Bloggers around the world welcome Guardian supplement

Bloggers around the world have welcomed last week’s Guardian supplement – ‘Libraries unleashed’ –  which launched JISC’s Libraries of the Future’ campaign and which highlighted the achievements of UK academic libraries and some of the major challenges they face in the digital age. 

The focus of many blogs is the question of change, something the Guardian directly addresses – ‘libraries are changing faster than at any time in their history’, wrote editor Stephen Hoare. For the spineless? blog the Guardian features provided an ‘interesting, though-provoking supplement, which shows just how libraries are changing, and will need to continue to change’. For the EPT blog the highlight was the article on open access, while Neil Beagrie thought it ‘an excellent supplement on academic libraries today – I would highly recommend it to international and
UK colleagues who want a quick overview on the latest developments,’ he wrote. 

The articles on ‘e-resources, Web 2.0 and shifting student expectations’ were the focus for VLC horizon scanning, while ‘Overdue Ideas’ called the supplement ‘a great window for JISC’s work in the area of libraries’.  

The Royal Society linked to the supplement, as did Goldsmith University and Sintoblog, the blog of a regional consortium in Yorkshire and the E Midlands, which praised the fact that local librarians had featured in the supplement. The commercial sector too was represented – by Panlibus which praised not only the supplement, but also the JISC annual conference – at which libraries played a prominent part – and the ‘Libraries of the Future’ campaign as a whole. 

Further afield, ‘lilyheart’ at the University of Melbourne Intelligencer listed the 18 articles which made up the supplement, HangingTogether in the US linked the supplement to ‘excellent communications work by JISC’ at its annual conference, while Library Sharings and Amherst College were among the many sites in the USA which linked to the supplement.  

For Lorcan Dempsey, of US library organisation OCLC, the articles in the Guardian are ‘high level and journalistic, as you would expect.’ But, he continued, ‘this is a nice achievement by JISC, as it puts a range of positive stories about libraries in front of the University community.’   

DIT Library Services in Ireland pointed to the supplement as did pintiniblog in France, while other blogs in Germany, Hungary and Japan also featured the supplement. 

Information literacy was a theme for many blogs – for SIS at the Uni of Pittsburgh, for Bloggable Librarian, Brian Kelly at UK Web Focus and for Dana McKay, who, in response to the supplement, called on education providers to ‘improve search interfaces and online access to academic materials’.  

Sheila Webber, senior lecturer in information studies at Sheffield University, wrote that her ‘ability to critique [the supplement] sensibly was compromised by my excitement in being quoted in the front-page article which talks about students’ use of information,’ an article which also features her ‘Second Life’ avatar – ‘Sheila Yoshikawa, blue-haired babe and cultivator of a Japanese garden’.  

Positive criticisms were voiced by Tom Roper who, while praising ‘some interesting articles’ bemoaned the fact that the further education sector was under-represented. BriefED in Wales contradicted this slightly when it suggested that ‘most of what is written [in the supplement] applies equally to further education libraries.’  

Among the JISC services that talked of the supplement were the RSCs in Scotland who emphasised the debate aspects of JISC’s campaign, copac who were mentioned in the supplement, and Intute, also mentioned by the Guardian. 

JISC’s Libraries of the Future campaign also has a blog, which can be found at: Libraries of the Future blog  

To access the Guardian supplement, please go to: Libraries unleashed 

JISC’s Libraries of the Future Guardian supplement

A Guardian supplement published yesterday explores the achievements of academic libraries in the UK, assesses current challenges and looks forward to the future.

Sponsored by JISC and published free with yesterday’s Education Guardian, the supplement begins with some of the questions raised by the recently published Google Generation report, commissioned by JISC and the British Library, which explored the issue of ‘information literacy’. The report called for libraries to respond urgently to the changing needs of their users and to understand the new means of searching and navigating information.

In a lead article, editor Stephen Hoare says that academic libraries are indeed rising to the challenges and, he writes, ‘changing faster than at any time in their history. Information technology, online databases, and catalogues and digitised archives have put the library back at the heart of teaching, learning and academic research on campus.’

The supplement also explores the ways in which libraries are changing physically as they incorporate functions more commonly associated with leisure activities and become more flexible and technology-rich ‘learning spaces’. Other articles explores open access, the phenomenon of ‘Library 2.0 – the integration of user generated content with traditional library content – e-books, new business models, digitisation, digital preservation and much more.

Among the areas of activity funded or supported by JISC covered in the supplement are: the repositories partnership Sherpa; JISC’s student expectations research; services such as Intute, copac and the Archives Hub; the digitisation programme, including projects such as the Archival Sound Recordings and the British Library 19th century newspapers project; the LOCKSS journals preservation project; the electronic e-theses online service EThOS; the national e-books observatory project, and a number of others.

The supplement marks the start of ‘Libraries of the Future’, an attempt by JISC to initiate a debate about academic libraries and to open up – with partner organisations and librarians themselves – a debate about the future of the academic and research library.

See the online version of the supplement here.

JISC conference – summary and close, Dr Malcolm Read

Dr Malcolm Read, executive secretary, JISC

In his opening talk this morning, Sir Ron Cooke mentioned some political challenges we’re likely to face in a few years time.   Our main activity is and remains the funding of services and the growing amount of work JISC collections does.   During the coming year we’ll be concentrating on the advisory services and getting greater integration, to enable us to offer advice in the use of IT across education and research, whatever that area of advice may be.  That will be a particular focus.

An area that’s moving fast from research into development is repositories.  Institutions are increasingly building their own, as part of the open access movement, but we are also interested in them as places for storing research data.  An awful lot of data isn’t in the open domain or even preserved; I’m thinking of lab-based research done by small teams and individuals.  Repositories will be a growing place to store learning resources, and we’re hoping to work in that area in the coming year.  We feel that if we’re to achieve the vision of an open layer of scholarly academic resources, then we have to find ways of getting repositories linked up and working together.  We’ll be looking to build a virtual national repository.  Other main areas of activity will be more shared services, and green computing.

Next year’s conference is in Edinburgh on Tuesday 24 March at the EICC.  I hope you’ll all be able to come along to that.  we are holding a joint conference with CNI in Belfast on 10-11 July, to which again everyone is invited.

Finally, it’s my pleasure to thank all the speakers, the organisers, and all of you for attending.

JISC conference – closing keynote speech, Angela Beesley

Angela Beesley, vice-president community relations and co-founder, Wikia; chair of Wikimedia Foundation Advisory Board

A wiki is a website that you can edit – a simple definition.  They’re not new, but although they’ve only reached consciousness in the past couple of years, they first went online in 1995.  It’s a quick way to collaborate with other people.

The Wikimedia Foundation is completely funded by donation; people who read it make small contributions.

‘Imagine a world in which every person can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.  That’s our commitment.’

Wikimedia isn’t just an English language project, but exists in 230 other languages, including Gaelic, Welsh and even Cornish.  The most well-known project is Wikipedia.  It started in 2001, and is the eighth most visited site in the world.  There are 10 million articles, completely created by volunteers, built completely bottom-up by the community.  It is openly editable; you don’t have to apply to become an editor – just click ‘edit this page’ and you’re an editor straight away.  There are problems with inaccuracies, particularly deliberate or malicious.  Everyone is permitted to use it for any purpose, commercial or non-commercial.  People can take Wikipedia and use it in other contexts.

Wikiversity is a sister project, and the word comes from “wiki university”.  It’s not an institution, and we don’t award degrees.  It’s a place where students can explore their learning goals and teachers can share lesson plans.  The Wikibooks project ties into this, and is aimed at high-school students.

Wikipedia is a community made up of millions of people.  A core of thousands are there on site regularly, keeping it up-to-date and accurate and welcoming new users in.  It remains cohesive because we’re working towards a shared goal, which is why so many people volunteer their own time.  It’s collaborative between people who are very involved in the site and discuss how to improve the quality of articles.  It’s very welcoming to newcomers; existing members will talk you through the guidelines and suggest how you can improve your article.  It’s rewarding to old-timers, with awards that can be put on users’ pages.  However, people don’t always get along, so we’ve developed dispute resolution processes to deal with that, for example getting a third party in to assist.

One big question people always ask is – can you trust user-generated content?  The answer is no.  But you can trust the process.  On average, the articles are fairly high quality, and they are useful.  As long as you’re aware of the downside, it can be a useful starting point for your research – never an end point.  It’s open to correction and improvement.  If there’s a bad edit made, someone else can come along and correct it.  Everything is reversible.  Someone might make a bad edit, but that can be changed.  All the changes are transparent.  It’s hard to disguise if you’re doing something bad, because it’s recorded in the history.  Every edit is logged – it shows who edited what and when.  We tag problematic content; we say that we have particular problems.  It warns the reader, so they are aware that the article might have a bias, and it helps particular groups of editors, who might like doing particular tasks, such as making text more neutral.

A big development that hasn’t actually happened until now is stable versions.  At the moment, you’ve no idea if someone else has checked the article you’re reading.  Now, we’ll be able to mark if something’s been checked for quality or if it’s not been read at all.  Someone might do a basic check to make sure it’s coherent, and that will be marked as ‘sighted’.  If you’re looking at a current event, you might want the most up-to-date article, not the one that’s been checked for accuracy.  It won’t make it 100% accurate, but at least the content has been checked, making it more reliable.

You can have unchecked bad edits, which is something stable versions is hoping to correct.  There is the problem of spam, and marketers creating entries about their companies.  With smaller wikis, one of the problems is inactivity.  Occasionally a lack of focus creates an unorganised entry.  And community disputes can impact on the entries.

Wikipedia has 1.7 billion words, whereas libraries have tens of trillions of words.  This is where Wikia comes in.  Wikipedia is the reference shelf; Wikia is the rest of the library.  There is so much content out there that isn’t on Wikipedia and isn’t in libraries.  Wikia uses the same software and is based on the same principles.  We enable communities to go into greater depth, for example the World of Warcraft Wiki – people who play the game a lot and want to write about their world create the content.  There are a lot of wikis on environmental topics, and an academic publishing wiki.

Social tools are one way that Wikia are different.  You can invite your friends to the wiki; you can see what they’ve done recently; you can add polls, quizzes and games.  We’re also integrating with third-party tools, allowing people to pull content they’ve created elsewhere into the wiki, for example pictures from Flickr.

Something that’s new this year is Wikia search.  We are trying to apply a Wiki model to search.  Thousands of volunteers have downloaded web-crawling software, and all the information they get is released back into the open access community.  You can even make your own search engine if you want to.  It’s the start of a roject to open up the whole idea of search.

If you want to start your own wiki, there’s a number of different options.  It’s easiest to get a hosted option, where someone else hosts the site for you (such as Google Wiki or WikiSpaces).  The other option is to install the software yourself.  It’s easy to get your own wiki set up.  Some of the uses you might want to put it to – documentation, fan sites, user-to-user support, and communities of practice.  In the corporate setting, people find it’s a cost-effective knowledge management tool, it can decrease email, proposals can be drafted.  In education, you can write collaboratively, share research, plan courses, or peer-review students’ work.  A wiki doesn’t need to be as open as Wikipedia; you can lock it down just to your class or research group, or you can open it up so it’s cross-curricular or cross-institutional.

Once you’ve got your wiki, the question is how do you get anyone to use it?  Have a clear goal and focus to your wiki, so people know what they should and shouldn’t do there.  Encourage new editors and welcome them; bring people in.  You can provide editing suggestions, because often people don’t know where to start.  It’s also useful to have helpers to organise the wiki, just linking articles together, adding categories and navigation.

What are the futures of wikis?  I think formats will change.  Now, it’s text-based, but we’re introducing video editing, so people can mash up segments.  People are using images more to illustrate articles, and we’re beginning to see tools where people can collaborate on diagrams.  The semantic web is perhaps the future of the internet in general; we’re seeing tools allowing the introduction of structured data.  I think stable versions are really important, as they become more reliable, and people have more trust in a wiki – they’ll see whether something’s been checked and who it’s been checked by.

I’d like to leave you with the thought – how can you use a wiki?
Question and answer session

Q: There’s suspicion in universities about Wikipedia – what would you say to them?
AB: You can’t stop them from using it.  Students shouldn’t be citing Wikipedia as a source, they should be trained how to verify information against other sources.

Q: Is there a straightforward peer review model of editing on Wikipedia?
AB: Stable versions hasn’t gone live yet, but what it’s likely to be is a subset of the community – people who know what a good article is and know what problems to look out for.

Q: What is the commercial thinking behind Wikia?
AB:  What we’re doing is not trying to gain content from existing companies, but build up that content from scratch.  We’re finding very passionate people who want to write about a particular topic.
Q: Would it still leave commercial content out?
AB: Yes.  We’re not trying to replace content that’s out there, but build up an alternative to it.

Q: What if Britannica became open source?
AB: If Britannica became open source, that would mean we could take their content!  So it wouldn’t  mark our demise.  We’re keen for more material to be open source.  It can never been taken away or locked up.  The content will live on.

Challenges for the digital librarian

In an increasingly complex, ICT-intensive world, digital libraries face multiple challenges, but perhaps the greatest is to achieve a recognised and indeed indispensable presence within the workflow of their user communities. With the increased emphasis on Web 2.0 technologies, digital library developers will need to be agile to ensure that they demonstrate both ease of interoperability across disparate end user systems and added value in terms of the content they can deliver. This session will reflect on key strategies to achieve long-term success within this scenario. On the panel here at the JISC conference in Birmingham are:

Ian Dolphin, Head of eStrategy & eServices, University of Hull – Session Chair
Peter Brophy, Director, Centre for Research in Library & Information Management, Manchester Metropolitan University
David Kay, Director, Sero Consulting

Read on for the debate

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Library of the future debate: live now

From eLib to the Library of the future will present an overview of the long term changes that will lead to the library of the future by highlighting the emerging issues that face libraries and information services today and taking a view into the future. On the panel are:

  • Catherine Grout, Programme Director (e-Content), JISC – Session Chair
  • Jon Duke and Andy Jordan, Directors, Duke & Jordan Ltd
  • Jean Sykes, Librarian and Director of IT Services, LSE
  • Lorcan Dempsey, Vice President and Chief Strategist, OCLC
  • Ian Dolphin Programme Director (Information Environment), JISC

Read on for the debate…

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The e-textbook debate: live now

Libraries of the Future LogoAs part of the National E-books Observatory Project and the first in a series of events for JISC’s Libraries of the Future programme, the JISC National E-textbook Debate provides a unique opportunity to quiz a panel of experts and to openly debate the future role of the library in the provision of electronic textbooks. Gathered here in Birmingham on the panel are:

Tom Davy, CEO of Cengage
Dominic Knight, MD of Palgrave
Sue McKnight, Director of Libraries and Knowledge Resources at Nottingham Trent University
Mandy Phillips, Information Resources Manager at Edge Hill University
Chair: Malcolm Read

Read on to follow the debate as it happens… Continue reading