Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Editorial Introduction to Issue 69

The editor introduces readers to the content of Ariadne Issue 69.

Never blessed with any sporting acumen, I have to confess to a degree of ambivalence towards the London Olympics unfolding around this issue as it publishes. That does not mean that I do not wish all the participants well in what after all is an enormous achievement just to be able to compete there at all. While I admit to not watching every team walk and wave, I cannot deny that the beginning and end of the Opening Ceremony [1] did grab my attention. Who could blame me? I suspect we sat as a nation terrified to discover what this would say about us all. It would be easy enough to supply a list of criticisms, starting no doubt with what other nations made of it all. Actually for once I think that mattered less than the fact that there were things at which we might be pleased, as well as GBSOH, that we remembered as being valuable. We are not naturally disposed in this direction (ask Bill Bryson [2]), but on something of a parochial note, it was very good to see the inclusion of the work of Tim Berners-Lee since while everyone has heard of the Web, the contribution of his work is less well understood.

With innovation in mind, and accepting that some commentators have remarked that Ariadne seems to avoid completely the adoption of themed issues (true), there may be some chiding remarks that Issue 69 seems to have been boarded by the technical contributors this time round, given the number of ‘tooled up’ articles published today. While I would contend that editorial policy is indeed to eschew putting all one’s eggs in one basket on the grounds that we do not wish to disappoint the readers who have no interest in the chosen theme, I make no apology for three feature-length articles on technical implementations. For indeed they are nonetheless varied: one relates to improving service to ‘extraordinary’ visitors to FHE libraries, the second is for the benefit of practitioners supporting libraries, academic departments and their students, while the third is a very timely explanation of the technology supporting the new Ariadne – and which has been on my commissioning list for some considerable time.

I will take this opportunity to welcome even more ‘tooled up’ contributions and hope that the stories offered by this issue’s output will inspire other practitioners to reject further hiding of their light and share their own ideas with our readers.

Migrating and Enhancing Legacy Material

In his article Moving Ariadne: Migrating and Enriching Content with Drupal, Thom Bunting provides an overview of new Ariadne functionality as he explains the recent migration to a database-driven CMS. Thom reminds us of a key challenge: the migration of so much (and not entirely homogenous) content. In addition, he discusses tools and techniques that accompanied this operation. In the course of his article he proceeds in an orderly fashion from a description of the requirements developed by UKOLN to a review of the chosen Drupal technology.

Thom gives an account of the emergence of Drupal as an open-source CMS project and explains the reasons why it has increasingly enagaged the attention not only of the developer community but also corporate, governmental and academic bodies. Nonetheless he feels that the support Drupal has enjoyed among developers is the most important factor, not least due to the flexibility accorded by Drupal's Content Management Framework. He also details some of the larger bodies that have adopted Drupal and how their endorsement influenced our own choice of technology.

Thom then moves us on to the decisions taken in organising the mass migration of archive material. He explains the tasks involved and the approach adopted to implement it. He describes the post-migration review of the articles on the new platform, and the measures adopted to ensure a higher degree of consistency which would then make it possible to expose the publication's depth of content far more effectively.

With the migration process enacted and validated, attention could now be paid to addressing the requirements devised in the planning stage through the use of key Drupal modules. He provides an overview of these modules by the way they served in addressing the requirements laid out at the beginning of the article. He explains how use of 'contrib', 'core' and other utility modules made it possible to implement a range of enhancements. The use of the Data module with the Views module provided functionality in respect of information about authors, an aspect close to this editor's heart. He also predicts that the relatively new 'contrib' module Data will prove to be useful in extending data-rich Web sites.

The process of migrating Ariadne has confirmed in his view the flexible manner in which Drupal can integrate with other technologies, both open source and proprietary.  In his view Drupal has proven responsive, whether called upon to provide charts or other visualisations, or when subjected to testing and tuning procedures. In concluding, Thom makes it clear that the migration and enhancement of a publication the size of Ariadne was no trivial undertaking, and that the Drupal platform has shown itself equal to the task.

Enhancing Research Collaboration

We welcome back to the directories of Ariadne Tertia Coetsee who brings us up to date with technological developments in her department at the University of Pretoria. Tertia explains in the introduction to her article Enhancing Collaboration and Interaction in a Post-graduate Research Programme how the Phytomedicine Programme at the University of Pretoria has evolved since 1995 and the role of RefShare, Blackboard together with the addition of an information specialist in its development.

While it was regarded that RefShare had proven very useful for storing and retrieving information sources on the Phytomedicine Programme, limitations were identified in its usefulness in respect of information sharing and group interaction. As a result, Blackboard was examined for possible inclusion in the Programme. Tertia explains how the Community of Practice for the Programme was expected to work in terms of collaboration, digital preservation and collection development, as well as Programme administration.

She begins with an evaluation of the benefits and disadvantages implicit in research collaboration in which she makes it fairly clear that the former outweigh the latter. Tertia introduces the importance of ITC in supporting research collaboration, categorising the various tools by their function. She also why the bulk of open-access applications are not suitable for deployment on the Phytomedicine Programme and why RefWorks is more appropriate.

She explains the principles upon which a Community of Practice (CoP) operates and why it can work to all users’ advantage. But she points out that inherent in a CoP is the sharing of knowledge as a moral obligation for the public good. Tertia then goes on to consider how CoPs and Knowledge Management interact and the culture that they should generate. She emphasises the central role of CoP members in establishing a culture of shared, stored experience building up good practice. She describes the benefits of personal sharing of knowledge as opposed to seeking information stored online; but also conversely, the disadvantages that may arise due to the same human dimension.

Tertia provides a breakdown of the functionality of the RefWorks module RefShare and what it offers institutional subscribers. She goes on to detail the resources collected on RefShare for the benefit of Programme members. She then proceeds to a description of the pros and cons of RefShare’s capabilities. Thereafter she describes the functionality of Blackboard which certainly appears to address some of the failings recognised in the operation of RefShare.

Turning her attention to the role of the information specialist, Tertia explains that the advent of the online environment radically altered the Library’s style of provision. The Phytomedicine Programme is supported by three information specialists whose role she describes.

The Programme’s use of Pretoria’s ClickUP (Blackboard) module supports improved communications, particularly in respect of assuring sound progress and adherence to timelines. Tertia explains that previous experience of deploying Blackboard with undergraduates had encouraged teaching staff to run the system with postgrads. One commentator pointed to the advantages of both synchronous and asynchronous communications, the latter favouring part-time students in particular.

It is apparent that to date the decision to operate RefShare and Blackboard in tandem is serving the Phytomedicine Programme more effectively.

Using Assessment Technology to Support Learning

In their introduction to Evaluation of Assessment Diaries and GradeMark at the University of Glamorgan, Karen Fitzgibbon and Alice Lau explain that despite the advent of technologies to support assessment, the use of technology in improving the learning experience is still patchy. They explain that Glamorgan has identified the key role of assessment in its  attempt to improve students’ experience of learning in the light of the adoption of two assessment and feedback innovations: Assessment Diaries and GradeMark. Both Assessment Diaries and GradeMark were adopted as a means of reducing the degree to which both students and staff suffered from two ills: assessment bunching and inadequate feedback.

The authors go on to describe the role that these two innovations in the processes of course assessment. They also mention how the Project set about evaluating the reaction to the two innovations including the use of a survey of users. Reactions to both schemes were generally positive. Students felt Assessment Diaries enabled them to plan and execute assignments more effectively, avoiding too many submissions to complete at one time. It helped staff to apply a more varied range of assessments.

Staff reaction to GradeMark was that it either improved or validated their approach to giving  feedback, though caution was required with the pre-loaded comment bank. Likewise Assessment Diaries did not exacerbate staff workload unduly.   Indeed, it soon became apparent that Assessment Diaries also helped staff to avoid bunching on their marking schedules. Staff reactions to GradeMark were generally positive since it removed some of the drudgery of paper-toting and –shuffling, except where members of staff found marking on-screen difficult. There were divergences though in staff and student perceptions of how well Assessment Diaries were being used by the student body. While the survey results do not point to an unreserved approval of the two systems, neither do they indicate any kind of wholesale rejection. Student reactions were quite sophisticated in terms of potential pedagogical benefits. The authors turn their attention to potential improvements particularly for staff.

The authors’ conclusions are that while there is some divergence over the means or tools to enhance assessment and feedback, there is considerable consensus over the basic principles involved.

Continued Attraction of Reading List Systems

In their article Redeveloping the Loughborough Online Reading List System, Jon Knight, Jason Cooper and Gary Brewerton explain that library staff at Loughborough University rapidly recognised the benefits to themselves, let alone students when called upon to develop the Loughborough Online Reading List System (LORLS). As is so often the case, there was a human dimension to be addressed which the application of technology, on this occasion, was able to improve quite radically.  The authors describe the choices made for coding and back-end database and likewise choice of licence when Loughborough University was asked to share the implementation.

Whereas some implementations prove themselves useful for a while, only to be sidelined by a more dynamic technology, or else fall into disuse as demand for its functionality dies away, changes that occurred at LU during the 2000s proved to be a driving force for the redesign of the LORLS. They related to not only changes in teaching approaches and departmental structure, but also as a result of popularity of the system with the library staff who were using it. Moreover, the redesign team recognised the need to move for a more definitive separation between user interface and back-end database, a descision which would facilitate modification and reuse in the future.

From this flowed the decision to define a set of APIs and XML was chosen as the format to be used. The authors explain their thinking on the matter of how to make XML requests.  However, by comparison, it was the database which underwent the most radical change, once again in response to human behaviour which was making consistency of data increasingly difficult to achieve. They describe their solution embodied in the LUMP (Loughborough’s Universal Metadata Platform). They also explain how their organisation of data enables them to classify and restrict access to certain data, thereby avoiding the need to store certain information separately.

The authors describe how they deal with the advent of new elements, whether they are new types or groups for inclusion, or even new classes of user in respect of authorisation of use. The authors admit that the implementation of a process to export data from the old database to the new schema proved demanding, but was necessary to avoid a migration run measured in days! They also describe some of the techniques they employed to speed  up the processing of requests, including modifications to the PERL coding and the use of indexes and caching of commonplace query results. They then move on to describe another iteration in performance improvements through the adoption of JSON and ultimately JASONP. The client’s use of multiple threads can produce rendering of even very large lists that is fast.  However, the adoption of SHIBBOLETH to support SSO produced a number of difficulties for which they nonetheless produced a workaround. Their development of a bookmarklet permitted academics to add to their reading list from other Web sites.

They also detail their documentation not only of the development of the new LORLS through the use of a blog but also how they prepared stakeholders for the major change. They explain that after the launch of the redesigned system they began to gather new features from external and internal feedback, for example the inclusion of student ratings of items on the reading list. In their well-crafted conclusions to this article, the authors point out reading list systems, despite their relative age, continue to be a well-used and fertile source of innovation that provides benefits to students, academics and librarians alike.

The Launch and Lessons of JISC eCollections

Caren Milloy introduces her article Launching a New Community-owned Content Service with the rationale for launching the JISC eCollections service and its aim to work with its community of users towards improvements. Caren reminds us of the pivotal role JISC eCollections has played in the centralised licensing of digital content to enable member organisations to access far more material than they would have been able to procure individually. She goes on to describe the situation prior to the new platform and all the benefits its creation has generated. She recounts the guiding principles driving the development of JISC eCollections, and it is interesting to note how dissatisfaction in respect to access to ebooks featured so prominently in these investigations.

Caren goes on to describe some of the hurdles JISC Collections and partners had to negotiate before and after launch. The first was simplifying licence arrangements to the benefit of librarians as well as convincing providers and owners of the value of openness in respect of online metadata. The second major task was to ensure seamless access to a large number of different sources provided by a multiplicity of owners. The provison of seamless access is not so difficult for organisations able to exploit link resolvers, but less well-heeled users would benefit by the aggregation of originally 14 platforms into three, with greater ease of authentication.

She also explains how consideration was given to the organisation of different resources and their associated results display. The different resources needed to be presented in a manner that maintained a consistent layout for users. She then relates  some of the problems encountered when rolling out the service. One related to the quality of OCR and how it could mislead even seasoned researchers. Caren observes that an over-concentration on keyword-based search proved a disservice to researchers with more sophisticated search behaviours. This was rectified.

Looking to the future, Caren explains that the intention is to ensure that JISC eCollections is owned and developed by its user community. This will be realised to a large extent through the work of advisory boards of libraries, teaching staff and researchers. Moreover, such advisory boards have it within them to engage with their communities of users in developments to collections. For example, the JISC Historic Books Advisory Board has launched a crowd-sourced initiative that harnesses the expertise of the digital humanities community to make corrections to its OCR-generated resources.

Caren concludes that JISC eCollections has now arrived at a point where it can become a ‘valued community-owned content service that reflects evolving user behaviour and the changing scholarly environment.’

Sensible Support for Walk-in Access

In their article Walk-in Access to e-Resources at the University of Bath, Kate Robinson, Lizz Jennings and Laurence Lockton highlight a major change in the independence of libraries to grant access brought about by the seismic shift from print-based to electronic journals over the last 20 years. The adoption of licensed resources and the increasing abandonment of bought-and-paid-for publications has obliged libraries to become gatekeepers on behalf of publishers while finding themselves with far less discretion over which users may gain access. While negotiation with publishers has improved access for groups of authorised users, the capacity of the Librarian to grant access to special cases has become somewhat curtailed. Moreover, implementing such walk-in access is not so simple. Whereas in the past walk-in access meant just that, replicating it in an institutional IT system is less straightforward. The demands of widening access mean that electronic methods of granting special access to applicants other than staff and students are in increasing demand. Just as discretionary powers of librarians are increasingly limited. However, the need to exercise them is on the increase.

The authors identify a second difficulty which was no doubt a common feature of the early days of electronic resource collection management: the difficulty in marshalling all the collection information accrued. The team at Bath recognised the need to deploy some form of ERM system to gain control of the disparate collection data and explain the nature of the choices before them, not forgetting the gargantuan task of data collection in order to populate the chosen system. They describe how they pulled together and extended their existing wiki to meet their requirements and how they organised the required data for each licence held. They explain how data on each licence was organised together with moves to improve navigation.

At the same time they were also very conscious of the weight of such decisions in the light of any future modifications required.  When it came to evaluating the effectiveness of their chosen databank, their design has scored highly on accessibility and usability among librarians of all categories. Other benefits included the ease with which it was possible to compare licence terms among different providers. As they had anticipated, the designers recognised that the wiki-based system was not able to produce reports or integrate into other workflows; it also required technical expertise for mark-up, modification, etc. While it was not capable of addressing walk-in access requirements directly, the system helped considerably by identifying those resources most likely to allow such access. Balanced against such disadvantages was the fact that the wiki made it easy to gather licence information at low cost.

Having explained how they marshalled the resource data necessary to know whether walk-in access was possible, the authors turn to how they went on to facilitate access. The development team avoided the simple mistake of dedicating particular OPAC terminals to ‘walk-in access’-only requests since this approach would render terminals unusable to the majority of users with standard access. They detail their own particular solution. The authors explain the benefits of combining IP address recognition with deployment of EZproxy which produces a number of advantages – but also one drawback.

The authors raise interesting points for consideration in their conclusions and clearly approach their policy in a practical and pragmatic manner.

Getting the Most out of OR12

In describing the benefits of Making the Most of a Conference, Stephanie Taylor explains why OR 2012 was such an important event for her project but also how this time round she intended to engage with it in a more planned fashion in order to make the most of her attendance. In addition to describing the conference she reminds us of the value of the welcome adjunct to Open Repositories, the Repository Fringe, (on which Ariadne has also reported [3]). Steph explained that her involvement with the work of the Repo Fringe actually served the ends of her project and improved contact generally.

She then provides us with some background to her project and how it would seem very well served by attendance at Open Repositories 2012.  For the purposes of her article she divides her activities at OR12 into three main modes: transmit, receive, and de-brief. In covering the transmission aspects she began by describing the effort undertaken in a Minute Madness session by her colleague and herself on their respective posters and how they had planned to make the most of the opportunity.  She considers the whole process of distillation involved in preparing for a Minute Madness and makes the point that such an exercise is of value for a variety of reasons in the conference and other contexts. She goes on to draw comparisons with the Pecha Kucha style of presentation and highlights its particular strengths and provides some recommendations on how to proceed. She also makes the point that techniques like   Minute Madness and Pecha Kucha make it possible for delegates to prioritise their time when, with so many delegates and projects involved, it could otherwise prove very hard to make the right choices.

Still in transmission mode, Steph describes her project’s direct involvement in the DevCSI Developer Challenge. Managed by UKOLN, the DevCSI initiative has found its Developer Challenge a popular undertaking and Steph explains why. She also mentions the value of a planned approach to using social media can represent to a project. She explains that a key aspect of a strategy to make the most of a conference lies in the project team’s readiness to avoid over-committing itself to conference sessions in advance. This is to ensure that it is possible for project members to seize any opportunities that arise at short notice.

Having considered how to transmit project messages, the author turns her attention to how one absorbs information at conference relevant to the project. She gives a brief overview of what seemed of importance at OR12 to her. From formal listening, mostly to what has been achieved, Steph passes to the monitoring of conference ‘traffic’, ie informal discussion of where things are going in the future. Finally she explains the value of face-to-face contact with project colleagues, but also the value of keeping colleagues informed with a safe pair of hands ‘back at base’. She also highlights the importance of passing on not only the contacts made and queries received, but also the information received that can inform progress.

In her conclusions, Steph also raises the value of taking time to reflect on proceedings after the conference and share impressions. But more importantly, planning to share the conference activity among an attending project team represents considerable benefits to an entire project.

Reflections on Wikipedia

In Wikipedia: Reflections on Use and Acceptance in Academic Environments, Brian Whalley points to the paradox of Wikipedia being the source of much reference-information seeking at the same time as the target of apparent contempt in some academic quarters. Brian’s own view is that those who make use of Wikipedia entries are not passive accepters of its content but engage with it by editing and adding to increase its utility. Such ‘Wikipedians’ as he terms them, are not all necessarily academics and so the questions arises: ‘Are their contributions less valuable than those of expert academics?’

Brian’s aim in this article is to explore the value Wikipedia may represent in terms of digital and information literacy. He begins by explaining his participation in the Geological Society of London (GSL) workshop on Wikipedia entry writing for GSL Fellows. The GSL is of particular interest since it is a society for both academics and practitioners in the geological field who apparently make much use of Wikipedia.  He offers examples to support his contention.

In considering one particular but controversial entry, Brian demonstrates the manner in which Wikipedia makes the current controversy apparent and how it would be better to acquaint students with this standard Wikipedia approach as opposed to issuing a blanket ‘don’t touch’ instruction. He then turns our attention to a comparison of the degree to which electronic and print encyclopedias can react to changes in knowledge, and so amend content.  One does not need to be an academic to guess which form can react most quickly. He follows up the comparison of speed of reaction to changes in information by torpedoing another generalised assertion, ie that conventional publishers always retain the higher ground in degree of subject content accuracy. Brian refers again to the status of entries in Wiki Project Geology to highlight the number of stub articles in need of a geologist’s input, but he advocates a progressive approach to their development rather than one-off full-blown expansions.

Brian returns to the matter of why some academics are so disparaging of Wikipedia when, in geology at least, it frequently surpasses other conventional sources in the amount and accuracy of the information offered, not least images. Moreover, he contends, students who were encouraged to write for Wikipedia would be obliged observe decidedly academic practices. In his conclusions, Brian directs our view in several directions from the initial starting point of the value of Wikipedia, some of which go to the heart of digital provision policy in FHE.

In addition Ariadne offers a range of event reports and a generous crop of reviews.

I hope you will enjoy Issue 69.


  1. London Olympics opening ceremony highlights, BBC News 28 July 2012 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19022259
  2. Bill Bryson. Notes from a Small Island, 1996, Black Swan, ISBN 978-0552996006
  3. Martin Donnelly. "Repository Fringe 2010". October 2010, Ariadne Issue 65 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue65/repos-fringe-2010-rpt/

Author Details

Richard Waller
Ariadne Editor

Email: ariadne@ukoln.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/