Copac team office move

We are moving offices! Telephone numbers remain the same but contact may unavailable Friday/Monday. Email should be unaffected and we’ll reply as  soon as we can.

Our new address is:

Copac, Jisc
J Floor, Sackville Street Building
The University of Manchester
Sackville Street
M1 3BB

Thanks for bearing with us!

Cataloguing update issues

Each of our contributing libraries supplies updates to keep Copac data current and accurate (this is generally weekly or monthly, but may be less frequent for smaller contributors whose collections are less subject to change). Due to circumstances beyond our control, some library catalogue updates on Copac are currently subject to delay.

The library catalogues for Imperial College London, Manchester, Sheffield and York Universities are all currently awaiting updates on the Copac database. These libraries have all moved to a new library management system, Alma, and are currently unable to export adequate data for Copac. Until Alma have resolved this problem the records on Copac will not reflect the latest information available on these libraries’ catalogues.

Meanwhile, at the Copac end we are actively testing the exported data with one of the libraries to help with resolving this problem. Once the data export is working for one of the libraries we are hoping to get updates back to normal for the affected libraries fairly quickly, but a system change requires a catalogue reload for each library which may take a few weeks overall.

The University of Birmingham is also changing library system and has suspended updates in the meantime. We are awaiting more information on their progress.

We hope this issue will be remedied soon but don’t have any confirmed date as yet. We do appreciate that this is frustrating and thank you for your patience.

Once the move to the new Copac database takes place we will be looking at more streamlined ways of managing data updates and supporting particularly our smaller contributors with this process. You can see when records were last added from each library on our Library Update page.

A visit to the London Library

Ever since we added the collections of the London Library to Copac in early 2012, I’d been hoping for a chance to visit. The Copac team are based in Manchester, and I don’t often get spare time in London, so when I found myself with a couple of unexpected hours, I knew exactly where I wanted to go!

From St James’s Square, the London Library doesn’t look big enough to hold over a million books. The original building has been extended and refurbished over the years, to accommodate the library’s ever-growing collection.

And it really is growing! One of the London Library’s unique features is that (unlike most libraries) their collection is never weeded. What goes in the London Library, stays in the London Library. This leads to a fascinating collection, full of the works that other libraries may have discarded.

I was shown round the building by Head of Acquisitions Gill Turner, who explained how they get their stock. Some of it is donations, often from the private libraries of members. Members might build up a specialised collection in a certain area, which they then pass on to the library, allowing the London Library to acquire small special collections around subjects as diverse as sundials and Australia.

Science & Misc subject headings

Science & Misc subject headings

Much  of the acquisition is patron-driven. Gill showed me the Suggestions book, which sits in the foyer, and where users can record anything from book requests to reports of faulty lightbulbs. Before access to the library foyer was restricted, journalists from the evening  papers used to pop in on slow news days to scour the comments book for titbits for their gossip columns.

When it comes to actually acquiring the works that members request, the library is able to do so through booksellers channels rather than the usual library suppliers, thanks to the influence of former President T S Eliot. Gill explains that this can allow the library to acquire books more quickly than through traditional library channels as they also do not require any servicing of the books.

They’re able to move quickly to catalogue acquisitions, too. The library is part-way through a major retrospective cataloguing project, transferring the records to the online catalogue. Employing 7 FTE  cataloguers in the Bibliographic Services team also means that the library has the cataloguer-power to process new acquisitions very quickly, meaning that they’re often the first library on Copac to have records for recently-published items.

From the back rooms, Gill took me on a tour round the building, which is a wonderful amalgam of airy, hushed reading rooms and labyrinthine stacks – all full of books, books, books! The collections are split into Art, Literature, History, Religion, Biography, Fiction, Topography, Periodicals and Science & Miscellaneous along with smaller collections in Philosophy, Philology, Bibliography, Genealogy and of course the reference collection in the Reading Room. I could happily spend hours just browsing the shelfmarks in Science & Miscellaneous. The alphabetical ordering gives rise to wonderful concatenations and serendipitous discoveries, with ballooning, baths, beer, bees and bells all cosying up to each other.

As well as the books, the building itself is fascinating, with odd crannies, mysterious doors, and a slightly-vertigo inducing floor in the back stacks. Made up of metal grilles, it allows you to look down to the floor below, and causes problems for cataloguers working on the retro project, who have to ferry books across by the armload, as the floor won’t admit trolleys (this led to me, cheesily and I’m sure unoriginally, dubbing it a ‘cattle-oguer grid’).

Grille floors in the London Library

Grille floors in the London Library

As we go round, Gill tells me more about the workings of the library. We peek into the main reading room, set aside for entirely silent study (no laptops – the typing disturbs other members). This silence is highly valued – indeed, the library has recently seen a rise in student members who value the silent study space more than the book stock.  This is an intriguing change of membership for the library, whose users were traditionally more long-term members, often treating the library as a club, or local lending library.

The London Library does lend out its stock. London members are allowed to borrow up to ten books at a time (more for a fee), while ‘country members’ who live more than 20 miles from the library are allowed to borrow up to 15. The library doesn’t have a dedicated inter-library loans department, and all ILL requests are handled by the country members support team. This may be changing! Since the library’s holdings were added to Copac, requests for ILLs have increased dramatically.

Before I leave, Gill shows me the bound volumes of the original library catalogue. Still well-used, the volumes are full of annotations, and are a fascinating snapshot of the development of the collection. Although around 65%  of the catalogue is now online, some older  users still prefer to consult the printed catalogue. Book jackets from recent acquisitions are displayed on a wall nearby, to remind users that there are post-1950 acquisitions in the building.

‘And what about ebooks?’ I ask, and am slightly surprised by the answer that they have none. There’s just been no demand for them, explains Gill, though she expects that this might change in the future. They do have an e-library of online reference work and journals, but as yet no-one is clamouring for Kindles.

And, despite being personally addicted to ebooks, I can understand why. I’ve visited many fantastic research and specialist libraries, and the London Library stands up there with the best. The very air feels full of potential, and I’m almost glad to leave before I can lose myself in the stacks. I hope I’ll be back.

Catalogues as Communities? (Some thoughts on Libraries of the Future)

At last week’s Libraries of the Future debate, Ken Chad challenged the presenters (and the audience) over the failure of libraries to aggregate and share their data.  I am very familiar with this battle-cry from Ken.  In the year+ that I’ve been managing Copac, he’s (good-naturedly) put me on the spot several times on this very issue.  Why isn’t Copac (or the UK HE/FE library community) learning from Amazon, and responding to user’s new expectations for personalisation and adaptive systems?

Of course, this is a critically important question, and one that is at the heart of the JISC TILE project, which Ken co-directs (I actually sit on the Reference Group). Ken’s  related argument is that the public sector business model (or lack thereof) is perhaps fatally flawed, and that we are probably doomed in this regard; private sector is winning already on the personalisation front, so instead of pouring public money into resource discovery ‘services’ we should instead, perhaps, let the market decide.  I am not going to address the issue of business models here – although this is a weighty issue requiring debate – but I want to come back to this issue of personalisation, 2.0, and the OPAC as a potential ‘architecture for participation.’

I fundamentally agree with the TILE project premise (borrowed from Lorcan Dempsey) that the library domain needs to be redefined as a set of processes required for people to interact with ‘stuff’.  We need to ask ourselves if the OPAC itself is a relic, an outmoded understanding of ‘public access’ or (social) interaction with digital content. As we do this, we’re creating heady visions where catalogue items or works can be enhanced with user-generated content, becoming ‘social objects’ that bring knowledge communities together.  ‘Access’ becomes less important than facilitating ‘use’ (or reuse) and the Discovery to Delivery paradigm is turned on its head.

It’s the ‘context’ of the OPAC as a site for participation that I am interested in questioning.  Can we simply ‘borrow’ from the successful models of Amazon or LibraryThing? Is the OPAC the ‘place’ or context that can best facilitate participative communities?

This might depend on how we’re defining participation, and as Owen Stephens has suggested (via Twitter chats) what the value of that participation is to the user.  In terms of Copac’s ‘My References’ live beta, we’ve implemented ‘tagging with a twist,’ where tagging is based on user search terms and saved under ‘Search History’.  The value here is fairly self-evident – this is a way for users to organise their own ‘stuff’. The tagging facility, too, can be used to self-organise, and as Tim Spalding suggested way back in 2007, this is also why tagging works for LibraryThing (and why it doesn’t work for Amazon). Tagging works well when people tag “their” stuff, but it fails when they’re asked to do it to “someone else’s” stuff. You can’t get your customers to organize your products, unless you give them a very good incentive.

But does this count as ‘community’ participation?  Right now we don’t provide the option for tags to be shared, though this is being seriously considered along the lines of a recommender function: users who saved this item, also saved which seems to be a logical next step, and potentially complimentary to Dave’s recommender work. However,  I’m much less convinced about whether HE/FE library users would want to explicitly share items through identity profiles, as at LibraryThing.  Would the LibraryThing community model translate to the models that university and college libraries might want to support the semantically dense and complex communities for learning, teaching and research?

One of the challenges for a participatory OPAC 2.0 (or any a cross-domain information discovery tool) will be the tackling of user context, and specifically the semantic context(s) in which that user is operating.  Semantic harvesting and text mining projects such as the Intute Repository Search have pinpointed the challenge of ‘ontological drift’ between disciplines and levels (terms and concepts having shifted meanings across disciplinary boundaries).  As we move into this new terrain of Library 2.0 this drift will likely become all the more evident.  Is the OPAC context too broad to facilitate the type of semantic precision to enable meaningful contribution and community-building?

Perhaps attention data, that ‘user DNA,’ will provide us with new ways to tackle the challenge.  There is risk involved, but some potential ‘quick wins’ that are of clear benefit.  Dave’s blog posts over the last week suggest that the value here might be in discovering people ‘like me’ who share the same research interests and keep borrowing books like the ones I borrow (although, if I am an academic researcher, that person might also be ‘The Competition’ — so there are degrees of risk to account for here — and this is just the tip of the ice-berg in terms of considering the cultural politics of academia and education).  Certainly the immediate value or ‘impact of serendipity’ is that it gives users new routes into content, new paths of discovery based on patterns of usage.

But what many of us find so compelling about the circulation data work is that it surfaces latent networks not just of books, but of people.  These are potential knowledge communities or what Wenger might call Communities of Practice (CoP).  Whether the OPAC can help nurture and strengthen those CoPs is another matter. Crowds, even wise ones, are not necessarily Communities of Practice.

The reimagining the library means reimagining (or discarding) the concept of the catalogue.  This might also mean rethinking the  OPAC as a context for community interaction.


[Related ‘watch this space’ footnote: We’ve already garnered some great feedback on the ‘My References’ beta we currently have up — over 80 user-surveys completed (and a good proportion of those from non-librarian users).  This feedback has been invaluable.  Of course, before we embark on too many more 2.0 developments, Copac needs to be fit-for-purpose.  In the next year we are re-engineering Copac, moving to new hardware, restructuring the database,  improving the speed and search precision, and developing additional (much-needed) de-duplication algorithms.  We’re also going to be undertaking a complete  overhaul of the interface (and I’m pleased to say that Dave Pattern is going to be assisting us in this aspect). In addition, as Mimas is collaborating on the TILE project through Copac, we’re going to look at how we can exploit what Dave’s done with the Huddersfield circulation data (and hopefully help bring other libraries on board).]

Copac is twittering: the where and the why

Many of you will know that Copac now has a presence on Twitter.  Some of you may have come to this blog from our Twitter feed.  Many of you, I’m sure, will be devout Twitterers, tweeting away with your pithy and insightful comments.  Others will be shaking their head and saying ‘Eh now? Tweeting? Is the latest interweb craze to pretend you’re a bird?!?’ [note: stereotype used for comedy purposes only, and guaranteed to bear no actual resemblance to any of our readers.]

Twitter is a microblogging service, where users answer the question “What are you doing?” in 140 characters or less. Thanks to prominent Twitterers such as Barack Obama, Stephen Fry, and … umm… Darth Vader, Twitter has recently gained enormous media coverage. Obama used it for campaigning. Stephen Fry live-tweeted being stuck in a lift. Darth Vader does Thriller.

It’s fairly obvious that there’s a large amount of the wild and wacky on Twitter – as well as a fair amount of the frankly banal. Updates about meals/gym regimes/bedtimes may be scintillating stuff for your close circle of friends, but unless you have a particularly effulgent turn of phrase – or a dangerously exciting lifestyle – they aren’t going to thrill the twitosphere.

We’re all guilty of it. A look at my personal tweets will … well, you looked. However, it’s a bit different when you’re not tweeting for yourself. Tweeting on behalf of Copac means that I have a whole different audience, a different set of priorities. What will Copac users find interesting? What will they ignore with a yawn? And I’m finding it surprisingly difficult to do in that format.

The tweet, the microblog, is – like the Facebook status – an informal medium. It’s hard to be otherwise in 140 characters. Trying to be formal results in very stilted tweets, where the occasional (space-necessitated) contraction and web-speak glares and jars. If you’ve got this far, you’ve probably realised that formal isn’t really my style. And yet the point of the Copac Twitter account is to… is to…

Ah. I think we’ve found the root of my style problem. What is the point of the Copac Twitter account? Surely we’re not just doing it to be fashionably web 2.0. Are we doing it to inform people of Copac news? Yes, but we already have a news blog for that. Are we doing it to promote Copac developments? Yes, but we already have a development blog for that. Are we doing it to connect with our users and our peers? To get closer to the Copac community? Yes!

So there we are. We’ve found our audience. Now can you help us find our voice? What do you want Copac to tweet about? How do you want us to speak to you? Please let us know! You can contact us through the comments here, at the news blog, on our Twitter account, on our Facebook page,  by email, or phone. Or shine the Copac symbol from the top of a tall building on a dark and stormy night, and await the caped librarians…