not a discovery interface. A discovery layer needs to be built over the catalog’s metadata using APIs, and the catalog should work in ways that the Google generation understands. It should go to wherever your user is (example: a Wake Forest student user is searching Amazon for a book while drinking coffee at Starbucks, a box pops up and alerts the user that the book is available at the library) and able to work at web speed. Embedded knowledge can be enriched by using XML, RDF, RSS, GeoRSS, microformats, aggregators, and recommender APIs. An interesting example of a discovery tool developed by MIT’s SIMILE project is its Timeline component. Timeline is described by MIT’s SIMILE website as a “widget for visualizing time-based events.”

Akerman stated that instead of having too much information, he feels there is too much information poverty. We need to continuously search for and find ways to provide information to users everywhere. There is much information that is not getting indexed and is therefore inaccessible to people. We must tap the knowledge of people all over the world and provide information access to all.

In another talk, Mike Teets, VP of OCLC Global Product Architecture, demonstrated new discovery tools that OCLC is currently providing and those that are in development for users. Three tools that I found most interesting were xISBN, xISSN and Identities. xISBN is a service that consolidates ISBNs of a specific title into a list. It is driven off of FRBR algorithms. OCLC is still testing its xISSN service, which will bring together a graphical representation of the history and relationships of specific serial titles’ ISSNs. Identities provides information about authors and utilizes publication timelines (books by and about an author), audience level indicators (this number is computed by what institutions hold a specific author’s work(s)), and relationships to other authors and/or organizations. You can try Identities by searching for a title in WorldCat, click on the details tab and then click on the author’s name or you can go directly to

Other interesting discovery tools presented were 2collab and 2collab is an Elsevier produced free collaboration tool for researchers and scientists. Information can be shared with peers by creating groups. Users can add tags, bookmarks, ratings, comments, as well as, display one’s current research activity and interests and groups in which one is a member, and highlight one’s scientific record of publications. Privacy is of utmost importance to scientific researchers. Only members within a private group can share and access each other’s information. Group owners can accept or decline membership into a group. ScienceDirect has an “add to 2collab” button that allows users to transfer metadata about pertinent articles to their profiles and they are able to share this information with their groups. IEEE has developed a web service,, which is a free federated search service of 18 not-for-profit science and technical libraries. It is open to the general public, but is designed primarily for researchers. Partners pay a contribution fee to help fund the service. Subscribers to the partner libraries and members of partner societies are able to view full text included in their subscriptions or memberships; other users have a pay-per-view option.

All conference talks were recorded and the presentation slides are to be posted shortly to the NISO website on the Discovery Tools agenda webpage. For more in depth information, check out NISO’s website. Day two reflections will appear later this week.

Tufte on Analytical Design

Friday, March 28, 2008 10:51 am

Yesterday, I attended Edward Tufte‘s Presenting Data and Information, a one-day course on information design and display, in Raleigh. Tufte, a professor emeritus at Yale University, is a master of data presentation and information display; his books – Beautiful evidence, Visual explanations, Envisioning information, and The Visual display of quantitative information – are impressive and instructive. He is also known for his critique of PowerPoint.

The course, which was very heavily attended (overflow parking in an adjacent field was insufficient), ranged from an examination of Charles Joseph Minard‘s depiction of Napoleon’s march to Moscow to an assessment of the iPhone. Tufte discussed:

  • high resolution versus low resolution display
  • the centrality of content
  • the human eye-brain system and the poverty of information
  • cognition and information density
  • small multiples
  • image annotation and numerical language
  • how design mimics bureaucracy
  • flat interfaces
  • the popularization of personalization
  • and many other things

In his discussion of interface design, he focused on several main points. He lamented the prominent inclusion of what he called ‘computer administration functions’, that is, instructions on how to interact with the interface. He sees the necessity of these instructions as a failure of design; the goal should be to eliminate all of the administration functions and fill the screen with content. Of course, too much content often feels cluttered, crowded, and chaotic; clutter and confusion, he replied, exist not because of complexity of information but, again, because of failures of design. According to Tufte, the answer is not to remove or otherwise attenuate the information; the answer is to redesign, annotating and labeling, enhancing the multivariate and removing the redundant.

Another key point in his discussion of interfaces was the importance of flattening hierarchies. Hierarchies are too bureaucratic, inefficient, and influence a poverty of information throughout a site or organization. Navigating by hierarchies is equally inefficient. He recommended creating a flat interface, providing full choices and full content, and not underestimating users’ cognitive abilities.

It was an exceptional course, a compact yet rigorous sketch of a critical topic.

Electronic Resources & Libraries Conference

Thursday, March 27, 2008 4:00 pm

TV Screens at Farmington PL from Flickr Before I talk about the conference, I saw one idea on my vacation that might be worth stealing. This is the public library in Farmington, New Mexico. They have a wall section devoted to TV screens. Some show TV news and others display library events and tips (like how to place a hold).

I saw WorldCat Identities for the first time. It uses WorldCat data to graph activity by and about an author over time.

This conference was also my first encounter with Library Thing’s Unsuggester (Did you like…? Then you will not like…)

Workflow Ideas

  • One library created an e-book task force to look at the Tech Services options for dealing with them.
  • Another library assigned serials staff to manage e-journals based on publisher. Therefore one staff member became adept at the quirks associated with Blackwell and the next with ScienceDirect and so forth.
  • This library also used Gold Rush to evaluate some abstracting databases for overlap.
  • Planned Abandonment must be held in tension with New Initiatives. Any process you abandon will adversely affect a few users. The key is to strategically replace it with something new that will benefit many users.

Collaboration Ideas

OCLC revolutionized data sharing for printed books. How can libraries share data related to e-resources? We could share

  • E-journal title change and transfer data
  • Librarian reviews of databases similar to Amazon reviews of consumer products.
  • Troubleshooting information. Internally, we’ve begun documenting how to recognize and solve specific problems. What if that info were in a public wiki? IMHO, that would be more useful than digging through listserv archives.

SerialsSolutions Presentation

One time slot was devoted to vendor presentations. I chose SerialsSolutions and their 360 Counter usage statistics product.

  • So far it doesn’t download the stats for you (they are waiting for full SUSHI compliance first)
  • It normalizes titles using the SeSo knowledge base
  • It assigns (SeSo’s) subjects to journals
  • It assigns cost per use (Unclear how much manual input would need to be done for us to realize this.)

Marketing Ideas

I also went to a session on marketing electronic resources. Very little of this presentation had to do with e-resources specifically, but there were plenty of ideas for library marketing in general. A few we might try…

  • Branded coffee sleeves (in our new coffee shop?)
  • Branded sticky notes inserted in our annual letter to faculty
  • They also mentioned linking to your digitized collections from Wikipedia, but Digital Forsyth has already done this.

Concluding Thoughts

Users don’t compare us to other libraries and universities. They compare us to other information providers like Google.

Finally I did a personal e-book experiment on my conference trip. I downloaded a book from Project Gutenberg to my PDA and read it on the subway and during other downtimes. I read the first few paragraphs about ten times before figuring out a good way to move a virtual bookmark. (I cut and pasted the word “BOOKMARK” every time I moved ahead in the book.) I finished the book on my last day. The book was merely OK, but I enjoyed the PDA format enough that I will try it again next time.


Saturday, March 15, 2008 6:45 am

On thursday I went to Concord, NC to attend the North Carolina Association for Educational Communication & Technology conference. In the morning, I attended a session by the folks who do The talk was interesting if only to hear a presentation about web 2.0 from the “school 2.0″ perspective. The speaker (Jason Smith) talked about the digital divide between students and their learning environments. His point was that the divide between how students know/interact with technology and how schools typically ask them to learn is a significant problem. A good quote from a student that he used in relationship to this point was “when I go to school I have to power down.” His observations about the impact that catering to Millennails and the difficulty in really achieving substantive change in how we approach information, teaching, and learning seemed to resonate with the audience.

At 11:45 I presented with Melissa Thibault from LEARN NC about the Digital Forsyth project. The attendees were very engaged and suggested some approaches for creating content and getting involvement from the k-12 community that I look forward to following-up on.

After a lunch of PBnJ, I went to a session by Kevin Oliver from NCSU. His talk was structured around a laundry list of social software/web 2.0 applications and how they can be used in the classroom. In addition to covering these tools he also talked about different categories of tools (such as publication, annotation, mashups, editing, selling, etc). The list of applications was fascinating but even more interesting was hearing the specific questions from the teachers “can I export that?” “what kind of links can I create to the site?” “Is there any way to back-up that data?” Rather than posting the notes I took, here is a link to his handout of tools.

I ended the afternoon with a presentation by Lisa Mitchell (yep – my sister) on her use of technology to help document and connect resources from a recent trip to Japan. While I had heard some of her talk previously, I did not know about her approach for getting souvenirs from around Japan. The group of 200 teachers she was with split up into 10 groups during their second week and traveled to the corners of Japan. She gave each group 500 yen and asked that the find something to bring back from their travel. During her presentation, Lisa showed how she used these objects to help teach students about the experience.

While I was only able to spend the one day at this conference I was amazed at the similarities between the education and library professions. Perhaps that shouldn’t be so amazing but it was eye opening to see educators dealing with the same issues of change in the areas of technology, information, and learning that librarians are.

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