BBC Three

In 2003 I got a freeview box. I got good reception. I could see the transmitter from my window.

BBC One or Two had being running ‘BBC Three takeover’ sessions, with several BBC Three programmes in a row. They were good. It’s not fashionable to say that nowadays.

In its early days it was innovative, cutting edge, risk taking and alternative.

One of the programmes I saw on the BBC Three take over shows was Dreamspaces, which simply explored modern buildings and architecture. It didn’t pad out the show with music montages, and the presenters gave facts, rather than the normal approach taking by shows of making the presenter be ‘fun but stupid’ and ask an ‘expert’ lots of basic questions. Continue reading BBC Three

Talis Aspire, checking if a course has a list

Talis Aspire is a new-ish Reading List system used at the University of Sussex Library.

On Aspire, a url for a Department looks like this:

A page for a course looks like this (for course l6061):

The nice thing is that you can replace the ‘.html’ with .json or .rdf – while the html only has a link to the related list, the json and rdf expose other links and relationships, such as the department.

For us, most (but not all) courses only have one list. URLs for lists are not predictable in the same way as the courses URL. E.g.

Continue reading Talis Aspire, checking if a course has a list

Library Catalogues need to cater for light-weight discovery clients

Way back I wrote a piece about the changing model for library catalogues, you can see it here. The main premise was that trying to maintain records in a Library Management System (LMS/ILS) for all the items you want your users to discover is no longer feasible. This is especially true in this here digital age, trying to maintain records for all the e-journals a University has access to is an almost impossible task, and LMS were not designed for thousands of MARC records to be dropped and then re-imported (i.e. sync’d) with another source. And what about all the free stuff, is an e-book not worth being discovered by users because it is free?

So let the LMS be a record of what your library physically holds, and your discovery service a place where users can find (and see how to access) resources that are of interest to their research and work. The former being just one element (albeit a major one) of the latter. Meanwhile your LMS physically holdings can be shared with other discovery systems (such as union catalogues) to show what your library physically contains.

Continue reading Library Catalogues need to cater for light-weight discovery clients

html5 and nostuff

It’s hard not to think of and not think of blazing web standards.

So I had a go at updating the template for this here blog to make it all html5. Turns out this is quite simple.

It seems you can probably just replace your doctype with

<!DOCTYPE html>

and you’ve got yourself a html5 webpage.

The W3C validator proves it so. From there I added some of the new section elements such as header, footer, nav, aside and article. It seems that these can apply to the page (i.e. the page’s footer) or a section (the footer of a blog post, where it shows tags and date published  etc). I used various sources on the web, via Google, including a few articles, and sample sites.

So nostuff mostly validates as html5 and makes use of some of the elements above, though this doesn’t affect anything visually at the moment (I think, I really don’t have much of a clue as to what I’m doing).

I’ve created a gzip file of the theme here. You’re welcome to download and use it, though it’s not really designed to be shared (includes my analytics/adsense codes etc).

Adverts that follow you

Now one of these days I will finally get my ‘moving flat’ epic published, in the mean time you can read my how to buy a property guide. It really is worth every penny.

Part of this process involves buying a sofa which doesn’t suck as much as my current sofa.

Of course, I’m doing this the proper way of procrastinating and constantly looking at websites and not deciding anything (look out for my exciting new book of the same name, the ultimate manager’s guide).

One of the sofa’s which was luckly enough to make the final rounds (i.e. got to perform in front of Simon Cowell and co), was this one, called – cutely – Oscar. Simple lines, modern look, sofa bed. From Furniture Village, which seems to be DFS’ more mature cousin, though this perhaps doesn’t say too much.

All fine and good.

Then the other day I visited, not a site I normally visit but a link had caught my eye on Twitter.

Engadget screenshot, with interesting ad

Notice that ad? A bit like travelling to furthest Siberia, walking in to the dodgyist bar and finding your nan there, distinctly out of place. Click on the image for a lager version.

At the top of an American website about gadgets is an advert for a UK middle-of-the-road furniture store, advertising the exact sofa I had been considering for some time.

This was no coincidence.

Nor had they been using Alien technology to read my mind. I had visited the furniture site using the same laptop (and presumably same browser), a cookie and advertising system was at play here.

In fact my mind was made up when this evening I saw this.

This was on Time Magazine’s website (again a US publication), on a Photo Gallery about Afghan Women (see this for background, wonderful world).

It’s that cheeky little sofa again, this time popping up next to a repressive regime. You Guys!

Finally, notice on the red border of the ad, bottom right there is a little bulge, clicking on it… “Totally personalised display ads”.

Does this freak me out. Probably should do, but at the moment it borders on fun, like most people my tastes and wants are diverse enough to create stupid juxtapositions (Serious News and Girls Aloud, Global Warming and fast cars). It becomes an issue when it goes beyond, ‘person x has looked at product y from company z so show advert to it’,and becomes one entity building a database of everything you view and do online.

What a scary vision. Think I’ll stick with what I know and just use Google and Facebook.

ircount : update

One Sunday morning in January this year I got an email sent automatically from the webhosting company. It contained the output of the script that ran weekly, when all ran fine the script produced no output. When something went wrong the error messages were emailed to me. Judging by the length of the email something big had gone wrong.

The script collected data from – to be used as this weeks ‘number of records’ for each repository.

The reason became clear quickly. A major revamp to ROAR had just been launch, showing off a new interface, which used the Eprints software as a platform (essential a repository or repositories). This was a great leap forward but unfortunately removed the simple text file I used to collect the data, and what was more, the IDs for each IR had changed.

I finally got around to fixing this in May. The most fiddly bit was linking the data I collected now with the data I already had. This involved matching URLs and repository names.

Anyways. Things should be more or less as they were. A few little tweaks have been added. A few bugs still remain.

As ever you can view the code and changes here:

And checkout the svn here:

ircount can be found here:

Summon @ Huddersfield

I attended an event at Huddersfield looking at their and Northumberland’s experience of Summon. These are my rough notes. Take all with a pinch of salt.

The day reaffirmed my view of Summon, it is ground breaking in the Library market, and with no major stumbling blocks. They are very aware that coverage is key and seem to be adding items and publishers. It searches items that a organisation has access to (though users can tick a option to search all items in the kb, not just those they can access). They have good metadata, merging records from a number of sources, and making use of subject headings (to refine or exclude from the search).

There was general consensus that it made sense to maintain only one Knowledge-base, and therefore in this case, using 360 Link if implementing Summon. There was also general dissatisfaction for federated search tools.

To me, and I must stress this is a personal view, there are two products that I have seen which are worth future consideration: Summon and Primo. Summon’s strength is in the e-resources realm and as a resource discovery service. Primo’s strength, while offering these features/services, is as a OPAC (with My account features etc) and personalisation (tags, lists). Both products are in a stage of rapid development.

In my view, one decision to implement one of these products – which ever it is –  will have a chain reaction. And I think this is an important point. Using Sussex as an example, it currently has Aquabrowser (as a Library Catalogue), Talis Prism 2 (for Borrower Account, reservations, renewals), SFX (Link Resolver) and Metalib (Federated Search).

Two example scenarios (and I stress there are other products on the market and this is just my personal immediate thoughts):

One: Let’s say Sussex first decide to replace Metalib with Summon. They would probably cancel Metalib (Summon replaces it). Probably move from SFX to 360 Linker (one Knowledge base). May then wish to review our Library Catalogue in a years time: Primo is no longer on the cards (too much cross over with Summon, which we now already have), so they either stick with Aquabrowser (but the new SaaS v3 release) or perhaps move to Prism 3 (Talis’ new-ish SaaS Catalogue). Sussex would end up with no Ex Libris products, but would potentially subscribe to several Serial Solutions products.

Two: Let’s say Sussex decide to replace Aquabrowser with Primo (which acts more like a Catalogue than AB). They cancel Aquabrowser. Primo would (in addition to being the primary OPAC) have Summon-like functionality, allowing users to search a large database of items instantly, with relevance and facets. So Summon would not be an option. Stick with SFX (Metalib would be a side feature of Primo, with a Primo-like interface). With a number of Ex Libris products they would want to keep an eye on the Ex Libris URM (next genration LMS), they would have no Serials Solutions products.

The following are some notes from the day:

Sue White from Huddersfield Library started the day, saying it is probably the best decision they have ever made.

Helle Lauridsen from Serials Solutions Europe started with a basic introduction of what it is and what their key aims were (i.e. be like google).
She emphasised that all content (different types and publishers) is treated equally.

“better metadata for better findability”. merge metadata elements. Use SerialSolutions, urichs, Medline, crossref to create the best record. ‘record becomes incredibly rich’.

She went through all the new features added in the last 12 months, including a notable size in the knowledge base. ‘dials’ to play with relevancy of different fields. Recommender service coming.

Shows a list of example publishers, included many familiar names, have just signed with Jstor. She showed increase in ‘click throughs’ for particular publishers, the biggest were for jstor and ScienceDirect. Newspapers have proved to be very popular.

There is an advanced search. There has been negative feedback ‘please bring back title/author search’.

Eileen Hiller from Huddersfield talked about product selection. She mentioned having people from across the Library and campus on the selection/implementation group, getting student feedback and talking to academics. They used good feedback in their communications (e.g. in the student newspaper and their blog). Student feedback questionnaire has been useful.

Dave Pattern talks about the history of e-resource access at Huddersfield, started with a online word document and then a onenote version. Metalib was slow, and they found more students using Google Scholar than metalib.

They started with a blank sheet of paper and as a group thrashed out their ideal product, without knowing about Summon. First class search engine, ‘one stop shop’, improved systems management, etc. Invited a number of suppliers in, showed them the vision and asked them to present their product against it, Huddersfield rated each one against The Vision. Report to Library Management Group. Summon was the clear fit.

Implementation: Starts off with a US conference call. MARC21 mapping spreadsheet, they went with defaults. they add a unique id to the 999|a field.

Be relistic with early implementation, e.g. lib cat and repository are only two local databases. Be aware of when you LMS deletes things flagged for deletion. Huddersfield had early issues with this.

Do you want your whole catalogue on Summon? ebook/ejournal records etc.

Summon originally screenscraped for holdings/availability (aquabrowser does this for Sussex) could bring the traditional catalogue to its knees.

Moving to 360 Link makes you life much easier if moving to Summon, only one Knowledgebase to maintain.

They asked Elsevier to create a custom file for their sciencedirect holdings to upload to 360.

Huddersfield found activating journals in 360 a quick process.

360 API more open than Summon API. for customers only. You can basically build your own interface. Virginia using it to produce a mobile friendly version of their catalogue. Hud used it to identify problem MARC records.

94% of Huddersfield subscribed journals are on Summon (No agreement with the following: BSP 80%, Sciencedirect, Jstor… Westlaw/LexisNexis 55%). They now have a agreement with LexisNexis and Jstor. In discussion with Elsevier. They manage to have this level of coverage for these reources by using other sources for the data (e.g. publishers for Business source premier and A&I databases for ScienceDirect).

Dummy journal records for journal titles (print and e) so that they are easily found on Summon. See this example.

Can recommend specific resources (‘you might be interested in ACM Digital Library’), can be useful for subjects like Law.

Summon at Hudderfield now has 60 million items (see left hand side for breakdown), indexed. Judging by this Summon seems to have 575 million items indexed in total.

Survey results: Users found screens easy to understand. many (43%) refined their results. Dave thinks that now Google has facets on the left may increase facet usage. 82% for results were relevant to their research topics.

They will go live in July. Currently working on training materials and staff training. Considering adding archives and Special Collections in the future.

Annette Coates, Digital Services Manager, Northumbria Uni.

She gave a history of e-resource provision, 2005 onwards: webfeat (they brand it nora, which they are keeping for Summon). ‘We have the same issues with federated search that everyone else has’. Both Northumbria and Huddersfield are keeping a seperate A-Z list for e-resources (N are using libguides, like Sussex).

User Evaluation: is it improving the user’s search experience? how can we improve it futher? NORA user survey. Timing important, Getting people involved, Incentives, Capturing the session. They will use all the user feedback in a number of ways, ‘triangulate to ensure depth’, use good quotes as a marketing tool (including to lib staff), feedback good/bad to Serials Solutions, use it to improve the way they show it to others…

Northumbria Summon implementation timeline


Focus groups, guidance?
very little guidance in focus group, and let them play with it

What is the position regarding authentication?

N use citrix. Will be Shibolising their 360link.

H channeling as much as possible through ezproxy. don’t have shib. promote usage though usage portal, which authenticates them.

No shibboleth integration at the moment.

(discussion about how summon may mean you can stop trying to add journal records, and can raise lots of questions… should summon be the interface on your catalogue kiosks).

You can send list of ISSNs to Serial Solutions to see matches, to find out what your coverage would be.

There was a very vague indication that OPAC integration may be on the cards for Summon. This is an important thing IMO.

Number of comments about Library staff being far more critical than users.

Summon ingesting stuff (MARC) from LMS 4 times a day. Using DLF standard for getting holdings data from LMS. (this is a good thing). Huddersfield wrote the DLF protocol code.

Q: Are SerialSolutions (proquest) struggling to get metadata from their direct competitors?

A: SS: Ebsco the main one, but we go direct to publishers. And for Elsevier, able to index it from elsewhere (and in talks with them).

Q: lexis and westlaw, where only 50% coverage, how do students know to go elsewhere (i.e. direct to the resource)?

A: for law students point them to e-resource pages (wiki) as well as summon to promote direct access to them. also (and perhaps more importantly) will have recommender which can recommend lexis/westlaw for law searches.

Q: can you search the whole summon kb, not just those things we subscribe to?

Q: Are there personalisation options? (saving lists, items, marking records)
May come in the future, summon are thinking about it.

Political reform : some quick thoughts

Suddenly PR is in the limelight and seems to be getting support from those disaffected by politics in the UK. I’ve long been pondering about how it is best to govern this country. Mainly about where power lies: The UK, nations, regions, counties, local councils, etc.

Some thoughts:
  • We need a Constitution. No “we’ve already got the Magna Carta” is not a valid answer.
  • The Lords needs thinking about. Almost removing hereditary peers has been a massive step. An elected upper chamber is the obvious solution. Though I’m not 100% behind it. Voting brings in a whole range of cons, pandering to popular opinion, short term-ism, and attracting those who want to be ‘politicians’. The current setup, for all its faults, avoids some of this. Appointing ‘good people’ to a upper house has merits and when it works it ensures a group of generally wise people with varied experience and skills can debate and pass legislation. The problem with elected members is that only a small set of people want to stand for election, canvas for votes, etc… and they generally are not the best for the job.
  • However, ‘who selects who sits in the Lords’, and ‘how do they ensure a balanced upper house’ are questions that are hard to answer, and maybe an elected upper house is the only workable solution. If so, I would want long terms (10 years for example) to avoid short term thinking, and measures to avoid whips and parties dictating free thinking.
  • While all those Westminster traditions are cute (the ‘other house’, ‘my Honorable friend’, divisions rather than instant votes), they actually stop the important process of good law making. They need reforming. The Digital Economy bill was a good example of this. While those (there was only 40 or so) in the house were almost universally (and across party lines) against various points and the bill in general, when it went to a vote (division), hundreds emerged from the bars etc to vote as the whips told them to. They had no idea what had been discussed. They may not have even read the bill, but vote as they were told they did. An instant vote taken in the house would have avoided this.
  • We need clear and simple rules about how the nations are given power. Westminster being responsible for the UK and England is stupid and broken. For example when the Treasury was faced with an urgent need to cut spending they looked at what they could cut. This included UK spending (Defence, International Development, national policing, etc) and English services (Education, NHS England, etc). Defence couldn’t be cut, we are still fighting a Blair war, and we have promised to ring fence International Development. But… what about the English Higher Education budget. That could be cut. And few would notice. Scottish HE funding is decided by the Scottish Parliament, whose budget is set by formula, so wasn’t an option to be included in the cuts (this is not a Scottish dig, another time it will be their formula ‘tweaked’ for the worse, the point is this happen at different times in different ways for the two nations). To me this highlights the problem well of our mixed up way of running the UK. Each nation should have the same local powers….
  • Yes that means a English Parliament. Yes that would come with costs.
  • Fixed term elections are an interesting idea. It would avoid the advantage a ruling party has of choosing the best time for them to call an election, and bring about an element of certainty of when election will take place.
  • Voting is difficult at the moment as we are effectively voting on so many things. Who will make a good Prime Minister, Which party has the best policies, which party is best placed to run the country, which local candidate is best to serve your local needs, which local candidate has the best policies. I’m not sure what the answer is…
  • …Maybe we need to elect those to run the executive separately from electing those to sit in the House of Commons. Would be a very big change but worth a ponder.
  • Obviously PR is on the cards. It has pros and cons but I think now the Pros massively out weigh the cons. The current system is simple – in a good way. Who ever gets the most votes in my area gets the seat. Party with most seats runs the country. However, it seems the country is moving away from a two party system (the two main parties now receive far less of the over all vote than they used to), and therefore this system is representing the voting habits of the nation less and less. Other countries have moved to PR quite successful in the last few years. Scandinavia, New Zealand and Germany seem to do it well. We  can learn from Israel and Italy’s mistakes.
  • For me, the current system has another flaw. The party that has the most MPs (who mainly vote as the whips tell them to) runs the executive (which creates the Bills and controls the whips), Makes the whole parliamentary process somewhat pointless (rubber stamping).
  • I’m actually quite optimistic about this coalition government. While no tory fan, the two parties have compromised mainly on giving up their most extreme ideas, the Lib Dems make Tories more socially responsible, the Tories ensure the Lib Dems do not follow some of their more wacky ideas. It does actually make democracy work very well. By definition, the policy areas they agree on (e.g. scraping ID cards and the associated databases) are those which most people voted for (anyone voting LD/Tory voted for a party with that policy), are the things that got through the negotiations with ease. Surely a good thing.

Voting time

I was hoping to write something insightful for the election. Time (well, laziness) has meant I shall spew some random thoughts instead… After the election has happened.

Things that are important to me:

  • Civil Liberties, privacy, and certain fundamentals of justice not being messed with on a whim.
  • Reforming politics and government, in a slow and discussed manner (not Blair-boy’s ‘hey I’m so bored of a Lord Chancellor, lets scrape it…. who’s turn is it on the Playstation?’). I’m actually not convinced that an elected upper house is the answer, but if it is, it needs to avoid the mistakes of whips, parties, and short term thinking. PR must surely be a better system than first past the post.
  • This includes a discussion on where we want discussions to be made, nationally or locally, etc. But this requires a public which understands that ‘local decisions by local people’ and ‘post code lottery’ are one and the same (which is used depends if the newspaper agrees with it or not).
  • A Strong economy, which encourages small businesses (but with fair rules to protect and give employees rights… they are not all ‘pointless red tape’)
  • A strong economy includes a strong financial sector. But carefully regulated to protect citizens from their mistakes and excess.
  • A strong safety net for those (and there are many) who need it, whether it be age, ill health, disability, hard times or bad luck.
  • Review of copyright and libel so they are fit for the 21st century.
  • Strong planning laws to ensure we have a quality built-environment. but with progressive and new ideas (such as shared space streets, like the excellent New Street in Brighton). Quality public buildings and spaces (such as St Pancras Station and Wembley Stadium) are important.
  • Education. I don’t have any answers but it needs to get better. Teachers need to be given space to teach, but in return they need to be good (not all are fit for the job). Endless government schemes don’t help, but nor do unions which seem to be simply against change.
  • Ideas along the lines of ‘some people misuse X, therefore lets stop – and stigmatise X’ are generally a bad idea. Examples of X are ‘benefits’ and ‘not being married (and have kids)’.
  • High speed trains are needed, to discourage air/car use, and to let people travel with ease, and to help move away from a economy focused around London.While Air/Road use should not be promoted, and in the long run other ways of living/working should be nurtured to avoid the need for travel, there is a need for some road improvements and probably (I regret) an extra runway in the South East England in the decade or so.
  • We need an enlightened immigration policy. Though we all acknowledge open borders are not suitable for this small country (I am genuinely at a loss why people manage to illegally enter the Schengen Zone – in say Italy or Eastern Europe – and then rather head for prosperous Germany or beautiful France risk their lives on the bottom of a train trying to get in to the grey UK!), we do not want to be a place where others can not come to work, or escape from prosecution. Students and educated workers bring so much benefit to this country.
  • ‘Heath and Safety gone mad’ is the refrain from the right of politics, and those who dislike the state interfering with their lives. This is easy to dismiss as the usual vile of a Daily Mail reader. Though there is argument that some things need to be rolled back. If people do really stupid things then that is their fault (obvious exceptions for children and those with learning difficulties). Vicarious responsibility can be a problem. Of course much Health and Safety law and practice is there for good reason but there are areas that need to be reviewed.
  • Working together with other European countries makes sense, we have a lot in common, shared values, and common standards benefit us all. But there are areas of the EU which seem wasteful, undemocratic, unaccountable, etc. And these need to be addressed. There needs to be clear lines of what and where the EU can legislate on.
  • Universities can be great for bringing in high tech companies, knowledge workers, and driving a SciTech, Medical, Creative industries economy. I’m not saying the tax payer should foot 100% of their bill, but cut backs have long term negative effects on a country.

This is not a full list, but just some of the ideas that came to mind. Feel free to comment.