Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Selecting a new ILMS, probably the biggest single purchase a library will make so do it properly.

Selecting a new keystone system for any organisation is a major decision and so it is with a library when choosing a new ILMS (Integrated Library Management System). Given the time, effort, resources, and lets face it, the cost, the decision process needs to be well thought out.

However, much to my continued horror, too many school libraries in Australia make this decision with minimal assessment or rigor. For example I have inherited systems because predecessors (and I quote) "asked a few local libraries what they used and liked and went with that". I have also been in vendor presentations and being appalled at the lack of real questions and assessment by my peers. For example, I should not be the only person in the room who asks about what reporting is available. I have also heard numerous ILMS vendors complain that they do the development work for basic modules only for the school marketplace not to understand them or use them. For example, in one school library I asked the teacher librarian how do they do reservations without using the ILMS, she said "sticky notes". WTF I said to myself, sticky notes, give me a break. When I asked her "and how is that working?" the reply was "its not". So even though their ILMS offered a reservation module, it had never been implemented, and the process wasn't working.

So at a time when school libraries should be automating back end processes so they can focus on front of house service delivery AND reporting the value they deliver; even when they have an ILMS that can help them make this happen they don't use the functionality. I would like to report this was an isolated incident, but in my experience it is not. No wonder so many school libraries are under threat of closure or being scaled back. It comes as no surprise that many (but not all) of the ILMS used by Australian schools lack the functionality that the rest of the library community takes for granted.

So rather than bitch about this dire situation I've decided to freely share my processes. However it is important to note that:  
  • This exercise is not about saying which ILMS is better than another. Each library has to choose a system that is the best fit for them as well as being within budget. 
  • This is not presented as being the only, or indeed the best, way of assessing a new ILMS. But, if making this assessment process helps one other Australian school library make a better and informed decision than that is a good thing.
So here it goes:
In going to market four leading school ILMS vendors were asked to participate. We did not have the time, or resources, to review more than four vendors. In selecting these four we choose vendors who have a significant market presence.

All vendors were asked to respond to a set of criteria and supply at least one Melbourne School reference site. As part of the process all communication between the Library and the participating vendors have been documented via emails. This ensured there was a documented record of the assessment and that all vendors are treated equally. The criteria set out the following:

26 questions
Focusing on the broad level of functionality expected of a 21 century school library ILMS. This also helps ensure efficient and streamlined backend operations.
8 questions
Focusing on specifics relating to loans functionality to ensure the service can do what is expected of it. This also helps ensure efficient and streamlined backend operations.
9 questions
To ensure the service meets the necessary library standards to allow for integration into online vendor content as well as strategic partnering with other schools and other local collections. This also helps ensure efficient and streamlined backend operations.
23 questions
To ensure the service is easy to use and gives students and staff a search interface that allows them to quickly find what they are looking for.
11 questions
Focusing on whether the service can be used by the School archives to store, protect, and make available the Archives.
It was important to ensure that whatever solution we chose would work in the future as well as the present. Therefore, we deliberately asked questions about emerging changes, for example the move from MARC to Bibframes, knowing that vendors would not be compliant. It was still important however to be assured that vendors were across current changes and had a thought out future development plan.

For an assessment to work the library has to also be open and transparent about it's priorities. Therefore against each criteria we indicated whether the criteria was:
Functionality is extremely important to us and will be critical in the evaluation process,
Highly Desirable
Functionality is very important to us and will play a major role in the evaluation process, and
Functionality is ‘nice to have’ but not critical.
From the vendor supplied response, as well as observations and discussion with the reference sites, the library graded each criteria with a score out of 10 with a possible total score of 770. These responses are outlined in the following table.

Digital Repository
User Experience

Vendor 4 submitted a response but did not provide details of how they met the selection criteria. As a result it has not been possible to score this service. Needless to say we did not choose vendor number 4.

Finally, we shared this high level overview of the assessment back with each of the participating vendors. It is my personal view that if a library asks vendors to submit detailed information about their services as part of an assessment process it is beholden on the library to share back with the vendors why they were chosen or why they were not. If libraries do not give feedback vendors can not be expected to respond to what the market place needs. However, in providing feedback it is critically important the library does not divulge any information to one vendor that another vendor has supplied commerical-in-confidence.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Sharing resources makes a lot of sense

Today I got an email asking why would an Australian school library use Libraries Australia when they can use SCIS

We have a subscription to Libraries Australia for the following reasons:

  1. It is an alternative source of catalogue records to SCIS. This is important to us because, being the school we are, there are some topics we collect that SCIS would not cover and while SCIS does do original cataloguing we can get the alternative records from Libraries Australia faster than it takes SCIS to do the cataloguing.
  2. Like so many other Australian Libraries we are also in the process of up loading all of our records back into Libraries Australia. This means our holdings also appear in WorldCat. The benefits of this are:
  • We can link our collection on the fly via  to other libraries in our area e.g. local public libraries and specialist collections. This means students and staff can see what we have as well as what other libraries have via the one single search. So if the student is looking for a book over the weekend because the assignment that is due on Monday and we are closed, they can see straight away who else has the title in their local area. 
  • Linking and resource sharing is a common practice among the public and university libraries. As school libraries are expected to do more with less it is only a matter of time before schools will need to think about how they can link and leverage off other local libraries. There are always going to be titles that students and staff will have a passing or short term interest. We would not buy these titles for our collection, but if they can be made readily discoverable and therefore accessible from other local libraries we are helping make it easier for patrons to find what they are looking for.
Further down the track we would like to be able to then prioritise our local holdings on the fly within a Trove search result. If our holdings are in Libraries Australia they are automatically in the ANBD as well as WorldCat.

If people approach searching from a variety of positions and platforms we want to make sure our patrons can see what we can offer even if they do not come directly to our catalogue in the first instant.

We might also have a small collection when compared to the Australian universities, research organisations, State Libraries and Public Libraries but we do have some unique holdings and we have all have a shared responsibility to make sure that the unique and often hard to find and difficult to replace items in our collections are readily accessible.

Sharing on the fly is going to play a great role in the future. Watch this space. 

Monday, 30 July 2012

eBook selection criteria

When selecting eBooks we share our selection criteria with potential suppliers. This makes the process as transparent and accountable as possible. Overall, we want to work with suppliers that work within the international standards. This is because it always ends up more expensive working within bespoke and proprietary solutions. Our selection criteria are therefore heavily weighted towards suppliers that have implemented these industry standards. We will never get all our eBooks from one publisher, and as no one searches by publisher, we also give preference to suppliers that enable us to integrate our eBooks into our library catalogue so we can offer single search from a single user authenticated sign on.

Here are our current eBook selection criteria. They have been written for a school library in Australia.

Selection Criteria

1. Coverage Criteria

The following standard questions are gathered from the staff assessing products and services on trial.

1. Does it broadly support the curricula in 2013? and / or1 to 5 with 1 been poor and 5 being excellent
2. Does it support specific / focused and in depth study of the curricula in 2013?1 to 5 with 1 been poor and 5 being excellent
Does it meet the specific needs of the school's teacher’s?1 to 5 with 1 been poor and 5 being excellent
Is it age appropriate?1 to 5 with 1 been poor and 5 being excellent

2. Standard Questions for trials of online content

In addition to the coverage questions, the following standard questions are gathered from the staff assessing online products and services.
  • How many times did you use this service / title during the trial? 
  • Use the following scale to rank the service / title in terms of:
a. ease of navigation1 to 5 with 1 been poor and 5 being excellent
b. Usefulness for teaching purposes (includes integration with our Smartboards).1 to 5 with 1 been poor and 5 being excellent
c. Downloading, emailing, and printing content1 to 5 with 1 been poor and 5 being excellent
d. Search functionality1 to 5 with 1 been poor and 5 being excellent
e. Linking to the school's online learning platform)1 to 5 with 1 been poor and 5 being excellent

  • How often would you use this service / title in your teaching?
  • Would you recommend the school proceed with this service / title? Y/N

3 Cost Criteria

1. Does it deliver best value for money

4 Functionality Criteria

Questions the library staff ask of the publishers on behalf of the school. The questions cover issues of functionality and digital rights management. Where possible we encourage publishers to work within existing international standards.

  1. Fully keyword searchable within each specific title, as well as across the all the titles purchased from each publisher’s online platform.
  2. In addition to searching on the full text, the text in graph, chart, and image metadata to also fully keyword searchable. Can you search on mathematical equations?
  3. If the eBook is NOT born digital (the online version is a copy of the print edition) we would want to see the online content presented in the same way, and with the same layout, as the print edition. This is also important when students are expected to cite page numbers. Therefore, we would look favourably on being able to access PDF page views.
  4. Author, subject, and citation details to be hyperlinked if the links points to other titles we have purchased from the publisher.
  5. Allow persistent and stable URL linking into the school's online learning platform as well as our eLibrary portal. It should be possible for teachers to set up links to a specific title, chapter or sections. It is advantageous for publishers to follow international practice and:
    • a. Use unique eISBN number for the title level links, and
    • b. Use the international DOI (The Digital Object Identifier System) standard to create persistent and stable links to chapters and sections. For details see
  6. Is platform neutral so it is usable on different types of devices, for example: PCs, laptops, iPads, and eBook readers. Is the interface dependent on flash or Adobe Acrobat?
  7.  Accessible to current teachers and students both on campus as well as from home.
  8.  The ability for teachers and students to email articles, sections or chapters to each other or themselves.
  9. The ability for a teacher to set up custom topic / recommended reading collections that they can share it with their students via our online learning platform.
  10. Citation help tools that build citations on the fly for the title, chapter, or section.
  11. The ability to export citations into third party products such as:  EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, RefWorks.
  12. The ability to listen to the text being read so students with low vision or learning issues can access the text.
  13. Cloud based web solutions so the school does not need to load the data locally or access the content from a CD or DVD. Ideally students and teachers should be able to migrate their access from one device to another in the same way Amazon allows people to access their content at multiple devices.
  14. Offer the ability to highlight text and add notes. Ideally teachers should be able to highlight text and add notes that they can share with their class as well as for teachers to see the notes and highlighted text of each of their students.
  15. The option of a site licence rather than having to register and maintain individual users licenses.
  16. As with the print, offer once only payments rather than ongoing yearly subscription renewals.
  17. MARC records of the titles we have purchased with pre-populated 856 fields so we can load the bibliographic details of the eBooks we have purchased into our library catalogue. As an aside, academic publishers are starting to load their bibliographic metadata into WorldCat This allows libraries to implement cloud based and collaborative catalogue solutions that avoid the need to load metadata locally. This delivers significant time savings and reduces library staff overheads.
  18. A web based administration utility that enables us to:
    • brand the search interface to the school's corporate identity,
    • customise the search functionality, some publishers allow us to offer different interfaces, with different levels of functionality or access to different collection, to different patron groups. For example: teachers versus students, or Middle School versus Senior School.
    • load or link to our print based holdings (see also bullet point 16)
    • View and export in CSV format our usage statistics (see also bullet point 19)
  19. Conforms to international recognised statistics gathering and reporting standards such as Project Counter and SUSHI
  20.  Archive back up copy in case the eBook goes out of print.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Life and work has been busy but it might be time to kick start this blog back to life. So here are my thoughts on something that is grabbing my interest of late: open data and using visualization tools to make large data sets understandable.

Governments around the globe are opening up their data vaults – allowing you to check out the numbers for yourself. The Guardian Newspaper in the UK offers some good examples but given the size and complexity of these data sets how do we make sense of them? If you need expensive software to data mine and process the information will the findings be restricted to haves at the expense of the havenots?

It will therefore be fascinating to see if open source projects such as the Miso Project will have an impact on civil society and democracy in general. Does a better understanding of what is going on make a difference? Does it lead to better decision making and or more accountable government? Does the fact that the Guardian Newspaper (along with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) is one of the Miso Project partners suggest large data set visualization may also have a positive impact on journalism and investigative reporting?

"This week has seen the launch of The Miso Project, an “open source toolkit designed to expedite the creation of high-quality interactive storytelling and data visualization content”.

It is also interesting to see that there are calls for single European license for open data.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Personalise your output

In thinking about how and why libraries would let patrons choose their content output it becomes apparent that the broader web trend of increased personalisation could allow libraries to offer much more for people with vision and or hearing impairments.

At the moment libraries have to buy pre-formatted content from publishers. For example, you buy the print version of the book, and then you have to separately buy the audio book, large print version, and the ebook. If you are dealing with internal or locally produced content (e.g. oral or written memoirs in local history collection) and you want to make it available in different formats, you need to reformat in house. Not surprisingly, for most libraries, content suitable for people with vision or hearing impairments represents only a small part of their overall collection.

BUT,... if the ReadWrite Top 5 Web Trends for 2009 becomes mainstream, there may be scope for library clients to pick the output of their choice. If data is more structured and more and more things are tagged, content could be reformatted on the fly. This could open up much more of the collection and give patrons real choice. For example, patrons could choose if they want to read an book on a screen, printed it out, or a computer read it to them.

The does mean that the content has to be formatted to begin with, but as with XBRL for business reporting, the principle is that you format it once and then open it up to be used and reused in many different ways. Of course there would be copyright and content licensing issues that need to be addressed.

There is certainly a lot more software out there that can read xml, or listen to audio and render it as text, See following for a few examples.
Given more and more of this type of software is free the possibilities are huge.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Top Web Trend 3 of 5: Personalisation

As ReadWriteWeb said in their Top 5 Web Trend for 2009, "ultimately personalisation is about web sites and services giving you what you want, when you want it." While this is true, personalisation is also about giving people what they want in the formats they want. For libraries therefore, personalisation means being able to deliver the information people want, when they want it 24/7, and in the formats they want it. While this is easy to say it is not always easy to do. For example, commercial licenses and insufficient bandwidth, are two factors that can stand in the way of delivering anything and everything 24/7. Furthermore, even with Google Books a lot of information is still only available in print format.

Ultimately there is a tension between what people want and what libraries can technical deliver within their budget constraints. However, because good libraries understand their patron's needs and wants, they should be able to leverage off the advances in Web personalisation and offer even more responsive and relevant services that better meet client's needs.

So what does this mean in practical terms? ReadWriteWeb goes on to say that the personalisation is driven in part by:

  • Filtering the Real-Time Firehose: richer and better tagged semantic data means people can pull out only the bits they are interested in, and there are a growing number of dashboard services that make this happen by giving the user control over the filtering.
  • Open Web: More Data About You, Better Personalization: The growth in personalised filtering is made possible because the underlining data is richer and more structured. It is also possible because to quote ReadWriteWeb "the more data about you and your social graph that is available to be used by applications, the better targeted the content and/or service will be to you."
  • Recommendation Engines: watch what you are interested in and personalise their suggestions to your preferences.
Libraries have being offering personalisation for some time. My public library lets me identify what interest me and I get an email if new stuff comes in that is mapped against my interests.

Libraries (and of course web services and platforms) also offer users the ability to personalise their web sites. Example include:
Libraries are also increasingly allowing patrons to personalise the way they engage with the library through the use of widgets / gadgets. Patron can grab and embed a bit of the library into their own preferred web platform. For example (because they have been in the news of late) see Gone are the days when patrons had to go to a library's web site to use the library's online services.

While this is great, the type of services and trends mentioned by ReadWriteWeb will take personalisation to a whole new level. Mixing personalisation with the other 4 ReadWriteWeb trends (Structured Data, Real-Time Web, Mobile Web / Augmented Reality, and Internet of Things) will give libraries the potential to offer incredibly rich and compelling services that are directly targeted to each individual patron's needs and wants. Welcome to the brave new world!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Top Web Trend 2 of 5: Real-Time Web

The "real time web" is no longer a future trend, its here. As ReadWriteWeb noted in its second top 5 web trends: Real Time Web "has become a core part of many Internet products this year: Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, Google, Delicious, Wordpress, and many others. Because real time web is about communicating information that is both immediate and public, it is also having a profound impact on what and how libraries can harvest information, as well as deliver information to their client base.

Let’s not forget that real time web functionality also allows a library's client base to communicate among themselves (as well as back to the library) in real time. However, because the communication is immediate there is an expectation that the response, or answer, will also be immediate. Despite the introduction of excellent services such as Ask a Librarian, are libraries really set up to meet this expectation? For example, on Sunday afternoon as I write this blog post the "Ask a Librarian" service is not available. In the brave new world of social media, real time web implies 27/7, and not 10 am to 7 pm Monday to Friday Australian Eastern Standard Time.

Of course real time information in a library setting does not have to be driven by physical librarians staffing some sort of online client contact centre (the mortal in the portal). News feeds, be they driven by RSS or Twitter, or links to community-of-interest forums, are two other ways of embedding real time updates into a library portal. These and other methods allow a library to provide real time information updates 24/7, though of course they can't necessarily answer specific reference questions.

It is interesting, given the growing importance of real time information, that library portals offering updated real time content on the fly seem far and few between. Interesting, because in my experience, embedding automatically updating information does help make for a very compelling library portal. For example, the library I work at has (like many libraries) an internal wiki. However, many of the articles in the wiki now present buttons which launch updated information harvested from specific news and blog searches. The underlying feed is often aggregated, filtered and de-duplicated before being presented in either relevancy or reverse date order. This means that breaking or more up to date information on the specific topic can be embedded directly into the wiki without the need of library staff (or patrons) to manually update the content.

Lots of libraries offer RSS feeds alerting clients when there are updates and changes in the library's content, but why don’t more libraries embed information that has been filtered and delivered on the fly? After all, it is the skill of the librarian as an information professional that is essential in setting up the filtering to ensure only the best results are delivered. Hopefully one of the top trends for libraries will be an increase in the use of embedded real time information.

In the meantime there is a very good post on the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) blog which lists some of the characteristics of the real-time library. These are:
  • The real-time library is socially networked but it’s about more than just owning social network accounts; the real-time library has an active presence and shares information in real time.
  • The real-time library updates its status regularly.
  • The real-time library offers targeted services to the networked community.
  • The real-time library is accessible on real-time communication devices.
  • The real-time library is ready and waiting – all the time – to deliver information services.
  • The real-time library monitors the multitude of emerging real-time web services and experiments to find those with the potential to enhance service in real-time mode.
  • The real-time library designs information services specifically for delivery and use on the real-time web.
  • Real-time librarians are adept at creating relationships with real-time library users.

Monday, 21 September 2009

The Library as a kids place

I have been looking at the Libraries for Children and Young Adults and Library Buildings and Equipment session at the recent International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) conference in Milan and keep thinking of the line "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man" which is attributed to St Francis Xavier. This is also the quote which forms the basis of the long running Seven Up documentary. Basically the line means that who we are as adults is shaped by our childhood.

If this is the case (and I think childhood is incredibly important to shaping who we are as adults) then some of the libraries currently being built for children have the potential to make a real difference and inspire a joy of reading, learning, and discovery. If libraries want to continue to have a role for future generations, creating stimulating and fun places for children can only help. After all it is not only about technology. But back to the IFLA conference, there are a lot of very good papers in this session but the stand out for me was the paper from Denmark "The red tread - new central library in Hjørring, Denmark" [PDF].

This Danish presentation (with lots of great pictures) shows the new central Library in Hjoerring. It does not take long to read.
  • I love the red ribbon pathway through the library (it even encourages kids to crawl through one of the book shelves).
  • I love the slippery slide between the book shelves.
  • I love the more adult club chairs in the older kids reading area.
  • I love the messy activities area with paint and costumes.
  • I love the V.I.P. (Very Important Parent) corner, and
  • I love the tree structure and the soft floor mats in the kids reading area.
If only libraries where like this when I was a child. The librarians at Hjoerring are clearly very good at creating fun spaces that kids would love to use. They also seem very good at using technology, and (importantly) having fun. There is some very good information about this library on the web site and there is even a YouTube video of them building the fit outs for this library. Enjoy!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Top Web Trend 1 of 5: Structured Data

Structured data has always played a role in libraries. Think MARC and MARCXML. Therefore, any increase in the importance of, growth of, and reliance on, structured data will have an impact on libraries. If the process of adding structure to data is increasingly automated, or becomes a seamless part of building online content, this will also have a huge impact on libraries.

Using structured data libraries will be able to build content that is richer as well as more accurate. It also means that information can be harvested and reused in more meaningful ways. For example, XBRL is structured data for financial reporting. Using XBRL companies can code up their financial reports and all the various regulatory authorities can automatically harvest these reports and process the information they contain without the need for humans to "read" and decipher them. A lot of companies and governments are hoping this will significantly reduce reporting and compliance costs. For libraries it means we could more deeply and accurately harvest mashed up information.

Structured data by its very nature is created through establishing links (structures) between bits of data. These links are based on meaningful associations and as a result they help turn data into information. One example cited in the ReadWrite Web top 5 web trends is Calais. The library I work for is already using Calais to categorise content relating to specific people, places, companies, facts, and events.

But what does this means, how does it work, and why is it important? Well, there is a good description on the Drupal OpenCalais project site which says "Using natural language processing, machine learning and other methods, Calais analyzes your document and finds the entities within it. But, Calais goes well beyond classic entity identification and returns the facts and events hidden within your text as well. The web service is free for commercial and non-commercial use."

Another good example which helps explain Calias (and structured data) relates to the Calais Wordpress blog plugin which is called Tagaroo. With Tagaroo, as you are write your post, is automatically analyzes it and suggests both tags and images from Flickr to enhance your blog. Other applications would include linking relevant geospatial information to information on an entity or event.

There is also a promotional video on the Calias web site. Yes it is a promotional video, but it does provide an easy to understand overview. And by the way, Calais has been developed by Thomson Reuters so there is some serious money been thrown at building structured data on the web.