New Copac interface

It’s finally here!  After months of very hard work from the Copac team, and lots of really useful input from users on the Beta trials, the new Copac interface is now live.

We have streamlined the Copac interface, and you can still search and export records without logging in to Copac. This is ideal if you want to do a quick search, and don’t need any of the additional functionality.  Users who choose not to login will still be able to use the new functionality of exporting records directly to EndNote and Zotero, and will see book and journal tables-of-contents, where available.

You now also have the option to login to Copac.  This is not compulsory, and you only need to login if you want to take advantage of the full range of new personalisation features.   These have been developed to help you to get the most out of Copac, and to assist in your workflows.

‘Search History’ records all of your searches, and includes a date/time stamp.  This allows you to keep track of your searches, and to easily re-run any search with a single click.

‘My References’ allows you to manage your marked records, and create an annotated online bibliography.

You can annotate and tag all of your searches and references.  There is no limit to how you can use this functionality:  see my post from March for some suggestions about how you might use tags and annotations.  We would love to hear how you are using them – please get in touch if you would like to share your experiences and ideas.

Users from some institutions will now have the option to see their local catalogue results appearing alongside the Copac results.  We are harvesting information from the institutions’ Z39.50 servers, and using this to create a merged results set.  If you are interested in your institution being a part of this, please get in touch.

Some people have expressed concern that the need to login means that Copac is going to be restricted to members of UK academic institutions only.  This is not the case.  We are committed to keeping Copac freely-accessible to all.  Login is required for the new features to function:  we need to be able to uniquely identify you in order to record your search history and references; and we need to know which (if any) institution you are from to show you local results.  We have tried to make logging in as easy as possible.  For members of UK academic institutions, this means that you can use your institution’s central username/password, or your ATHENS details  For our users who aren’t members of a UK academic institution, you can create a login from an identity provider: ProtectNetwork and TypePad.  These providers enable you to create a secure identity, which you can use to manage access to many internet sites.

We are very grateful to everyone who has taken the time to give us feedback on the recent Beta trials.  But we can never get enough feedback!  We’d love to hear what you think about the new Copac interface:  you can email us; speak to us on twitter; or leave comments here.

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).]

New features of the Copac Beta Interface

With the new Copac interface, we wanted to make the Search History and Marked List (now re-named My References) more useful. Previously, these features were session based — that is, if you re-started your web browser, your search history and saved records were lost. For us to be able to retain that data over multiple sessions, we need to know who our users are. Hence, for Copac Beta we are forcing you to login.

The advantage of logging in is that you can use Copac Beta from multiple machines at different times and still have access to the searches and references you saved yesterday or last week – or even last year.  Unfortunately, log-in is currently restricted to members of UK Access Federation institutions (most UK HE and FE institutions, and some companies), but don’t worry – there will always be a free version of Copac open to everyone, and we will be widening the log-in scope in the future.

You can tag your searches and references and use a tag cloud to see those items tagged with a particular tag. We are automatically tagging your saved searches and references with your search terms, and you can remove these automatic tags, and add your own.  These tags are then added to your tag cloud, so that you can easily navigate your saved records through tags which are meaningful to you.  Why would you want to delete the automatically generated tags?  Well, records are tagged with all of your search terms so, if you limit your search to ‘journals and other periodicals’, the tags for records from that set will include ‘journals’ ‘other’ and ‘periodicals’.  If you find these confusing, you can just delete them, and have only tags that have meaning for you.

You can also add notes to any of your references – perhaps to remind yourself that you have ordered the item through inter-library loan, and when you should go and pick it up, or perhaps to make comments about how useful you found the item.  This ‘My References’ section was developed as part of the JISC-funded project Discovery to Delivery at Edina and Mimas (D2D@E&M) as a Reusable Marked List workpackage.

You can also edit the bibliographic details of the item.  These edited details are only visible to you, so you don’t have to worry about making any changes.  You could use this to correct a typo or misspelling in the record, or add details that are not visible in the short record display, such as information about illustrations or pagination.

The search history feature allows you to re-run any previous search with a single click, from any screen.  This could be especially useful for anyone who is doing demos, as not only do you know that the search will return results, but it saves you from the jelly fingers that haunt the even the most proficient of typists when in front of an audience.  The date and time of previous searches are recorded, so that you can see what you have searched for and when.  This could be useful for tracking the progress of a project over time, or showing at a glance what effect refining a search has on the number of results.

Many journal records now contain the latest table-of-contents.  Clicking on an article title will take you through to the Zetoc record for that article, and from there you can use the Open-URL resolver to link directly to full-text (if your institution has access), or order the article through your institution or directly from the British Library.  The table-of-contents allows you to get an idea of the scope of the journal, and whether it will be of interest to you, without going to another website. This makes it easier to avoid wasted travel or unnecessary inter-library loan requests.

We’d love to know what you think of these new features – and any suggestions you might have for new ones!  Once you’ve used the new features, please fill-in our questionnaire, to help us learn what we’re doing right, and what you’d like to see changed.  As thanks for your feedback, there’s a £35 Amazon voucher up for grabs for one lucky respondent.  The survey has 9 questions, and shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes of your time.  Of course, you can always give us additional feedback through the comments on this blog, by emailing, by phone or post, or Twitter.  But we’d really like you to do the survey as well 🙂