May 11, 2005

Lipstick on a Pig: The Sad State of Library OPACs - Roy Tennant

:: Geoff has blogged this already, and I hope the thread is making its way around the library weblog community. Roy Tennant, writing in Library Journal, has summed up, very articulately, the problem with library OPACS:

Recently I viewed a library catalog redesign before it went public. This was the first major change in many years, and it turned out to be quite an improvement to the look and feel of the system. But despite this, it still sucks. Badly.

I don't know how much time was spent on this cosmetic facelift, but until the deeper problems that plague this system are addressed, users will remain poorly served. Librarians appear to be afflicted with a type of myopia. We see only minor, easy-to-make corrections instead of changes that will truly affect the user experience. We ask our vendors to tweak this or that to make our lives easier, while the users are left to founder on an interface that only a librarian could love.

What's useful

One of my pet peeves about the catalog is that we can't keep it straight between fielded searching that is helpful and how and when it gets in the way. For example, nearly every library catalog that offers the opportunity to search ISBN or ISSN numbers requires the user to choose a specific ISBN or ISSN index.

Searching on a number like 1594290202 across the full text of every record in any given catalog (even WorldCat) will return a very small number of hits. So why do we insist that the user specify a particular field? Presumably to allow us to create specific indexes that speed up searching, right? But how hard would it be to extract any set of numeric digits into a generic number index? Then, when someone enters a search consisting of numbers, the number index is searched. This would put the complexity in the back end—where it belongs—rather than in the user interface.

Meanwhile, specifying a certain field often doesn't work the way the user might expect. Let's take author, for example. When you search for books by an author, why do many catalogs return books about that author's work? You guessed it: the added entry. Sure, there are times when users want to get books about that author and their works, but rather than keeping these two categories of search results separate, we nearly always present them in a jumbled mess. Can this ever be even remotely useful?

The ISBN example is but one of many. Searching for standards by their number, like an ANSI-approved standard such as ASME A17.2.2-1997, can be a royal pain.

I've seen many references to Amazon's search engine, which offers a few options for searching (books, dvds, etc.), and when you search the entire site, returns faceted results, allowing you to narrow your search by format, such as those listed above. Even more impressive: move the cursor over new titles, and an "Inside This Book" dialog box appears, that offers options such as:

  • Concordance - 100 most frequently used words in the book; click on a word, it will list all occurrences of that word in the book, and list each of them
  • Text Stats - data on readability, complexity, number of (characters, words, sentences), and fun stats
  • Citations - number of books cited by the book
  • Browse Sample Pages
  • Search Inside The Book
Are these examples of features users might find when they search a library OPAC? The other question might be: are we approaching the twilight of library online catalogues? Tennant suggests that libraries need to think big:
Think big

Libraries with sufficient resources should experiment with other methods of making their collections searchable. High-profile experiments in bibliographic database search systems may help point the way for vendors not eager to perform major redesign projects. A prime example is the Research Library Group's RedLightGreen, a beacon of hope in a sea of library catalog disasters. OCLC is also pushing the envelope, as a recent blog posting by Lorcan Dempsey, the OCLC director of research, illustrates.

So what can most of us do? We need to focus more energy on important, systemic changes rather than cosmetic ones. If your system is more difficult to search and less effective than (and whose isn't?), then you have work to do. Stop asking for minor tweaks from vendors. After all, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still very much a pig.

May 4, 2005

U Liverpool's Sci-Eng/Med-Vet Library Opens 24/7

:: Interesting item via fellow U of A colleague Denise Koufogiannakis's Librarians' Rx:

This is the opposite of what's been happening in my neck of the woods. From the UK:

The University of Liverpool's science and engineering, medical and veterinary collections library, is undergoing a trial period of 24-hour opening. An exerpt:

"Phil Sykes, head of the University's library service, says the extension of hours has had a minimal financial impact as the students are asked to check out their own books under the watchful gaze of night-time security staff Mr Sykes opted to run the trial after a survey showed around 300 students visit between 10pm and 3am. He was just beaten to the post to become the first Russell Group-run library in the country to do so by Sheffield University, which started a trial two weeks earlier."

Read the full article in and the blurb on the University of Liverpool Library News.

I don't know of any other STM libraries that never close. A portion of the Information Commons at the University of Calgary's Mackimmie Library is open 24 hrs a day from Sunday to Thursday during fall and winter terms.

September 16, 2004

Agent Cooper Would Approve

:: Because you need to know: Good to the Last Drop: Dimensions and Cultural Implications of Coffee Service in Libraries. Latte, anyone?

August 4, 2004

E-Books in Engineering Reference Work

:: Paul Teague, National Editor of Design News, writes in a 19 July 2004 column of how Knovel is changing the way engineers are using reference books. Teague notes:

Knovel's move is an extension of what other engineering websites have done. GlobalSpec (, for example, leads engineers to 10,000 catalogs, 40,000 material data sheets, and 50,000 application notes, while has 67,000 product categories on its website. Kellysearch (, with about 1.2 million visitors per month worldwide, includes listings from about 765,000 U.S. companies. But Knovel actually has the reference books' contents directly on its site. Among the titles: McGraw-Hill classics such as The Electromechanical Design Handbook, Dimensoning and Tolerancing Handbook, and Roark's Formulas for Stress and Strain, as well as books from Elsevier and material from professional associations, such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The company says the contents add up amount to about $142,000 worth of material—the amount of all the hard-copy books.
I agree with Teague - the Knovel package is a good one, and many engineers, researchers, scientists and students on our campus are still learning about the database.

Many of Knovel's titles include productivity tools, including features such as interactive tables, tables with equation plotters, graph digitizers, tables with graph plotter, chemical structure search, spectra viewer, phase diagram viewer, and excel spreadsheets. Teague notes this as well:

Knovel also points to the interactive nature of the content as a big plus. For example, all the graphs are interactive. View the content in HTML or PDF form, then put your mouse on a curve, and you get the data point. Tables are interactive too; click on them and they morph into a form you can merge into a spreadsheet. And equations solve themselves when you enter the variables. One reviewer compared the experience to a computer game, saying it was actually fun to do the calculations.

I would add that for high quality content, the CRCnetBASE databases such as ENGnetBASE, ENVIROnetBASE and CHEMnetBASE are of comparable importance. Libraries able to afford both Knovel and one or more CRCnetBASE dbs are providing their users with a large majority of the major handbooks in engineering and related disciplines.

One way to increase the use of important e-reference books is to embed them into resource guides. Examples of guides I've created, into which I've embedded selected e-reference books, include mechanical engineering, materials science & engineering, chemical engineering, and nanoscience & nanotechnology.

August 3, 2004

Information Commons in a SciTech Library

:: Writing in STS-L, Janice M. Jaguszewski, U Minnesota, writes:

I am looking for examples of library-based information commons, or learning commons, that focus specifically on the physical sciences and/or engineering. If you have anything to share in response to the following questions, I would very much like to hear from you.

1. What unique "science-oriented" features do you offer? Visualization facilities? Scientific software? Group workstations for engineering design projects?
2. Is the space flexible for multiple uses or is it devoted to stationary workstations?
3. How is the commons funded?
4. Who staffs it?
5. Is it for students only or is it also intended for faculty and/or researchers?
6. Anything else you would like to share.

Please reply directly to Janice Jaguszewski, j-jagu AT, and I will summarize for the group.

If your scitech library has an info commons, feel free to contact Janice with the details.

July 23, 2004

Love in the (SciTech) Library?

:: While somewhat outside the scope of STLQ, please permit me this small indulgence on behalf of an old friend.

Madeleine Lefebvre is the University Librarian at St Mary's University in Halifax NS. She is also Past President of the Canadian Library Association, and a professional actress, whose films include Jack Bull with John Cusack, my favorite actor (who also shares my birthdate). (Yes, she has an IMDb entry!) She is also a fellow graduate with me, of the U of Alberta 1978 MLS class. But enough about Madeleine! As a favour, she has asked me to help publicize a project on which she is working: a book for Scarecrow Press, entitled The Romance of Libraries. In her own words:

I am writing a book for Scarecrow Press, tentatively called The Romance of Libraries. This will be a collection of true stories of people who met and fell in love in a library setting, which could be a library, or library school, or other related locale.

I would love to hear from anyone with a story to tell. Names and some details of place may be changed on request to protect privacy. I don't need polished stories - just personal accounts that I may edit and weave together under chapter headings. Not all stories will necessarily have happy endings. Poignancy and/or humour is welcomed.

This project is garnering a lot of interest. The contributors of all stories used in the book will receive a signed copy when it is published in 2005. Please visit my website at

If you met your true love in a library, please let Madeleine know about it, and you could end up signing autographs at a bookstore someday soon! Good luck, Madeleine!

April 1, 2004

Current Cites - New

The latest edition of Current Cites is now available.

February 17, 2004


Call for papers...

Dear Colleague,

This note is to inform you of the current round in the call for papers for THE SECOND INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON THE FUTURE OF THE BOOK. The deadline for proposals is 1 March 2004. Full details of the conference and the online call for papers are to be found at

To be held in Beijing, China, confirmed speakers include:

* Alfred Rolington, Chief Executive Officer, Jane's Information Group, London.
* John Shipp, University Librarian, University of Sydney, Australia.
* Melissa A. Rosati, Director, Editorial & Production for McGraw-Hill International, United Kingdom.
* Walter Bgoya, Chairman, African Books Collective, and Managing Director of Mkukina Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and Mary Jay, African Books Collective, Oxford, UK.
* Prof. Bertrand Gervais, Departement d'Etudes Litteraires, Universite du Quebec a Montreal, Canada.
* Timothy W. Luke, University Distinguished Professor, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, USA.
* Dr. Sidney Berger, Department of English and Communications, Simmons College, USA.
* Plus a number of keynote speakers from China, details to be confirmed - visit the Conference website for regular updates.

Conference papers will be published in print and electronic formats in the peer refereed International Journal of the Book. If you are unable to attend the conference, virtual registrations are also available allowing you to submit a paper for publication, as well as providing you with full access to the full text of the electronic edition of the Journal for that year.

We hope you will be able to join the Book Conference community, either in its virtual form, or by joining us at this year's annual conference.

Yours Sincerely,

Howard Dare
Collie Director, International Centre for Graphic Technology
RMIT University
Melbourne, Australia

January 9, 2004

Get thee to a library school!

There is no question that we need to continue to promote the strengths of our profession if we want to recruit the brightest and the best. ACRL has put together a very useful recruitment page with a number of interesting resources for both recruiters and recruitees to use. There is even a very well done streaming video on academic librarianship, Faces of a Profession@Your Library, which is available for download (requires Real Video).

Recruiting to the Profession Video (streaming file, requires RealMedia player)
Streaming video highlighting the role of academic librarians and the satisfactions to be realized in the profession. Includes interviews with academic librarians who discuss what they do and why they made their career choices. This video is also available for download as a zipped file. After downloading the file must be uncompressed and can then be played using RealPlayer.

[Found via a path of links originating with the newish blog, Beyond the Job - Professional tips for librarians: Articles, job-hunting advice, professional development opportunities, and other news and ideas on how to further your library career. Compiled by the Library Job People, Sarah Johnson and Rachel Singer Gordon.]

December 11, 2003

Cornell University Library cancels Elsevier journal package


    "After several months of negotiations, Cornell University Library (CUL) administrators have decided not to renew CUL's subscription with publisher Reed Elsevier for a bundled package of more than 900 journals. Beginning in 2004 the library will subscribe to a smaller number of individual Elsevier titles. Library administrators cite an unsustainable pricing model, prohibitive selection options, and the financial impact on the library's ability to purchase other journals as reasons for its decision.

Continue reading "Cornell University Library cancels Elsevier journal package" »

November 6, 2003

Using Weblogs for Library News

:: A few days ago, the University of Alberta Libraries converted its library news page to a weblog. This is a relatively new use of blogs in academic libraries, and I think it's a good one. There are dozens of library-related blogs out there, but not too many being used to distribute news and information of interest to their users. Most of them exist for purposes of sharing news of interest to other librarians (like this one.)

Georgia State University Library uses a weblog for their library news, and also has a "sub-weblog", if you will, called Science News, for the science students and faculty at GSU. For those unfamiliar with blogs, GSU provides a page called "About Our Library Blogs", with definitions and background information for the interested searcher, a brilliant move, in anticipation of those who want more info on blogs. Doug Goans and Teri Vogel, both of GSU, have written a timely article in the Nov/Dec 2003 issue of Computers In Libraries, called "Building a Home for Library News with a BLOG, about the development of the GSU Library weblogs.

A few examples of other blogs being used as a news source in a science and technology library setting include the Rowland Institute Library Blog. The blog doesn't link back to the library (odd, really), but the library supports the Rowland Institute At Harvard, as it is officially known, in its work in experimental science over a broad range of disciplines. The news blog of the Engineering Library, University of Saskatchewan, is embedded into the library's home page.

The academic scitech library blogs mentioned above are the only ones indexed in the list of 71 organizational weblogs for libraries on the DMOZ site. Are there others out there?

October 30, 2003

Using Blogs in Student Projects

:: It is becoming more evident to me that students working in groups can make good use of a blog as a project management tool. Two weeks ago I helped a 4th-year mechanical engineering student create a blog for his design project group (four students). To date, he has uploaded URLs, meeting minutes, patent links, links to companies producing devices related to their project, and more. It's a simple and effective way for the team to stay in contact with each other.

We are experimenting with an onsite reference service in the main engineering building, which began in late September. This afternoon while working in the engineering lab providing reference service, I helped three more students in the same course set up blogs for their design groups as well. We ran into some glitches, but I solved them before I left for the day. Afterwards, I considered how offering blogging assistance to students could consume large amounts of my time both in the lab, and back in my office as well. I want the students to be able to make good use of blogs as a project management tool, and therefore want to ensure that they begin using them properly by giving good instruction from the outset.

The logical step: for the University of Alberta to make the creation of blogs a one-step process by offering such a service to its students and staff. It's happening already at Harvard and MIT.

September 22, 2003

Databases and The Ethics of Sharing Passwords

:: Randy Cohen writes perhaps my favorite column, The Ethicist (ID and PW: podbay), for the NYTimes Magazine. He is the author of The Good, The Bad & The Difference: How to Tell Right From Wrong in Everyday Situations. In the Sept 7, 2003, issue of the NYTimes Magazine, he responded to a question from a high school student regarding the use of online resources at a university attended by her brother, by using his password to gain access. I work at a university with a large number of online resources, and wonder how often this happens, since we are unable to patrol who actually is using passwords when off campus. Here is the question and Cohen's response, which certainly gives much food for thought.

Continue reading "Databases and The Ethics of Sharing Passwords" »

July 8, 2003

Cell Phone Camera Policy - Privacy Issues

:: Is your institution or company considering a policy to cover the use of camera phones (cell phones with camera functionality) in the library? Marcia Rodney of Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp is interested in the issue of cell phones that are also miniature cameras. From the SLA-ENG listserv:

"I am looking for information on how workplaces with security concerns are going about establishing policies regarding cellular phones that are also miniature cameras, as well as what these policies are and how they are implemented. As these phones are becoming quite common, it is a policy issue both for visitors to a company site and for employees. I have searched news and business literature using Nexis, Corporate ResourceNet, PROMT, the usual, but am interested in any other sources. Most of the articles I've found simply say 'Yup, sure gonna be one big problem!'......which is not much help. If your company has already dealt with this issue and you would be able to relate how, that would be of incredible value".
If you have anything of relevance to share with Marcia on this issue, please e-mail her at (spam-protected). Marcia will post a summary back to the SLA-ENG list.

:: Meanwhile, Samsung has banned camera phones from their manufacturing facilities, because of concerns regarding industrial espionage. However, camera phones will still be permitted in the areas where said phones are produced.

:: Recently, Lawrence Lessig's blog featured an ongoing discussion about Starbucks banning photos in their coffee shops. Discussion continued here and here. Of course, now a site exists where you can post photos you've taken in a Starbucks coffee shop

:: is a blog covering "the new world of picture and video phones".

June 25, 2003

Aventis Award Nominees

:: Are these books in your library? The 2003 Aventis Prize for Science Books for an general adult audience are to be announced today. The winning author receives £10,000, and the other authors in the running will receive £1,000. Tim Radford of The Guardian recently featured a column on the nominees.

June 2, 2003

Mixed-Bag Special 03.06.02

:: Often students visit the campus library and ask for help with a job search. Two useful sites for engineering students are and The Engineer Jobs, from

:: Nifty idea: MIT Libraries has created a Faculty FAQ. "This page provides quick answers and links to information on topics of high interest to faculty, including our teaching and research support services."

:: In August, Disney will begin issuing DVDs that self-destruct so that renters do not need to return them to the video store.

May 27, 2003

Mixed-Bag Special

:: "Scientific papers that are not widely read and that lack any great influence can end up being classed as high-impact, claim researchers in California". Read the story here.

:: Karlin Lillington recently attended the ISC Symposium in Switzerland, and she describes how each delegate received a SpotMe, which is a small handheld computer running embedded Linux. It has a radar function that displays the photos and details of all people within 30 metres, among other features. It is designed for events with 100-2,000 participants. I wonder if this means it could not be used at SLA or ALA? Also, what new social issues might surface? Karlin notes that during the keynote address, everyone was fiddling with their SpotMe's. It would be interesting to see the group dynamic in small sessions or hospitality suites. Also, what might happen if you are trying to avoid someone? Ooooh....

Also of note, Karlin visited the Stiftsbibliothek St Gallen (Abbey Library of St.Gall), the oldest library in Switzerland. Check out this amazing fisheye lens view of the Baroque Library. Imagine doing reference in there!

Continue reading "Mixed-Bag Special" »

May 20, 2003

Mixed-Bag Special

:: D-Lib Magazine has a thought-provoking article by James W Marcum, entitled Visions: The Academic Library in 2012. Marcum provides a analysis of twelve papers which were winners of an essay contest on this topic, and provides links to most of the winning entries.

:: Geoff and I wish to thank Peter Scott and Steven Cohen for mentioning our article, Throw Another Blog On The Wire, on their web sites.

:: Interesting article in Online by Greg Notess: Unlocking URLs: Extensions, Shortening Options, and Other Oddities.

:: BIOSIS, publishers of Biological Abstracts and Zoological Record, is looking for a partner to expand its resources. In late 2002, BIOSIS launched BiologyBrowser, a free resource to use for searching biological information on the 'net.