Gary Brewerton

Gary Brewerton

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Christmas comes early

With the snow and ice still covering jolly old Loughborough our thoughts naturally turn to Christmas, or more specifically Christmas presents. Will we get that present we really want or will it be socks yet again! So as you don’t end up with just a pair of socks we thought we’d put a little extra in your stocking: the alpha release of LORLS 6.

Please feel free to download and install this first release of LORLS 6 and let us know what you think of it. However it does come with the following health warning: “This is an alpha release – it’s absolutely NOT recommended for production usage.”

Hello world

We’ve been developing a new version of LORLS (Loughborough Online Reading List System) for a past few years on and off. As part of this development process we’ve kept a diary of our thoughts, plans, issues and achievements. Up until now we’ve kept this diary private among ourselves, however as we’re now at stage when we can start releasing information about the new version, both internally and externally, we thought it would be a good idea to go public with the diary.

So here it is.

When to implement?

LORLS v6 (aka LUMP + CLUMP) is now almost at a stage where we can consider going live with it here at Loughborough. Unfortunately we’re too late to launch at the start of the Summer vacation as we need time to fully advertise and train staff on the new system. That means we’ll probably launch the system at the start of the new academic year (October), Christmas or in time for the second semester (February 2011). We’re currently consulting with academic departments and library staff on when they’d prefer and are getting a strong steer that Christmas would be least disruptive for all concerned.

In the meantime we’ll obviously continue to develop and test the system. Alongside this we’re looking to create a sandbox so that staff can play on (and learn about) the system before the official launch – whenever that will be.

Presentation to Users Committee

I have a five minute slot tomorrow to give a presentation about the new version of LORLS to our Library User Committee. So I’ve knocked together the following brief PowerPoint presentation:

Demoing to library staff

Today we held a demo of LORLS v6/CLUMP for any and all interested library staff. Previously we’d only demoed it to a small focus group of library staff and those few academics that came to the e-Learning showcase. Reactions to the system seemed pretty positive although it did highlight that we still have a long way to go as the staff gave us a long list of “must have” additional features. These include:

  • Alert library staff to any changes made to reading lists
  • Logo for the Service (other than just the words “Online Reading Lists”)
  • Can the data be cleaned up? For example remove dates from authors
  • Include classification/shelfmark on full record
  • Change colour of links when you hover over them
  • Need to think about terminology for hide/unhide option
  • Useful to have number against items on long lists – these are often used when liaising with academics
  • Have an alternative to drag and drop re-ranking for large lists
  • Draft items on lists should be greyed out
  • Option to publish all draft items on a list at once

e-Learning Showcase

Spent a large part (11am-3pm) of today at an e-Learning showcase on campus. One of our Academic Librarians and I were there to demonstrate the new version of the reading list system to academics and support staff. Unfortunately the space provided for the poster session was far from ideal which meant that we got to meet very few people and more importantly was some distance away from the mince pies and mulled wine.

However whilst the quantity was low the quality of visitors was high. Of particular interest to the academics was the drag-and-drop reorder of lists and the ability to import bibliographic data from random websites. The latter being Jason’s new BibGrab tool.

Another positive from the event was the plate of mince pies I got for holding a couple of doors open for the catering staff when they were clearing up at the end. I must remember to share these with the rest of the team…

Reading Lists: Friend or Foe?

The title above refers to a half day WESLINK event on reading lists which I was lucky enough to be invited to on Wednesday. The event was hosted at Keele (big shout out to my SatNav for finding the place). It started with a buffet lunch, followed by presentations from three institutions on how they currently manage their reading/resource lists:

  1. Spreadsheets at Keele University
  2. Talis List at the University of Birmingham
  3. LORLS at Loughborough University (by yours truly).

The day finished with a group discussion. One of the main things I picked up from this was the differences in approach as to who edits the reading lists. Some sites were strongly in favour of the library being responsible to all editing of online reading lists. At Loughborough we’ve always been keen for academics to edit the lists themselves, after all they are the intellectual creators of the lists.

It also seems very inefficient for the library to re-enter information into a system when the academics are most likely already doing this (even if they are just using Word). Ideally if the information can be entered just once, by the academic into the online system, this should free up time for all concerned: library staff not acting as data entry clerks and academics not having to check others interpretation of their work.

However in order for this to happen the system needs to be as easy as possible for the academic to use. This is why as part of our LORLS we’ve been developing BibGrab.

A kick in the teeth

Just heard that one of our existing LORLS users is stepping up to the challenge of developing their own reading list system. This is great news and as they have secured JISC funding it should mean in time that there is another open source solution out there. The project even has a snazzy screencast available.

Unfortunately the screencast does somewhat dis (“their implementations suck”, “it has a badly designed data schema”, “user interface a bit of a nightmare”, etc.) our past efforts which is a bit of a kick in the teeth.

Ho-hum!

Second meeting with Talis

When I met with Mark and Ian from Talis back in January they’d suggested hosting a follow-up meeting later in the year. So yesterday when I went to visit them I was expecting it to be somewhat of a “blast from the past” what with me being an ex Talis customer. But everything was different: new offices, lots of new staff and lots of new ideas.

Ian played host and introduced me to Chris, a lead developer for Talis Aspire who went on to give me a demonstration of the system which I must admit is very impressive. I wasn’t able to reciprocate with an online demo of LORLS as we haven’t yet knocked any holes in our institutional firewall to allow external access to our development server. However, I was able to show Chris and Ian some screenshots.

One thing I noted at our first meeting was the similarities between our two systems. This became even more evident after I showed Chris a simplified E-R model of our data design as he went on the say that apart from the entities relating to access control it was basically the same as theirs. Hopefully this means that “great minds think alike” and we’re both on the right track.

After the meeting I met up briefly with Richard Wallis (one of the few faces I recognise from the old days) who went on to explain about his Juice Project. This is in effect a piece of middleware that can sit between your website and various external resources. The benefit being that instead of everyone writing their own method to access the resource you can instead use someone else’s code that already does it. This sounds like a great idea and one I think we should consider using for LORLS.

Meeting with Talis

Had a really interesting meeting this afternoon with a couple of folk from Talis. Mark Bush, who is new to the company, contacted me a few weeks ago to arrange it. The purpose of the meeting was to gain greater understanding of different approaches to reading list management. Mark was accompanied by Ian Corns who despite his job title of “User Experience Champion” didn’t arrive wearing a cape or with his underpants over his clothes.

The first part of the meeting turned into a show and tell: with me detailing the birth of LORLS and our ongoing project to redevelop the system, and Mark showing me a little of Aspire, Talis’ replacement for their existing Talis List product. The thing that struck me was how similar in concept their new solution is to what we’re doing with LORLS.

The second half of the meeting was given over to discussing the various possible strategies to use when implementing a reading list solution. Obviously selecting an appropriate system is important. However many of the key issues that will determine whether it is success are not necessarily system dependant.

For a listing of some of these key issues send £12.99 and a stamped self-addressed envelope to Ga… OK OK I’ll tell, please just stop hitting me Jon 🙂

  1. Involve all stakeholder as soon as possible in the implementation process – pretty obvious I know but still important to remember
  2. From a Library perspective it’s much easier to work with academics if you’re not seen as the ones forcing the system upon them
  3. Pump priming the system with academics’ existing (often Word based) reading lists can be a real winner – once a list is on the system is much easier to get academics to update it or at least be aware if they haven’t so you can then nag them about it!
  4. Training, training, training
  5. Local champions can often do more for the success of a project than official promotions – identify your champions and support them
  6. It’s important to know the lie of the land – what may work with one department won’t necessary work with another. For example Engineers have a very different approach to reading lists than Social Scientists.
  7. Competition between academic departments or faculties can be a useful means of encouraging adoption of the system but needs to be done with care
  8. Use every opportunity to stress the importance of reading lists to academic departments, for example: bad module feedback, that’s because of your lack of reading lists on the system; external review approaching, why not invest some time in updating your reading lists to demonstrate clear communication between academics, librarians and students.
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