26 November 2009

Lost in Space

This is just a photo essay on two lakes in Canberra. Words by Aimee Mann: Lost in Space and images taken by me while playing around with different cameras. I think you need to view it in Flickr as a slideshow to see the captions. (Select Show info once onto the slideshow.)

23 November 2009

Universities & the cloud: services, economics & impacts

On the final day of Educase09, the last working session that I attended was Cloud Computing: Services, Economics, and Impacts. I'd missed an earlier session that was very popular on the same subject due to conflicting interests and as the last session on the topic, the session was so full that it was standing room only. I didn't have enough space to pull out my laptop, so took some very rough notes on my iPhone. (Apologies if they don't provide a complete picture of the session.) I found it very enlightening and objective on the subject and the considerations surrounding this issue.
The discussion centred on a range of questions given to the panel of experts (mostly CIOs - see the link above for full details). I've tried to note their responses.
Cloud computing: definitions
Some definitions were discussed and all seemed to have an element about scale. These are useful:

A style of computing where massively scalable IT-related capabilities are provided “as a service” using Internet technologies to multiple external customers.
(Gartner, 6/08).

. . . massive aggregation of a wide variety of IT services delivered via fast digital networks - much like power generation and the electrical grid of a public utility.
(Brad Wheeler & Shelton Waggener, EDUCAUSE review 2009)

The services themselves have long been referred to as Software as a Service (SaaS). The datacenter hardware and software is what we will call a Cloud. When a Cloud is made available in a pay-as-you-go manner to the general public, we call it a Public Cloud; the service being sold is Utility Computing.
We use the term Private Cloud to refer to internal datacenters of a business or other organization, not made available to the general public.”
Armbrust, et al., Above the Clouds)

What is different, and how is it different, when you compare cloud computing to traditional out-sourcing or software as a service?

  • Cloud computing needs integration so it looks like extension of the campus.
  • It also needs strong identity management and a federation system.
  • It differs from out sourcing as it is usually more flexible, elastic and it is more configurable to meet changed demands.
  • Also, cloud computing makes universities it think differently about running everything themselves.
  • The comfort factor is different too for off-campus services: If Google goes down people seem to understand; there is a different end-user experience in cloud.
  • Users don't care about content being hosted in a “ .edu” domain as long as it works.
  • Easy-to-use interfaces from huge investments in the cloud if the services are mass consumerised but if not, it could cause trouble.
  • One panelist saw IT as advocates for best service and therefore the cloud had to be on their radar.

What is the compelling case for cloud computing?

  • There are very obvious economic benefits from shared data centres alone. Regional computing centres are growing rapidly in California - as the cheapest available solution.
  • We need to decouple the concept of "computer labs" from the location of software and digital storage so they (i.e. users) don't need to come to the service (it comes to them).
  • We may be in a "perfect storm" for case-building right now: the GFC; carbon neutral pressure; limited expansion space; etc.
  • The total cost of ownership is less.
  • Services are provided to locations all over with limited space investment.
  • The time to market and deliver is much quicker.

There may be opportunities for scaling infrastructure. Does the collaborative nature of higher ed support cloud activities across university systems or consortia?

  • One panelist cited the example of the Fedora Commons and Dspace consortium DuraCloud as large buying agents.
  • Collaboration provides many advantages for those who don't have the necessary storage competencies.
  • Collaborative consortia may be better equipped to leverage Amazon services.
  • There is already pressure for access from researchers to use the commercial cloud and they seem less concerned with oft cited disadvantages such as re privacy, security of data, down times, etc.
  • It works when the new service is better than old way

How does cloud computing impact governance, the organization of our departments and the skills of our staff?

  • Simple innovation isn't a component of greatness - we need to focus on core (and not just try to be "trendy").
  • Cloud computing could be disruptive and it must be a strategic decision that is supported by whole management team (it isn't just a tactical initiative tactical like moving student email to Google is).
  • The decision needs entire institution buy-in.
  • It is broader than just a CIO issue.
  • Privacy issues: when dealing with offshore servers, yes there are jurisdiction issues; but Google is willing to give assurances that they will comply with national requirement as they want our business; the problem is solvable.
  • One issue is the possibility of going to the cloud and then the company who is providing the service goes bankrupt, but that can also happen with traditional IT services. A risk management plan is needed.
  • Universities may need to reset different levels of service.

How does cloud computing impact governance, the organization of our departments and the skills of our staff?

  • We cannot grow as quickly, even in regional collaboration projects as the large commercial companies can.
  • What changes needed in IT staff? More expertise in contract management.
  • Someone needs to make a sensible decision about which records to turn over.
  • Most (IT) jobs and roles are changing anyway.

What should campuses be thinking about today and including in our planning for tomorrow?

  • Changing capital $ into those devoted to the provision of services (power costs need to be considered too).
  • In general, some services seem appropriate for the cloud, some should be provided on the campus & and some should be shared.

Some thoughts about Apple (the Mac variety)

As you may have noticed, I recently returned from a hectic two-week trip to the US for an education and higher education conference (Educause09) in Denver Colorado and a race through various institutions (university libraries, state archives and factories) equipped with automated storage and repository systems (ASRS).
I have to add that I travelled with an iPhone (a work phone) and a new 13" MacBook Pro (my own). Both of these Apple devices proved to be robust, efficient and very reliable for the entire trip. I had no hassles staying in touch and making new contacts by email, Twitter, web, Flickr, SMS, etc. And I found connecting to what seems to be a pretty standard offering of free (or included) wifi access in my hotel rooms no probs whatsoever. Apple devices just work without any hassles.
I also visited a few Apples stores and ended up purchasing a cool purple acrylic protective cover for my new MacBook in Denver and some noise reducing headphones in San Francisco. There is something about Apple Stores that I find irresistible (quite apart from the fact that I am kind of addicted to the design and functionality of most Apple devices). In two different stores I found excellent customer service and easily processed sales where I stood with friendly staff on their hand-held devices. I even had the option (which I took) of receiving a receipt electronically by email. When back in Sydney I was alerted to the following post about the new Apple Store that just opened in NYC by one of the people I follow on Twitter: Apple: the "New Nordstrum".
The post explains it in talking about the opening of the new store in New York:

The beauty of the stores are effective but that’s not what’s ultimately driving sales. At the end of the day, the physical store is merely the visible manifestation of the Apple customer experience.
That is where I think we need to go with the services we offer in libraries.

16 November 2009

Mathewson IGT Knowledge Center, UNR

This slide show comes from the Mathewson IGT Knowledge Center, University of Nevada, Reno. I visited on Veteran's Day and even on the national holiday a staff member (Erin Silva) was available to give me a tour, answer my questions and Carolyn Adams (the Head of Library Services) had even prepared a useful briefing paper for me. I have referred to that paper in producing this post, particularly about "MARS" (see below).

UNR's Mathewson Automated Storage and Retrieval System (“MARS”)

(My thanks again to Carolyn Adams for the information below.)

MARS has six cranes, over 25,000 bins and is three stories high. It was completed in 2008 and now has over 600,000 items locatd in about 10,000 bins (about 40% of maximum capacity). The maximum number of "picks" (retrievals) per day from MARS is 323 and the average picks per day is 77 (they are open from 8 am to midnight, so this is around five per hour), including staff and patron use.

Interestingly, they have three levels of picking stations:
  1. Used by Teaching & Learning Technologies department for (dedicated rather than random) equipment storage. Two workstations on one aisle.
  2. Used by Library Services department (the main level). Items stored include books published before 1995 that have been checked out seven of less times in the last 20 years and periodicals older than one year. High use materials are excluded. They took nine months to load 500,000 items initially. Books and periodicals are all stored randomly. A green mask is used over the external barcode label to denote MARS items. There are 11 workstations on nine aisles.
  3. Used by Special Collections and University Archives. Items have dedicated bin storage and there is a secured access point or non-circulating collections. Storage includesd manuscript boxes and framed photographs. Four workstations on two aisles.
They loaded the (empty) bins in the system first and then loaded the collection items into the bins using the picking stations (which is when the six stations on the main level were busiest). Like UNLV, they have student circulation staff who assisted with this.

They initially marked all books destined for MARS with a blue dot, but these fell off and some were missed, so since then they have used the green mask over the barcode labels to alert retrieval/circulation staff about books to be returned to MARS. Student workers were used to size books for their bins: 8, 10, 12, 14 and 18 inches. They did not report the same physical access issues with the 18 inch bins as reported by UNLV. Maybe their stations were slightly lower? I noted the hazard warning strips and the use of cushioned matting at the stations to make them more comfortable for staff loading books for long time frames. (See the images on Flickr.)

Interestingly, they do not have a sound system to alert staff to requests from MARS (like they do at Lied Library UNLV), so it is dependent on staff looking in on the system (at the rear of their staff area) to see if any bins have been brought up by MARS to the picking stations. The advertised delivery time is 10-15 mins from request, but it is usually in the immediate to 5 mins range.

Monographs in MARS are rarely requested and it seems that journals are the most often requested items. These are not stored in runs. All monographs and periodicals are stored randomly (other than by size), by the system itself. They keep the most recent journal issues on the shelves until bound (in-house), after which they are placed in MARS. They do lend journals (but not from MARS) for up to three days.

They are a recently commissioned library (2008), so did not see the need for a glass window to the system. They have a screen near the circulation desk that runs a loop of a video on the system that is also available on their website. They have now discontinued tours of MARS (which they used to run for anyone) because of safety concerns about access to the machinery itself. Unlike the Australian set up we will have to have under our legislative requirements, there are no protective cages, nor screens preventing people from coming into contact with a crane if they lent over the edge of a station.

Erin said they needed an area to store divider materials (MDF). She did not know whether the MDF stored on carts behind the picking stations was spare or replacement dividers.

Erin said that at first, they did not offer retrievals from MARS over the weekend as circulation staff on weekends were usually just students, but eventually staff were put on to supervise students and now retrievals are available whenever it is open.

Library Building space

The large open atrium was sad to be an important feature that impacts on the student experience when entering the Knowledge Center and therefore impacts on student experience and their behaviour in the library. The openness achieved in the atrium is due to the fact that 50% of the collection is stored in the ASRS, thus leaving more open spaces for library users to use for other purposes. Students can use the spaces as they like, without regulation apart from the fifth floor which is reserved as a quiet space and is glassed in accordingly (unlike the other open floors, which all have a range of group study spaces). The students monitor each others’ behaviour and noise quite well.

The lowest floor (under the ground floor entrance) is perhaps the most unconventional and interesting. Outside the learning commons “@ One” is a 160-seat auditorium with full multi-media capabilities. @ One contains no book shelves at all. It is mostly a computer commons with both PCs and Macs and some large wide screen Macs in the commons area as well as a studio of about 18 Macs in one room for the purposes of using non-text based software to create films, podcasts, etc. They also have two studios, one for sound/film recording and one for editing. They lend out multi-media equipment like video cameras as well.

They have a suite just for data analysis use and a useful and well-used computer instruction lab with tiered and sloped desking.

Probably the most interesting and certainly the most popular feature is their print/production centre, the only such facility on campus. This can produce large posters, art/graphic prints and photographic prints and is very well used by students for all kinds of purposes. They are just charged a cost for the materials (inks, paper, board, etc.) and this works out to be 1/5 of the commercial cost for such services.


15 November 2009

J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah

Here is the slide show from my visit to the "U of U" in Salt Lake City. Yet another impressive academic library with an ASRS by HK Systems (called "ARC" Automated Retrievals Centre), who also showed me around their manufacturing plant and the Utah State Archives ASRS.

I must also thank the helpful staff of the U of U Library who were very generous with their time and in answering all of my questions.


Some pretty rough notes from my visit:
Trays/bins from the ARC are delivered straight up by the cranes. They have four cranes delivering about 2 million items in bins 6”, 9”, 12” & 18”. These bins are typical HK mini-load bins (or totes) and can cope with up to 750 lb loads. This is more than tightly packed paper (of any density) would weigh and they are tested for maximum load carrying capacity in the HK plant, also in Salt Lake City.

They have CD/DVDs in the lower 6” bins and are beginning to also include microform.

The trays only tilt about 5 degrees for the pickers as they are near the top of the system. It is 45 foot high crane.

They do not keep all serials in their runs and have not found this to be an issue.

They do not have spines facing up (none of the systems I saw in the US did), but the computer screens tell the pickers which zone o sector the item is in and then they must identify it themselves. Their zones are pretty full and they have to readjust the load of the zone before fitting some books in, or check it out again and note that the tray is full and re-store it elsewhere.

The Marriot Library did a “huge” library re-organisation to cope with the new library wing and the ARC. It has freed up much space and allowed for collection expansion. The ARC is attended by their Security, Circulation and Access Team. The ARC staff member who took us around the system said he had three days initially training and he had since learned more through daily use. Reference and loans staff estimate that only 5% of books used come from the ASRS. (I will email for through-put figures.)

They do not have RFID and are moving to ExLibris Primo as heir discovery and delivery system.

They undertook a 12 month intensive weeding program (completed in six months) before loading the arc totes and the library was continually kept open over the four year building and ARC-implementation program.

Reference Services staff say that a glass window so that (particularly new) students could understand the system would be useful. There are glass doors and walls, but they think students should be able to see the size/extent and working of the system including robotic retrievals in progress. A video camera showing the path of a requested book is desirable.

When walking around the Library I saw some excellent (& very popular) “Knoll” lounge chairs. See image on the Flickr set (above).

Lied Library, UNLV

This slide show is from the Lied Library, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The post comes to you from the One World Lounge at LAX, so it may need some further adjustments after a couple of glasses of champagne. Really I should have put up the slide show of the U of Utah at Salt Lake City first, but I just got all confused in Flickr, so here it is, out of order.


09 November 2009

Salt Lake City Public Library slide show from Flickr

Wow! Even those of you who are hard to impress will be amazed by this library.

Salt Lake City has a very impressive public library design by Moshe Safdie. It is a good looking and striking building, but the internal spaces are what makes it function so well. It was a real pleasure to visit and so easy to explore. I found myself constantly surprised by what else it had to offer.
Nothing is over the top or just for show and all features seem to have a genuine purpose.
It cleverly makes the best of the sweeping views of the ranges that the position has to offer. I enjoyed: the small "boutiques" on ground level, the lifts and the stairs that take you out into the atrium, the roof top garden, the furnishings, the study "galleries" looking over the atrium, the water feature outside, the amphitheatre and the sweeping semi-circular stairway leading down from the roof-top. Fantastic!

07 November 2009

MCA Denver slideshow from Flickr

accessCeramics: digital image collection using Flickr

Mark Dahl's and Jeremy McWilliams' presentation on accessCeramics was probably the most inspirational session that I attended at Educause09. I am an unashamed fan of Flickr and its possibilities and Mark and Jeremy explained just how they used it to its full potential. Many of us should be following their brilliant example as it shows just how an institution can use a Web 2.0 service to facilitate a collaborative project. You can see all 53 slides for yourself in the presentation link above. These cover: the history of the project, how they did it, who was involved, cataloguing issues, enhancements, lessons learned, gains, costs and future plans. And they are now using Twitter (@accessCeramics) as their news feed: another great idea.

Having been involved in a more traditional (i.e. expensive, never ending, painful and frustratingly complex) DAM program in a large museum recently that used commercially sourced software, I found slide #48 particularly illuminating. Yes, they had hurdles too, but nowhere near the issues endemic in the traditional models.

Recently, we've started discussions about a community-based project to develop a special collection as part of the UTS Library. We will certainly be looking very closely at accessCeramics.

05 November 2009

Disrespectful and Time-Wasting, or Engaged and Transformative? The Mile-High Twitter Debate

This post is "loosely based" (as they say in films) on a series of my tweets (@malbooth) from the Twitter Debate session at Educause09. I've cleaned up and explained a few tweets in the interests of your sanity.

(#edTwitter is the hash tag for the Twitter debate at #educause09)
  • RT @jeremyindenver Standing room only at the Mile High Twitter debate (yes, the room was packed and people were standing up lining all walls)
  • Mostly academic theatre so far.
  • Noise, safety, security, content, distractions, spam, reality?
  • Or passion, diversity, helpful, connections, real time?
  • Check this video out -- The Twitter Experiment - UT Dallas http://bit.ly/YlBZt
  • CIOs as orange cones over potholes?
  • A reference to Harvard now. The school that gave us those that gave us the GFC [sorry, that was unfair: I put it onto the jet lag]
  • Is it about experimentation, innovation, making mistakes, exploring?
  • "Messy creativity that leads to engagement" (I liked that)
  • Do ground rules inhibit exploration & experimentation?
  • Google on innovation. Comes when reflecting, not on schedule in a divisional structure. Self-organise in shared-value culture.
  • Clay Shirky now: changing the world via social networks (from his recent talk at US State Dept)
  • How to make best use of the media even though it means changing our ways (Shirky)
  • Who cares what a CIO thinks about Twitter anyway?
  • [I then noticed that:] #educause09 [was] now a trending topic - imagine what we could achieve if we really collaborated
  • Twitter offers transparency, but [there are] some costs - uni reputation needs to be considered. Voices or consistency?
  • Dialogue is important. can practices be integrated? Is it a distraction?
  • Has tweeting become competitive in this debate? [This tweet attracted a response: "@kaiyen @malbooth no, unless you tweet faster than I do"]
  • [I think it is] too early for best practice & benchmarking: read some blogs, but not [the] usual suspects: see practitioners
  • Immersion is important! Follow @RWW, @mashable
  • [The someone mentioned:] FRBR (groans) [actually I heard FRBR being a librarian, but maybe they said FERPA?]
  • "Twitter is a basic information literacy skill" & [it is not] not in a walled garden
  • "What better evidence of your engagement in learning than results when your name is Googled": be a citizen of open web
  • "Please don't tell us what we can't do: help us, guide us"
  • Someone raised the importance of the back-channel as a toll for LISTENING!
  • Back-channel can be transformative, scary, invaluable and great guidance
  • Does or should twitter emulate real life communications? Trust users to do what is right with it as a tool
  • Can lead to moments of authentic connection!
  • We will all make mistakes and need to be tolerant of each other
  • Many different ways to use it appropriately - make a judgment
  • Important to be able to use all forms of media for communications!
  • Thanks for this session - it made me think
This was a very lively, active and well-presented session. My thanks to the two presenters: W. Gardner Campbell, Director of the Academy of Teaching and Learning and an Associate Professor of Literature and Media from Baylor University (who played the radical academic) & Bruce Maas who played (and is) the CIO of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (all universities should be so lucky).

Visit to Denver University

Before Educause09 started a generous man called Joe Schuch (from Thorburn Associates Inc.) organised a campus tour of some new learning spaces for those of us who were interested at the University of Denver (DU). I took a lot of photos as the tour was really interesting and useful. Here are some quick observations that I noted on my iPhone. The images can all be found on this Flickr set. Educause09 is way too busy for me to clean this up any further (and my brain is still suffering from jet lag).
  • Reconfigure of classrooms may be possible but it won't happen without ease of use (wheels).
  • Webcasting is possible in most classes at DU.
  • Hubs can be found in most floors for data/power (see images of a variety of types).
  • Wireless access is still problematic so they usually provide cable data too.
  • The importance of mobile technology is growing as is BYO computing.
  • "Idea paint" is used on some walls to allow writing space (see an image).
  • It can be hard for buildings to keep up with technology, so they must be designed to be flexible and adaptable as needs change. It is critical to allow for flexible movable furniture and non-defined learning spaces. Non-traditional models of teaching are being facilitated at DU. They find that they still need to allow for some managed restoration of spaces unless you have mature, responsible students.
  • Security devices are used on projectors to prevent theft.
  • Technology (& software) that you don't need to teach people about is their aim: the users can just figure it out.
  • The space with high projectors is an experiment with a (previously) poorly used space that is mow well used, for many different purposes. DU staff said it was best if faculties can see and play with something first before deciding what they want!
  • Ports are provided in floors that can be walked over & wheeled over (see image).
  • DU Library is digitizing teaching materials for faculty but there are some rights issues.
  • Permaculture gardens are being put in around the DU campus as it is a dry environment. This is a long term plan.
  • They have a professor teaching students all over world on International Futures and have set up a special teaching space for him to hookup real time with students on campus and remotely (overseas) using a large-screen web cam system. His program needed a single port of access for all while waiting for a full web solution (see image).
  • Construction projects are being used to leverage the steps of technological progress. Idea paint is used on some walls in big classroom (see the image with the cool desks).
  • The Center for Teaching & Learning (CTL) program is in the university library. Julanna V. Gilbert is the Director of CTL and she accompanied us for our entire tour along with Jane Loefgren from the office of the University Architect. Julanna also gave us a presentation on their web-based tools that support learning at DU.
  • CTL have their own developers for Cold Fusion and developed the DU Portfolio Community (before Facebook was developed). It supports many communities, but content is not exportable to other platforms or systems. It is now a huge system that has evolved over eight years. 400 communities are using it and some departments use it as internal space as it has configurable privacy settings. It is written in Java uses an Oracle database (with the DBAs coming from the central university technology support department). It is not a course management program. It offers academic program assessment (not course assessment) as well as the community side. It is capable of collecting all forms of media that can be uploaded. It seems to be more popular with faculty, staff and communities but some students use it too. They can take their portfolio with them after graduating by keeping the space and they can add to it. The system started before online spaces were developed. A lot of research communities use it. It is much easier to use than blackboard and there is no need to teach people how to use it. (Blackboard is used at DU for course support.)
  • DU CTL also built DU CourseMedia - a media management system for multimedia including video, sound, images, etc. It was designed to be "no harder than buying a book at Amazon". Anyone who wants to use these applications can use the system (but not the DU content). The DU Library helps with digitizing media, negotiating the ownership landmine and by adding (consistent, standard, necessary) metadata as "they know all that stuff". The library thought that they should offer that service. They even hired an art historian at first when digitising images and then moved into film. The Library felt a need to provide content. (This is not part of the Colorado Digitisation Project.)
  • Lecture capture at DU is done through client via laptops, mostly to Blackboard. I think their system can encode up to six simultaneous streams. It is mostly used by the Business faculty academics. They went for an economical solution.
I am really grateful for the time and generosity of the staff and students of the University of Denver for providing us with this tour of their learning spaces. My images and words probably do not do them the credit they deserve.