Dealing with change in LIS – a personal perspective for #uklibchat

This blog post also appears on the uklibchat site for the chat of 6 August 2013, ‘The changing world of libraries and information‘. This post contains an additional reference to a blog post by the Library Loon on ‘steady-state librarianship‘¬†which was omitted from the version published by uklibchat – my error.

I have to change to stay the same
– Willem de Kooning

In this guest blog post for uklibchat I’ll talk about how I deal with change in my role at Senate House Libraries, University of London.

For my library masters I studied various models for describing change and how to manage change. I won’t dwell on these in detail but to give one example to think about, Lewin’s (1947) model describes change as a three step process:

  1. Unfreezing: preparing the organization for change, building a case, dismantling the existing “mindset”.
  2. Change: an uncomfortable period of uncertainty with the organization beginning to make and embrace changes.
  3. Freezing: finalizing the organization in a new, stable state and returning to former levels of comfort.

I use this model as a way of understanding a traditional view, sometimes presented as a “common sense” view, of change processes though I find the underlying assumptions in the model itself quite manipulative – for example the idea that to create change, the transient pain of change must be understood to be less for the organization than the pain of keeping things the same. Other models have more steps and so greater complexity. Kotter’s (1996) eight step change model is one example; at that level of complexity it reads more like “Kotter’s tips for implementing change” rather than a theoretical model.

The main things I take from these models and work experience are that:

  • The major challenges in implementing change come down to people rather than technology or machines.
  • The period of implementing change will be disruptive and uncomfortable, as a manager you cannot ignore but must engage with this.
  • Communication at all stages is key to a successful change process – including celebrating success afterwards.

At Senate House Libraries we’ve experienced a considerable period of disruptive change since the mid-2000s. One conclusion I’ve made from this is we are definitely no longer in the business of steady-state librarianship (Library Loon, 2012). Our “business as usual” now includes an implicit assumption that we need to constantly review and adjust our processes and services to meet changing needs and demands, hence my inclusion of Willem de Kooning’s wonderfully mysterious quote above.

This does not mean slavishly following every new trend in technology or being led by the nose by technology, particularly technology as repackaged and sold by library software and hardware suppliers, but actively maintaining current awareness and honestly evaluating the status quo as thoroughly as we do new ideas.

I say this because in some libraries I notice a willingness to subject the new thing in a change process to exacting and rigorous examination but not examine the status quo in the same way. There is an assumption here about the ‘rightness’ of our current approaches, whatever they happen to be. What I find troubling about this is the idea our way of working will remain ‘right’ for any length of time in a changing landscape. It is absolutely right not to try to fix something that isn’t broken or enact change for the sake of change, but this is something only knowable following evaluation.

For me the operational aspect of library service must inform strategic thinking and planning, as it’s those staff that are in constant contact with library members and understand the fine detail of the service. For this reason I involve my whole team in developing operational plans and contributing to strategy by identifying priorities for future work. My view is change shouldn’t just be something that ‘just happens’ to staff but something for all to take an active role in.

Personally I am influenced by approaches from IT as I have a systems background, and more broadly am influenced by application of researched-based and evidence-based practise in librarianship. To be clear I include qualitative research in this as an essential parter to quantitative research, adding much-needed richness and depth to our understanding of user experience and behaviour.

One change process at my workplace where I’ve used this approach is implementing a new discovery layer, or library catalogue, as part of our implementation of a new library management system, Kuali Open Library Environment (OLE). OLE does not have a traditional catalogue so a catalogue or discovery layer such as VuFind or Blacklight is needed.

To do this, we have built and developed the case for changing by:

  • Presenting about the project formally at all-staff meetings and individual team meetings.
  • Informal conversation with staff to answer questions and build awareness ‘things are happening’ around discovery.
  • Involving staff in thinking creatively about discovery in a workshop environment (I blogged about this aspect a few months ago).
  • Giving discovery the respect it deserves by treating it as a Web project that puts user experience at the core – and being seen to do so. This includes hosting a student from UCL Department of Information Studies doing ethnographic research on catalogue user behaviour.
  • Answer technical questions quickly and with confidence, including in-depth questions about SolrMARC (really) and metadata issues.

The important point for me as the head of our systems team is so much of this is not about technology, it’s about surfacing opinion and including staff in conversation. For example we’ve set up a beta test VuFind 2.0 instance to provide food for thought, but it’s not core

By necessity this blog post is brief, but I hope this specific example and the more general things I’ve said above help seed discussion for uklibchat.

References

Lewin, K. (1947) ‘Frontiers in group dynamics: concept, method and reality in social science; social equilibria and social change’, Human Relations, 1 (1), pp. 5-41, PsycINFO [Online] doi:10.1177/001872674700100103 (Accessed: 27 July 2013)

Kotter, J.P. (1996) Leading change. Watertown, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Library Loon (2012) ‘Steady-state vs. expanding-universe librarianship’, Gavia Libraria, 22 July. Available at: http://gavialib.com/2012/07/steady-state-vs-expanding-universe-librarianship/ (Accessed: 7 August 2013).

Discovery at Senate House Libraries: staff focus groups

Introduction

At Senate House Libraries, University of London we’re part way though our project to migrate our library management system (LMS) to Kuali OLE, a Free Software / Open Source library services platform.¬†As a deliberate design choice OLE does not come with an online catalogue for end users, so we are approaching discovery as a work package in our LMS project.¬†To this end I recently ran focus groups for staff to start to specify what goes into a functional specification for our discovery system.

Part way into writing my summary of the high-level¬†requirements¬†I realised I was writing something like a manifesto. I stopped and split this into a separate page in our Confluence wiki, and this is what I wanted to share with you.¬†If you want to see something more like a specification for a library discovery / vertical search system, take a look at Ken Chad’s libtechrfp site on Vertical Search¬†as a starting point.

Running focus groups

From my point of view it’s liberating to start with a clean slate for discovery and not with the limitations of existing library vendor solutions.¬†There are a whole host of implications here, primary for me are not being tied to vendor development roadmaps and technology choices, and not having limitations from the LMS carry through to the discovery layer. So, I wanted to start with an open mind and not presume too much about staff received opinion or staff use of our existing discovery systems.

I asked participants to think about some questions as a prelude to a mix of small- and big-group discussion in a workshop context.

  • What’s valued in our current discovery systems, and what are outstanding problems?
  • What’s missing that should be included in the next discovery system?
  • What’s most important to researchers?
  • What would a good discovery system look like, and how would it behave?

I have to apologize for management-speak of asking what does good look like,¬†but it’s a serious point. It is incredibly hard to describe what a successful new system would be like to use, but these are the things we need to be thinking about rather than say, a list of missing features in Innovative’s Encore Discovery versus their older WebPAC Pro catalogue.

Just to add that yes, testing with library members is to follow. This will include the usual usability testing that accompanies and informs any sane web project, and also a more in-depth investigation into user behaviour using ethnographic methods.

“[We want] the moon on a stick”

These group discussions were incredibly productive and featured a good deal of imaginative and daring thinking about what a library catalogue should be and how it should behave. My favourite headline from these small group discussions was a page titled, “the moon on a stick”.¬†I think this is a good starting point: we should think big and aspirational, not small and limited.

Our goal should be full discovery of everything¬†including searching across books, journals, archives, images, and so on in a way that is clear about what you’re searching and provides options to include and exclude different content. In this context the local bibliographic database becomes the biggest of several databases that discovery draws from alongside the archives catalogue, eprints repository, and digital asset management system.

Unfolding complexity

So, how do we provide breadth and depth of discovery without overwhelming the reader with a firehose-like experience of masses of information; and impossible complexity that requires a LIS masters degree to understand?

The key point for us is discovery needs the ability to be as simple or complex as you want to at any given time. We need a way of providing a range of levels of complexity in the same system rather than hiding all the complexity behind an ‘advanced search’ link.

This doesn’t just mean copying from web search, as a single search box is very difficult to get right in the library context.¬†Even if many libraries are going this way nowadays it is very hard to do it well and impossible to please everyone.¬†On the one hand, old school OPACs rely too much on specialist knowledge of how the catalogue works and the structure of the underlying metadata that powers them. On the other,¬†library attempts at single search boxes use¬†keyword indexes that fail to make best use of the complexity and richness of that underlying metadata.

Instead we need an approach that respects the intellectual ability of our readership and the status of our institution, and respects the reader’s conceptual understanding of the library.¬†Our approach should reflect the pride we have in being a library and our professional abilities as librarians, without attempting to turn readers into mini-librarians.

Discovery must include ways of bringing in complexity from a simple starting point, something web search engines can do quite well.

Readers shouldn’t feel they’re starting from a position where they’re telling the library, “I’m stupid”, or “I’m intelligent”.¬†Discovery needs to reconcile providing a simple starting point with surfacing information that may be relevant, but is deep and complex. We know that buried somewhere in the clutter are results that are useful to the reader. The underlying technology may be very complicated but the experience of the system should be the opposite.

We need to meet the needs of different groups of users, or the differing needs of the same user. We know there are primary and secondary uses of our collections for the same person, and a reader may have a different approach in a different context depending on what they are using us for. Staff are users of the catalogue and discovery tools should be easier for staff, too.

User experience

To inform this ‘unfolding complexity’, discovery must bring in user experience concepts and best practise from elsewhere in and outside libraries.¬†The starting point in our thinking here is discovery should be navigable like a modern web site is, and to achieve this it will be designed in a similar way to how our our website was designed. That is, similar approaches and techniques given a library spin that respects our role and the reasons readers choose to sign up for membership.

User experience is key to our web presence but it must be a theme throughout the services we offer: it can’t stop at the library website. There is a gulf between library websites and library catalogues and discovery that we need to bridge. Libraries spend time and money building good websites, but you’ll still¬†find terrible usability when you move over to their catalogues. John Blyberg sums this up as:

The problem lies with inflexible and outdated systems rather than¬†no-one bothering with usability testing or not caring about their readers. Our next discovery system can’t be another weird product from Libraryland that is disconnected from the approach we take when building our websites.

Objecting to my own methodology

I’d like to end on a little reflection about methodology and our¬†subjective views of catalogues based on our experience and familiarity.

Many staff expressed a wish for a “simple”, “uncluttered”, “user friendly”, or “intuitive” interface as contrasted with a “busy”, “cluttered”, or “clunky” interface. I understand these wishes, and I think there is a certain know it when I see it¬†gut feeling about overall user experience that makes something “simple” or “clunky”, but intellectually I know it’s¬†difficult to unpack what these terms mean as they’re so subjective.¬†You might guess a concern here is a term like “user friendly” being used as a proxy for personal preferences or familiarity, and there is a contrast between familiarity of staff traditional information retrieval interfaces versus familiarity of readers with modern websites that I think is important too.

So we do need to dig in! At this point the workshop format breaks down because it’s difficult to employ methods such as close questioning or laddering in a group work situation, you really need a one-to-one interview. However, I tried to unpick this as much as possible in the focus groups without anyone feeling too interrogated. For example, if the Encore feel is “cluttered” what is it that would improve it? What is it about the classic WebPAC Pro or another catalogue that is uncluttered?

I can see a danger here in acting as an interpretive layer or a translator between what someone says and what I think they really mean, and then how I think that should be implemented in a new discovery layer.¬†In hindsight I wish I could’ve sat everyone down one-to-one and ran through some repertory grids to allow for comparisons between different catalogue interfaces based on those constructs such as “clutteredness”.

I had done this in my masters dissertation on library catalogue user experience and found it works really well, once you get over it being an “out-there method” (I smiled in agreement when I read that in Lauren Smith’s recent blog post on fieldwork).

This is something I may try as part of testing options for discovery interfaces such as VuFind and Blacklight.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Andrea Meyer-Ludowisy (Research Librarian, Western European Languages) and Joe Honywill (Associate Director, Digital Futures) at Senate House Libraries for helpful discussion on the subject.

How we added WebBridge / Pathfinder Pro links to our Encore catalogue

When we launched our new catalogue, Encore from Innovative Interfaces Inc., in June 2011 among the first problems identified by staff and library members was that it did not have a way to request journals from our closed stores (we call this the Stack Service which includes our tower and an offsite store in Egham, Surrey).

This missing functionality between the old and new catalogue was a major barrier to buy-in. Not having it meant staff had to explain three parallel systems for requesting just one type of material from the store. Our readers want to request store material online quickly and efficiently, not have to deal with navigating between two different catalogues.

A new release of the Encore catalogue software has enabled us to rectify this and in this post I’ll explain how.¬†The third request system was paper forms, in case you’re wondering‚Ķ

Link from the Encore record to request a store journal, based on Pathfinder Pro data.

Requesting journals

Historical note: Pathfinder Pro used to be part of Innovative’s WebBridge product, which included both an OpenURL link resolver for linking in, and software for presenting context-sensitive links on your record display. Systems librarians at Innovative sites often refer to both products as “WebBridge”.

Requesting journals from a closed store is problematic for an Innovative library if you are cataloguing journals in a normal way – using a holdings or checkin record to detail what you have, rather than itemising each individual journal volume on its own item record.

In our old WebPAC catalogue I had devised a way of using Pathfinder Pro to link out to a Web form that would send some bibliographic data to pre-populate a form. It’s easy to link out to a form from the record (put a link in the MARC 856 for a quick solution) but reusing the record metadata itself helps readers to not introduce errors.

In my opinion Pathfinder Pro is a good product – the tests you can apply are quite powerful including matching parts of your record based on regular expressions and the like.

The basic principle to enable this linking is:

  1. Check to see if the holdings record is in a store location. Egoist : an individualist review¬†is coded ‘upr’, for example, and a data test in Pathfinder Pro is used see if the holdings record location field equals ‘upr’.
  2. If the record is a store location, build a link based on selecting the journal title, classmark, and the system record number from the bibliographic record. What is actually rendered on the page is a link using the same icon as we use for other types of online requesting:
Link from the WebPAC record to request a store journal, using Pathfinder Pro (circles in orange).

 

This generates a link to our online request form:

http://www.ulrls.lon.ac.uk/stackrequest/requestform.aspx?JtitleText=Egoist%20%3A%20an%20individualist%20review.&JlocationText=STACK%20SERVICE&JclassmarkText=PR%20Z&JbibText=b1746208a

Which leads to a neatly pre-populated form:

The problem with Encore

The thing that prevents this working in the new catalogue is Encore lacks the Pathfinder Pro “Bib Table” which allows you to place links on the record display itself.¬†In the screenshot above the Bib Table is the space on the record that contains three buttons, including the store request button circled in orange.

This is a problem as many Innovative sites have built services around this feature of Pathfinder Pro that include placing a link prominently on the bibliographic record.

Towards a solution for Encore

The latest Encore release 4.2 allows you to customise the Encore record display by including your own JavaScript. My presentation on this from the European Innovative Users Group conference 2012 with further examples is available:

I decided there simply had to be a way to insert a link to the store request form into the page using JavaScript…

  • Our first thought was using JavaScript to check if the record is in the store, then building a link to the request from by plucking bits of metadata from the page. This was a non-starter¬†as the structure of the rendered Encore page is not semantically sound enough to work with in this way.
  • Second thought was to use an Ajax call to scrape the record display of the classic WebPAC which would be easier to work with. This isn’t possible as Encore and the WebPAC run on different Web servers so you run into the same origin policy. And no, you can’t set up a proxy server on your Encore server to work around it.
  • Third thought was using a Web application with a¬†dedicated¬†screen-scraping library that that could pull the metadata from the classic WebPAC or Encore. We’d link to this from the Encore record display and allow it to direct the reader’s browser to the populated request form.¬†This is almost what we implemented. Read on‚Ķ

How to do it

Building a link out from the Encore catalogue is simple. The JavaScript for the Encore record is available as a Pastebin for easier reading.

What this will do:

  1. Get the system record number. The simplest way I’ve found to do this from the page itself is use the document.URL which contains the record number.
  2. Check to see if a div exists with ID toggleAnyComponent. Not that you’d know it from the name, but this div is rendered only if there is an attached holdings / checkin record which means we’re dealing with a journal record.
  3. If if exists, check to see if the div matches a regular expression for the string “STACK SERVICE”.
  4. If it does match, create a link out to our Web application and append it to the existing customTop div.

This link out appears in this form:

http://www.ulrls.lon.ac.uk/stackrequest/parse.aspx?record=1746208

1746208 is the system record number for Egoist, minus the leading ‘b’ and trailing check digit.

Web application for screen-scraping

The real work is carried out using a Web application written in ASP.NET by my team member Steven Baker. Steve used the Html Agility Pack which is a library for .NET ideal for scraping Web pages. Of course, you can use your favourite language to accomplish the same thing.

Scraping from the Encore or WebPAC record display is a complicated business and how our library has named our various locations and classmarks was not helping.

So instead of scraping the page directly and including lots of different tests to deal with the various¬†oddities¬†found in the markup, it’s much¬†simpler to scrape the WebPAC record display and pick out the div containing the link rendered by Pathfinder Pro.

This link already has the metadata required for the store request form so it’s then just a matter of using this URL to send the Web browser on their way to the request form.

The first step is to load the classic WebPAC page using Html Agility Pack. The link from Encore provides the system record number to generate a link to the WebPAC screen in this form:

http://catalogue.ulrls.lon.ac.uk/record=b1746208

The Pathfinder Pro wblinkdisplay div from the classic WebPAC looks like this for the example of Egoist : an individualist review:

<div class="wblinkdisplay">
<form name="from_stack_service159_form">
<a href="" onClick="javascript:loadInNewWindow('/webbridge~S24*eng/showresource?resurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ulrls.lon.ac.uk%2Fstackrequest%2Frequestform.aspx%3FJtitleText%3DEgoist%2B%253A%2Ban%2Bindividualist%2Breview.%26JlocationText%3DSTACK%2520SERVICE%26JclassmarkText%3DPR%2BZ%26JbibText%3Db1746208a&linkid=0&noframe=1');return false;"><img src="/webbridge/image/request.gif" border="0"></img></a>
</form>
</div>

You can see the URL Pathfinder Pro normally redirects the Web brower to. The next steps are:

  • Select the div with class wblinkdisplay.
  • Cut out the URL based on using “resurl=” and “‘)” at the start and end of the URL to get the indexes needed.
  • URL-decode the resulting string.
  • Redirect the Web browser to that URL.

In live use, this is so fast that the end user doesn’t realise anything is happening in between clicking the “Request from Store” button in Encore and getting to the request form itself.

Comments on this approach

There are several advantages to handling Pathfinder Pro and Encore integration this way:

  • The work to pick out metadata from the record has already been done in Pathfinder Pro and doesn’t need re-implementing.
  • This will be easy to extend to other store journals, or if journals move from open access shelves to the store. We only need set up a new location in Pathfinder Pro and it’s reflected in Encore as well. We’d have to do¬†this¬†anyway to enable online requests in the classic WebPAC.
  • This approach isn’t specific to journals and could be used to put any links generated by Pathfinder Pro into Encore.

However, this isn’t a complete solution as it doesn’t just give you the Pathfinder Pro Bib Table in Encore. This is what we would really like and what we have asked our software supplier for.¬†That said, if you can pick something unique out of the Encore record to test for then you can link out from Encore in a way that replicates the behaviour of the linking in classic WebPAC with Pathfinder Pro.

Please do contact me with any questions or your thoughts, or leave a comment below.