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Technology

Mobile version of Library Catalog

We just debuted a mobile version of our library catalog optimized for display on the iPhone.  Our library system vendor is working on an iPhone application which we are investigating.  But developing html pages optimized for a mobile browser has a number of advantages over a dedicated application:

  • Catalog displays automatically when mobile users visit the web site, no need to download and set up an application.
  • Mobile html pages can be easily tweaked to display on other devices like Android, BlackBerry, etc.  No need to develop applications on multiple platforms.
  • Techniques learned to make the catalog mobile-friendly can be used for other library web services.
  • It’s free in terms of no additional licensing fees.  Its not clear what library vendors plan to charge their customers for applications they develop for the iPhone and other devices.

Our library catalog runs on SirsiDynix Web2 (not to be confused with Web 2.0) but the customization could probably be made to most web-based catalogs. We borrowed design ideas  from the great folks at NCSU Libraries. They’ve done some great work on providing library content to mobile devices. Thanks guys!

Open Atrium – or why I might finally like Drupal

It’s interesting to see all the positive articles and blog posts about Drupal and libraries.  Three years ago, we were looking for a solution to provide an intranet portal for our library and choose Drupal for several reasons–LAMP, free, strong community, flexible, etc.  We setup a portal for library staff, offered training on content creation, and made many customizations, including an extensive taxonomy of categories to control access based on group membership.  We even migrated the content of our main public website into Drupal as a first step to providing a “MyLibrary” level of personalization.

Then we started to have second thoughts.  Performance on the web server plummeted because of Drupal’s inefficiency.  We had to turn on caching for the public website, compress css and javascript files, move MySQL to another server, and finally upgrade to a new server.   In addition, library staff were avoiding the intranet portal, primarily because the extensive taxonomy made finding and creating content difficult .  As the new system administrator (my colleague who set up and customized our Drupal installation had left for another job),  I was having a hard time maintaining updates for the numerous Drupal modules and core.  Trying to change customizations was difficult.  It was a very steep learning curve.

A year ago, we surveyed library staff about communication methods within the library, with some focus on Drupal as the intranet portal.  We identified what worked (incident reports, pre-authenticated links to other web applications, rss feeds) and what did not (finding content, creating content).  In addition, we identified several areas where the intranet portal competed with more traditional forms of information sharing in the organization–mailing lists for discussion and network drives for sharing files.  People were unsure what was the most appropriate venue for a given piece of information.

We also identified a need for some library staff to have  a public web presence (their “own” space) as well as a more flexible way to create path finders or research guides.  The thought of try to get our Drupal installation to do this was daunting.  So instead, we began adopting “best-of-bred” solutions–WordPressMU for individual or group websites and LibGuides for research guides.  Library staff adoption of WordPressMU and LibGuides has been relatively painless, sometimes even bordering on enthusiastic.

In addition, we migrated the main public website to MODx, a very flexible CMS/CMF that allows considerable freedom in terms of design and functionality with an easy to use in-line editor for library staff.  We plan to move several ancillary websites into MODx during the coming year.

So where does that leave us with Drupal and our library intranet?  For many months I had been convinced that we had to abandoned Drupal and migrate to another platform–(Sharepoint, Liferay Social Office, Elgg, OpenGoo…).  But along came Open Atrium, an “intranet-in-a-box” based on Drupal.  Open Atrium provides workspaces which are places for teams to collaborate.  This “sense of place” was a major element missing from our Drupal intranet portal.

We are in the process of upgrading our intranet to Open Atrium, moving content into separate workspaces.  We will start with very basic features and then add enhancements.  In addition, we will be using Drush, powerful command line tool, to manage the underlying Drupal installation. I can’t believe we are sticking with Drupal for now.  The ultimate goal is a tool that improves communication and information sharing within the library. We’ll see how it goes.

New Technology at the Library

Preparing for a presentation on emerging technology trends (see post below) made me think about what’s new and happening in terms of technology at the Consortium Library. 

  • Federated Searching – This past year we acquired 360 Search (and a new link resolver) from Serials Solutions.   We picked this solution for several reasons – a simple search interface, a good knowledge base for the link resolver, an API that returns XML, and a reasonable price.  Late this Spring we started  integrating it into our website as QuickSearch (you have to be on campus or have a login to access it).   This Fall we will start to get a better idea of how it fits into  the discovery process and the implications for library instruction.
  • Research Guides - We joined the growing band wagon and got a subscription to LibGuides, a content management and “knowledge sharing” system.  In what is for us an amazingly short amount of time (this Summer) we published over 50 Research Guides in the various subject disciplines.  We now link from our Find Articles by Subject page to the new guides.  The guides are an improvement over our previous home grown system for Find Articles in a number of ways–easy for librarians to create content, flexible page layout, supports tagging and other Web 2.o goodness.  More guides are sure to follow.
  • Blogging – We installed a version of WordPress MU and offered it  for professional website/blog for individuals and group blogs.  We were already running a number of individual WordPress installations which migrated easily to the new installation.  The number of public blogs is low but managing one version of WordPress MU is way better than separate installations.
  • Video Tutorials - Over the past year, the subject librarians had created a lot of screen casts on how to use different library services and resources.  We finally got them organized  with layout that emphasizes the “video” part.

Emerging Technology Trends – Take One

Tomorrow morning I will be giving a presentation on emerging technology trends for the local chapter of ALKA.  So here’s my take on 10 things to keep your eye on in the coming years.

  1. Sociability - Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks will continue to flourish like kudzu.   Libraries and the people who work in them will need to join the social in order to connect with patrons.
  2. The Cloud – Network computing gets a new name and gains traction on all fronts – from infrastructure (AWS) to desktop applications (GoogleDocs) and maybe even the operating systems (Chrome OS).  Cloud computing is also taking on devices like the phone (Skype) and USB flash drives (Box.net).  Have limited funds or restrictive IT support?  No worries, you can probably get it done in the Cloud.
  3. Virtualization –  The ability to run multiple operating systems on a single piece of hardware is already popular in many data centers but will be coming to desktops in a big way.  For example, Windows 7 will offer a virtual XP mode.  For libraries and archives, virtualization will offer the ability to access old formats/content without having to maintain ancient hardware.
  4. Mobility – Led by the iPhone, smartphones (PalmPre, Android) are becoming mainstream.  Other network-capable devices (netbooks, ebook readers, media players, game consoles, cameras, gps displays - http://www.engadgetmobile.com) join the great escape as the masses untether themselves from their PCs.  As we start to roam, the services we use will become location aware (MobiApp).  What devices will libraries make available to their patrons in addition to PCs?  And let’s not forget RFID.
  5. Touch – Its been around for a while, but mobile devices are refining touch interfaces and making them common place.  Look for touch pads on keyboards, remotes, av equipment, desktop phones as well as touch displays  for PCs and laptops.  Maybe the tablet PC will make it big this time with a little help from Apple.  Once users get addicted, what are libraries going to do with all those keyboards and mice?
  6. Place Shifting – First there was “time shifting” i.e recording TV and radio for playback when its more convenient.  Now its “place shifting”, being able to watch TV and other media where its more convenient.  Devices like Slingbox  allow you to stream your home TV and other media to your PC or mobile device.  Video on demand is getting popular with services like Hulu for TV shows and Netflix for movies.  DRM-laced services like the iTunes Store even allow a limited number of copies to multiple devices.  The courts upheld the rights of consumers back in the 1970s for “time shifting”.  Time will tell if the courts support “place shifting” to a similar extent. 
  7. HD – High definition, not to be confused with digital TV, is here and going strong with HD standard in new TVs and thecable/satellite TV vendors offering premium HD services.  BuRay recently won the optical disk format war so expect consumption of HD media to heat up.  So start figuring out how much your library will allocate for BluRay media versus standard DVD media.
  8. Print Fades – Yes, we love books.  And yes, printed books won’t go away anytime soon.  But the rapid collapse of the newspaper industry and the solid success of the Kindle point to the way things are going–i.e away from print publishing.  While I am confident libraries will survive, we may have to adjust our business model just a tad.
  9. Open Metadata – In recent years, there have been tremendous growth in open metadata services that improve resource discovery  (Worldcat.org, GoogleBooks,GoogleScholarPubMed) .  These services tend to offer three options in terms of access–free content or partial content (abstracts, chapters, etc) , pay-for -it content from publishers, and links to local library collections. At least libraries are sitting at the table (although its probably the kid’s table right next to the adult’s).  Now if libraries could work to free their own OPACs.
  10. Multimedia Search – There is a wealth of multimedia available online but almost all the search tools involve text search of metadata.  But advances in image and sound recognition software are changing that.  TinEye searches the Internet for images with an image. Shazam identifies music that it hears.  iPhoto supports facial recognition so you can tag who is in your photos. 

Why Pay Money for It?

AKLA Conference 2007

Why Pay Money for It?

There are a lot of great open source applications that are perfect for libraries. This session will cover a range of software packages from nifty tools for the reference desk to jazzing up your website with blogs, wikis, forums, etc. These are applications that anyone can use. No geek talk! Well, maybe a little.