Professional Development

Author Archive

Thomas at USETDA

Tuesday, August 6, 2013 9:44 am

The week before last, I attended (and spoke at) the US ETD Association annual conference, in Claremont, California. This is an organization that works to improve the policies and practices involved in managing electronic theses and dissertations.

ETD people tend to be strong supporters of open access, so there was a lot of discussion of the American Historical Association’s July 19 Statement on Policies Regarding the Embargoing of Completed History PhD Dissertations, which “strongly encourages” universities to offer a six-year embargo on history PhD Dissertations. [And if your professional association says you should have that option, they're sending a strong message that you should take that option.] Phrases describing the AHA statement at USETDA included “conservative”, “myopic”, “enforcing the status quo”, and a good old barnyard epithet starting with “bull____” (this by a historian, in the middle of his plenary talk). IMO it is at the very least a narrow, outdated view of what History PhDs might want to do in life (get tenure as history professors) and how they might accomplish that (slap a glossy binding on their warmed-over dissertation and call it a book). Mostly thoughtful comments on both sides of the issue at #AHAgate.

That plenary was the highlight of the conference for me. Char Miller, director of the Environmental Analysis Program at Pomona College, talked with great feeling about a sea change in both the nature and evaluation of undergraduate pedagogy, strongly de-emphasizing what faculty teach and emphasizing what students learn (so, measuring–and accrediting–based on outcomes rather than inputs). This makes it vital to have access to student works, including their theses. Miller talked in particular about undergraduate theses, and contrasted the situation at Pomona today with his experience: two [print] copies of his undergraduate thesis existed once, but other than a vague suggestion that one is in the Pomona archives, somewhere, no one has ever read it or could currently lay their hands on it. By contrast, one of his recent advisees called him, excited that her senior thesis has been downloaded hundreds of times.

Other highlights: what you have to consider if you’re serious about giving your ETDs (or any electronic documents) a lifespan of, say, 100 years; using a private LOCKSS network for archiving locally created content; and results of a survey of book and journal publishers that helps to refute some of the FUD propagated by people like the AHA. In an interesting bit of finger pointing, some publishers say they won’t touch a book based on an OA dissertation because libraries won’t buy them. Which really translates as: in the face of shrinking monograph budgets, a lot of libraries decline to buy based-on-dissertation books automatically on approval, because, well, they’re based on a dissertation, not because the dissertation is open access.

Oh, and Yrs Trly presented on OATD, the harvested finding tool for OA ETDs around the world.

————-

BTW, the slides for my presentation are at http://goo.gl/IphQw. My major points:

  • Making ETDs discoverable is an essential component of the ETD publication process (else, why bother?).
  • The ETD discovery tools we rely on either point to for-pay closed access ETDs when free, open access copies are avaialble, or have major user interface issues. This makes open access ETDs less discoverable than they should be, at a time when academic libraries are making incredible investments of time, energy, and money into increasing the discoverability of almost every other type of scholarly literature. OATD attempts to address these concerns, and is also intended to follow a community-driven enhancement path (other ETD search services a take-it-or-leave-it vendor solutions).
  • OATD harvests metadata from repositories using the OAI-PMH standard. OAI-PMH has major advantages over Googlebot-style web crawling for distributing metadata: it is more precise, puts less of a load on servers, and is already built in to all major repository platforms. I gave a very brief, very non-technical overview of OAI-PMH and how it makes a collection’s metadata avaialble.
  • In addition to harvested metadata, OATD uses a very lightweight web crawler to pull full text files. These are used to show highlight search terms in context and to pull sample images into search results.
  • A tool for sharing high-quality metadata really benefits from having high-quality metadata to work with. Improviing metadata quality and sharing it via OAI-PMH takes a little attention to detail, but pays off by better articulating what is in your collection and how it can be used, and by anticipating questions a researcher is likely to need answers to. (I was told I sounded like a cataloger, which I will take as a compliment.)

Thomas at ALA – Part II: The Revenge

Friday, July 5, 2013 9:58 am

Some less-than-stellar ALA programs reminded me of a couple catch-phrases from an old music ed. professor. First, “a good example of a bad example”. Or in other words, some guaranteed ways to make people walk out of your program in droves:

  • Don’t have or follow an agenda
  • Don’t alert the incoming crowd to the fact that your session was mis-identified in the program and is not sponsored by LITA (Library and Information Technology Assn.), but by LIRT (Library Instruction Round Table).
  • Don’t ask a couple hundred people seated in an auditorium to spontaneously break up for small group exercises.
  • If you’re a vendor, do not give a sales pitch, and do not bad-mouth your competitors (ever. Evv. Verrr.).

And the other catch phrase: “There is no excuse for a media glitch.” Or in other words, if your presentation relies on technology, make sure it’s working. Make sure it continues to work after the audience comes in and takes their share of the wireless bandwidth. And make sure you have static slides on standby if it doesn’t work.

Thanks for letting me vent.

The gem of the last day of conference was a LLAMA session on surviving after a library disaster. Librarians spoke about how they got back to normal(-ish) operations following an earthquake that knocked 27,000 books to the floor (damaging about 5% of them), broke compact shelving units, and caused some structural damage to the building; a tornado that ripped the walls off a remote storage facility; a vandallism/arson attack that destroyed library staff offices and triggered the sprinkler system, with result damage to collections; and the post-Hurricane Sandy disaster in Queens, New York.

Major lessons: no disaster plan will anticipate everything, so flexibility is key. Staff morale benefits from little things ilke coffee and cupcakes. In an earthquake, an old library wing built in the 1950s may have heavy damage, while a newer wing built in the 1990s will survive better (sound familiar?). And make sure you’re up to date on required maintenance for compact shelving units. Oh, and do we have enough book trucks to hold 27,000 volumes for triage and rough re-sorting?

Thomas at ALA – The Show So Far

Saturday, June 29, 2013 11:15 pm

After a friendly conversation with a very patient lady at the ALA registration desk, it turned out that the reason they had no record of my registration was…I hadn’t actually remembered to register. So that’s a shining start to the conference.

Friday afternoon I went to LITA 101, a gentle introduction to ALA’s coolest little division. [Ever use technology in your work? Then you should join LITA.] I spent the session assuring prospective authors that, yes, LITA has a place for them to publish, whether they’re working up an article, a book, or something in between. Saturday morning was taken up with committee meetings: one with a committee of committee chairs discussing how to lead a discussion (I’ll let you reflect on how “meta” that is); and one where in fact we talked through how to support authors working on that “something in between” publication. I think LITA will be able to put some interesting options out for people with something clever to share about how they implement technology in their libraries.

Saturday afternoon included a program by the LITA Mobile Interest Group titled “We Went Mobile, Now What”. Presenters included a librarian from Portland State University who discussed the usability testing process for getting their mobile web site up and running; and two librarians from Oregon State University talking about the process of replacing their original, now five-year-old, mobile site with a new responsive design for mobile and desktop computers. An important lesson: you can bribe undergraduates with coffee in exchange for feedback.

TPD @ CNI

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 3:39 pm

This slipped past me, but way back in December, I attended the CNI fall meeting in Washington, DC. Knowing that it never works to fly on a December morning to make an afternoon meeting, I cleverly took the train the day before, only to endure five and a half hours of delay as Amtrak worked to resolve engine problems. But I did get there for the kickoff, when half the attendees did not (fog socked in the whole eastern seaboard).

The opening keynote went straight to a subject that was repeated throughout the conference: MOOCs (see Lynn’s post that covered other MOOC sessions). Lynch addressed a number of issues with MOOCs that I haven’t heard about elsewhere:

  • A lot of schools are setting up MOOCs without a clear definition of success for the program
  • MOOCs will generate a lot of student data, and it is not clear who owns it and what rights they have to use it, and what access students will have to their own records. It may be very valuable content for data mining.
  • MOOCs have the potential to cause a lot of disruption in some doctoral programs, because we fund a lot of those doctoral students by having them teach the sorts of classes that are becoming candidates for MOOCs. Humanities doctorates in particular may be affected.
  • Our ability to teach 100,000 students at a time is probably outpacing our ability to grade their work

Other points: many schools are including alumni in library licensing agreements. We want to do that here, but we have to wait for some campus-wide systems to come online that will let us identify alumni accounts.

Encouraging court judgments in favor of fair use and rights of users to access copyrighted material is counterbalanced by electronic licensing terms that increasingly give publishers more than their traditional first-sale rights. As Lynch put it, “Will your children be able to inherit your e-books?”

Cliff’s opening keynote can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fvys5VZrjsI

Two other sessions I’ll comment on: in “Debunking Myths and Establishing Guidelines for the ETD Lifecycle,” four speakers addressed issues in long term curation and preservation of electronic theses and dissertations. Of particular interest was Gail McMillan of Virginia Tech, who presented “Do Open Access ETDs Effect Publishing Opportunities in the Sciences? Findings from the 2012 Survey of Academic Journal Editors“. This follows a similar survey of editors in the humanities and social sciences in 2011. This presentation gives substantive support to the argument that publishing an open access ETD does not greatly affect an author’s ability to get books or articles based on the ETD published. The slides are well worth a look.

Because of our investment in cloud technologies, I was particularly interested in “The Truth is Out There: Preservation and the Cloud.” David Rosenthal, Chief Scientist of the LOCKSS program, basically asked the question, “Can you afford to digitally preserve content for 100 years on the Amazon cloud?” And ultimately answered it, “No.” For long-term storage, you can rent space (think of a journal subscription that you have to commit to for 100 years); subsidized with ads (like Google Mail, but generally a non-starter in academic environments), or endowed, with an up-front payment considered to be enough to store the content “forever”. Because the cost of hard drive storage has been dropping by half every two years for several decades, preservation endowments have gained some traction.

But Rosenthal sees two problems: first, the cost of hard drive storage will level out. Disk prices will continue to decline, but not so quickly. Second, while commercial cloud vendors periodically drop their prices, they don’t do so as fast as drive prices go down and customers increasingly fund their profit margin. This makes the monthly payments to Amazon (and its successors) over the next century increasingly hard to support.

Rosenthal’s proposed alternative is low-cost local storage, specifically building storage “pods” from designs published by online backup company Backblaze. They provide plans for constructing units capable of storing 135TB, expected to last for four years, that cost about what Amazon would charge for one month’s rent on 135TB of space. There’s obviously a lot more to factor in, but in the end it’s a compelling case. Long term storage won’t make economic sense in the commercial cloud.

TPD @ ALA MW 13 in SEA

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 2:01 pm

By funny coincidence, since I’ve been at ZSR I have attended meetings in my previous home town (LITA Forum in Columbus) and the home town before that (Midwinter in Seattle). ALA Annual in Chicago this summer will make the trifecta. Do let me know if there are good meetings coming up in Ann Arbor or Madison.

At 47°37′ N lattitude, Seattle is farther north than Duluth, Minnesota: in January, if there’s any sunlight at all, it’s noticeable from about 8:30am to 4:30pm. But there usually isn’t any sunlight: clouds, rain, highs in the mid 40s, lows in the low 40s. Typical January in Seattle. They take seasonal affective disorder seriously there.

Highlights (unless you really want to know about the LITA publication committee, LITA’s committee of committee chairs, and the ALA committee of publication committee chairs… Oh, except that one of the newest LITA Guides to hit the stands is Cloud-Based Services for Your Library: A LITA Guide by Erik Mitchell, coming soon to library stacks near you.)

Big Data For Big Brother

If I’m a little slow writing up my Midwinter experience, it’s because I’ve been cowering in paranoid fear in my office since the first meeting I attended, OCLC’s member meeting – okay, not a harrowing experience – and keynote by Alistair Croll on “The implications and opportunities of Big Data.” The session benignly defined Big Data as datasets that are too large for traditional hardware and software tools to analyze. The term plays off the growth of Big Science: $10 billion to build a Large Hadron Collider, and then eleventy bajillion teraflops to analyze its output. Croll defines Big Data as the problem of analyzing data with a lot of Volume (a ton of data), Variety (many kinds of data), and Velocity (torrents of data).

Big Data has potential for good: medical data – including Google searches for symptoms – can predict disease outbreaks. Analyzing which farmers in developing countries benefit most from microloans helps target future loans where they will do the most good. Analyzing traffic data allows taxi services to have cars ready where people will want them. Likewise, when we’re driving, every one of our GPS-enabled phones or tablets contributes to real-time maps of traffic data so we can route around delays.

The darker side of Big Data becomes apparent when you realize the biggest dataset out there is our own increasingly trackable behavior both on- and offline. I won’t rehash too many of Croll’s points (I strongly recommend you watch it when you have some free time – link below), but some of the highlights:

  • Big Data gets used a lot to say “People in Group A tend to like Topic B and products like Item C, so we’ll put ads for C on pages about B.” We smile knowingly when Group A is Librarians, or people with Zip codes beginning 271xx. (Mac users may remember that Orbitz shows them ads for more expensive hotels than Windows users, the assumed connection being that if you have a Mac you’re either more affluent than most Windows users or more willing to shell out for a quality experience.) Things can get ethically and legally tricky when that group is defined by things like gender or race, and the product is, for example, low rate mortages.
  • There is so much data out there that we usually do not have the tools (or access to the data) to evaluate it, and we often accept that all competing explanations for something are equally well supported.
  • And humans aren’t very good at evaluating data anyway. We keep demonstrating that we will believe what seems right even when it’s demonstrably wrong. (Several long examples that can be summed up here and here.)

Croll concluded with the idea of Good Data: to Volume, Variety, and Velocity, he adds Veracity and Value: data that is true (and that can be checked), and data that has a useful context. A telling line from the conclusion: “Google can find more articles than any librarian, but any librarian can find better articles than Google.” There is a continuing need for human insight that can apply all of the data as something more than an algorithm.

Watch the presentation here:
http://player.multicastmedia.com/player.php?p=xz2atn08&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=z%20-%20ARCSymposium_CollectiveInsight_Feb2013&utm_campaign=OCLC%20Member%20Update

Other meetings of note: I nearly missed LITA Happy Hour because I actually sat down with a colleague and discussed a reasearch project for a couple of hours. It’s the sort of thing that makes it worthwhile to schlep cross country and attend a conference in person. I heard both a former Ohio colleague and a current WFU colleague (Roz) present on the experience of bringing Summon up at their libraries (we were a lot more laid back about it). And at the LITA Town Meeting, a few of us graybeards determined that the key to LITA’s future is piratically taking over RUSA, ALCTS, and LLAMA – because, hey, where would they be without technology? – and creating a unified Library Services Division (LSD). Having come up with the idea, we leave it to the youngsters to make it actually happen.

Then, with nothing to do until the 11pm red-eye home, I spent the afternoon in the Seattle Public Library:

Seattle Public Library, top floor reading room

Thomas at LITA Forum

Saturday, October 6, 2012 7:57 am

The 2012 LITA National Forum started yesterday with an engaging keynote by Eric Hellman, formerly of OCLC, Openly Informatics, and more citation linking projects than I can count. Eric’s new venture is Unglue.It (http://unglue.it), which presents an interesting new approach to funding e-book publication.

The talk went through a number of factors related to the economics of e-books and how they affect libraries. A couple of notable points: 4 of the big 6 publishers in the U.S. will not sell e-books to libraries at all; and the potential effect on retail sales means e-book publishers can/will only support library lending if they make the e-book lending process sufficiently INconvenient for the user. In other words, force the library to irritate the users enough, and the users will just go buy their own copy.

Unglue.IT’s model is to approach rights holders, agree on a cost for publishing a book with a Creative Commons license (they support multiple flavors of CC license), and then hold an online pledge drive to raise that amount, NPR-style. The hipper way to put it is that they’re crowd-funding e-books for the public common.

The first book out of the gate was Oral Literature in Africa, a 1970 work considered seminal in the field, long out of print, and notably unavailable in any form anywhere in Africa. It is now available as a free download.

Unglue.It is in between online payment handlers at the moment, but when they are up and running again, we’ll have a chance to fund the publication of So You Want To Be a Librarian, by one L. Pressley! (No date yet announced for I Wanted to Be…A Lumberjack! by T. Dowling)

Thomas at ALA 2012

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 4:42 pm

Thomas went to ALA in Anaheim also – he’s just slower than most about writing it up.

“Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?” or “All Your Metadata Are Belong To Us”

Maybe it was the looming shadow of the Disney overlords, or maybe it was the Ex Libris Alma webinar I attended the week before. Regardless, I thought I should check out the global domination plans of a couple of organizations with the potential to exert monolithic, or even monopolistic, control over data and metadata we depend on every day.

First up was a session on OCLC’s WorldShare Platform, about which you should know two things right off the bat. First, WorldShare is this year’s marketing term that either subsumes or replaces last year’s Webscale; both are intended to drive home the idea that their stuff works on a hugely bigger scale than, say, your local ILS. Second, OCLC will be using the word Platform a lot for the foreseeable future. Because having a massive database of cataloging and holdings data is okay, but it’s much more useful to make it a resource that clever programmers and developers can build thing on (hence “platform”). A couple of important points:

  • Data is equally available to everyone [where everyone is defined as “libraries with active subscriptions to one or more OCLC product”]
  • OCLC is creating an app store where everyone else will be able download the apps other libraries have created [following QC and approval by OCLC]

The result OCLC is hoping for is a robust set of mash-ups that doing interesting things with OCLC data and encourage more libraries to do development with the WorldShare APIs. The cynic in me points out that OCLC needs to make all their services mash-up-able anyway, as they continue to build a dis-integrated library system, so they might as well grab some developer street cred by making the APIs available.

I followed up my OCLC session with two Proquest/SerialsSolutions sessions. First was Summoncamp, an informal intro, update, and rap session about the Summon discovery service. A couple of eye openers for me: the Summon database now includes over 950 million items, about half of them newspaper articles. (You kids these days, with your billion-record databases. I remember when OCLC only had 10 million, and we counted ourselves lucky, dadgummit.) Also, the entire database is reindexed every night. I asked them to repeat that, because it just didn’t sound possible. Also, some new content sources and display options that some of us have already discussed in other forums, but seriously, they reindex 950M records every night.

After that I went to an InTota presentation. This is SerialsSolutions’ forthcoming “single, centrally provisioned solution that manages the entire resource lifecycle regardless of format.” My takeaways: First, any problems, inefficiencies, or duplication of effort in our current workflow are due to the fact that parts of it are not under the control of SerialsSolutions. Second, buzzwords aside, this is a new ILS (if the president of the company says, “We’ll know we succeeded when you unplug your current ILS”, it’s an ILS). Third, any vendor who wants to lock you into a product hosted on their server is now calling it a cloud solution.

Meanwhile, on the free-as-in-kittens front (and this is going to be a lot of kittens), the folks behind the open source Kuali OLE system gave a presentation. Kuali is an organization with ambitious plans, and some proven successes, in building open source software for higher ed. Kuali OLE (Open Library Environment) is yet another forthcoming new ILS. Unlike other open source catalogs, it’s designed for academic libraries from the ground up. It’s really just starting to take shape: software version 0.6 came out just before ALA, version 0.8 is due out in October, and version 1.0 is scheduled for the first quarter of 2013. The University of Chicago and Lehigh University have already committed to starting to use it next year. What does it look like right now? Like a version 0.6 acquisitions module. But it has a lot of people committed to bringing this project off.

“You truly belong with us among the clouds” or “Look, I came here for an argument!”

This year’s Ultimate Debate program was, basically, “Which of our panelists can say the most sensible things about cloud computing?” I may not have that title exactly right, but in any case there was broad consensus (so… not a debate) that cloud computing is a mostly good thing but not a panacea, and that the overuse of “cloud” as a marketing term for any online service is making it meaningless, and you should really read the fine print before entrusting your mission-critical data to any third party.

“Well, this is depressing – how long till Battledecks?”

Three librarians from Arizona State University presented “Streaming Video – It Takes a Village,” about how they created their own streaming video server using open source tools. Unfortunately it came out as more of a cautionary tale than a success story: they counted up hundreds of person-hours for four or five staff members, determined that they needed a full time PHP developer, and ended up with a system that doesn’t support iPad users. They loaded a planned first batch of 40 videos (about 400GB of data) and have no plans to load any more into the system. They didn’t mention server, storage, or bandwidth costs. I’m sure we could implement a better solution with fewer headaches, but it’s still a depressing reminder of the real costs involved in supporting online media in any big way.

And in other depressing events, I am now chair of the LITA Publications Committee, which means I have to do real work at ALA from now on.


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