Posts Tagged 'digital libraries'

Stanford announces prize for innovation in research libraries

Today Stanford University Libraries announces the Stanford Prize for Innovation in Research Libraries – SPIRL, an award that is intended to recognize and celebrate individual research libraries for sustained and significant innovation in any operational area. Nominations with documentation may be made by institutions or individuals and are due by 15 January 2013.
I often brag about all the awesome innovative things my colleagues here at Stanford Libraries make happen, but I/we are well aware that research libraries and librarians across the world are doing amazing things. I’m thrilled that we will be identifying and celebrating the innovative programs happening in other research libraries. The prize is open to any and all areas of research library operations, including (but not limited to):

discovery & navigation; reader & research services; publishing; metadata development, adaptation, sharing, and harvesting; acquisition and processing of library materials in any/all formats, digital and physical; collection development and management including various forms of efficient storage & retrieval; preservation and archiving, digital and physical; marketing and public relations; staff training & development; fund-raising and asset acquisition; organizational development; assessment and re-engineering of practices; standards development; digitization and provision for user adaptation of digital information objects; course and learning management systems/services; knowledge management; outreach, bibliographic instruction, information heuristic instruction; and reader/user assessments and surveys.

Rare book digitization at Stanford Libraries

Rare book digitization at Stanford Libraries, photo courtesy of Stanford Digital Production Group

You get the idea … we really are looking for nominations from all corners of the research library world. Basically any significant innovations that “have measurable impact on the library’s own clientele as well as the potential for influencing the practices and/or standards of research librarianship generally.” Note that while appropriate use of technology is assumed, the prize is not inherently about technology. For example, if Stanford Libraries’ programs were eligible (we are not, for obvious reasons), our Concierge Project would be just as competitive a nomination as our rare books digitization program.

Nomination are due on January 15 — please help us spread the word. I can’t wait to see what sorts of innovative stuff comes our way.

How to throw an awesome work retreat

We took our leadership team to Asilomar State Beach and Conference Center for a 2 night retreat recently. Our overarching goal was to develop a shared understand of how we define ourselves as an organization; especially in the context of the changing landscape of higher education. The retreat was quite simply awesome. We have already gotten tons of feedback (solicited and unsolicited) indicating that the retreat was inspiring, fun, and “the best retreat ever!”. My own impression is that it was all of that … and productive to boot!

So how did we pull it off? What are the key ingredients? I suspect that the 2 most important ingredients are a good location and awesome staff. I’m convinced that a location that incorporates natural beauty in a casual setting is most effective. I just think we are more creative, more open-minded, and more collegial when we’re wearing jeans and walking on the beach together (or watching the Giants win 2 games on their way to a World Series championship in the small coffee shop that is home to the only TV). And I simply can’t say enough good things about our staff — we have really smart people who care deeply about the future of libraries and of higher education. To a person, they were fully engaged in this retreat — taking the exercises seriously, and making a point of connecting with colleagues they don’t usually interact with.

Looking at our agenda and how we organized things, a few things stand out:

  1. For the formal parts of the retreat, we had people sitting at tables of 7-8. We were very careful in setting up the table groups to make sure that the groups represented a good mix of units, but also that no one was at a table with their boss.
  2. We limited the amount of time spent passively listening to presentations and maximized active participation and discussion.
  3. The group activities that we used were fun, were open-ended, and were meaningful and realistic (at least for us).
  4. Even the first night ice-breaker question (“What is your best Halloween memory?”) worked well, as we all learned about a colleague’s clown pajama costume and another colleague’s “underwear on the outside” party.

My favorite group activities were:

  1. “The library just received a $5 million increase in our budget. What would you do with the new funding? Put together a proposal.”
  2. “Come up with a marketing and outreach campaign for the library, complete with slogans,logos, etc.”

Both these exercises capitalized on the amazing creativity of our staff, and helped us clarify our vision as an organization.

Notes from brainstorming

Brainstorming at Table X

Our challenge now is to keep the excitement, the relationships, and the ideas that were generated at the retreat alive and to spread them to the rest of the organization.

Google Books settles with AAP. Yawn.

Google and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) reached a settlement ending the lawsuit filed by the AAP in 2005 alleging that the Google Books project violated copyright by scanning books without permission. The gist of the agreement, from the New York Times Technology section:

The deal allows publishers to choose whether to allow Google to digitize their out-of-print books that are still under copyright protection. If Google does so, it will also provide them with a digital copy for their own use, perhaps to sell on their Web sites.

For books that it has digitized, Google allows people to read 20 percent of them online and purchase the entire books from the Google Play store, and it shares revenue with the publishers. The two parties did not disclose additional financial terms of the agreement, but the publishers had not asked for monetary damages.

Google has been offering publishers the opportunity to sell digital books for years, and digitizing new books has become routine for publishers. But under the settlement, publishers get the benefit of Google digitizing out-of-print books that they might not otherwise have turned into e-books. Meanwhile, Google can expand the library of e-books it sells to consumers.

According to Jiffy, there’s nothing to get excited about in latest settlement in Google Books case.

It is not at all clear how this settlement (which is not a class action settlement, therefore the terms are private) affects the kinds of issues most of us in library-land care most about. This settlement doesn’t address Google’s claim that creating digital copies of copyrighted works represents Fair Use. There is also no mention of institutional licenses for access to Google Books like the one described in the original proposed settlement with both the Authors Guild and the AAP. Of course, that settlement was rejected by the courts, and this recent settlement does not affect the Authors’ Guild’s ongoing class action suitagainst Google. This settlement is all about selling digital versions of books.

In an ARS Technica article, copyright expert James Grimmelmann suggests that although the settlement may exacerbate tensions between authors and publishers, the bottom line for him is “I can’t imagine there’s anything interesting in there.”

The always smart, and often acerbic, Peter Brantley sums up his thoughts on the settlement:

At the end of the day, the publisher litigation with Google feels like the remnant of a bad dream fading in the early morning hours. We are where we must be, except that a small number of authors and their lawyers are still clearly motivated to obtain their own payout for the purported harm done them by the hasty presumptions of networked culture. Hopefully, the absence of a falling sky will spur the minds of judges, lawyers, and juries that our conceptions of rights have evolved over the last 100 years.

I honestly don’t know where this settlement leaves us in terms of achieving the original high hopes many of us had when the Google Books project started back in 2005. The Fair Use question remains to be addressed, the availability of Orphan Works remains iffy, and the vision of a universal digital library available to all remains unrealized. All that said, the very fact that Google has scanned more than 20 million books has increased discoverability on a scale that was nearly unimaginable just a decade ago, and has provided scholars with text-mining possibilities that will surely continue to increase our understandings of human language, culture and literature.
And let’s not forget that without Google Books, there would not be a HathiTrust.

So, the while the recent settlement reached by Google with the AAP seems to have little direct impact on libraries’ interests and Google Books has not yet turned out to be all that we might have hoped for, I still think the benefits to scholars and to the public at large outweigh the disappointments.

Edited to add links to what others have to say about the impact of the settlement on university libraries:

Awesome Library Website, Part 4: Reviews are in!

If you are tired of hearing me brag about our Awesome Library Website, here is a sampling of what others are saying:

Lorcan Dempsey of OCLC does a fantastic job of describing 2 main goals of our site:

  1. Highlighting Library space as a service
  2. Providing “full library discovery

Thanks for the excellent and insightful review, Lorcan!

We have also been getting plenty of feedback via our Feedback link/email:

  • Kudos to the team. This is an enormous project and your dedication and diligence has produced a vastly superior site that all of us can be proud of and on which our patrons can find what they need.
  • New site looks great!
  • Subject: The new website… Tell us: …is great!
  • I think my first favorite feature of the new site is the single search box, and its common-sense display of results from a variety of sources.  Because I’m vain, I just searched some words from the title of my one-and-only academic publication, and loved seeing SearchWorks results alongside site-search results (from my Person page).  I can imagine an actual patron doing this with an actual search, and stumbling upon an actual subject specialist with common research interests.  Very cool!
  • I like it, although I haven’t put it to too much use yet. I look forward to becoming more familiar with its features.
  • i love your site
  • I actually love a lot about your site – kudos!

From Twitter:

  • @calfano27: Congrats to all who put together the awesome new Stanford libraries website :) Super shiny
  • @pantheon_drupal: That’s one fine lookin’ library site! Congratz to @chapter_three and SULAIR on an amazing launch –
  • @miriamkp: Nice. Nothing extraneous. RT @StanfordLibs: Our new website is live today — check it out and send your feedback:
  • @erikoomen: checking the new Stanford Universitiy Library website #nicework #goodpractice
  • @ccthompson: I love the Stanford University website. happily taking notes on the user interface! ‪
  • Plus loads of tweets and Re-Tweets linking to the new homepage and/or to specific pages within the new site, including tweets in Japanese, French, and Spanish.

From Facebook:

Here’s one of my favorite new links from the new website: Places to study – Brilliant idea to include this!

Awesome Library Website, Pt. 3: Lift-off!

rocket launch

Photo by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Today we officially launched our new library website. The approximately 10,000 visitors to our old site are now being automatically redirected to our new site.
I fully expect that most of them will be thrilled with the updated look, clear navigation, improved searching, and richer content. I also expect that we will get a few emails from regular users who can’t find something in it’s new spot, but we should be able to handle those fairly quickly.

I have already bragged about how awesome our new site is in general, and specifically about our cool central ribbon feature.

There is so much more to brag about, I hardly know where to start — but let’s go with 2 pieces of functionality and content that grew directly out of our user feedback: hours and places to study. All of our interviews with patrons, our usability tests, and our guerilla testing indicated that patrons consistently ranked finding out when libraries are open, and where they could study (with a group, in a quiet area, with computers, near coffee, etc.) as top reasons they go to a library website.

Visitors to our new site can see today’s hours for all libraries on the homepage, this week’s hours for all libraries on the hours page, and can click on Show full calendar on any specific library page (for example, see our Biology Library page) to see hours for that library for the month.

Our Places to Study list includes awesome photos of study spaces across the libraries, and allows students to filter the list by commonly requested attributes (e.g. absolute quiet, coffee nearby, open late).

I can’t wait to start getting feedback and use statistics on the whole site, but especially these 2 features. I guess the only drawback might be that some of our previously “secret” study rooms could start to get pretty crowded.

Awesome new library website, Part 2: The multiple stakeholders challenge

One of the biggest challenges of a library website project (maybe any website project) seems to be figuring out what gets top billing. Top billing in this sense usually means front page.
Our library website has many different types of users and a seemingly endless number of stakeholders. One of the best and most common ways to account for multiple users/stakeholders is to develop personas, which we did early on in the project.

Developing the right personas is only half the battle, though. The real challenge is figuring out how to balance their sometimes conflicting needs. There is simply not enough room on a website (at least not on a well-designed one) to put all your users’ main needs on the front page.

Stanford University Libraries website

Screen shot of ribbon, with Collections panel highlighted

One really clever and elegant way our awesome design team came up with to meet this challenge is the central ribbon on our new site. Clicking on any of the central ribbon items does not take you away from the homepage – it simply changes the content on the bottom half of the homepage. It basically allows us to have multiple views of our homepage — 5 different views without scrolling, but we can add as many panels as we want after the scroll. I love it.

Of course, the real test will come once we go live and start to get actual user behavior and feedback, but I’m feeling very confident that our folks came up with a really smart solution to an often vexing web design challenge.

Our awesome new library website, Part 1

Screen shot of new site: August 21, 2012

There is so much awesome in our new library website, that I know it will take more than one blog post to talk about them all; so consider this installment 1.

We will be officially launching our new site next week, although it has been live as a “preview” for many months now. The official launch basically consists of redirecting almost all traffic from our old/current site to our new site (see the difference in awesomeness?).

First, all credit goes to the rock stars who made this all happen:

Libraries redesign websites all the time, so what’s so special about ours? Here is a quick run-down of awesome — off the top of my head and in no particular order:

  • Integrated search results from SearchWorks (our catalog), selected databases, and the website.  Some of my current favorite examples are: Herbert Matter, Feminist Studies, and Lost Books.
  • It has been based on massive amounts of user testing and feedback from the very beginning, and throughout the redesign process
  • We started out with some pretty straight-forward goals, and referred back to them throughout the project.
  • Although it is a top-down redesign, focused first on the homepage and lots of top-level content, we will eventually have over 100 staff members creating content and pages on the site. The end result is a delicate balance between standardized design and distributed authorship.
  • We tried from the start to place as much (or more) emphasis on content as we did on the technology. To that end, we are developing an extensive Content Creation Guide, covering topics such as writing for the web, providing image attribution information, capitalization of library names, and how to fill out your People Page.
  • Much of our progress and guidelines for web authors has been posted publicly on our Library Website Redesign Blog. We also have developed an internal Training for the Library Website site within CourseWork (Stanford’s course management system).

Bottom line, when asked to describe what is newsworthy about our site redesign, my off-the-cuff response was “Teaching, learning and research at Stanford will be easier now because our website rocks.”

Stay tuned for future posts about specific features of the site, including our Places to Study database, People Pages, Guides, Collections, and more.

Stanford already thinks like a startup

On Saturday morning, I’ll be part of a panel discussion at ALA discussing Brian Mathews’ white paper “Think like a Startup: A white paper to inspire library entrepreneurialism.” (pdf) It’s a very good paper, full of fresh thinking and great ideas and examples about how to encourage innovation in libraries. I decided to jot my pre-discussion notes down here.

My first thought (and I’ve struggled with how to say this without sounding like an arrogant jerk), was “Great ideas .. but we’ve been thinking like a startup here at Stanford for years now.” My second thought was that I’m proud to work at a university described as “the germplasm for innovation”, and in a library described as having been “a juggernaut of innovation over the last 20 years”. So I’ve decided that I can take the panel as an opportunity to share with others what has worked for us at Stanford and what lessons we have learned along the way; and hopefully I won’t sound like an arrogant jerk while doing so.

I think Stanford’s success in producing innovation is a great example of Mathews’ assertion that real innovation requires a “strategic culture instead of a strategic plan”. Mathews rightly emphasizes the role of library administrators in fostering and inspiring an entrepreneurial spirit. I would add to that the fact that the Stanford Libraries have benefitted from a university administration and a general university culture that encourages and supports strategic innovation.

One major factor that supports innovative thinking and action at Stanford is the fact that we have the resources to innovate while also maintaining excellence in core services and resources. For example, although we deployed SearchWorks, our next generation discovery environment based on the open-source platform Blacklight out of UVa, in Fall of 2009; we have continued to maintain our legacy catalog, Socrates. Because we have the resources to maintain both systems, we can add innovative features (like the ability to load non-MARC metadata for digital objects and an image view for example) more quickly in SearchWorks, while not worrying (yet) about making sure that SearchWorks replicates essential functionality in Socrates.

Another lesson we have learned is that innovation has to be context-specific. For example, Stanford isn’t likely to adopt demand-driven acquisition models anytime soon (if ever); not because we aren’t innovative, but because we’re committed to collecting and preserving the scholarly record as broadly and deeply as possible. And 3d Printing isn’t something we are likely to start doing at the library, because Stanford has an innovative Product Realization Lab that has that covered. On the other hand, we’ve been doing visualization services for a while now, in part because we have faculty across many disciplines doing ground-breaking research with visual components.

I like what my boss says in the American Libraries article about why we innovate:

“The big idea isn’t innovation for its own sake, but rather, the question that we ask ourselves everyday is: ‘What opportunities and assets do we have that can make scholarship and learning better?’”

The focus on leveraging our assets is really key. When we make choices about what ideas to pursue, we look for places where we have unique talents and resources to offer. Rather than shifting away from what we have always done well, we build and expand on our traditional strengths in ways that support new research efforts. The Super Enlightenment Project is a great example of an innovative project that tapped curatorial expertise, traditional collections, technical expertise, and faculty interest.

When you have been thinking (and acting) like a start-up for as long as we have, you also have to find ways to sustain those innovations that continue to support research and teaching. One key aspect to that is making sure that our efforts are integrated, coordinated, and complementary. We are a big complex organization, with innovations happening in all corners, so making sure we build on each others’ successes rather than reinventing wheels is important. Making sure that we innovate openly helps, and our Library Concierge Project is definitely designed to promote collaborative innovation across the organization.

Hope to see y’all at the Think like a startup panel.

Report from Libraries Rebound

Stanford Rebounds. Credit: flickr user Han Shot First

As with most conferences and events, the best part of the OCLC Libraries Rebound event was meeting new colleagues and reconnecting with others. The event was live-cast and had a surprisingly active twitter stream (#LibRebound).

My official role at the event was as a reactor to the panel on Directly Supporting Researchers. Three others gave prepared presentations, and then three of us reacted. I rather liked the format, and the three of us who reacted agreed a few minutes before we started that we would each try to be interactive and at least mildly controversial in our reactions — with the goal of spurring a conversation with the larger group. I’m pretty pleased with how well that worked. I tried (and mostly succeeded) to stir up some conversation by asserting that subject librarians in research libraries need an advanced degree in the discipline (or a closely related one) that they support. Another comment I made that picked up some traffic on twitter was that we need to stop worrying about saving libraries and focus instead on supporting research (a theme I have surfaced here before).

The other fun debate that sprung up was around the notion that the value of Special Collections rests on their use. While I am sympathetic to the fact that we all face resource constraints and in some cases pressure to justify our very existence, I want more of us to stand our ground on the idea that libraries (especially research libraries) must collect for not just current scholars, but for the future. As I tweeted, if our predecessors collected only stuff that was of interest to scholars of their time, then our archives of women’s history, african american history, queer history, etc. would be even sparser than they are now. If we believe that history remains a relevant discipline, then we owe it to future scholars to collect more widely than current use would dictate.

Once I catch up on my real job, I hope to return to some of these topics more fully here — especially the idea that subject librarians ought to have advanced disciplinary degrees. Until then, let me just say that Libraries Rebound was a great event — well organized, good topics, fantastic discussions. Thanks to the folks at OCLC RLP for pulling it together.

Libraries: We’re actually not all the same

I love that ars technica is doing a series on Future U, and that their recent entry on Libraries 3.0 (hate the title) gave me a chance to brag about cool things my colleagues are doing (namely Orbis and SearchWorks). But, as I narcissistically went back to read the comments, I got increasingly frustrated at the level and content of discourse there (Note to self: Reading comments on the internet is almost always a bad idea). Most of the comments seem to revolve around the tired old argument of “now that everything is online, who needs a library?”, with a real focus on the role of public libraries.

Now let me be clear right from the get-go: I LOVE ALL LIBRARIES. I love public libraries, I love school libraries, special libraries, small libraries, big libraries, liberal arts libraries, community college libraries, rock-n-roll libraries, baseball libraries… you get the picture. But we are not all the same. Although you might argue that we all have the same overarching mission of providing access to information; there are tremendous differences in the types of information we provide and the types of patron needs we serve. At a time when one thing all libraries share is a struggle for resources, I think it is critical that we figure out how to make clear and compelling cases for what we do and what value we add to our communities. That task is made all the more challenging by a lack of nuance in public understanding of the different missions of different libraries, and in that sense I fear that the ars technica piece doesn’t do us any favors.

I love the Sunnyvale Public Library.

I had to re-read the ars technica story a few times to understand why an article that is supposed to be about university libraries leads with a quote from the director of the San Rafael Public Library (the wonderful Sarah Houghton, aka Librarian in Black). The argument  is that
undergraduate students are the primary patrons of university libraries, so the expectations of today’s kids are the main force driving change in university libraries. And here is where things get muddy for me. Not only are public libraries very different from university libraries, but not all university libraries are alike either. For example, while we certainly love our undergraduates, they are not our largest user base, and their expectations are not primary factors in setting our priorities. We are an RU/VH: Research University (very high research activity) institution with nearly twice as many graduate students as undergraduates.

The main factors driving innovation and change at the Stanford libraries are the changing nature of scholarly research and communication. We are a research library, after all. As I said in the ars technica article, the main areas of focus for us right now are on developing tools for creating, collecting, preserving, and providing access to new kinds of scholarly objects. We are working on preserving born-digital materials (from video games to emails), and on collaborating with scholars to build interactive spatial-historical tools like Orbis. We’re collecting rare and special materials–all of which need processing and cataloging, and most of which we hope to digitize. We are working on Linked Data, International Image Interoperability standards, and web archiving. We provide GIS support, digital humanities support of all kinds, statistical software support, and “concierge”-level reference and research support. At the very real risk of sounding like an elitist jerk, worrying about whether the kids want touchscreens is just not that high on our priorities list. And, I wouldn’t think that any of the research services I mentioned above would be priorities for a public library, or even a less-research intensive university library. In fact, if the Sunnyvale Public Library was lobbying for funding for web archiving, I would not support it. That kind of service is simply not in their wheelhouse.

I have mentioned before that I think in these times of scarcity the differences between large research libraries and smaller libraries of all kinds is growing. I still think that is true, and I think that a big challenge facing all of us is to make it clear to our constituencies (especially those who control our funding) exactly what distinct services and resources our particular kind of library brings to our particular community. The days when all libraries were places you went to check out books are over. All of us are so much more than that now, but as we expand our services to meet changing needs, we are developing in different directions. And I think university libraries have to get better at explaining what we do and why it is important.


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