Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The future of libraries is what we create in the present

Things have become clearer.

In the future, collection development will be opposite of what we do now. From the description of Dorothea Salo's upcoming talk at the 2011 Superconference:

Buying books and journals distinguishes libraries less and less, as published information becomes a commodity and open access makes inroads into scholarly communication. Perhaps this will turn collection development inside out! Instead of collecting from the vast information world for our patron base, we will collect unique materials from our patron base to preserve and present to the world. 

In the future, librarians will help people build their own libraries.

Students will search and browse through the online libraries of their professor and other experts, both living and passed, for research and learning materials. In the future they are likely to do this before searching google because this is the behaviour that they are exhibiting in the present.

When it came to course-related research, however, almost all of the respondents turned to course readings first—more than Google, and more than any other resource. The findings suggest that students in our study turned to course readings because the resource was inextricably tied to the course and the assignment, were at hand, and were sanctioned by the instructor (pdf).

We will come to see one large collection of items as the result of a quaint but ultimately unkind hoarding instinct. The mission is now to associate every item in a library building into a smaller and more meaningful collection of items. Each item in the library will have an explanation of why it was selected for the collection, just like a museum. With attention and selection, even the cast-offs of libraries have become valuable. Nothing will be allowed to be de-selected from the collection until it is digitally scanned first.

Some are inclined to believe that libraries will be places where people will create together.  I tend to think that the future is festivals. The library that first brought subject guides to the profession now  lead the way today with their event programming.

As we no longer live in a world of scarcity, librarians and other digital humanists will develop and use tools to help manage and understand information.

Library “discovery systems” and/or catalogs are designed to organize and provide access to the materials outlined above, but they need to do more. First of all, the majority of the profession’s acquisitions processes assume collections need to be paid for. With the increasing availability of truly free content on the Web, greater emphasis needs to be placed on harvesting content as opposed to purchasing or licensing it. Libraries are expected to build collections designed to stand the test of time. Brokering access to content through licensing agreements — one of the current trends in librarianship — will only last as long as the money lasts. Licensing content makes libraries look like cost centers and negates the definition of “collections”.

Second, library “discovery systems” and/or catalogs assume an environment of sacristy. They assume the amount of accessible, relevant data and information needed by students, teachers, and researchers is relatively small. Thus, a great deal of the profession’s efforts go into enabling people to find their particular needle in one particular haystack. In reality, current indexing technology makes the process of finding relavent materials trivial, almost intelligent. Implemented correctly, indexers return more content than most people need, and consequently they continue to drink from the proverbial fire hose...

What can we do to make these things come to fruition?

By the way...

When I talk about the future I really mean this afternoon.
When I talk about the present I really mean this morning.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

5 books, group selection, depression, suffering, and games

One of my favourite websites of late is FiveBooks. The premise of the site is simple: Every day an eminent writer, thinker, commentator, politician, academic chooses five books on their specialist subject.  It's a simple project done well and well worth reading.

In July, I read Jonathan Haidt's five book selections on Happiness and I ever since I've been expanding the connections that he's made into a wider frame of reference to include some thoughts I've been having about games.

But before I get into games, I want to highlight a particular passage from Jonathan's Haidti's interview where he casually drops some ideas that are largely heretical to current evolutionary thinking

The reason I have found this book so wise is that I am interested in the possibility that human beings are products of group level selection. That’s the idea that we evolved in part by groups competing with other groups. I’ve come to believe that we have a variety of mechanisms in our minds that allow us to temporarily become like bees in a hive, and these experiences of collective merger are among our most prized and important experiences.

I was first introduced to the idea of group selection by Harold Bloom's book, Global Brain:  The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century. Bloom is not a scientist but an uninhibited free-thinker and I found his ideas fascinating and the lens of group selection a powerful one (while reserving judgment of whether such thinking is 'correct' or not). For example, he asks us to consider depression as a biological 'self-destruct mechanism' that can be triggered when an individual does not have strong ties to family or friends.

Now obviously this is a very powerful and dangerous idea and I think all of us know someone in our own circle of family and friends who have suffered from depression despite having strong social ties to people who love them. But I mention this concept only because I have recently read two different accounts of how the force of depression can be pushed back by encouraging the depressed person to become more social.  The first was this article in the Guardian that gives a brief summary of the book The Depression Cure: The Six-Step Programme to Beat Depression Without Drugs.

The second example is the account of Jane McGonigal's battle with a concussion that also included a bout of depression. In order to save herself from thoughts of suicide, Jane created a game called Superbetter for herself *and* her caretakers. The game worked.

There are several other ties between Jane McGonigal and some of her games and Jonathan's Haidti's book picks on happiness, with most obvious being the common interest in positive psychology. But to me, the most significant connection is that both researchers address the changing of mind to address human suffering: see Jonathan's book pick of the Dhammapada  and Jane's cookie-rolling manifesto : "When we're playing games, we're not suffering.".

In short, it's got me thinking along these lines: is the transformation that removes the drudgery of work in a game, similar to Buddhist transformation that removes suffering from pain?

I think I can find five books that suggests this is so. I've got two so far: The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia by Bernard Suits and Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. Let me know if you know other ones.

(cross-posted : New Jack Almanac. I'm going to combine all my blogs sometime eventually)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

When an imploring librarian is not enough

So last month I had a doozy of a library research class.  It was a 3 hour class about "library research" to about 100 second year undergraduate students and it wasn't tied to a particular assignment, a particular course, or even a particular discipline. Furthermore, the primary instructors for this particular program promptly exited the room as soon as the majority of students had signed in. Not exactly win conditions.

But I survived and the students survived. Some parts of the class went better than expected. Other parts I wished I could do over. And the class both reinforced and challenged my ideas about research, habits and tool use. Here's what happened.

This particular class was held in a large lecture hall and students were instructed to bring their laptops with them. Those without laptops were to share with those around them. I didn't pay that close attention to the few students that came without laptops but I strongly suspect that they, at best, only watched their seatmates work through the class exercises. Laptops are simply too personal to hand over to strangers. Unless its made explicit that students must have laptops for classwork then I think the school does bare some responsibility of having laptops to lend out on a short term use. But the matter of equity of access aside, I much prefer that students use their laptops rather than placing them all into a computer lab. What better way to simulate a research experience than using the actual research tool that the student uses everyday?

After I introduced myself and our co-op student (who kindly joined me to help out with questions from the students) I briefly told the students what I hoped to cover in the class and then started off with a quick five minute activity. I asked them to find a paper written by a University of Windsor professor and to raise their hand when they did. As they raised their hands, I would walk over the student, look at their screens and ask how they found the paper.

Most of the students answered "Google". A considerable number of students used the search box on the University of Windsor web site and searched the word, "paper" or a variation of that word. Only one student that I visited in that five minutes used a library indexing tool to find a paper.

After the five minutes was up, I gave brief synopsis of what I had seen and I make no explicit value judgment of which way was the "right way" to find a research paper. I wanted to send a strong signal that I was more interested in how they really did their research rather than set them up for praise them if they used library resources. I simply reported back that most people used Google and the Google-powered search engine on the University of Windsor website to find a paper.

I then asked the room this question: "How is doing scholarly research different from your everyday searching with Google?"

I think this is an important question. We know that students "search" multiple times a day in their everyday life and in most cases, they are largely successful and confident in their searching abilities. Unless we clearly ask students to confront the possibility that things could be done differently, they won't even consider changing their practice.

Now in this particular class, I had a problem. The first person gave a thorough and correct answer: "scholarly research involves using peer reviewed sources that has most likely been published." There's nothing like a correct answer to nip discussion in the bud. I've had similar discussions in classes that have meandered in all sorts of great territory, like the non-commercial nature of scholarly communication, the use of the scientific method and statistical analysis, what indicates expertise in a field, the acknowledgment of bias... but in this class, I wasn't able to catch a spark and I caught myself doing most of the talking. Luckily, I had prepared an escape route.

I asked the class, can you trust everything found by the library?

After a muted response of  "most times" and "meh", I explained that they absolutely shouldn't everything trust that they find in the library because I, as a librarian, had added to the collection such titles as Yes To Human Cloning!

That book is by the Raelian cult and they are my new favourite research example because they touch all sorts of disciplinary ground: science, UFSs, religion, media manipulation, sexuality, and Canadian Content, to boot. And, even better, the kids these days know nothing about these weirdos.

So I let the class know that this was a book from a cult called the Raelians and pointed out that the book is just two books down the shelf from one of the most important "real" books about cloning). I told them that the library had books about intelligent design and books about evolution. And while on this theme of healthy skepticism, we went to Wikipedia to learn more about the Raelians. We looked at the History tab on the page to see the level of discussion this topic was generating and to see if there was any tell-tale signs of Raelian influence on the page. I then asked the students to find newspaper articles to confirm the information found in the page.

And even though I navigated on my own screen to the library's newspaper page and suggested that they try to use these sources for this mini-assignment, the majority of students still defaulted to using Google and Google News where they found some newspaper articles and reprints of newspaper articles in blog posts. This has happened to me before. I once led a class about scholarly visual arts resources and even after immediately showing what fine tools we had, the majority of the class used for their research assignment. It throws me off every time. Their online habits are too strong to be broken by the imploring of a librarian to change.

And yet I persist because I'm not sure what else to do. I then used the same method to introduce tools to find journal articles on the topic: ask them to use the tool they would normally use for an in-class assignment, show them the advantages to using Google Scholar instead of Google, and then show them the advantages of using library-paid scholarly tools instead of Google.  At the end of this part of the class, I'm quite sure I have converted many of the students to using Google Scholar instead of Google but I don't have same confidence that I have made a convincing case for what we provide from the library.

But later in the class, I accidentally stumbled on a way where I actually had students ask me if there was something better than Google Scholar was available. 

In the second hour of the class, I introduced RefWorks and Zotero to the students and gave them a mini-assignment to create a bibliography that they would then have to share with someone else. I didn't teach them how to use the tools - I just pointed to the screencasts that both citation management products provide and wandered around to help out the students who were stuck. And I would like to note that the students *loved* these tools. At first, at least...

And that's when it happened. Students starting importing articles from Google Scholar into their bibliographies and noticed that many authors and other key bits of information were missing. I told these students that at this point they had a choice: they could either correct the citations manually, or they could use a library-provided tool like Web of Science that would do a better job of the citation information.  And it was only then that I saw real and genuine interest in using library subscription products for their research needs. For better metadata, no less.

I'm still working through ideas about how tool choice and habit influence how students learn, both within and out of higher education.

And you are reading this because my own habit is to write out my thoughts in a post as I work out difficult ideas. I implore you to do the same.

Monday, October 04, 2010

The other gaming platform war - LibraryThing, Wikipedia and The Zotero Commons

I’ve been investigating the spaces between and the spaces that overlap games and libraries as of late and while I have been doing so, I’ve been stumbling upon various forms of ‘library games’ and – of greater interest to myself – “research games”.  One such “research game” that has caught my attention is The Wikipedia Game.

During a lull in class, me and some classmates figured out a way to combine our favorite things: wasting time and Wikipedia. We invented a game where you try to find a certain item (for example, pancakes) the fastest, measured in either time or clicks. Here are the rules:
  • You cannot edit any pages
  • You must start from the home page (
  • You cannot type anything. Everything must be done via mouse clicks.
  • You cannot use the categories, A-Z listings, etc
Here's a sample game, searching for "witchcraft."

Wikipedia > English Wikipedia > United States > Massachusetts > Salem > Salem Witch Trials > Witchcraft

I'm not sure whether the example above is the first incarnation of the game but it is not the last iteration. There is also The Wiki Game in which the word goals are auto-generated and there is a ticking clock that you compete against.  It appears that the same game has been ported into a $2 iPhone app.

Now I have to admit that I have entertained the thought of trying a similar game but using the an online public library catalogue (an OPAC to those in the profession) instead of Wikipedia, but it didn't take much visualization at all to come to the conclusion that such a  game would be difficult and not fun for most people.

The main reason why is that Wikipedia is an idea-space where there are multiple means of making connections between disparate concepts ("Your start page is: Sulfuric acid. You are looking for: Reality in Buddhism. Go!") Library catalogues can only make connections between authors and  Library of Congress Subject Headings which are few and not intuitive. And while making connections between actors is a bona fide fun thing to do, most books are written by a single author and so any connections are few and tenuous at best.

Of note, LibraryThing - which is very rich in its connections between authors, descriptions, and users - already is the platform of at least two games: CoverGuess and Another silly game part 67,

I feel a maxim coming on. Let's try this one:

Until your platform can support a game, it cannot be called social software.

Hmm. I'm not crazy about the maxim myself but rather than refine it, I want to continue this speculation of what an alternative idea-space game-platform could look like. Because I've been thinking about it for a while now. And would you believe that I think one of the best candidates is... footnotes?

Citations are what connect the ideas within various works together.  They make up the web in The Web of Science. They allow Google Scholars to Stand on the shoulders of giants.  And yet inexplicably, online footnotes are vanishing.

The beta version of Zotero 2.1 (available for download here) provides users of the Zotero citation management web service, an easier means of uploading primary documents into the Internet Archive using Zotero Commons. Perhaps future Zotero developments will make stronger and more plentiful connections between ideas and works. There's already one Zotero game out there but I would rather play The Wikipedia Game for now.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Information tool literacy

The program for Access 2010 ("the premier library technology conference in Canada") is now available. It looks like there will be lots of good things in store for those going to Winnipeg. Oh, and while you are looking at the program, why not check out the description for the session, After Launching Search and Discovery, Who Is Mission Control? Here's a snippet:

How should we (reference librarians, systems people, and users) work together to better exploit the possibilities of open source systems so we can focus on discovery and understanding instead of the mechanics of searching?

I mention this because I think it's not only a good question, it's a very important question. How indeed should reference librarians get involved in systems work so that we build systems of understanding and not just search?
As if on cue, Eric Lease Morgan presented some possible answers to this question in a piece called The Next Next-Generation Catalog:

Instead of focusing on find, the profession needs to focus on the next steps in the process. After a person does a search and gets back a list of results, what do they want to do? First, they will want to peruse the items in the list. After identifying items of interest, they will want to acquire them. Once the selected items are in hand users may want to print, but at the very least they will want to read. During the course of this reading the user may be doing any number of things. Ranking. Reviewing. Annotating. Summarizing. Evaluating. Looking for a specific fact. Extracting the essence of the author’s message. Comparing & contrasting the text to other texts. Looking for sets of themes. Tracing ideas both inside and outside the texts. In other words, find and acquire are just a means to greater ends. Find and acquire are library goals, not the goals of users.

I also want to bring attention to Eric's specific call to those engaged in information literacy.

People want to perform actions against the content they acquire. They want to use the content. They want to do stuff with it. By expanding our definition of “information literacy” to include things beyond metadata and bibliography, and by combining it with the power of computers, librarianship can further “save the time of the reader” and thus remain relevant in the current information environment. Focusing on the use and evaluation of information represents a growth opportunity for librarianship. 

In response to Eric's promotion of indexing tools, Kathryn Greenhill commented:

I think librarians need to look toward using textual analysis tools from the disciplines they serve and incorporate it into their “beyond discovery” layers.

It’s a pity that often subject liaison librarians in universities do this job because they are not so interested in “techie things”….How to get them to understand that this is their role will be interesting.

[I'm assuming that her last comment is missing a "not do" so that it reads, "It’s a pity that often subject liaison librarians in universities do not do this job because they are not so interested in “techie things” - I'm going to send her an email to clarify this matter.]

I think there is an significant reluctance by Information Literacy librarians to introduce genuinely useful tools (such as Zotero) to users because after years of teaching users just how to use the catalogue, many teaching librarians refuse to do any teaching of tools. Add to this scenario that an information librarian generally has only a very brief period of time to introduce large and hairy concepts to students such as genre theory, critical reading, and transliteracy, and you have librarians who will refuse to teach students textual tools on principle.

But "tool choice" is not the same as "teaching a tool".

So let us recognize that a reader's choice of information tool fundamentally affects that user's "use of information". Let us embrace information tool choice and use as a inherent component of Information Literacy. Let us ask ourselves why we promote the use of CINAHL instead of PubMed, WorldCat instead of OpenLibrary, RefWorks instead of Zotero...

OK, I admit that doesn't sound very poetic. Let's try that again:

I know I'm not alone here. While still in the minority, I believe that there are many librarians who believe that tool choice and development should be a fundamental component of our profession's work. In face, there are librarians who hold that tool creation is essential for our profession's survival. Also published yesterday, here is K. G. Schneider:

The fundamental problem with the proprietary software model is not one of evil ownership or grasping vendors. I’ve seen both of those occur in the open source software community. The problem with proprietary library management software–from a high-level perspective, profession-wide–is that it makes us stupid. It deprofessionalizes who we are and disengages us from tool creation.

Conversely, every librarian who engages in tool creation to any degree improves the state of librarianship for all of us. This has been true since some guy in a toga put holes in a wall to store the papyrus, and it was true in the 19th century when we agreed as a profession on the size of catalog cards (which led to our early adoption of standards and network-level records), and it  is true in the open source community today.

And her conclusions about why librarianship needs open source dovetails nicely with why I think librarianship needs to embrace tool choice and development, so I'll end with her words from the same post

If librarianship will survive the Big Shift, it will do so by reinventing itself. To reinvent itself will require many muscles of invention. And that, in the end, is why we need open source.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Open Endorsements

My favourite response to the federal government's Digital Economic Strategy came from David Eaves in a piece written some weeks ago called Why we risk asking the wrong question. Its a wonderfully concise and insightful piece. My pullquotes of choice:

I think we need to stop talking about a digital as the future.

This whole conversation isn’t about being a digital country. It isn't about a future where everything is going to be digitized. That isn't the challenge. It is already happening. It's done. It's over. Canada is already well on its way to becoming digital...
The dirty truth is that Canada's digital future isn't about digital. What is special isn't that everything is being digitized. It's that everything is being connected....

So if a digital economy strategy is really about a networked economy strategy, and what makes a networked economy work better is stronger and more effective connectivity, then the challenge isn’t about what happens when something shifts from physical to digital. It is about how we promote the connectivity of everything to everything in a fair manner. How do we make ourselves the most networked country, in the physical, legally and policy terms. This is the challenge.

And today, Eaves specifically brought attention to three citizen-suggested proposals that are worth supporting. I think they are worth supporting too, so here are their links:

Eaves also supports Michael Geist's recent recommendations of proposals to support - which are the same as David's but with an addition of an proposal to support Open Access to Canadian research.

To register your support for these and/or other proposals, you need to register with the website and then, seconds later, you are able to comment and vote on these issues.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Why How What Now

At MPOW (my place of work), we are about to embark on another round of strategic planning. Before it starts, I wanted to work through my own thoughts on the matter before my simple brain gets too clouded with competing visions of our collective future.

I've been through enough of these planning exercises to know that the matter can be described in a fairly straight-forward manner: first you establish values and from these and an environmental scan, you (being either the management  or the entire organization) set the strategic priorities. Then, if you are keen, you determine what variables you will pay attention to when you get to the point when you are able reflect on the exercise and determine if you have been successful in the tactics that you established to achieve your priorities.

The best organizations are those who embed their values into such a clear mission that it informs all of the decisions made by that organization. Those are the findings of Jim Collins in his seminal book, Good to Great.

Making things simple is hard work. This is why so planning documents are long, ambiguous, and cumbersome. Instead of a core value, they come up with eight. Instead of one priority, they come up with 12.

Now I'm considering the possibility that it might just not be possible to distill the complexities of an organization into one core concept. But even if we are able to boil down the understanding of our work into something distilled, we can come up with powerful magic. Case in point: generations of work in libraries and library science can be described in 24 words, broken into 5 short, memorable laws.

Simon Sinek has tried to distill the lessons of great leaders into a model that he calls the golden circle: in the centre of the circle is why, the circle is how and the outer circle is what. Notice how this model maps quite nicely with the strategic planning process: why=values; how=strategies, what=tactics. And like Jim Collin's, Sinek's conclusion is that great companies and great leaders are those who are able to convey a clear why they do things.

In 2006, Dan Chudnov put down these thoughts in a post called, Because this is the business we've chosen:

If so, then what's the mission of the librarian in 2006? It's not an easy question. I've been stewing over it for two months, and think I've come up with the only answer that works for me. Yours might be different, but this describes what I'm here for, and the thread runs through every disparate bit of work I'm involved in one way or another... My professional mission as a librarian is this: Help people build their own libraries.

I too have been thinking about what's the mission of the librarian and I haven't come up with anything as clear and as powerful as Dan's statement. But I think I'm getting to something that is getting closer to where I would like such a statement to be. Here's what I've come up for our own strategic exercise:

Turn local problems into global solutions.

What I mean by this statement (and the fact that I feel that the statement needs some explanation tells me how weak it is as a mission statement) is that I would like to see libraries break out of the "special snowflake" syndrome and recognize that many small problems that we tackle in an ad hoc basis can be redrawn as larger problems faced by many readers and many libraries and thus, could be met with shareable solutions. It would remind us that we have a duty to make all of our work (research, software development, innovation) open and accessible to all for use, re-use, and re-mixing. It could make our work more meaningful and more important. It could inspire us to tackle important problems so that we can help others as we try to help ourselves.

The odds that this suggestion is going to survive the first stages of our planning process are slim to none.

But there is a good chance that this mission might end up as the work that I have chosen.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Go to Go to Hellman

One of my favourite blogs is Eric Hellman's Go To Hellman. I've been recommending his recent post on understanding eBook messes to my colleagues and for you, well, I think you should read his Are Public Libraries in a Death Spiral?

In this essay, Eric Hellman laments how library directors are opting to reduce library hours when faced with budget cuts. In one painfully honest sentence:

A library that reduces its hours is just training its public to meet information needs elsewhere, and that public isn't going to rush back. 

The alternative that stops the death spiral?

The public library of the future has to stop being about collections and start being about helping people and communities.

I love the clarity of that call.

What if the libraries who are facing cuts, decided to slash book and DVD budgets instead of hours?  What if, instead of asking their community to act as political lobbyists on their behalf, these libraries asked community groups and individuals to donate their own collections into the community library? Ironically, by asking the community to help the library, connections between the community and the library could even be strengthened. Building a library builds community.

We need the community to help the library so that the library can help the community.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Points do not a game make

In the last week or so, Jane McGonigal recommended a couple presentations that address point systems and games with both making the case that adding point system to an activity does NOT transform that activity into a game.

Just add points? What UX can (and cannot) learn from games from Sebastian Deterding tackles this issue directly and it sounds pretty much note perfect to me.

Amy Jo Kim makes the case in her presentation MetaGame Design: Reward Systems That Drive Engagement that point systems aren't games but meta-games. Furthermore, she suggests that that meta-game systems already exist in many of our offline activities in some obvious areas such as sports (e.g. martial arts) and also in other less obvious activities such as scouting  (heck - they even use badges!). Amy seems more optimistic than Sebastian that game elements can be integrated into UX and she outlines under what conditions where she believes where they work best.

The only library application that I know of that uses a point system is Bibliocommon's Community Credit system.

At this point, I believe that most of the libraries who have chosen to implement the system have only used the lists for draws of small prizes. But with a point system, meta-games for the library catalogue *are* possible. That is, if we choose to play.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What we can learn from Nike’s Persuasive Technology

[This is an older post of mine that was on a now-retired community blog called] 

The cover story of the latest issue of WIRED Magazine is dedicated to the success of the Nike+ sensor system. Nike+ allows users to track and share the time, speed, and distance of their runs using an iPod or Nike+ wristband. I can personally attest to the motivational power of such feedback. I ran fairly regularly when I used it but when my wristband sensor died, I used its untimely death as an excuse to stop running. (I’m waiting for a free replacement of a next gen model. The WIRED article fails to mention the high failure rate of the first batch of the system’s technology.)

My friend who runs marathons doesn’t need a Nike+ system to help her keep track of her runs – shes uses a pen and paper. But I, like most people, find that just this extra bit of little work feels like a huge burden. Like Nike, libraries need to strive to create systems that feel as effortless as possible (just one example: writing down a 20 digit call number isn’t hard but it feels hard).

I think there are other things we can distill from the Nike+ experience. Its worth noting how rich an experience Nike+ is able to generate for its 1.2 million users with just three data points.  We should consider what information we could capture to help motivate our students. Privacy advocates tells us that no one likes to be watched but that’s not exactly the case. “The gist of the idea is that people change their behavior – often for the better – when they are being observed (which is why it’s sometimes called the observer effect).”

Visual feedback helps reinforce positive behaviour. From the above WIRED article, “a 2001 study in the American Journal of Health Behavior showed that personalized feedback increased the effectiveness of everything from smoking-cessation to interventions for problem drinkers to exercise programs.” The Prius dashboard encourages better driving for high fuel efficiency. Recently there’s been some folks creating library dashboards but they haven’t been developed yet to provide individual user feedback of their borrowing or reading habits.

Video game designers are masters at presenting user data and creating rewards for user behaviour and Jane McGonigal thinks we can use what they’ve learned to improve our happiness and our future in the real world. In her IGDA Education Keynote 2009, McGonigal makes a number of book recommendations including Persuasive Technology by B. J. Fogg (2003) in order to learn more about the ramifications of using computers to try to change user behaviour. I’ve got the book on my lap right now at a page in which Fogg describes a hypothetical library-related example of persuasive technology:
Because she’s serious about school, Pamela runs an application on her device called Study Buddy. Here’s what the application does: As Pamela begins her evening study session, she launches the Study Buddy system and views the display. Study Buddy congratulates her for studying for the third time that day, meeting the goal she set at the beginning of the academic quarter. The device suggests that Pamela start her study session with a five-minute review of her biology vocabulary words, then read two chapters assigned for tomorrow’s sociology lecture.

As Pamela reviews biology, the Study Buddy screen shows a cluster of shapes, which represents her classmates who are currently studying. This motivates her to continue studying.
Later that evening, as Pamela wraps up her work, she’s curious about her mentor, Jean so she turns to Study Buddy for information. Jean also subscribes to the Study Buddy system and has invited Pamela into her “awareness group” (1). Pamela sees a symbol on the display that indicates that Jean in currently in one of the campus libraries. Jean is a good role model; she’s a senior who was recently admitted to a top graduate school. Being a study mentor means that Jean has agreed to let Pamela remotely view Jean’s studying habits. Using Study Buddy, Jean can send simple sounds and tactile cues such as vibration patterns to Pamela to encourage her to study.

I should note that I haven’t actually read the rest of this book. I’m hoping by posting writing about it I’ll shame motivate myself to do so.

My new fave search engine is Zotero

[This is an older post of mine that was on a now-retired community blog called]

While Zotero – “the free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources” – isn’t exactly new, the program recently made the jump from 1.0 to 2.0 (beta) and with in doing so, has become social software and something more: it’s becoming a favourite search engine of mine.
But let me back it up a bit so I can say a little bit about custom or personalized search engines. I think they’re great and I wish more people would find them so they could enjoy their greatness too.

For example, I use LISZEN to search the library blogosphere and search my own homemade Google Custom Search Engine of OCUL libraries whenever I wonder if someone up the highway has some insight on the matter at hand. The University of Winnipeg uses a Custom Google Search Engine for its Canadian Art Library Guide, which I think is a brilliant application and breathes new life into the traditional library subject guide. And at one time, I entertained the notion that libraries could use Google Custom Search Engines as an alternative to the proprietary indexes that we offer, but after trying out The Economics Search Engine of 23 000 economics web sites  its pretty clear that this technology doesn’t scale. That’s too bad because I think we need a prominent index of the open access journal content out there.

OK. Back to Zotero.

I had waited to try out Zotero properly only after Zotero turned 2.0 because I was waiting for its automatic backup and synch features. And in the last handful of weeks, I’ve been slowly adding material into my Zotero library as a way to get a feel for the software. And then it just today that I realized that Zotero was indexing not just the metadata of the websites and journal articles I was planting into it – it was indexing the fulltext of the saved snapshots as well as and the text in the saved pdfs.

So, I plunked in the annual literature reviews dedicated to Library Instruction and Information Literacy from Reference Services Review and voila! I had myself my own little Information Literacy Research Index in my browser!

If you haven’t tried out Zotero yet, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so. Zotero has some big plans they are working on including a partnership with the Internet Archive. That’s the project that really intrigues me. Not only will scholars be able to add material from the Internet Archive into their personal Zotero libraries but they will also be able to contribute their own digital work contributions into its commons.

When I think I of the future of libraries, I can’t help but think our future dovetailing into Zotero somehow.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Freebasing the University

(This is an expanded version this previous post that I'm submitting to Hacking the Academy)

If you ran the zoo, how would you redesign your presence on your university website?

I wasn't looking for the answer to this question but a couple weeks ago I was reading up on the nascent Open Government movement in Canada when I stumbled upon a website that immediately struck me with its grace and power. And ever since I've been repeatedly asking myself, "How can I make my library's website more like" is the volunteer, spare-time creation of Michael Mulley, who is the one man of a one-man web development shop based in Montreal, Quebec. He developed the site to make political information easier for citizens to find and follow as well as to encourage transparency in government. But it's not so much the information on the site that I want to draw attention to. Instead, I would like to praise how so elegantly links politicians to the words they say, to the bills that they vote on, to the media coverage that they have received, and to the populations that they represent.

And so, I have been re-imaging The University as Parliament. Parliament has reports, bills, laws, committees, parties, departments, a House, a Senate, rules of order, Members of Parliament, transcripts and media coverage. The University has courses, programs, departments, faculties, a Senate, rules of order, research groups, committees, reports, research articles, and media coverage. They seem more alike than not.

So imagine your university website with a front page like with a set of keywords taken from the day's seminars, speaking events, as well as nouns from research papers just published and even from course descriptions of classes being taught that day. Each event, paper or class would be automagically linked to the people involved with the work. These people would be, in turn, linked to all their various campus affiliations (faculties, committees, departments, research groups) as well as to the courses that they are presently teaching. Each course would be linked to a description to that course and would be further associated with matching library resources....

In short, if you had to build a university web presence from scratch, you would be mad not to build linked data into its foundation.

And yet, after looking and asking around I have only found one institution of higher education that describes its organization, the people of that organization and their work using the recommended RDF framework for computer mediated linking. At this point in time, this is understandable: Tim Berner's Lee campaign for linked data is only just over a year old and at this stage, the instructions on How to Publish Linked Data On The Web are still quite daunting to those not already familiar with the language of the Semantic Web. But there are new tools being developed to help build this new scaffolding of the Internet. At the moment, my tool of choice is Freebase, which aims to be the Wikipedia of linked data. My university, among many others, is already there as a Freebase topic.

Incidentally, I'm well aware that you might not be as enamored with the prospect of your university's website being replaced with a search box and keywords just like  That's okay. In fact, your displeasure actually supports another reason why academic institutions need to embrace linked data: the information within our institutions need be able to be re-mixed and re-presented in a multitude of ways to fulfill the multitude of different research, teaching, institutional, and promotional needs that are currently not being met.

For example, I've been trying to figure out how to link library-licensed  research databases to particular courses being taught on campus and, more importantly, trying to determine how we can have links from course websites go to a set of relevant library resources. Making such connections are important because undergraduates lack an understanding of an academic discipline which makes their search for research (and even their search for research help) a difficult one. At the moment, it is near impossible to make such links because some faculty have their course material within course management systems, while other instructors have gone edupunk and have found their own ways to share and communicate with their students online. A publicly available linked data schema for our course catalogue would make my library-linking project possible because it would generate links that are not dependent on platforms.

"Public information should be meaningfully public, which today means shareable and computer-readable". That's from today but it very well may be from our students, our surrounding communities, and perhaps even our politicians tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

University Websites, Linked Data and Giants

Finding out about what your member of Parliament is up to takes work - but web sites such as have been wonderfully built and elegantly designed to make this work much, much easier.

Our library's web team has been recently activated and as chair, I've been casting around ideas on how we might re-build the foundation of our website as we move from a Lotus Notes Domino environment to a Drupal one. And the question that I keep coming back to is how can our website be more like

And so I've been re-imaging The University as Parliament. Parliament has bills, laws, committees, parties, departments, MPs, transcripts and media coverage. The University has courses, departments, committees, instructors, transcripts, research articles, and media coverage. Hmmm.. sounds somewhat similar.

So imagine your university website with a front page like with the day's research and learning topics filling the page. Each topic would be associated with a class or research paper. Each paper or class would be associated with a researcher or instructor who would in tun be linked to all their various campus affiliations and the courses they are presently teaching. Each course would be associated with matching library resources...

If you had build a university website from scratch, it would be mad not to build linked data into its foundation.

But the trouble is, once I start browsing the Guides and Tutorials about Linked Data, I become so overwhelmed with the terminology of semantic linking and frightened of the enormity of the task before me that I promptly flee in terror.

So I am at a loss. I can see a conceptual structure that we can build our library website upon. I can see the opportunity to show others on campus (and on other campuses) what can be possible with linked, open data. Except I would much rather find a giant who's shoulders I can stand on so I see how this may be done.

But I have no giant. All I have is this handful of beans.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Reflections on #WILU2010 Re:learn

One of the largest concerns within Information Literacy (IL) is the matter of scalability. This is understandable if you hold that the mandate of IL means that the librarians of an academic institution are responsible to ensure that every student of that school should graduate with information literacy skills even when the librarians don't have an institutional mandate to teach those students.

So we're still trying to figure out how to reach more students with IL. Some are slowly integrating IL into the various curriculum on campus. Some are teaching faculty, teaching instructors and mentors so that they can pass on IL to their students on our behalf. Other schools are developing online tutorials and even games to reach the widest number of students, and some of them are doing this work reluctantly.

It was this reluctance that I picked up on at WILU 2010, as a number of presenters let the audience know that they were pursing an online IL strategy because budget cuts meant they had little option to do something face to face. Some people almost sounded apologetic about their online creations.

But it was also at WILU where I also saw signs of another means to address IL in a scalable manner. Instead of pursuing "one to many" avenues of teaching, one can see the start of "many to many" learning platforms.

Indeed, I very much enjoyed Dr. James Paul Gee's opening keynote address to WILU. While Dr. Gee spoke a little bit about games, the primary focus of his attention was online learning communities which he feels represents a new paradigm of learning that outperforms traditional classroom experiences.

I very much share Dr. Gee's enthusiasm for online learning communities having been part of a 10 week crash course in changing the world called Evoke. Scaling is actually also an issue with these new type of environments: within the first 24 hours of the Evoke, players submitted more than 2000 blog posts, videos and photos as evidence and in the first 15 days of the network, more than 10,500 players registered to play from more than 120 counties (slides 57,58).

But back to the conference. I did see other hopeful signs that many-to-many learning systems are starting to find a place within academia. There are more and more examples of courses and assignments that require students to publish their work so that they can learn from the peer's work and the assessment of their peers and not just their own experiences.

There was another example of the power of group learning spaces at WILU: the birds of a feather sessions. Not entirely unlike an unconference, attendees were asked to write down topics of interest and sit at designated tables where these topics would be discussed. I decided to sit at the table dedicated to addressing student motivations and there was a great conversation at the table that brought out a flurry of different ideas and perspectives on the topic, with a breadth and depth that is difficult to summarize

(On a somewhat related note, it appears that the summaries of the Birds of the Feather sessions are no longer on the WILU 2010 blog. That's too bad. I like the idea of making adding each conference session into a blog post so that speakers can add links and addendum as necessary and so that questions and conversations about the topic can continue even after the conference has passed. Actually what I would really love is if each conference I attended followed the template of the THAT conference in which each attendee was given their own blog - with the sum of each making up the conference site - as a means to facilitate sharing of ideas before, during and after the event.)

The power of that BoF session reminds me of the keynote address at WILU 2007 done by Rick Salutin in which he surprised me with his preference for the complex and ever shifting conversations of our oral tradition over the paucity and mechanical tyranny of the written word.

And isn't this what is a conference is or should be: a means to host conversations at both large and small scales?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Reflections on #WILU2010 Re:design

On Friday I returned from attending my second WILU conference. It was a well-hosted event and I thank the organizers for the experience.

When I introduced my own talk at WILU, I stressed that my opinions tend to be strongly stated but they are not necessarily strongly held. I want to repeat this disclaimer as I share some of the reflections of what I've learned from the three-day conference.

I tend to divide work in Information Literacy (IL) into two broad camps. The first camp spends their efforts directing students to use library websites, research guides and indexes for approved sources to meet their research needs. The second camp opts to instead teach students how to recognize sources that they might find and how they might fit these into their own research work.

It's my perception that most of our profession's IL work falls in the first camp and most of the sessions that are in the program of WILU 2010 fell in this category.

And, if you know me at all, its shouldn't surprise you that I place myself in that other camp.

All my favourite WILU talks have all come from this second perspective: Rochelle Mazar's Making Coursework Matter, Joel Burkholder's The Information Seeking Habits of Students: Are They Really That Bad?, and John Willinsky's keynote address come to mind. And my favourite talk from WILU 2010 also is from this perspective: Joel Burkholder's (again!) Sources as Social Acts: Using Genre Theory to Transform Information Literacy Instruction.

For myself, the perspective that IL should not preoccupy itself with indexes that only academic libraries can afford, allows librarians to fully pursue the end goals of the Open Access movement and of supporting lifelong learning in our students, without contradiction.

More reflections later. I think about the notion of 'scaling'...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My #WILU2010 Talk - Not library games. Libraries *in* games Re:Play

Yesterday, I gave a talk entitled Not Library Games. Libraries in Games at WILU 2010.

My slides and text of my slides are available on the WILU 2010 website. The ppt file contains my speakers notes as does this Google Presentation under the bottom Actions menu.

Before the talk, we played a game using slides that I put into Prezi - but I accessed the files in edit mode so I could move the game pieces around the board. You can see the pre-talk pre-game board.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

An unconference runs on love - The Great Lakes THAT Camp

I’m not the type of person to live-tweet bon mots during conferences and other get-togethers . I need the time to ruminate my experiences. It’s been over 72 hours since the end of The Great Lakes THAT Camp and it’s only now that the impact of what just happened has hit me with full force.

This was my first unconference I’ve attended and I tried to pay special attention to how the event was set up because I’ll be organizing my first unconference in a little more than a month. And I have to say that this experience with the format has only confirmed how powerful such an event can be.

I think a large part of this power came from the fact that a THAT Camp is an embodiment of gift-culture. Attendance is voluntary. The registration fee is voluntary. Your session attendance is voluntary. Your contribution to the conversation is voluntary. Consequently, every exchange and every conversation feels like a gift. Furthermore, when I arrived at the Great Lakes THAT Camp, I felt I was showered with gifts: a t-shirt, personalized QR codes, stickers, papercraft, lunch tickets, and the all-important drink ticket. The internet runs on love. So does an unconference.

Here are some of the design decision I noticed that I think help make the event such a success.

First, by asking individuals to tell about themselves and to write a session description before they attended, campers were given an opportunity to start the process of getting to know each other and to start to see connections between their work and their interests with those of other people. If you look through the profiles of the Great Lake campers, you can see some of the common threads: oral history, maps museums, text mining, archaeology, games libraries, and educational technology.

Future campers beware! There is an inherent desire for participants to ask for broad-based sessions and even streams of sessions around such threads. At least, there were such desires at the Great Lakes THAT camp. But if you can, resist this temptation. It’s not that these broad-termed sessions were poor - far from it. But I make the recommendation based on my personal observation that, as counter-intuitive as it seems, narrow topics tended to bring out wide themes while broad themed discussions forced participants to address a series of narrow ideas. My gut feeling is this is because there broader topics are too closely aligned with allegiances of scholarly disciplines. A session on “educational technology” will tend to fill a room with people who teach.

One of my favourite sessions was one dedicated to “material culture.” Stated as such, it brought together museum folk, archaeologists, historians, teachers, and librarians, among others and this mixture fermented a heady brew of ideas. And if you ever find yourself in such a room with so many different experiences and points of view at the table, try to take advantage of it and ask the room a really hard question like, “How would you digitize a steam engine?”

Understand that there’s a bait and switch going on. You are asked to submit a session and describe yourself and your work, but at a THAT Camp you are expected to use that work as a starting point for discussion. To curb constant self-promotion in conversations, an outlet is provided to allow campers to concentrate on conversation and collaboration: the unfortunately named, Dork Shorts. At Great Lakes THAT Camp, these 2 minute elevator pitches were held at the end of the two day event but I’ve heard that at other camps, they are held earlier on in the schedule.

Another unconference design feature that I thought well of was the “Room of Requirement”. It was a room were you could sit down with your own thoughts or a place where you could converse with others outside of the formal informal conversations being taken place elsewhere. Every conference should have such a space.

I also appreciated that this THAT Camp (I love saying “this THAT Camp”) opted not to post a live “twitterfall” of ongoing tweets inside of each discussion room. Erik Marshall told us that his experience has been that such a set up tended to continually distract the speaker. But that being said I found that having access to a live Twitter feed was invaluable. Those campers who were live-tweeting the event informed others on what subjects were being spoken to in real time. So, when I learned that a conversation about coffee shops and libraries was gearing up in the room next door, (while the conversation in the my room as gearing down) I exercised the law of two feet.

Today I learned that there is to be a Toronto THAT Camp but it’s restricted to only members of the University of Toronto “community.” I find this very disappointing and I hope they reconsider their decision because it seems to be not not in the spirit of a gift culture. And I hope they do it for their own sake because otherwise they are going to deny themselves joy.

Monday, March 01, 2010

What we did and didn't learn from Google Analytics

I recently did an informal presentation for another library website group about our experiences with Google Analytics and CrazyEgg and it's here if you are interested in that sort of thing. Please be aware that the stats described are far from robust and each slide comes with various caveats (e.g. our Firefox browser stats are probably over-represented because Firefox is the default browser on our library computers) which I spoke to but these notes aren't online.

The slides allude to two numbers-related projects I'm currently working on. The first is more detailed information about index choice from our 'subject pages' and the second is developing a test to see if most of our journal use comes from search engines or from indexes.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Which pieces loosely formed make a difference

My favourite definition of Information is "a difference that makes a difference."

I'm trying to make sense of the use of our library and of our online resources and there's so much information that is not just context-dependent but multi-context dependent.

Let me try to explain what I mean.

Our library's SFX resolver allows can generate a list of our most "popular" serial titles and according to it, the most popular title on campus is "Dissertations Abstracts International". The second most popular title is "Dissertations Abstracts B". Then comes, "Science" and then, "Nature" and the other usual and unusual suspects.

And I *think* I know why.

At MPOW, most of our indexes are hosted by Scholars Portal Search (using CSA's Illumina interface) and the default that we have set for these indexes is that all linking to full-text articles happens dynamically through our SFX "Get It!" buttons.

But there are a small handful of exceptions to this policy because the links occur automatically from Illumina including...


But is that a difference that makes the difference?

MPOW's Web Stats Take Two

I made a second presentation of some statistics surrounding my library's web site and online resources and it was a tougher crowd this time around as they asked lots of good questions about the points I was making.

After I was done with my talk, I returned the data behind one of my key slides to reassure myself that it was sound and realized that it wasn't.

I noticed from our Google Analytics dashboard that our traffic to the library's front page appeared to slowly ebbing downward.

To illustrate this drop, I chose a random day in October 2007 and a random day in October 2009 and there was about a 30% difference between the two. But, on closer inspection, I realized that there was a drop in traffic in October 2009 during the University of Windsor's first Fall Break (called UWin week) which probably exaggerated the results.

So, in these updated slides, I compared the traffic of the entire site (that Google Analytics can understand) for the entire month of November. And I found out that November 2009 had 88% of the traffic of November 2007.