10 February 2010

Learnings from Day One of VALA

There are so many options at VALA when it comes to topics of presentations and it can be exhausting to try and cover every theme. So, this time I decided to focus on a couple of areas and not worry too much about other papers...

So, discovery layers and research related papers are the ones I decided to focus on at this conference. In the morning session I attended the three papers on discovery and got something out of each of them. I particularly enjoyed Jane Burke’s presentation which outlined three levels of discovery systems and looked at the perception that libraries do not have a role in linking up the student/academic/customer with the journal article they are using via a subscription database. Disintermediation is the dropping of people out of a supply chain. While libraries are still in that supply chain there is no understanding that it is the library that delivers that access because the delivery has become more seamless (they don’t have to physically visit the library, or even visit the library’s website or portal in some cases) and/or no obvious branding that makes it clear the library is facilitating access. The library is perceived as being irrelevant.

The three levels of discovery outlined are:
• Federated Search
• Discovery layer (laid over catalogue and local collections)
• Webscale discovery systems (preharvested metadata covering all resources including subscription databases) The size of these collections and associated indexes require large scale resources to support this at the “cloud” level. It makes sense to use large hosted systems to deal with this scale of discovery.

In other discovery papers the information seeking behaviour of EFL (English as a foreign language) was researched in the context of choosing a discovery service. This research was carried out with a grant so follow up papers on subsequent phases will be published. It discussed quite specific experiences of students at Zayed University in Dubai in their information seeking behaviour and preferences.

The other paper in this stream was from the National Library of Australia and presented their findings and processes in changing the catalogue interface. Users were consulted on interface design features. Telling comments from users focussed on old-fashioned terminilogy, confusion of labels and disconnects between the library catalogue and design patterns commonly found on the web. Design patterns are conventions that are adopted across many websites such as login links being located at top right of screen and icons being clickable. Some good recommendations and learnings in this paper for those refining user experiences.

In the afternoon, I went to some research papers. Although I expected these to be much drier, I did enjoy updating my knowledge in this area as it has been some time since I was heavily involved with institutional repositories. The challenges of data management were highlighted from two perspectives. In one paper the topic was the management of research data beyond the ‘paper’ and into the realm of raw data. In the other the topic was in the context of the Australian Code for Responsible Research ?? and being sure that research data is managed according to the code. All Australian Universities are signatories to the code but at this stage the code is not enforced in relation to data management. Stakeholders in managing data according to the code are located across the institution in research offices, information technology services, libraries and archives.

The keynote in the afternoon was Tom Tague talking about openCalais. This was a well-received presentation which I was glad to catch as openCalais was mentioned at the bootcamp yesterday and I had resolved to find out more about it. OpenCalais is a web service that takes textual input and returns facts, names, topics and dates as tags. Essentially it is an automated metadata creator. Tague went on to talk about Linked Data (another concept that intrigued me at bootcamp) which is looking to be a key underpinning of the semantic web.

Biggest gadget in the trade exhibition is the book scanner....

Digitisation for bound books