DMU Library Online 2012

I blogged in July 2012 ago about attending a DMU in-house introductory training course on project management. I was keen to start to apply some of the knowledge gained from this course, so began to think how I could integrate this learning into some of my own library project work. One project in particular seemed a “good fit” for this integration – organising DMU Library’s annual eResources Roadshow.

Event Working Group

For the 2012 roadshow, a small working group of library staff convened to start to plan and prep for the event. A project proposal was drafted to overview the objectives of the one-day event. These aims included promotion of online library resources and raising the profile of the library within DMU as a whole. As unofficial “chair” of the working party, I provided group members with some material at the first meeting to provide a starting point for discussion around the 2012 show. Alongside some observations and recommendations taken from the 2011 roadshow, I sketched a draft “roadshow network diagram” (by hand) – this diagram was taken from a model highlighted at the DMU project management training workshop:

DMU Library Online Network Diagram

The working group used a network diagram to inform their planning for the DMU Library event.

The group found this network diagram useful as it displayed important components involved in the planning for the roadshow. The groundwork was split into four separate stages – location, exhibitors, promotion / publicity and event feedback. These components were set against a timeline at the foot of the page, and provided group members with a visual representation of the tasks and milestones which would need to be completed in the run-up to the event.

Venue Location & Name Change

The 2012 event would be DMU Library’s 5th annual showcase of some of the online resources it purchases for the benefit of its stakeholders. Past library roadshows had taken place in different locations in Kimberlin Library (e.g. Learning Zone). The working group discussed the venue and format of the roadshow and decided to change some aspects of the event. Firstly, the group wished to incorporate some breakout workshops and talks alongside the traditional publisher exhibition at the event. This was to add a different dimension to the event, freshen up the format and allow publishers and library staff to run sessions on particular services, resources or topics that may interest attendees. With this in mind, the working group also recommended a location change for the event – moving from the Kimberlin Library Learning Zone to another library building called The Greenhouse. The Greenhouse was deemed to be a potentially more effective ‘space’ for holding the breakout talks programme alongside the publisher exhibition.

The working party also reviewed the name of the event. It was decided that a name change was needed – “eResources” was a tad too vague for users and its meaning could be lost in translation; the “roadshow” element was just not true as the event was a one-off each year and we were not going to be running the event at any other locations! So, after some close discussion and liaison with library management, the event was renamed as “DMU Library Online 2012”. In renaming the event, the show also had to have a wider scope to incorporate all library online services, not just online databases, indexes and full text journal collections.

Preparation

It was agreed to host the event on Weds 21st Nov 2012. The running time of the show would be from 11am to 4pm. The working group met a number of times between July – Nov 2012 to organise, update and keep the event preparation on target. This approach seemed to work very well. As the working group consisted of library staff from different teams, the collaboration and liaison between teams was much more effective and seamless, and most of the communication flowed via the working group representatives. It was also valuable to call on expertise within the working group, whether this be specific subject or resource knowledge, logistics / risk assessment know-how or previous experience of hosting library events.

To help manage the event preparation, each member of the working group was tasked with numerous individual responsibilities. This included catering, A/V set up, creating publicity material, social media promotion and exhibitor liaision. The update meetings were a chance for the group to come together regularly to review progress and highlight any problems / changes to the preparation schedule. Dealing with ‘unknown’ factors seems to be of major importance when managing a project – there are some things you may not be able to directly predict, but you can leave “wiggle room” when setting out your project mandate.

The Day Arrives…

Library Online - Publisher Merchandise

Some of the publisher freebies on show at DMU Library Online

It was an early start for the working group on Weds 21st Nov 2012. We had access to The Greenhouse from 9am on the day of the event. This meant we had a couple of hours to arrange the venue as we had planned – setting up the publisher exhibition, library stands and room for breakout talks. The one factor we could not control was the weather – it literally rained non-stop from 9am until 4pm (The blue sky only appearing when we were packing up the show and waving goodbye to exhibitors on their journeys home!).

A number of publishers exhibited at DMU Library Online 2012.

Even in light of the bad weather the event itself was a success, with many of the changes to the 2012 event working well. Feedback from several attendees was very positive, and all of the publishers who exhibited at the event felt it was a useful and enjoyable show. The working group’s planning and coordination was excellent, and the collaboration between library staff in the run-up to the event, and on the day itself, was fantastic. It was great to see DMU Library promoted as “one” service in one place at one time. So much library work is team-based within individual departments, it was very effective for staff to get together and be on hand to talk to DMU students and staff under the guise of a single directorate.

Talks on the library’s new reference management product were extremely popular with students and staff, highligting that the event promotion and publicity worked well. Some of the more general breakout talks were not so well-attended – this may have been down to the bad weather but also publicity for the talks being too vague and content of the workshops having too much of a staff-focus.

2013?

The DMU Library Online working group are currently reviewing this year’s event. I am sure this evaluation of what worked well and what could have worked better will provide some useful recommendations for how the library continues to promote its online resources and services to DMU students and staff in the future. Targeted promotion to different faculties seems to be a good place to start, with promotion centred around specific resources and products. This may be the legacy of the DMU Library Online event, providing a template for staff to use, edit and implement at future library events. The DMU Library Online working group was a major success and it was great to see the eResources Roadshow evolve into a bigger, more productive event. I think I also applied learning obtained from the project management course I attended at the outset of the Library Online planning – using this learning definitely improved, streamlined and enhanced the organisation and preparation involved.

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Online library resources: usability & user interaction

I recently read Bohyun Kim’s interesting blog on research “flow” and serendipity in digital library collections, and a number of Bohyun’s comments immediately struck a chord with me. I have previously blogged about some of the challenges which can arise around eResources troubleshooting for library staff, and I think issues surrounding resource usability, navigation and functionality can affect all types of library user (students and staff).

I deal on a daily basis with online resource admin and configuration and regularly liaise with students, academic / library staff and content providers. Library users are (increasingly) demanding easy and seamless 24/7 online access to electronic content, using a multitude of different devices to do so (PCs, tablets, smart phones etc). These devices have a diverse range of internet browsers, security settings and display features which may potentially affect (block?) how this content is consumed, managed or downloaded. Students want “one-click” access to content – as Bohyun suggests, users do not want to be consistently confronted with browser pop-up security messages or numerous platform login welcome screens after already submitting valid credentials. Unfortunately for libraries and its users, “one-click” access appears to be not that easy to achieve in reality for some content providers!!

Publishers own content, and protect their content with authentication mechanisms (Athens, Shibboleth etc) which libraries and users need to set up and comply with to obtain access. These authentication mechanisms can sometimes be very complex, and rather than allow access to content (which is their primary function), can potentially act as barriers for users – proving to be one step too far for many disgruntled library stakeholders. The barrier or blockage to online content upsets the research “flow” which Bohyun refers to in her blog post. There is also a financial context to this as well though, for libraries and publishers to consider. Barriers to online content can damage a user’s experience of using library resources, potentially meaning that a user may not return to a particular subscribed system or product. Non-returning users may, in turn, affect overall usage of a resource. Low usage of a resource may lead to cancellation of said resource, as maximum value for money is not being achieved (these evaluations are especially key in the current economic climate).

I think it is important for libraries to keep the pressure on publishers and providers to keep improving, streamlining and simplifying their authentication mechanisms where possible and appropriate. Longstanding access barriers are no good to anyone – especially university students and staff. It is these stakeholders who need to continue to be the main focus for libraries when delivering access to online resources.

 

Posted in DMU, Library, MashDMU | 8 Comments

Workflowy

Twitter is a mine of information and data. It is sometimes difficult to keep up-to-date with the constant stream of blog posts, articles, videos and images posted by people I follow (my Twitter “favourites” list is growing all the time as I tag tweets for viewing at a later date!). Every now and then though, I will see a piece of information that I will read, save and try to apply in my work at DMU Library. This tends to centre on viewing a new online service or tool for the first time, or some kind of emerging technology related to the higher education sector I work within.

I gave a talk just over a year ago at a DMU Library Mashup session about using the online service Wallwisher as a potentially effective way to capture user feedback or comments. Wallwisher has subsequently been used by other DMU Library staff/groups to obtain views after library traning sessions and events. I used Wallwisher myself to gather attendee and exhibitor comments after organising the 2011 eResources Roadshow. This is an exercise that is planned to run again for this year’s show in November 2012.

Last week I saw a tweet promoting the use of an interesting online tool called Workflowy. Workflow’s slogan on its homepage is “Organize Your Brain” (it is a US site, hence the spelling variation!). The service is an online organisational tool, allowing users to manage information by building online lists or notes. These could be project outlines, a brainstorm of ideas or a simple shopping list. As I have been undertaking some project management work recently, I decided to take a closer look myself. So one day last week, I set up my own Workflowy account and began to play…

I decided to use the eResources Roadshow working group planning as a starting point on Workflowy. The site was meant to be fairly intuitive and simple to use (you are presented with a blank screen to build whatever content you wish to complete), but I decided to first look at the “How To” videos available on the site. The tutorials provide you with an overview of Workflowy and the individual components available within the online service (e.g. import and export features).

I then began building my first Workflowy “list”. The tool allows you to create headings and sub-headings, depending on the size of your workflow and how you wish to construct the content. Under the main title of the 2012 roadshow, I created four sub-headings which were discussed by the roadshow working group in its first meeting – location, theme/exhibitors, promtion/publicity and feedback. For each of these sub-headings I then added individual action points.

I think the great thing about Workflowy is that you can add name tags and filters to whatever lists you create. For example, if you assign a task to a person in a project working group, Workflowy allows you to add a name tag (using the @ followed by the person’s name, @mitchell for instance) to the individual workflow. You may also want to add a time element for tasks that may need, for example, processing urgently. For this time component to operate on Workflowy, you need to use the # with the timeframe description you want to add – #urgent, #soon, or #later. Simpler the better it seems! Once you have added this information to a larger number of individual workflows, Workflowy allows you to filter the data within your managed lists. So, if you want to just view the tasks set aside only for @mitchell, clicking on this name tag filters those parts of the list attached with an @mitchell tag, highlighting snapshots of the workflows you have assigned for that named person. This process works in the same manner for the timeframe element too – clicking on #soon tags will filter only those lists with the #soon identifier attached.

At the moment, my experience with Workflowy is at an early stage. In fact I have only had time to create one list for the eResources Roadshow. I definitely think there is value in using this online tool though, even if it’s only for brainstorming library work I am involved in. I can also see myself using this to improve organisation in my personal life. The site is simple, easy to grasp, and has a range of ‘groovy’ little tricks (like the name tags and time filters) which adds value to creating the lists, enhancing the exercise above the traditional “pen and paper” method!

Workflowy is recommended. I gave a brief demo of it during the latest DMU Library Mashup session which took place on Mon 13th Aug 2012, and it will be interesting to see if other colleagues create an account and test it for themselves.

You can keep up-to-date with Workflowy via the Workflowy Blog.

Please do let me know what you think 🙂

Posted in DMU, Library, MashDMU, Social Media | 3 Comments

London 2012 – An Olympics To Remember…

Just about to sit down in front of the TV and watch the London 2012 closing ceremony celebrations in the fantastic Olympic Stadium. Wow, what a great, emotional and, at times, breathless games – especially if you are a Team GB supporter!! I think for Team GB to win 29 golds was beyond even the wildest of expectations of fans, organisers and administrators before the sport began. To win so many golds across a diverse range of sports was also fantastic – I have found myself viewing sports I would never have the opportunity to view – on one day in the first week of London 2012 I watched competition from sports such as judo, rowing, sailing, cycling, fencing and canoeing. My standard sports viewing is usually confined to football and cricket! I suppose the next thing on my agenda should not be just to watch on my laptop or TV but to get out there and do more sports…a legacy of sorts!

If I had to pick one standout moment from London 2012, it would have to be Mo Farah winning his second gold medal in the 5,ooom last night (Sat 11 Aug 2012). I was cheering and willing Mo on to cross the line in front of the TV. The atmosphere in the stadium sounded electric – even the BBC commentary team were emotional, suggesting that Mo’s win was the greatest night of British athletics in a generation. Certainly a MO-ment I won’t forget in a hurry!

Enjoy the closing ceremony – tomorrow the London 2012 games will be history. A golden moment in GB’s sporting history. Let’s it continues in the Paralympic games that follow in a few weeks time. If you want to keep the Olympic spirit alive between the games, I recommend you read this witty blog post from BitchBuzz. A great read!

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Introduction to project management

In July 2012, I attended a DMU in-house training workshop titled “Introduction to Project Management”. The workshop set out to define the important features to think about when planning and scheduling projects (whether in a research, commercial or strategic content), including stages/life cycle of a project. The training asked attendees to think about and share their experiences of project management, in the hope to highlight good practices/techniques to adopt. The session also presented a number of useful tools to potentially use when planning a project (network diagrams, Gantt charts, Prince2). The workshop concluded by outlining why some projects fail and provided examples of how to overcome project “drift” or fatigue.

As a I member of the DMU Library’s Content Delivery Team, I am often involved in group project work. For example, this may be part of a group testing changes to library eResources authentication or implementing technical changes to a library system (e.g. link resolver software).  For the past four years, I have also organised the DMU Library’s eResources Roadshow. In preparation for 2012’s library roadshow, I was keen to start to apply some of the learning I had gained from the DMU project management workshop.

For the 2012 roadshow, a small working group has been formed to discuss and oversee the planning and organisation for the event. At the time of writing this blog, the working group met for the first time in late July 2012. I am the unofficial ‘chair’ of the working group, and the group comprises representatives from different library teams (Learning & Research Services, Customer Services and Content Management, Planning & Innovation).

For the working group’s initial meeting, I prepared some material in the hope to provide a starting point for group discussion and to stimulate useful and effective conversation. I wrote a brief report outlining the successes and failures of the 2011 roadshow. The report also contained some initial observations and recommendations the group might want to explore for the 2012 event. I also thought I would try my hand at some direct project management and attempt to draw up a draft “roadshow network diagram”. This diagram was based on a model highlighted at the DMU project management training session.

The network diagram was a rough sketch (pen and paper!) displaying important components involved in planning for the roadshow. The different actions were set against a timeline at the foot of the page (each project should have a start and end date!). The diagram seemed to be well received by the other members of the working group – it gave a visual overview of the work and organisation involved for the roadshow and displayed some critical milestones that needed to be considered. It also providing a ‘starting point’ for the group’s early discussions, breaking down the initial groundwork into four separate stages – location, exhibitors, promotion/publicity and event feedback.

The group’s first meeting was a useful exercise in setting out a plan of actions for the library roadshow. I also felt it was a valuable opportunity to try and apply some of the learning I had received from the in-house training session. Not all of the issues discussed at the training workshop were relevant, but I think that is all part of the process of applying what you learn – rooting out those themes/mechanisms important and useful to your own work and thinking about how best to adopt them.

The roadshow planning continues and the group will be meeting again in the next few weeks. I can already see that the project model the working group has undertaken is operating more efficiently and effectively than in previous years, and I am confident that the library roadshow can be developed and improved even further so another successful event can be held later in 2012.

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DMU Library – Discovery Systems Analysis

DMU Library has begun to explore the potential implementation of a “Discovery System”. A Discovery System is software which “ideally” joins together different silos of library content & information (library catalogue, eJournals A-Z List/link resolver software, institutional repository etc) & allow library users to search across this content from one search box (a la Google).

The library will be exploring what it would want in a Discovery System, & the key issues/factors involved in the choice of Discovery System & provider. There are a number of systems available  & established on the market. With this in mind, I think some of the key themes would be (in no order of relevance or priority):

  • “Findability” of library online resources – linking to third-party resources, potential for publisher bias or exclusivity towards content?
  • Accessibility to resources – seamless links/authentication to library systems (via DMU Single Sign On).
  • Metadata quality & retrieval (system knowledgebase) – MARC/catalogue records, correct & up-to-date journal titles lists.
  • Provider support – level of customer service offered during implementation & aftercare.
  • Compatibility/interoperability with other library systems (DMU Library catalogue, Find it @DMU service, DORA, ExamNet etc).
  • Value for money (VfM)/Return on investment (ROI) – ongoing system cost.
  • Flexibility of system – can the library make changes as the system develops?
  • User personalisation of system – potential links to Blackboard, myDMU, social media.
  • Promotion of system to library staff/library users & stakeholders

To be continued…

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eResources “de-tech-tive” work – supporting library staff

After my recent blog post on library eResources troubleshooting, the DMU Library Content Delivery (CD) team decided it would dig a little deeper and brainstorm what types of eResources problems library staff are facing on a day-to-day basis. As mentioned in my previous post, library staff are having to undertake increasing amounts of “detective work” to pinpoint the cause of online resource or eJournal problems. The CD team attempted to breakdown these potential resource difficulties into problem ‘types’ and look at potential associated questions staff may want to ask end users in a bid to diagnose resource errors more quickly. The team felt it was more rewarding and satisfying for library staff to be able to successfully support users at the point of need (where this was possible and appropriate). This support could be provided in person in the library at an enquiry desk, over the phone or via email. The goal of the CD team is to provide some kind of eResource troubleshooting guide, FAQs or flowchart in the short term for staff to consult when working on information points, in meetings with students or roving around DMU Library. The team are also working on longer term projects (e.g. resource screencasts) which will hopefully further improve support offered to library staff in this area, and ultimately provide clearer information for users wanting to access library online databases and electronic journals.

To start the process, the CD team set about attempting to categorise library eResources queries into problem types. These definitions would help with the initial groundwork on thinking about a troubleshooting guide or FAQs. The team met to discuss the nature of eResources problems and came up with the following intital categories (listed in no particular order of importance or priority):

  • Browser/security settings
  • Authentication
  • Subscription
  • Publisher site error
  • On/offsite
  • User knowledge/education
  • Device

The CD team also tried to highlight associated questions library staff may want to raise to users under each of the above categories. So for example, if a user’s query was labelled as a browser issue, staff may want to ask a question such as does clearing your internet history/cache fix the access problem?. The team attempted to establish a number of initial, if general, helpful questions/responses staff could use when dealing with patrons with resource enquiries.

It was decided that some early feedback from library staff would also be helpful in the process of creating such a troubleshooting guide. Therefore, I took the opportunity to speak about the team’s plans at last week’s DMU Mashed Library (#MashDMU) lunchtime event. The feedback I received was generally positive and attendees at the Mashed Library event agreed that the categorising of eResource problems in to types would better help staff identify and diagnose errors with online systems. The group saw the idea of a troubleshooting guide as a helpful one, and may help set up a kind of ‘triage’ service which would quickly identify and fix end user queries, or be able to capture useful information for later diagnosis.

The idea of developing some kind of reference point for staff to use when dealing with eResources enquiries is still at an early stage, and is obviously a work in process. The CD team will continue to work on creating such a guide, collaborating with library colleagues in an effort to provide more comprehensive support to identify, and hopefully fix, the causes of eResources and eJournals end user enquiries.

I would be interested to hear the experiences of other libraries/library staff who have set up or created something similar as to that proposed at DMU Library.

 

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Some further thoughts on library eResources admin & troubleshooting…

(Otherwise known as “the challenges libraries face in meeting ‘managing’ student expectations with regards the delivery of online resources in light of a changing fees-based sector and multiple paths to content”!!)

A few weeks ago I blogged about the potential access problems caused by publishers issuing multiple subscription reference numbers for academic libraries. I thought I’d follow up that blog post with a few more personal observations surrounding online resources/journals management and the challenges libraries face (now, and in the very near future) in delivering content to meet the demands of users in the light of increasing university tuition fees and different avenues to content.

I work for a library team which deals, on a daily basis, with enquiries sent by library users experiencing problems with online resources and electronic journals. Diagnosing these ‘problems’ can be a complex and time-consuming activity for library support staff, especially in an ever-changing world of new technologies, multiple publishers and diverse pathways to content. It is not unusual for the library to lose access to online content at any given time – with the different electronic resources a library purchases and the diverse number of content providers supplying this content to the library, technical glitches are bound to occur (in an eResources “utopia” everything would work seamlessly but we know it does not!). What is becoming more difficult (this is not a moan, just an observation!) is the “detective work” which library staff have to undertake to pinpoint where these errors have occurred, and what steps have to be taken to fix/restore access. This diagnosis is also taking place in a changing sector, set against the backdrop of emerging technologies and, more importantly, increasing demands of university students who already pay substantial tuition fees. From the start of the 2012/13 academic year, they will be paying a heck of a lot more!!

This was amplified to me (and other colleagues) somewhat this week, when dealing with a student enquiry requesting that the library investigate the loss of coverage to an eBook title. The loss of access to the eBook in question took some time for the provider to restore and the student was rightly frustrated and dissatisfied as a result of the downtime. It is not surprising when users become angry if they are denied access to content they wish to use, especially if the loss of coverage is for a prolonged period. Indeed, it is very easy to empathise with users when you look at the access steps some providers ask patrons to take to retrieve content, especially if logging in to a resource platform remotely (more on that later!). What struck a cord with this particular user’s email with regards the eBook was not that the user was frustrated, it was specifically the (changing) reasons/terms behind the student’s frustration. The student used the following phrase – “it is very frustrating given the level of fees that I have paid” – and it highlighted to me that something library staff have talked and theorised about for the past 12/18 months is actually already happening – that students’ demands and expectations of the library, and the services and resources they use, are going to be made increasingly with an eye towards the financial contributions they have made to study at a particular institution.

As mentioned this is not a rant – these increased student expectations are a natural consequence of the higher fees they will be paying from September 2012 onwards, and it is quite right for users to expect services and support which are of a high standard and which fully support them during their studies. The dilemma for library support staff (like myself), in teams which are responsible for delivering access and support to online resources, is keeping up with, and recognising, the multi-faceted world that is resource content delivery. The “detective work” surrounding eResource problems I mentioned earlier is becomingly much more complex and requires a constant “current awareness” of how resources are set up, authenticated and delivered (not just ‘from’ publisher sites or platforms, but ‘to’ the user’s remote desktop, browser or mobile/smartphone device). Users, quite rightly, do not care why a resource is down or unavailable, all they want is the content to be easily accessible and retrievable. For library staff though, the reality is that we have to investigate clearly and quickly if access to content goes down.

The loss of content could be one of many things. Problems such as publisher site maintenance are easy to detect (this platform will be unavailable between time x to time y). Sometimes though, the detective work needs to be much more intensive as problems can be ‘hidden’ or increasingly ‘remote’ from the library. Problems with multiple publisher subscription/reference numbers (as I have previously blogged about) can lead to access errors (this is not always picked up by the library as it deals with a publisher’s own admin procedures). Issues with laptops/PCs used at home by library users is a common, and increasing problem as well. This could be a down to a security setting on the laptop which bars access to content, a ‘cookie’ being set on the device which does not allow the user to remotely connect to content, or the latest version of Internet Explorer not being compatible with the latest software release from a publisher.

User interaction with a publisher platform can also lead to access problems – most notably when a user is required to authenticate access to the resource remotely (usually via Athens, Shibboleth or the UK Access Management Federation) These access problems may not be technical in form, but are caused by incorrect use of the site in question. This is an area which publishers and libraries need to do a lot more work on to provide more standardisation in the way patrons are required to sign in to resources. There is still too much confusion in the way publishers set up these mechanisms and the terminology used on provider platforms to signal where a user must log in (is it institutional login, Shibboleth login, sign in via your academic institution or log in with your library card?). Libraries also need to do more with regards notifying users how to access a particular resource, especially if it involves complex steps. DMU are looking into using visual screencasts and LibGuides as potential sources of help for our users when it comes to online resources.

So, points of concerns have been raised. What do we do about it? This may sound a bit of a cliche, but I think the key is collaboration – between libraries and publishers (involving organisations like UKSG and JISC), libraries and their users (increasing resource promotion, better support for users to improve their interaction of resources, logging into resources in the correct fashion etc) and finally between librarians themselves (increased, and enhanced, communication across different library teams). Working together on shared services/sources of information, and with a shared purpose, will hopefully mean libraries are in a better position to meet or manage increasing demands of their users, even if budgets and resources are being cut in the current financial downturn.

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Publisher subscription/reference numbers

DMU Library & Learning Services moved to a new form of access management with regards its online resources and electronic journals in the summer of 2011. This service is commonly known as Single Sign On and replaced the former authentication model of issuing individual Athens usernames and passwords to DMU Library patrons to allow them off campus coverage to subscribed online content. DMU Library users can now access the majority of the library’s subscribed eResources and eJournals offsite by using an institutional login; this institutional login provides entry to most other DMU online systems and services (e.g. Blackboard and university email accounts). The transfer to Single Sign On removes the need for DMU students and staff to remember a separate (and extra) login credential when utilising library online resources remotely.

The task of managing and implementing this authentication transition was the responsibility of the library’s Content Management, Planning & Innovation (COMPI) team. The transfer work was multi-faceted, involving many technical changes to database and journal access points across different systems and platforms (e.g. library website, Find it @DMU links). The library liaised with a high number of publishers and data providers in the run up to the summer of 2011 in an attempt to address the access transfer in as seamless a manner as possible (this work continues as I blog!). In many cases the switchover work was done in good time and without too much hassle, but there were a minority of publishers who took longer to make the necessary admin and/or technical alignments to allow the Single Sign On process to operate effectively.

I thought I’d take the time to briefly blog about one issue which has caused problems with the implementation of an authentication method such as DMU’s Single Sign On process. The concern is publisher subscription numbers. I think this has been an on-going problem for many academic libraries over the years – it seems to be akin to publishers in the past having various delivery addresses on file for a university when most journals were purchased in print form (“that site library closed years ago; what do you mean you are still sending issues there?”). You would think the proliferation of online journals over the past decade would have made the ‘delivery’ of electronic content that much easier, but apparently not. Most publishers assign an institution with a subscription or reference number when said institution makes a journal or database purchase. In the case of journal subscriptions, it is not unusual for an academic library to have tens of journal orders with one publisher. In an ideal world, you would think that all of an institution’s journal subscriptions would be positioned under a single subscription number, and that an institution’s admin details and authentication configuration would match this publisher subscription reference (meaning all content purchased is associated with the correct customer). Unfortunately, this appears not to always be the case. Subscriptions administered under different subscriber numbers may not all be aligned to be covered by the library’s access set up with the publisher, meaning some purchased content potentially hangs out in some sort of virtual ‘limbo’ which library users and staff cannot access. I have even known for a publisher to match the library’s IP address (allowing on campus coverage) for some subscription reference numbers, but not have the corresponding remote access criteria to match. Therefore the journal is accessible via a library or university PC, but not available to students/staff viewing from home.

The knock-on effect of multiple publisher subscription numbers is that a library can believe it has set up an authentication/access mechanism correctly with a publisher, but still receive end-user enquiries stating that they cannot access a particular journal or journals. I think further work is needed by some publishers to address this type of admin anomaly. If the academic library has provided the correct details with regards its access management set up (whether it be via Athens, UK Access Federation, Shibboleth or purely IP) to the content provider, then surely it is up to the provider to ensure the library has full access to the content it has purchased?

I would be interested to hear if other libraries/institutions have had experiences of similar problems with publisher/agent references to those described above. They don’t have to be negative experiences either…!

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Codeacademy

Over the 2011 Christmas holiday, I noticed a fellow tweeter had posted information about a computer-coding project called Code Year. Code Year was attempting to get people to sign up to their online service at the start of 2012, in order to receive weekly interactive coding lessons and exercises to complete via email.

I was interested in learning more about coding (I had some brief experience of using HTML code when constructing the DMU Library Facebook page, and also when composing posts for this blog!), and hoped this may be a service to utilise to develop my skills and knowledge with all things ‘coding’ related. So, I signed up to the project. At the time of writing this post I am still awaiting the first online coding lesson to arrive in my Gmail inbox – in light of a recent Mashable headline covering Code Year, it seems a high number of participants have already signed up in a matter of a few weeks.

Intrigued by what kind of challenges Code Year may send in their first email (and also to allow me to share news regarding Code Year to DMU Library colleagues at a #MashDMU workshop in early Jan 2012!), I decided to take the plunge and sign up to the Codeacademy website. Codeacademy are the organisation behind the Code Year project, so in effect, I was fast-tacking my Code Year registration to see what interactive learning was available direct from the Codeacademy site. Registration to the Codeacademy platform was free, so I went ahead and signed up.

After a couple of days viewing the Codeacademy site, and undertaking some of the ‘beginner’ coding exercises, I can see definite value in signing up for the service and completing the online courses. The interactive element of the coding lessons is seamless and easy to understand. “Learning whilst working” (rather than reading or ploughing through pages of theory in instruction manuals) is my preferred way of developing skills – and in the context of developing my coding skills, I think this mechanism is fun and extremely valuable. I also like the ‘gaming’ element of the Codeacademy website – you can earn points/rewards/badges for completing specific coding elements or challenges. The idea of “gaming/gamers” seems to be a prevalent theme in the library sector at the moment, especially around the use of library management systems (LMS) by library patrons. Huddersfield University Library have recently released the Lemon Tree initiative – an elearning platform designed to engage users with resources etc. The manner of using levels of access to online systems, allowing users to unlock further features of the platform after successfully completing specific challenges or exercises, may be a more engaging and intuitive teaching method for organisations to employ, especially when a high % (but by no means all) of the people receiving this system(s) training are well-versed in playing on consoles and computers from an early age. The fact that you can also save your progress, log out and return to the Codeacademy site whenever suits is another plus.

Any downsides? Well, as other people on Twitter have pointed out, the lessons only cover Javascript at the moment. This will apparently be widened by Codeacademy to cover other computing language types in the near future. The Codeacademy site also appears to be not compatible with Internet Explorer (the internet browser I use the most). This is not a major negative, just means I have to use Firefox as my internet browser instead when accessing the Codeacademy tutorials.

As discussed with DMU Library colleagues at the recent #MashDMU meeting, I would definitely recommend signing up to the Codeacademy/Code Year sites. I am not yet entirely sure how many of the skills I will gain from the coding lessons will have a direct impact on my day-to-day duties at DMU, but I believe the knowledge I will develop by completing the online tutorials will be enhanced and widened by participation in the Codeacademy guides.

Happy coding!

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