Archive for the 'libraries' category

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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How qualitative interviews saved my job (in brief)

Jun 07 2013 Published by under libraries

Marketing in special libraries is a Sisyphean task - particularly when your physical location and print collection are gone.  In these tight times, we've already done a bunch of collections budget cuts and management was asked to look into outsourcing us entirely or cutting either 20% or 50% of our labor costs. A cross-lab committee was formed to study the outsourcing and they did a survey which had like 20% of the lab's staff reply. The survey wasn't worded as we would have done - definite issues there - but the main result was that the vast majority of the respondents had never heard of us, didn't know what we do, and didn't know our department (IT) provided any such services. So things were not looking good for team library.

Then we did a series of interviews with anyone who checked the box that they'd like to speak to us and with people who had used our services in the past. These results were overwhelmingly positive. They said it would take them three times as long to find the information and the information found wouldn't be as comprehensive. There would be opportunity cost. They didn't have any problem opening their budgets for us to do work for them as it frees up technical staff to use the information instead of just looking for it. This provided evidence for what we already know: items we license are used heavily, finding aids are used from time to time, librarian research services are used fairly rarely, but when they are they are very much appreciated.

So this turned things around. Are we out of the woods? No, not really. Not ever. But for now, we're ok.

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There are e-books and there are e-books

Sep 12 2012 Published by under libraries

In LISland we've been talking a lot about ebooks: DRM issues, the big 6 publishers not licensing to libraries, Kindle and privacy, Kindle and disappearing books/notes, Android devices, Overdrive offering different things to different libraries.... The big 6 publishers wish there were no such thing as libraries and they really don't want to do business despite the fact that libraries do pay and also increase readership overall.

With that said - that really has nothing to do with ebooks in science and technology research settings! All of that really is public libraries and popular books. My parent institution library did a survey this past year and got lots of responses about not having devices and things like that.... OUR books are nearly all done on the journal model:

  • one pdf per chapter (no special device required!)
  • unlocked pdfs (no DRM - can be downloaded, printed, marked up)
  • searchable on Google
  • IP authenticated

The main ones that are not - Safari and Books 24x7 - are just html. Our books are in our catalogs and sometimes are searchable by our discovery services or federated searches. We can buy large collections, too.

The thing is that scholarly publishers rely heavily on the library purchases for things besides textbooks.

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The pluses and minuses of merging specialty branches or collections

Mar 05 2011 Published by under libraries

Many if not most or all large research institutions with distributed specialty branch libraries and collections are closing the branches and merging the collections into the general collection. While we all lament these actions, I wanted to post some pluses and minuses.

Branch libraries tend to focus on a specific research area. For example, chemistry branches have been quite common. The materials that are purchased for the branch are targeted specifically for the research interests of their users and the librarians from these branches typically specialize in searching that area of the literature – even more than liaison librarians do in general research libraries. Some branch libraries are funded in part from department money or have materials that were purchased or licensed by departmental funds. The branches are in or near the departments they serve. Over time the specialized expertise of the librarians working closely with the department and the tailored purchasing creates a collection that is quite efficient for finding information.

In previous years of poor funding and with the big deal packages, the branch libraries have aligned more closely with the dean of the libraries and the entire library system. Licenses for electronic materials are negotiated campus wide, even if the print copy (or archival print copy) remains in the branch. The librarians in general report to the libraries and not to the departments (although I know of one case where this isn’t true).

Some of the negatives of branch libraries. Every point of service costs money. Even if you just have student staffers in the evening, that’s more staff. There’s also the power and lighting. There’s the courier that has to go to a different location. There’s the space that the department is giving up that could be labs or offices or meeting rooms.

Also, what about all of the interdisciplinary work? If you do chemical physics you go to the physical sciences library, if you do physical chemistry you go to the chemistry library (at one point, a lot would be duplicated, but no one has the money for that anymore!). So there goes some of your serendipity, right? The things that would be housed together are now in two different buildings. If you’re an undergrad you have to hoof it. If you’re faculty you might be able to request something be sent over.

When branch libraries are closed, duplicate materials may be weeded, but the majority of the materials will be merged into the general collection. That might mean that they are spread far and wide. Most of them might go to off-site storage (in the case of one at Maryland, they were like, yeah only about 400 people are interested in this publication so we’ll put it off-site – of course, the entire population of the school was 400 people).

Library-as-place issue surfaces, too. Branch libraries are good places for students in that area to study – more so than going to the general branch because they’re with people who are struggling with the same issues.

At the same time, for research areas where electronic resources are most valued, monographs aren’t all that important, and references to historic documents is rare, it probably does make sense to get rid of the branch.

What happens to the librarian?  She’s moved to the general library, picks up a few more departments, and, unless she works pretty hard at it, loses touch a little with the old department as she learns about the new departments.

If you had to make the choice, would you pay to keep the same electronic access or to keep the branch? (don’t believe you’ll get more money for resources from this, because it’s expensive to close a branch and electronic resources get more and more expensive – this is only to tread water)

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Public library ebooks – easier than you may think!

Feb 06 2011 Published by under libraries

I’ve maintained for a long time that ebooks are the wild west and a real mess. That has not changed a bit! If you got a Nook for a gift or have an iPhone, you can be pretty functional pretty quickly. First, I highly recommend checking out this blog: . It has lots of practical advice.

Now, why would you want to get ebooks from the publib? Mine has Mary Roach’s new book and the HeLa book plus things from Pinker and Tyson and Hawking – so fun science reading. It also has business and self-help books as well as lots of good fiction – all paid for by your tax dollars! No out of pocket costs to you. Typically you’ll need to visit a local branch in person at least once to get a card before you can just check things out online.

There are two big vendors for public libraries: Overdrive and NetLibrary. Overdrive seems to really be the biggest, but I suspect NetLibrary will make a comeback once their new evil empire owners really take control. (academic libraries have many, many, many more choices and I heard that ebrary is going for the publib market, but I’m not sure how that’s going).

For ereader devices like the Nook and the Kobo, you typically transfer library books over using the cable connected to your computer. In my case, I have Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) installed on my computer and authenticated to the same e-mail address as my Nook. When you set up your Nook or your ADE, you would have been asked to register at You can change either of these, but they have to match.

When you see an ebook on overdrive you want to read, you click to check it out and in my case, we can pick a 7-day, 14-day, or 21-day loan period. I understand that in the ritzy county to the north, they only get 14-day loans. Then you hit the download button and it shows up in ADE. In library view, you’ll see the cover with a little banner across saying 14 days left or whatever (the file will be there after 14 days, but you can’t open it). Then you plug your Nook or Kobo into the usb port and it appears in your ADE ( a little icon picture of the device), and you can drag your new book over and put it on the device. That’s easy.

If you have an iPhone or iPad, you could download the Overdrive app – but it’s gotten pretty poor reviews. Another option is to download the BlueFire app. Following the steps from before, when you hit the download button from your library’s overdrive site, you downloaded an .acsm file. E-mail that file to your iPhone. Open the attachment with BlueFire and voila! You now have the book on your iPhone. This doesn’t allow you to sync between your two readers, so you would have to remember your place.

It’s actually not so hard anymore. Give it a try.

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Tales of stinky people in the library

Jan 20 2011 Published by under libraries

I’m sure some of the other entries to the Carnal Carnival on body odor will examine the origins and meaning of body odor, but that’s not my goal here. Public libraries and libraries for most universities are open to the public. Public libraries have the mission of serving the community. This includes families and children and job seekers, immigrants, and homeless, among other groups. Some of these people can be very stinky – particularly the homeless, although some immigrant groups that don’t do the whole deodorant thing can give them a run for their money on a warm summer day. I’m hoping to pull together some funny stories here, but first, let’s look at some more serious aspects.

There’s an excellent post by Kim Leeder on the group blog In the Library with the Lead Pipe. The author takes a nuanced view of what service means, and how libraries deal with homeless. There’s an ALA policy on services to the poor, but as the author points out, there’s a lot of hypocrisy. We’re supposed to serve these people – they need our services more than other groups – but we have rules against them and we do not always welcome them into our libraries. The problem is balancing the needs of the homeless with those of the rest of the patrons. The presence of homeless can make other patrons feel unsafe and if nothing else, uncomfortable. And the smell can create a nuisance. Also cited in that same post are some local ordinances that ban body odor in libraries. When I worked in the public library, we definitely had some stinky patrons, but unless they did other things like scream or throw things, we didn’t kick them out.

What should libraries do about stinky patrons? What should libraries do about patrons bathing in the bathroom? Referring to services is helpful, but not enough. Particularly because there aren’t always services and the services that exist come with strings.

I asked the Library Society of the World members on friendfeed for stories and got a different problem: library staff. Librarians who have supervised student workers (and sometimes regular adult workers) have had to counsel employees to wash. There are definitely some stinky undergrads so it’s good that they’re getting this advice. Having staff members in public service positions who are offensively stinky is not a great way to be welcoming. (and welcoming is part of the reference guidelines). Of course there are also people who wear WAY too much heavy perfume causing noses to twitch in people without allergies but causing sickness and lost work time in people with chemical sensitivities.

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