Equitable access to digital content

As the amount of content being delivered digitally increases, libraries are facing new challenges to their goal of enabling broad information access to their communities.  The American Library Association’s (ALA) new report E-content: the digital dialogue  features a number of articles and opinion pieces outlining the current challenging e-book landscape in American public libraries.

The ALA report explores a number of issues, including library-publisher relations and the wide variety of licensing models that are muddying the waters.  The publishing model has changed dramatically, and the lessons of the music industry are reverberating.  Publishers are struggling to find new ways to retain their financial viability while new competitors and business models are encroaching.  Major distributors such as Apple and Amazon are competing with both publishers and libraries by becoming e-book publishers and lenders.

The current uncertainty is reflected in the sheer number of licensing and purchasing models – from Harper Collins’ infamous 26 e-book loan limit to Random House’s offering of perpetual access to e-book purchases – but at a higher unit price.  Other big trade publishers are simply not selling e-books to public libraries at all.

Other models being tested include the ‘metering’ or pay per download model that enables publishers to get revenue for backlist titles, but is more challenging for libraries that have to be able to predict usage in order to set budgets.  The simultaneous access model allows libraries to buy broad access to e-books when they are popular and scale back after the initial demand is met.  Rent to buy, subscription plans and annual packages (called ‘bookshelf’ models) and ‘embargo’ models are also available.

The challenge is finding models that are deemed equitable for and by all stakeholders in the process – publishers, patrons, distributors, authors and their agents as well as libraries.  These parties have some common goals but also some conflicts.  The ALA believes that the debate is fundamental because it addresses why libraries exist and what their role will be in an increasingly ‘e’ world.

The report is free to download from the ALA website.

Research libraries in the 21st century

Although the purpose of academic and research library collections remains the same – to support the creation and dissemination of new knowledge – the nature of collections is moving away from ‘local’ to collaborative and multi-institutional.  New forms of scholarship are transforming user expectations for broad, barrier free collection discovery and access.  Libraries must transform their approaches to meet new user demands.

The Association of Research Libraries’ (ARL) briefing paper for research library leaders sets out to draw a ‘big picture’ of the future of research library collections.

Key findings – the research environment

  • Publishing output will continue to increase
  • Global/interdisciplinary research will grow
  • The value of personal collections will increase
  • Open content will proliferate

Key findings – the future of libraries

  • Researchers must understand intellectual property frameworks – libraries can provide support
  • Other new roles for research libraries include: digital preservation and data management experts and as supporters helping researchers collaborate even more
  • There will also be roles to support the open content movement, for example as publishers as well as IP rights advisers
  • Metrics about value to the research community must be improved
  • Research libraries will need to maintain linked, digital content in order to enable discovery and future use.
  • Resources will increasingly be allocated to the development of tools, an activity well suited to inter-institutional collaboration.
  • There will continue to be moves to providing just in time services rather than building just in case collections

The report is available to download from the ARL website.

In the humour for rumour

We all know that information (and rumours) spread quickly in social networks – but they can also be quickly denied and corrected too.  The Guardian newspaper in the UK explored how misinformation about the London riots spread via Twitter.  Comedian Graham Linehan deliberately started a Twitter rumour which, as he noted on his blog, soon spread and mutated.

Computer science researchers at Germany’s Saarland University say that they can now provide twelve pages of mathematical proof for this phenomenon.

Tobias Friedrich, Benjamin Doerr and Mahmoud Fouz say that their research suggests that information spreads much more quickly in social networks than in networks where everyone communicates with each other, or in randomly structured networks.  They say that the speed of spread is due to the combination of people with many contacts and people with a few contacts.  Those with few contacts (or new members) are likely to connect with highly connected individuals and this helps facilitate the speed of information flow.

I look forward to someone managing to explain the maths in 140 characters or less so I can spread it to my network!

(Thanks to Marydee Ojala for spotting the original story.)


ICT skills shortages – where are the women?

The technology sector may well be suffering from skills shortages but it is still not attracting enough women.  According to research conducted with 2,500 IT leaders from around the world, women are badly under-represented in IT roles.  Even more depressingly, there is little sign that this state of affairs will change soon.

The proportion of female technology leaders and CIOs has remained more or less static for the last seven years.  Only 7% of those responding to the survey were women.   35% of those surveyed reported that their organisations have no female technology managers while 24% have no women at all in their technical/development teams.

While digesting this report I came across this blog post by Lydia Leong of Gartner.  Lydia has a distinguished resume, having worked in IT for 20 years. She draws on her experiences – good and bad – to emphasise that corporate culture is what will make the difference when it comes to improving the representation of women in IT.

She also reports this jaw-dropping story.  At a recent Dell customer/partner summit in Copenhagen a controversial entertainer addressed the audience:

 “The IT business is one of the last frontiers that manages to keep women out. The quota of women to men in your business is sound and healthy,” (and asking the women, “What are you actually doing here?”).

At the time no-one from Dell felt moved to apologise about these comments – although it has since done so via Google+.  This kind of culture – one that hires ‘booth babes’ and speakers with well-known controversial opinions about women in the workplace – is what needs to change if women are to be better represented in IT.

The CIO Survey 2012 is available to download from Harvey Nash.


The connected consumer

Understanding how consumers behave before they make a purchasing decision is invaluable knowledge.  In its latest quarterly report Eccomplished looks at the information and inspiration people seek out in order to reach buying decisions.

Consumers look for two broad types of input to answer their key questions.  They look to their ‘information influencers’ for guidance about how a product works, and their ‘inspiration influencers’ for questions about personal taste.

Eccomplished discovered that over half (54%) of consumers visited an online marketplace and 31% read online reviews when making purchasing choices.  Both of these options push recommendations from family and friends into third place.  39% of respondents would complete an online rating after a purchase and 35% state they would recommend items to family and friends.

However, the report suggests that social media tools are not yet having a significant impact on purchasing decisions.  Only 10% of people said they would ‘follow’ or ‘like’ a brand on a social network while 1% said that their decision had been informed by a recommendation on a social network.

The power of in-person communication

The increasingly distributed and global nature of organisations means that most communications do not occur in ‘real-time’.  However the majority of business leaders consider in-person collaboration as critical to business success.

The Economics Intelligence Unit (commissioned by Cisco) has published a white paper on the value of face-to-face interactions in business.  862 business leaders, representing a range of sectors and business sizes in Europe, the US and Asia Pacific were questioned about the business value of ‘in-person’ (face-to-face) communication.

Over three-quarters of the respondents felt that in-person communication (with colleagues, partners and customers) is critical to success, fostering improved problem resolution, creating better relationships and improving the identification of business opportunities.

However, most business leaders indicated that the majority of their business interactions are ‘non-real-time’ (e.g. via email) and that the absence of visual and audio cues makes it difficult to assess levels of engagement.

Meanwhile, a report by communications firm RW3 suggests that employees in global businesses feel under-skilled when it comes to communicating within cross-border teams.  The 2012 Virtual Teams Survey Report – Challenges of Working in Virtual Teams summarises responses from 3,300 people based in more than 100 countries.  The respondents agree with the business leaders – the absence of visual clues makes it more difficult to collaborate and build trust.  In addition, time zone differences and cultural differences can make virtual team work challenging.  More than 40% report they had never met their colleagues face-to-face.

Although the large majority of those responding conduct at least part of their work virtually only 16% had been trained to help them get the most out of virtual working.

Rebuilding Europe’s skills can generate growth

The economic situation in Europe is challenging to say the least.  Unemployment has grown dramatically since 2008 and economic growth is stagnant.  Although human capital is a critical driver of economic growth, 86% of European employers have cut or frozen their skills and training budgets in the last year. Paradoxically, 43% of the respondents reported at least a moderate skills shortage in their organisations or sectors.

500 senior decision makers across a number of sectors were questioned in a survey carried out by Accenture on behalf of the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium.

The Accenture report focuses on three key challenges currently facing the European skills markets:

  • Untapped talent

The report calls for initiatives to help bring 25 million unemployed people and a further 15 million ‘discouraged’ people into the workforce.  (‘Discouraged’ people include older people, women with children and young people who have withdrawn from the world of work because of a lack of opportunities.)

  • Transferable skills and mobile workforces

Barriers to skills transfer are not only national.  Some organisations have trouble identifying and maximising their internal talent pools.

  • Lack of collaboration between sectors

There is scope for improvement when it comes to planning and managing shifts in employment patterns and labour markets.

The report makes a number of recommendations for stakeholder groups, including policy makers, educational institutions, employers and others.  Key recommendations include:

Actions for employers

  • Invest in data and analytics to profile and track internal talent
  • Offer flexible working options
  • Increase job rotations within organisations and collaborate with others in the same sector.
  • Build partnerships between small and large firms within supply chains to improve skills levels.

Actions for policy makers

  • Improve recognition of skills and qualifications across Europe
  • Simplify regulations regarding global talent recruitment
  • Support partnerships between businesses and education


Intellectual property in the digital economy

Intellectual property is increasingly political.  Recent protests against SOPA/PIPA and ACTA demonstrate that consumers are unhappy with big business driving IP policy.  Lena Roland has summarised the key issues surrounding these initiatives in an excellent guest post on the InfoVision blog.

In response to a call from European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes for ‘Big ideas for the Digital Agenda’, the Linked Content Coalition (LCC) has been launched this week.

The LCC brings together executives from TV, music, news media, IT and internet businesses, and has been set up to work on a cross media project which aims to improve the management of copyright in the online world.  LCC participants want to identify what works – and what doesn’t – and to develop a model that will facilitate commercial and non-commercial use of content.

Meanwhile, Consumer International has published its IP Watchlist for 2012.  In it, 30 countries are ranked according to how their intellectual property (IP) laws and enforcement policies affect consumers.  The report gathers examples of ‘good’ and ‘bad practice’ and highlights initiatives which it feels will provide a fair balance between content consumers and creators.

Israel takes first place in the report, praised for its ‘fair use’ approach to copyrighted material.  The UK appears in the bottom three for the fourth successive year.  The report argues that outdated copyright law hinders academic research, digital product development and ‘cultural engagement’ and calls for the recommendations of the Hargreaves Review to be implemented ‘without delay’.

The report can be downloaded for free.


UK government – agile and digital by default

The UK has a tradition of excellence in public services.  However, this has not always translated into excellent online services.  The UK government is now pursuing a ‘digital first’ and ‘digital by default’ agenda which aims to design and deliver world class digital public services.

Mike Bracken is the Executive Director for the UK Government’s Digital Service, responsible for delivering ‘customer first’ digital services.  Speaking at the ‘Agenda Setters’ stream of seminars at this year’s Internet World event, he described how a transformed, agile approach to design and development is opening up online government services.

Gov.uk is the new single site for government services (replacing Direct.gov).  Currently in beta, the site provides simple, clear and fast answers and is designed with external users in mind.  An example of this customer focus can be seen in the contrasting treatment of the same information – in this case about public holidays in the UK.

On Direct.gov, this information is displayed in a table – the information is correct, it is simply not easy on the eye.  The new site answers the key question that most people searching for bank holiday information want answered – When is the next bank holiday?  It is a simple, yet revolutionary approach to delivering truly customer first information.

Key elements and principles of UK.gov

  • Digital first and digital by design
  • Users first!  The users ‘trump’ the government department(s) in all decisions
  • Digital services NOT websites
  • Less information – much of the ‘marginal’ information currently available on Direct.gov will not be transferred onto Gov.UK
  • Quick tasks and answers – for example, by answering four simple questions you can discover your maternity entitlements
  • Understand the user journey – 90% of users will come into the site via search engines, not via expensive ‘home pages’
  • Devices and mobile  - the content is designed for mobile delivery
  • Agile development – small teams are involved in iterative development.  These are not massive, long term IT projects  This approach means you can ‘fail in increments’ and do something about it
  • Learn from experience
  • Build a trusted network of partners – a contrast with previously strained relationships with large external providers.  Work with world class digital businesses

Today, the government has announced a new advisory board to help drive the next stage of Digital by Default.  Leading figures from academia, industry and retail will help the government deliver its digital transformation agenda.


Human and digital memory

The human memory can be fallible.   Our memories can be distorted by all forms of interference, including hindsight and reinterpretation.  In a session organised by the North London branch of the British Computer Society two speakers discussed what it means to remember – and forget – in a digital world.

What is the relationship between human memory and the artefacts that help us preserve memories?  In non-literate, oral traditions, exact verbatim recall is rare – and in fact serves no purpose.  The oral tradition of history and storytelling is creative and fluid.  In literate societies the written word can support recall – or disprove our memories.   Memory mediated by technology confronts us with ‘the truth’.

In the digitised world, our past never dies.  Even if not taken to the extreme levels of ‘lifelogging’ (where individuals convert their life’s activity into digital forms), we are all creating an increasing number of records which will last and which we will share in new ways.

The artefacts which we use to help us reminisce have moved from the physical to the digital.  The value of many artefacts – particularly those we inherit from older generations – lies in the stories attached to them.  The move from physical objects’ (think vinyl records or hardcopy books) to digital objects means our legacy will increasingly be our manipulation of digital content (e.g. playlists).

But does a digital life preserve the ‘right’ things?  We can capture our ‘life data’ quite easily but how about our emotional life?   How can we ensure we all have the right to ‘informational self determination’ in a world where social digital sharing has changed the very nature of ownership and our understanding of ‘privacy’?.

The speakers at the event were:

Dr Kieron O’Hara, Senior Research Fellow (Electronics and Computer Science) University of Southampton.  Co-author of The Spy in the Coffee Machine

Richard Banks, Principal Interaction Designer, Microsoft Research. Author of The Future of Looking Back