I was asked for permission, which I happily provided, to republish my "Top Ten Things Library Administrators Should Know About Technology" list in the "Librarian's Book of Lists".
The book is now out, and although it is a small little volume it is kind of fun. Lists range from "How to say “Where is the library?” in 50 different languages" to "Top 12 silly reasons to ban a book" and many other places in between or beyond.
I was recently asked by Blake Carver, of LIShost, to answer a few questions for an upcoming presentation he was making. I thought that my answer might be interesting to others, so I'm reposting it here. He asked me what is in my "toolbox" (online and offline) that helps me do the following things:
1) Be more productive
This is an interesting and tricky question. I can answer for myself, but in
classic style I will have to say that "your mileage may vary" -- in fact,
I'm fairly certain it will. But I will try to call out those things that are
more broadly applicable.
As someone who is not employed as a programmer, but who has needed enough
technical skills to prototype and develop proof-of-concept services that can
then be re-engineered in a production environment, I've found the following
- Knowledge of a scripting language. I know Perl, but others may suffice as
When I was writing my "Top Ten Things Library Administrators Should Know About Technology" I put a message out on Twitter asking for the thoughts of my followers on that topic. And boy, did you ever respond! I decided that it would be worth following up my post with many of the things that my followers said, since as it turned out that I was pretty set on my list and I couldn't by any means include them all. Here you go, and thanks to all who participated!
Vendor solutions still require knowledgeable staff to make them work. A vendor who claims otherwise is lying.
No platform is forever. Ask not only how you'll move onto it, but how you'll move off of it.
It won't solve any of your problems without proper staffing and management policies, which you should allow techies to shape.
Administrators need to know that just because a staff member can support certain tech doesn't mean they can support all tech.
It's not insulting to say that those who run libraries tend not to know all that much about technology. A very different set of skills are needed to run an organization, and those skills do not often come packaged along with technical knowledge and experience. But administrators need to know some specific things about technology in order to do their jobs well, so here is my list:
I recently undertook an analysis of the cost savings (if any) of a client's use of automated checkin. This was an interesting project for me because I wasn't sure how it would turn out. Although I'm a big fan of automated checkin for many reasons, I wasn't sure that it would result in clear cost savings for this particular client because they were already using automation in their central sort operation. The automated central sort system included a tote checkin feature -- this means the receiving library only had to scan a tote (or bin) to checkin all the items in the tote. So, to justify the cost of the AMH equipment installed at the individual library, we had to compare it against another similiar sized library that was pretty darn efficient already.
There was a chance that I would find that the cost of their in-library sorter and the automated checkin system wasn't justified. Wrong.
I found that I could show an ROI of under five years for the library AMH equipment. This was based on the price of the AMH system ($700,000) and the annual savings in staff time (and other costs) over the costs of the library without any AMH equipment onsite.
The two libraries that were compared in this study do approximately 1800 checkins per day and receive 500 totes of interlibrary material per day. With a smaller operation, the savings wouldn't be so dramatic, but then the size and cost of the AMH equipment would also be less too.
Here's the (full report) for your viewing pleasure....
I've been writing a lot about open source stuff lately, and I find my back getting up everytime I have to refer to Evergreen or Koha as an open source ILS. You see, I think the ILS (Integrated Library System) is exactly what we're trying to get away from with open source products such as Evergreen, Koha, OPALS and (please god) the others that are sure to follow.
So, I propose we let go of the image of the monolithic, tightly integrated (as in immobile and inflexible), closed, proprietary and non-standard ILS when we talk about open source versions of library software. I propose we say Open Source Library Software (OSLS).
So, you can have an ILS (Millennium, Unicorn/Symphony, Carl, etc) or you can have an OSLS like Evergreen or Koha. Or perhaps your OSLS is made up of several modular components that are neither totally Evergreen nor totally Koha (e.g. the result of the OLE Project perhaps?)
To further aid us in our discussions, can I also propose we say LSS to refer generically to Library System Software (which may be an ILS or an OSLS or perhaps some other creative mash-up built on open source and commercial software, see John Blyberg's SOPAC). Since library system usually refers to the library organization made up of the main library and its branches, we need to have a way to refer to the software that runs that organization. We don't want to call it "business software" so I propose Library System Software (LSS) as an acceptable alternative.
Rachel Singer Gordon has launched a site, The Tech Static to "assist librarians with technology-related collection development." A press release about the launch says that the site contains:
* Reviews of current computer books
* Reviews of technology-related titles targeted at librarians
* Collection development articles (weeding, “must-haves,” balancing a computer book collection)
* Prepublication alerts
* Publisher press releases
* DVD and ebook reviews
* … and more!
There are already a number of book reviews of technology books available.
Neil Godfrey recently posted an "INFORMAL Comparison of some institutional repository solutions" that anyone trying to make a platform decision may find useful. You will no doubt need to go much deeper before making a final decision, but at least this may serve as a good summary introduction to what each platform provides.
Also keep in mind that the landscape can be slightly more complicated than depicted here. For example, with the Digital Commons solution from bepress.com, you can easily add a full-featured peer review publication system to your institutional repository. This is something you cannot do with many other IR solutions, including the popular DSpace platform. This distinction is not covered in Godfrey's informal review. But overall it isn't a bad place to start in getting to know the various solutions.
If you haven't seen the new Amazon Windowshop site, you gotta click on over right away. This is where we are going. It's a complete experience. The user has complete control plus it has audio (music and spoken word) AND it includes great CD and book cover images as well as movie clips. Using space bar to get a bigger view of the items grouped together. Click the space bar again to zoom in. It's fun, it looks great and it walks and talks and sings!
Oh, and you can click on stuff to buy it or download it. So, it's simple too.
Now, while you are there...think about this. Imagine that (as you click the right arrow key) you are scrolling through material from your catalog in Dewey order (okay, imagine something even better than Dewey). Using the up arrow key takes you to related material (e.g. "See Also").
I'm thinking this would make a very nice addition to Amazon's Web Services product offering.
The VirtualHosting.com site recently posted an article titled "Test your Website: A 57-Point Checklist for Maximum Usability" that summarizes a number of things to think about, each of which is linked to a different source that discusses that issue in depth. For anyone wanting to make sure their site is up to snuff, it's worth checking this out.
While you're there, you may also want to poke around a bit. Other articles that may be useful to you include "Microformats University" and even "Top 25 (Non-Obvious) Ways RSS Can Make Your Life Easier".
All in all, a site worth keeping your eye on.
I was just reading about the Defrag Conference and wringing my hands that not a single librarian was represented among the speakers. Here's what defrag says about their conference:
Defrag is the first conference focused solely on the tools and technologies that are leveraging the "social" aspect of software to accelerate the "aha" moment. Defrag is not a version number. Rather it’s a gathering place for the growing community of implementers, users, builders and thinkers that are working on the next wave of software innovation.
The conference is about software innovation but it is also about how we deal with the abundance of information facing us (and our users) and how best to filter, organize and interact with that information and the user. Anybody else deal with information retrieval and/or user interface design in library school?
While mulling over whether I should be signing up for this conference...I noticed the callout box at the top of the agenda for the 2008 conference. It was a quote from our friendly Free Range Librarian. Thankgod. At least one other librarian has this on her radar. Anyway, pass the word on so others might jump on board"
P.S. Yes, I'm talking to all of you who are, or should be, involved in developing our new Open Source Library Systems.
Application Program Interfaces (APIs) are structured methods for one software application to communicate with another. APIs allow programs to interoperate and share data and services in a standard way. Here is a list of library-related APIs that library developers may find useful. If you have ideas for others that would be appropriate for this list, please contact me.
Only APIs that seem to be generally useful are listed here. However, almost any library catalog will have a search API (e.g., Z39.50) and may have others as well depending on the vendor and product. You can also find other APIs by using the directories noted below.
- Book Cover Images (LibraryThing)
- Classify (OCLC) - Find Dewey and Library of Congress classification numbers for library items (e.g., books, DVDs, etc.).
- COPAC Search (SRU) and MODS XML fetch by identifer (major University and National Libraries in the UK and Ireland, including the British Library)
- DBPedia - Structured information from Wikipedia
- DOI Resolution (CrossRef) - Requires an account
- Google Book Search API - link to items in GBS, and find out about their availability
- Guess OPAC System (OCLC) - An experimental service that tries to intelligently detect the OPAC vendor and its ISBN,ISSN, and OCLCNUM linking template.
- Hathi Trust - Library-hosted books digitized by Google
- High-Level Thesaurus (HILT) Project - Cross-searching of various controlled vocabularies and terminologies.
- Library of Congress Subject Headings (Library of Congress) - LCSH as linked data using SKOS
- LibraryThing JSON Books API
- LibraryThing Web Services API (LibraryThing)
- Metadata Crosswalk Service (OCLC, Experimental) - Transforms metadata from one format to another.
- OpenCalais (Thomson Reuters) - Creates rich semantic metadata for the content you submit
- Open Library
- OpenURL Gateway (OCLC) - delivers "Where Are You From?" resolver services via portable and institution-independent OpenURL links
- pewbot (Huddersfield University Library) - "People who borrowed this also borrowed that" service
- Scopus (Elsevier) - Search this massive journal article database
- Talis Platform
- Terminology services (OCLC) - Various controlled vocabularies, including LCSH, MeSH, and TGM
- ThingISBN (LibraryThing) - Takes an ISBN and returns a list of ISBNs from the same "work" (i.e., other editions and translations)
- ThingLang (LibraryThing) - Takes an ISBN and returns the language of the book
- ThingTitle (LibraryThing) - Takes a title and returns a list ISBNs from the most likely LibraryThing "work," the LibraryThing title and a link to the LibraryThing work page
- Virtual International Authority File (Library of Congress (LC), the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (DNB), the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), and OCLC)
- Worldcat Identities (OCLC) - Get information about people/organizations listed in Worldcat
- WorldCat Registry and detail (OCLC) - Find and retrieve basic information about institutions and consortia profiled in the WorldCat Registry, not limited to OCLC members
- WorldCat Search Service (OCLC) - API to the largest bibliographic database in the world
- xISBN (OCLC) - Find all the ISBNs plus edition and other metadata related to a work
- xISSN (OCLC) - Find all the related ISSNs
- xOCLCNUM (OCLC) - Find all OCLC Numbers plus edition and other data related to a work
Individual Library Catalogs
- Information Environment Service Registry (JISC)
- ProgrammableWeb.com - Both library and non-library services.
Tools & Specifications
- Atom Publishing Protocol
- DLF ILS Discovery Task Group (DLF-ILS) Technical Recommendation (Digital Library Federation) - "An API for effective interoperation between integrated library systems and external discovery
- IndexData Software Tools
- Jangle - An open specification for exposing content (starting with, although not exclusive to, library services) consistently and simply using the Atom Publishing Protocol.
- OpenSRF (Evergreen)
- PatREST and more (including modules to interface w/III) (John Blyberg)
- SRU: Search and Retrieve via SRU (Library of Congress) - Next generation library search and retrieve protocol
- Z39.50 (NISO) - Legacy search and retrieve protocol
Note: My thanks to Owen Stephens for the original list.
I've been using the expression "learned helplessness" a lot lately because that's how I see the situation libraries have found themselves in after a decade of integrated library systems.
I find it particularly disturbing because so much of the work I do seems to bump into roadblocks that point squarely at the ILS. And worse than the roadblock is the shoulder shrugging of so many of the library folk using that ILS software.
Too many worthy projects have died because the currently available integrated library systems (ILS) available today from commercial, proprietary vendors don't and won't support libraries and the services they've like to be providing to their customers.
I've worked with libraries that wanted to do a study of how home delivery affected outreach and circulation but the interface between patron database and mailing service software was lousy. Actually, it wasn't lousy, it was non-existent. My client had no way to output their patron data to a mail manager program in order to handle postage, tracking and shipment management. Pretty basic stuff - output data in a standard format like comma or tab delimited or xml.
I've watched people handing hold requests and interlibrary loan requests fight with their ILS and their resource sharing software and creating short bibs and fake patron IDs -- all manual - just so users could benefit from consortial relationships. If every vendor supported NCIP, this ridiculous duplicate data entry wouldn't be necessary.
And how many times have I seen the herculean efforts of library IT staff in generating usable routing slips for their staff so that each hold or transit item doesn't need to have to be written out by hand by some unlikely library clerk.
This is all pretty basic stuff. It's ridiculous that libraries are stuck with the systems they've got without options to determine what changes get made or even the access or privileges that would allow them to make the changes for themselves.
Enter Open Source library systems.
This all changes when libraries start building, supporting, and contributing to the development of their own software. Georgia PINES and the Koha libraries proved it could be done. Now, it is time we all got involved.
Here's what needs to be done:
1) develop strong IT staff in your library or consortia who can read code, write code, beta test, write specs, and/or find bugs.
2) get over the fear of Open Source. Do some reading about how Open Source development works (read The Cathedral and the Bazaar). Find out about the migration and support options available from vendors like Equinox, LibLime, Care Affiliates.
3) jump in and play. Koha and Evergreen can be downloaded and you can take a look for yourself. That's one of the amazing things about Open Source. You get to look it over inside and out. No big surprises three months after you've negotiated a $200,000-$300,000 deal.
4) talk amongst yourselves. Open Source projects rely on a community of users who are involved in the product. We don't want Liblime and ESI to replace the other ILS vendors. We want to control the products ourselves and that means getting very much involved. Find the product that excites you and hook up with similarly situated libraries. For example, the Evergreen community is leading the way for large consortia (see http://open-ils.org/) , King County (WA) is heading up the effort for large, high-volume libraries (check out their OSS4PL site). There were many meetings ALA 2008 in Anaheim focused on Open Source, and more are planned at Midwinter, LITA, Access and other conferences so you isn't hard to get plugged in somewhere.
The point is...do something! This is probably the biggest opportunity we've had to revolutionize how we do business since the advent of the ILS. But now, after ten years of learned helplessness, it is time to take control back.
I saw a note come through recently about a server that the University of Cincinnati Libraries had set up to be a "sandbox". What this means is that it is a place where new software (particularly open source software) can be installed for staff to investigate.
The sole admonition is to "Play nice together" and it currently has such applications as Drupal, Joomla, Mambo, WordPress, phpWiki, Tiki, and Moodle installed, among others.
I think this ia a wonderful idea and I'm glad to see that the University of Cincinnati Libraries takes their responsibility to help its staff learn new technologies seriously. I wish that more of our institutions did so.
Jessica Hupp at VirtualHosting.com has put together an amazing list of web development cheat sheets. As anyone who has struggled with remembering a particular HTML tag or CSS setting knows, cheat sheets are invaluable. And I find this doesn't seem to get any better with age. Imagine that.
Library Journal picked up on the Talis podcast about the Library Software Manifesto published here in a piece titled ILS Vendors and Librarians Grapple with Their Relationship.
Appearing on the web and in the 1 February 2008 print issue of the magazine, the article is fairly uncontroversial in its coverage despite the sometimes rollicking discussion that the topic created. So if you don't have the time to listen to the full podcast, read this. You won't get the full flavor of the discussion, but it's better than nothing. And feel free to comment here or on the manifesto itself -- more discussion is better.
Yes, the server was hacked recently, and as soon as I discovered it to be the case I backed up the data, wiped it, and reinstalled all the software. I actually did it twice, since after having difficulty bringing up one of my sites (this one, actually) I decided to change operating systems. So I'm very sorry for the downtime.
On the good side, I used this opportunity to upgrade the software that runs this site (drupal), which I suspect of being the entry that was used to hack the server, since the version I was running was not up-to-date. You will also notice a change in look, largely because the template I had been using before was not available for this version. That's ok, change is good.
So thanks for your patience as I worked out the problems. I have to say that for a while there I thought that I may have lost all the data due to a corrupt database dump. Luckily I proved myself wrong, but it serves as a reminder to back up, back up, and back up again.
The folks at Talis pulled together a group of knowledgeable folks to discuss the Library Software Manifesto published here at TechEssence.info. It has now been published on the Talking with Talis web site as a podcast. I'm happy to see that the initial post has led to further discussion about this topic. Let's hope it leads to an improvement in the library/vendor relationship. Thanks to Richard Wallis and Rob Styles of Talis for pulling this together and participating.
Last week I gave a talk at the 2007 CODI Conference (Customers of Dynix, Inc.). I had decided to take as my topic a "library software manifesto" in which I would outline the rights and responsibilities of libraries and library software vendors. I posted about this on the Code4Lib mailing list and used some of the resulting comments in the resulting Library Software Manifesto published on this site.
I welcome your comments and contributions.