Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Library Camp 2012 - Part 2

Lunch and Cake

When the third session had finished, it was time for lunch which was actually just a continuation of the eating which had taken place throughout the morning sessions - I had been constantly nibbling on the splendid variety of cake and baked produce which accompanies every library camp. Unfortunately, I didn't get my first cup of tea of the day until after 9am and I had therefore begun to revert to my default state during early mornings, that of a Zombie. In hovering around the tea & coffee (yuch) zone however, I was able to spot familiar faces and get first dabs on any new cakes which arrived on the scene.

Though I was trying to curb my consumption of cake in an effort to avoid last year's sugar induced palpitations and out-of-body transcendental experience, I did manage to sample most of the delights on offer. I must mention @rachelsbickley's Rocky Road & @Sonja_Kujansuu's Sweet Potato Pie [0] in dispatches as they were absolutely delicious and provided a much needed breakfast.

Cake! (One of 6 tables)
My contribution to Cake Camp was a Chocolate Guinness Cake - a concept originally brought to my attention via @KelleherBex - for which I received some very kind remarks. When I came to collect the tin at the end of the day, the cake had been reduced to a few crumbs so I'm officially filing the recipe under "success".

Lunch itself was very tasty - in addition to the main offering of rice and chili-con-carni, cold meats, tuna, salad, couscous, bagels, bread rolls and more were on offer.

Sessions 4 & 5

The great thing about a library camp is that do whatever you think you'll get the most out of. I didn't think any of the options on offer during sessions 4 & 5 were particularly relevant to me so I spent the time preparing for the session on Widgets and Web Services which I had proposed on the spur of the moment. It also gave me the chance to have a chat with @benelwell who I knew was working on an analytics project, a topic which I hoped to broach in my session and develop for work.

I was interested to discover that while The Amazing @Daveyp (His official title) at Huddersfield was doing a lot of work analysing database circulation data, Ben was focusing his efforts on analysing data returned by custom JavaScript code [1] from user interaction with Summon. Ben had a nifty set of graphs generated by "R", an open source programming language for statistical computing and graphics [2], by which he was able to demonstrate user behaviour such as the link between the length of the search term and the use of facets.

Fun in the Sun
We were joined throughout the afternoon by various library camp attendees who were taking breaks from the afternoon session for a spot of tea or to enjoy the autumn sun. It was fascinating to watch @joeyanne and @SaintEvelin knitting up a storm whilst @SarahNicolas, @evarol and @sarahgb discussed the virtues of the Sony NEX-5N, a rather spiffing camera which I am seriously considering purchasing.

Session 6: Widgets, Web Services and Libraries - Oh My!

The idea for my session sprung from recent developments at work and the discussion of Open Source Software in the morning session.

At Swansea University, the Web Team have been beavering away creating all and sundry web services for cross-campus consumption with the intention of maximizing the exposure of our most important services. As most of these web services are now complete, we faced a quandary on how best to deliver them. The usual step would be to provide our fellow developers with web service connection details but our resident scrumming, agile, waterfall soaked guru, @g_mawr, suggested that we should consider the use of web widgets. 

From our perspective, a widget is a self-contained, platform agnostic web element. The principle function of a widget is to deliver all the content, style and functionality in one easy to access bundle. Using an article by @amarandon as a basis [3], we are able to deliver a widget with little more than:

<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>
<div class="widgety-goodness></div> 

I plan to write a complete technical post on @g_mawr's work at a later date.

Putting my library cap on, I think widgets have great potential for library services as they could provide an opportunity for libraries to reach a wider audience through distribution of services and targeted implementation. It could be something as simple as a search box which will direct users to library resources or the addition of library account data to high use sites like Facebook. The embedding of library branding into widgets will also act free advertisement on every site the widget appears on.

Having pitched this idea, the group settled into a discussion of the practicalities of adopting such a practice. I was particularly interested in how the use of widgets might benefit special projects within libraries such as the Health in Mind service represented by @helenkielt. [4]  A brief look at their website immediately suggested two opportunities a) A widget which search the Libraries NI library and eBook Catalogue for relevant mental health material b)The delivery of Health in Mind branded searches on library and local government pages (Health in Mind has a vivid, strong brand which would be perfect for advertising).

Whilst most commentators agreed that the theory and benefits were sound, many, particularly from public library backgrounds lamented the lack of resources and system accessibility which would be required to adopt the widget approach. I had always envisioned library developers working on their own widgets, but several people approached me afterwards inquiring as to the feasibility of creating generic widgets which could be consumed by any library service. As always, this led to a discussion on standards and the pipe dream of a universal Library Management System API which could be used to construct such widgets.

Librarians Chatting (via @SarahNicholas)
The second strand of discussion in the group centred around the use of social media as I suggested the ultimate goal of our project would be to create a Facebook widget, largely because I feel that if we had to choose just one website to get the biggest audience for our users, Facebook would be it. Again, the difference between the public and academic user base was discussed. Though most public libraries are being encouraged to engage with social media sites, only 15% of their users regularly use sites like Facebook or Twitter. With stretched resources, limited funds and staff time, some felt the effort being ask of them was disproportionate to the means available. With that said, most of the libraries represented in the session had a Facebook or Twitter account. The value attached to the accounts varied greatly - some believed it actually the first point of contact with certain user groups whilst others suggested that only library staff engaged with them on a regular basis. A significant proportion lamented the bureaucracy associated with posting to the account with every word and potential meaning scrutinised to such a degree that potential effectiveness was rendered impotent. 

The final part of the session was devoted to the use of library data which has traditionally never been cultivated - circulation data. Every year, libraries across the UK submit it  to various official bodies so that the royalties afforded to authors can be calculated. Whilst this data is lifeblood to firms like Amazon, most libraries are yet to take advantage of it.

Part of the issue may be confusion of ownership - the data often sits in a proprietary database after all and nobody likes playing with their proprietary LMS in case of system failure, table corruption or a hefty service charge. It is therefore up to librarians to demand access to this data in its entirety, not just its raw, possibly undecipherable format but via a consistent standard which will allow use to analyse correlations, check for patterns and construct "Users who loaned this, also loaned..." type services. The emergence of a(n) (inter-)national standard would greatly assist such a project - Amazon may be unwilling to share their schemas or algorithms but it wouldn't hurt to ask!


Thought some of the "otherness" of a Library Camp has now worn off on me, I still managed to get a lot of Library Camp 2012. It is a great opportunity to socialise with a fantastic bunch of people who share a similar occupation but come from all walks of life. The relaxed nature of the event and the personal contact it affords makes learning about and contributing to developments in the sector so much easier.

As a result of Library Camp, I have two new blog posts to write - one on the technical aspects of our deployment of widgets and another on why I think libraries quest for identity is growing stale. I don't profess to have any particularly elucidating remarks on the latter topic and I'm not going to attempt a well-researched scholarly sermon-on-the-mount type discourse - it will be purely my own observations from my limited sphere of experience.

Inspired by @benelwell (and a session by the University of Huddersfield at Gregynog) I also have a renewed enthusiasm for looking into the use of circulation data analytics. I will augment our resource discovery platforms with useful data!

Post Library Camp

The post library camp celebrations continued until 3.45am - Thankfully, I haven't found any photographic evidence of them after 10.30pm.

[1] Based upon the work of @daveyP and @mreidsma

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