Copac at Interlend 2010.

Interlend is the Annual Conference for the CILIP’s Forum for Interlending and Information Delivery. This year’s theme was ‘Meeting the Challenge: Co-operation & Collaboration’ and was held at the Nottingham Belfry from Monday 28th-30th June.

Copac coordinator Shirley Cousins and me (Lisa Jeskins) were asked to present one of the parallel sessions, ‘Copac: your union catalogue today and tomorrow’. We wanted to demonstrate some of the forthcoming Copac developments and get Inter-library loans (ILL) librarians to share their thoughts with us. We wanted to know how they felt about Copac and how we could help them to do their job.

We split the session into two: first, Shirley talked about some of the things we have been working on to improve Copac; and then I was got the delegates to do some work!

Shirley gave the Interlend delegates an overview of our login feature that provides users with extra functionality (See post on: Copac’s new interface) and talked about Copac’s re-engineering project. (See post on: It’s official – Copac’s re-engineering)  She even gave them a sneak preview of what a faceted Copac might look like. (You can see Shirley’s ppt here:

I facilitated for the discussion part of the session, and split the delegates up into four groups.  I asked the groups to introduce themselves and explain what their role in interlending was. I then asked them to think about the following questions:

  • How can we make your ILL work processes more efficient?
    • e.g. extra ILL information on the holdings page for each library. If yes, what type of information?
  • If we were to have a Librarian’s interface what should it include?
    • e.g. option to search only those libraries that do document supply.
  • In an ideal world, what do you wish Copac could do for you as an ILL librarian?
    • e.g. link to your institution ILL page?
    • You can think out of the box on this too, and we can always go away and discuss what is technically possible.

We wanted delegates to record their thoughts on flipchart paper and then feedback the main points of their group discussion to the room.

The parallel session was scheduled to run twice, and it was obvious right from the start that common themes were emerging. The 5 top issues were:

  1. ILL librarians want to easily see which libraries take part in document supply – who lends and who doesn’t. They would also appreciate it if it was easier for users to see which libraries lend their materials and which don’t. This would enable them to better manage their users’ expectations.
  2. ILL librarians want to see the British Library’s codes on Copac. These tell ILL librarians whether a library does document supply.
  3. ILL librarians do think that a link to their institutional ILL Page would be useful.
  4. ILL librarians would like to see more deduplication, but interestingly don’t necessarily want electronic and print items merged as this can cause problems if the e-version isn’t licensed for document supply.
  5. ILL librarians would like to see links to libraries document supply polices and prices should they differ from standard IDS charges.

Some interesting and original suggestions included providing a recommender function (something which we are currently looking into). We hadn’t realised that this could be useful for a stumped ILL librarian. One group added that Copac doesn’t currently recognise dashes in ISBNs that students have copied and pasted into the search box. Several groups also commented that they would like to see more libraries on Copac. We are going to investigate ways of taking these and other suggestions forward.

The day was really useful for both of us. We came away with a better understanding of how we could improve Copac to help ILL librarians and we are going to explore these possibilities further. We also made some very useful contacts, who’d like to participate in Copac’s future development. If you would like to get involved or share with us your thoughts on how we can help you as ILL librarians, please contact us at

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).]

Loading/updating to Copac: how easy do you find it?

As we have been using the same processes and documentation to handle the loading and updating of libraries for a while, we decided that it was time to ask for some feedback to ensure that we were making the process as easy as possible for the libraries involved.

We asked 9 of the most recently loaded libraries to respond to a short online survey, asking them about their experience of the load and update process, how useful they found the documentation, and whether they had any suggestions for improvement. We did have to emphasise that we were concerned only with the Copac side of the process; unfortunately we can’t do anything about how easy (or otherwise) libraries find it to extract data from their library management systems, although we do recognise this as a valid concern.

The results were very encouraging! Respondents were asked to rate how easy they found the load und update processes, and the vast majority replied that they found them either ‘easy or ‘very easy’, with only one library anticipating that they would find the update process difficult. Documentation was also considered very good, with one library saying that they found it ‘clear and easy to follow’.

It wasn’t all sunshine and flowers, however, as some libraries did comment that they hadn’t realised how long it would take to get the records loaded onto Copac, or how much time it would take them to extract their data. We realise that we need to do a better job of managing expectations here: while we do try to add catalogues as quickly as possible, it can sometimes take time to complete the process, and perhaps we aren’t clear enough about that.

General comments had the Copac staff blushing, as we were told that ‘support has always been excellent’, and ‘we found the process of having our records loaded easy at our end, and thank Copac staff for their help’. One library said that they were ‘just surprised how simple and straightforward the whole procedure turned out to be.’

Responses were kept anonymous, so we can’t tell who exactly we have to thank for all of this wonderful feedback, but we are very grateful for it all 🙂

If there are any libraries out there who would like to know more, or comment, please get in touch with us! We’d love to hear from existing members of the Copac community who would like to comment, or from libraries who would like to be a part of the community and would like to know more about the (very easy!) technical processes involved.