August 16, 2004

Cyberinfrastructure, library groupware and other musings

I’ll kick off by summarising a few things that have been new to me recently and have altered my thinking. The JISC-CNI conference in Brighton last month introduced me to the term cyberinfrastructure. It was eye-opening to see real examples from both sides of the Atlantic of how pervasive the use of technology is becoming in HE teaching, learning and research. Even in the humanities, as witnessed by the last two speakers. Most of the presentations are available at http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/events/jisc-cni-2004/programme.html

Remote access, digital information sources and VLEs I’ve understood in an abstract sense for some time, but it was fascinating and utterly different to my student experience back in the mists of time to see what’s happening in terms of physical technical infrastructure and its effect on both formal and informal teaching and learning. Enormous investment is going into buildings in some institutions for wireless networking, videoconferencing, enabling computing to be an integral part of course delivery and consumption, as well as creative architectural design for formal and social spaces conducive to new ways of learning. The idea of students collaborating on a project in the café, each with their laptop wirelessly connected to the network, was particularly striking. This put me in mind of some ideas in the OCLC Environmental Scan: the idea that those who have recently grown up with computing have attitudes and expectations conditioned by gaming, multitasking and mobile technology; and the idea of the third space, a comfortable informal environment that isn’t work or home but could be the library, which supports people in a neutral and trusted way to satisfy their information needs and collaborate and communicate with each other.

Another new concept (to me) that could form part of the cyberinfrastructure is library groupware. There is an article on this in the latest Ariadne:
http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue40/chudnov/ This is about information management for individuals and groups using a set of tools that could constitute a new area of library service that is core to the library mission. It would enable users to manage information in the complex environment of diverse online information resources. The authors consider how library groupware could, for example, integrate link resolvers, bibliographic reference managers and weblogs. This seems like food for thought by library system vendors.

And so to blogging. Penny Garrod’s excellent article in the latest Ariadne -
http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue40/public-libraries/ - has helped me to realise how blogging can be valuable, rather than just another outlet for the confessional urge of some Americans. It took some badgering to get me to start this blog, but I’m beginning to get it after reading this article, which shows how blogging can be beneficial in education as well as how it is being put to creative use by some libraries.

I’ll finish with a few words about another step I’ve just taken into cyberspace: RSS. I’ve been meaning to try it for some while, in the hope of more efficiently keeping in touch with all the news, articles and now blogs that I’m interested in or need to know about. After failing to get a couple of free Windows-based RSS readers working, I tried Pluck -
http://www.pluck.com/ -, which integrates into your web browser. It’s excellent, very easy to install and use and does just what I want including some things I hadn’t even thought of. Now I’m building up a stock of RSS feeds and also starting to think about how RSS might be used in library systems.

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