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Case Study 2: resource sharing and social software
Jane Secker London School of Economics and Political Science
Funded by: University of London Centre for Distance Education Teaching and Research Awards
LASSIE Case Study Two © University of London 2008.
This case study studies the social bookmarking tool del.icio.us and how appropriate it is as a tool for librarians for making internet resources available to students. Del.icio.us could be used as an alternative to a subject guide or to a web page of useful resources, that many subject librarians make available from their library website. The advantages and disadvantages of using this tool will be examined, including the ease of updating the list, the ease of sharing the list and the type of resources that can be added to it at either collection or item level.
Storing internet favourites or bookmarks in your browser mean they are only accessible on your desktop PC and they can’t be easily shared. Social bookmarking has many advantages as a personal information management tool. However, the case study will explore whether it could be used as a way of directing students to resources. The project team have used del.icio.us to share resources amongst themselves with some success and this case study will explore how this has worked, but also how it might work in an academic context.
2. Aims and Objectives
• • • To evaluate the social bookmarking tool del.icio.us as a tool for librarians to manage a collection of internet resources for students To explore how tagging might enable relevant resources to be flagged for specific groups of students To write a short report on the advantages and disadvantages that this tool presents
3. Overall Approach
This project is based on experiences of the principle researcher and the project team. Del.icio.us has been used in several different ways in this case study, including the project team using it to share resources amongst themselves. Library resources were also added to del.icio.us in several experiments to create real lists for real students at the LSE.
4. Project Outputs
• • Lists of resources will be created and made available in del.icio.us to students but also to the wider community An evaluation report will be produced
This case study will be of interest to librarians who are considering using social software to manage their own internet favourites or bookmarks. It will also explore the value of social bookmarking as a way of making library resources available to students.
This case study involved the team reflecting on their own experience of social bookmarking and also a variety of experiments with different academics and courses.
6.1 What is social bookmarking
For those unfamiliar with the concept of social bookmarking it is extremely simple, but possibly one of the most effective social software tools available. Most people ‘bookmark’ or store Internet Favourites within their web browser. Both Internet Explorer and Firefox offer this functionality as it enables you to return to useful websites without having to search the web each time. This system works well for those who regularly use the same computer. However for those people who use several computers, such as a computer at work, and another at home, it can be frustrating having to maintain two (or more) lists of internet favourites or bookmarks. It can be further complicated if you use a different browser occasionally, for example Internet Explorer at work and Firefox at home. Social bookmarking tools allow you to create an online account where your bookmarks are stored. You can log into your account from any networked computer and therefore always have your bookmarks available. Most tools have quick buttons that can be downloaded to allow you to quickly bookmark a page while browsing the web – these do need to be installed in each browser you use and on each computer however.
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Social bookmarking uses many of the features common in other social software tools, for example the use of a user profile and tagging. The ability to tag resources and also to share them with others users means that these tools are also an aid to resource discovery. Your bookmarks are by default publicly available, so one of the features of these tools is that you can see who has bookmarked similar sites to yourself. Alternatively you can find a tag relating to a topic you are interested in and see what resources have been tagged by other users. 6.2 Del.icio.us Del.icio.us has quickly become one of the most popular social bookmarking tools (see Figure 1), although others are also available. For example, xxx add details We selected to use del.icio.us to store bookmarks for the LASSIE project back in March 2007. The Centre for Learning Technology set up a del.icio.us account some time before the project commenced and had been using it to bookmark internet resources and websites of relevance to the whole team. The team were also running a class for staff at LSE on how to manage your internet favourites or bookmarks using del.icio.us. It therefore seemed appropriate to create an account for the LASSIE project. Figure 1: Del.icio.us home page
A simple version of online bookmarking available using the personalisation features of Google. Bookmarks can be stored in your Google account so they are accessible from any networked computer. These bookmarks are private to you and are not shared with others in the same way.
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6.3 LASSIE’s use of del.icio.us The LASSIE account was create on del.icio.us partly as an experiment to find out more about how this tool worked. The team were aware that they would find a considerable number of web based resources of relevance to the project and needed a simple to use system to manage this list. In addition to creating an account for the project (LSE_LASSIE), several members of the Project Steering Group also created personal accounts so they could ‘push’ resources they found at the principle researcher, using the networking features. The project’s del.icio.us account is available at: http://del.icio.us/lse_lassie As of November 2007 there were 120 internet sites that have been bookmarked. Using tagging the team have also used the account to bookmark resources of relevance to particular presentations that they have given. For example, all the resources for the conference presentation given at the Seventh Libraries Without Walls presentation are available at: http://del.icio.us/lse_lassie/LWW7 The URL was circulated to all the conference delegates so they could easily follow up any links of interest after the conference. Similarly, the resources for a presentation given in November 2007 to the UK Serials Group were also tagged on del.icio.us and are available at: http://del.icio.us/lse_lassie/UKSG Tagging has been a particularly effective way of highlighting resources and for example, any library blogs of interest to the project have been tagged at: http://del.icio.us/lse_lassie/blog. See Figure 2 for more details Figure 2: The LSE_LASSIE del.icio.us account
Del.icio.us also has several other applications that make it useful for resource sharing, for example the ability to display a ‘tag cloud’ elsewhere on the web. The project team experimented with this function and managed to get the LSE_LASSIE tag cloud to appear on the project home page. See Figure 3 for details.
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Figure 3: Del.icio.us tag cloud appearing on the project home page
6.4 The use of del.icio.us with TRIUM distance learners The team wanted to explore the potential value of del.icio.us for sharing resources with groups of students. The literature review had found several examples of more innovative library services maintaining subject guides on del.icio.us. A notable and inspiring example is available on the Queensland University of Technology’s Library website which have several internet subject guides in del.icio.us and use the tag cloud on their home page to present the links to students. The first experiment involved preparing an online library guide for students on a distance learning programme at LSE, called TRIUM. These students visit LSE at the outset of the course and have access to library resources throughout their studies. Many are based outside of the UK and they rarely visit the LSE Library in person. This course uses the virtual learning environment Blackboard, and in previous years a paper document was given to all students at the outset of the course, outlining the most important library resources. As an alternative to a paper (or PDF guide) these resources were added to del.icio.us. They were all tagged with the word ‘TRIUM’ to produce an online resource list. This is available at: http://del.icio.us/lse_lassie/TRIUM Del.icio.us allows a tag to be annotated and so it was possible to include some information about the set of resources, who they were aimed at, who compiled the list and some basic information about the Library at LSE. 6.5 The use of del.icio.us with Institute of Education students The LASSIE project took place at an opportune moment in relation to developments in e-learning at the Institute of Education (IoE). An HEA funded Pathfinder project (the PREEL project: http://www.lkl.ac.uk/research/benchmarking/) was underway, which aimed to explore how the large amount of research into e-learning taking place at the IoE and associated institutions could be embedded into practical teaching and learning. At the same time the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) was being realigned as a modular ‘M’ level course. A number of PGCE module leaders were involved in PREEL and took the opportunity to enhance their e-learning support in a number of ways. The module tutor and liaison librarian agreed to trial the use of del.icio.us with a group of Primary PGCE students taking the ICT specialism. Resources on the module reading list were added to del.icio.us using the tag ‘ioepgce2007’. Students were encouraged to create their own del.icio.us account, search for the tagged items and add them to their own lists and add resources themselves, using the common tag. Thus a large shared resource is created which students can tap into for ideas and library staff can use to help to understand and anticipate the needs of students. In a few cases the choice of resources may also raise concerns about appropriateness for purpose and help library staff plan and provide appropriate information literacy support. In the first six weeks after the tag was created, about 12 students used the tag and 186 items were tagged (from the original 29). The tutor and liaison librarian met with the students in early December and many students expressed enthusiasm for del.icio.us while others were less confident about how useful it might be. The initial attraction certainly came from the possibility of accessing favorites wherever users might be (without needing to be at their own PC); students had not grasped the
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potential of being able to see and make use of others’ favourites. A number of students expressed a lack of confidence in deciding on suitable tags and many were keen to improve their use of electronic journals and databases to find more appropriate resources for their studies. The liaison librarian now has evidence of the need for appropriate information literacy support, some of which is already available for use in Blackboard (which is being used to support the course) but has not been added to the course due to lack of interest from tutors. To view the resources tagged by staff and students see: http://del.icio.us/tag/ioepgce2007 6.6. The use of del.icio.us with media students at LSE A member of the project team, a subject liaison librarian at LSE, decided to experiment by using del.icio.us to create resource lists for staff and students in her department. The LSE Media and Communication department has all postgraduate level students and a list was set up in September 2007 with the following aims: • The liaison librarian wanted to find away to direct students to library databases, as she believed they often used Google but didn’t know about subscription databases such as International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS). • By creating an internet based list she hoped students would be alerted to key internet resources, in addition to the library resources in their subject. • The librarian also wanted to create a current awareness page to highlight new papers she found on the web in a way that was quicker and easier than sending out emails to large numbers of students. Del.icio.us was chosen because the librarian wanted a flexible, quick way of sharing key websites with students. Students have reported that they find the hierarchy in the current Electronic Library system a little difficult to navigate, so this might not be the best way of presenting web resources to them. In addition, liaison librarians cannot easily edit the hierarchy in the Electronic Library pages, so it is not ideal for quickly highlighting new resources. Del.icio.us offered the opportunity to create a list that could be easily edited and kept up to date. The use of del.icio.us was also partly an excuse to contact staff and students regularly to show the library was up to date with their research area. Setting up the list was relatively straightforward and the librarian attended a class run by the Centre for Learning Technology at LSE on social bookmarking to learn to use this tool herself. Originally she thought she would use del.icio.us as a way of storing her personal bookmarks to access from anywhere, but after attending the course she saw it had greater potential. She had seen a few examples of library’s using del.icio.us before, but was not familiar with social bookmarking personally until attending the class. The experience of using del.icio.us was generally positive although she found the concept of “cloud tags” slightly confusing. She wanted to make her list of tags simple and well structured and felt being presented with a subject hierarchy was more familiar to her than having to construct a classification herself from scratch. She was aware this trait was mentioned by Meredith Farkas in her recent Library 2.0 webcast, that librarians try to make things perfect and they want to sketch out a hierarchy before they do anything. In a way, the librarian at LSE felt this held her back a little as she didn’t like experimenting and wanted del.icio.us to present her with something like a library classification scheme. The librarian reported that the training documentation provided by the Centre for Learning Technology was extremely helpful. She doesn’t find it easy to teach herself new skills and prefers to attend a hands-on training event. She also believed it was essential to have time for hands on practice in a classroom setting. Learning new skills such as using a social bookmarking tool is not always intuitive and in this case the librarian felt she needed to allocate a set time away from other jobs, to read up and to experiment with using a tool like del.icio.us. In general she felt that many libraries have been slow to realise that social networking skills are becoming increasingly important. Time is therefore needed for formal training and self learning. The library profession should not assume that staff will access these technologies and pick up knowledge from their life outside work, therefore extra support and training is required. The librarian wanted to create categories that reflected the types of material she was regularly asked for by users e.g. images, or government documents. She also looked at masters level course
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syllabuses to try to determine the key subjects in the field. The aim was to include both library databases and internet sites in the same place so students would find both types of resources. She encountered problems linking directly to resources in the Electronic Library. To avoid any access problems, wherever possible the librarian provided information about any required passwords in the comments field of del.icio.us. The librarian was also keen to create a section that would highlight the latest research which would then be presented at the top of the resource list. She had some problems working out how she could name the tags in order to achieve this and then how to force the list to appear in a specific order. Another difficulty she found was coming up with consistent tags that reflected the content of a site. The librarian was worried that if she wasn’t consistent things the list would be disordered, and not the short straightforward list she was trying to achieve. She felt the naming of tags required a more informal approach to classification than using a traditional library scheme, so in the end she called the new resources “good reads.” This work started in September 2007 so the results are limited to date. Publicity has consisted of: a link to the del.icio.us list on the Library subject web pages. The librarian is concerned that these pages are rather hidden. To view the list see: http://del.icio.us/heatherdawson The link to del.icio.us has also been inserted into the hard copy quick subject guide for media – although this is less useful as users need to type a URL and can’t follow the link to del.icio.us directly. In terms of direct publicity to Media PhD students and staff, every month the liaison librarian sends an email with new resources. The del.icio.us link is now included with details of the “good reads” that have been recently added. The librarian has also given a workshop for Media PhD students where she demonstrate the list. Feedback to date has been limited because this initiative is so recent. The use of del.icio.us also coincided with a switch to using an enhanced email newsletter to staff. While no specific feedback has referred to del.icio.us, the librarian has had staff responding to the email newsletter. She also tends to get emails from staff about other library issues immediately after sending out the newsletter so they are clearly reading it. It will no doubt take longer to gather feedback about whether del.icio.us is useful in this context. However, once the site was set up, the librarian reported that creating links to resources is very quick and she has added this to her regular updating tasks without creating a significant extra workload. She also feels there could be more things she could do with del.icio.us as her knowledge and experience grows over time. 6.7 Issues when using del.icio.us to bookmark library resources While the project team overall found del.icio.us to be an easy to use bookmarking system, we did experience some problems when bookmarking library resources. For example, the TRIUM resource list had a number of subscription databases included and these proved to be particularly problematic to include on the list. Similarly, the Media and Communication librarian reported some difficulty in bookmarking library resources. Typically, these types of resources need to be accessed via an ‘approved front door’ such as via Electronic Library software, so the database provider knows access is from a genuine LSE student. The Electronic Library system used currently at LSE does not allow specific resources to be bookmarked in a traditional way – the URLs of individual records in the ELibrary are not stable. Therefore, it proved difficult to add certain resources to the del.icio.us list. An additional problem arose over the level of cataloguing that was appropriate using a social bookmarking site, for example, whether a link should point to a collection, or to an item within a collection. This issue was further complicated because item level linking is not possible with some databases and regular bookmarking techniques will not work. For example, journal articles often need to be bookmarked using a Digital Object Identifider (DOI) or persistent URL , rather than the link that appears in the browser window. Finally an issue arose over consistency (or inconsistency) in tagging. Because tagging is ‘user generated content’ people frequently use different terms to describe the same thing. This issue arose at the UKSG seminar in November, where the LASSIE team were presenting. All the resources for the presentation had been tagged using the word ‘UKSG’ however an earlier speaker suggested that specific events (or courses) should agree on a standard tag before the event, so that all resources could be located using this term. Some people felt this idea was at odds with the concept of tagging,
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while others recognised that a specific unique tag could have specific value to help a group identify resources of relevance to them. The Institute of Education adopted the approach of specifying a common tag that users should add to resources, however there was an awareness that this tag served a different purpose to a regular subject based tag. 7. Conclusion and recommendations Social bookmarking has tremendous potential to aid resource discovery and allow resource sharing between staff and students on courses. It has also been quickly adopted by those with foresight in the library community as it offers a more flexible approach to maintaining lists of internet resources. While there are currently some potential problems with tagging library databases and subscription resources, these may be resolved over time and shouldn’t detract from the value. The LASSIE project team found the del.icio.us to be an invaluable tool through the duration of the project and hope to maintain the account and add relevant resources in the future.
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