Thinking about the Information Commons

Hugh Blackmer
16 September 2003, and continuing
(last updated: 21 July 2004)

This will serve as an update to materials on Information Commons that I have been thinking about and scrabbling together for more than a year (there's a page of links at ../sabb/infocommons.html, including a number of examples of existing facilities and various planning documents). Please note that by mid-January 2004 I was advocating the abandonment of the 'Information Commons' label, but what follows seems a good way to track the twists and turns of my thinking.

An extract of important points was created on 30 January. Other close links: on libraries and blogworld

Obviously, an Information Commons has to be more than a physical facility, and is not just a rearrangement of the library's floor plan; it has to fit into the needs and realities of the institution, and provide resources and services (infrastructure and technical support) that is both needed and wanted by professors and students alike.

To be a truly effective and synergetic use of resources, an Information Commons needs to be an integral part of a broader strategy to integrate electronic resources into teaching and learning --or else it will be just a collection of rapidly-obsolescing and little-used hardware and software, chosen to fill imagined needs.

To realize that broader strategy we need several things that we don't have now:

It will also be necessary to create agreement on goals and definite commitment to implementation among

Clearly it will be necessary to greatly increase the communication among these parties, and the standard method of a committee appointed to study and recommend is unlikely to be adequate to the challenges and the scope of the opportunity. Whose responsibility is it (or should it be) to organize and manage the necessary conversations? The library can't do it alone, or without the encouragement and support of Provost and deans, and any movement on this is likely to be delayed until a new University Librarian is chosen and enculturated --a matter of a couple of years.

What can we do meanwhile? There's plenty of stuff to read, in the form of planning documents and practical how-we-did-it reports from other campuses that have implemented Information Commons (like those linked above), but I think we also need to develop our own reasons why we contemplate physical and organizational changes, reflecting the present and projected realities of W&L. None of us doubts that libraries are changing, or even that W&L will change too. I suggest Laurie MacWhinnie's The Information Commons: The Academic Library Of The Future (from portal: Libraries and the Academy ) as a good starting place.

Other developments that librarians need to track (and IT folks need to explore and experiment with) as we imagine the library of the near future are the Open Knowledge Initiative and DSpace Project, both from MIT, the FEDORA Project at UVA, and the world of open access summarized in daily updates on Peter Suber's Open Access News (from Earlham College).

'Visionary' statements that provide reasons to rethink configurations of library space and activities are often worth trying on for size, even if we finally decide that they don't apply to our particular circumstances, or that others should do the experimenting. Two recent articles from EDUCAUSE Review describe an imminent revolution in what their authors identify as 'E-knowledge':

A Revolution in Knowledge Sharing (Donald Norris and four co-authors)

Share and Share Alike: The E-Knowledge Transformation Comes to Campus (Robby Robson and four co-authors)

The authors cite the effects of 'pervasive computing' in changing the nature of knowledge and the practise of teaching. Some of this reality of transformed 'knowledge ecology' is surely in our future, via digital library expansion and broad needs for interaction with data in many digital forms. Inevitably, the library will become responsible for guiding access to and managing a much wider range of information than we now include within our mandate.

We in the library are equipped to find and publicize materials to guide and inform the coming discussions; we certainly need to talk among ourselves, but also to initiate discussions with faculty and computing staff, seeking allies and co-conspirators for our views of the centrality of the library in teaching and learning, and gathering ideas for augmentation and extension of information services.

addendum, 22 Sept:

Seen on a whiteboard in the UC Training Room: I don't know whence this list is sprung (who wrote it, in what context, etc.), but it indicates that we're not the only people thinking about these issues. It seems to me that ALL of the points are part of what we do, and should be figuring out how we can do more effectively, and that there's a basis here for active cooperation with University Computing.

20 November
(from the Disgruntlement File, but also relevant here)

Awaiting the start of a concert, and prompted by reading in Ben Schneiderman's Leonardo's Laptop, this flowed out of my pen:

I think it's a shame that our faculty and students are doing so little to explore the potentials of the information media at their fingertips. And I think it's a shame that we who are in leadership positions in information realms are not doing more to encourage and support exploration. Most of us perceive, quite accurately, that W&L is not interested in being in the innovative vanguard --rather, W&L revels in its traditional strengths, and contents itself with adopting proven innovations once they are stable. Very few people see this as regrettable --faculty or students or staff. And the general attitude of complacency in matters of information is widely shared by our institutional peers in the liberal arts. I see nothing likely to change this situation, and find myself as frustrated with (most of) my students as with (most of) my faculty and staff colleagues.

Writers like Ben Schneiderman, Howard Rhinegold, Larry Lessig, Jay David Bolter (and others I've linked elsewhere) are not read in or out of courses, and their models for the future of information and ideas are therefore unknown to most of W&L.

There's a pervasive incuriosity that I find unfathomable; the common justification is busyness, but I see a narrow vision of relevance and an aversion to innovation and risk in teaching and learning by teachers and learners, masked by proliferation of "information literacy/fluency" programs that are lists of student skill requirements, and institutional demands for "assessment" that create vapid "learning objectives" and empty measurements.

9 December
(from the Disgruntlement File, but also relevant here)

Changing the library's role in teaching and learning is uphill all the way. Hardly anybody seems to want to entertain fundamental changes in functions or recognize that the tried-and-true territorial definitions of responsibility are dysfunctional in the face of digital proliferation and ubiquity.

An Information Commons model that thinks FIRST about space and SECOND about Information (what it is and does, who needs/uses what, how it's at the very core of teaching and learning) fated to obsolescence.

The necessary conversations aren't happening, or aren't wide enough, or aren't central enough to what we and others in the Academy do.

12 December
google "learning commons" search ...more than 9500 hits

16 December
From ALA Midwinter Pre-conference Information Commons 101: Nuts and Bolts Planning (Friday, January 9, 2004): Report of the Information Commons Project Team, Brigham Young University, 4/1/2003, and Russell Bailey's Information Commons Issues & Trends: Voices from the Frontline ..and see sidebar with links to various IC sites, job descriptions, and bibliography

Teaching And Learning Spaces from

...and a link to an Under Construction screed on libraries, in which I plan to develop a set of ideas about the services that a Commons might include.

For me, digital library issues figure prominently in this evolutionary path. Martha Brogan's A Survey of Digital Library Aggregation Services is full of useful pointers, among them one to The Digital Library: A Biography (Daniel Greenstein and Suzanne E. Thorin, a CLIR publication)

9 January 2004
Here's this morning's crystallization:

We need to be able to create and manage Web services in the library --to direct the evolution of our digital resources. And we need to be able to offer support to faculty and students who are exploring and using those digital media for scholarly and pedagogical purposes. So who's "we", and how do we get there?

The clearest examples are necessity to manage digital stuff like (a) image collections and (b) spatial data, but plenty of other things are following close behind --latent semantic indexing of text collections, building personal and collaborative digital libraries, digitizing institutional information capital... and so on. If the library doesn't do these things, who will?

11 January
OCLC's just-released Environmental Scan: Pattern Recognition (, and cached here in its pdf bits) is must-reading for any of us concerned with thinking about possible designs. As I said in e-mail to various colleagues:

a startlingly good read and a WAKE UP! to librarians and IT folks alike --but especially to librarians. It has a lot that we need to be paying attention to as we think about how we should reorient the spectrum of information resources in our various bailiwicks. It's ESSENTIAL reading to overcome the semantic molasses that clings to the "Information Commons" moniker, because it takes us outside the limited view of physical space, and into the realms of distributed information services which are the REAL Commons.

It's not just the same old stuff. Really.

Some especially trenchant observations:

Libraries were built to accomodate materials management, not users (75)

Libraries need to be proactive about e-learning and not wait to be approached as a partner (76)

People hunger for context and environments that encourage dialogue, conversation and the ability to share (101);

We have to embrace the opportunity of the changed landscape, not reconstitute the old landscape in a new space" (102)

Learning behaviors of young people --both students and faculty-- have changed a great deal, and the institutions supporting their research and learning for the most part have not changed to accomodate the newer members of this community (61)

The shift of librarianship from a role of service provider to collaborator will be particularly important if the many new varieties of scholarly output have any hope of being cataloged and therefore disclosed to potential users, and preserved in ways that will sustain their value to future scholars (63)

The most significant challenge facing academic libraries undertaking these institutional repository projects is not technical, however. The major challenge is cultural. Too few initiatives include all the stakeholders --faculty, library staff, IT staff and instructional designers [to say nothing of students!!]-- and there is no common view of what an institutional repository is, what it contains and what its governance structure should be. Faculty have rarely involved librarians in developing teaching materials, digital or otherwise, and have not routinely made these available within the library infrastructure. Librarians have not routinely created metadata for such material. (64)

Many experts say that the combination of new standards, distributed software and a worldwide Internet infrastructure will create a profoundly new technology architecture landscape within the next five years. (35)

...not enough research is being done on what this 'always on' interactive and seamless world implies for the future of work and entertainment. "The rate at which information is assimilated into knowledge and knowledge is synthesized into new forms... is vastly more multidimensional than the 19th century paradigm of classroom instruction" [quoting JC Herz] (10)

Among the notes that accumulated as I read:
I think we really need to inquire into the broader sense of Commons, as a corrective to the tendency to concentrate on what's right under our noses (5 million in funnymunny, renovations, physical space, and who/what might or might not be moved into/out of "library space"). Here's personal reading list, some of it from other pages of mine:
What is an Information Commons and Why Should We Care? by Kristin Hitchcock
Beyond the physical commons exists that more abstract, intellectual entity that is the Information Commons, composed of content that is critical for society. Besser sites fables, ballads, and Shakespeare in particular. The information commons is important for four reasons. Philosophically it makes up our common cultural history. It promotes progress, as new knowledge incorporates the old. It allows for creativity; for example, decorative arts rely upon previous artwork for inspiration. It encourages free speech and social commentary.

Capturing the Campus Commons: Response to Iain Boal's Article' The Campus and the Commons.' By Charlotte Hess Common Property Resource Digest:46 (Jul/Oct 1998) 9-11.

To me, the task is (as usual) to better understand the new, shared resources we are creating. What are the boundaries? Who are the decision-makers? What are the rules? What are the transaction costs? Who is the user community? Who benefits? At the same time, we need to better understand what elements within our rapidly changing libraries we want to sustain. Traditionally and ubiquitously, the decisions about the content, storage, budgets, and future direction of university libraries have been made by administrators, pretty much independently of the user community. Ironically, in the context of Boal's essay, we are now at a crossroads where library collections can be shaped by the user community, becoming more localized, more unique, and (in a moment of rapture) more reflective of the intellectual record of civilization.

The Information Commons: Selected Bibliography Prepared by Nancy Kranich Past President, American Library Association, Revised November 2002

Special Projects: The Information Commons Nancy Kranich Senior Research Fellow Free Expression Policy Project

The Shape of the 21st Century Library Howard Besser (from Milton Wolf et. al. (eds.), Information Imagineering: Meeting at the Interface, Chicago: American Library Association, pages 133-146) --and mostly about the PUBLIC side of libraries

The Commons of Information Published in the May 1993 issue of Dr. Dobbs' Journal by Lee Felsenstein Interval Research Corp. --but remarkably prescient

The Tragedy of the Information Commons (Harlan J. Onsrud in Policy Issues in Modern Cartography 1998, pp. 141-158. [NOTE: this version is a draft prior to being edited by the publisher.])

Libraries: The Information Commons of Civil Society By Nancy Kranich

Digital Library of the Commons at Indiana

Some of this harks back to an exchange I had with Bryan Alexander more than a year ago. My Libraries and Computing on Liberal Arts College Campuses is also interesting to revisit.

I need to look at Lessig again, from whence came

In these times, the hardest task for social and political activists
is to find a way to get people to wonder again about what we all believe is true.
The challenge is to sow doubt. (The Future of Ideas, pg. 5)
Plasticity --the ability of a system to evolve easily in a number of ways-- is optimal in a world of uncertainty. This strategy is an attitude. It says to the world, I don't know what functions this system, or network, will perform. It is based in the idea of uncertainty. When we don't know which way a system will develop, we build the system to allow the broadest range of development. (39)

In fact W&L is well suited to this role of developer/explorer of digital repositories: the Alsos project and our work with image databases are noteworthy successes --not without their difficulties, but largely done in spite of limited institutional support. Consider what we might do with institutional support...

Thinking about examples of what we might do with a Digital Scholarship initiative got me thinking about the example of content analysis in the humanities and social sciences. Consider this sort of thing, which we SHOULD have as an available Information Management tool: Concordance, a package that costs $89 for a single license, and can be turned loose on a corpus... see examples of its use in poetry... (from a list of Quantitative Text Analysis Programs) ...found while looking for something on Phil Stone's General Inquirer, which lived in Emerson Basement at Harvard in the early 1960s...

The General Inquirer is a computer-assisted software program for content analyses of textual data.

The General Inquirer provides an easy to use interface where users can cut-and-past text from Web pages into the Inquirer, and then analyze those data using the "Harvard" and "Lasswell" general-purpose dictionaries as well as any dictionary categories developed by the user, for content -analysis applications to English texts.

The system, including its disambiguation routines for high-frequency English homographs, is quite efficient and can be readily applied to multimillion word files or folders of texts.

Loughborough University has another collection of links to Dictionary-Based Programs for Content Analysis; see also Kenneth Janda's list

15 January
'Digital Scholarship' appeals more and more as a sensible summary label. Thus, a place to go to work at developing blogs... to set up .asp ...etc.

Some materials to explore more fully:

Supporting Digital Scholarship: Annual Report, 2000 John Unsworth

American Association for History and Computing Session 3 Digital Scholarship and Its Possible Classroom Applications: Norfolk State University’s Race, Time, and Place Web-Based Historical Research Project (American Historical Association meeting, 2004)

New-Model Scholarship: How Will It Survive? by Abby Smith March 2003


The Battle to Define the Future of the Book in the Digital World Clifford Lynch, First Monday, Volume 6, Number 6 (2001). (see some extracts)

17 January
I'm starting to construct a summary critique of 'Information Commons', hoping to shift attention and discussion to a different way of framing what we need to conceive and develop. It begins with my feeling that Information Commons is both a misnomer and a tarbaby. I find the term "digital scholarship" much more successful as a description of the objective of a reformulation of library space and services: the work of scholars (that is, teachers and learners) takes place in multiple media, which are now

The 'traditional' print resources of the library are no less relevant because of the expansion of digital information media --if anything, digital evolution improves accessibility and interconnection of print materials.

The work of building interconnections between print and digital worlds is precisely centered on the skills and knowledge of information professionals: librarians and information technology specialists. They must develop firm bases for collaboration, so that their complementary skills can contribute to the building of the new information infrastructure. The librarians' perspective emphasizes the evolution of library services, collections, and workspaces; the IT perspective connects technologies with users and so enhances users' perspectives and capabilities. The library and IT organizations exist primarily to support and empower users, and this implies a necessity to educate users, and an obligation to continue learning and building. Librarians generally think of their responsibilities as centered in collection development and 1:1 consultation (usually summarized as 'reference'); IT thinks of software training, hardware and network support, and testing and prototyping applications. Librarians and IT personnel need each other's skills in order to be successful in enhancing support to users, as more and more of everybody's work is entwined with digital materials.

It's not that traditional library or IT functions can be given up. Rather, we must find ways to add new services and create new synergies, building upon the existing organizations. Sometimes the outward appearances may change as responsibilities are redirected: just as reference desks sprouted computer monitors a decade ago, and help desks took on new duties as networks expanded, the demand for database support and multimedia integration requires that librarians and IT staff learn about each other's specialties and draw upon each other's strengths to create the environments --physical and virtual, centralized and distributed-- that users need.

18 January
Thinking about the general problem of access to and support for use of a broad range of digital tools: consider the Windows Media Encoder, which I started to play with a couple of days ago after finding it via 16 Jan entry in Jon Udell's blog. It strikes me that this freebie tool would be of great use to all sorts and levels of scholars, from the opportunistic capturer (and I don't know HOW you'd invoke the Encoder on the fly... though there's surely a way) to the documenter of a procedure who wanted to distribute examples to others in a class. But to whom could I now go for help in figuring it out? Does anybody in the ITL already use it? Isn't it one of the class of tools that needs to be in the stable... and if it was, and people started to use it, there would probably be some interesting implications for network storage and traffic... and some ethical/legal problems that arose as people turned the app to the uses they can imagine... think Napster.

Point is, there are many tools like this that might be useful in various teaching-and-learning settings, and somebody needs to explore, develop, document, promulgate... And the next decade is going to see vastly more.

The issues of the moment certainly change from week to week and year to year. We need a forum to track them, and to connect up the people who are interested parties, and to make the discussion threads retrievable. There's the sort of thing that blogging is good for, and once again we have the question: WHO is in a position to develop blogging into an accessible and useful tool for the W&L community's various needs? And beyond the development, how should it link into the evolution of the traditional services that the library offers? Kelly would have been one of the people in this discussion, and the 'systems librarian' whom we might be able to hire needs to be just such a player.

I continue to toy with the idea that we stand on the edge of something pretty remarkable that our peers among small liberal arts colleges haven't yet noticed, or haven't found the means to articulate into schemes and strategies. From one perspective it implies a pretty thoroughgoing reorganization of what we do, or of what we've been doing... and there may be some ways for me to rethink my own job within the library, stretching 'Science Librarian' in other directions.

I'll again invoke the text I started a month ago, rethinking libraries.

19 January
Issues of information ecology and wants-and-needs of users have occupied me for a while. We need to do more empirical investigation and broaden conversations, but I made a bunch of sketchpad notes yesterday which I'll lay down in point form and maybe annotate a bit:

What do our users want and need, in electronic/digital realms? ('Want' is a matter of what they can articulate and express' 'need' may include things they're not aware of, either because they're background-invisible [and so taken-for-granted] or because they're new and unrecognized) We'll see more and more digital authorship (especially in mixed/multi media) and distribution, both locally and from the outside (viz. University of California Press and other similar projects)

We need to provide better and more proactive support for Rights management and intellectual property issues generally --including assistance with negotiating/purchasing/managing permissions, and advice/models for responsible practices for citation and linkage

Our users need access to and help with presentation software essential to the creation of digital materials, including packages like Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, SoundForge, Flash, video and sound editing, QuickTime, GIS... And they need to be able to PRINT in various formats (including larger than 8 1/2 x 11, and color), burn to CD/DVD, create pdfs), and SCAN or otherwise digitize, including large formats

We need to work toward a seamless environment for analytical work sources, statistical software, output in various forms (including maps)...

building and using archives, both local and external

(lots more to add... just a start, point being that others will surely think of augmentations and qualifications)

20 January
The sort of problem that arises, but I don't know where to take it the realm of Digital Scholarship: there ought to be an easy way to index a collection, such as the contents of a folder or a set of folders on a network drive, so that I can improve retrieval for myself or build a means to make its contents generally available. Yesterday's XPath query tips from Jon Udell's blog may point the way, but at the moment I don't know enough to comprehend what to do. I need somebody to go to who, JUST like a reference librarian, can (1) point me to the missing pieces I need for my own understanding, and (2) grasp (from my query) that there's a widespread need and start to do something about it. That something might turn into a utility or resource that could be made available for others to find and use. (See some further bits on XPath)

21 January
Our question should be

what are peer institutions doing to support digital scholarship?
and not ?how have peer institutions implemented Information Commonses?

Needing to explore XML editors: an extensive list (also points to listings of xsl tools) --and the Google search that found it. See also XHTML Tutorial and XHTML.ORG...

Scholars Box project

enable faculty, students, and the public to create, manipulate, annotate, and share personal collections of digital cultural objects gathered from multiple digital repositories -- core activities in both scholarship and teaching...

22 January
Collaborations with ITL can be built if we can define what we need/want but aren't in a position to create by ourselves. What's required is somebody to tend the conversations on botgh ends: to serve as an interface, and also as an advocate with and for the users of digital services: faculty, students, and staff.

Part of the task is also coordinating the empirical study of W&L's "information ecology", so that the decisions we make for renovation and development of services are responsive to our users' needs, AND that we devote appropriate energies to defining areas in which our users need to be educated about the possibilities of information technologies.

We must construct productive collaborations; they won't happen all by themselves, and they will often involve mobilization of intramural and extramural resources, outside of traditional library and computing budget areas.

This scheme invoves learning new skills, seeking funds for projects, contracting out what we can't do in-house, and exploring what others (peers and otherwise) are doing to deal with similar problems and challenges.

Above all, it's a matter of communicating in a muti-way conversation that's not happening now.

26 January
John Blackburn sent me a pointer to Ed Ayres' "Doing Scholarship on the Web: 10 Years of Triumphs and a Disappointment" (Chronicle of Higher Education January 30, 2004) which has many bits highly relevant to what we need to be thinking about. I'll quote a few of the most trenchant:

What if we really could use computers to help make sense of the great store of human knowledge and striving locked away in archives and books?

...I have also worked with a team to write a scholarly article built expressly for a digital environment for The American Historical Review. Recently published, "The Differences Slavery Made: A Close Analysis of Two American Communities" is designed to see what professional scholarship on the Web might be able to do that could not be done as well, or at all, on paper. In print, there is only a brief description, while the actual article appears only online. Because it challenges many of the conventions of normal scholarly publication, the article seems likely to generate debate in a way that the Valley Project has not. But we believe that this kind of digital work is necessary to take advantage of all that computers and networks afford.

...Few colleges and universities have constructed the infrastructure to make complex digital undertakings possible. (Generally, humanities scholars interested in such projects provide their own support staff, research space, and specialized equipment.)

...faculty members who have withstood all the excitement and possibility up to this point have decided that they can withstand whatever else the Web might offer. Who can blame them? They go to their professional meetings and see only a few workshops, attended by those who already see the potential. They look at the job ads and note that positions require exactly the same credentials as a quarter-century ago. Young scholars who dream of new kinds of scholarship can read the situation: Steer clear of the major technological change of our time. Play it safe. Stick to paper.

To break the cycle, deans and provosts need to provide opportunities by providing leadership, creating opportunities beyond departmental boundaries that can constrain innovation. Colleges and universities need to form alliances and consortia, both temporary and longer lasting, to bring faculty members together. They also need to find productive ways to work with information-technology companies to create new forms of scholarship. And they need to ensure that our libraries are sustained as they struggle with the demands of a whole new world of digital media.

I'm not sure how to accomplish it, but I really want to redirect the conversation away from planning facilities and hardware [the "Information Commons"] and toward a discussion of evolution of the library's functions and organizational structure, to address just exactly the questions Ed Ayers raises: "creating opportunities beyond departmental boundaries that can constrain innovation" and ensur[ing] that our libraries are sustained as they struggle with the demands of a whole new world of digital media".

I think it's clear that we-the-library need to develop and support some services that we don't presently do much with, and that the means to accomplish those augmentations of our role require that we have (hire, get, develop, etc.) expertise that we lack at present. Some of that expertise is available (or nascent) in the ITL; some requires training and skills not presently available at W&L; some may be a matter of reorganizing what we do as individuals and as an organization; and some will emerge as faculty are educated about the potentials of various digital technologies and start to develop their own projects.

We-of-the-library have little agreement about direction or priorities: we have existing responsibilities and established precedents and "too much to do", and we are not in the habit of setting agendas outside the comfort zone of the library's walls.

Perhaps the problem is that there isn't a "conversation", and that it awaits the white-smoke announcement of a new University Librarian.

28 January
Yesterday I got a pointer to John Unsworth's Chronicle of Higher Education article: The Next Wave: Liberation Technology (W&L users can find access information here). A few of the most relevant bits, cached here to make their discussion easier:

Portals can do more than integrate news and weather, or library and course information. They can also integrate the administrative-computing functions of the university, such as student records, payroll and human resources, and purchasing...

Over the past few years, universities have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire, customize, and make the transition to such systems, often with very mixed results. The university that now employs me, and the one I worked at last, are both in the throes of such a transition, probably too far in to get out, but probably wishing they could.

Admittedly, it's a huge undertaking to retool an entire university's administrative-computing infrastructure and workflow, and it requires long-range planning and commitments. An institution makes those plans and commitments based on the best choices available at the time: Several years ago, when decisions were being made at the Universities of Illinois and Virginia, there were no plausible open-source/open-standards ERP alternatives, so the universities bought into monolithic proprietary systems. Now alternatives are beginning to come into view. It will be years before the current generation of university ERP adopters can switch to open-source alternatives, but their experience will certainly help to make the case for such alternatives as they emerge.

...The case for institutional repositories is laid out convincingly in an article by Clifford A. Lynch, executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information, published in the February 2003 newsletter of the Association of Research Libraries ["Institutional Repositories: Essential Infrastructure for Scholarship in the Digital Age "]. Lynch argues that "an institutional repository is a recognition that the intellectual life and scholarship of our universities will increasingly be represented, documented, and shared in digital form, and that a primary responsibility of our universities is to exercise stewardship over these riches: both to make them available and to preserve them."

...Journals, repositories, portals, and ERP systems are the macro end of IT in higher education; at the micro end is the individual user's desktop environment. The desktop has been Microsoft territory for years, but open-source projects are cropping up here as well. In September 2003 25 universities joined with Mellon to provide funds for Chandler, an open-source alternative to Microsoft's Outlook. Chandler is (or will be) a desktop application for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows, combining e-mail, calendars, address books, instant messaging, and file sharing. It's being produced by Mitch Kapor's Open Source Applications Foundation, and it has two subtypes: a personal version called Canoga, due out in the fall of 2004, and a version called Westwood that is specifically aimed at higher education, due out in the fall of 2005.

...More immediately, there are some noteworthy open-source developments in the collaborative creation of content. One is a courseware project from Rice University called Connexions, which converts "raw knowledge" into self-contained modules of information and places them in commons, to be used, reused, updated, and adapted. It is designed to highlight the nonlinear "connexions" among concepts both within the same course and, more important, across courses and disciplines. It is open source and based on open standards (XML), and has support from the Hewlett foundation.

Another, simpler and more general-purpose collaborative tool that's become quite popular in the last couple of years is Wiki, a Web-based platform for collaboration that comes in a variety of open-source incarnations. Perhaps the most robust and widely used is TWiki. Using any Web browser, you can directly edit any Wiki page, add links automatically, group pages, search pages, attach files, track revisions, control access at the individual or group level, and so on. TWiki, which is just one type of Wiki, has hundreds, probably thousands, of installations, not only in higher education, but in corporate intranets at places like Disney, British Telecom, Motorola, SAP, and others.

Combined with something like LionShare, Wikis could provide a powerful tool for collaboration in academe, one that could change teaching, project management, the work of professional societies, and many other activities. LionShare (another Mellon-financed project) is essentially peer-to-peer networking with authentication. Peer-to-peer networking is the technology underlying demonized post-Napster software like KaZaA, but it also has less well-known applications in things like videoconferencing. LionShare's addition of authentication makes it legitimate for a broad range of applications in institutional settings.

...On a broader level, what's noteworthy in the various threads of the trend assembled here is the concerted efforts of a handful of private foundations, working with public (and some private) universities, to promote self-determination in higher education's use and development of information technology. Most of the examples I've cited have been supported by two foundations, Hewlett and Mellon. Both foundations give to things other than higher education and, within higher education, both give to things other than IT projects. Yet they clearly are having substantial impact on the information infrastructure of the 21st-century university, and the projects they are helping get under way will liberate it from Information Property monopolies and IT monocultures. They've achieved those results by emphasizing long-term sustainability of projects and by adopting and promoting the open-source ethos of shared goals, shared work, and shared results.

...John M. Unsworth is dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is departing president of the Association for Computers and the Humanities and is chairman of the American Council of Learned Societies' 2004 Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Some comments I sent in response to Dick Grefe's request for comments for "thoughts about our role in general education at W&L":

I think we have several important responsibilities in this realm, and some opportunities too.
  1. "approaches tailored to the needs and preferences of individual programs and departments" is what we know how to do, what we do quite well, and what we need to do more and even better. It's the strong suit of our connection to what happens IN classrooms, and it does result in students accomplishing what their professors want them to do (because we show them how, point them to the requisite resources, and answer their questions as they arise). Mostly the 'medium' is invited classroom appearances, supported by tailored Web pages --and so largely the result of 1:1 contact with a professor, course-by-course, and in service to departmental agendas. For the most part this is only tangentially "General Education", because a classroom appearance is usually focused on a specific subject area and a narrow range of resources.

  2. we COULD be teaching and co-teaching courses that have the specific intent of developing GENERAL skills, applicable beyond (or across) disciplinary boundaries. Some 190s have had aims along those lines, but I'm increasingly dubious that "library skills" (or, as I'd prefer to think of them, INFORMATION skills) courses are an effective/efficient means to get students involved in development of their own information universes --too much of their effort is directed toward assignments/exercises that THEY don't see much point in. 190s are contextless for the most part: their premise is that students will be exposed to the tools and resources they'll need for other courses in a discipline. IF there were Freshman Seminars, it might be attractive to some of us to be involved in more focused and subject-oriented courses, either as seminar leaders or co-leaders. Likewise, we COULD do more teaching/co-teaching of real courses, in departments and in Interdisciplinary settings (like University Scholars) where our own interests and expertise lie.

  3. if General Education is conceived as lists of requirements that students must fulfill (and that's our present version, and the most likely future version, alas...), then we're just spear-carriers in departmental operas, and all we NEED to do is keep on doing what we already do to general satisfaction. Personally, I'm not happy with that limitation of GenEd. I imagine that the library COULD become the center of extra-departmental learning and scholarship activities, by housing and hosting the services and resources that our users need OUTSIDE of (and in addition to) what their courses require. That's partly a matter of COLLECTION development (building and making accessible resources that aren't department/discipline-defined --and helping people develop the means to manage their own information universes is an obvious missing piece), partly a matter of devising and providing support for the broad spectrum of work people need and want to do with Information in many media, and partly a matter of creating a physical environment that people choose to be in for a broad variety of purposes --not just to "study" or "do research".

I think we all know that the most effective teaching/learning happens via 1:1 contact, and usually via serendipities that arise out of encounters that may begin with a tangential question or observation. Our most powerful contributions to General Education will probably come out of whatever we can do to increase our 1:1 availability to students AND to faculty.

Doubtless I'd array these things differently if I thought about it more before replying, but I've got some other fish a-frying at the moment...

Cliff Lynch's article (linked above in Unsworth's piece) has many bits worth reading carefully and considering for inclusion in our developing viewpoints. A few of them:

In my view, a university-based institutional repository is a set of services that a university offers to the members of its community for the management and dissemination of digital materials created by the institution and its community members. It is most essentially an organizational commitment to the stewardship of these digital materials, including long-term preservation where appropriate, as well as organization and access or distribution.

...At the most basic and fundamental level, an institutional repository is a recognition that the intellectual life and scholarship of our universities will increasingly be represented, documented, and shared in digital form, and that a primary responsibility of our universities is to exercise stewardship over these riches: both to make them available and to preserve them. An institutional repository is the means by which our universities will address this responsibility both to the members of their communities and to the public. It is a new channel for structuring the university's contribution to the broader world, and as such invites policy and cultural reassessment of this relationship.

...Scholarship and scholarly communication are changing. These changes start with risky and bold acts of individual creativity. They will extend slowly to cultural changes at the disciplinary level and ultimately to new interdisciplinary standards that are expressed in the decisions of institutional tenure and promotion practices.

Our institutions of higher education have overlooked an opportunity to support our most innovative and creative faculty for at least a decade now, to the detriment of both the faculty members and the institutions themselves. These faculty have been exploring ways in which works of authorship in the new digital medium can enhance teaching and learning and the communication of scholarship; such innovations are essential to keeping scholarship vital and effective, and they must not only be supported but nurtured. Indeed nurturing these innovations reaches to the core mission of our universities, and to the core values of our universities. A much broader and generally more conservative group of faculty have exploited the Net as a vehicle for sharing their ideas worldwide, whether these ideas are expressed in relatively familiar forms such as digital versions of traditional journal articles or (less commonly) in entirely new forms that begin to map out the future evolution of, for example, the scholarly monograph in the digital medium. This embrace of new dissemination opportunities is also important for what it says about the roles of scholars and universities in society and in a global environment. Our universities have poorly served this broader group of scholars as well, though this may be less critical because faculty are well motivated to rise above the institutional failures to help them disseminate their works, because failures to effectively disseminate these works are less damaging than failures to legitimize nontraditional works, and because faculty concerned only with dissemination of traditional material are at less risk within their own disciplines.

But consider the plight of a faculty member seeking only broader dissemination and availability of his or her traditional journal articles, book chapters, or perhaps even monographs through use of the network, working in parallel with the traditional scholarly publishing system. Such a faculty member faces several time-consuming problems. He or she must exercise stewardship over the actual content and its metadata: migrating the content to new formats as they evolve over time, creating metadata describing the content, and ensuring the metadata is available in the appropriate schemas and formats and through appropriate protocol interfaces such as open archives metadata harvesting. Faculty are typically best at creating new knowledge, not maintaining the record of this process of creation. Worse still, this faculty member must not only manage content but must manage a dissemination system such as a personal Web site, playing the role of system administrator (or the manager of someone serving as a system administrator). Over the past few years, this has ceased to be a reasonable activity for most amateurs; software complexity, security risks, backup requirements, and other problems have generally relegated effective operation of Web sites to professionals who can exploit economies of scale, and who can begin each day with a review of recently issued security patches. Today, our faculty time is being wasted, and expended ineffectively, on system administration activities and content curation. And, because system administration is ineffective, it places our institutions at risk: because faculty are generally not capable of responding to the endless series of security exposures and patches, our university networks are riddled with vulnerable faculty machines intended to serve as points of distribution for scholarly works. And faculty create content at risk because they typically do not back it up appropriately, ensure its integrity (in part by hosting it on secure systems), and curate it properly.

...Scholarship has become data intensive; it is supported and documented by data and tools that complement interpretive works of authorship. For the sciences, these changes have been well documented in the recent National Science Foundation report of the Advisory Committee for Cyberinfrastructure chaired by Dan Atkins;1 while the report is focused on cyberinfrastructure to support the conduct of science, most of the discussion is in fact applicable beyond the sciences to the broader scholarly enterprise, including the humanities.

...Institutional repositories can support new practices of scholarship that emphasize data as an integral part of the record and discourse of scholarship. They can structure and make effective otherwise diffuse efforts to capture and disseminate learning and teaching materials, symposia and performances, and related documentation of the intellectual life of universities. dramatically underestimates the importance of institutional repositories to characterize them as instruments for restructuring the current economics of scholarly publishing rather than as vehicles to advance, support, and legitimize a much broader spectrum of new scholarly communications.

A fragment I scribbled today:

It's not physical facilities that should be our main concern, but information services. We're building an environment to support and facilitate what our users need and want.

One of the sources we should be paying more attention to: portal: Libraries and the Academy Volume 4, Number 1, January 2004 has several articles that seem relevant:

Foote, Steven M.
Changes in Library Design: An Architect's Perspective
Abstract: This article discusses and illustrates selected changes and trends in the way academic libraries are programmed and designed in response to changes in teaching techniques in higher education. The author draws particular attention to the new requirements for collaborative study in technology-rich spaces and makes detailed recommendations for those preparing library space programs.

Cortez, Edwin M. Dutta, Sanjay K. Kazlauskas, Edward John.
What the Library and Information Professional Can Learn from the Information Technology and Project Management Knowledge Areas

31 January
Again and again I've had the experience of encountering a bit of technology that I almost understand, but can't put together quite enough of the basics for to actually DO anything with. This is a recurrent problem for pretty much everybody, and it's one of those services that the Library ought to be able to mediate/provide. Case in point at the moment is RSS: Jon Udell's blog has had examples of his searches in his collected materials (tantamount to personal digital library), and it looks like just the sort of thing one would like to implement... but how? The search goes to port 8001, which I'm guessing has to do with his blogspace. There's nobody I can go to (as far as I'm aware) who can get me over the first hump of my ignorance, and onto a productive pathway to exploring this myself, and my attempts to find onramps via the Web haven't been successful. There would be at CET, of course... but I can't recall how many things like this I've sent in email to Skip or John Blackburn, things WE ought to be exploring and figuring out... And a Digital Scholarship enterprise would deal with just such developmental problems, AND then create demos and other bits of recoverable onrampery for the continuing record.

I need to start a collection of similar we-need-this-function desiderata, to use as illustrations for various hortatory purposes.

2 February
A John Unsworth article Scholarly Primitives: what methods do humanities researchers have in common, and how might our tools reflect this? has some bits worth being able to locate again. His notion of 'primitives' as "some basic functions common to scholarly activity across disciplines, over time, and independent of theoretical orientation ...the basis for higher-level scholarly projects, arguments, statements, interpretations..." His preliminary list:

to which I'd immediately add
He writes of "some basic functions of scholarship that might be embodied in tools..." and describes an unsuccessful NEH proposal with various interesting features, and then goes on to say
There is a genuine multiplier effect that comes into play when you can do even very stupid things across very large and unpredictable bodies of material, with other people. The huge, really huge, success and cultural impact of the Web is the best illustration I can provide: as anyone in the hypertext theory community would tell you, it’s a very bad implementation of hypertext in almost every way; the only thing it has going for it is that it uses widely accepted standards and therefore it networks easily, and it makes a bunch of simplifying assumptions that made it easy to write software for—with the result that everyone uses it, and therein lies its value: lots of people use it and lots of stuff can be found in lots of places using it.

Actually, I’d like to use that proposition—that the most interesting things that you can do with standalone tools and standalone resources is less interesting and less important than the least interesting thing you can do with networked tools and networked resources—as a point of entry to the discussion of another scholarly primitive, namely “discovery.” It’s what scholars traditionally do in archives, what we all do in library catalogs and library stacks, what we do when we search indexes or abstracts of scholarly journals—and one of the most effective methods of discovery is still, and has always been, conversation with others who share our interests or who are simply interested in sharing…our teachers, our colleagues, and our students often bring to our attention resources that become important to our work in ways that we would not have predicted, and therefore could not have sought.

In the world of the Web, the most prominent tool for discovery is the search engine (it’s worth pointing out that—with the unavoidable exception of pornography—search engines were the first web service or product to turn a profit). Those of us in the humanities computing world know a few things about searching, yes we do. We know that structured data gives you much better, more accurate, more useful search results, for example. And we also know that no two repositories have exactly the same structures, even if they use the same encoding scheme. So we also know that the advantage we derive from highly structured access to highly structured data is generally limited by the extent of the collection, as well as by its principles of selection and encoding, its perspective, and quite possibly its terms of use. For that reason, when I start the process of discovery, I usually start with the least structured, most general search—a Google search of the Web. Lots and lots of data, very little structure, and the only structure I control or predict is the query itself.

When I started looking around for material on two of the other scholarly primitives, annotation and comparison, I went to Google, and I searched for “annotation and comparison.” I was looking for discussion of annotation and comparison as scholarly activities, or for examples of the same; interestingly, what I found was a pattern of hits referencing the Human Genome Project: apparently, annotation and comparison are indeed cross-disciplinary functional primitives. I think I would not have found these hits, or not so readily, if I had included that word “scholarly” in my query, or if Google (or the data on the Web) had offered me a more structured search: with more structure at my disposal, I would have designed my search to produce fewer results that were more likely to answer to what I wanted to find, and I had no intention or particular interest in finding results in the realm of biology. But because I’ve learned from experience to value the serendipity of the unlooked-for search result, and because Google is easy to use instantly from anywhere (I have the Google button installed in my web browser….) I started with an unstructured search across a large body of (essentially) unstructured data, the only structure being provided by the query itself (I probably would have gotten less interesting results if, instead of searching for annotation and comparison, I had searched for comparison and annotation).

...the power of a primitive function executed across a very large pile of networked information is very great—greater, in part, because it brings you results that you don’t expect but do find significant.

3 February
The Cathedral and the Bazaar Eric Raymond

This directory gives you access to almost all of the contents of my evolving book, The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Enjoy — but be aware that I have sold O'Reilly the exclusive commercial printing rights.

The papers composing this book (like their topic) are still evolving as I get more feedback. I made extensive revisions and additions for the first edition of the book The Cathedral and the Bazaar, and expect to continue adding and revising in future editions. Even if you've heard me do the stand-up version, you may want to reread it.

These papers are not `finished', and may never be. Publishing a theory should not be the end of one's conversation with the universe, but the beginning. I welcome feedback, suggestions, and corrections and will incorporate them into future versions.

ScholarsBox/EssaySeries/KickOff (Raymond Yee)

Also from Raymond Yee, a pointer to P2P: the new information war?

Siva Vaidhyanathan's 4-part essay series lays out the basic premise for his forthcoming book The Anarchist in the Library: Peer to peer is analogous to other forms of non-digital dissidence and social organisation, and will have an impact at the cultural and political level, as well as on the nation state. Media & The Net editor Bill Thompson argues that Vaidhyanathan has misunderstood the technology and overstretched his case; Sandy Starr thinks Vaidhyanathan falls too readily on the side of the anarchists; and Richard Barbrook takes it all in and churns out a compelling analysis of the internet's forgotten gift economy.

5 February
Another case in point re: needed technologies comes from yesterday's reading of "Building an OpenURL Resolver in Your Own Workshop" (Mark Dahl) in Computers in Libraries (paradoxically, not available online...). Dahl is "the library technology coordinator" at Lewis & Clark College's Watzek Library. He's a Web programmer (PHP, Perl, PostgreSQL, Linux...) --see
Open URL Test Articles with Watzek Article/Book Linker... and also see the Staff page and what it links to under Systems . These folks are light years ahead of us...

This got me thinking about how to describe both our Web evolution and the various paths toward the future. In brief: the first phase of Web development has been centered on making it easier for our users to find what we and others have --and initially took the form of static pages with links, to which users are directed in various ways (in course pages, on menus, etc.). We made the exploratory steps of creating the Access database of journal holdings. To make this more flexible and user-friendly, developing/purchasing Web services like an OpenURL resolver is an obvious next step.

But there's another pathway, which we also need to explore and prepare ourselves for. At some point, there will be a growing interest in producing content in digital media, and some presumption that the Library will support and collect and distribute the content. Alsos is a forerunner/harbinger of this, and so are the image databases: rooted in relational databases, built and augmented to solve specific problems (collecting and distributing content for pedagogical purposes), and potentially interconnected to external users via metadata harvesters and OAI-compliant search utilities (like NSDL, OAIster).

So here's the gritty question:

DOES W&L really want to evolve/improve/transform what it does? Most would say that there's no need to take the risks. Profs can teach as they've always taught, and they probably will unless they have easy access to alternatives and augmentations --to support for ideas and projects that are outside the lines of the conventional. The Library could (and in my opinion SHOULD) provide and coordinate the support that experimenters need; at the very least, the Library needs to be a player in the ongoing conversations about the evolution of teaching and learning in liberal arts colleges.

11 February
Thinking about the practicalities of the Bridge between the Library and ITL: it needs to be built from both directions, leveraging the skills and knowledge of actual and nascent demands. But there's a missing piece, which can be described and can be filled via a one-year (maybe 9-month) Visitor, in the person of Bryant Adams. I'm imagining him as the Engineer, working on projects that tie in the Keck grant's objectives and the Library's needs to develop Web services... so his work would be at the intersection of several nascent developments. Nonlinear dynamics could be the core of this work, to justify Keck support, but the Services built might also have more generally useful application as well --details to be figured out.

12 February
I'd like to move discourse away from "computers in the library" and toward services and support and distributed resources. To do that convincingly we need some examples that will provoke the ahah! reactions and generate creative thinking about new pedagogical uses for digital resources; and we need the basic RDBMS infrastructure established, upon which these services can be built. Few (if any) small liberal arts colleges are working on this, and we need to develop relationships with institutions that are.

We need to create demonstrations of ways in which Web services can be built to enhance teaching and learning AND extend the digital services of the library, in the basic work of collecting and archiving and distributing information.

Many of the examples I can think of/have had suggested to me by others are wholly or primarily database services, based in development of SQLServer and .NET implementation now located in the ITL, but now not fully supported because of personnel limitations. These capabilities, once developed, can be leveraged to many other applications (broadly, toward digital library services) applicable to the work of all disciplines, though the initial apps are mainly in the sciences.

Here are some of the elements and projects:

13 February
The above, and specifically the focus on the sciences, connects directly with several articles in the 6 February issue of Science: Mathematics in Biology --and especially Introductory Science and Mathematics Education for 21st-Century Biologists (William Bialek and David Botstein) and Evolutionary Dynamics of Biological Games (Martin A. Nowak and Karl Sigmund), both of which have direct application to undergraduate teaching.

And back to link resolvers: The OpenURL and OpenURL Framework: Demystifying Link Resolution

Rael Dornfest looks beyond Web services and social networking (interview in Technology Review)

DORNFEST: Web services are showing up all over the place. John Udell did a cool hack, called LibraryLookup. Here's how it works. You go to any page and look for a book—and then click on a bookmark that takes you to your public library then look it up for you. Udell went to the library and saw that it was a place where people were sharing files freely. It wasn’t illegal and they were all copyrighted works. You could borrow them. When you were finished you could take them back. And it’s called the library. Stunning.

Little projects like that are what I call syndicated e-commerce—putting out pieces that you couldn’t do on your own, or that you wouldn’t want to do on your own. Put your project into the hands of people who otherwise wouldn’t help out. There’s not much programming. You can use Google for search and for ads. You can use Amazon for product shipment and sales and verification and availability...

TR: Are there other cases of technologies that had been promoted before that are now becoming really useful?

DORNFEST: I think that RSS fits that description. RSS—which stands for RDF site summary, or really simple syndication, or rich site summary, depending on who you ask—is an XML metadata format designed to automate sharing of Web content between sites. I was author, along with a couple other folks, of the RSS specification.

TR: What makes RSS so important?

DORNFEST: It’s one of the most widely deployed Web services around. It’s easily decentralized. Blogging, because of RSS, has gone from a popularity contest—how many times has my site been pinged?—to discovery of information. The browse metaphor for search has gone by the wayside. I think that RSS and syndication and blogs broadened it out. There was a lot of hype about this a couple of years ago but it’s only in the last year that things really started bubbling. I use weblogs to find information more than I use Google. I follow trails. Google will find you obvious answers. Google will find you what you’re looking for. Blogs, with RSS, will find you what you never expected to find.

14 February
Revisiting Seb's Open Research, and I find pointers to others working on personal information Management

Google Guide by Nancy Blachman

Content Delivery in the 'Blogosphere' By Richard E. Ferdig, Ph.D., and Kaye D. Trammell, University of Florida (from Feb 2004 T.H.E. Journal)

Cory Doctorow lays it down for you:

The future is my business, more or less. I’m a science fiction writer. One way to know the future is to look good and hard at the present. Here’s a thing I’ve noticed about the present: more people are reading more words off of more screens than ever before. Here’s another thing I’ve noticed about the present: fewer people are reading fewer words off of fewer pages than ever before. That doesn’t mean that the book is dying—no more than the advent of the printing press and the de-emphasis of Bible-copying monks meant that the book was dying—but it does mean that the book is changing. I think that literature is alive and well: we’re reading our brains out! I just think that the complex social practice of “book”—of which a bunch of paper pages between two covers is the mere expression—is transforming and will transform further.

Learning Objects, Learning Activities (LOLA, a Learning Object Trove !) "...a project to catalog learning objects developed at northeast liberal arts colleges..."

15 February
Udell's bookmarklet to look up multiple ISBNs for a book is detailed in a November posting and requires some security tweakage to work, but it does (I've set it up for Annie on my home machine). See Udell's 13 Feb update

16 February
More on link resolvers:

OpenURL Link Resolver Task Force Draft Report December 2, 2003 (U Sask library)

Digital Library Management Group at Dartmouth

The Many Facets of Managing Electronic Resources by Marshall Breeding Computers in Libraries Jan 2004

EBSCO's LinkSource announced (Jan 2003) --see also LinkSource page

The Next Generation of Access: OpenURL and Metasearch October 29 & 30, 2003 in Washington, DC

"Only librarians like to search. Everyone else likes to find" (Roy Tennant --see the presentation from the top)

17 February
I continue to wrestle with the task of summarizing what I think about the important tasks of the not-so-distant future, as we move in the direction of agreement on aims and directions. Here's today's version of what I see as the essentials:

The fundamental task (responsibility, goal, intent) of both the Library and University Computing is to facilitate people's use of information.

As information becomes more and more digital, we need to build and promulgate and support the services that our users need.

Our users' needs include finding and managing and producing and distributing materials in whatever media are best suited to their purposes and communications tasks.

People need to be able to get the help they need to accomplish their goals, AND they need to be educated about available means.

Because technologies change, we have to continue to explore and experiment, in order to anticipate demand and provide appropriate guidance to users.

Our users will need to build, manage, and distribute digital collections --both to campus audiences and to the growing world of interlinked digital libraries. We need to insure that they have access to appropriate construction and management tools, that standards are followed, that collections are appropriately integrated into our own array of digital assets, and that collection records are harvestable by relevant outside aggregators.

18 February
Some resources on OpenURL:

Open Linking in the Scholarly Information Environment Using the OpenURL Framework Herbert Van de Sompel and Oren Beit-Arie D-Lib Magazine March 2001 Volume 7 Number 3

OpenURL and LinkServer Basics from 1Cate

search on Aardvark: 13 links

OpenResolver: a Simple OpenURL Resolver (Andy Powell describes UKOLN's OpenResolver, a freely available demonstration OpenURL resolver)

OpenURL demonstrator from UKOLN

CiteSeer search for 'openurl' (11 links)

The Next Generation of Access: OpenURL and Metasearch (ppts from NISO meeting, October 29 & 30, 2003 in Washington, DC)

In the wake of the non-event of our meeting of Library and University Computing folks at noon today, I have before me the question I wrote down as I walked to the event:

if nobody wants it,
why am I doing it?
This came into my head as I reflected that nobody at W&L seems to be making any substantial use of the Web as a place to create or distribute the stuff of their lives, as I have been doing ever since I began to make pages. My students do, because I tell them to... but I don't think any of them continue once they've finished whatever the course is. So either nobody gets it... or perhaps there's just nothing there that anbody wants to get. That doesn't diminish my own joy in the medium, but I'm really wondering why I see it so differently. Many [hundreds of] thousands of bloggers do seemingly get it, in their own various ways, and what I do is more like what they do than it's like anything else I can see, though I find the frame of the blog too confining to consider shifting over.

So the grander designs of building digital collections and so on... are those of as little salience as the (vastly easier) making of pages? My question is:

why bother?

23 February
OpenURL Meets Open Access By Walt Crawford

To Have and to Hold: Metadata and Institutional Repositories RLG Members' Forum, December 9 and 12, 2003

RSS For Non-Techie Librarians By Steven M. Cohen

25 February
From an intro to a H-P grant form:

Successful projects will result in sustainable advances in teaching and learning by effectively applying pervasive computing paradigms to the academic environment in math, science, computer science, and engineering.
(see the subsequent page I made)

The Open Archival Information System Reference Model: Introductory Guide (Brian Lavoie, OCLC)

27 February
Fostering Robust Library Portals (cf NCSU portal

4 March
The Data Deluge: An e-Science Perspective (Tony Hey and Anne Trefethen)

19 March
Following reports of a meeting of the Library Committee and an exchange about what the Library should "be like" which emphasized renovations, I fired off this salvo:

What bothers me in the exchanges about "library redesign" is that the emphasis (indeed, the whole discussion of the Library Committee) is around the physical renovation of a Space. I don't dispute that the Space needs to be perestroika'd into something more attractive than the modernist 70s horror we're stuck with, but the REAL focus of "redesign" should be on the Library's services --many of which are (and more of which need to be, and WILL be) electronic in nature and in delivery. We can buy all manner of expert consultation on making the space more humane and inviting. We'll have to invent for ourselves how the Library reaches outside its walls and into the lives of its users. A lot more of us need to be thinking about THOSE issues.

27 March
From Confessions of a Science Librarian, a link to "Identifying University Professors' Information Needs in the Challenging Environment of Information and Communication Technologies" by Maria Anna Jankowska -- "a fascinating article full of interesting details, mostly broken down by field." From the conclusion:

The results of this survey clearly confirmed previous findings about the fact that unawareness of the range of databases, the lack of knowledge about electronic resources among faculty, lack of time, lack of training, and instruction were critical obstacles in effective use of electronic resources and services by faculty. The marketing of library e-resources and e-services should be a critical component of academic libraries' activities.

4 April
Just as I've been saying about the broader Commons: Workshop on Scholarly Communication as a Commons, papers from which were posted to Digital Library of the Commons. Here's their definition:

The commons is a general term for shared resources in which each stakeholder has an equal interest. Studies on the commons include the information commons with issues about public knowledge, the public domain, open science, and the free exchange of ideas -- all issues at the core of a direct democracy. See Information and Knowledge Commons Links for other approaches to the commons.
In a related realm, Nature has a special feature on Access to the Literature: the debate continues
The Internet is profoundly changing how scientists work and publish. New business models are being tested by publishers, including open access, in which the author pays and content is free to the user. This ongoing web focus will explore current trends and future possibilities. Each week, the website will publish specially commissioned insights and analysis from leading scientists, librarians, publishers and other stakeholders, as well as key links, and articles from our archive. All content is available free.

15 April
Here's a blog somebody should be following:

21 April
Digital Knowledge Sharing through Concept Maps and VUE Online, from Tufts (FEDORA/OKI)

9 May
Yet another example of an institution pursuing digital library goals: Deep Infrastructure Supports Digital Library Services By Paul Conway (director for information technology services in the Duke University Libraries)

Duke University has recognized the strategic importance of the digital library as a change agent... Digital libraries may prove to be tremendous forces for needed change in teaching and learning and, particularly, for the transformation of the roles that traditional libraries play on and off campus. Duke University is embracing digital library services as a strategic mechanism for advancing deep information technology infrastructure on campus.

...The Digital Library @ Duke is a major component of the university’s overall strategic plan... “…seizing the opportunities of new technologies to enhance traditional resources and services and to build new roles for the library, presenting it as the resource of first resort for scholars and as the shared intellectual center of the university” ...

...the digital library is conceived as a resource environment, accessible through computing tools in buildings on campus and on individual desktops on and off campus. Duke’s digital library program becomes the essential mechanism for uniting people and ideas and presenting information that lives across the full spectrum of storage media.

...Since for the foreseeable future only a part of the information resources needed for most scholarly disciplines will exist in digital form, a digital library becomes the essential mechanism for pulling together and presenting information that resides in the library on paper, film, magnetic tapes, and optical disks. A deep infrastructure is required to support the services that people see and tend to associate with a digital library... The organizational structure functions as if nearly every technology-related initiative in the library system is related in some way to something we call a “digital library.” library applications are being built as enterprise systems managed and promoted not as library systems per se, but as tools for the end-user community.

Once again, I reflect that W&L doesn't have the resources, the personnel, or the institutional will to be an innovator in digital library development in the liberal arts college context. That's not likely to change.

W&L is more comfortable with the pedagogical model that focuses on the professor surrounded by small groups of students who listen attentively and are guided to "critical thinking" via conventional classroom methods. There's nothing wrong with the model, but it's not the only or necessarily the most suitable method. W&L provides almost no support of exploration and development of other methods, and I'm pretty sure that W&L won't.

Alumni magazines and Web-based IT publications are full of stories that describe pedagogical innovations. Most put information technologies at the center of faculty and student activities, and the general line of argument is that these technologies permit, support and encourage new modalities of teaching and learning. Students are seen as more deeply involved in and personally committed to defining their own leaning, and faculty are protrayed as energized and innovative. But the methods and the enthusiasm don't seem to spread: the innovative activities are usually personal labors of love, often viewed with suspicion by administrators (who fear demands for larger budgets and more staff), by disciplinary colleagues (who see dauntingly steep learning curves and extraordinary time demands), and sometimes by students (hose confidence in their own computer skills is often shaky).

Another limitation on generalizability of experimental pedagogies is that many are based in non-standard and under-development software, and so are tangled in the dynamics of software evolution. Stable products (like Word, Excel, etc.) are constraining and ill-equipped for challenges beyond the main functionalities they deliver to ordinary users. The instructor has to choose between institutionally supported but limited sofware, and technologies which must be self-supported. The ideal situation matches an instructor with relevant technology specialists, who might have combinations of IT, library, and AV skills, and whose role is to co-teach and support the evolving technologies. Such alliances are often touted at conferences, but they are exceptions, expensive experiments (in terms of staff time), and seem rarely to become standard operating procedure. The innovators often move on to the next new thing, or depart for greener pastures.

More generally, it's clear that innovators and experimenters have ambiguous status in educational institutions. They want to keep moving, and are generally not content to settle for maintaining what they have created. This restlessness gets in the way of orderly operations, and this is particularly true when resources are tight. Few administrators are happy to hear about the next big thing that will change everything, and just needs a few of the scarcest resources (money and staff time) to demonstrate its inevitability. So innovators have relatively short half-lives in organizations: they move to other organizations, or become so discouraged with prospects that they retreat into niches where institutional hassle is minimized.

Few institutions seem able to sustain and encourage creative and innovative development. In the software industry, market pressures and profitability are part of the reason, but what's the analog in the knowledge industry?

17 May
Something Jan Aguirre said started me thinking about something I've turned over in my mind a few times before, but never really tried to think through as an Infocommons problem. He commented that on his desk, in a village an hour from San Jose Costa Rica, he has ALL the electronic power of Boston University (since he runs a Field School for them). And Ron has been talking about setting up a conference to explore how CIESAS could/should approach the integration of electronic resources into their distributed model of teaching.

Another facet here of the Electronic Library of the immediate future: how library services get to and are effectively support for use by distributed clientele. How a state like Maine designs and provides and supports information services for distance education students.

There are surely people inside and outside the library world who think about this, but I'm not very well connected to what they've been saying, or how they've been building the plans and the actual services.

19 May
Applying for the $$ for an Educational license for campus use of Movable Type 3.0:

Blogging is being used as a communication medium in courses at many colleges, and is now in use in an experimental mode for INTR132 (see via Blackmer's external Web site (because W&L does not have or support blogging software for campus use).

Movable Type (see and is a leader in the medium, and has just announced that it is moving from a free to a licensing model (details below, under Budget) with its latest release.

Blackmer wishes to use blogging as an integral part of Anth230 (in the Fall term, when the hands-on computing environment of Parmly 302 will probably be under construction and unavailable as a teaching venue) and other courses he will teach during the coming year; Lorig intends to explore blogging as a supporting technology in Psych111, Psych252, and Psych255.

The primary purpose of this request is to explore blogging software as an adjunct to other means of communication in courses (including Web pages and conventional presentation media). Use of Moveable Type will give students an opportunity to develop authorship skills in an increasingly important information medium, using a well-supported construction and distribution environment; it will also provide a firm foundation for experiments with communication in online communities, and for instructors to evaluate 'critical thinking' and communication skills via analysis of the databases in which blog postings are stored. See for a recent article summarizing implementation and support of blogging at University of Minnesota.

We request $999 for 100 users as a pilot for blogging support. We anticipate that it may be necessary to increase the number of licenses if blogging proves to be popular with students and faculty.

Here is's description of the license arrangement:

Thanks for your interest in Six Apart and Movable Type. We've received your question about education pricing for Movable Type 3.0. Our pricing for higher education is simplified and accommodates departmental and university?wide deployments. The following prices are for small and medium departments. If you are interested in pricing for a greater number of users, we are happy to discuss your needs.

At the moment, our entry levels are: A $999 Level 1 that is for 100 users ($9.99 per user). Level 2 is $1,999 for 250 users ($7.99 per user). User Packs can be added for $1,249 for 250 additional users ($4.99 per user) or $1,999 for 500 additional users ($3.99 per user). This is a perpetual license model.

Further information from
Our education license was developed to address the number of users/authors of a blog without a limitation to the actual blog count. It's simplified and discounted from our commercial license and accommodates the large number of authors that most colleges and universities require. It's a perpetual vs. annual license, similar to other software products offered to higher education. The personal version doesn't really apply in a university setting. If you find that you will have significantly fewer users/authors than 100, we can quote you a discounted price from our commercial pricing.

So the prospect of using a suite of products, including Onfolio and Bloglines, is pretty interesting. Getting some sort of management tool with Onfolio capabilities (but use-anywhere functionality) into student hands is more of a challenge, and Snipit isn't the answer... unsupported as it is.

25 May
Excerpts from (found via ). Emphasis added here and there...

Interoperability between Library Information Services and Learning Environments -- Bridging the Gaps
Neil McLean and Clifford Lynch

Our hope is to open a dialog both with the global library communities in higher education and between these communities and the communities involved in instructional technologies and management. (1)

...recently... libraries have been investing more heavily in bringing other materials such as digitized rare and historical materials, and institutional research and learning resources, into the distributed information environments. There is growing acceptance that simply making resources available on the network without an additional layer of services may not be very effective... resources are made available at interfaces with low levels of interconnectedness between them. This in turn puts the burden of interconnection back on the user, and it means that in many cases the potential value of interconnection is not realized. (3)

...within any information process, it may be necessary to interact with several services which do not coordinate their activities. Until recently, these services have been conceived and designed as standalone systems, rather than as parts of a fabric of information resources on a network. So, for example, there are services which allow people to discover the documents of interest to them, and there are packages which can format requests for dispatch to such services. These may not be linked up in such a way that the end-to-end process can be automated. (4)

...while the inclusion of learning objects in library collections is one issue, there is a large disconnect between the traditional focus of the e-learning community on these typically relatively small objects and the growing need to collect, archive, and repurpose much larger and more complex objects at the level of a collaboration or a course...(5)

Until recently, most learning and information content was tightly bound in learning management systems [LMSs]... transparent links between library systems and learning management systems have been rudimentary... Much of the current thinking is based on a fairly library-centric view of being able to "push" information resources into the LMS. There has been little thought given to the learner activity perspective where the learner may wish to draw on any number of information resources either prescribed, or of his or her choosing, at any given moment in the learning activity. There is a need, therefore, to develop more innovative use scenarios in order to map the dynamic functionality required in a "pull" runtime environment. (6)

In essence, academic institutions are only just beginning to grapple with the implications of developing the digital campus that includes the two important concepts of digital information management and e-learning management. Central to both of these key management challenges is the need to organize and manage the creation, flow, and use of content. In most institutions content is managed in silos that have little institutional interoperability... (8)

...service models were mostly based on "what-is" rather than "what-might-be", and it is important that library communities engage in some quite lateral thinking with regard to potential service provision in the emerging interactive learning environments. (10)

The challenge inherent in this analysis is to find common ground that transcends the seemingly endless problems that pervade the current interactions between library/information resources, services, and e-learning environments. A principal objective is to define common services and abstractions required to sit over multiple repository types so that they can be used effectively from within either learning environment applications or information environment applications... This approach requires a conceptual shift away from a traditional systems architecture viewpoint to one where applications become defined by the services provided and the services that can be accessed... It will be vital that both the library and e-learning communities look to the possibility of applying service-oriented architectutes such as Web Services, wich are now the focus of attention in many other industries... (14)

As [architectural and standards efforts] move forward, they must be complemented with experimental implementations, test beds, and other deployment efforts to validate and refine the standards and architecture work. And it is essential that we bring all of the real users and stakeholders --teachers, students, teaching assistants, librarians, records managers, graduates, instructional technologists, course authors, and others-- into the design, use and evaluation of these testbeds. (15)

28 May
Librarians and others have tended to focus "information literacy/fluency" on the finding of information --on searching, use of 'databases', inquiry skills. The next step, which few seem to have much enthusiasm for, is support for what to do with the found resources. Some of that is disciplinary and thus the professor's responsibility (especially in the case of data analysis), but some is in the realm of information management. Support for the use of bibliographic software (EndNote, etc.) is an easy example, provided by some libraries, but other applications and facilities are easily imagined. Blogging may be another...

The issue here is: who is to be responsible for developing and supporting digital/electronic applications --databases, interfaces, personal management tools-- that pretty much everybody needs to learn about and learn to use as libraries become progressively more digital? The notion of Electronic Scholarship enlarges skill sets...

17 June
I'm not sure how to get this piece into the thinking of ...well, who?... but it seems to have important things to say: From Classrooms to Learning Environments: a midrange projection of e-learning technologies (Stephen Downes)

Why We Must Talk About the Information Commons (David Bollier, Law Library Journal [2004] --also here as HTML)

18 June
Understanding the Commons (" We are richer than we think. But we’re leaving our children poorer.")

21 July
Supporting the KM Environment—The Roles, Responsibilities, and Rights of Information Professionals By Sue Henczel ...the sort of thing librarians ought to read, perhaps critically. What doesn't apply to more conventional and non-business lirary environments?

20 September is a site under development (for Jan '05 release) by Michael Roy and cited in FOSblog: "the site will collect stories and projects that document the evolving nature of teaching and research, and encourage collaboration that will lead to open-source teaching and research."