What I wish vendors knew about academic libraries…

I’ve recently had a flurry of meetings with account managers and other representatives from a number of our subscribed databases and journals.  It struck me how often I had to explain certain things about the higher education environment which I had incorrectly assumed account managers would already know about.  So here’s my wish list.

What I wish vendors knew about academic libraries

  • The serials crisis
  • Older and newer universities – effect on incomes, assets, (perceived?) status
  • Jisc banding and differentiated pricing
  • Student fees and their contribution to universities’ funding (it’s only part of the picture)
  • Effect of international students and their higher fees
  • Lifting of the cap on undergraduate numbers from September 2015 and effect on recruitment & revenue
  • Not all universities teach all subjects (so don’t try to sell me something we don’t need…)
  • Other factors affecting budgets: VAT, exchange rates

If vendors knew about these things, perhaps they wouldn’t be so surprised when I tell them about shrinking budgets that can’t cover what we had this year, let alone allow for new subscriptions.  Or that I don’t want a free trial if there’s no hope of responding to  positive feedback with access next year.  Or that I am not interest in Resource Y, however fabulous, because we don’t teach that subject.

What else would you add?  Let me know in the comments!

Highlights from #UKSGlive 2013

My learning round-up from the 2013 UKSG Annual Conference

Phil Sykes – University of Liverpool – Open Access Gets Tough

Video of talkSlides from talk

SykesIs the triumph of OA is now inevitable? Maybe not – the current situation results from a fortuitous combination of circumstances, such as the political involvement of strongly pro-OA individuals.  We have to provide strong support for OA through our professional bodies and via skilled advocacy on campus.

“Librarians insulate departments and academics too well from the true costs of their journal subscriptions.”  We now have the opportunity to be star actors in the transformation.  Nothing is inevitable, it’s time to get to work.

Jill Emery – Portland State University – Mining for gold: identifying the librarians’ toolkit for managing hybrid OA

Video of talkSlides from talk

EmeryWe need to influence the change in academia not just within scholarly publishing, but also by getting academics involved.  Make recommendations to them on where to publish.  Don’t wait for the invitation – start the conversation on campus.  We need to re-evaluate our budgets and allocate resource for APCs [article processing charges].  Get into marketing and promotion game.

Research and researchers: identity and evaluation Jenny Delasalle – Uni of Warwick – Research evaluation: why is it relevant to librarians?

Video of talkSlides from talk

DelasalleSnowball metrics project – recipe book now available – sets out best practice for how data can be used to support institutional decision-making

Alt metrics [alternative metrics, linked to social web] – open to manipulation, but so are citation measurements.  Opportunities for librarians – the article-level economy is coming, availability of alt metrics will support interest in other kinds of inputs than journal articles.  Researchers want someone with technical expertise who can provide answers and reassurance – librarians can do this.

Laurel L. Haak – ORCID – Connecting research and researchers: ORCID ORCID mission: connecting research with researchers

Video of talkSlides from talk

HaakORCID is an open, non-profit, community-based effort to create and maintain a registry of unique researcher identifiers and a transparent method of linking research activities and outputs to these identifiers”

ORCID is to individuals what DOIs are to articles.

Register for your ORCID iD here.  Can embed ORCID IDs in workflows e.g. University CRISs, manuscript submission, grant applications, links with repositories, linkage with other IDs like Scopus Switchboard.

The new digital students, or, “I don’t think I have ever picked up a book out of library to do any research – all I have used is my computer” Lynn Silipigni Connaway, OCLC

Video of talkSlides from talk


“A diamond is a chunk of coal that is made good under pressure.” – Henry Kissinger.

Users don’t think that e-resources are library resources.  Users are confident in their information seeking and evaluation skills,and they believe that the same info in multiple places means it’s true…

The learning black market – covert online study habits e.g. they use Wikipedia, they don’t cite it, they feel guilty about it. Some admit to citing the references at the end of Wikipedia articles, even when they haven’t read them.  “One size fits no-one.”

Idea: Create personas from special collections and use them to make social media accounts more personal.

The student-information relationship: a perspective of its evolution – Joshua James Harding, Warwick Medical School

Video of talkSlides from talk

HardingDigital consumption was Joshua’s solution to the problem of many heavy textbooks.  He was an early adopter of IT and is now a paperless student.

Having everything on his iPad means he can do clinics and be able to check details, notes, and carry on with confidence.   Inkling – interactive ebooks, also called smart or multitouch ebooks, including the option to buy chapters. While he studies a textbook, it studies him – maps his progress in terms of what’s been covered, how long spent on each chapter, sets alerts for him to go back and revise specific areas after set times.  Librarians must improve pathways for making this info available to students.

Joshua asks why all paper textbooks aren’t available in e format.  Other problems: fragmentation, reduced variety, variable quality, different platforms and formats…  “Epubs are horrible as textbooks and I urge you, don’t make them any more!”

“I want to be able to annotate PDFs using third-party apps… I think we all want to see the end of proprietary formats.”

Maximising the Knowledge base – the community-driven initiatives KB+ and GOKb – Liam Earney, JISC Collections

Video of talkSlides from talk


Knowledge Base+ (KB+) in the UK; Global Open KnowledgeBase (GOKb) in the USA.

Both projects aim to capture info that libraries need for managing their eresources portfolios and make this information available to other stakeholders too.  KB+ and GOKb share interests in licensing, but GOKb has a greater focus on sharing a higher level of information across many institutions.

Issues surrounding quality and availability of data in the supply chain:

  • Accuracy (many publishers don’t seem to understand what they publish) e.g. They often can’t make lists of what they publish, or sales/back office have different lists… Laughter in the room as this problem is widely recognised!
  • Availability – not all parts of supply chain have access to all info they need; despite huge duplication of effort with many people involved in maintaining various different databases, but which contain broadly the same info
  • Interoperability: spreadsheets, library staff, link resolver, publisher rep, JISC Collections – all have different silos of info about an institution’s subscription.

Open data delivers practical benefits e.g sharing and collaboration, improved accuracy, reduced burden on any one element in supply chain.

“The nice thing about standards is that you have so many to choose from” – Andrew Tanenbaum

… But do please choose one!  Let your data be promiscuous… Set your data free (but tidy it up first!).  Liam noted that titles have longer relationships with institutions than with publishers.

Electronic resources and ILL – a self-contradiction? – Helle Brink, Aalborg University

Helle gave us an overview of inter-library loans in Denmark, and neatly summarised the current situation in which we can often supply digitised print items but have to send print copies of electronic resources (owing to licencing restrictions).

Possible new models for partial access include:

  • Updating the definition of “walk-in user” to include electronic walk-in?
  • Pay-per-view
  • Voucher solutions e.g. 10 articles per year
  • Read-only, no download or print
  • ILL after embargo e.g. 3 months
  • Public access after embargo
  • New ideas?

It seems to me that most problems involving e-resources and ILL arise from the nature of the licences for electronic resources  the terms and conditions evolved from contracts regulating the use of print resources, and they don’t translate well to the new medium.  Maybe it’s time to design e-resources licences specifically for digital media, rather than simply adapting contracts designed for a print environment?

The twenty-year butterflies: which web cookies have stuck in the internet’s pan? – Jason Scott, Archive Team

Video of talk


“There is no rare – there is only expensive” – Juke Joint Johnnie.  Jason says, “There is no gone, there is only forgotten.  If we take the smallest amount of effort to set up things to be remembered, they will never be forgotten.”

Archive Team recognise three virtues: rage, paranoia, and kleptomania.

“Instead of the cloud, I call it the clown.  It’s more descriptive!”

“Tiny URLs are one-time crytographic keypads.  We have discovered link shortening services than re-use short URLs.  I’m not a Luddite, but too many people are putting too much trust in storing things on the Internet.”

Publishers and librarians: we share the same values – why are we fighting? – T. Scott Plutchak, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Video of talkSlides from talk

Scott Plutchak“We are some of the luckiest people alive because we get to be part of this.”

“The challenges are technological, cultural, and social.”

“Librarians and publishers – communities that are two key players, but have diametrically opposed views about how to achieve the same goal of making info widely available.”

I disagree that publishers share this goal with librarians.  Are publishers really focused on access to information? Would they still be interested if it were not for profit?  And the routes into the two careers could hardly be more different – how many publishers do vocational training, or volunteer in the information sector as part of their career development?

I think there is a fundamental difference between librarians and publishers in their perception of the value of knowledge and what happens to it when it is shared – to librarians, sharing knowledge increases its value (especially in research); but to a publisher, knowledge sharing without payment represents lost revenue.

The difference between the price and the value of knowledge, eh…


  • A group of us went for a run on Tuesday evening – the inaugural UKSG 5K?  Maybe it should be part of the official programme from 2014 onwards!
  • A knitting breakout session – another idea for the programme
  • Meeting lots of people from other countries who were talking about their work in English has prompted me to acquire some professional vocabulary in other languages.  I’m starting with ALA’s Multilingual Glossary, which includes French and Spanish
  • Referring to a discovery interface with different resource elements as a “bento box approach” – nice description!
  • I think many people still think of UKSG as a serials organisation, but their remit has evolved in recent years and their current mission is to “connect the knowledge community and encourage the exchange of ideas on scholarly communication” – so if you think UKSG isn’t relevant to your role, perhaps it’s worth taking another look?

De-gendering academic dress at Oxford

Subfusc” refers to the clothes worn with full academic dress in Oxford.  Our students must wear subfusc for formal occasions including University examinations.

Following a campaign led by OUSU’s LGBTQ Officer Jess Pumphrey, gender references will now be removed from the stipulations of subfusc. This means that students will not be required to wear specific clothing based on their gender. Until now, gender-specific differences relating to the wearing (or not) of tights, skirts, types of tie and blouses vs shirts were in force.

This change was approved by the University Council and published in the University Gazette last Friday, and should be effective from Saturday 4 August.

The new subfusc requirements shall be as follows:

All members of the University are required to wear academic dress with subfusc clothing (and candidates who are not members of the University are required to wear formal clothing) when attending any university examination, i.e.

  • a dark suit with dark socks, or a dark skirt with black stockings or trousers with dark socks and an optional dark coat;
  • black shoes;
  • plain white collared shirt;
  • a black tie or white bow tie.

“Dress should be such as might be appropriate for formal occasions.
Candidates serving in HM Forces are permitted to wear uniform together with a gown. (The uniform cap is worn in the street and carried when indoors.)

In practice, this means that, whatever their gender, from 4 August onwards students can choose for themselves whether to wear a skirt or trousers or suit, and whether to wear the black string tie or the white bow tie. There will no longer be any enforced distinction in subfusc between genders.

From a practical point of view, students who were not attired according to the rules ran the risk of being refused entry to sit their examinations, as well as the potential for embarrassment or ridicule. As well as enabling equality for trans students, this change in the rules will allow all students to dress in the style of subfusc that they find comfortable.

I’m really glad this change has been made, and well done to all those who campaigned to make it happen.

See also:

OUSU passes motion for ‘more inclusive’ sub fusc Cherwell

Changes to sub fusc rules ahead The Oxford Student

Regulations relating to Academic Dress made by the Vice-Chancellor, as Authorised by Council which at the time of writing is displaying the previous rules

The Gender Inclusion Campaign blog – “campaigning for gender neutrality at the University of Oxford”

How introducing lending at Bodleian Libraries could affect the dynamics of the reading rooms

Something that struck me at the recent CILIP ARLG conference was the strong emphasis on student-focused library development at other universities.  At Oxford, I would say that most libraries seek approval of the academics for any changes, before consulting with students.

I think this is because our academics spend a lot of their time working in our libraries whereas at other universities, they tend to work in their own offices.

Why is this?  Two reasons:

  1. I think that more research at Oxford involves print materials than at other universities, because of the emphasis on pure research in the Humanities
  2. At other universities, academics (and students) may borrow most library materials and take them back to their offices where they can work with them in peace, rather than being obliged to use them in the reading rooms as is the case at many non-lending Oxford libraries.

In 2013 the Bodleian Libraries will be reviewing their lending policy and consulting widely across the University and with stakeholders as part of the process. In the interim there will be no changes to policy. If, in the unlikely instance that unforeseen circumstances require a change in policy, any changes would be made in consultation with users and would be subject to the approval of the Curators of the University Libraries.  [Source]

If broadening the policy on lending goes ahead, I wonder if an unintended benefit will be to ease the pressure on trying to balance two very different models of how the Libraries’ physical space should be; with silent cathedral of knowledge pitted against social, connected, versatile learning space.

If you’re interested in finding out more about behaviour in Oxford libraries, especially with regard to rules and regulations, I recommend this post: Law and Order in the Library by Louise Cowan (Graduate Trainee, St Hugh’s College Library).

Recruiting the next generation of librarians

Yesterday I took part in a school careers evening and talked to many students about what a career in information means nowadays.

Many thanks to Ned Potter for allowing me to modify his original If you want to work in libraries presentation.

Although most of the young people I spoke to told me that they wanted to be a doctor, architect or primary school teacher, I hope I managed to dispel some myths and maybe in years to come they might remember this interaction and give librarianship a second look.