Season’s greetings and Christmas closure

The Copac office will close on 24th December, and re-open on 5th January. Copac will remain available online over the Christmas closure period, but there will be no help-desk support during this period. Any queries sent to the help-desk will be dealt with when we return.

The Copac team would like to wish all our users a very Merry Christmas, and all best wishes for the New Year.

Photo by icelight

French Institute catalogue loaded

The multimedia library of the Institut français (French Institute) offers wide and varied documentation on France, and especially the works of French and French-speaking authors. With over 60,000 documents it holds one of the largest free-access collections of French material in the UK. From French language and civilization to culture and human sciences, every field of knowledge is covered in various media.

Among the assets of the library are:

  • Contemporary French literature and all aspects of contemporary France
  • A film collection of over 3,500 DVDs (feature and documentary films)
  • A 5,000 strong CD section (music, talking-books)
  • A collection of over 2,000 comic books
  • Physical and on-line access to a large newspaper and magazine collection
  • An Easy French and learning tools section

The Institut français (French Institute) opened in 1910 and is now located in an early 20th century Art Deco style building, also home of the newly-refurbished Ciné-Lumière and a Language Centre. Access to the Library is free and open to all.

The catalogue has been added as part of the work of the Copac Challenge Fund.

Perspectives on Goldmining.

Last Friday, Shirley and I headed down to London for the TiLE workshop: ‘”Sitting on a gold mine” — Improving Provision and Services for Learners by Aggregating and Using ‘Learner Behaviour Data.’ The aim of the workship was to take a ‘blue skies’ (but also practical) view of how usage data can be aggregated to improve resource discovery services on a local and national (and potentially global) level. Chris Keene from the University of Sussex library has written a really useful and comprehensive post about the proceedings (I had no idea he was ferverishly live blogging across the table from me — but thanks, Chris!)

I was invited to present a ‘Sector Perspective’ on the issue, and specifically the ‘Pain Points’ identifed around ‘Creating Context’ and ‘Enabling Contribution.’ The TiLE project suggests a lofty vision where, with the sufficient amount of context data about a user (derived from goldmines such as attention data pools and profile data stored within VLEs, library service databases, institional profiles — you know, simple enough;-) services could become much more Amazon-like.  OPACs could suggest to users, ‘First Year History Students who used this textbook, also highly rated this textbook…’ and such. The OPAC is thus transformed from relic of the past, to a dynamic online space enabling robust ‘architectures of participation.’

This view is very appealing, and certainly at Copac we’re doing our part to really interrogate how we can support *effective* adaptive personalisation. Nonetheless, as a former researcher and teacher, I’ve always had my doubts as to whether the Library catalogue per se, is the right ‘place’ for this type of activity.

We might be able to ‘enable contribution’ technically, but will it make a difference? An area that perhaps most urgently needs attention is research on the social component and drivers for contributing user-generated content.  As the TiLE project has identified, the ‘goldmine’ here to galvanise such usage is ‘context’ or usage data. But is it enough, especially in the context of specialised research?

As an example of the potential ‘cultural issues’ that might emerge, the TiLE project suggests the case of the questionably nefarious tag ‘wkd bk m8’ which is submitted as a tag for a record. They ask, “Is this a low-quality contribution, or does it signal something useful to other users, particularly to users who are similar to the contributor?”

I’d tend to agree the latter, but would also say that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to rhetorical context. For example, consider the user-generated content that might arise around contentious works around the ‘State of Israel.’ The fact that Wikipedia has multiple differing and ‘sparring’ entries around this is a good indicator of the complexity that emerges. I would say that this is incredibly rich complexity, but on a practical level potentially very difficult for users to negotiate. Which UGC derived ‘context’ is relevant for differing users? Will our user model be granular or precise enough to adjust accordingly?

One of the challenges of accommodating a system-wide model is the tackling of semantic context. Right now, for instance, Mimas and EDINA have been tasked to come up with a demonstrator for a tag recommender that could be implemented across JISC services. This seems like a relatively simple proposition, but as soon as we start thinking about semantic context, we are immediately confronted with the question of which concept models or ontologies do we draw from?

Semantic harvesting and text mining projects such as the Intute Repository Search have pinpointed the challenge of ‘ontological drift’ between disciplines and levels. As we move into this new terrain of Library 2.0 this drift will likely become all the more evident.

Is the OPAC too generic to facilitate the type of semantic precision to enable meaningful contribution? I have a hunch it is, as did other participants when we broke out into discussion sessions.

But perhaps the goldmine of context data, that ‘user DNA,’ will provide us with new ways to tackle the challenge, and there was also a general sense that we needed to forge forward on this issue — try things out and experiment with attention data.  A service that gathers that aggregates both user-generated and attention/context data would be of tremendous benefit, and Copac (and other like services) can potentially move to a model where adaptive personalisation is supported.  Indeed, Copac as a system-wide service has a great potential as an aggregator in this regard.

There is risk involved around these issues, but there are some potential ‘quick wins’ that are of clear immediate benefit. Another speaker on Friday was Dave Pattern, who within a few minutes of ‘beaming to us live via video from Huddersfield’ had released the University of Huddersfield’s book usage data (check it out).

This is one goldmine we’re only too happy to dig into, and we’re looking forward to collaborating with Dave in the next year to find ways to exploit and further his work in a National context.  We want to implement recommender functions in Copac, but also (more importantly) working at Mimas to develop a system for the store and share of usage data from multiple UK libraries (any early volunteers?!)  The idea is that this data can also be reused to improve services on a local level.   We’re just at the proposal stage in this whole process, but we feel very motivated, and the energy of the TiLE project workshop has only motivated us more.

Educating our systems

JIBS workshop 13/11/08

I attended the JIBS workshop in London on ‘How to compete with Google: simple resource discovery systems for librarians’ with two agendas: one of a Copac team member, interested to see what libraries are doing that could be relevant to Copac; and the other of having recently completed some research on federated search engines, and being anxious to keep up-to-date with the developments.

The day consisted of seven presentations, and concluded with the panel taking discussion questions. Four of the presentations focussed on specific implementations: of Primo at UEA; of Encore at the University of Glasgow; of ELIN at the universities of Portsmouth and Bath; and of Aquabrowser at the University of Edinburgh. Some interesting themes ran through all of these presentations. One was that of increased web 2.0 functionality – library users expect the same level of functionality from library resource discovery systems as they find elsewhere on the internet. With this in mind, libraries have been choosing systems that allow personalisation in various forms. Some systems allow users to save results and favourite resources, and to choose whether to make these public or keep them private.

Another popular feature is tag clouds. These give users a visual method of exploring subjects, and expanding or refining their search. Some systems (such as Encore) allow the adding of ‘community’ tags. This allows users to tag resources as they please, and not rely on cataloguer-added tags. While expanding the resource-discovery possibilities, and adding some good web 2.0 user interaction, concerns have been raised about the quality of the tags. While Glasgow are putting a system in place to filter the most common swearwords, and hopefully ward off deliberate vandalism, there is a worry that user-added tags might not achieve the critical mass needed to become a significant asset in resource discovery. As we at Copac are looking into the possibility of adding tags to Copac records, we will be interested in seeing how this resolves.

The addition of book covers and tables-of-contents to records seems to be a desirable feature for many libraries – and it is nice that Copac is ahead of the pack in this regard! Informal comments throughout the day showed that people are very enthusiastic about the recent developments at Copac, and enjoy the new look.

It was also very interesting to see that some libraries are introducing (limited) FRBRisation for the handling and display of results. UEA, for instance, are grouping multiple editions of the same work together on their Primo interface. This means that a search for ‘Middlemarch’ returns 31 results, the first of which contains 19 versions of the same item. These include 18 different editions of Middlemarch in book form, and one video. While the system is not yet perfect (‘Middlemarch: a study of provincial life’ is not yet recognised as the same work), it is very encouraging to see FRBRised results working in practical situations. Introducing RDA and the principles of FRBR and FRAD at Copac is going to be an interesting challenge, as we will be receiving records produced to both RDA and AACR2 standards for a while. Copac, with its de-duplication system, already performs some aspects of FRBR, as the same work at multiple libraries is grouped as one record.

There were also two presentations dealing with information-seeking behaviour, by Maggie Fieldhouse from UCL and Mark Hepworth from Loughborough. Mark highlighted the need – echoed in later presentations – for users to be given the choice about how much control they had over their search. This was part of ‘training the system’ rather than ‘training the user’. Copac tries to be an ‘educated system’: we provide a variety of search options (from simple to very advanced) through a variety of different interfaces (including browser plug-ins and a Facebook widget), and we hope that this contributes to our users’ search successes. As part off this, we are going to be undertaking some usability studies, which we hope will make Copac even more well-trained.

A very enjoyable and informative day which has given me plenty to think about – and nice new library catalogues to play with!

All the presentations from the JIBS event are available for download:

Of Circulation Data and Goldmines…

If you’d told me a bit more than a year ago that I’d be getting all excited about the radical potential of library circulation data, well…

This afternoon we had an interesting chat with Dave Pattern from the University of Huddersfield (he of Opac 2.0 and ‘users who borrowed this also borrowed…’ fame).  We’re hoping to collaborate with Dave to see how his important work can be taken forward on a national level.  Dave is about to release the Huddersfield circulation data (anonymised and aggregated) to the community and he’s hoping it will trigger some debate and ideas for developments.   This certainly is a real opportunity for people in our field.  On our end, we’d like to figure out how we could develop a similar feature for Copac, but also look at how to bring more libraries into the mix — contributing more data so those ‘recommendations’ are more effective.

Dave and I both sit on the TILE reference group, and there has been some important work going on in that project about the potential ‘goldmine’ of attention data we’re all sitting on at institutions and data centres.  TILE recommendations suggest the development of an attention-data store service.  Frankly, the sheer scale of this type of all encompassing undertaking gives me headpsin, but a service for the storage and open share of circulation data less so.  In fact, JISC has also recently tasked Mimas and EDINA to propose work around ‘Personalised Search and Recommendation Engines,’ so there’s real scope to think carefully about what such a service might look like.

Goldmine indeed — I’m speaking (from my ‘sector perspective’) at the TILE meeting next week.  The focus of the meeting is to look at how we can improve services for learners by aggregating and using learning behaviour data.  For our part, I am keen to see where this work with circulation and attention data can take us, and I’m looking forward to putting some thoughts together on this score for the meeting.