Monday, November 14, 2011

Digital Library Federation Forum 2011

I attended the Digital Library Federation Forum in Baltimore, October 31-November 2, 2011. You can take a look at the program at the DLF website. A couple of themes that showed up multiple times were data curation, digital humanities, and project management. I will report on the latter here.

Agile Methodolgy (Naomi Dushay and Tom Cramer, Stanford University)
The Stanford library has moved to Agile methodology for their software development over the past few years. Their presentation reported on their implementation of Blacklight using Agile. They are committed to testing their software at every turn, but it is difficult to do with many developers. Their solution is to use the Hudson software to keep track of how much of the code has been tested. If you get a bug report, you can see what hasn't been tested and start from there. Posting test coverage can work well as a "shame factor". You don't want to be the one to make the software fail.

Another problem that was identified in the development process is "too many meetings." Developers need blocks of time to code. To help give developers more free blocks of time, Stanford has instituted "developer happy hours" in which no meetings are scheduled. It has greatly helped morale. They also have monthly "dead weeks" in which all standing meetings are cancelled.

A final problem that they are addressing is competing priorities for developers' time. To help combat this, the project managers group meets monthly for iteration planning. Agile is difficult to do in a multi-project shop. Stanford has capped each developer at 2 projects per month. The iteration planning meeting produces a road map for the month--anyone can look at all the projects and see where there are dependencies. Jira is used for weekly sprints and its versioning feature helps a lot.

The Project One-Pager (Tito Sierra, MIT)
Digital projects fail for many reasons including:
  • goals of the project are unclear
  • there is disagreement about the goals of the project
  • the requirements are unrealistic or ambiguous
  • the project is inadequately staffed
  • there is a lack of consensus about project goals
  • the proposed schedule is unrealistic
  • the scope is poorly managed or unconstrained
  • project doesn't make sense on further inspection
Good planning and communication will improve resource allocation, schedule estimation and managing scope. Tito has developed a tool that helps with planning and communication. It is known as the "Project One-Pager", and it enables a shared understanding of the project before it begins. The Project One-Pager comprises six elements that are agreed to by all principles in the project. The elements are:
  1. Project title--a unique name to be used in all communication
  2. Objective statement--a concise high level summary of what the project intends to accomplish
  3. Requirements--a list of outcomes that must be achieved before the project is considered complete
  4. Out of scope--a list of outcomes that the project explicitly WILL NOT address
  5. Team--proposed core team roster with roles
  6. Schedule--a list of high-level milestones with proposed dates
The project manager drafts the initial version and then the team starts the iteration process. When all agree that each element is clearly defined, everyone signs off. Just to make sure there is no misunderstanding, they also have the dean or an appropriate dean sign off. This leads to a clearly defined scope that will not creep out of control.

The benefits of this tool are that it is simple and accessible by all, it creates useful documentation for use externally, and it can reveal fundamental problems at the start when costs are low. It is not used for managing the project throughout its life cycle, but it does offer a good starting point.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Charleston Conference 2011

I (Robin Sinn) also attended the Charleston Conference. Some of the things I found interesting are below.

  • Several talks focused on e-reference. How to point undergraduate students to an online reference collection One library actually adds a subject heading to the records for their online encyclopedias, so they can be found with a catalog search. Several vendors are trying to build databases of reference works. Springer has a new product, there's Credo, as well as older efforts like MIT CogNet.
  • Open data, access, and research were discussed. One of the plenary sessions featured Cliff Lynch (CNI) and Lee Dirks (Microsoft Research) talking about the disconnect between research and the science publishing industry, and how technology might be able to help. I was part of a panel discussion on open access. It was interesting to hear about how The Optics Society has two entirely separate backend systems for their open and subscription journals. One of their problems is how to take author payments from non-English speakers who may not have a credit card or other electronic pay form handy.
  • One of the most interesting stories I heard was during a shotgun sessions. Librarians at Texas A&M - Commerce had to weed 40,000 items in a summer. They didn't talk to the faculty, they marketed what would happen with the new space, they created rules for temp hires to use when pulling, everything went through cataloging, onto pallets, and into closed tractor trailers. They eliminated 41 tons of print in 4 weeks. And replaced it with a newly acquired special collection and study space.
  • CrossMark is a new effort by CrossRef that will allow publishers to mark articles with information about retractions, errata, etc. This should help with version of record problems.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Charleston Conference 2011

I attended the annual Charleston Conference (Nov 2-5) and this year's theme was "Something's Gotta Give!"
I noticed two overarching themes for the plenary sessions: What we are giving up and how we are evolving, as well as "open." Open data, open research, etc.

Here are a few highlights:
  • I met one-on-one with the Credo Reference CEO, Mike Sweet, who showed me their new product, Literati. It is described as "a simplified, smart approach to managing information literacy” and I think it is definitely something to watch. It seems like they are also selling services, like creating video tutorials for libraries, which is a novel idea for vendors.

  • Linked data was another big point of discussion. For example, I attended a talk on Thursday morning on the semantic web (Highwire founder, Michael Keller) and then one immediately following called "Data Papers in the Network Era" (MacKenzie Smith, Research Director, MIT)

  • I organized a panel called, "Experiences from the Field: Choosing a Discovery Tool for YOUR Unique Library" which brought together five librarians from different types of libraries to explain what their evaluation process was like, why they chose the tool they did and the impact it has had so far. It was a success!

  • In keeping with Discovery, I attended a session from James Madison Univ on assessing usage statistics from Ebsco's Discovery, which helped to inform our current practices in usage data evaluation for Excelsior's instance of Discovery.

  • I attended a session that explained how 2 librarians from Eastern Michigan University evaluated their Wiley collection to move from a "Big deal" package to purchasing titles on an individual basis. They not only used usage data for each title in the package, but also had one-on-one faculty interviews to see which journals they deem important. It was a neat approach (that seemed like a lot of work), and they ended up saving a lot of money.

  • The closing session went back to the conference theme for this year and was called "The Status Quo Has Got to Go." Speaker, Brad Eden, Dean of Library Services at Valparaiso University discussed everything libraries are doing wrong and how we can fix it. He ended with many motivational quotes, on of which was "Don't play it safe. This fosters mediocrity, which leads to decay in a competitive environment." (The powerpoint has many references to current articles and links and is worth checking out!)