Cloud atlas of academic libraries

“Thirty-nine years of my life had passed before I understood that clouds were not my enemy; that they were beautiful, and that I needed them. I suppose this, for me, marked the beginning of wisdom. Life is short.”
― Iimani David

On Friday, 13th June, I attended Dublin Business School’s annual library seminar. This was a fantastic day, with really inspiring presentations which revealed the extent of the innovations that have been going on at the DBS Library in the last couple of years.

A bird’s eye view

What struck me most about the day was the progress that has been made possible with the evolution of both open source software, and most importantly, “The Cloud”. “The Cloud”, “Cloud Computing”, and “Cloud Storage”, are sometimes buzz words that strike me as annoying and tossed about by people who simply don’t know what they are talking about – but hey, it’s here to stay language wise – and in terms of the sheer functionality that Cloud Computing delivers, we can’t do without it.

Clouds and blue sky over the spires of St Finbarre's Cathedral, Cork

Clouds over St FinBarre’s Cathedral. Photo: Elaine Harrington, @walkerabroad

The staff of DBS library shared with us their experiences of implementing Reading List software, the migration from Heritage to Koha, and the development of tools such as an assignment planner and reference tracker. The implementation and integration of these technologies are dependent on Cloud Computing to a large extent – and for this reason it is essential that the dangers, as well as the advantages, of The Cloud are fully considered. Brian Hickey gave us the opportunity to do just that in an upbeat presentation that my fellow blogger Siobhan has written about in more detail over on her blog. You can also view Brian’s  presentation slides, and a very useful Risk Map on the DBS seminar mini-site.

Reading Lists

Marie O Neill, Head of Library Services at DBS, and Gary Brewerton, Systems Librarian at Loughborough University each told their side of the happy story of implementing Loughborough Online Reading List Software (LORLS) at DBS. As they both mentioned, the topic of Reading Lists is often overlooked, and until this presentation I don’t think I had given them an awful lot of thought. However, there is so much more to Reading Lists than simply dictating what books students should try to get their hands on. Paper Reading Lists may be on the way out, and some academics may be terrible at putting them together, but they have a significant impact on student experience and engagement. Bad Reading Lists can be outdated, overly long, contain bias towards the academic staff, and create an over dependency on core texts, when a similar title might do. However, Marie and Gary pointed out that these lists are often a student’s first encounter with resources, and they also have a big impact on library circulation, collection development and predicting purchasing. If the library is unaware of what is contained within Reading Lists, they cannot provide access to the resources. Gary told us about a situation where a student would approach the desk clutching their Reading List, and staff grabbing it to photocopy in order to prepare for the coming demand – a frequent occurrence in academic libraries maybe?

List of books on spiral notebook

Books to Read. Photo: Elizabeth M, Flikr.

LORLS is open source software, which meant it could be manipulated to work with Koha. At DBS they imported 600 Reading Lists, and now the responsibility for updating and maintaining them should lie with the academic staff. LORLS can support many different types of Reading Lists: annotated; chronological; alphabetical; in order of course module etc, and it can produce an impressive amount of data. It will alert the library when changes are made to lists, exposes items that are not borrowed, and highlights orphan or stale lists. A very useful feature is being able to enter an ISBN and see how many Reading Lists that item appears on. It seems to me that there is great potential for working more closely with academics with the use of this software as the library can better understand and meet their needs more efficiently. That is of course, if the academic staff maintain their lists – which Gary says is stimulated at Loughborough by the departments competing with each other to see how many reading lists they have and many are updated and used etc.

Migrating to Koha, Open Source Library Management System

Although David (Koha) Hughes described Library Management Systems as the ugly sister of library systems, his entertaining presentation on DBS’s migration to Koha shone a heroic light on the open source LMS. It was proved to be a cost effective move and has allowed them to customize features more readily than was possible in Heritage, the previous LMS used.

The benefits of working with Open Source were a draw for David, and he emphasised to us how important it is for librarians to champion open sources solutions. However, he also acknowledged that this isn’t for everyone and that there are intermediary companies that will support in the data processing, implementation and running of the software. The library don’t have as much access to servers as they had with Heritage, but the other advantages outweigh this non-essential issue.

Again with thanks to Cloud Computing, library staff can access Koha from anywhere. This allows for more flexibility, for example the ability to work from home, and therefore creates a more accommodating workplace. Koha has better search functionality, allows users to make purchase suggestions, and edit their personal details themselves. It is also more reliable than Heritage, which as it grew older was prone to crashes. Students appreciate these features, although it is not something they are overly aware of. The best feedback from students on a LMS is that there has been no complaints!

Academic Library tools

Folder with question mark on spine

(Not) Knowing. Photo: Marina Noordegraff, Flikr

Just as the implementation of LORLS and Koha have been taken on to improve the performance of the library, and therefore the students, there are also a number of working tools that contribute towards this. Namely, the Assignment Planner and Reference Tracker introduced to us by Alex Kouker. What I found exciting about these tools is the added value that they bring to the library service, whilst being relatively simple to initiate, and without  the high costs associated with similar tools.

The Assignment Planner helps students to organise their work load and see when they need to be undertaking research, writing, and refining their assignments. They can input the deadline into the tracker, and it creates a schedule for them, pushing reminders out by email when they need to move onto the next stage of the process.  It reduces stress and library anxiety, whilst coaching students in effective management of research. Students access the assignment planner from their VLE, which is Moodle, or from the library homepage.

The Reference Tracker is based on Google Forms and is a simple but effective tool to record activity at the reference desk. Information recorded helps the library to understand who is coming in and when, how staff time can be best used, and where bottlenecks in information access occur. Alex has created a guide for occasional staff to reduce discrepancies in the way that different requests are interpreted. This is stored as a Google Doc linked to the form. This should probably be supplemented with some training to ensure staff are comfortable, and to achieve consistency in the data. The information gathered from recording queries can inform planning; training; induction; marketing; students’ information literacy needs; reference trends, and so on.  Providing a controlled vocabulary of descriptors for the additional notes might make organising the data a bit easier. Considering this a free, cloud based solution it is a very impressive tool that could easily be implemented in a smaller library – without the investment required for an elaborate proprietary system such as KnowAll Enquire.

Thank you to all the staff at DBS Library for a very rewarding seminar, and to all those who gave presentations. All of the topics covered on the day were very interesting and relevant –  some that I haven’t talked about in this post Siobhan was reflected on in her post about the day

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One comment on “Cloud atlas of academic libraries
  1. Caroline says:

    Excellently articulated and very informative post. Thanks for that.

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