InfoTech: ALA Midwinter 2011: A Tech OverviewFeb 15, 2010
Library tech company executives and librarians talked about collaboration, increased engagement of libraries with their users, patron-driven acquisition, and cloud-based services at the 2011 American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting, held in San Diego, January 7–11.
LJ interviewed several integrated library system (ILS) company executives as part of an ILS roundtable on January 8, and questions of how to engage better with libraries, among many other topics, were discussed at length. [A condensed version of the wide-ranging ILS Roundtable discussion will be published in LJ 4/1/11.]
Andrew Pace, executive director of networked library services at OCLC, stressed that tech companies need to be more aware of libraries’ financial woes. When he talks to librarians, he said, “they’re more worried about, ‘How do I get access to [patrons], how do I increase the story time, how do I keep the doors open?’ as opposed to some next set of [ILS] release notes that’s got ten new features that’s going to justify the cost of some technology going up.”
Grace Dunbar, COO of Equinox Software, the service provider for open source library software, said, “[H]ow can we work together and be more open, to bring our community together?”
Tech companies are responding, launching new initiatives based on specific library requests. David Burleigh, director of marketing at OverDrive, the leading supplier of ebooks to public libraries, told LJ that within the next few months it planned to open its application programming interface (API) to OverDrive partner libraries and ILS companies, allowing them potentially to create OverDrive-specific applications—a capability, he said, that had long been asked for.
In January, as LJ reported, Queens Library, NY, went live with an ILS platform it had created in close collaboration with library automation company VTLS, an unusual project that includes proprietary, open source, and library-created elements.
Patron-driven acquisition issues were also widely discussed, including at a spirited Association for Library Collections & Technical Services forum.
A trend toward allowing libraries to get more out of their data, via data analysis, also emerged. Monique Sendze of Douglas County Libraries, CO, during the Library & Information Technology Association’s (LITA) Top Tech Trends (TTT) panel predicted that data analysis would continue to grow in importance. Bar Veinstein, VP of resource management solutions at library automation company Ex Libris Group, told LJ that his company was focusing on several products—including Alma, its cloud-based resource management service announced just before Midwinter—that would allow libraries to analyze user statistics in order to allocate funds better. Moreover, Alma, in development now, would enable libraries to select, acquire, manage, track, and maintain access to all library materials, no matter the format.
HEADS IN THE CLOUD
Indeed, cloud-based services were a common trend and were mentioned at TTT by Erik Mitchell of Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, as an outsourcing tool that could downsize operations’ staff at libraries. OCLC showcased its cloud-based ILS, Web-scale Management Services (WMS), which has so far gone live at a handful of libraries, including Pepperdine University, CA. OCLC continues to develop WMS for a projected June rollout.
Cloud computing was also discussed at the ILS Roundtable. Carl Grant, chief librarian at Ex Libris Group, said, “We tend to be a very introspective profession. What cloud computing’s going to force on us is...to focus on the world and how we fit into it and where we have opportunities to integrate our services into it.”
LITA STREAMING CONTROVERSY HITS ALA MIDWINTER
A disagreement regarding an attempt to broadcast over the Internet a meeting of ALA’s Library & Information Technology Association (LITA) Board of Directors at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting has sparked controversy anew over the implications of ALA’s open meeting policy in the digital age.
Jason Griffey—head of library IT at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a member of the LITA board, and a 2009 LJ Mover & Shaker—attempted to livestream a video of a meeting of the board on January 8, without informing other members of the board that he would be doing so.
One of the first items on the meeting’s agenda was a talk by a hired consultant, Paul Meyer, president and co-CEO of Tecker Consultants. Before Meyer was able to begin, one of the board members asked Griffey to turn off his stream.
As can be seen in the streamed video (viewable on Griffey’s Ustream channel at bit.ly/hhSFJj), Griffey refused, taking the position that he should be allowed to stream an open meeting. Other board members countered that the board was not consulted beforehand. Members also said that the consultant’s report was copyrighted material and thus should not be streamed.
On the video, Griffey tells the board members, “I would like to say that I believe that the discussion that we’re having directly impacts the membership…and that removing the stream would be something that would be a detriment to people who aren’t here.”
The disagreement soon led to a vote for Griffey to turn off the camera. Griffey, along with board members Cindi Trainor and Aaron Dobbs, voted against stopping the streaming but were outvoted. Griffey told LJ, “I’m looking forward to the board reaffirming LITA’s commitment to being the technology trend-setter within ALA.” [For more on the streaming brouhaha and ALA’s general open meeting policy, see Blatant Berry, p. 10.]
LITA president Karen Starr, in an email to LITA members posted on its blog, wrote that a dedicated task force on content streaming would soon be formed. Starr then told LJ that the LITA Content Capture and Streaming Model Task Force members were being appointed, with LITA board member Maurice York as chair. “We are in the process of seeking volunteers to serve on the task force for a six-month renewable term,” she added.
TOP TECH TRENDS: E-CONTENT AND THE DEVICE DIVIDE
The LITA Top Tech Trends (TTT) moderated discussion at Midwinter was a somewhat subdued but thoughtful affair—focusing mainly on the uses of e-content and less on gadgets than the last TTT panel at ALA’s 2010 annual conference in Washington, DC.
Lorcan Dempsey, VP and chief strategist at OCLC, said that sites such as Pinterest and Blekko show a “reemergence” of human-selected data curation, and he foresees libraries refining curation of information to serve their communities better.
Other panelists delved further into data issues. Rachel Frick, program director of the Council on Library and Information Resources’ Digital Library Federation, said that libraries need to take a hard look at how staff and resources are used to manage digital collections and take advantage of opportunities to save money.
Erik Mitchell, assistant director for technology services at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, emphasized the transformation of libraries’ systems by cloud-based technology models. At small and mid-sized libraries, he said, directors may outsource their own systems departments to cloud-based services to save money and staff time.
Monique Sendze, associate director of information technology at Douglas County Libraries, CO, highlighted the growth of patron-owned ereaders and mobile devices. As noted above, she also addressed the growing importance of data analytics—using patron data to predict patron needs—a trend she also spoke about at last June’s TTT panel.
Jeff Trzeciak, university librarian at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ont.(a 2004 LJ Mover & Shaker), envisioned university libraries collaborating with faculty to find new sources of content to publish themselves—effectively “becoming a digital press.”
An audience member asked the panelists to address the “financial gap” between patrons who can afford high-end electronic devices and those who can’t. Sendze said that while libraries see themselves as trying to “bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots,” it is nonetheless important to address the needs of the “haves,” who are also library users. However, she said, it is likewise vital for libraries to make technology such as iPads available, so that have-nots will get essential experience with it.
PROQUEST ACQUIRES EBRARY
There’s often a flurry of business activity in the run-up to any ALA meeting, and this year was no exception. In a press release from ProQuest, the aggregator and search company announced that it had purchased ebrary, a longtime player in the academic ebook market.
“This is a game-changer for global research,” said Marty Kahn, ProQuest CEO, who pointed out the enhancement of ebook discovery for ProQuest users, as well as the “potential...for imaginative technology mashups that will energize users and accelerate the knowledge industry.”
Founded by Christopher Warnock in 1999, ebrary provides multiuser access to some 52,000 titles, with subscription purchase, perpetual access, and patron-driven acquisition, along with a robust set of research tools. Both Warnock and ebrary president Kevin Sayar will continue to drive the business in Palo Alto, CA.
In addition to enhanced discovery across ProQuest’s platform, ProQuest intends to expand ebrary’s “ability to support new ebook devices as well as broadening...its current support of major European languages to include Chinese, Arabic, and others...as well as to accelerate the indexing of ebook content on its own all-new platform,” according to the release.
The acquisition comes less than a year after EBSCO’s purchase of NetLibrary from OCLC in March 2010, which gave EBSCO a similar opportunity to expand in the ebook market.—Francine Fialkoff
OCLC, HATHITRUST UNVEIL PROTOTYPE INTERFACE
OCLC and HathiTrust announced a new prototype WorldCat Local interface for the HathiTrust Digital Library, its digital repository containing some eight million volumes from more than 50 academic and other research libraries. The two institutions will continue to collaborate on the interface over an eight-week usability testing period, followed by open-ended development.
According to Chip Nilges, OCLC’s VP of business development, the interface isn’t intended to replace HathiTrust’s existing catalog interface. Instead, he told LJ, both organizations see it as a “learning experience” that could benefit them both.
Using HathiTrust’s massive digital collection, OCLC can further develop features for WorldCat Local as a whole, such as full-text indexing. Nilges said that a project is currently in the works for the entire WorldCat Local database better to identify records that describe openly accessible content. About two million volumes in HathiTrust’s collection, about one-quarter of the total, are public domain and thus accessible.
HathiTrust’s collection, meanwhile, gains greater accessibility via WorldCat Local and WorldCat.org, and, according to the HathiTrust FAQ, the partnership is also using the new interface as an opportunity to gather feedback from users, which could be incorporated into a second version of HathiTrust’s own locally built catalog.
OSU’S BOOK GENIE: OPEN SOURCE BOUND
During the LITA Mobile Computing Interest Group meeting at the ALA Midwinter Meeting, Oregon State University Libraries’ Evviva Weinraub and Hannah Gascho Rempel unveiled a simple but effective website accessible on web browsers, iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, called the Book Genie, that will enable the library to promote its collections.
According to Weinraub, director of emerging technology and services, the site will randomly select titles from the OSU library collections—either from the entire collection, or from a drop-down menu of specific categories or lists, such as American Literature or Banned Books, or books by OSU-based authors or published by OSU Press. It then supplies the user with the book’s call number, location, and availability, as well as a brief summary and cover art when available. (Bibliographic data was added to the site’s hosted MySQL database from OSU’s Innovative Interfaces Millennium ILS and from LibraryThing accounts; cover images and book summaries are pulled from Google Books.) Users can then email or text the selection, or save it to a list and search further. The best part: Rempel, graduate student services coordinator, told
LJ that OSU plans soon to release the site’s code as open source under a General Public License, which would allow other libraries to use it as well. That’s nothing new for OSU Libraries—it previously released its Library à la Carte content management system as open source.
Sarah Houghton-Jan, the digital futures manager at San José Public Library (SJPL), CA, a 2009 LJ Mover & Shaker, and author of the Librarian in Black blog, announced in January that she had accepted a new position as assistant director at San Rafael Public Library, CA. She had been at SJPL since 2007.
SAGE announced the launch of its SAGE Research Methods Online service at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting. The service makes available 120,000 pages of SAGE books and reference materials on research methods and includes tools such as a visual “methods map” and a list function that lets users share selected content.
Cengage Learning’s launch of Gale News Vault enables cross-searching of Gale’s entire range of historical newspaper and periodical collections from a single interface. Libraries owning any Gale historical newspaper or periodical collection will have immediate access to the new platform.
Metadata from Mergent is the latest addition to EBSCO Discovery Service’s Base Index. The content from Mergent’s Annual Reports Database includes 300,000 annual reports from publicly traded companies worldwide.