Archive for the 'libraries' category

Focusing on counts erodes research libraries' competitiveness

Dec 05 2016 Published by under Collection Development, libraries

by @glennobleFor many years, research libraries (mainly those in academic institutions but also in other research centers) have been all about counting collections: how many volumes owned? how many journals licensed? Bigger is better. Millions of volumes.

This pressure, combined with continual downward budgetary pressure and the global doubling of scientific output every nine years, has led to most libraries taking some short cuts to get more coverage (more volume and more volumes). In place of carefully curated abstracting and indexing services necessarily specific to certain domains of knowledge that help explore and identify sources of information but do not provide physical access, many libraries are licensing massive collections from Eb and PQ that hugely boost the numbers. They are also licensing these massive "discovery" systems that, in my opinion, completely fail to improve discovery. We librarians have told our vendors that our most important users are the undergraduates who need any few articles on a topic to quickly pad their bibliography.  Vendor offerings that make that process easier are welcomed.  So we cancel Inspec, Biosis, GEOBASE and similar to feed the beast of more and more content. The vendors who provide access to formerly very useful databases (cough Aerospace cough) more or less eviscerate them to also give more - higher counts, faster, broader... and cheaper (no - lol - never cheaper for *libraries*)

Yet, as everyone has said before me, we are living in times of information abundance not scarcity. We know we cannot survive with the library-as-pocketbook model. Some of our value comes in working with users as partners in their research. We work to understand what their information problem entails and to help them (teach, do for, or provide tools for them to) find the information they need. We should also be building and licensing systems for the most sophisticated of users on our faculties and in our research centers. We should strive for precision and also serendipity of unexpected very relevant articles. We should save the time of the reader. What value millions of responses to a web query if your answer is on page 10? New researchers should be taught to be more sophisticated in their searching (I honestly think chemistry may be the only field that does this well), instead of accepting good enough or random iteration around the theme.

The best services and tools respect the researcher's precious time. They help the researcher have better information more quickly and with more context and confidence.  This is the way we compete with the ubiquity of information freely available on the internet. It's something we do and something we can do quite well... but we need to stop these collections processes now before it's too late.


*These are my opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of my immediate organization or my parent institution. Any specific products are mentioned to clarify my meaning. No endorsement should be inferred.

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So is walk-up access doable anymore?

Mar 13 2016 Published by under libraries

A trackback to my previous posts on ways to get literature  discussed the authors inquiries to German universities about walk-up access. Walk-up access is just that, a non-affiliated person showing up in person at a library and having access to their subscriptions. The vast majority of our licenses do actually allow walk-up. Of the STEM things, the main outlier is SciFinder (Chemical Abstracts). It does not allow walk-up.

Thing is, I work in a research lab and in 2009 we moved behind the barrier so we do not have any place unaffiliated people can use our access. So I really haven't kept up with how hard or easy it is for people who are actually able to physically visit a research library.

I asked on one of the current incarnations of LSW (Library Society of the World) on Mokum. The responses were a pleasant surprise. Most had easy walk-up access. Some had computers that didn't require a login whereas others provided short term logins. Printing can be paid for in cash.

One of NYC librarians said her library charged people to get access to the building at all! Clearly not a land grant institution. Another librarian is in a place where there have been multiple shootings in the actual library building. Completely understandable that they are locked down now.

Overall, at least this access does still seem possible for people who live somewhat near a research institution, particularly if it's a public university.

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The crazy trip of one aerospace trade pub

Jan 08 2016 Published by under Collection Development, libraries

Aviation Week (& Space Technology) is celebrating 100 years in print in 2016. To celebrate (and advertise Boeing), they are making their archive freely available in 2016 (registration required for some f/t) (via Gary Price).

This is shocking really. This publication has been super important AND super expensive over my time as an engineering librarian in an aerospace organization. I've used the print archives to come up with open source documentation of various launch pad accidents, details of missile production, and other news.

We had a print archive going back to about 1962 in our library. In 2009 when we had to move out and ditch our collection I argued to keep this - of all of our bound journals - because at the time there was no affordable alternative. Well, I was out the day one of the jobbers came and apparently took it all anyway. An accident, I was told. So we did without for a while, using the embargoed access that gave us a few years through a major aggregator.

Still, just about every year we asked for a quote from McG-H and the pricing was like 5 digits for a single user with a login and password. It wasn't something we could really do.

Then a couple of years ago it was bought by Penton Media. You may know them from all of the "free to qualified recipients" trade pubs they have. They offered the database - the Intelligence Network - to us large-institution wide for less than a single login had been. We jumped on it.

Now, this year, free. I guess it won't be free after 2016? Has the quality changed? Dunno.

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Slides from Leveraging Data to Lead

Nov 20 2015 Published by under bibliometrics, Conferences, libraries

This was a great conference put on by Maryland SLA. I tweeted at bit using the hashtag: #datamdsla

Here's my slides. Not awesome but I did find some nice pictures 🙂


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So long old friend: Cancelling Dialog

Aug 14 2015 Published by under Collection Development, libraries

Ever since being required to learn it in Library School, I've been a fan of Dialog. The interface had all the power and precision an expert searcher needed. The idea that there were nearly a thousand databases that I didn't have to subscribe to individually or even really know about in advance was awesome. It was easy to get nervous about racking up a bill because you paid by time and things you looked at but you could figure out costs in advance. There were tools, too, to identify the appropriate database for a search or to cross search databases.

Blue sheets for each database made its structure explicit and you could go from one to the next and quickly make sense of them to decide how to modify your search. Now, with years of trying to be more like Google and concentrating resources on an undergrad audience, it's all mystery meat. If you read the instructions for a database you can maybe eventually figure it out, but not like the olden days.

So if I love it so much, why are we cancelling it?  Well, the Dialog I describe is not the current one. Now it's got the mystery meat interface that looks the same as all PQ products. All of the weird and wild and unique research databases are gone. They have maybe a tenth of what they used to have in Sci/Tech and they're basically all the ones I have already through a native interface or elsewhere on PQ or Ebscohost, etc. I don't really blame PQ because it's more a function of corporations slashing library budgets.

So not the content I need. Power is gone (or hidden). Big cutbacks in service (but I hadn't really noticed that because of the content changes). And we had to do something like a deposit account which no one likes - at all.  I believe we had to tell them in advance how much we wanted to spend in a year to get a discount.  Honestly, I haven't used it for a while. Every time I think to, I find the database I wanted is no longer there or I have a version on another platform.

So sad.

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Notes from a presentation on library spaces by Keith Webster

Jun 03 2015 Published by under libraries

My larger place of work (the major research institution of which my lab is a part) has an annual assembly of library folks from all the various libraries and hospital libraries. We almost always have interesting speakers. This year we had Keith Webster, the Dean of University Libraries at Carnegie Mellon University. I hope he will put his slides on SlideShare as the pictures are important for understanding his meaning. I tweeted some key points - as fast as I could on my phone.  I'll incorporate those here with some remembered details and minor edits of typos:


For STEM, we have been successful in getting most of the stuff they want online. When they come in, it's to complain that something isn't working or they couldn't figure out how to get what they want

I found this point to be obvious, but important. If you think of what we do with scientists who leave now and them donating papers and computers and disks and whatnot to archives... And historians of science and even people with IP disputes looking through these... What happens when these working papers and data are distributed through new cloud services, each with (or without) its own preservation strategy? There's no automatic institutional access or backup if something happens to the scientist.

This is also obvious but important. I think with the informationist and embedding models we're getting at this. We aren't really about policing access to physical collections (if we ever were). Connecting people to information has to be as a partner in the research and teaching enterprise.

He then went through generations of spaces. The first was basically the monks and books chained to desks. Then there were closed stacks and reading rooms. Then open stacks but still mediated by librarians. ....

Somewhere in here more things started to be moved to offsite storage for more computers in more places and staff being moved around. First it was less used, then it was basically everything.

He had a great picture for this. It was better than this picture:

More should be said about the roving. When they disestablished the reference desk, they had librarians roving to answer questions. The students did. not. like. at all. They felt like they were being followed and tracked. So the library stopped the service after a matter of weeks.

Also a neat point. As the classrooms are "flipped" and education has gone from lecture mode with exams to project based and group work based, the library needs to update its support. Instead of a single session at the beginning of the semester, it's partnership throughout. From what I hear from my academic colleagues, they have mostly done this already as long as the faculty will let them.

I still think this is a valid question for us to ask. Why should the library provide unattended study space with no books? Should that be student services or someone else? He said that their surveys consistently showed that the students wanted this service from the library. The library was known as a place to support serious work.

Seriously - when you're there for 8 hours and you can't leave your stuff because it will be stolen... Food? Lockers? Nicer potties? Sleeping space?

This is what they wanted: Qantas first class lounge Sydney 1

Another valid question: why should the libraries provide maker spaces? The disciplines provide them but often have higher quality industrial machines with lots more training needed. They may not be open to dabblers. The library is a neutral ground where historians can model artifacts, etc.

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Ebook Explosion

Dec 17 2014 Published by under Information Science, libraries, Uncategorized

Seems like all the publishers and all the societies are trying to get into the eBook game. The newest announcement is from AAS (using IOP as a publisher). Considering the fact that a lot of these domains are not particularly known for monographs - like Computer Science and ACM's new ebook line - but instead for conference proceedings and journal articles, seems kinda weird.

Someone mentioned that maybe it was due to the ebook aggregator demand driven acquisition plans - but I think it's just the opposite. Many major publishers have jacked up prices (pdf) on EBL and Ebrary recently - all to push libraries in to licensing "big deal" bundles of the entire front list or entire subject categories. And it is super attractive to buy from the publishers because they're often without DRM, PDFs (one big publisher even offers a whole book in a single pdf, most are one pdf per chapter), ways to view online, easily findable using Google and also nice MARC records for adding to the catalog.

The ebook aggregators have nasty DRM. They have concurrent user rules. They have special rules for things that are considered textbooks.  We have to login with our enterprise login (which isn't my lab's day-to-day login) and the data about what books we view is tied to our identities. The new prices end up being as much as 30-40% of the cover price for a 1 day loan. That's right. The customer can look and maybe print a couple of pages for 24 hours and the library is charged a third the cover price of the book.

But for the society and publisher own pages, what seems like a one time purchase has now become yet another subscription. If you buy the 2014 front list will you not feel the pressure to buy the 2015 and 2016 publications?

Aggregators had seemed like some of the answer, but not so much with these prices. We've already mugged all the other budgets for our journal habit so where do these new things come from? The print budget was gone ages ago. Reference budget was also raided.  The ones we've licensed do get used a lot at MPOW.

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Mom always said: Clean as you go

Jul 31 2014 Published by under libraries

But do we listen? Not so much.

Turns out MPOW (a division of a larger institution) has not deleted *any* borrower records since we merged into the larger institution's catalog maybe 10 years ago. We used to have our own catalog back in the day. No idea how much we maintained that stuff either - last time I did a dump from it to create an electronic badge-scanning sign-in system for an open house - we had users with the names "brontosaurus", "washington, george", "gibson, r.e." (which you won't get unless you know more about where I work, well and he's been dead for a couple of decades).  I think the professionals who ran the larger system helped us clean up a bit on migration.

So here we are, ready to integrate further with automatic registration and maintenance of records and we figured we should probably clean up prior. Oy.

Turns out in Sirsi Dynix Horizon, you have to identify the borrower and *edit* their record to have the option to delete. It was always grayed out for us because we didn't think about having it open for editing first. All this time we've been getting notices of employee actions, but have done nothing. We used to be a required stop on the employee checkout list but they took us off when we got rid of our print collection.

Now, how to match current employees? I can get a list but the export from Horizon shows how poorly we did data entry when creating the accounts. Some have the whole name in various orders in the last name field. Some have that with periods in it. There's a name of a university there (why?). E-mails missing, employee numbers missing, obsolete borrower types. People who have joint appointments with other divisions of the larger institution who have these weird hybrid records.

At first pass with a short R script, I identified 500 records of the 3500 that need to be checked. And that was only using last names so if there are 10 bad Smiths for the one good Smith, then they get a pass. I'm sure we'll get exception reports or something at the load, but we're trying to get ahead of the game.

So kids: do as your mom told you and CLEAN AS YOU GO!

No doubt I will continue not to heed this advice, either 🙂

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Kindle Unlimited. Distruction? No.

Jul 20 2014 Published by under libraries

Amazon announced a service where for a monthly fee (currently $9.99) you can read unlimited ebooks a month (from a stock of 600k). John Dupuis has been linking to various stories about it on Twitter. One from Vox suggests the new service might lead to library's destruction what with funding issues what they were a few years ago.

Many others have pointed out the issues with that. The first being that most libraries offer a service free (because of your tax dollars) that lets you check out unlimited books a month for just about any device. Mine limits me to 6 books at a time from one of the 3 or so services they offer and a certain number of "units" or "credits" from another of the services.

If you have the $10/month, though, this would mean no waiting where you often have to wait for popular titles at the public library because of idiotic requirements from the publishers that make these services treat ebooks like print books - one user/copy at a time.

Today, John pointed to this piece by Kelly Jensen on Book Riot. Jensen is all offended at people saying libraries are the NetFlix for books because libraries do so much more. Well, yes, but I just can't get offended. I've found and a local survey has shown that people often don't know what ebooks are, how they can get them, and what is available at their library. They do know about Amazon, but they don't know about Overdrive. Amazon is easy, Overdrive can be hard (once you get going it's very simple, though). I actually think it's helpful and useful and not too reductionist and problematic to refer to libraries as the NetFlix for books. Emphasizing and publicizing this one small service won't cause people with small children to forget about story time, college students and professors to forget about doing research, avid readers to forget about print books. It may, however, bring in new users or bring back users/patrons who have been too busy to come in person or who are now home bound for some reason.

What I do wonder about is licensing. There has been lots of discussion about the big 6 and how they really, really don't want libraries to lend ebooks. Some have done stupid things like say libraries have to rebuy the book after it has been checked out 26 times or so. Others have delays or flat-out won't license ebooks to libraries. (not talking research libraries and STEM books - we can get them if we want to spend the $ and they aren't textbooks). One big publisher gave in recently - but sort of slowly.

Amazon's in a big fight with one publisher with all sorts of shenanigans like slowing down shipping for their books. The authors are all up in arms. It's a mess. With that uneasy relationship, I really am curious about publishers participating in this program. Do they see it differently than the library products? Is it just the same ones that do license for library use? 600k books - but which 600k? Presumably the entire Project Gutenberg library is on there (see "catching up on classics") .... and some other books are featured on the home page. I don't have time to do the analysis, but I'm curious.

$10/month could add up... particularly if the catalog isn't that large. I think it sounds like a good service, but the devil is in the details. What does the catalog look like? Are people out of money to spend on entertainment with all the video downloading services and internet and data and what not? Seems like an obvious move for Amazon (they aren't the first - Oyster and Scribd have similar services). We'll see, I guess.

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Looking at ROI or at least financial justification for SDI or alerting services

Dec 30 2013 Published by under information retrieval, libraries

Used to be that special libraries were the ones always asked to show their return on investment and justify budget expenditures - it was obvious that universities needed libraries and they were judged on the number of volumes (like that was ever a sensible metric for the value of a school!). In the past decade or so public libraries have been under more pressure to show ROI and they do so by showing economic benefits to the community from having library services in an area (there are also many more dimensions used in a nuanced way - see iPac's work). There's a nice (if a tad dated) review by Cory Lown and Hilary Davis here:

The term SDI - selective dissemination of information - was coined in the 60's but no doubt librarians have always performed this function. Whether formally or informally, we are asked to keep a look out for things of interest to our customers/users/patrons, etc., and bring them to their attention. Formally, we might have a budget we charge our time or even resources to and we do a detailed reference interview in which we establish the topic but also the type of information desired, the treatment, time period, frequency, and some gauge of whether the person would rather have some junk but be less likely to miss something (high recall) or is ok with being more likely to miss something but wants only things that are likely to be very relevant (high precision).

With this information the librarian might just set up a search in a database, tweak it a bit, and then walk away. She might have the results come to her and weed them every week. Alternatively, she might actually schedule some time to read the news and look out for things and then write up summaries.  Informally, it might be just that a librarian knows a customer's interests and if/when she sees something, she forwards it.

Once a database alert has been set up and is running, further intervention is only needed if the database vendor changes or if there's a request. The problem with this is that the end customer can (and often will) forget how they came to get this useful little email every week. We found when we needed to clean up our Dialog account that there were alerts from the former librarian who died in maybe 2002 or so (before I got here). They were super useful to the users and they passed them around within their group, but we were able to re-write them using our current site license to the database and save that money. If there wasn't a bill, we wouldn't have known and certainly those engineers had forgotten.

So what if one of those alerts had a gem in it that the recipient wouldn't have heard about otherwise and that caused them to start a new research program or innovate on a project or save money or .... ? Would the library, or more importantly, the people who pay for the library ever hear about it? No.

For the informal mode in which we keep an eye out for customers. That can be really hit or miss. Sometimes there's all kinds of interesting things going on and other times there's nothing. Maybe we point out 100 things of interest for 1 home run. Maybe allowing ourselves the time to look - to read the news, the industry newsletters, the science magazines (like society member magazines like Physics Today, EOS, etc) isn't do-able. That's a huge problem. It looks like you're doing nothing but fooling around on the internet. When you do send something good, they might be like "great - send one this good every week!" or "more like this!"

We were going to start up sector newsletters here, but it's really not sustainable because you have to look around and read for a while to see new and interesting things worth alerting people on. Sure, it's super useful but how many hours go into each home run? The bosses very much appreciate these tips they get, but they do not want to pay for the time for people to look for the information.

My old boss used to say that we needed to be just-in-time not just-in-case and that's total baloney. Libraries by definition are just-in-case. These alerting services are just-in-case. Metrics like number of alerts sent out are not useful. Stories of times these alerts were truly useful and used are great - but you have to hear them and record them.

My library has lost some big battles in justifying our existence so I am clearly not that effective at this. It's a sticky question, I think. My blog posts always peter off like Crichton novels, but oh well. Happy New Year - hopefully we'll still be providing library services in the new year after we're re-organized again, sigh.


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