All entries for March 2007

March 30, 2007

EBSCO visual search interface

Writing about web page

Something I found out about at the recent LILAC conference.

This search interface is a Java applet.

From the page I’ve linked to you’ll need to find and click on the “Visual search” tab.

Once the page has loaded (it may take a while: it told me 15 seconds) you will be able to type your search term into the search box at the top. Don’t forget to select the collection to be searched from the drop down list and then just click on the search button. You will get colourful results!

A circle represents a cagetegory and a rectangle represents a document. You can browse the categories: click on one to zoom in on the category. Hover over a category or a document for more information to pop up by your cursor.

If you click on a document the right hand side of the screen will show you the record for the document. From here you can click to see the full text as normal, or you can “zoom back” to look at other items.

It’s an interesting search interface, and it offers a different way of doing a search. Something for those who are bored or frustrated with the traditional database search interface.

March 29, 2007

Medieval support desk

Writing about web page

Had a great time at the recent LILAC conference on delivering information literacy. I met Peter Godwin and am linking to his blog. The clip about the medieval enquiry desk he’s just blogged is excellent. (titled “Introducing the book again”.)

March 28, 2007

Print theses e–submission vs. e–theses

Writing about web page

Open Access (OA) archiving of research in general and of theses in particular does make sense. A different though related question is the treatment of e-theses as examination papers.

E-theses can be multimedia hyperlinked documents that do not retain their richness when printed. How many examiners are going to be comfortable examining such e-only theses?

Some repository software, e.g. E-Prints, can keep track of changes to an object and of actions performed on it. This kind of functionality can be used for preservation, but it could potentially be extended to keep track of changes to the first version submitted of the thesis, then of examiners’ comments and finally of the revisions incorporated accordingly by the candidate.

It looks as if we are entering a period with a spectrum of electronic theses. Alongside any e-only theses that may appear, there are going to be old printed theses digitised, new theses written as a printed document but submitted as an electronic file, print-outs of these, printed theses that had been microfilmed and will be digitised, and so on.

Obviously, there is also going to be a (probably dwindling) proportion of theses that will need to be submitted in print for any of a number of reasons, e.g. for containing copyright off-prints. One would therefore hope that something like the current BL British Thesis Service will remain for such print-only theses, in spite of the prediction in the Detraz (2006) report, “there is strong likelihood that the current BLTS will be withdrawn by the British Library whether a national EThOS service goes ahead or not, leaving no national outlet for the supply of paper theses” [EThOS – Final Report – v.1b – 20.10.2006 , p.10 ]

Copac launched its new interface

Writing about web page

Today Copac launched its new interface . The database itself has been moved on to XML.

XML enables search and display in non-roman scripts, including Cyrillic, Arabic and Chinese. When searching do bear in mind, however, that the database is yet to accrue records in those scripts – the current records still are those in transliteration.

The new Copac interface supports RSS feeds, allowing you to set an alert for any particular search you have made. This is very welcome at a time when the Zetoc RSS feeds are only for the table of contents of a particular journal, but not for a keyword search across all indexed journals.

In addition Copac bibliographic records can now be downloaded/emailed also in these formats: BibTeX, BibTeXML, and XML MODS. There is also a user friendly Search History facility.

Note that the Home button is the “Copac” logo in the signature at the bottom of each page. Needless to say?

March 26, 2007

Business process modelling using BPMN

Writing about web page

Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) is the new up and coming standard notation for business process modelling. Whether it will become your preferred notation is to be seen, but BPMN does have the benefit of hindsight to take the best of previous notations (Petri Nets, UML, BPEL, YAWL, etc) and become a truly universally used standard.

The standard of BPMN v 1.0 was adopted in February 2006 by the Business Modeling & Integration (BMI) Domain Task Force . The BMI itself is the result of the integration of the Business Process Management Initiative and the Object Management Group (OMG).

No “BPMN for dummies” have yet been published to my knowledge, but the BPMN Information website has a BPMN tutorial of slides and some other didactic material. The full BPMN 1.0 specification by the OMG is available from their catalogue :

Intalio is one of the few BPMN toolsets that are Open Source, whilst IBM are said to be putting their weight on their Websphere. Such toolsets have of course all the necessary for execution and computer simulation in the IT system development process.

But what does BPMN mean to you if, like me, you are not a software developer? Well, whichever the business of your organisation, this business is likely to consist of processes.

Documenting those processes allows you to manage them and to manage organisational change and generate innovation. Now, in order to document a business process you can either use a verbose narrative, or you can produce a diagram of the workflow.

If you are going to produce a workflow diagram, you might as well use a graphic notation that will be widely recognised. BPMN is such a notation, a ready made language with its standardised graphic symbols and semantics… and with specific software to do it fast!

Business process modelling can therefore be put to good use as a Knowledge Management (KM) tool. A typical KM scenario would be to document knowledge of processes for handover before the staff who know leave and their knowledge is lost.

Indeed the concept of business process modelling in computer science and business management has been around longer than the term knowledge management. Call it business process re-engineering, business process change, business process management, or just business process analysis, but it can contribute much to KM in your organisation and do it graphically.

What I would like to see developed is a Wiki type of tool that would allow collaborative working on BPMN workflow diagrams, i.e. not a text wiki but a graphic wiki for BPM. Would any business analysts out there welcome the inception of such a tool?

March 21, 2007

Scanning and the British Library new service

Yesterday the RIU hosted a Scanning Practice event for the UK HE community. We held the event in the Mathematics building which was a very nice venue. I learnt much that I would do differently were I to host such an event again, but overall it went very well. One point of warning to anyone else planning an event in room MS04: the air conditioning is very noisy! But Maintenance did manage to do something about it for us for the afternoon.

We had presentations from 4 other Universities about their scanning under the licence, including one about the CLA audit process. We also had a presentation from the BL where we learnt the following about their new service for supplying unencrypted files for use under the CLA Trial Scanning Licence:
  • orders are being processed through the ARTEmail service [or the ARTTel that we use].
  • Cost per item is : £7.45 + copyright fee
    (Copyright fee is variable for journal articles and is £5 for book chapters.)
  • BL do not check what is covered by the CLA trial scanning licence: you must do this yourselves.
  • The turn-around time for the standard service fee of £ 7.45 is 2-5 days, but it is often done within 24h and you can pay extra to get a guaranteed 24h turn around, and even more for within 2 hours.

I also presented the results of our survey of what other HEIs are doing with the licence, and some interesting statistics from the CLA.

It was a great opportunity to network and meet others in similar situations to ourselves. Very reassuring to know what the others are doing, and especially to hear about the CLA audit.

March 12, 2007

RFID & libraries

Writing about web page

I went to an event on Blended Learning at De Montfort last Friday. It was very interesting to meet with so many library colleagues and to see the refurbishment that De Montfort has just been through, especially given that they took inspiration from our own Learning Grid and that we are about to go through a refurbishment in our own Main library.

One of the workshops I attended was on implementing RFID: it was taken by my old chartership supervisor Alan Brine. Alan had been through the process to get European funding in order to put RFID tags into all the book stock at De Montfort. It seems that he learnt many lessons along the way, and it was good for other libraries to be able to benefit from his experience.

(NB I try to refer to library users as “users” or sometimes “students” and RFID reading equipment as “readers” in this posting but it does get confusing for those of an LIS background used to describing library users as “readers”!)

Coincidentally my Zetoc alert on various library publications flagged up the journal article I’m linking to, which is also about RFID in libraries. It concludes that “Issues about reliability, interference from noise, high implementation costs, and lack of a killer application in RFID systems remain to be resolved.”

Both the article and Alan explained some advantages to RFID:

1) RFID allows you to check in several books at one time, rather than having to check in each book individually. However, Alan noted that this is only the case if all the tags are not stacked on top of each other in the stack of books. Hence libraries need to consider where to place their tags within a book, and how to vary the position. (You can’t vary it much if you want to be able to scan the shelves with readers for a stock take/shelf tidy, though!) And it’s not all that convenient for users to return a big stack of books: they’d have to carry them all, which they don’t like doing, and if one of the books turned out to have been reserved, then they’d have to go through the whole pile to find it and separate it out. Also, students did not know that the new technology was all that different from the old barcodes so tended to put books on the check-in scanners one at a time anyway.

2) RFID tags can be added to videotapes, cassettes and diskettes and provide security for such materials that magnetic strips cannot. (Note that there are problems with metal CDs, however, as Alan described and as I previously commented on this blog. It is interesting that Alan explained that this was not an issue for most of the CDs in their stock at De Montfort as there weren’t many metal CDs. Apparently these tend to be ones that you copy onto yourself rather than commercially produced ones, so I would doubt that we have many at Warwick either.)

3) Library cards can contain RFID tags which can track library users. As noted on an earlier posting to this blog, we already use RFID tags to trigger the gates to open as users enter the library here. Would it be possible to use more powerful readers to ascertain the whereabouts in the library of any user was at any one time, though? If we could do this then we could perhaps offer users guidance on how to find material in the section they are currently in, through some kind of guide device, as described in the article. Potentially we could also track books as they move around the library in the same way. Is it a case of the signal power, the readers’ power or the number of readers in the library? I’m not sure. Certainly we might come across problems of cost and a lack of suitable locations (ie nowhere near metal shelving) if we were to consider putting in more readers. This sort of implementation wasn’t covered in the workshop run by Alan, however.

4) RFID tags enable you to use readers to check that the book stock is in order. The article seems to imply that the readers could tell if a book was in the “wrong” section of the library at any time. I may have understood it incorrectly because Alan’s description was of hand held readers being scanned accross the shelves to check for items out of order. Therefore there is still a lot of manpower required to check for missing items. Is it any quicker than an experienced member of staff scanning spine labels with his/her eyes?

5) The article also suggests that RFID could help libraries to keep track of journal stock. This is an issue for most libraries as journal issues are not loanable and therefore there are no loan statistics. Therefore it is quite difficult to tell whether some journal stock is being used or not. However, with the advent of more and more electronic journals, do we need to monitor journal stock on the shelves? And in any case, the process described in the article seems hardly more practical than running usage surveys as we currently do since it seems to suggest that if a journal issue is not where it should be when your RFID tag reading equipment is scanned past the shelves, then it must be being used, and that is how RFID helps to monitor usage of journals. How many times a day might we have to pass the readers over the shelves to monitor usage? How long would a check take? Would we have the staff to do this? It may be that the kind of tags and readers envisaged in the article are more powerful than the kind used by De Montfort where they described passing readers accross a shelf to identify the location of materials. In any case, could we reasonably conclude that a missing item from the shelf is in fact material that is being used?

The article also doesn’t address what I thought would be a big problem: people ripping tags out of the books in order to help themselves to the books. Alan’s experience was that this was not a problem, but he explained that another library that didn’t overprint its tags with its logos found that it did have a problem with people ripping the tags out.

So what are the advantages that can be had from implementing RFID now, in the way that De Montfort have done? I think I need more information about their implementation and how it works for them. Since they only began with RFID in earnest this academic year, for me the jury is out as to what kind of management information they can get from their tags and how useful it is for them.

Their book sorting machines looked good, but we didn’t get much time to explore those. I suspect that they do offer a significant advantage to the library when sorting stock to put back on the shelves.

And I’ll watch the space in terms of what level security the tags provide…

See our previous posting on RFID:

March 2007

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