Mobile App Use Studies Across a Decentralized Research Library

The University of Illinois’ team of IT diversity interns are working on departmental-specific mobile app modules and user studies of those app modules this Fall semester. The Illinois library is a decentralized system of nearly thirty departmental libraries serving diverse needs of staff, researchers, scientists, graduate students, and undergraduate students. Given such a diverse population, we wondered if it was possible to turn our prototyping pipeline to connect with other unit specific needs outside of our own space, the Undergraduate Library.

Specifically, this fall we wanted to understand how departmental collections and other library locations would use our already developed RESTful web services –which serves as the core component of the prototyping pipeline– for departmental and subject based mobile application modules.

This blog post describes the methods we used to quickly gather feedback on new and exciting features for department collections.The mobile application modules we studied include enhanced wayfinding support of multi-story buildings and collections (originally designed for an undergrad space of one level of collections), a reserves module for all libraries, and hours integration into book information data elements.

Enhanced Wayfinding in a Departmental Library

library wayfinding help

We studied the implementation of feature requests in mobile wayfinding apps

 

This module includes a navigation rose in the upper left corner of the mobile interface. Included is functionality for line segments that draw your current location to the location of your desired book in the stacks. The user can get their current location in the book stacks by using the barcode scanner module to scan the book nearest them, which then sets their current location. After setting their current location, any additional book that is then searched for in the library will generate a line segment path to the location of the searched for book.

Turn by turn directional support based on user location is a new enhancement, though we’ve been getting requests a few times in our previous user studies, from 2010-2011 use studies on maps and library wayfinding using mobile devices.

Reserves Module

Reserve access is one of the most requested mobile app features

Reserve access is one of the most requested mobile app features

This reserve program offers the student access to library reserves from an Android device. The multiple drop downs allow the student to select her course reserves by either course, department, or major.

Hours of library locations integrated into book data

hours module

If the item is in a library that is closed, this item may not useful to a student.

Most OPACs will let you know if the book is available. This is not always so straightforward in OPACs that inventory multiple locations. Some of the departmental collections actually have business hours of 9-5, or other limited hours during the weekend, yet the OPAC will show an item as Available so long as the book is not checked out. We tried to address the problem in our display module by adding a location status to the library — this checks against an hours database to let the user know if the library is actually open for the student to check out an available book. 

Rapid use studies

With a number of feature enhancements to our core set of mobile app modules, we wanted to gather empirical data that could inform production services. The fastest way to get user input into modules that may be in the early design phase is to approach users who are currently in the building. In the case of these modules, we were experimenting with the idea of location services in department collections, and the wayfinding support was specific to the ACES library and so we made this our test location.

Once here we approached users with a test set of questions around the modules. We asked what parts of the app are useful for helping the students integrate library resources into their work. We also asked and observed what doesn’t help, and additionally what features would be worthwhile to further develop.

We asked these questions about app modules:

  • Please describe any previous experience finding items in the Funk ACES Library?
  • What software modules help students integrate library content into their course work?
  • How easy to use is the application?
  • Does the student need time to learn how to use the software?
  • What unexpected things occur?
  • How do students react when the application does not work as they expect?
  • Do students make use of the location-based features?

Follow up

After collecting initial use data the team is reshaping a few of the modules to make them easier to use while at the same time brainstorming ideas for making some of the features more evident. One of the key findings of this last round of user studies was that although we implemented a number of requested features, students could not always locate, and then use or in some cases understand the features and how they would help. So we need to think about making the help features more helpful, and more engaging, overall. We theorize that another reason they couldn’t always find the help tools we designed into the ACES modules was the fact that the modular offerings of our experiment have become a bit cluttered.

If you take a look at any of the above screenshots you will notice their were eight included modules in the bottom of the mobile interface for this study. We did put many options in front of the study participants, so the next round of user studies will be more focused on areas we think are worthwhile to develop: particularly the engaging elements of wayfinding, but also the reserves module was called out as the one part that students considered would be most helpful for integrating library resources into their work.

Finally, as we poured over a few of the software choices we made to construct the Android layers, we realized they were not quite modular enough, and so this caused errors in overall functionality of the app during the study. To correct this we are thinking about definitions for the core aspects of modular design.

A final step for our work this semester is to showcase all of our software prototypes to the library staff at the University of Illinois. To that end we are having an open house during finals week, where we are inviting all staff members into our prototyping space and asking also for their feedback on the software developed, and ask staff to try out some of the newest ideas in mobile technology, including our in-development augmented reality shelf browser, which is being coded with funds from a Sparks! IMLS grant. A user study for mobile augmented reality applications is planned this Spring 2013.

Another information technology problem we will work on in the Spring 2013 semester is how to incorporate our RESTful feeds into the library discovery layers. The Music and Performing Arts library location is likely our next collaboration for stacks based wayfinding support inside of the OPAC.

We would like to integrate our wayfinding feed into the OPAC to help students get from the book information to the stacks location, using the RESTful web-services we’ve designed for system efficiency from the onset. The next step for our fledgling prototyping initiative is system integration, which involves taking this prototype work and injecting its most useful and used components into production environments like our VuFind search and our Primo discovery layer.

 

See also:

Huang, Y.M., Wu, D.F., Guo, Q. (2009), “Build a RESTful Web service using Jersey and Apache Tomcat,” http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/web/library/wa-aj-tomcat/

Jones, T. & Richey, R. (2000), “Rapid Prototyping methodology in action: a developmental study,”Educational Technology Research and Development 48, 63-80

Prototyping as a Process for Improved User Experience with Library and Archives Websites: http://journal.code4lib.org/articles/7394

Rapid Prototyping a Collections-Based  Mobile Wayfinding Application:
http://hdl.handle.net/2142/24001

 

 


What exactly does a fiber-based gigabit speed library app look like?

Mozilla and the National Science Foundation are sponsoring an open round of submissions for developers/app designers to create fiber-based gigabit apps. The detailed contest information is available over at Mozilla Ignite (https://mozillaignite.org/about/). Cash prizes to fund promising start up ideas are being award for a total of $500,000 over three rounds of submissions. Note: this is just the start, and these are seed projects to garner interest and momentum in the area. A recent hackathon in Chattanooga lists out what some coders are envisioning for this space:  http://colab.is/2012/hackers-think-big-at-hackanooga/

The video for the Mozilla Ignite Challenge 2012 on Vimeo is slightly helpful for examples of gigabit speed affordances.

If you’re still puzzled after the video, you are not alone. One of the reasons for the contest is that network designers are not quite sure what immense levels of processing in the network and next generation transfer speeds will really mean.

Consider that best case transfer speeds on a network are somewhere along the lines of 10 megabits per second. There are of course variances of this speed across your home line (it may hover closer to 5 mb/s), but this is pretty much the standard that average subscribers can expect. A gigabit speed rate transfers data at 100 times that speed, 1,000 megabits per second. When a whole community is able to achieve 1,000 megabits upstream and downstream, you basically have no need for things like “streaming” video – the data pipes are that massive.

One theory is that gigabit apps could provide public benefit, solve societal issues and usher in the next generation of the Internet. Think of gigabit speed as the difference between getting water (Internet) through a straw, and getting water (Internet) through a fire-hose. The practicality of this contest is to seed startups with ideas that will in some way impact healthcare (realtime health monitoring), the environment and energy challenges. The local Champaign Urbana municipal gigabit speed fiber cause is noble, as it will provide those in areas without access to broadband an awesome pipeline to the Internet. It is a intergovernmental partnership that aims to serve municipal needs, as well as pave the way for research and industry start-ups.

Here are some attributes that Mozilla Ignite Challenge lists as the possible affordances of fiber based gigabit speed apps:

  • Speed
  • Video
  • Big Data
  • Programmable networks

As I read about the Mozilla Ignite open challenge, I wondered about the possibilities for libraries and as a thought experiment I list out here some ideas for library services that live on gigabit speed networks:

* Consider the video data you could provide access to – in libraries that are stewarding any kind of video gigabit speeds would allow you to provide in-library viewing that has few bottlenecks. A fiber-based gigabit speed video viewing app of all library video content available at once. Think about viewing every video in your collection simultaneously. You could have them playing to multiple clusters (grid videos) in the library at multiple stations. Without streaming.

* Consider Sensors and sensor arrays and fiber. One idea that is promulgated for the use of fiber-based gigabit speed networks are the affordances to monitor large amounts of data in real time. The sensor networks that could be installed around the library facility could help to throttle energy consumption in real time, making the building more energy efficient and less costly to maintain. Such a facilities based app would impact savings on the facilities budgets.

* Consider collaborations among libraries with fiber affordances. Libraries that are linked by fiber-based gigabit speeds would be able to transfer large amounts of data in fractions of what it takes now. There are implications here for data curation infrastructure (http://smartech.gatech.edu/handle/1853/28513).

Another way to approach this problem is by asking: “What problem does gigabit speed networking solve?” One of the problems with the current web is the de facto  latency. Your browser needs to request a page from a server which is then sent back to your client. We’ve gotten so accustomed to this latency that we expect it, but what if pages didn’t have to be requested? What if servers didn’t have to send pages? What if a zero latency web meant we needed a new architecture to take advantage of data possibilities?

Is your library poised to take advantage of increased data transfer? What apps do you want to get funding for?

 


Rapid Prototyping Mobile Augmented Reality Applications

This Fall semester the Undergraduate Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign along with partners from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science and Computer Science graduate students with experience in programming OpenCV, will begin coding an open source mobile Augmented Reality (AR) app for deeper in-library engagement with both print and physical resources. The funding comes from a recently awarded IMLS Sparks! Grant. Our objectives include the following:

  • Create shelf recognition software for mobile devices that integrate print and digital resources into the on-site library experience and experiment with location based recommendation services.
  • Investigate the potential of creating a system that shows users how they are physically navigating an “idea space.”
  • Complete iterative rapid use studies of mobile software with library patrons and communicate results back to programming staff for incremental app design.
  • Work with our Library IT staff to identify skills and technical infrastructure needed in order to make AR an ongoing part of technology in libraries.
  • Make available the AR apps through the Library’s mobile labs experimental apps area (http://m.library.illinois.edu/labs.asp).

There are multiple problems with access to the variety of collections in our networked era (Lee, 2000) including their highly disparate nature (many vended platforms serving licensed library content) and their increasing intangibility (the move to massively electronic, or e-only access in libraries and information centers). Moreover, library collection developers are faced with the challenge of providing increased access to digital while still maintaining print. Lee (2000) argues for library research redefining library collections as information contexts.

This work will address the contextual information needs of library users while leveraging recent advances in mobile-networked technologies, experimenting with a way to increase access to collections of all types. The research team will deploy, test, and evaluate mobile applications that create novel “augmented book stacks.”

 

(a.) Subject of book stack set is identified by app index, and displayed on interface. (b.) Recommendations (e-book, digital items, or databases) brought onto interface in real-time. (c.) Popular books are indicated on title using circulation data from integrated library system historical circulation count (this can be a Z39.50 call or a pre-loaded circulation report database).

 

To create such applications, researchers will make use of video functionality that augment shelves of interest to a user in the library stacks inserting interactive graphics through the video feed of a phone onto the physical book stack environment in real-time. As a comparison to current state of the art mobile AR apps, like the ShelvAR app in development at Miami University, the proposed system does not require 2D tags as targets on books, but rather uses a combination of computer vision software code for feature detection and optical character recognition (OCR) software to parse the text of titles, call numbers, and subjects on the book stacks. A prototype project for OCR running in Android can be implemented following this tutorial. Our research group does not propose a replication of the state of the art, but will implement a system that pushes forward the state of the art in innovation for research and learning with AR in library stacks.

The project team will experiment with overlaying relevant resources from other parts of the library’s collection such as the library’s licensed set of databases, other Internet based resources, or books that are relevant but not shelved nearby. This augmentation will enhance the serendipitous discovery of books so that items relevant to a user’s location, but not shelved near her can be brought into the browsing experience; with this technology books that are checked out, or otherwise unavailable can still be made useful to a users information search. Our staff will experiment with system features that create “idea spaces” for the user, which will serve to help students and library users exploit previous discovery routes and spaces in the book stacks. The premise of “idea spaces” comes from an unspoken assumption among librarians: the intellectual organization of items in library collections are valuable constructs. By presenting graphical overlays of the subject areas of the collection, we make this assumption explicit and assert that as a user navigates the geographic spaces of a library collection, they are actually navigating intellectual spaces. With a user location is paired an idea (or set of related ideas), delivered in our proposed system with a graphical overly in the video feed. The user’s location, her context in the collection, is the query point for the idea spaces system.

This experiment will be valuable for all libraries that support print and digital resources. Underscoring this work is the overarching concern with making all library collections more accessible. Researchers will undertake rapid prototyping (as a test case for the chosen method see: Jones & Richey, 2000) of the augmented reality feature set in order to understand user preferences of mobile interfaces that best support location-based recommendations, and make all results of this experimentation including software code and computing workflows freely available. Such experimentation could lead to profound changes in the way people research and learn in library spaces.

Grant activities will begin in October 2012 and conclude September 2013. The evaluation plan for the grant is a systematic measurement of project outputs against the stated goals with the resulting evaluative outputs communicating what worked and was useful for library patrons in AR apps. By operationalizing a rapid evaluation of augmented reality services the research team hopes to identify the fail points for mobile services in this domain in addition to the most desired and useful feature set for all augmented reality systems in library book stacks.

Cited

Jones, T. & Richey, R.  (2000) “Rapid Prototyping methodology in action: a developmental study,” Educational Technology Research and Development 48, 63-80.

Lee, H. (2000), “What is a collection?” Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 51 (12) 1106-1113.

Suggested Reading

Regarding collocation objectives in library science see: Svenonius, E. (2000), The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp.21-22

See also

Additional sample code for image processing with Android devices available here, courtesy of openly available lecture notes from Stanford’s Digital Image Processing Course EE368.

Forthcoming this October, a paper detailing additional AR use cases in library services: Hahn, J. (2012). Mobile augmented reality applications for library services. New Library World 113 (9/10)


Diversity Recruitment in Library Information Technology

“A study of innovation in corporations found that the most innovative companies deliberately established diverse work teams (Kanter, 1983).” 

The above quote is from a book length treatment on innovation in the workplace, this finding underscores the need to recruit diverse perspectives in order to sustain innovation. Past reports on Racial and ethnic diversity in libraries are an unsettling read for me personally. These include the Racial and Ethnic Diversity among Librarians: a status report, and the Diversity Counts study. I can see clearly from reading these two documents that diversity has not reached rates that makes us an inclusive profession. Take a look at the diversity counts report and you’ll learn that one of the issues librarianship faces is not simply recruiting into the profession, but also keeping diverse perspectives in libraries as well.

I am, at present, winding down a two-year stint on my library’s Equal Employment Opportunity Committee. In this role I personally attend every search committee kick-off meeting. With the number of retirements in the library we’ve been hiring at an ambitious rate. At every search committee kick-off meeting, I suggest ways to recruit for diversity into the library; making and extending invitations to apply by way of personal contacts to diverse candidates seem to get the best results in terms of building a diverse pool of applicants.

Merely posting to the American Library Association caucasus’ list serves, these include the American Indian Library Association, Asian Pacific American Librarians Association, Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Chinese American Librarians Association, The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking (REFORMA) does not in itself result in a diverse pool of candidates– that is a rather passive approach to diversity recruiting.

One area I wanted to ask the readership here about is intentional recruiting for Library IT jobs. By diversity in recruiting, I take diversity to include (as set by my campus Office of Equal Opportunity and Access), in entry level IT jobs include goals for both women and minoritiesHispanic or Latino (A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rico, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race); American Indian or Alaskan Native – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community attachment; Asian – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian Subcontinent, including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam; Black or African American – A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands. 

But to continually define terminology is to sidestep the bigger issue which I turn to: the number of diverse perspectives we generally find in library information technology settings is few. My concern is that libraries and the profession as a whole will become conservative and homogenous and ineffective in meeting twenty-first century challenges if it doesn’t take sustained and intentional strides to implement diversity recruitment in library information technology settings.

With funding from a University of Illinois Library Innovation Grant, I hired and am actively working with a team of student diversity interns who are doing library information technology work. I advertised in a number of locations, including the undergrad library blog; the informatics program web-board; campus virtual job board; and numerous registered student organizations.

 

minrva team, summer 2012

The students have built mobile software modules and are also investigating article search inside of mobile applications. Over a series of 8 weeks they are all now proficient Java coders, and can implement RESTful web services in a Tomcat/Jersey servlet. Their work will be showcased to the library next week–a few students were interested in Drupal experience, so they built a Drupal instance on my Linode here: http://minrvaproject.org

While the summer internships will be funded into the fall semester, we (the university library) are specifically hoping to understand how to broaden and build the diversity recruitment for library information technology.

By the end of the grant the innovation questions that we hope to answer include:

1)    How to recruit individuals with diverse backgrounds into library information technology positions?

2)    How individuals with technical backgrounds from two-year schools can be recruited into library IT positions?

3)    What types of mentoring support and transitional initiatives are necessary to create bridges between two-year programs and graduate study in library and information science?

Recent work (see for example the student coded Minrva app) with undergraduate student software teams has shown that students who have earned two-year degrees (associate level) in software engineering or programming will be valuable to library service development. These students have shown to be particularly effective in developing micro-services that could support library wide production environments. Students with these practical backgrounds have much to offer the University Library particularly as it turns its focus to discovery layers that are a part of the new strategic plan– the outputs of student work that this grant will fund supports Goal 1 – Provide access to and discovery of, library content and collections.

What library IT diversity recruitment are you doing in your library? Do you address this gap in diversity with sustained support?

Cited

Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. The Change Masters: Innovations For Productivity In The American Corporation. New York : Simon And Schuster, 1983. Print.

Consulted

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Office of Equal Opportunity and Access – http://oeoa.illinois.edu/resources.html

How to diversify the faculty – http://oeoa.illinois.edu/SupportingDocs/HowToDiversifyTheFaculty.pdf

 

 

 


The Middle Way of Mobile App Design

We’ve heard this conversation on mobile app design before, where well meaning coders will say to you: “don’t design native mobile apps, it isn’t worth your time, ” followed by the common refrain/rebuttal : “native apps take advantage of the hardware, like camera, and WiFi components of the phone…”

I’m not very interested in the debate, since it isn’t a very informed or intelligent discussion when one argues of developing native apps over mobile web apps, or the binary opposite. The common misconception is that there are only two approaches to design of mobile apps: native or web-based. The native approach includes developing in compiled languages like Java in the Android platform, and Objective C in the iOS platform. Web based mobile apps make use of HTML5 and CSS and Javascript to achieve an app-like interface and experience. A popular template used in the web based approach is the JQuery mobile framework: http://jquerymobile.com/

But there is a middle way.  You can design and build a mobile app utilizing compiled languages as well as HTML, CSS and Javascript. The hybrid approach is HTML with native app elements. These rely on using cross platform mobile frameworks, like the PhoneGap framework (http://phonegap.com/).

You might wonder — why make an app using the PhoneGap framework? Using this HTML5 + native tools approach allows you to get into the hardware of the phone; like camera data, to incorporate things like a barcode scanner into your hybrid app. A full list of API elements is available here: http://docs.phonegap.com/en/1.9.0/index.html.  If you want a more basic rundown of how PhoneGap itself works in a library context, check out a past ALA presentation I did for the Mobile Computing Interest Group back in 2010: http://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/16542

Mobile app stores like Google Play and the Apple iTunes App Store help to drive traffic to your services and sites, and they will result in increased use of your library services and collections –and make possible new services, by their sheer existence.

Here are a few examples of apps I’ve built this way:

UGL4EVA

video tour of the undergrad library

–video tour app of the undergrad library, code available here: https://github.com/jimfhahn/ugl4eva

New LIS Books

new book app

— recently added Library and Information Science books at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, code available here: https://github.com/jimfhahn/newbooks

What your users and library will need is, of course, entirely up to you, but to know the options available such as hybrid approaches is a way to make informed and intelligent decisions about your library’s mobile presence.

 

Full disclosure: I researched and wrote an iPhone development book unpacking a hybrid approach to mobile application design that advances ways for web developers to make their apps available from the iTunes app store (goo.gl/n3LUB). But you could also make your apps available from Google Play, using the Hybrid approach as well.


A co-operative model to circulating technology collections

Circulating technology collections are seeing increased popularity in academic settings. Devices like the iPad are designed to be refreshed about every year. Observers of the consumer electronics market will note that many of the devices so coveted are designed for obsolescence. This planned obsolescence poses problems for collecting and circulating technology.

Technology is a different type of resource than a book. Librarians know how to preserve books, but in general, the preservation and conservation of electronics is related to a rapidly changing marketplace. Considering the rate of obsolesce and the game we continually lose in the purchase of consumer electronics, what rental models do libraries need in order to maximize collections budgets in this area?

image of circulating technology

Circulating technology at the Undergraduate Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

 

The Nash Equilibrium may be instructive for co-operative models applied to library circulating collections. Two or more libraries that know each other’s choices can cooperate and still pursue individual best interests.  In general, this works because each cooperating group doesn’t change its approach based on what the other agent is doing; it assumes the other will continue its maximally beneficial strategy. This is germane to the collection of tech in circulating collections if we consider that no library is entering into the consumer electronics market alone; rather, we are all entering into the same problem area.

We all have a limited collections budget and we are all highly concerned with getting the most out of our shrinking collections budgets — all while innovating and keeping pace with a changing digital landscape.

One non-profit business model I’ve pondered is setting up a type of library co-operative where libraries (the set of all libraries that collect technology for loaning to patrons) do not actually purchase any of the electronics that are planned to become obsolete but rather, by size of their co-operative set are able to pool resources into rental paradigms. We would be able to do this through an open online interface that showed what individual libraries wanted to offer, and what they were able to contribute in order to rent the given technology.

On the co-op’s website, a library or other educational institution would indicate they would like to rent consumer electronics equipment, once the co-op hits a profitable/break-even threshold for renting, then all libraries will get the contract to rent. The reason why this works is because all libraries have chosen to rent for a set period at a set price using Nash equilibria to modulate the rental threshold algorithm.

When the renting contract expires, the co-op can (a) get our rentals back, and sell wholesale, but not as a rule keep any inventory, or (b) if the library (rentee) thinks the technology isn’t obsolete by the time the contract ends, they can purchase at a marked down rate. This is not completely without precedent, since many libraries use a rental option for their new release books.

Such a tech cooperative helps to mitigate the risk of consumer electronic obsolescence for libraries – – there isn’t any purchase, except as managed through the cooperative. And since we know all too well that consumer electronics are built in with designed-obsolescence, it doesn’t make financial sense for a library or educational institution to purchase an item that will not be in demand later, or will only be useful for a short time.

Is this the year for a library technology co-op? Is ALA a place that could manage such an operation; a Tech Co-op housed within LITA? Would your institution participate in such a rental paradigm?


Career Impact and Library Technology Research

This blog post is not concerned with the specific application of a technology, rather it advocates the rather post-modern idea of research and writing in library technology for career impact. I take as my departure point the fact that not all research articles are useful contributions to the field. While intellectual rigor has its place in research, if the connection to service improvements or broader big picture questions are not addressed by scholarly research outputs the profession, as a whole, will not advance.

In a sense, it is after tenure when academic librarians begin to think of notions of careers of impact. We may ask ourselves what library needs or open problems were met by our work. We ask: did our research outputs matter?  Did our research stand up over time? Has the field moved forward at all?

A major problem in library and information science literature from an editorial perspective is the local-ness of any given paper. To generalize, many papers now coming into journal submission portals report how a specific local problem was addressed. The paper does its intellectual work only as far as its local institution is concerned. Broadly, what is needed in library writing — writing that is primarily driven from tenure line librarians is a need to consider practice of librarianship beyond the boundaries of a discreet study.

This underscores another significant problem which could be addressed by the right kind of mentorship in library settings: addressing the why of publishing, this would be a good corollary to the how, which veterans can teach – veteran tenured librarians will be able to speak to the methods for getting into print, getting even into the top tier journals like the Journal of Academic Librarianship. However, what is missing, and what this post is fundamentally concerned with, is the why of publishing for tenure.

When I started writing, the impulse was to sound smart. This is something I regretted deeply when I watched new library school students take notes on that paper. Now, I’m writing to communicate, since a wise person once said: “the smartest people are those who can communicate with others,” and what it is we are attempting to communicate when we publish are ways to improve practice – to move the field forward. That is why we publish. That is why we research. That is why we choose and stay on the tenure track, to have a career of impact in the field.

Can such a thing be taught? It’s like asking if morality can be taught, because it is a rather moral (and, possibly post-modern anti-ego thinking) choice to think of your profession as advancing and not yourself. While most tenure track activities can have the effect of growing ones ego, the path worth going down, the very interesting and profound path librarians must follow, if they are to remain honest, is to empty the ego, to empty any concern for the individual career and to think instead of the profession.

Our careers are not our own, anymore than the libraries we worked in and lived in were ours. The IT career of impact for librarians is that career which was made in the service to the profession.

 


The Internet of Things meets the Library of Things

If the New York Times article The Internet Gets Physical is any indication, a sea change is approaching in just how smart everyday appliances are going to become. In theory, smart infrastructure will connect you and any appliance with an IP address to everything else.

For example: your car will talk to your phone. Appliances like your computer, and chair, and desk, interact over the web. Data will be passed via standard web technologies from every Internet-capable appliance. Everyday consumer electronics will be de facto networked to the Internet. The overall effect of these smart objects means the possibility of new library services and research environments.

According to the New Media Consortium’s 2012 Horizon Reportthe Internet of things is made possible by the IPV6 initiative, which essentially allows for the explosion of IP addresses across the globe and in your everyday life:

“with the advent of the New Internet Protocol, version six, those objects can now have an IP address, enabling their information store to be accessed in the same way a webcam might be, allowing real-time access to that information from anywhere… the implications are not yet clear, but it is evident that hundreds of billions of devices — from delicate lab equipment to refrigerators to next-generation home security systems — will soon be designed to take advantage of such connections…” (p.8)

What are the implications of the physical Internet in library settings?

Your smart phone interacts with the library building

The ways in which mobile apps can interact with the library building is not yet fully realized; for example, should your phone and the building be able to tell you things such as the interrelations among your physical presence and searches you’ve done on your home or office computer – or places you’ve driven past in your commute; or where you spend you leisure hours? Who makes the choices of suggesting resources to you based on the information in all of your life-sensors? Surely libraries will need filtering algorithms to control for allowable data referencing but where and how will we implement such recommender services?

Smart digital shelving units

What if a future digital shelf arrangement could be responsive to your personal preferences? For example – the library building’s digital smart infrastructure could respond to your circulation history or Internet searches in a way that shelves could promote content to you in real time. What would this recommendation look like for individual research, study, or browsing? And how would libraries be able to leverage such a service?

Digital library integration with physical objects

Smart objects allow libraries to consider how to make the virtual presence (databases, e-books, ILS data) physical. Many libraries would welcome a more physical instantiation of vended software products, since to a certain extent, users believe the library’s collection consists of only the things that they can see in the library.

The 2012 NMC Horizon Report indicates that smart objects are on the far term horizon. So it may be four to five years before they affect higher eduction — what is your plan for smart objects in the library environment?

Additional Resources

 

 


The Start-Up Library

“Here’s an analogy. The invention of calculus was shocking because for a long time it had simply been presumed that you couldn’t divide by zero. The integrity of math itself seemed to depend on the presumption. Then some genius titans came along and said, “Yeah, maybe you can’t divide by zero, but what would happen if you “could”? We’re going to come as close to doing it as we can, to see what happens.” – David Foster Wallace*

What if a library operated more like an Internet start-up and less like a library?

To be a library in the digital era is to steward legacy systems and practices of an era long past. Contemporary librarianship is at its worst when it accepts the poorly crafted vended services and offers poorly thought through service models, simply because this is the way we have always operated.

Internet start-ups, in the decade of 2010, heavily feature software as a service. The online presence to the Internet start-up is of foundational concern since it isn’t simply a “presence” to the start-up — the online environment is the only environment for the Internet start-up.

Search services would act and look contemporary

If we were an Internet start-up, we wouldn’t use instructional services as a crutch that would somehow correct poor design in our catalogs or other discovery layers. We wouldn’t accept the poorly designed vendor databases we currently accept. We would ask for interfaces that act and look contemporary, and if vendors did not deliver, we would make our own. And we would do this in 30-day time-lines, not six months and not years to roll out, as is the current lamentable state of library software services.

Students in the current era will look at a traditional library catalog search box and say: “that looks very 90s” – we shouldn’t be amused by that comment, unless of course we are trying to look 20 years out of date.

We would embrace perpetual beta.

If the library thought of its software services more like Internet start-ups, we would not be so cautious — we would perpetually improve and innovate in our software offerings. Think of the technology giants Google and Apple, they are never content to rest on laurels, everyday they get up and they invent like their lives depended on it. Do we?

We wouldn’t settle.

For years we’ve accepted legacy ILS systems – we need to move away from accepting the status quo, the way things have always been done, and the way we always work is not the way we should always work — if the information environments have changed, shouldn’t this be reflected in the library’s software services?

We would be bold.

We need to look at massive re-wiring in the way we think about software as a service in libraries; we are smarter and better than mediocrity.

The notion of software services in libraries may be dramatically improved if we thought of our gateways and virtual experiences more like Internet start-ups conceptualize their do or die services; which are seemingly made more effective and efficient every thirty to sixty days.

If Internet start-ups ran their web services the way libraries contently run legacy systems, the company would surely fold, or more likely, never have attracted seed funding to start operating as a start-up. Let’s do our profession a favor and turn the lights out on the library way of running libraries. Let’s run our library as if it were an Internet start-up.

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* also: “… this purely theoretical construct wound up yielding incredibly practical results. Suddenly you could plot the area under curves and do rate-change calculations. Just about every material convenience we now enjoy is a consequence of this “as if.” But what if Leibniz and Newton had wanted to divide by zero only to show jaded audiences how cool and rebellious they were? It’d never have happened, because that kind of motivation doesn’t yield results. It’s hollow. Dividing-as-if-by-zero was titanic and ingenuous because it was in the service of something. The math world’s shock was a price they had to pay, not a payoff in itself.” – David Foster Wallace