31 July 2006

In the nick of time

Pocket watch Our feature for August prompted me to fetch out my English grandfather's pocket watch. He was a gunner on a Bristol fighter during the Great War, and was shot down over France. My grandfather walked away from the wreckage, taking the cockpit watch with him as a souvenir. My Irish grandfather had a close shave as well. He took part in the Easter Rising, and survived getting bayonnetted in the head. On my daily commute to and from Manchester, I've fallen under the train twice. Surviving that didn't demand any courage - but maybe I've inherited my forefathers' reflexes.


27 July 2006

Spokes 3.1 update

Hammering spokes into wheel hub using head of axe: wheelwright Evan Jelbert and father, James, in workshop at Gulval, Penzance, Cornwall / photograph by Fox Photos Ltd.; from Farmers Weekly picture libraryJohn Harrison is working away in Liverpool on the next version of the Spokes software, which we hope to make available for download in August. So if you are thinking of installing the software, we'd advise waiting for the next version rather than going ahead with the current version, 3.0.4. The image shown here is from the photographic collections at the Museum of English Rural Life (P FW PH2/W20/3).


26 July 2006


Spent yesterday in Wolverhampton at the Collection Description & Cultural Portals event, organised by Rachel Cockett of MLA West Midlands. I was talking about the Archives Hub and my other project, the Information Environment Service Registry (IESR): the first time ever that I've talked about both services at the same event. The principle difference between the two is that IESR is supposed to be a machine-to-machine service for use by other applications, rather than being aimed at human users, which is the main focus of the Archives Hub. Although the developments we're planning for the next few years will ensure that the Hub will be almost as interoperable as the IESR. The collections described within IESR are electronic resources, rather than the physical collections of archives that you find in the Hub. Its main aim is to help owners of these resources advertise their existence; the developers of portals and cross-searching services can use IESR to identify relevant resources for their users, then. The IESR also holds information about the technical connection details for resources: the Hub's Z39.50 service is described in there, for example. This helps the developers to set up their applications so that they can interact with the resources they want to provide for their users. As you see, now I've talked about the Hub and the IESR in the same presentation, I can't stop myself. Will try to desist in the future and keep this blog an IESR-free zone. Label of 'crudities' next to picture of crudités


17 July 2006

Researchers need archives ... but have problems finding them

A report published last month highlights the difficulties encountered by researchers in the humanities and social sciences when it comes to finding archival materials for use in their work.
Archival research, increasingly important among scholars across disciplines, is particularly challenging due to the idiosyncratic organization of archives and the range and variety of materials housed within them. Many archives—foreign or domestic, public or private—do not represent their holdings in online catalogs, or do not conform to standards that allow easy discovery and access. Further, archival holdings are not represented in traditional databases and indexes.
The report is called "A Multi-Dimensional Framework for Academic Support" and is available in PDF form from the University of Minnesota. A research team based in the university library was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to investigate researchers' requirements in terms of resources and infrastructure and to see how the library could help them. One of the four top priority needs identified by the research team was:
Archival research information and tools to assist scholars in finding appropriate archival collections and learning more about accessing them.
The report proposes the establishment of a 'Scholar's Collective' at Minnesota to help humanities and social science researchers to share expertise and information. There isn't much mention of how the difficulties surrounding access to archival information might be resolved, however... This report was referred to in a talk given by Lorcan Dempsey on 3 July at Edinburgh University Library, on "The digital library landscape and trends in the world of Web 2.0". There's a webcast available on the Edinburgh site. Lorcan also mentioned the report in his blog.


Reading room

Bookchair with Ladybird book, 'How it works: the computer' I was in Blackwell's University Bookshop the other day, and treated myself to a Bookchair while I was there. And then I thought it would be nice to get it customised with designer fabric as well. Ideal when reading in the garden...

12 July 2006

New ways of learning

With the advent of Web 2.0 people are communicating, sharing and learning in new ways. Essentially Web 2.0 is about flexible applications that are consumer orientated, lightweight, simple, informal and interoperable. You may have come across Flickr, Del.icio.us, MySpace, and various other applications (there are zillions of them out there). Jane has recently been looking at 43things, which provides a place for people to express their interests and ambitions and to team up with others with the same goals to set targets and discuss issues. Yesterday Jane went to a very interesting talk by Scott Wilson of CETIS about Web 2.0 and how it might influence learning within the higher and further education communities. It seems that Web 2.0 heralds a move away from heavyweight, industrial-scale services to smaller, flexible services that provide people with a greater sense of individual ownership. We also like the idea that these services blur the boundaries between learning, which can be considered formal and structured, and leisure interests. Jane's aims on 43things include both practising yoga regularly and learning XSLT. The Archives Hub has been looking to embrace these new technologies. We have RSS for feeds for our Collection of the Month, and needless to say we also have a blog. We are currently looking at providing modules that people can use in 'mash-ups'. If that means nothing to you (and it didn't mean anything to us until recently), the idea is that people combine content and services in ways that suit them. For example, rather than coming to the Hub website to search, they can incorporate a Hub search facility within their own personalised page. We have now created modules to enable people to do this for their own personalised home pages with netvibes and Google homepage. There are clearly questions, problems and challenges with Web 2.0, but it is a reality and it is a very interesting and exciting new era. Any move towards simplicity, flexibility and the creation of global communities for sharing and learning can't be bad. There's a really good introduction to Web 2.0 in the archival context in a talk by Peter Van Garderen which he gave at the recent Association of Canadian Archivists conference in St. John's, Newfoundland. If you've got a spare half-hour, we can highly recommend the webcast of the talk on Peter's site. Peter is doing a PhD on access to digital archives, and has some excellent ideas about the ways in which archives can take part in the future digital landscape.


11 July 2006

Reaching users

Friday's JISC/CNI meeting had a distinct theme of getting content out to the users, wherever they happen to be, rather than expecting users to come and spend time on our carefully-crafted websites. We had a meeting of members of the MIMAS bibliographic team members yesterday, called by Jane to talk about issues surrounding personalisation in online services, in preparation for a meeting about it that she's going to next week. Jane showed us Netvibes, which allows you to personalise your own Netvibes page with a range of news feeds, search boxes, images from flickr.com and so on. It's pretty easy to develop new modules for this service, and we've made an Archives Hub search box available for inclusion, if you're a user of Netvibes. This is basically the code for the search box that's already published on the Hub website, with some extra Netvibes-specific code wrapped around it. This is just an experiment really, but presenting services within users' own environments seems to be an increasingly important way of reaching out to them. Archives Hub Netvibes search box

07 July 2006

Resource Discovery Review

Spent today at the JISC/CNI meeting in York. A very interesting day, with some excellent speakers. Nicky Ferguson gave an overview of the Resource Discovery Review, which is reporting on the Archives Hub and three other services (Copac, Zetoc and SUNCAT). His summary included information about the survey results. This included the fact that the surveys suggested that 50% of users of these services are librarians or archivists. The trouble with this, is that I think that the data was somewhat skewed by the way the survey was promoted. A message about the surveys was sent to the JISCmail LIS-LINK list on 16 May 2006. This list has over 750 subscribers, mainly librarians. We also circulated the URL for the Hub survey on the Hub contributors' list (c.100 archivists and librarians). It is much easier to contact these users than to get in touch with our 'academic' users: there isn't a single list you can use to send a message to the academic researchers. So although the survey feedback might suggest that our users are mainly archivists or librarians, I am fairly sure that this is more a result of the way that the survey was promoted than a reflection of actual use. My gut feeling is also that librarians and archivists have a sense of ownership of these services which makes them more willing to support them by filling in the survey. I've got absolutely no evidence for this though!