Library Thoughts exhibition

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Page from handmade book based on the Latin motto 'Aut tace aut loquere meliora silentio' ('Stay silent unless what you have to say is better than silence')

As a little postscript to LIFE-SHARE, I thought I’d mention an exhibition, entitled ‘Library Thoughts’, on the theme of the effect of book digitisation on the culture of reading, in which I will be exhibiting some small artist’s books.  The exhibition is being organised by the Hungarian Multicultural Centre in Budapest and will be held in August 2011. My contribution to the exhibtion consists of three small artist’s books made from the paper of academic journals and meditating on the themes of digitisation, information overload and the power of words/silence. You can read more about it on my blog.




Day 10: Mandate to innovate

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CC Wisconsin Historical Images. Click to see original image in Flickr

One of the messages which LIFE-SHARE has tried to communicate is the importance of giving staff working in collaborative ventures a mandate to innovate. Collaboration draws in the greatest benefits when the process of collaborating itself starts to generate new ideas and understandings. Collaboration can become something more than just doing the same things we have always done separately, but doing them together; it can become a means of innovating. This is a key feature of the Collaboration Continuum model which we have used as a guide to generate consortial digitisation models for the White Rose libraries. However, for this to happen there needs to be a management structure in place with the right balance between steering and empowerment of staff engaged in collaboration activities. It also depends on the breaking of established routines/processes: the job of management is also to encourage staff to look beyond current ways of doing things.

Day 6: It pays to invest in digitisation infrastructure

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CC image by The Poss. Click to see original image on Flickr

We found that, in the longer term, it pays to invest in digitisation infrastructure. In both the Leeds case study and the York case study, we found in-house digitisation to be potentially cheaper than outsourcing, in terms of the cost of staff time. This does not take into account the initial investment in equipment, which can be substantial, depending on the quality of the work to be undertaken, or the replacement cost of equipment. However, this may be offset against the possibility of doing digitisation work for institutions which don’t have the capability and thus generating revenue.

The LIFE-SHARE project has encouraged the development of in-house digitisation capability by investing in equipment and training for the White Rose libraries. Other benefits from developing in-house capability include generating staff expertise (which you need to get the best out of out-sourcing anyway); the control it gives you over processes, quality control and the handling of material; and responsiveness to your own needs.

Day 5: Training is better together

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CC Duke University Archives. To see original image on Flickr, click image

Institutions which are geographically close to each other should work together to share training. Rather than institutions sending individual members of staff to training courses elsewhere in the country, it is more cost effective to pay for a trainer to come to a region and offer training to staff from several institutions in that region. This also increases the number of staff that it is possible to send on training: if travel costs are cheap, then more employees can be sent on the training. Even better is when one institution can offer training itself to others in the region: if you are developing a particular area of expertise, consider running training for other institutions.

The LIFE-SHARE project arranged a series of training events for library staff from across the White Rose Consortium, following this model. We have brought external trainers to Yorkshire to do training on digital image creation and EAD cataloguing. Ned Potter, LIFE-SHARE Project Officer, has created training materials on audio/visual digitisation for the consortium. Another good idea is to organise exchange of experience events. These events bring together staff from different institutions who are working in similar areas to discuss common issues. We have organised exchanges focusing on copyright, repositories, course reading digitisation and digitising archive/special collections material. With an informal atmosphere, these events can be an excellent opportunity to learn from each other.

Digitisation case studies

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Three new digitisation case studies are now available on the LIFE-SHARE Project website. After taking a broad overview of all of the digitisation activities going on in the libraries of the three White Rose Consortium universities (see here for a summary), the project next took a closer look at specific areas of digitisation, with series of case studies.

  • At Sheffield, a case study was run looking at audio/video digitisation and at obtaining the permissions needed to digitise recordings when inadequate permissions were acquired from participants by the makers of the original recordings. The case study obtained permissions from a sample of recordings held in Sheffield special collections and then digitised a sample to preservation standards.
  • At York a case study was run looking at the processing of on-demand digitisation for Special Collections and Archives staff. Best practice was established for receiving requests; producing and delivering digital copies to customers; and long term storage of the digital copies.
  • A second York case study investigated the best approaches for delivering scanned course readings online via the CLA Licence. A range of different models for service delivery and funding were drawn up based on the experiences of existing services.
  • At Leeds a case study is still ongoing (more details to follow) investigating the costs of preserving a collection of texts from the first half of the 20th century published on acid paper. Comparative costs have been produced for both the physical conservation of 200 monographs and their preservation by means of digitisation.


ECDL Conference – the photographic evidence

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Photographic evidence is emerging, probably gathered by Russian spies and leaked by a double agent, of Beccy and my recent outing to the European Conference on Digital Libraries in Glasgow! (See blog post below for a leaked top secret report about the conference).

Beccy presenting about LIFE-SHARE poster at ECDL

Beccy giving a one minute plug for our poster at the conference

Beccy and Matthew eating Lorne sausages

Beccy and Matthew partaking of the local cuisine: square 'sausages' in a bap!

ECDL Glasgow

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Beccy and I recently attended the European Conference on Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries (ECDL) in Glasgow. We were there partly to present a poster about the LIFE-SHARE Project and partly to get up to date with developments in the field. The conference covered a range of topics, some of which were a little too ‘advanced’ for us non-computer science specialists! However, many streams were of relevance and interest. Here are a few of the things which I took away.

  • Susan Dumais from Microsoft Research, in her keynote speech, talked about how existing information retrieval tools (search engines and the like) treat the internet as a static environment, in which content never changes. In reality, however, web pages are constantly changing. Different types of pages have different change patterns over time. Different types of page also have different revisit patterns, depending on the type of content they have and how people use that content (compare a news homepage which might be visited very frequently in a short space of time as a user engages in ‘hub and spoke’ navigation with an email homepage, which a user may visit regularly once a day). Dumais presented two useful tools: DiffIE, a browser plug-in which highlights web page content which has changed since last time you visited that site; and TemporalIR, a search ranking tool which looks at how often a web page changes (there is a correlation between how frequently a website is updated and it’s quality) and the longevity of terms within it (if a webpage always has a certain term in it, it is likely to be more relevant and less transient). This can help improve the relevance and quality of search results. One consequence: web content providers will have to make sure key pages are updated frequently to get high up in search engine results. A copy of Susan Dumais’ PowerPoint slides for the talk can be found here.
  • Work on the privacy implications of folksonomies by a team from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology was thought-provoking. They outlined how personal information (about interests, opinions and activities etc.) can be automatically gleaned from the tags users create on sites such as Flickr and Normally, the value of such social media is that they are about sharing, but the authors make the point (and this prompted an animated discussion in the question-time) that users may not always want everything they tag to be public. They may intend it for their own social circle only, or for their own use (I can concur with this feeling, having abandoned Delicious for the more private Bookmax). The team have developed a method of encrypting personal data and enabling it to be kept private, even from the website owners. However, it relies on web site owners implementing it, when they might have vested interests in the information contained in their users’ tags (for example to target advertising). The incentive to use the method would have to come from users putting pressure on web site providers.
  • Seaweed (seamless web editing) is a framework for editing websites directly without the need to switch to a separate editing mode, common in wikis and blogs. This looks potentially very useful, as a way of making the editing process more direct and less fiddly.
  • Sandra Toze and Elaine G. Toms’ study of group work was very interesting. They observed groups of students working on real assignments, using video/audio feeds, computer log files and diaries kept by the students themselves as the sources of data. The interesting thing was to observe how complex group work actually is, with the students going through different phases of working, splitting up to work separately and then joining back together again. The range of tasks they carry out includes administrative tasks, communication, information seeking and retrieval and creation. The students did not always work in the most efficient way, for example failing to find important resources until late in the project and then having to revisit earlier stages in order to incorporate new information. The students also used the space they were given to work in in ways that supported this complex pattern of work, with the group often breaking into sub-groups to gather round different PCs, or individuals breaking off from the group to work on their own. The group would then often reconvene and arrange the space so that they could all work together again. Toze and Toms discussed how digital libraries can support group work, with reference to Marchionini’s concept of the ‘sharium’. The digital library was just one of a number of tools which the students used for different purposes and at different stages. There is a need to support not just information retrieval but also working with information – bringing diverse pieces of information together and build them into interim and then final information objects. The digital library needs to integrate collaborative tools.
  • CritSpace is an interesting tool being developed by TEES Center for the Study of Digital Libraries at Texas A&M University. It is based on the premise that researchers have a particular need in the early, formative stages of their research to express “ambiguous, partial and emerging knowledge-structures”. The tool allows resources from digital repositories to be brought together into a workspace and arranged visually. There they can be annotated and a viewer allows them to be zoomed into. It is interesting that this platform takes into account how the creative process works in academic (and any other) work.

The poster presentation went well and we received quite a lot of interest. The conference was hosted by the University of Glasgow, in the Boyd-Orr building located in the West End, a stone’s throw away from Byres Road. As Beccy and I both studied in Glasgow, it was a nice opportunity to revisit the Glasgow experience (including the distinctive square sausages, which we bought every morning at a van!)

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