Libraries and Collaborative Research Communities

091001_TicerAlready a while ago, but still worth a post: on August 5, I was an invited speaker at  the Ticer Digital Libraries a la Carte 2009 summer school. In 2008, I attended their fascinating keynote summer school lecture by Stephen Abram. It was a privilege to be on the other side this year! Ticer stands for Tilburg Innovation Centre for Electronic Resources, and is a business unit of Tilburg University’s Library and IT Services. Every year, they organize a summer school, which is well attended by librarians, publishers, researchers, lecturers, and IT specialists interested in the latest developments in (digital) libraries.

My module concerned the Libraries and Collaborative Research Communities track. My co-speakers were John Butler (University of Minnesota), Judith Wusteman (University College Dublin), and Gary Olson (University of California, Irvine). We had a very stimulating day – with lots of questions from the audience -  in which we explored this lively and quickly evolving field from many different angles, including topics like virtual communities as catalysts for advancing scholarship, the role of librarians in virtual research environments, and critical success factors for science collaboratories.

My own talk was about how to activate research collaboratories with collaboration patterns. I really enjoyed discussing  this for me quite new field. It was good to see that many academic librarians agree  that a technical information retrieval focus by itself does not suffice anymore and that serious efforts need to made to integrate communities, communication, and collaboration in their library processes and systems. The worlds of digital libraries and community informatics are still far apart, but interesting connections are forming. A topic that surely will grow in scope and impact in the years to come.

Communities & Technologies 2009

090722_CCT2009From June 25-28, I was at Penn State, attending the Communities & Technologies 2009 conference, the main bi-annual conference specifically focusing on this theme. As with the previous editions, I again very much enjoyed myself, both with respect to the many interesting presentations and by meeting up with old and new colleagues and friends who are part of our nomadic research tribe.

To get a feel for what the conference was about, check out the following resources:

  • A Twitter account of the sessions by multiple authors, hashtag #cct2009.
  • An excellent summary of the conference by Joe McCarthy.
  • A Flickr conference photo gallery.

Building Capacity for Learning: towards a Library 2.0

On August 27, I attended the Library & IT Services Innovation Lecture at Tilburg University.  The speaker was Stephen Abram, SirsiDynix’s Vice President of Innovation. His talk was titled “Building Capacity for Learning: Affordable Technology Preparedness“.  Stephen held a passionate plea for reform of university library practice, urging librarians to fully embrace rather than feel threatened by the Web 2.0-and-beyond world that students live in. Stephen raised many interesting points, a few of which I will mention here, as they are so relevant to collaborative and learning community capacity building in general.

The rate of library change is going to be orders of magnitude higher than before, we ain’t seen nothing yet. There is going to be a change of paradigm. To mention only a few of many fundamental changes that will need to be absorbed : e-books, the dawn of a “paragraph-level instead of an article based universe”, the role of libraries in distance education, and so on.

Context of use is all important. For example, there are hundreds of citation styles, but who (besides librarians!) uses which particular styles in which workflows? A fundamental issue is how to move content into context?  Facts out of context are useless. Rather than overloading students with facts, universities should be teaching them the processes that let them get the facts when they need them.  For instance, they should deeply understand the politicized knowledge processes like web search engine retrieval results manipulation. More in general, what are the information literacy pieces needed to contribute to the students’ success? Rather than working with isolated steps, we should work with an information ecology.  Professors, TAs, students and so on should all be trained at the community level.

Using Web 2.0 thinking will be essential to accomplish these goals. Basically, the meaning of Web 2.0 is “the things you can do times the people you know”. For librarians, this means that they are not anonymous, interchangeable staff, but accessible individuals with unique skills who interact intensively with their student community.  Social software like Facebook could play an important role supporting this process, e.g. through the wise use of pictures and descriptions.

In sum, the main question is: how do we prepare library staff to do things and know people? In the “Library 2.0″, the user is at the centre, not the librarian. Web 2.0 tools are affordable and easy to experiment with. We should not be afraid to try and make errors, such an experimental approach is the best way to learn how to empower students by building on their skills. The Special Libraries Association Innovation Library has a wealth of resources to discover and discuss emerging Web 2.0 software learning tools and see how they can be used in the library context of the future.

Digital storytelling tools

I am currently attending an interesting session at the E-Campaigning Forum on digital storytelling. Stories are very powerful ways of motivating people to take action, to reflect on the implications of policies, to make abstract concepts concrete and so on.

In this age of Web 2.0 and user-created multimedia content, the old linear textual technologies for supporting storytelling like discussion forums are being complemented by a multitude of innovtive tools supporting new forms of content, interactivity and user involvement. Here are some telling examples of this new wave of tools. They still need to find their niche in the Internet landscape, but it is already becoming very clear that they provide powerful incentives for people to become more (inter)active and engaged.

  • Animoto: automatically generates professionally produced videos using their own patent-pending technology and high-end motion design. Each video is a fully customized orchestration of user-selected images and music. Produced on a widescreen format, Animoto videos have the visual energy of a music video and the emotional impact of a movie trailer.
  • Viddler:
    • Use webcam to record directly to website
    • Tag specific moment within video
    • Post comments to specific moments within the video
    • Have complete control over who sees video
  • JibJab: allows one to put one’s face on video and share it.
  • SproutBuilder: Sprout is a quick and easy way for beginner and pro users to create living content including websites, widgets, banners, videos, music, photos, RSS feeds, calendars and more.
  • Living Cultural Storybases: Nurturing the oral heritage of minority cultures in a digital world.

Good reference source:

  • NFP2: what happens when not-for-profits, social media and people meet

Efficient Task Management

Efficient task management is an essential component of community workflow management, all the more as standardized organizational structures and procedures for coordinating activities are often lacking in collaborative communities. Before starting with group task management, first the task management for individuals (“to do lists”) needs to be taken care of. Countless task management tools, planner web sites, Personal Information Managers etc. are available. However, task management tool support is not enough. Efficient task management requires some form of task management methodology.

Having tried many approaches, I finally chose David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. It offers the right mix of comprehensive, yet flexible procedures for collecting, processing, organizing, reviewing, and using to do-items.

As to the tools that best support this methodology, I have settled down on the following two, MonkeyGTD and Remember The Milk.


MonkeyGTD is a tool specifically tailored to the GTD methodology. The second version (MonkeyGTD2.1 alpha) is much more powerful than version 1, yet robust enough to be actually used in daily practice. MonkeyGTD itself is built on top of TiddlyWiki, which is characterized as a “reusable non-linear personal web notebook”. One powerful feature of MonkeyGTD (TiddlyWiki) is that it is just a simple html-file which can be read with a Firefox browser. No other software is needed. Another, very useful characteristic is that it is based on the principle of “tiddlers” which can be very easily cross-referenced and searched. Some disadvantages are that it can only be read by Firefox, the file can become very big over time and does not allow for easy separation of data and code (cumbersome with upgrades or reorganization of data), and that it is not a server-based solution, so that file management and synchronization can become tricky.

Continue reading