Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Again with the website

The design of the Olin Library website has been a theme of this blog from very early on. Almost no one in the Library is particularly satisfied with the website as it is now, but we have been waiting to do a major redesign because the College is engaged in a wholesale redesign of the College web presence as part of a wider strategic marketing initiative.

But we have not been able to resist making some changes. Even though I have been trying to put the brakes on too much change in the website, while encouraging people in the Library to think about what kind of website they would like to see and use in the future, the pace of change has recently quickened. I thought it would be a good time to acknowledge some of these changes and talk about where they might lead us in the future.

Use the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine to look at the website as of August 2006

We have cut down on the number of quicklinks, changed the orientation from two vertical columns to two horizontal rows, removed the bottom row of links to library departments, and switched from a Times to a sans serif font.

More importantly, we have added a quick search of the library catalog and selected other databases, a beta of federated searching and more ways of connecting with librarians (see the Meebo IM box.) Hopefully these are the beginning of new ways of enabling people to search and new ways of communicating with our users, and more importantly, them communicating with us. In general I think we are seeing a move away from a website designed around how the library is organized and towards a website designed around how people want to use our library.

Moving beyond the homepage, our link to article indexes and databases has also changed significantly. Again, we are trying to provide multiple forms of access to the major reason people use our site -- to find information resources and documents. Instead of trying to find the one best way, we have given people lots of ways. Previously we had a two column list of databases, followed by a duplicate list of databases with descriptions. It worked, but people got confused by the two columns. Now they can choose from a quick list at the very top, a linked alphabet that takes them to databases plus short descriptions that start with that letter, or scroll down to that list of databases plus short descriptions . In my humble opinion, it is not there yet, but it is closer. We need to emphasize a sophisticated form of federated search for our users, reducing the need to choose a database unless they really want to.

Another page that is, I think, all new is the ask a librarian page. Just a very different design from other pages on the site. I will be interested to see what our students make of it when we conduct usability testing. What I really like about this is that we have really expanded the potential channels of communication between our users and librarians. We now need to find ways to get those channels off the library website and out to where our users are -- Foxlink, the student intranet, Blackboard, department websites etc.

Finally, our About page has changed. The design is still as clunky as ever, but there is some new content. We have begun to recognize that most people, most of the time, do not want to know about the library. So this is the place to put access to departments, to people, to plans, etc. I am happy to see access to the current plan, and that is a wiki, so that is constantly developing. Also the calendars are now part of the wider campus calendar. This calendar system is not perfect, but I think we are on the right track when we use existing infrastructure rather than trying to make our own.

Expect to see more radical changes in the future, I think we will soon see a website that emphasis find, help, online services, communication, and interactivity, while being aesthetically pleasing and amenable to small parts being broken off and added to other webpages. In the meantime, I want to recognize the changes that have taken place so far and also complement Paul Gindlesperger and Bill Svitavsky both of Electronic Resources who have done most of the web editing and development that has got us here, and to everyone else who has participated in making these changes.

I would love to hear your comments about these changes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Harvard and Open Access

After Harvard A&S faculty made their decision, the Rollins Arts & Sciences faculty Executive Committee asked me to prepare some information about the issues associated with this decisions. I haven't heard that they are going to take this any further, perhaps it is early days yet. Here is what I gave them.

Harvard's Decision to Publish on the Web the Scholarly Work of their Faculty

Jonathan Miller


Harvard A&S Decision

“The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) voted Tuesday (Feb. 12) to give the University a worldwide license to make each faculty member’s scholarly articles available and to exercise the copyright in the articles, provided that the articles are not sold for a profit.”

“Harvard will take advantage of the license by hosting FAS faculty members’ scholarly articles in an open-access repository, making them available worldwide for free. The faculty member will retain the copyright of the article, subject to the University’s license. The repository contents can be made widely available to the public through such search engines such as Google Scholar. Faculty members may request a waiver of the license for particular articles where this is preferable. The new legislation does not apply to articles completed before its adoption.”

Open Access Movement

This is a significant move in the much larger open access (OA) movement, which generally seeks to make scholarly research literature freely accessible on the Internet. For an overview of OA see Peter Suber’s work at http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm

The other very significant OA development in the last year was passage of a measure by Congress that made the National Institutes of Health (NIH) access policy mandatory rather than voluntary. The NIH policy “ensures that the public has access to the published results of NIH funded research. It requires scientists to submit journal articles that arise from NIH funds to the digital archive PubMed Central (http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/).” For more information on the NIH Access Policy see http://publicaccess.nih.gov/.

Major Issues Involved in OA

OA is a response to two developments in scholarly publishing. The first is the high rate of inflation in the price of subscriptions to scientific, technical and medical (STM) journals. These increasing costs have put enormous pressure on library budgets over the last few decades. Interestingly, this price inflation has not happened to the same extent in the humanities. Overall, for instance, the Olin Library has experienced a 9-10% annual increase in journal subscription costs. Obviously this is not sustainable and has been addressed by moving monies from book purchases to journals, cuts in journal subscriptions, cuts in other library budgets, and (occasionally) increased library budgets. This unsustainable situation has led many librarians and faculty to address the model of scholarly communication and publishing in an attempt to change the rules of the game and force down, or at least slow the rate of increase in, prices. The best example of this is can be found at Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC http://www.arl.org/sparc/) of which Rollins is a member.

The second issue is the growth of the Internet and digital media. As we move from print to digital publication the cost structure of distribution of scholarly literature changes. Significant cost saving can be found in the elements of journal publishing associated with printing, distribution, and storage of printed journals while the costs associated with research, peer review, editing, and design remain somewhat stable. In the print world libraries (and to some extent individuals) paid subscriptions to publishers who financed editing, design, printing, and distribution of journals. Universities and granting agencies financed research costs, and publishers and universities shared the cost of peer review. Libraries (and therefore universities) financed long term storage of the literature. In the digital world, at least where Institutional Repositories (IR) like the ones used by Harvard and the NIH are concerned, universities and granting agencies continue to finance research costs, publishers are allowed, and usually offered some incentive like the 12-month moratorium allowed in the NIH Access Policy, to participate in peer review, editing, and design, and government, granting agencies, and universities finance storage and access. Distribution costs are minimal and borne by the individual or institution downloading individual articles from the IR. This model is still new and not yet stable. It is not clear that institutions (particularly government) will accept their role as really long term archivists of this scholarly literature, and it is not clear publishers will survive to participate in peer review, editing, and design.

Another big issue in the OA movement is copyright. In the traditional print journal model, the author assigned copyright to the journal publisher who made money by selling subscriptions, reprints, and permissions. Copyright can be handled in a variety of ways in OA distribution. The author can waive copyright, effectively placing the work in the public domain for anyone to use, copy, and distribute in any way their like. Or the author can make use of a license that enables certain uses of the work, but not – for instance – republishing for commercial gain. The best examples of such licenses are to be found at Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org.) Increasingly, scholarly publishers are including language in their contracts with authors that allow the author to retain certain rights in the work, specifically the right to load a copy of the manuscript to a website, or into an IR. This language varies from publisher to publishers, sometimes from journal to journal. Sometimes publishers are open to negotiating such language with authors and sometimes they adamantly oppose it. In effect what Harvard and the NIH are doing is forcing the issue. They are saying to publishers if you want to publish work by Harvard professors, or by researchers funded by the NIH, let us have a copy for our IR. We won’t resell the works, but they will be accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Publishers will have to make a business decision about whether they can continue to make money under these circumstances. If they decide they cannot, then the IR’s will seek to assume the roles relinquished by them.

Issues for Rollins

First the development of the OA movement in scholarly literature is a boon to small schools like Rollins. We could never afford a comprehensive print journal collection. The ability to access some portion of the literature freely on the web has the potential to significantly expand our student and faculty access to the journal literature. However, the instability in the system over the next couple of decades has the potential to undermine our access. Also, the varying levels of quality of IR’s and the foreseeable challenges to the peer review system will mean that librarians and faculty will only have to work harder to help students navigate these murky waters. Information literacy competencies will only become more important in the years ahead.

If Rollins faculty wanted to institute a system similar to the one that will come about as a result of the Harvard system a number of issues will have to be confronted. First, we do not have the hardware and software available on campus necessary to upload article manuscripts, organize and make them accessible via search engines like Google Scholar, and archive them for the long term. However, such systems do exist and if this is a priority could be implemented relatively quickly (I would particularly recommend investigating a system called DSpace http://dspace.nitle.org).

Secondly, we would have to face the fact that we are not Harvard and have far less bargaining power with journal publishers that Harvard. Even the Harvard A&S faculty gave themselves a get out clause “Faculty members may request a waiver of the license for particular articles where this is preferable.” (http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2008/02.14/99-fasvote.html) My rather cynical guess is that this translates as, “when the publisher baulks and the faculty member is anxious to get the work published.” This issue is particularly important for untenured faculty members under pressure to publish.

Thirdly, Rollins would have to commit to very long term storage of these materials. When librarians talk about long term storage we mean centuries. Rollins is a young institution and yet we have journals in the Olin Library from the 1870’s and before. Rollins would have to agree to this level of institutional commitment. In practice this means robust back up systems, long term financing, migration of files as formats become obsolete, and constant vigilance on the part of faculty and librarians.

Finally, we would have to design a system that could actually ensure that the IR received the appropriate files from faculty members and, where necessary enforce compliance.

All of this very practical. I have been interested in an IR since I arrived, and I know Donna Cohen was before me. Many institutions have already developed IR systems to collect various digital materials (faculty research, student research, institutional publications, archival documents, etc.) and many others are revisiting the issue in the light of the Harvard decision. I would welcome an opportunity to discuss this issue further with the Committee or with the wider faculty.

Losing Control

I just changed the settings for comments to this blog. Up to this point I have moderated all comments. I was concerned about spam or an inappropriate comment being posted. Well like most blogs, and indeed most writers over the centuries, I should have been more worried about not enough readers instead of the wrong kind of reader!

So now comments appear immediately and I get an e-mail when one is posted. If I am encouraging our staff in the Library to reconsider (not abandon, just reconsider) the level of professional control we exercise over information delivery in this Web 2.0 world, then I should practice what I preach.

So go ahead, comment away. Please, I'm beggin' ya.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

How are we doing?

Since the beginning of the semester we have invited our users (at least our users of the physical building) to complete a traditional comment card. The card includes two questions with Lickert scales ("How did we treat you today?" On a four point scale from 4, outstanding, to 1, terrible and "Did you get what you needed today?" On a three point scale from 3, everything, to 1, nothing.) On average, in answer to the question, "How did we treat you today?" we score a 3.2 (closer to good than outstanding.) In answer to the questions "Did you get what you needed today?" we score a 2.4 (between "everything" and "something.")

The meat of the card though is the invitation to add any comments our users want to make. I have already copied these responses to everyone in the library. I want to add them here and respond to each comment. I am also going to ask Paul to put these in rotation on the plasma screen in the atrium of the library. I think it is important that we show our users that we value their comments by actually responding. When the comments are about a similar issue I have grouped them together. I have also removed the names and titles of library personnel noted in the comments (both positively and negatively) and also users' e-mail addresses. In each of these cases the specific comment has already been shared with the person mentioned and with their supervisor. So here goes. The comments are italicized, my responses are not.

"How is it two weeks into the semester and the 24 hr lab is still not open? Don't we pay close to $50,000 a year in tuition?" "OPEN THE 24 HOUR LAB PLEASE !! :O(" "Please stay open more often - Thanks!" "I have lots of work and it would be great if the library was open Friday and Saturday nights." "stay open on Friday and Saturday nights." "It is so, so, so frustrating that on the weekends you guys open at 11 and that is too late. I get up and the earliest I can eat breakfast is 9 am. Then there is an awkward 2 hour gap I can't do any work. I feel for library staff in the a.m.. One solution is to be open 24/7. I see no reason not to be open 24/7." "Why aren't you open on Saturday nights?" "Can you stay open Saturday nights?" "The library/24 hour lab needs to stay open for Saturday nights and Friday nights. I like having a quiet place to do homework and study." "Please stay open later on weekends."

Response: I am delighted to be able to say that we heard you loud and clear. Information technology has extended the hours of the late Night Lab in the Olin Library until midnight on both Friday and Saturday nights throughout the semester. Every other day it is open 24/7. We will also be opening the whole library 24 hours a day for the week before and the week of exams. Also, if you crave quiet study space through the night, the Provost has started a program that allows any Rollins student to request that a classroom be opened for them 24/7. All you have to do is ask, by calling Campus Safety at ext. 2999.

Good Service: "Comments: Every time I call on or come by, someone with a smile is always willing to help me. Thank you!!" " I appreciate the great service!" "I have been coming to the library to study and check out books for quite a while. The ladies at the front desk at night are extremely helpful, knowledgeable and friendly. I love the atmosphere. Thanks to all!" "Great staff" "I would like to say that **** was especially helpful at the front desk and I really appreciate it!" "**** is wonderful, excellent!"

Response: High quality service is our highest priority. I am glad to see you appreciate it. Thanks for letting us know, I immediately discuss the comments that we can link to a specific employee or department with the people involved immediately.

Bad Service: "In general, this library does not have a service attitude. Patrons are often treated like an annoyance or a disruption." "****, the ****, is rude and talks to students in an inappropriate manner." "The people are very unfriendly, need work on people skills."

Response: Personally, these are the most painful comments we receive. Rest assured when we can link these comments to a specific employee or department, I discuss them with the people involved immediately. We have changed many policies over the last 18 months in a effort to improve service and we are currently working on strengthening our personnel review procedures so that we can deal with these problems effectively and help all our personnel provide high quality, consistent, service to everyone. Please keep letting us know if we don't meet your standards. the more specific you can be the better.

Books: "you need a bigger selection of books (fiction.)"

Response: It is great to hear from someone who still likes to crack open a good book. If you mean the rotating collection of bestsellers that we shelve in the lobby, titles in that collection change frequently, so I hope you keep checking. You can also always let us know if you want us to get a specific title. But don't forget that we also have a lot more works of fiction up on the 4th floor. These are the books we own. You will generally find them in the P's on the 4th floor. But we also have a large selection of science fiction on that floor as well. Again, let me know if you want something and we will do what we can to get hold of it. Also don't forget your local public library.

Noise: "I wish the team members would not talk so loud when students are trying to read."

Response: I passed this comment on to all the staff at all service desks as soon as we got it. Thanks for reminding us that our workplace is your study space. Remember that the 3rd and 4th floors are designated as quiet study areas, while the 1st and 2nd are for group study. Find a quiet spot upstairs if you find the main floor too noisy. My favorite is the Tower Room.

Bookmark Café: "It would be great if the bookmark café opened earlier on Sundays and carried some supplies i.e. highlighters, pens, pads of paper, index cards etc. We have been working and exhausted our supplies and had to leave campus to find and buy supplies. Thank you!"

Response: The Café has gradually been extending its hours of operation and the range of food and drinks it sells. Personally, I would like it to be open all the hours that the Library is, but I understand the need for them to work efficiently and, based on how much revenue the Café generates, it doesn't make much sense for it to be open those hours. Sorry, but the Cornell Dining Center is open, as is 7-Eleven for supplies. I have passed your suggestion on to Dining Services.

Bikes: "The library needs a second bike rack out front."

Response: As someone who bikes to work every day, I agree. I have passed your suggestion on to Facilities Services. I also have a suggestion of my own. At least one bike has been parked in our bike rack since December. Share the road guys! Don't take up space you don't need.

Cables: "I almost tripped over one of the cables powering a laptop being used in the area beside the teaching lab. Would it be possible to have outlets on the same side as the chairs?"

Response: Power for laptops is a big problem in libraries built before 2000. The Olin Library opened in 1985 well before we saw the advent of wireless access and students with laptops. As we renovate space we definitely take this issue into consideration (see all the outlets on the loggia as an example.) Power in the middle of rooms with concrete floors is even more of a problem. You can either hang it from the ceiling (which only fits certain industrial style aesthetics) or drill from below, which is not always possible. I have come to realize two things: first, you can never have enough power outlets and second, they will always be in the wrong place!

Bathrooms: "Bathrooms are over-scented."

Response: Hey, it is better than the alternative! Seriously though, I have passed this comment on to our custodial staff.

So keep those comments coming. I hope you can see we read them all and they do make a difference. Thanks.