Saturday, June 29, 2013

Virtual browsing of remote storage

Between 50 & 100 years ago, there was a different kind of Open Access movement in libraries...this one more of the physical kind.  I'm referring, of course, to the opening of the stacks.  In a quick search Library Literature Retrospective (1905-1983), there were articles about opening the stacks as late as 1982.  Here's an article from CR&L, 1954: Open or Closed Stacks?  Even when open, the access to the stacks was often highly regulated.  I recall an episode of The Bob Newhart Show (circa 1974) when Emily, in her pursuit of a master's degree, is excited to learn that she and her study partner have a "stacks pass".  The biggest concerns of librarians and administrators were, of course, the security of the collection.  Losses due to theft, as well as misshelving, were the most common concerns.  But, as the article linked above indicates, most libraries had minimal losses (<2%), and increased circulation (upwards of 50-100% or more).

But as the relative funding of libraries shrinks to below 2% of universities' budgets and service priorities shift away from physical books, many academic libraries are moving their books into remote storage, effectively closing the stacks once again.  Access is limited to effectively a paging service for known items.  Because of the loss of serendipity from browsing the shelves, this increases the importance of the metadata for searching, finding, and identifying the right books.  The primary source of metadata, of course, is the catalog, particularly for the kind of books that are being relocated.  Even when incorporated into discovery systems, the primary source is the bibliographic record.

But, as we all know, library catalogs leave a lot to be desired...OK, they suck (see here, here, and here).  They have evolved very little from their beginnings of lists of titles on pages (literal pages and metaphorical pages).

The addition of enhanced content of bibliographic records helps in the selection process.  But against the old adage, we judge much about a book from its cover.  That is why Aaron Tay's look at "virtual shelves" was intriguing to me.  At a time when our library is moving a big chunk of its collection to a remote (albeit local) storage, I've been wondering how we were going to replicate the experience of serendipity.  Interestingly, most of the eight virtual shelves he reviews show covers from the front, even though physical books are shelved showing the spines.  This is because that is what is available - small images of book covers.  Also, most show the books using a horizontal scroll.  Harvard's StackLife shows "spines" of results in a vertical stack, with width and length based on the physical size of the book.  One additional feature is to visually represent popularity of a title by the darkness of the color, based on total circulation.

One problem with all of the systems that use book jacket images is that, for many of the titles being moved into remote storage, there are no covers available.  These are often older, less popular titles - that's why they are being moved.  So the results use a "faux" cover, with the title layered on top. This defeats the purpose of "virtual shelves". It is no better than a list of titles.

I just don't think our catalog systems have the capability to effectively replace the efficiency of locating a section of the shelves and browsing.  Perhaps with some combination of Amazon's LookInside, Harvard's StackLife, and the library's rich metadata, we can get a little closer.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Boy! That air feels good!

Given that today is Father's Day, I would like to plug my father's newest book (OK, it's his first, but what a first!).  Boy! That Air Feels Good: The Untold Story of Car Air details how it was entrepreneurs, mostly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and not the big guys in Detroit, who got us air conditioning in cars.

I am very proud of my father for seeking out and interviewing the original developers and makers, searching archives at the Dallas Public and UT Arlington libraries, seeking and obtaining permissions for use of photos and diagrams, and, of course, writing a narrative that is interesting and takes you back to that time period.  I love his vivid description of a young auto mechanic in the early days of car AC, with business booming and enough work to get him through the summer.  Actually, except for the pack of cigarettes in the rolled-up sleeve, the image in my head as I read it was of my Dad, working in his white cotton t-shirt, before he grew his beard.

This book describes the various renditions of auto ACs, including those that took practically the entire truck space and poured ice-cold air on to the rear seat passengers freezing their ears off.  There are schematics, diagrams, sketches, and photos.  There are stories of business intrigue and personal backgrounds of key players in the field.   Despite the forays into the technical nitty-gritty, I was able to understand how these things worked.

While I know this venue isn't exactly major media, I did want to pay tribute and show off the fruits of my father's labor.  And for his next work, he's wanting to finish a juvenile story about a Japanese boy who accidentally takes off in a balloon and lands in the American desert.  Actually, I was hoping he'd work again on his tale of a little car that is used in whisky runs during Prohibition, by guerilla fighters in Czechoslovakia, and so on through various other adventures.  Sort of like a mechanical version of War Horse.

Feel free to peruse the Amazon "Look Inside" and consider buying your own copy - or tell a friend.

Interesting stuff - for an Assessment-Nerd

I recently received the feed of latest articles from Evidence-based Library & Information Practice (EBLIP), which included conference papers from the 2010 Library Assessment conference, as well as a few original articles & research summaries. (Official Disclosure: I am a peer-reviewer for EBLIP.)  Here is the official scope statement:
EBLIP is a peer reviewed, open access journal published quarterly by the University of Alberta Learning Services, using the OJS Software. The purpose of the journal is to provide a forum for librarians and other information professionals to discover research that may contribute to decision making in professional practice. EBLIP publishes original research and commentary on the topic of evidence based library and information practice, as well as reviews of previously published research (evidence summaries) on a wide number of topics.
Of course, as a librarian with a background in research, I was drawn to this journal waaaaay back at my previous library.  Now I regularly read the articles, looking for gems and ideas for my own professional interests.  This issue, I was not disappointed.  From the 2010 Library Assessment conference, there is a heavy emphasis on ARL assessment products, including LibQUAL+® and its sister product, ClimateQUAL+®, but I was more interested in the articles on such topics as assessing special collections, faculty dissatisfaction with their libraries' journal collections, and linking outcomes with library resources and instruction.  While the conference papers are a bit old (OK, maybe not in "LIS time", but I'm still on "biomedical time"), I still found them quite useful. Here is my take on a few of the key articles, features and evidence summaries.

Still Bound for Disappointment? Another Look at Faculty and Library Journal Collections by Jennifer Rutner (Columbia University) and Jim Self (Univ. of Virginia)
Research Questions:  Are faculty at other ARL institutions all dissatisfied with their libraries' journals?  “Given the substantial investment in journals at ARL libraries, why are faculty at these institutions consistently dissatisfied with their library’s journal collections?”
What they did: Analyzed LibQUAL+ data from over 20 ARL libraries, and interviewed faculty at Columbia to find out more specifically why they are dissatisfied.
Take-home message: Faculty at many ARL libraries are not satisfied with their libraries journals, but not necessarily for the reasons you think.  Many of the issues brought up by Columbia faculty, at least, were technical in nature (e.g. poor "automated responses from library systems", poor search interfaces, etc.) and fall under the umbrella of User Experience.  C'mon, folks - let's get together on this.  We can make the user experience better if we just start working together.

Linking Information Seeking Patterns with Purpose, Use, Value, and Return On Investment of Academic Library Journals by Donald King & Carol Tenopir.
Research Questions: How are purposes of scholarly reading, information seeking behaviors, aspects of use, and positive outcomes or value all related?  How can we use this relationship to demonstrate our value (e.g. with an ROI)?
What they did: This is part of the IMLS-funded MAXDATA project, which included surveys of faculty at 5 universities using the "critical incident" method, asking respondents to think about the most recent information need when completing the survey.  Questions were asked about the purpose of their need, how the information was used, and the value they placed on that information.  Also asked was what the faculty would have done if that last article they used was not available - buy it? spend how much time looking for it?  Based on these responses & previous research, they calculated an ROI of the academic libraries.
Take-home message: Faculty read a lot of articles; they get most of their articles from library resources; the most recent articles are used the most and most articles from library resources are used electronically. Most of this information is not really new - King & Tenopir have been doing a lot of research on use & access.  A few interesting results: faculty spent more time reading articles from library resources than their own subscriptions (probably because more research articles were from the library), and faculty spent more time browsing than searching for each article.  Faculty would spend about 13 hours a year browsing, searching and obtaining articles if the library didn't provide them, which results in about $3500/faculty in cost savings provided by the library, or a 3.6:1 ROI.

Value of Libraries: Relationships Between Provision, Usage, and Research Outcomes by Michael Jubb, Ian Rowlands and David Nicholas out of England.
Research Question(s): Another attempt to derive a measure of value of libraries via the articles it provides.  This time, the link is more outcomes-based.  Specifically, what is the relationship of faculty's use of articles, institutional expenditures on journals, and faculty's research productivity?
What they did: They mined the Web logs of Science Direct and Oxford journals to get the information search & use behaviors.  Then they interviewed faculty and librarians at selected universities. This data was combined with previously-gathered COUNTER-usage data from a variety of British academic institutions.
Take-home message: Cost per download is going down as usage of ejournals increases. The size of the institution does not necessarily predict usage.  Expenditures on journals drives usage, but usage does NOT drive expenditures.  More interestingly, research success drives use.  They were unable, however, to find a factor that use drives - not even productivity.

There were several articles on the development and use of assessment systems and methods, including the University of Wollongong's "Library Cube", U Penn's MetriDoc, and ARL's Balanced Scorecard.

However, these are relatively older items (2010).  There were two articles of recent research that caught my eye - one was a citation analysis study for collection development, and the other was an attempt to provide a method of assessing special collections.

A Citation Analysis of the Classical Philology Literature: Implications for Collection Development by Gregory Crawford from Penn State.
Research Question(s): What are the citation patterns in the classical philology literature and how have these changed over time?
What they did: Examined each citation in every article in two specific years (1986 & 2006) of one journal prominent in the field, noting specifically age, format, language, length.  This was compared with study results from the 1950's.
Take-home message: Citation patterns have not changed a whole lot over the last 50 years.  Citations are about the same age (24-25 years), which is not too surprising given that the topics are 2500-3500 years old.    The distribution of citations by format haven't changed much either - 28-29%.  One interesting change has been an increase in the percentage of book citations (55% in 1956 to 68% in 2006).  This is due primarily to reductions in citations to Festschriften and dissertations.  There were more journal titles cited in 2006 than in 1986 - the author suggests that researchers were "casting a wider net".  This, however, does correspond with an increase in journal titles in all fields.  Eighteen journals made up the top 10 lists from all three years, with 4 titles in all 3 years, and 4 titles in two of the 3 years.  This suggests modest stability of literature.  This article will be of much interest when we look at our classical studies collection.

Data-Driven Decision Making: An Holistic Approach to Assessment in Special Collections Repositories by Melanie Griffin and Barbara Lewis of University of South Florida and Mark Greenberg, Western Washington University.
Research Question(s): How can all aspects of special collections be assessed to enable better decision-making?
What they did: Used Web site usage, patron surveys, usability studies, and Web analytics to answer a series of questions regarding staffing needs, staff-training needs, customer needs assessment and technical needs assessment.
Take-home message: It takes a village - of measures, at least -- to assess a library...of any kind.  While the title includes "holistic", I think it is more akin to triangulation or, essentially, comprehensive assessment.  However, this assessment was focused on the operations and marketing decisions.  It did not include any attempt to get at impact or outcomes of usage of their collections.  This would make it, indeed, holistic.

Finally, there were a number of evidence summaries - critical reviews of published literature.  Reviews that caught my attention were:

Well, reading all of these articles will fill my morning train commute next week.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Three on the changing roles of academic libraries

From John Dupuis' recent list of articles demonstrating angst in academic libraries and in academia in general, there were three items that particularly interesting to me.  The first two are from Bibliographic Wilderness (Jonathan Rochkind, cataloging librarian at Johns Hopkins U).  In Academic Libraries at Risk, he focuses on the recently-released ITHAKA survey of faculty attitudes towards libraries, particularly the statements regarding redirecting money away from libraries (because scholarly information is available online) and the decreasing role of libraries and librarians.  His concerns are both the rates of those who agreed with these statements, but more importantly, the increasing trend over the six years of surveys.  The rates of agreement with these statements has increased steadily from 4-8% in 2006 to 18-20% in 2012.  He asks, appropriately enough, "What do you think those numbers will look like in 2015 when they run the survey again?"  This decline came despite nearly a decade of increased marketing and advertising efforts of many academic libraries.  From this springboard, he insists that to survive, librarians must change the services we provide to reflect what "our host institutions need today, not what they needed 20 years ago" (emphasis original).  While interesting, the comments to his post offer more insight into how other librarians react to this information.  Barbara Fister brought up the problem of the reducing "power of the purse" by full-time faculty, who have been increasingly replaced by adjunct faculty.  Thus, the attitudes of the faculty matter less.  But that doesn't necessarily bode well for libraries.  Jacob Berg shared his concern about the decreased voice of students in the future of libraries.  Alan Zuckerman was concerned about making too many changes to quickly, particularly when more than 80% of the faculty did not agree with these statements.  Is 20% a high enough rate to base changes on?  But Jonathan responded that, while he thought it was, his main question was regarding the increasing trend.

In a closely related posting, One scenario for the death of the academic library, Jonathan refers to a paper posted by Eric Hellman in the comments to the above-mentioned article.  Open Access, library and publisher competition, and the evolution of general commerce, by Andrew Odlyzko, 2013, discusses how libraries have the opportunity to change the future demise of academic libraries by increasing their role in Open Access scholarly publishing.  This is timely, given that the UNT Libraries hosted the Fourth Annual Open Access Symposium.  Invited speakers included several librarians involved in this very pursuit.  But that's a side issue...of interest to me was how library budgets, as a proportion of university budgets, have been decreasing over decades (Scholarly Kitchen, Inside Higher Ed), which reinforces the changing attitudes of faculty revealed in the ITHAKA survey.
Jonathan notes that this decrease in relative spending is accompanied by a corresponding increase in relative spending on collections (notably serials) (he refers to Odlyzko's Figure 5, reproduced below):
Figure 5: Fraction of library budgets devoted to all acquisitions and to purchases of serials
Although not the first, both Odlyzko and Rochkind suggest that the libraries' role in both academia and public may be reduced to being simply or solely a buying agent of information resources.  While Odlyzko argues that libraries should retain their viability by inserting themselves prominently in the Open Access scholarly communications, Rochkind expands on this idea by suggesting that librarians highlight their role as "disinterested advisors" providing "provide services with transparency, impartiality, assertive protection of user privacy, and a professional ethical responsibility to act always in the interests of our patrons, never sacrificing them to our own business interests."

The final piece from Dupuis' list that intrugued me was the posting from McGill University's blog about a "consultation session" called by the Trenholme Dean of Libraries Colleen Cook about the effects of a $1.8 million (Canadian) cut in the library's budget.  The plan is to close one library and merge it with another.  Essentially, the reason for this is that the money saved will come largely from cuts to support staff, so there will not be enough people to staff both libraries.  Since these two libraries have rather low rates of usage (as measured by visits per population served), it made sense to merge them.  However, the chief complaint was the inconvenience of the location of the merged library to the primary users of the closed library (medical students).  Interestingly, the Dean's proposed solution to this problem (delivery of materials) itself was in jeopardy due to the same issue: reduction of support staff.

I am surprised that the solutions to this problem that were raised were largely work-arounds: retaining a core set of textbooks at the closed location; having volunteers or librarians performing the duties of the support staff (thank goodness for unions!); book delivery.  No mention was made of efforts to obtaining access to digital versions of the core texts (whatever that might require).  I am also disappointed that the chief complaint is physical access to materials; there was, apparently, no discussion on the loss of access to librarians.

The Dean was criticized for the abruptness of the planning of these consultation sessions, as well as the apparent "lack of sincerity and transparency."  One of the affected faculty alleged that the Dean had "ended a meeting of the Advisory Committee by saying, 'My library, my decision.'"  On her behalf, Colleen Cook informed those attending that the planning is rushed because the cuts went into effect in May and had to be implemented before September 1st.  And, in the end, it is her decision, although it is expected that she take the concerns and ideas that she solicited into consideration.

What is happening at McGill is happening at many, many academic and public libraries.  Economics is about making choices -- the university administration made their choices (reducing funding the library), and the library administration made their choices (cutting staff, and thus closing a library).  These choices may or may not stand up to the test of time...