Posted by: mhdiaz | October 19, 2011

Why Can’t We Talk? The Island of the ILS

Jane Burke continues a new blog series on InfoViews — Crushed by the Tsunami: Are Libraries at Sea?  The focus of this series is resource and data management challenges and their implications for demonstrating library impact and value.  In her second post, Jane discusses issues with interoperability. 

– Mike

As librarians continue to focus on enhancing service levels and user experiences, there is just not enough staff time to do everything.   We would like to be more “out front” but are often tied to processing routines developed in the past.  This week, I posit that the lack of interoperability of library systems significantly impacts library efficiency.  .  Most pressing is the inability of the Integrated Library System to programmatically interact with supplier, student registration, and budgetary/financial systems which causes library staff and other university staff to waste time on duplicative data entry.  (Not the only cause, though – more next week.)

“Interoperability” is inherent in most enterprise systems today.  (and there is no doubt that the ILS is an enterprise system.)  Modern systems talk to each other seamlessly through a variety of interfaces.  Even systems with very different architectures are programmatically interconnected, using technologies such as SOA (service-oriented architecture.)

Unfortunately, our ILS’ weren’t put together this way.  During the 1980’s, we wanted dedicated systems, controlled by the library.  Even newer versions of those systems follow this “turnkey” architecture, which basically makes the library system an island.  That self-sufficiency suited (sort of) an era of managing print collections.  The desired outcome of measuring the library’s value to the institution could be accomplished (sort of) by printed usage reports.

But being on an island now comes at a high price.  Just a few examples of efficiency impacts:

  • Difficulty importing and exporting user records from/to  registrar
  • Difficulty connecting to common e-commerce techniques, such as debit cards
  • Limited (!) ability to import bibliographic data – ftp is a batch technology
  • Limited ability to receive/process invoices and other financial transactions from suppliers
  • Inability to output financial transactions to institutional financial systems

… and the list goes on and on.

The suppliers we use in our daily lives – Amazon, Wal-Mart, QVC – could not survive with these limitations.  And libraries have limited resources to compensate for the fundamental inefficiencies of these systems.

Supplier invoices seem to be a particularly bad use case.  Over and over again, I hear stories of how these electronic invoices for electronic collections are:

  • Received electronically
  • Printed
  • Entered manually into the ILS acquisitions module
  • Walked (or maybe faxed) to the financial office

The amount of valuable staff time being spent on such repetitive – and error prone – activities keeps the library as an “island” at a time when the librarians need to embed the library deeper into its user community.

In my opinion, the most critical impact of being on the island is the how it limits the library’s ability to have a meaningful impact on assessment.  As institutions focus on metrics and learning outcomes, the library is hampered at every turn by system constraints.   As an example, most of the usage is of electronic collections.  That usage data must be exported to mix with student data in order to see the impact of the library on user success.  Today it is simply too difficult and time-consuming to do that.

Of course, beyond the ILS, it is easy to identify lots of other enterprise systems where outdated technologies impede organizational efficiency and impact..  Many organizations have such issues, including library suppliers.  However,  at a time when libraries are struggling to establish a new, visible mission, these system difficulties inhibit our compelling communication of library relevance and impact.  It’s not the nature of the technology itself that is the issue – it’s the consequences.

Posted by: mhdiaz | October 11, 2011

Why Can’t We Keep Up?

Jane Burke returns to InfoViews for a new series — Crushed by the Tsunami: Are Libraries at Sea?  The focus of this series will be resource and data management challenges and their implications for demonstrating library impact and value.

I hope that you will enjoy the series and look forward to your comments. – Mike

Over and over again, I talk with librarians who are not able to keep up with all of the activities required to keep their collections in front of users.   It’s ironic, because that’s why you invest your precious budget dollars in library resources – to make them available to end users.

We all agree that the composition of the library’s collection has fundamentally changed.  The electronic library resources now account for the majority of both budget and usage.  This OCLC graphic says it very well:

In the last 2 years, we’ve recognized this shift, especially in end user solutions.  The adoption of web-scale discovery indicates that libraries know they need a search solution across the full breadth of the library’s collections, regardless of format, source, etc.  End users don’t care about the “silo” in which an object sits – they just want the right objects, regardless of producer or content type.

But … the software available to the library staff to manage today’s collections has not evolved.  Instead of a unified approach to managing collections, libraries use a patchwork of software solutions – with a tremendous amount of staff overhead.  Libraries are managing today’s collections with yesterday’s technology.

This causes library staff to be unnecessarily inefficient, often doing duplicate data entry.  As much as I personally have been associated with the Integrated Library System (ILS) market, the ILS was conceived in the era of purely print collections.  Despite some technical updates, the basic model of print workflows hasn’t changed.

To deal with the reality of mostly electronic collections, librarians surround the ILS with a variety of other solutions, at tremendous productivity costs.   The workflow inefficiencies keep the library from being able to take on new challenges and a new position within its enterprise, threatening its relevance.

The workflow inefficiencies are huge and often deeply ingrained, because no new technology has been created that solves the problems of bifurcated workflows.    Plus, the old technology model can’t even provide for some of what today’s library’s need.

Librarians identify three major areas of pain from the constraints of the old technology:

Library workflows

  • Split between electronic & print – separate processes for each, instead of unified management
  • Split among jobbers – each supplier has a separate system; then the ILS needs to get updated
  • Metadata from multiple vendors – each supplier sends a separate file of records to be loaded and edited
  • No tools to track requests – selection is total dissociated with the ILS
  • No interoperability – whether it is patron records or invoices, processes require duplicate data entry

No real assessment capabilities, making it hard to illustrate the library’s contribution.

  • Reporting based on circulation of physical materials only
  • No unification of usage of electronic materials
  • No way to link library usage to student success – vital for library support

Need to maintain local hardware and software

  • Local server operator and upgrade costs
  • Premise deployed software staff requirements and delays
  • Talented staff unable to do new things because tied to old technology

As budgets have tightened even further, these issues have become more prominent.  Technology from the 1980’s doesn’t serve the library 30 years later.

In her next post, Jane will focus on the myriad challenges that librarians face due to systems compatibility and interoperability issues.

In Academic Ebooks – The Shifting Landscape Leslie Lees VP of Content Development for ebrary discussed changes that are occurring with e-books and implications for libraries and their users.


Now that the series Academic E-books – The Shifting Landscape is complete,   I want to express my appreciation to Leslie Lees for surfacing the many transformations that are taking place on the e-book landscape and what they are likely to mean for libraries, publishers and the academic community as a whole.  I look forward to seeing continued dialog about how libraries and information providers can build new and better capabilities that will add value for users.    

Following are links to all of the posts in this series:

How Individual Book Buying Experiences are Reshaping Academic Library User Expectations for E-books

Academic E-book Collection Development in the Context of New User Expectations

E-book Collection Development for Academic Libraries – Existing Options and Emerging Needs

How the Changing Academic E-book Landscape is Impacting Academic Publishers

Academic E-books and their Role in the Emerging Scholarly Communications Landscape

InfoViews will be continuing to provide coverage on key topics at the intersection of  technology, research, and learning.  Some interesting features are planned for the coming weeks and months.  If you have ideas for topics that you would like to see receiving deeper exploration, just let me know.

The following post is the fifth in a series from Leslie Lees, VP of Content Development from ebraryAcademic E-books – The Shifting Landscape discusses changes that are occurring with ebooks and implications for libraries and their users.  –Mike

The changing expectations of readers are creating reverberations throughout the entire chain of scholarly communication, and impacting the role of scholarly readers as writers of the books that support that chain.  The monograph has long been important to academia, especially in the humanities, but why should that necessarily be so? Are books themselves simply an artifact of the print world and do e-books persist only as a transitional mode on the path to new methods of scholarly communication in the digital culture?

Long-form scholarly and philosophical works clearly pre-date the print era, but the invention of the printing press made their production and dissemination economically feasible. Sharing research became easier and university training began to emphasize developed argumentation in the form of dissertations as the ‘rite of passage’ into the scholarly community.  It is ironic, therefore, that, from the earliest days, arguments that were painstakingly constructed by scholars over the length of a book, were then deconstructed by those same scholars into collections of ‘snippets’ as they used them. The secondary publishing output of compendia, reviews and other reference tools that support this model of ‘reading’ were some of the earliest examples of curated content!  The scholarly conversation thus resembles a real conversation. Sometimes scholars have been good listeners and have paid close attention to the developed arguments of other scholars and sometimes they have used the work of other scholars as simply grist to their own conversational mill!

Authors certainly have an emotional attachment to their own books that goes way beyond any they feel for other forms of writing. This is reinforced by the loving care with which many University Press books are designed and produced.  But the digital environment now offers cheaper and faster ways to communicate ideas, so if the printed book is no longer the most economically viable way to communicate, then how long will such emotional attachment persist?  Reviews in the New York Review of Books, for example, illustrate how the book-length elaboration of ideas is still taken very seriously. While we might imagine  that book chapters could at some point be treated akin to journal articles and that scholarly communications could occur instead via specialized blogs, discussion groups or other social web environments these vehicles are far from proven, despite the fact that they are employed by many scholars.

The stability of print books and of the institutions that supported their circulation and reception formed a culture that anchored the identity of authors. That identity comprised both ‘authority’ and ‘ownership’ and the legal framework for intellectual property mirrored the cultural one; mediating the relationship between the individual idea and the intellectual ‘conversation’.  In the digital culture, the identity of the author is always in danger of being dissolved into the ‘traces’ left in the multifarious communication forums on the web.  Much is therefore tied up in the culture of the book as a vehicle for ideas, and reports of its death are greatly exaggerated!  Scholars still require ways to maintain their identity, authority and ownership in the new culture.

Maybe the future of the book lies in the social nature of scholarly research. The platforms that scholars use to discover and read books could incorporate social tools to share insights, give and receive recommendations, organize instruction, discover collaborators, and promote research. The activities which were formerly spread out across the scholarly value chain between readers, writers, publishers, booksellers and librarians might be organized in a space that allows scholars to communicate and debate with colleagues; publishers to discover new authors and topics of interest to the academic community; and librarians to develop deeper insights into the needs of their users.

The academic monograph as a container of ideas will be with us for a long time, but not necessarily forever. We still have much to learn from the culture of the book as we seek to preserve the values inherent in scholarly research in the new digital culture.

The following post is the fourth in a series from Leslie Lees, VP of Content Development from ebraryAcademic E-books – The Shifting Landscape discusses changes that are occurring with ebooks and implications for libraries and their users.  –Mike

I met recently with Milad Doueihi, author of Digital Cultures.  We discussed the irony that his book, which is about the futility of attempts by publishers to artificially recreate the restrictions from printed books in the new digital world, had not yet been made available for individual sales due to an embargo.

That scholarly publishers are, in fact, very aware of this irony, and of the challenges posed by this new digital culture, is made clear in the AAUP-sponsored report, Sustaining Scholarly Publishing: New Business Models for University PressesThe report is an attempt to find ways out of the impasse in which publishers find themselves, wherein the shift from the scarcity of access in the print world which dictated the way that books were written, published, and sold, to a situation of hyper-abundance that seriously challenges their traditional business models.

Books are extremely susceptible to the challenges posed by hyper-abundance as they are purchased not only by institutions but also by individuals.  The case of Harper Collins illustrates this dilemma particularly well. The publisher’s attempt to find a business model that allows content to be sold, rather than withheld from sale to libraries, is to be applauded. And, as suggested in Eric Hellman’s analysis in his blog Go to Hellmann, there should be much for libraries to like in the development of a largely usage based model for licensing books to public libraries, even if the proposed model requires some significant tweaking. What the Harper Collins situation illustrates, more than the disputes over a particular business model, are the deeper philosophical differences between trade publishers and public libraries; differences that were largely obscured in the print world by the slower circulation of books. Some fundamental questions will have to be addressed before the needs of publishers and libraries in the trade space can be rebalanced.

However, it is important to note that the same underlying differences do not define the relationship between scholarly publishers and academic libraries. Writers and readers, publishers and libraries are integrated into a scholarly communication system that shapes their mutual experiences. The challenges faced by scholarly publishers arise not from the fundamental differences, but from the remarkable similarities in the problems faced by the participants in the scholarly ecosystem. As libraries have been forced by economic circumstance and user demand to move away from the collection based model that underpinned the value of their service to the academic community, the demand for monographs has become more uncertain and the risks associated with publishing many specialized titles have become too high. And just as the long-held value of physical library collections as the only easily accessible guarantee of quality research is dissolving in the age of changing user expectations and abundant digital content; so too the selections by publishers, made of necessity because of the risks and costs inherent in the business of scholarly publishing, are losing their role as the sole marque of academic quality.

While libraries and publishers are both struggling to adapt to change that springs from a new digital culture, it is important to emphasize that publishers confront new challenges on two fronts. Just as the uncertain, maybe declining, demand, for monographs threatens their ability to support new scholarship, scholars are beginning to establish new networks and modalities for communicating with their peers. And many of these scholars have begun to question the very value of the publishers for the effective circulation of their work. Of course, the risk for scholars in this ‘brave new world’ is that they will throw out the baby with the bathwater. New networks most certainly offer countless benefits for academic interchange but they could also threaten some of the most valued qualities of the scholarly enterprise itself; concentration, analysis, and deep expertise.

It is encouraging to see the University Presses thinking with such clarity and precision about how their fundamental value and competencies might be deployed differently in the digital age, They have had the courage to reimagine their role in the academic ecosystem and to engage more deeply with libraries and scholars whose daily choices could pose threats to their very existence.

The supportive fabric of the scholarly environment, which might appear to be in danger of being ripped apart by the stresses of the new digital culture, is instead becoming the locus of some very creative thinking by scholarly publishers about the their fundamental mission to preserve the values that scholars hold dear. And the emphasis of Academic Presses on collaboration in arriving at solutions illustrates itself what one might sincerely hope will remain the enduring value of scholarly culture in the digital world and beyond.

The following post is the third in a series from Leslie Lees, VP of Content Development from ebraryAcademic E-books – The Shifting Landscape discusses changes that are occurring with ebooks and implications for libraries and their users.  –Mike

I recently attended a UNESCO conference in Milan The Future of the Written Word that gathered together a group of fascinating and thoughtful people to discuss a set of questions about the impact of e-books on our experiences of reading and writing.  I was struck there by how difficult it really is to identify practical answers to the questions that beset our complex and rapidly changing world.  As the request for directions was so famously answered by Yogi Berra “you can’t get there from here!” 

For all their manifest problems, library collections have provided a yardstick of quality that might act as a proxy for coaching users about information literacy. However, as we have seen, such a form of gatekeeping is increasingly rejected by the new generation of users.   So how can libraries best make the shift from supporting learning and research by directing patrons to a librarian-selected collection of ‘authoritative’ books to the application of limited funds to building a better information delivery service as needs arise?  Both  All You Can Eat packages and Patron Driven Acquisition seem, on the surface, to offer a solution to this problem of how to meet more demand with fewer resources…but both are still only partial and problematic solutions. 

All You Can Eat packages from publishers and aggregators do offer more for less, sometimes a lot more. Typically, these options can offer a critical mass ‘opening day collection’ that supports better e-book discovery…but as any hard-pressed librarian knows, the solutions that work well for a few key publishers can result in shifting the problem of resource allocation up a level from the individual book to that of the package.

The much-discussed University Press initiatives recognize the challenges for smaller presses that originate from this shift in resource allocation to bigger commercial academic presses. These smaller presses are seeking to overcome the issue of All You Can Eat pricing by banding together to replicate this same strategy.  Shifting the decisions to the level of the package from that of individual titles does not, however, resolve the problem and it might ultimately even exacerbate it for the smaller presses.

From the library perspective, Patron Driven Acquisition thus would appear to be a much better solution for targeting scarce resources. While this is a very promising solution in terms of mapping collection development to user needs, it still raises many concerns and questions for librarians and publishers.   In Information Theory, it is axiomatic that more signal noise equates to more transmission error and, regardless of the available selection and evaluation tools, more choice equates to more ‘noise’ and, potentially, more selection ‘error.’ Of course,  librarians understand this all too well already from the noise/error equations in their annual monograph selections from a sea of new titles produced annually, despite their expertise and the tools at their disposal.

The burning question is, can we create a roadmap to a better solution that will avoid damaging dislocations.  In my last post, I talked about a possible future where librarians might assist the development of tools at embed their experience in the discovery process. Improving the ability of students to discern appropriate information would surely help in the reduction of selection ‘error,’ but we need to go further.

The answer lies, surely, in the mass of new metadata that is being generated by the very use of e-book content. Publishers, aggregators and librarians have collaborated to create standards for the capture of usage data but that data is still useful mostly for individual libraries and publishers.  It remains scattered and disconnected. Developing appropriate solutions will require creation of standards for the system wide capture, sharing, and study of data.

Information scientists have generated many useful and brilliant insights into researcher behavior from usage studies in both the digital and print environments…but we need to do more than study behavior. We must apply the intellectual resources of the Academy and the publishing industry to developing solutions that are based on a better understanding of actual research behavior in the digital world.

Such a collaborative effort could be built out of the current forums that exist to connect the players in the scholarly ecosystem and might then engage the expertise, not only of information scientists, but of game theorists, economists, mathematicians, cultural historians and philosophers, anthropologists, and even scientists and engineers to understand system wide implications of changes in the scholarly digital culture.

E-books have brought a sea of new challenges to the fore, but there is also an opportunity for libraries, publishers, and the academy to enhance research capabilities and experiences by using data to enrich selection choices, business models and publication strategies for the benefit of all.

Please join me in welcoming Chris Cowan, ProQuest’s VP of Product Management, to InfoViews.  His new occasional series, Unlocking the Value in News Content and Solutions, focuses on the transformations that are occurring in the news sector and implications for cost, quality, and accessibility of news content for libraries, researchers, and the wider world. — Mike

I’ve run for longer than I can remember.  My steps have danced, glided, and more recently plodded over all types of terrain from beaches to snow-capped mountains, from California to Maine and Florida to Washington, from the cinder tracks of my Kentucky youth to pristine tracks in Europe.  It’s never mattered to me where I was running, so long as I was moving over the earth.  Moving forward has been the purpose; it has been the drive.  Forward is my favorite direction.

But regardless of where I run, running in the winter is when I enjoy it the most.  Winter holds the appeal of graceful cascades of snow laced branches,  the soft hissing of snow as it lands on shrouded grounds, the bracing bite of northern winds against my face (in full disclosure, I grow a beard every winter).  I find energy and renewal in the quiet of muffled footsteps on frozen, deserted landscapes.  The slower pace of the world, the stillness enveloping my motion.   Winter brings a perspective and builds a perseverance.

Unlike the peace I experience in the winter, however, the newspaper industry is slowly shaking off an unrelentingly brutal,  five-year winter.  Over these past five years, newspaper publishers have struggled as their traditional print business has eroded under repeated storms of internet competition.  In the U.S. news industry alone, print advertising revenues (which account for 80-85% of a typical newspaper’s overall revenues) have fallen from $47B at the end of 2005 to barely $27B in 2010. That’s Billions, not millions.  It’s hard to comprehend a $20B collapse with little of it likely to return.  Like trees overburdened with heavy ice and snow, branches have broken off and some trees will not survive.

It’s been a harsh winter and newspaper publishers would love to be able to come in from the cold.  They’ve ripped out expenses and downsized staff drastically across the board, even in previously sacrosanct editorial departments.  Days of publication and distribution channels have decreased at some papers (e.g., Detroit Free Press, among others), a few have switched from the printed word to digital (such as our hometown Ann Arbor News), and over 100 titles have just disappeared from the landscape (Rocky Mountain News, et al). 

While prognosticators began warning of an impending storm as early as the mid-1990s, newspaper publishers took predictions of peril in stride and were slow to make changes in their high profit, strongly positioned enterprises.   There was no urgency or even a belief in the need to change back in the 1990’s.  But, there is now.

If only news publishers knew how to bring about spring.  For many of us who have grown up appreciating and even relishing newspapers as part of our daily lives, this extended winter has unalterably changed the media landscape and the way we travel through it. 

But news publishers are surviving this internet  winter of dis-content;  the value of news remains.  News is still essential; but, its value is shifting.  As radical business changes continue transforming the news industry, the role of news content for libraries and researchers will continue to evolve as well.   I hope you’ll join me in examining the changing shape and substance of news content and services for libraries and researchers, and in reviewing emerging issues related to accessibility of news and historical news, digitization, preservation and more.

The following post is the second in a new series from Leslie Lees, VP of Content Development from ebraryAcademic E-books – The Shifting Landscape discusses changes that are occurring with ebooks and implications for libraries and their users.  –Mike

Recently at Book Expo in New York it was interesting to meet Steven Rosenbaum as he was signing copies of ‘Curation Nation.’  This new book was his contribution to the genre of meta titles on managing the flood of information that is being created on the web.  Rosenbaum’s main point is that this flood needs to be filtered by people with expertise and passion for their interests and that the web provides many new tools for them to do so.

His argument is a positive one for the value proposition of academic librarians, who, after all, have been doing precisely this for centuries.  But it becomes somewhat diluted when he stretches ‘curation’ to cover pretty much any and every example of user activity on the web — from home-grown news aggregations and hobby blogs to tweeting and reposting content and links on Facebook and YouTube.

If everyone is an expert then ultimately no one is.  Andrew Keen’s point in ‘The Cult of the Amateur’ (quoted by Rosenbaum) is that curation in this sense is a democratic fiction.  He makes the distinction that true gatekeepers must exercise professional judgment, a message which will surely resonate with academic librarians.

New user approaches to curation which leverage the “likes” and interests of digital communities represent significant challenges to the role for academic librarians as the collectors and authoritative gatekeepers for books and other information resources.  To continue to thrive in this new environment, libraries must acknowledge that users are choosing whom to ‘trust’ as they navigate the flood of information available to them.

In the past, books in stacks were a physical incarnation of the library service. Librarians collected physical books because, as Rick Anderson tirelessly argues, they were bound in time and space, and libraries needed to have them on-site in case they were needed.   Academic librarians understand that their collection development activities, far from creating a static pile of books, are, in fact, a valuable service.  At the same time, they must also recognize that the user expectations for that service have changed.  In the past, users had intuited that the aggregation and selections made by their librarians were enabling.  Now, with books both ubiquitously available on the web and surfaced through a growing number and diversity of social media, users often perceive library channels for accessing this information to be limiting.

It would be difficult to prove the negative proposition that less (in the sense of selection) is better, but it is true that circulation statistics suggest that many of the selected books are not even read at all.  In the digital age, when the constraints imposed by physical books are removed, libraries have the opportunity to deliver their services more directly and effectively to the point of need.

What is clear is that, as the new generation is turning away from gatekeepers whose authority they do not perceive intuitively, they are seeking out a new brand of authority that they can trust based on commonality of interest and on the ‘results’ generated by their recommendations.

Not even the most radical of digital futurists would wish that libraries would cease collecting books. They serve too many needs to vanish overnight. The challenge for academic librarians is to recognize how the trust of their users has been disaggregated and how this impacts user expectations for library services.

Corporate librarians have long dealt with the fact that they must share the trust of their users with colleagues, co-workers, and communities of interest. As librarians learn to understand and appreciate the ‘trust networks’ that are being created by the new generation of users, they will find new ways to contribute their expertise in support of a totally new value chain.

Deep understanding of user needs will be critical for academic librarians to embed their expertise into the research process and re-caste themselves within this new digital landscape by creating filters and tools that help users to navigate in a sea of diverse resources.  Academic librarians must build a new brand of authority not through the curation of a collection, but instead through the curation of the discovery experience itself.

The following post is the first in a new series from Leslie Lees, VP of Content Development from ebrary.  Academic Ebooks – The Shifting Landscape will discuss changes that are occurring with ebooks and implications for libraries and their users.

Research from Nielsen recently reported the first decline in decades in the number of U.S. households owning television sets from 98.9% to 96.7%. Aside from economic hardships caused by the recession, the other probable reason for the decline is that young people are opting to watch more video content on the Internet and their mobile devices. It is ironic that TV, which has been held responsible for a decline in reading and reader attention spans, is now in the early stages of being disintermediated by video on the web – the new scapegoat for all sorts of cultural and intellectual catastrophe.

It is fascinating how periods of technological and cultural innovation are marked by a rising chorus of discussion about declining attention spans, reduced reading abilities, and the inability of end-users to discover and evaluate information. This sense of crisis typically is accompanied by a feeling of information overload that recurs from generation to generation. Discussion of these types of concerns has even spanned the centuries as chronicled by Ann Blair in ‘Too Much To Know’, her fascinating study of how scholarly information was managed in the Early Modern period.

While the ubiquity of digital content for academic research has created inestimable value in making more information available to more users, it has clearly also contributed to this sense of overload and the insufficiency of user tools and skills to deal with it effectively. Librarians are more than familiar with struggling to teach information literacy and the ability to find and discern relevant information students until, as researchers, they develop a serious stake in improving these skills.

E-books are the latest entrant into the field of digital content. As they have been collected primarily by academic libraries, it has been easy to assume that they would be discovered and used in much the same way as academic journals. While long-form academic monographs have been designed to develop arguments that are read from cover to cover, Ann Blair points out that for centuries academic monographs have also been used in large part as a reference resource. So much for the claims of a shorter attention span in today’s users!

As compared to journals and other forms of academic literature, books are purchased much more widely by individuals for personal use. If academic monographs in libraries had continued to be the only game in town, libraries would have retained more of their influence, but the explosion in the purchase of books for individual use has had a major impact on user expectations.

Apple and Amazon have played a key role in defining how e-books are read…but much more importantly, Amazon has trained users to navigate and evaluate way more metadata in discovering titles and discerning their value to them. Users’ personal experience of discovering e-books has now far outstripped the resources available to librarians to deliver the richness of descriptive metadata and ‘finding’ support that is available to book buyers in their personal experience. Librarians are discovering that they are not setting, but following, users’ expectations even in their areas of core competency. The challenge facing librarians is to offer a comparably rich experience in their environments, but one that is augmented by their expertise in providing appropriate tools and content and context for the discovery and evaluation of academic ebooks. This context ought to include much more descriptive metadata from publishers, book covers, excerpts, reviews, expert ranking, peer review and recommendation and expert (especially local) reviews and recommendations from faculty.

Metadata also has to be “smarter” and structured in ways that forge relationships between users and the resources they seek. Enriched metadata from publishers alone will not manage these expectations, as improving the discoverability of e-books will also require a shift in the way that e-book information is managed across platforms. As an industry, we must recognize that our competition for patron mindshare is not coming from traditional competitors, but instead from those outside the academic space altogether. Librarians are competing for the hearts and minds of their patrons with the likes of Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook who continue to adapt their platforms to enable a more semantic and socially engaged user experience which cross-pollinates content and brokers relationships between like-minded information seekers. In this complex new world, library software vendors and content providers must similarly adapt their platforms and offerings to help ensure that librarians can meet the vastly enhanced expectations of their users.

For once, we can set aside our fears about user abilities and let the expectations from their personal experience guide us in developing better support tools for their research.


Blair, Ann. Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age. New Haven [Conn.: Yale UP, 2010. Print.

Stelter, Brian. “Ownership of TV Sets Falls in the U.S.” New York Times3 May 2011. Print.(

Springshare is an innovative technology company that continues to garner praise from libraries everywhere.  Its flagship offering LibGuides harnesses the collaborative power of libraries and puts it to work to enhance user experiences in the discovery of library resources. 

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Springshare’s CEO and Founder, Slaven Zivkovic.  It was terrific to get his insight about the company, where it fits on the broader technology landscape, and his vision for the future.  


MIKE: Where did the idea for LibGuides come from?

SLAVEN: I have been working with libraries for almost 15 years, and in my conversations with librarians one persistent theme was their search for more effective ways to reach out to patrons and share their knowledge and information. By the time we developed LibGuides in 2007, the technology pieces were there (web 2.0, social networks) to develop an effective and powerful platform for libraries and librarians to share knowledge and information with their users.

While our products (LibGuides, CampusGuides, LibAnswers) help patrons get the information they need, the primary driver behind our solutions is to help librarians get their work done quickly and easily.  As such, we are also passionate about providing outstanding customer service and support for our library customers. We make a point of taking good care of each and every client and answering customer queries quickly and effectively. 


MIKE – Who are the key users of LibGuides?

SLAVEN: Librarians – over 30,000 librarians at 2,300+ libraries all over the world. The majority of our clients are Academic libraries, but our solutions are just as applicable and just as needed in Public, Special, and K-12 libraries. I am very excited that we have seen a strong interest from non-Academic libraries in the past year and we look forward to serving their needs as well.


MIKE – Are there any applications of your solution that have been surprising to you?

SLAVEN: As libraries start digging deeper into LibGuides they discover all of the little things that make it so powerful and yet simple to use content management system – reuse of content, easy management of assets in the system, etc. So, they are starting to replace their website CMS systems and using LibGuides as their library website. Pretty cool, huh? Some good examples are University of Notre Dame Australia, Cornerstone University, and Ocean City Public Library.


MIKE: What are the most important benefits of using LibGuides for libraries?

SLAVEN: There are 3 important benefits I would like to highlight:

  1. Ease of Use – Librarians of any skill level, and without any knowledge of html and programming, can effortlessly create content-rich multi-media guides that look very professional and give the patrons the information they need. They can embed social media and networking elements by using our predefined widgets. In just a few hours, librarians can do something that would take days and a considerable amount of programming to create. And they have a lot more fun doing it. 🙂
  2. Collaboration –. While each institution has its own LibGuides system, all systems are networked together in a global network of 2,300+ installations with 150,000+ guides in the network. Anything in the system can be reused (with proper permissions from the original owners, of course) so these existing 150K+ guides are a wonderful resource for librarians to see what others are doing, to get ideas for their own guides, and to use other guides as templates when creating their own content. This is why the quality of guides in LibGuides is so high – the collaborative features and reuse/templating enables “crowdsourcing” to take place.
  3. Support – A hosted, continuously developed solution, with an unparalleled support structure, LibGuides is a hosted solution which means the libraries don’t have to worry about any technical issues or hardware – we take care of all of that for them. They just log on and create the content they need.  Also, having a really powerful tool to play with is great, but what happens if you have questions? This is where LibGuides – and Springshare as a company – excels. Our customer support is second to none. This is incredibly important for librarians – they are busy professionals and we offer peace of mind that if something goes wrong or if they have questions we’ll resolve these issues quickly.


MIKE: What are some of the most interesting examples of how your solution is being used right now?

SLAVEN: Besides the use of LibGuides as a library website, another really neat application of LibGuides is to develop custom mini websites for current projects or current events. For example, the librarians at the University of South Florida are using LibGuides to develop and maintain an amazing resource about the Gulf Oil spill. Check out the GOSIC (Gulf Oil Spill Information Center) website at


MIKE: What new capabilities are now available for your customers?  Are there any exciting things planned?

SLAVEN: We continuously develop new features of the system, and every year we are adding at least 30 or so major new pieces of functionality and new capabilities. Going back in time, I am proud that LibGuides was the first library application with a full Facebook presence and app, and we were among the first to integrate with Twitter. Now, we are seeing that more users are accessing LibGuides on their mobile devices. So, we are putting more emphasis on mobile features, and in fact we are about to release the Mobile Site Builder module for LibGuides. This new module will enhance the already available mobile LibGuides access, in addition to giving libraries an easy to use, effective, and affordable way to build full mobile websites for their institution.

MIKE: What is your vision for LibGuides in the future? 

SLAVEN: I believe that every library – small or large, academic or non-academic, has a need for a system like LibGuides. Content and resources offered by libraries are increasing every year by leaps and bounds. Even with improvements to discovery solutions and search technologies, patrons often feel overwhelmed by the amount of information that they need to search through.

That’s where LibGuides comes into play – LibGuides enables librarians to share their knowledge and information with patrons about how to effectively do research, and how to find the information that they need quickly and easily. So, our vision for LibGuides in the future is the system being used by tens of thousands of libraries worldwide, and becoming an authoritative go-to source of information for any type of search… like a high quality wiki with authoritative information.

MIKE: What types of new solutions are on the horizon?

We have introduced a number of solutions which are complementary to LibGuides. CampusGuides (or CommunityGuides for non-academic libraries) – a content management solution — extends the features of LibGuides to add better access controls, more account levels, groups, a powerful surveys/form builder tool, and more – We also have LibAnswers – an easy to use self-service, 24/7 reference system which enables libraries to create a powerful knowledge base of library information and service how-tos – We are always working on new stuff, too, so you will be hearing about new stuff coming out of Springy Labs as well.


MIKE: Which social media applications are you using right now?   Do you have a favorite application and why? 

SLAVEN: We are big users of the social media – we actively use Twitter to stay in touch with our clients and convey important information, answer quick questions, etc. We have also created a social network specifically for the users of Springshare’s products – The Springshare Lounge – It is an online community where thousands of librarians – users of Springshare tools – discuss best practices, exchange information, and ask questions related to their use of the platform.


MIKE: What do you see as the most interesting and innovative applications on the broader social media landscape?

SLAVEN: Of course, new social media apps are springing up every day and it’s hard to keep track of them all. The amount of information on Twitter, Facebook, various social networks, etc is multiplying rapidly and there is no end in sight.  I think the key challenge is the curation of this content. Many social media systems and networks are hard to navigate effectively because of  “signal to noise” issues. The services and apps which effectively curate the social media landscape are the ones to bet on.

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