Ranganathan’s new sixth law?

If you’re a Canadian academic librarian right now, you are no doubt trying to figure out how to respond to changes in copyright collective agreements. I’ll leave the issue of what is happening for others more wise and knowledgeable. And I’ll also say the views in this blog are my own and in no way reflect on my institution. Oh yea, I Am Not a Lawyer and This is Not Legal Advice. There, butt covered.

Yikes!!!! What did Canadian academic libraries do before 1989 (the year of the first CanCopy agreement, if I’m not mistaken)? We tried to “Save the time of the user”  (Ranganathan’s Fourth Law). We worked with faculty (I should not say “we” since I graduated with my MLIS in 1989) who brought us reading lists and we put heavily used classroom items on limited time loan. We quickly found the books before some keen student borrowed them and we photocopied articles from journals so that students wouldn’t have to individually hunt through the stacks for them and other students weren’t inconvenienced by students who sliced articles out of bound journals. I’m not sure, but I don’t think we ever fussed about whether we or the students or the faculty were breaking the law.

With the AUCC guidelines on Fair Dealing that some are adopting we shall have to review Ranganathan’s Laws and add a Sixth.  I’m speaking of  the “guideline” to ask students to produce a written acknowledgement that he or she is a student enrolled in the course, that the student requires the copy for research, private study, review or criticism, and that the student will not use the copy for any other purposes. I hope that librarians serious about teaching students about information literacy (including their legal rights) are now including advice in classes about whether they should sign this document. What if a student refuses? Gee I might want to use that article on the enlightenment for some other purpose. What purpose? I don’t know, I just know that as a librarian I am not in the business of ensuring that we make material accessible that will “not be used for other purposes”.

Student at circulation desk: “I would like to borrow this article about spousal abuse”
Library staff: “Yes, but you have to promise to use it for this course”
Student goes home and talks to neighbour about spousal abuse because they suspect their neighbour is being abused
Enter Librarian knocking on door: “Wait . . . you can’t discuss that!”

I know a ridiculous example. Could never happen.

What about the “guideline” that says “the electronic copy is only downloaded by the student once during the course of instruction”?

Student at circulation desk: “I would like to borrow that article again”
Library staff: “You can’t”
Student: “But I have an exam in 2 hours and I lost my copy and I’d really like to read it”
Library staff: “Sorry you can’t”

We are putting ourselves out of the service role and into the policing role. We are putting our front-line staff into a very uncomfortable position.

OK Fine You Win, we will adopt the AUCC Fair Dealing Guidelines. Then let us at least be principled and add a sixth law:

Karen’s Proposed Sixth Law of Library Science: “The Library protects the University from threats of litigation”. That sounds like a lawyer’s job, and my momma didn’t raise me to be no lawyer!

Disclaimer: Mom, I love you, and I have nothing against lawyers!

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Drupal for Library Subject Hubs

We’ve been working on getting subject hubs ready for about a year. Many months on the back burner and convincing people it was the right platform for the job. The work to create the environment and the content isn’t that onerous.

I recently got an email from a librarian at another institution asking about our use of Drupal for subject guides (which I will call subject hubs to help differentiate from libguides by Springshare). Here are his questions:

  1. How difficult was it to install Drupal and set up your guides?
  2. Did you encounter any bugs along the way ?
  3. What are the “technical requirements” of using Drupal ?
  4. Do you know if you can use it to create course guides ?


I won’t answer question 2 and 3 here, they are covered in great detail in many other places (Drupal.org, Drupallib). Suffice it to say that if you have someone that can install and run open source software, Drupal will not be a problem. If you have PHP skills in your shop even better, but not required for using the basics.

How Difficult?

The technical parts of Drupal are not nearly so difficult as convincing librarians and library administration administration that using Drupal is a better way to go than libguides. I should say I have nothing against libguides, and when I was University of Winnipeg I recommended that we use libguides. Especially for larger institutions that have technical support, there are some key advantages to Drupal:

  • It is flexible, customizable, and open source. You are in control of your technological destiny. For example, if you decide that making your Drupal site mobile friendly, you can install the module that does this. Opposed to waiting for a vendor to do it.
  • I think it is easier to integrate with your existing “database of databases” or however you guide people to databases (for non-librarians, I mean things like JStor, Web of Knowledge, Ebscohost).
  • You are not stuck in the design of libguides, which may not comply with your institutional requirements.
  • You get to use modules like faceted browsing, calendars, et cetera to add lots of functionality to your site.

Getting a basic Drupal site up and running is pretty easy.


At University of Manitoba Libraires (UML) we are required to use RedDot for our website, or I’d probably be talking about using Drupal for your entire web site. Guides.lib is our working title for the subject hubs and what I call “common content”. UML is made up several “unit” libraries that historically created and maintained their own websites, that included information like “hours”,”location” and “loan periods” (that is, common content). This made it difficult for our students to find this basic information. We’re also using Drupal for common content.

Features of guides.lib (beta version)

See for yourself at guides.lib. All the content in guides.lib is held together with taxonomy glue. What I mean by this, is we’re using taxonomies and the views module to display content. When a librarian creates a “node” (in drupal a block of content, think of a piece of lego), they tag the content with two critical pieces of information:

  • subject taxonomy — which subject or subjects do I want the content to be associated with
  • tab — which tab in the “guide” do I want the content to appear under

This is a bit of a learning curve for librarians that are used to creating html pages or used to using libguides. But from initial feedback, once they understand this difference they find it very easy to create content.

  • Contents (menu on left) faceted browsing of content (using the faceted browse module)
  • Course guides – nodes associated with a particular course (which have durable links to make it easy to share in course management systems or other places)
  • RSS feeds for new books (see Architecture Library node, new books block on right for an example of this).
  • Calendar and signups – a way to create workshops and events that people can sign-up for. When an event is associated with a “subject” it shows up in the Workshops tab.

This is just the start. By using Drupal we can add and create additional functions. And yes, we do plan on testing with students.

guides.lib intro – Jing Video (sorry not of great quality, but I’m in a hurry), that shows you the student view.

guides.lib creating content (librarian view of creating content)

Once again, the challenge of using Drupal for subject hubs and course guides has not been technical, it was convincing librarians and administration that it was the best approach! And remember, if you look at guides.lib at University of Manitoba and think “hmm, I wouldn’t have done it like that”, you don’t have to! By using Drupal there are an infinite number of ways you can develop your site.

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Addressing the Gap in Smartphone Use – The Smartphone Pilot Project at the University of Manitoba Libraries

I’ve submitted this to Information Technology division of IFLA’s newsletter, but here’s a preview . . .

In the Winter of 2009 I was asked to do a presentation about smartphones and libraries for a “Mobile Learning” symposium at the University of Manitoba.1 University of Manitoba is Manitoba’s largest, most comprehensive and only research-intensive post-secondary educational institution, with over 25,000 students. We have several professional programs, including medicine, law and business. As a new owner of an iPhone I was very excited about the potential of the smartphone as the primary way people would be accessing and manipulating information in the future. As I prepared for the presentation a few things became clear to me. Canada lagged behind many other countries in terms of mobile phone market penetration and the demographic with the highest use of smartphones was not the demographic of our librarians. In other words, the younger generation of students were leaping ahead of our librarians in terms of using smartphones to access information.
If librarians at the University of Manitoba were going to remain relevant we had to start using smartphones to even start thinking about the potential ways we could be delivering services and information. This situation is very much reminiscent of the early days of personal computers. In the late 1980s managers and technical staff were given personal computers, and only those who had an interest and purchased a home computer were learning about new technologies. Reference and liaison librarians for several years lagged behind what many of our students and patrons took for granted. To break this pattern we decided to use some of a “technology renewal” budget to develop a pilot project. We would purchase smartphones for our frontline librarians. We had enough funding to purchase smartphones for twenty-five librarians (just under half of our librarians), and thirteen technical and electronic resources staff. Since monthly fees didn’t start at the beginning of the year, we also had funding for an additional twenty iPod touches.
For other libraries, sources of funding for a similar project could be grants or diverting funds from desk-phones or computer replacements.

June 23, 2010. From left to right, Pat Nicholls (Blackberry), Lyle Ford (iPhone), Liv Valmestad (iPhone), Jan Guise (iPhone), Karen Keiller (author), and Mark Rabnett (iPhone). Laurie Blanchard (iPod Touch) took the picture. We were meeting to discuss the Smartphone Evaluation Plan proposed by Jan Guise, Laurie Blanchard and Ken Field.

A year later the Reference Community Forum organized M-Ref: Using Handheld Technology For Reference Services. The Reference Community Forum is an event held twice a year for librarians at the University of Manitoba. We had six presentations by our librarians and support staff on smartphones. The enthusiasm and energy at the forum was infectious!

The presentations included:

  • An overview of the UMLs Resources for Mobile Devices Task Force;
  • Explorations in the rapidly developing ecosystem of the iPhone (and iPad): apps, the cloudmosphere, social networking and not-working by a health sciences librarian;
  • Mobile devices and location, looking at how location, generated by the GPS capability in most mobile devices, will be appended to user generated content;
  • Archives mobile resources currently available to users, either through native apps or mobile web apps;
  • Demonstration of the Red Laser app developed in-house that enables barcode searching in the library catalogue and in Summon.
  • Tips and tricks for your Smartphones.

None of these sessions would have been possible without devices in the hands of librarians and support staff.

The path to getting the pilot project up and running had a few bumps and curves. For libraries contemplating similar projects you’ll have to consider:

  • How will you decide who will get a smartphone?
  • Who will pay for apps installed on individual’s smartphones?
  • How will staff reimburse the institution for non-work related calls and texts that go over the plan maximum?
  • How will the project be evaluated?
  • The issue that proved to be the most problematic was deciding who was going to get a smartphone in the first year of the pilot.

Deciding who got a smartphone

For our project we had a task group determine the criteria for assigning phones.

  • Participants should be in continuing and, preferably, full time positions (at the unit head’s discretion).
  • Participants ought to be public service staff or those that are integral to supporting patrons’ use of our resources.
  • Participants must be willing to accept calls on their smartphones, exclusive of meetings and other unavoidable priorities, during working hours.
  • Participants must be willing to participate in feedback, assessment, and reports as the pilot proceeds.
  • Participants must be willing to do outreach to other staff, sharing expertise developed and demonstrating the usefulness of the technology.


Because of the innovative nature of the project, we did not want to set out rigid evaluation criteria at the beginning of the project. Three librarians enrolled in the Graduate Professional Certificate in Library Sector Leadership at the University of Victoria (Jan Guise and Laurie Blanchard from the University of Manitoba Libraries and Kenneth Field, Trent University)  are preparing a recommendation on how the program should be evaluated. As we move forward evaluation of the pilot project will be critical.
For me, measures of success are the M-Ref: Using Handheld Technology For Reference Services event, informal comments from project participants and this email sent from one of the participants:

Since getting an iphone over three months ago not only has my productivity increased, answering emails and reading online content while on the bus going to and from work, my understanding how these mobile devices can and will be used by our patrons when accessing information in real time has grown dramatically.  If you want to understand how society is using location aware smartphones you have to be enabled with that technology. In this case, early adoption is critical to be well versed in understanding how constant connectivity offered by mobile technology is changing how libraries both push out our services as well as how we must reconfigure our online presence to pull patrons in.

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Summon Usability at LOEX of the West

Just presented at the LOEX of the West at Mount Royal College in Calgary, Alberta. Cowboy Hat’s off to the organizers, it was a great conference!

My presentation, Partnering with the Vendor: Results of Summon Usability Testing, my first “Prezi” (and as an aside this is amazing presentation software!), focussed on some findings from a research partnership on usability testing with a vendor.

One of the last sessions of the conference, M.J. D’Elia,Randy Oldham, University of Guelph, “Innovation: The Language of Learning Libraries” was excellent.  Interactive, fun and informative! They talked about a 12 week Innovation Bootcamp done at the University of Guelph. They also mentioned that U Guelph is moving from a liaison model to a functional team model.

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Just ask the barmaid

Miriam Unruh has agreed to take over teaching Open Educational Resources. We met on Friday afternoon at a local watering hole so I could thank her properly. As we were discussing the course I used the word “Angel”, and our waitress, walking by, said “I hate Angel”. At first I thought it was a religious comment. “I hate Angels”. Odd. But no, it turns out she is a student in psychology (just accepted to do her PhD in North Dakota) who has had courses in the Angel Learning Management system, and HATES it. “Why?” I ask politely. She explains how it was down for 3 days before an important test or due date. Well that can happen to any system in theory. So I asked her, “If it would have been problem free, would you like it?” “No” is the emphatic answer. “Why?” She explained that it is too complicated, difficult to navigate, not simple . . . All True!

I know a few people who were on the committee that picked Angel. All well-meaning I’m sure. Why did they pick Angel? Partly I suspect because of all the things it “could” do. You could have a wiki, you could have a blog, you could have a local learning object repository. Someone should have asked, “do instructors use these tools?” “do students want these tools?” “why would someone use the wiki in Angel?”

This conversation (back to the bar on Friday) is juxtaposed against the conversations in the committee I am on reviewing the IT department at University of Manitoba. How can we ensure decisions about IT are made in the best interest of the stakeholders? Why is the answer to why things aren’t working well is we need more resources? If you had all the resources in the world would Angel still suck? Obviously the solution is to go to bar and talk to people!

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The power of a smile

I have been playing scrabble on my iPhone lately. After I make a move the game has a Teacher. Tap Teacher and you get a frown, a smile or a grin. Teacher then shows what you could have done, the idea being you learn by seeing a better move. I am amazed at first, how I feel when I tap Teacher. Anticipation. Dread. Then how bad I feel when I get the frown. How dissapointed I am if I think I’ve made a good move, but I only get a smile. And how great I feel when I get a grin.

Remember to grin when your students and staff give you their best move!

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Thinking about synchronous vs asynchronous conversations

Week 3 of the course, and thanks for the patience of my students and thanks to Aerius for my allergies. There I’ve counted my blessings. We have a small group from across the globe, students and a teacher with a busy work life, so scheduling synchronous class time is challenging. I asked the students in a poll on our Course Management System (Angel) if they wanted synchronous meeting times. Students are evenly split. So I decided to dip into the research to see what the evidence says (see Zotero Group – Open Educational Resources). My quick read is that it is the quality of the interaction that makes the difference, rather than the interaction happening at the same time. In fact there seems to be evidence that asynchronous discussions are of higher quality (makes sense, you have time to think about what you’re going to say). If we don’t all meet at the same time will we have the same sense of community? Maybe that will (at least in part) be up to the instructor to make sure our discussions are happening and we’re having a chance to comment on each other’s blogs. I think I definitely have room for improvement on that front!

The course content is proving very interesting and timely. Just last week our Vice Provost (Academic Affairs) sent a memo out to the University of Manitoba academic community about the imminent expiration Access Copyright license. Talk about a teachable moment!

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