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June 14, 2008

The Citations Helper in Sakai towards an integrated Reading List management system

Writing about web page http://confluence.sakaiproject.org/confluence/display/RES/Citations+Helper

Citations Helper (CH) is a resources tool in Sakai. With CH you can create a list of references that are directly linked to their respective articles, and do this without leaving your Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), i.e. Sakai.

CH removes much of the labour in the manual hyperlinking of reading list items that consist of persistent, deep links based on OpenURL syntax, or on Digital Object Identifiers. It also has the potential of providing one half of the functionality of a Reading-list Management System (RMS) when CH can be integrated with the Library Management System (LMS).

Managing reading lists is a core process in any academic library. At the scale of a large university, this process is by no means an insignificant operation, and even a small improvement can bring considerable benefits.

The Citations Helper in Sakai 2.5.0, coupled with the promising developments in Open Source LMS, gives hope of local implementations that will actually be able to do what no commercial RMS can completely do. My ideal (RMS) would satisfy the following specification:

Spec 1.- Can the RMS be fully integrated into a VLE by means of an API or otherwise, so that any lecturer can build a reading list conveniently without leaving their same VLE site?

The RMS would include a facility to look up library items and import their bibliographic data at the click of a button. With CH what it takes for a lecturer to add a reference is only two or three clicks, a search, and then one last click to add the reference to the list.

CH allows lecturers to build lists of references and manage them within one same application. These lists can be associated to user groups without the need to upload them to the course site of each group.

It is important that the tool is convenient, because the number of modules with its reading list being managed by the RMS will depend on the rate of RMS adoption by lecturers. Ease of use and proximity should contribute to widespread adoption and therefore coverage and usefulness of the RMS.

Spec 2.- Can the RMS import bibliographic records from Abstract & Index databases, as well as from the LMS, besides providing a form for manual input in case bibliographic details can not be automatically captured?

Citations Helper allows cross-search and import from up to eight subscribed databases at the same time, or search and import from Google Scholar, or from the LMS. Scopes can be set on a drop-down menu to narrow the choice to subsets of databases relevant to specific subject areas.

Spec 3.- Can the RMS format the reading lists in different referencing styles?

Ideally the RMS should be able to display references in a referencing style of choice. The preferred styles of each academic department should be available from a drop-down menu.

I don’t think CH does this (yet) but it does allow you to toggle between displaying only a “Title View” of the styled reference you have added and displaying also the “Citation View” of the bibliographic fields. In addition, each reference is automatically hyperlinked to the local link-resolver.

Spec 4.- Given a title record, can the RMS tell you in which reading lists that title is included?

One of the commercial RMS can do this when properly integrated with the LMS of the same vendor, and I would expect such two-way integration is also feasible with Sakai if the LMS is Open Source, or if the vendor sees the benefit of cooperating to enable such integration. Obviously, this functionality is particularly useful for the book ordering by the library and in general for the management of its collections.

Spec 5.- Can the RMS be set so that library staff are alerted every time a new reference is added to a reading list?

This would allow library staff to order the books well in time, or to suggest feasible alternatives. Ideally the RMS would include a text field for unstructured comments, which library staff may use to annotate the results of their investigations of the different sourcing options for each article, and of course this field could also be annotated collaboratively by the lecturer, as in the wiki approach.

Spec 6.- Can the RMS hide the references from view while the library makes sure stocks are at an appropriate level?

The RMS should also allow single references to be hidden from view until they have been resourced to an appropriate level of stock. This would involve a two stage process with suggestion and validation before publishing the list to students on the VLE. On the admin interface of the above mentioned commercial product, a red asterisk appears next to a reference to indicate it has not yet been disclosed to students.

Spec 7.- Can the RMS produce reports of what is on reading lists and match it against library stock according to copies/student ratios, in order to highlight what needs to be purchased?

A prestigious UK HEI had the idea of developing an RMS associating their LMS with a CH-like facility that is integrated within their Moodle VLE. This implies the RMS must be able to feed back bibliographic data to the LMS, which can then generate reports highlighting any mismatch between reading list items on the VLE and their stock levels in the library holdings.


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