Surfacing the Academic Long Tail — Announcing new work with activity data

We’re pleased to announce that JISC has funded us to work on the SALT (Surfacing the Academic Long Tail) Project, which we’re undertaking with the University of Manchester, John Rylands University Library.

Over the next six months the SALT project will building a recommender prototype for Copac and the JRUL OPAC interface, which will be tested by the communities of users of those services.  Following on from the invaluable work undertaken at the University of Huddersfield, we’ll be working with ten years+ of aggregated and anonymised circulation data amassed by JRUL.  Our approach will be to develop an API onto that data, which in turn we’ll use to develop the recommender functionality in both services.   Obviously, we’re indebted to the previous knowledge acquired by a similar project at the University of Huddersfield and the SALT project will work closely with colleagues at Huddersfield (Dave Pattern and Graham Stone) to see what happens when we apply this concept in the research library and national library service contexts.

Our overall aim is that by working collaboratively with other institutions and Research Libraries UK, the SALT project will advance our knowledge and understanding of how best to support research in the 21st century. Libraries are a rich source of valuable information, but sometimes the sheer volume of materials they hold can be overwhelming even to the most experienced researcher — and we know that researchers’ expectation on how to discover content is shifting in an increasingly personalised digital world. We know that library users — particularly those researching niche or specialist subjects — are often seeking content based on a recommendation from a contemporary, a peer, colleagues or academic tutors. The SALT Project aims to provide libraries with the ability to provide users with that information. Similar to Amazons, ‘customers who bought this item also bought….’ the recommenders on this system will appear on a local library catalogue and on Copac and will be based on circulation data which has been gathered over the past 10 years at The University of Manchester’s internationally renowned research library.

How effective will this model prove to be for users — particularly humanities researchers users?

Here’s what we want to find out:

  • Will researchers in the field of humanities benefit from receiving book recommendations, and if so, in what ways?
  • Will the users go beyond the reading list and be exposed to rare and niche collections — will new paths of discovery be opened up?
  • Will collections in the library, previously undervalued and underused find a new appreciative audience — will the Long Tail be exposed and exploited for research?
  • Will researchers see new links in their studies, possibly in other disciplines?

We also want to consider if there are other  potential beneficiaries.  By highlighting rarer collections, valuing niche items and bringing to the surface less popular but nevertheless worthy materials, libraries will have the leverage they need to ensure the preservation of these rich materials. Can such data or services assist in decision-making around collections management? We will be consulting with Leeds University Library and the White Rose Consortium, as well as UKRR in this area.

(And finally, as part of our sustainability planning, we want to look at how scalable this approach might be for developing a shared aggregation service of circulation data for UK University Libraries.  We’re working with potential data contributors such as Cambridge University LibraryUniversity of Sussex Library, and the M25 consortium as well as RLUK to trial and provide feedback on the project outputs, with specific attention to the sustainability of an API service as a national shared service for HE/FE that supports academic excellence and drives institutional efficiencies.

The SALT Project – Supporting Researchers in the 21st Century.

Libraries are a rich source of valuable information, but sometimes the sheer volume of materials they hold can be overwhelming even to the most experienced researcher. Sometimes what library users crave the most it a recommendation from a contemporary, a peer, colleagues or academic tutors. The SALT, (Surfacing the Academic Long Tail), Project aims to provide libraries with the ability to provide you with that information. Similar to Amazons, ‘customers who bought this item also bought….’ the recommenders on this system will appear on a local library catalogue and on Copac and will be based on circulation data which has been gathered over the past 10 years at Manchester University’s internationally renowned research library. What the SALT project wants to find out is; will researchers in the field of humanities benefit from receiving book recommendations? Will the users go beyond the reading list and be exposed to rare and niche collections? Will collections in the library, previously undervalued and underused find a new appreciative audience? Will researchers see new links in their studies, possibly in other disciplines? And as a result could this improve the quality of research, improve grades and advance knowledge? The users of libraries are not the only beneficiaries of this project. By highlighting rarer collections, valuing niche items and bringing to the surface less popular but nevertheless worthy materials; libraries will have the leverage they need to ensure the preservation of these rich materials.

Over the next six months the SALT project will build a recommender prototype. It will be tested on the University of Manchester’s own local library catalogue and also to a national audience on Copac. The project is indebted to the previous knowledge acquired by a similar project at the University of Huddersfield and the SALT project will work closely with colleagues at Huddersfield to take this concept to the next level. Users and librarians will be invited to try the prototype and feedback their thoughts to developers. By working collaboratively with other institutions and Research Libraries UK, the SALT project will advance our knowledge and understanding of how best to support research in the 21st century.

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.