Category Archives: libraries

What we’ve been up to….

After a year or so of planning, the last few months have been gratifyingly practical. Work is now racing forward on many fronts. With this blog post I’ll attempt to explain the various strands of work and how they all fit together to attempt to realise the JISC and RLUK resource discovery taskforce (rdtf) vision.

First a bit of background. The vision sets out an approach that we will be pursuing up until the end of 2012. As our work is more about defining this approach, rather than something firmer like an architecture, we need to be able to learn as we go along. Therefore the work between now and December 2012 has been split into 3 iterative phases. We are currently in the 1st phase that runs from January to July. This phase is all about laying the groundwork for the next two phases so the 2 main outputs of phase 1 are data that we can reuse in phases 2 and 3 and definitions of approaches for issues like metadata, technical architecture and sustainability.

Phase 1 activity

Institutional projects

We have funded 8 projects to investigate new approaches to making metadata about the collections of libraries, museums and archives available in a way that enables the metadata to be reused to enrich the original collection and make it more visible. Many of these projects are investigating a linked data approach. The 8 projects are summarised on the JISC website and also in the newsletter mentioned below. Each project has a blog so it is easy to follow along with any that interest you.

Existing aggregation projects

There are 2 projects at Edina and 2 projects at Mimas that are working with Copac, ArchivesHub, Suncat and Go Geo. The projects are all focused on making it easier for people to reuse the data from these services, they are just getting started and more details will be available soon…..

Studies and reports on specific issues

We have commissioned a few reports to address specific challenges involved in the vision. There have been 3 of these so far:

Management framework

The management framework project is the central project that helps bring together all of the strands of work above into one cohesive whole. The framework project has 3 headline purposes:
  1. To gather together the knowledge and lessons from the projects above and to turn it into advice and guidance for libraries museums and archives
  2. To produce a website to enable developers to engage with reusing metadata and to enable other stakeholders to follow progress and identify opportunities
  3. To provide advice to JISC and partners on the infrastructure required to realise the vision
The project has a website which describes the deliverables in more detail. It is a very collaborative project as can be seen from the people involved. Specifically, the framework project is supported by 2 advisory groups. One focused on technical issues and one on management issues.


The management framework project works extremely closely with a dedicated communications and relationship management project. The purpose of this project is to work with the vast range of stakeholders involved in this work (see the table in the implementation plan) and to ensure that we keep on top of their needs, issues and use cases. The project will also provide progress updates and information to help information professionals see how this work can benefit their collections and end users. You can see the first newsletter on rdtf progress on the site now. You can also use that site to sign up for future issues. If you are lucky, you could grab one of the few remaining invites to the April event this project is organising to explore the issue of open data for libraries, museums and archives.
The picture below illustrates how these projects all fit together. As you can see the management framework sits at the centre of the implementation and we’ll use this project and their website to make it easy for people to follow the progress with the work and to engage with any elements that interest them.
Alongside all of this work, I remain busy behind the scenes trying to ensure that the work to implement the rdtf vision takes into account relevant work happening in other nations and with other content types.
Phase 2 will start after July and the intention is to focus on the issue of aggregation. The exact shape of phase 2 will be determined by the work of the projects in phase 1 but we’ve started the planning process already and I’m excited by some of the ideas that are emerging.

Addressing some technical questions posed by the RDTF vision

The resource discovery taskforce (RDTF) vision poses a number of challenging technical questions such as:

  • What is an aggregation?
  • How do institutions contribute open metadata?
  • What metadata and standards do we use?
  • How do you build interfaces that developers will be keen to use?
  • What needs to be done to existing services and aggregations?

Implementing the resource discovery taskforce vision largely depends on addressing these challenges. Fortunately there are a lot of smart people in the HE community so I fancy our chances. Paul Walk and Adrian Stevenson of UKOLN are managing a project called the IE technical review which has been set up to examine these kind of issues. As part of this project Paul and Adrian pulled together a group of experts to discuss the technical side of the RDTF vision. You can read a summary of the meeting on the IE technical review blog.

The meeting was very productive and the group came up with a list of recommendations. We are issuing a number of calls for funding designed to further the RDTF implementation plan in the next month and the recommendations have been written into these calls. We expect to fund a number of different types of project aimed at institutions, existing aggregations and at overall management of the open metadata and aggregations. These projects will take these outline recommendations and build on them to attempt to answer the big questions we face.

Launch of vision

After a year and a half’s work by the resource discovery taskforce our vision was launched at a JISC and UKOLN event called Survive or Thrive.

The vision focuses on the aggregation of metadata about library, museum and archive collections to allow the creation or enhancement of innovative resource discovery and library collection management service. The vision paper can be downloaded from the IE repository.

The vision is designed to steer work up until the end of 2012. The implementation plan describes the work to realise the vision in more detail. JISC will be funding projects that contribute to the implementation plan. However achieving the vision will only be possible by working with a wide range of stakeholders and the work of those people will also contribute to the implementation plan.

The implementation plan has a page on this blog and it will continue to be developed and will track all work relevant to the plan.

If you want to learn more about the taskforce you can explore the reports from each meeting or read about related work by browsing the pages menu on the right hand side. Future posts will go into more detail about the background and the context for this work as well as reporting on progress with the implementation plan.

Final meeting of the taskforce

The final meeting of the Resource Discovery Taskforce will take place on the 2nd of December. The focus of the meeting will be reeaching a consensus on the final vision and starting to develop an implementation plan to work towards achieving the vision.

Once the final meeting is over, the vision will be communicated to the rest of the community and a working implementation plan will be created. This will be a living document and partnerships with stakeholders will be developed to enable the work in the implementation plan to take place.

Documents from the meeting will be available from this blog.

Information gathering report

To help the Resource Discovery Taskforce members think about a vision for UK HE resource discovery JISC commissioned a report to look at how other nations are addressing resource discovery and what some commercial companies are providing in this area.

The report was written by Rightscom and is a detailed look at the work on resource discovery of:

  • Australia
  • Sweden
  • The Netherlands
  • Canada
  • Amazon
  • LibraryThing
  • OCLC

Read the full report

Here is the executive summary of the report to whet your appetite:

This report describes and analyses some examples of resource discovery services (in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Sweden) incorporating national union catalogues, and also examines some commercial and non-commercial services which incorporate resource discovery as a key part of their operations.

In partnership with RLUK, JISC has set up a Resource Discovery Taskforce to focus on defining the vision and requirements for the provision of a shared UK infrastructure for resource discovery for libraries, archives and museums to support education and research. It is important for the Taskforce to be aware of relevant services, infrastructures and technologies used in other countries and in the commercial sector for resource discovery. The purpose of this report is to provide the Taskforce with that information. The report should be read in that context.

It is not possible to condense the description of each service into this Summary in a meaningful way. However, there are some common strategic challenges facing the national resource discovery services, and they are taking similar approaches to solving them.Common challenges include:

  • Making services more welcoming to those accustomed to using Google and social networking sites
  • Enabling discovery across media types
  • Ensuring that the information contained in library catalogues is exposed as widely as possible
  • Making it as easy as possible to move from finding an item to getting it

Common solutions include:

  • Redesigning interfaces
  • Incorporating relevance ranking, faceted search and results clustering, as well as features such as ‘Did you mean…?’
  • Importing book cover art, reviews and tagging from sources such as Amazon and LibraryThing (these services are examined in the report)
  • Improving and extending metadata
  • Taking library data out to users in various ways rather than expecting them to come and find it. Examples include exposing records via Google BookSearch, Google Scholar and Yahoo! either directly or via WorldCat; embedding search boxes in Facebook; making the entire catalogue available in Linked Data
  • Tying finding more tightly to getting, for example by deep linking to the catalogues of a user’s local library; providing pre-paid non-mediated Inter Library Loan accounts for users; linking to bookshops’ websites; experimenting with home delivery

The national resource discovery services face some dilemmas and barriers as well:

  • Very limited resources in comparison with commercial services, especially in the current economic situation. This applies whether the services are directly taxpayer-funded or dependent on subscriptions from libraries
  • Balancing the need to integrate into the wider network for greater visibility with the desire to not to become too dependent on large and powerful organisations such as Google
  • Breaking down technical and human/organisational barriers in order to present a more coherent discovery environment to users, for example, enabling single search across media types, integrating multiple portals
  • Making crucial technology decisions (for example, on open source, buy or build, semantic web technologies) when the environment is changing so rapidly
  • Balancing public accountability and a culture of caution against the need to take risks and adopt a ‘beta’ approach to development
  • The need to scope what national resource discovery services should and should not encompass e.g. there may be a temptation to try to build a community where it’s not appropriate or feasible

For the sake of convenience, the other services are referred to as ‘commercial’, though their business models differ considerably.

Drivers for these services include:

  • Shaping their services to compete effectively, which in turn may or may not imply selling more to the user, but in all cases implies creating and sustaining users’ trust
  • This is bound up with creating an environment in which users value and trust the contributions of other users, and satisfying their desire to pass their own knowledge and opinions on to others
  • To be competitive, these services must be able to provide user-friendly interfaces, additional features, depth of content and a sufficiently large user community to maintain content and ensure freshness
  • A business model that enables partnerships is critical

Challenges and barriers for these services:

  • The main barrier facing most of the services is the presence of a strong leading competitor, making it difficult for the others to get traction
  • Small numbers of users and small volumes of metadata restrict the usefulness of both automated and human-based recommendation and evaluation services; in addition, a relatively small proportion of active users means the services have to attract large total user numbers
  • A key challenge for smaller services is to retain access to (preferably open) sources of data required for sustainability

Conclusions specific to national resource discovery services:

  • All of the services examined in this report understand that change is vital if library catalogues are to retain relevance and visibility in the wider networked discovery environment
  • Some have made more progress towards change than others, but they are on similar paths, albeit with variations according to circumstances and strategies
  • There is a need to make more concerted ongoing efforts to understand users’ needs and behaviours (not only when developing new interfaces) and where appropriate, segment their user bases and market services more effectively to these different groups
  • Community features need scale and the services are right to follow the path of relying on tags and reviews from e.g. LibraryThing and Amazon, though this does imply dependence on services which are outwith their control

Overall conclusions, which apply to all services:

  • Scale is vital for user-generated material: both the size of the user community and the size of the metadata collection will make a considerable different to a service’s ability to attract and retain users.
  • The increasing dependence of resource discovery services (both commercial and non-commercial) on a number of large external datasets is of interest. This interdependence seems to be at the data level: as yet, functionality is not shared between the resource discovery services studied here. Although not at the moment an area for concern, dependence on data from other resource discovery services can cause some problems—as the recent reaction to OCLC’s change of policy on WorldCat records illustrates. In the long term, it may pay to monitor the risks of a monoculture for data. Models that allow many smaller services to contribute data, or for their data to be used in real-time, may offer some insurance against data monocultures.
  • More needs to be done to understand user journeys: individual sites monitor what users do, but the way they move between different sites is not known. This would help analyse how users get to resource discovery services and what they do once they have finished. Understanding user journeys would also help to elucidate the relationship between (for example) either identifying a book through Amazon and then using a union catalogue to locate a copy to borrow; or finding something in a union catalogue that was not available to borrow locally and purchasing a copy.

Welcome to the Resource Discovery Taskforce blog

JISC and RLUK have set up a taskforce to discuss what needs to be provided to help people discover and access items from Higher Education Libraries, Museums and Archives throughout the UK.

The taskforce first met in November 2008 and it will run until December 2009. We have had 3 meetings so far with one more planned in December 2009. The aim of the taskforce is to produce a vision for resource discovery and delivery across UK HE museums, libraries and archives.

Once the taskforce has produced its vision, an implementation plan and communications plan will be produced to help the HE sector acheive the vision set out by the taskforce.

The blog will be used to distribute information about the taskforce and all of the documents that the taskforce produces.

This blog includes pages that describe:

  • The scope and terms of reference of the taskforce.
  • The membership
  • A summary of meetings 1 – 3

See the links on the blog header for these pages