Sunday, January 22, 2012

Adding social & gamification to the library - Catalogues & Lemontree

First a recep of the story so far.

Libraries first came online with webopacs and it was good. Then came the wave of next generation library catalogues (including Encore, Aquabrowser, Primo) and they were suppose to be better. How much better? They were supposed to be more "google like" (no more field searches and boolean!), they had faceted browsing, relevancy ranking, autocorrect and "did you mean" features? And above all they were SOCIAL, allowing users to tag, rate, add comments etc.

Now 5 years down the road, while some of the other features like faceted browsing and relevancy ranking seemed to have had some value (e.g. Facets are used more than advanced searches), social features seems to have mostly being a failure particularly at academic libraries (anyone disagree?).

The main reason seems (1) Users have no incentive to use social features leading to (2) lack of mass. Even Google with all their clout are laboring mightily to push their Google+ social network, would libraries on their own institution by institution stand a chance?

It's heartening to notice that ILS vendors seem to have finally grasped this point.

Innovative Interface's recent press release, Encore Release 5 brings social networking capabilities to discovery platform says this

" In Release 5 of Encore, users will be able to "like" all kinds of library content such as books, movies, and music. Sharing these finds on social networks will be easy, with the use of a standard set of sharing links that include Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others. Encore Release 5 will also provide users with the ability to create and share their own home page with options to include a profile, reviews, reading lists they create, or items they have checked out or put on hold. What's more, library users will find more content created by their peers thanks to a pool of reviews and shared lists created by Encore users worldwide."

Under the heading the "right kind of social"

"The new capacities of Encore represent the right way to approach social features in libraries," says Encore Product Manager Alan Dyck. "We've formally surveyed librarians and found that an approach that connects with social activities, rather than recreating a social platform, will be most desirable for them and their communities. At many points, users will find options to share things to social networks patrons are already using, while also discovering the views and reviews of their peers in Encore."

Exactly right! No point creating a separate social platform if it does not connect to current dominant ones like Facebook. The idea of pooling content from all users of the system not just from one library is another good step, though one wonders if one could pool with only academic libraries etc. Another system that does the pooling user generated content trick across institutions is Bibliocommons and LibraryThing for libraries.

But these new features, brings the user who is already on library pages to user's social media world, but what about the reverse? Getting users who on social media platforms to the library? 

Another press release SirsiDynix announces SirsiDynix Social Library, industry’s first native Facebook app

"Patrons of SirsiDynix Social Library can securely log in to their library via Facebook, just as they do today at their physical library using the same credentials. Among other capabilities, the SirsiDynix Social Library solution also enables library users to:
Search their local library catalog and place holds on materials of interest right from the library's Facebook page.
Access My Account features including checkouts, hold management and payment history.
Share and ‘like' library materials within the social environment where users worldwide currently spend more than 700 billion minutes each month."

                                             Brunel University Library, Facebook app (check account)

Native facebook apps that allow logins (not just a search box) are not easy to do (I know of only 2 libraries that have done so), so this is a very amazing feature. With so many users already stuck on Facebook for them to be able to do all their library searching in Facebook would help tremendously

Next steps?

It seems to me that the next obvious thing to do is to include such social features into the latest "Discovery" or unified index products like Summon, Ebsco Discovery Service,  etc, many of which currently do not have much.

After all if this works for books, it's probably even better for articles, particularly the "pooling" of all user generated content in the system across institutions feature which might suddenly become the fabled "Facebook for Scientist/Researchers" that people have being trying so hard for the last few years without success (many are dying off, Mendeley & ResearchGate seem to be around?).

Incidentally I am not sure why database platforms insist on trying to create private workspace type features that are supposed to serve as a way to manage one's research, are these really going to takeoff? The chances of me wanting to go learn this one interface to manage my research project is limited as it's a very closed and worse yet limited silo that can't easily pull in other articles from other sources.

Compare to Summon-like solutions which while not being close to 100% complete, are close enough to be worth using (though I imagine they should include ways to pull in papers not indexed if they really want to function as a place to manage research, though frankly my money is more on online citation managers finding winning the crown)

I can imagine though I am searching Summon etc and I find a couple of papers that might be of interest to my collaborators, one click and it goes off to a Facebook list of my research collaborators.

But I guess that's a longshot, as for that to succeed, a lot of other features have to be put in, beyond a posting of reviews to Facebook feature so my money is still on something like say Mendeley or citeulike or ResearcherID winning the crown for "Facebook for researchers"

The other stumbling block is that there is still some confusion over whether such unified index products can eventually take the place of webopacs etc, so will there ever be a Facebook app for say Summon or EDS that allows you to check your loan account in Facebook? (Note: some products are all-in-one)


But the above is still pretty trivial and the library automation industry is typically a few years behind what is cutting edge in silicon valley etc, so all the announcements coming out last week from ALA MidWinter is still really playing catching up.

So what's currently hot?  Gamification ! In my opinion in the lead among libraries now I believe is University of Huddersfield's implementation of Lemon Tree , current development blog

The idea here is obvious to use game and social based techniques to encourage increased usage of resources.

"You get points for doing all sorts of things in and around the library like; visiting it, borrowing items, doing things at specific hours, returning items in certain combinations and much more..." . 

As you might expect there are achievements and badges, levels to gain etc.

As far as I understand it (you can't do much without having a library card), you associate your card to the system and it will keep track of all your activities and will give you points even if you don't interact with the Lemontree system from that point on. Though of course you can choose to comment, review, annotate.

It's a really interesting project , that has been live for only a few months with little promotion, and it already has 120 users, 44,585 points scored and 333 badges unlocked! 

Here's the game in the words of the developers themselves

I also highly recommend downloading and watching the presentation by Andrew Walsh to get for a full view.

But here are some screenshots. You can see what is happening currently, and performance by schools

You can see a leaderboard, including by schools. Here's what you can see of the current top Lemon Tree player

It's curious how much of the data is open even to someone unregistered like me. When you register you can choose to hide the titles of books borrowed though.

But I guess this reflects perhaps the current trend of being open, after all users of LibraryThing, Goodreads, and traditional Social networks like Twitter are by default open. However, these are generally for non-academic uses, so it's unclear if students might be uneasy with letting other students see what they are reading particularly if  it can be keyed to a course for competitive reasons.

It goes without saying Facebook apps are available and you can login to Lemon Tree using it. Roughly 50% of current Lemontree users use the app, selected achievements, activities like reviewing books are posted to Facebook.

Provides a reason for users to comment, review items. Currently points cannot be exchanged for anything tangible real world rewards currently, because developers want to focus on getting the game mechanics correct for people to play Lemontree for the game itself (ie incentive is the game itself)

It's by a company called Running in the halls who are very into libraries and who state that they want to

"Work with specialists to support more library systems and interoperate with other services. we’re obviously really keen on talking to Talis, Axiell and SirsiDynix as well as the people behind enrichment services such as librarything *which we love*..."

The project has a Twitter account and a Facebook page

The library people involved in the project are the fabulous Andrew Walsh and Dave Pattern. For more, I also recommend watching the video presentation.

This project is in very early phases, they are planning mobile, linking to their own in-house reading list software where users can perhaps get lemon tree points for clicking on links, adding comments etc.. 

I can imagine one could give points for all sorts of things from exploring the library portal, search for FAQs, using email or chat service to contact the librarian, contributing book reviews, recommending books for purchase etc, Points for scanning qrcodes on instructional material etc.. Pretty much anything you want to encourage. Really exciting.

One must consider I suppose the possibility that users might start gaming the system and even in the case of Lemon Tree where there are no tangible rewards (unlike say Foursquare Mayorship at Starbucks), there has already being one case of slightly "naughty" behavior.

Andrew Walsh in the  presentation mentions they are pretty unique and the closest is perhaps Summer Game at AADL

He also mentions  this is a "Vanilla" basic build and that the company Running in the halls are planning other library themed games for other university libraries as well as other "favours" for Public Libraries..... which may even work better given the population size they serve.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Receiving the LAS Outstanding Newcomer award

2011 has been an amazing year for me professionally, I got to attend my first overseas conference (ALA annual 2011), spoke overseas, contributed a few articles and a book chapter or two. More amazingly, I was named a LJ Mover & Shaker 2011 in March, voted best speaker at a LAS (Library of Association) Library seminar in April and my luck continued towards 2012, where I was voted one of several "NUS Libraries Shining Stars" by my colleagues and last week I was awarded the LAS award for outstanding newcomer and to top it off I was promoted to the rank of Senior Librarian!

The above sounds really boastful & self congratulatory but I am also humbled by all the accolades which makes me pause and think about what I can do to help the profession. The traditional 5 year period which marks one as a newcomer expires for me in Aug 2012, so very soon I can no longer hide behind the "I'm still a newbie" excuse.

To begin with I was asked to say a few words at the LAS event to encourage future and current librarians. I was somewhat surprised to have to do this, as I was under the impression all I had to do was to go up stage and shake hands. :)

This is what I came up with.

"Thank you all for the award, I am humbled to receive this award. I am sure you all read or heard much talk about the predicted demise of libraries with people talking about libraries becoming extinct. I remember even at my very first LAS conference a few years back, the guest of honour- a non-librarian said that he sensed gloom and doom from us and of course last year at this very event a similar sentiment was expressed.

But while I feel there is much to do and change in libraries, we are far from finished. Recently even Richard Watson, the futurist who placed libraries in the extinction timeline in 2020 recently said that he repents (so I guess he feels like the people in Aljunid now”) and that he got it “Totally wrong”.

The danger lies in us librarians admitting defeat and discouraging other bright new passionate minds from joining the profession and contributing the fresh ideas that we so very need. Believe it or not librarians-to-be look up to us and they want to be us. I experienced this first hand, as a newly minted librarian, where a few students would come up to me and say they wanted to be a librarian. How should one respond?

In my personal and professional life I have seen the difference been positive and believing and fighting for what you believe can do. I have won professional battles simply by believing something is possible and going for it.

But you can’t win all battles, and inevitably you will feel fustrated. But if there is one thing I have learnt is that being frustrated is normal. 

Roy Tennant from OCLC perhaps said it best in An Open Letter to New Librarians

" Deeply committed and visionary people will also tend to be frustrated and impatient. But I’m here to tell you that with dedication and patience you will not only survive, but thrive. Our profession is counting on you to do so. Only the best and the brightest are frustrated. Everyone else is bored, or unengaged, or biding their time for retirement. You are the ones we simply cannot do without.”

Personally I have suffered setbacks that made me consider leaving the industry and it was only with the support of friends, family, peers from the library world, colleagues in particular my direct boss and the senior library leadership of NUS Libraries that did not happen.

I know this is just the beginning of my career and my speech sounds almost like I've won an oscar, but like most of you, libraries is my life and I am looking forward to working with you all to contribute towards the future of libraries

Thank you."

Okay, while that was what I planned to say, in actual fact I was so nervous I forgot what I wanted to say and pretty much messed it up. :) I did manage to get Roy Tennant's quote correctly and it draw applause (thanks Roy!)

While I am still fairly junior and still have a very long way to go myself, I pledge in 2012 to focus less on myself and focus more when I can on helping, encouraging and sharing my experiences with my bright, passionate & inevitably impatient and often frustrated juniors.

After all we need as many talented and passionate librarians working side by side to secure the future of libraries and we all have to play our part to ensure this. 

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