Saturday, December 13, 2014

An idea for the use of a 3-D printer in the library

As I have been following up the maker-space movement in libraries, I remember conversing with a former library student who noted that he did not see the purpose of having a 3-D printer in the library. I also remember a retired LIS professor questioning the need for library maker-spaces. In this post, I reveal my one idea for how a 3-D printer and a maker culture in the library can fit into what I see as a traditional library mandate.




London Canada's maker-bus (October 2014)
To begin, I must make it clear that I do not see the maker-space as a new trend or fad in libraries. For me, libraries have historically played a part in a "maker culture". What I mean by this is that for years, libraries have stocked up "how-to-do" or "do-it-yourself" books, audio-visual tapes and other resources. In addition, many libraries have traditionally offered programs or services such as art and craft sessions, where we encouraged users to be creative and produce creative works.

As such, I believe that the current interest in creating maker-spaces can only enhance what we have traditionally done. Now, we have the potential to combine the how to knowledge (books and other media, including YouTube videos on the Internet) with technology hardware and other tools as well as library space and programming (workshops and other events) to get people or users to make "stuff". 

Consequently, my first suggestion or idea for libraries considering maker spaces is to get locals to make physical "media" for display in the library, namely self-made or custom-made:
  • printed  books 
  • board games

My main idea is that libraries can use 3-D printers to support local board game developers. This can be done primarily by printing game pieces. For example, my departmental library at the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (University of Western Ontario) 3-D printed a miniature Starship Enterprise among other things. What better way to support indie game board developers by helping them design and print their own game pieces? And don't just stop there! What better way to celebrate local, organic and homegrown independent authors of board games than by showcasing their works and creations in the library along with displays that inform others about their games. We could even permit users to play the games in the library and provide feedback for board game developers on their prototypes.

What I recently learned about OCLC

For many of you who might not know me, I have an ongoing interest in entrepreneurship. However, I am awakening to the fact that a for-profit entity is but one of the varied options of entrepreneurship that someone can pursue. Alternate to the profit-driven enterprise, is the social enterprise (or socially-conscious entrepreneurship) as well as the non-profit entity. In this blog post, I want to share what I learned about the financial model of one of the largest non-profit entity in the library field, the OCLC.

If you are the library field, chances are, you have come across the name OCLC. If not, you may wish to read more about it on its website's About page. In short, OCLC is a large globally-spanning non-profit library cooperative (like a union of libraries) that has as its mission to share and organize library resources.Well, in summer 2014, I blogged about a conversation I had with technology vendors that got me to question the financial model of OCLC as a non-profit as opposed to a social entrepreneurial venture.  From that conversation, I realised that I had a gap in my understanding of the difference between a social entrepreneurial venture versus a non-profit entity. Hence, on Friday, December 12, 2014, I accessed the newly released OCLC annual and financial report to discover for myself the answers to two questions.

Question 1: 
My first question was that OCLC refers to itself as a non-profit, yet charges for services. My question was what does OCLC do with the fees it charges?

According to the financial report, the OCLC
is a nonprofit, library cooperative. We operate in a business-like manner and are driven by our public purposes of furthering access to the world’s information and reducing library costs—providing shared services, research and advocacy programs to deliver on these purposes.
Also, if I am interpreting the report correctly, the OCLC reinvests its "profits" (fees, earnings or incomes) into research and development so that it can develop new products and services that meet the needs of libraries and their clients or users. According to the report, OCLC's:

operations and research initiatives are funded by revenues generated by services provided to participating libraries. Unlike alternative library services organizations, OCLC invests resources into new services and programs rather than distributing funds to shareholders. OCLC also maintains an investment portfolio, or Sustainability Fund, that is managed in a manner similar to an endowment.
Question 2: 
My second question was how does OCLC make money? The above quotation to a great extent answers that question. In short, the report indicates that OCLC makes money from:

- fees or "revenues generated from services provided to participating libraries" and
- capital investments that are managed "similar to an endowment"

Currently, the report indicates that OCLC is operating at a loss from fees charged to libraries, but is earning from its capital investments. Further, OCLC points out that it did not increase the prices for its products and services for X number of years. As the report states:


OCLC has historically operated at break-even, with revenues that approximate the costs to deliver services and programs. However, for the past four years, OCLC has consciously operated at a loss. This loss is attributed to: [t]he decision to support the membership during a challenging economy with three years (2010–2012) of no price increases in the Americas and only modest price increases outside the Americas. In FY14, we increased prices by a modest 3% on average following a 2.75% increase in FY13....

So, with these questions answered, my next question is what is the social entrepreneurial model and how does it differ from OCLC's non-profit financial model?

References:

OCLC. (2014). About OCLC: Our story. Retrieved from http://www.oclc.org/en-CA/about/story.html

OCLC. (2014). Annual report. Retrieved from http://www.oclc.org/en-US/annual-report/2014/home.html

OCLC. (2014). Financial report. Retrieved from http://www.oclc.org/en-US/annual-report/2014/financials.html

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Narrative information sources for medicinal care and the implications for LIS

For those who have been following up on my blog for some time, you might already be aware that I am interested in narrative research. Well recently, my university staged a lecture where an author, Dr. Vincent Lam, presented on the topic "Narrative in Medicine – Why We Need Stories in an Age of Evidence". The event was held in the University Hospital | Auditorium A, Room B3-246.

So I attended the lecture by Dr. Vincent Lam staged at my university's hospital. Unfortunately, due to my mix up with the time, I arrived when the lecture was already in progress. Nevertheless, I was still able to get what I needed to hear and even got the opportunity ask Dr. Lam a question. In the next few paragraphs, I outline some of my take away points from Dr. Lam's talk. 

Before outlining what I got from the talk, it is important to indicate my particular interest in the narrative turn in patient care and medicine. I particularly see this new emphasis on narrative based information sources as being important to libraries and information science. This narrative turn in the medical sciences has implications for librarianship, especially in terms of how we go about serving health related information sources. I also see the importance in this for those working as hospital librarians, as they too need to consider supplying biographical or narrative sources to health care providers. (Now back to Dr. Lam's talk.)

Dr Lam indicated that during the encounter between a patient and a health practitioner, the patient brings a story. Usually, the story is "something happened to me". Lam suggests that the health practitioner is then expected to hear and listen carefully to the client's story, and then to use his or her special knowledge and tools to explain the story. Lam also suggests that the health provider is also expected to tell the patient "what will happen next". As such, Lam suggests that doctors and health practitioners have a role to play as story interpreters as well as storytellers. In his words, "doctors are story interpreters" and "third party storytellers", offering story interpretations and storytelling to patients like the shamans and spiritual doctors of the age before modern medicine.

Dr. Lam also argued that health care providers can also benefit from being educated in the literary arts. He cited a study that indicates that reading literary fiction promoted empathy. In general, Lam stated that reading tough, difficult and challenging books was good for medical professionals as it would enable them to become more empathetic. This is needed as medical professionals tend to rely a lot on statistics and hard scientific numerical facts that make them less empathetic and understanding of their clients' needs. 

He said that sometimes doctors need to put down their scientific spectacles in treating patients, and see the world through a different set of eyes. Lam suggests that it is really "easy to miss something about your tools because that is what you work with". It is always good to get outsider perspectives. And narrative information from patients who experience illness are as important as the scholarly or evidence based medical literature for this.

Lam also makes the point that patients rarely present information about what is happening to them in an easy form for doctors to use to make a diagnosis. Patients often do not use the medical terms and jargon when presenting their health problem. Instead, doctors have to collect, interpret and put the fragments of information presented by the patient together into a medical narrative, in order to make sense of it and to arrive at a diagnosis. Hence, in this regard, doctors also need the skill of understanding patient narratives and being able to convert such narratives into a medical narrative.

At the end of his talk, I asked him about his position on doctors reading autobiographies,watching YouTube videos and reading blogs of those who experience illness. His response was "very valuable" and that doctors should read these to supplement their scholarly readings.


My question was motivated from my recent discovery of a Masters thesis in the University of Western Ontario's institutional repository entitled:
Women's Stories of Breast Cancer: Sharing Information Through YouTube Video Blogs  - Jenna Kressler, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, MSc http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/etd/2095/
This interesting thesis title seems to suggest that a blog is not a medium,but a way of presenting information (genre). Hence YouTube Video blogs! (Or vlogs). The article also touches on the storytelling idea for sharing health-related information. The author also used narrative analysis to conduct her research, similar to the type of analysis that I am doing for my research on blogs and tweets. Finally, she conducted her analysis on the personal narratives of women victims and/or survivors of breast cancer.

Conclusion:
The narrative turn in medicine could spell hope for the value of the humanities in academia, Medicine is realizing and awakening to the idea that narrative and storytelling skills are important to its practice. Further, librarians have a role to play in serving medical practitioners with not just scholarly and scientific literature, but also biographies and other personal narratives of the persons that experience illness. Finally, librarians also have a role in not just providing the published sources of narratives, but also considering social media sources such as blogs and YouTube videos. Curating these may also be valuable to medical practitioners who need to supplement their professional understanding of illness with a deeper understanding of the patient's side of the story.

Blogging dilemma for an academic

One of the challenges that I have discovered about blogging about my research or research interests as an academic is the potential problem of compromising the peer review process of academia. While I not sure if it happens in practice, I suspect it is quite possible that academics or practitioners who review papers that I submit to journals are able to discover that I am the author if they:

  1. have been following up on my blog or status  updates on social networks 
  2. are curious enough to Google search or snoop on the Web to discover the possible author of the paper they are reviewing or come across the information by accident while googling the topic.

Any of these will compromise the blind peer review process as it will remove anonymity about the author of the paper. As such, this raises a dilemma for me as an academic passionate about blogging and sharing my research with my online social and electronic networks. This reduces what I can blog about. I have to avoid blogging about my research until after it has been published, which can take some time. Hence, I can not post weekly or even monthly updates on my ongoing research findings or even any part of the research process.

This leaves me to consider what else can an academic safely blog about?

While I currently see some of my Jamaican academic colleagues blogging commentaries about current events in Jamaica, to me this seems quite risky as an untenured faculty. Unless one is providing scholarly analysis, one risks alienating university administration, politicians and potential donors to the university and to one's research. In this era of academic capitalism and the corporate university, it seems that an untenured faculty  member needs to remain publicly neutral on issues, as an employee of an institution that seeks capital investment from various sources. In this new era, everyone in society is a stakeholder or potential stakeholder for the university.  This includes:

  • Politicians (who may or may not be in power)
  • Students and alumni from all religions, political affiliations, sexual orientations, ethnic groups, race, etc. who are both customers and potential donors (or contributors to the university's endowment fund)
  • various non-profit entities and corporations who have funding, donations or other investment to contribute to the university's development or research.

Consequently, the university, just like the secular state, must be inclusive, while at the same time, upholding traditional academic principles. Principles such as free speech, intellectual freedom, and diversity of thought, opinions and perspectives must coexist with an environment where all stakeholders feel that the university is serving their varied interests.

As such, it seems safer for academics to blog about pedagogy (how to teach their subject). But even blogging about pedagogy publicly is challenging, because we have to preserve the privacy of our students and what goes on in the classroom from the public.

Perhaps it is safer to blog one's reaction to information disseminated. This includes news, news articles, research papers or events such as video or conference presentations. Yet, it seems that academics may still need to be careful in selecting which issue published to react to, avoiding controversial topics. Blogging about hobbies seems safest. However, many times, our hobbies are not connected to our research.

As such, I wonder if in an era where blogging can land one in trouble with the law, do blogs give academics (especially the untenured ones) any voice? We are the university employees of  a new era. An era where tenure is no longer guaranteed. An era where the university is adjusting to a new institutional status as an institution that seeks to attract capital investment from all stakeholders in society in order to maintain its survival.

Second, our own peers can victimize us during the blind peer review process if we blog about our research, depending on whether or not they like us. Even if they do not victimize us (especially in cases where they like us), blogging about our research potentially compromises the blind peer review process. This it does by making it easier to identify the author of a manuscript submitted for publication. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My experiences using e-book/audio book platforms and subscription services

I took some time over the summer to experiment and explore a number of online e-book and audio subscription services. In addition, at the time I began my exploration, an article emailed to me from my network entitled "What’s better than Kindle Unlimited for $120 a year? This free alternative" (see Randall, 2014) also inspired me to think more about my experiment. The result is this preliminary report on my experiences using three e-book/audio book platforms or subscription services: Reading Rainbow, OverDrive and Audible. The limitation, I have only attempted to use these platforms on one device, the iPad.
  • Reading Rainbow app for iOS - free version
  • OverDrive - free through my public library
  • Amazon's Audible - 30-day trial version

I begin with the Reading Rainbow App downloaded from the App Store. Reading Rainbow was a television program when I was a kid, and now that I am a parent with girls that like to read, I decided to check out this app. Rather than being an app that talk about books and featured children performing reading, the app was essentially a "Library of Children's Books, Kids Videos & Educational Games" (See the i-Tunes review). After the long introductory video, the app visually organizes books by islands of interest (located in the sky) with interesting titles such as "the Animal Kingdom", "Genius Academy" and "Action Adventure & Magical Tales". The child can then navigate to an island of interest and access books and educational videos in that genre or topical island. In addition, the readers in the free version can check out up to five e-books into their virtual backpack. The reading experience is not only one where narration is provided, but to some extent, limited interactivity is built into the picture books, where readers can touch the page and experience certain (motion and sound) effects.

While Reading Rainbow was a hit with my first born who wanted me to subscribe so that she could access more books and return the books she had already read, I could not bring myself to do so, knowing that I had a free public library 15 minutes away from where I lived. Yet, considering that we had limited time to spend at the library each week borrowing books and that my first born devoured the books borrowed within 2 days, it seemed that access to e-books would perhaps be a better option for such a voracious reader. This brings me to the free library alternative, OverDrive.

In 2012, I blogged about my first experience using OverDrive (See that blog post here). However, at that time, I used OverDrive, I did so using the laptop. This time however, I used OverDrive with the iPad, and I must say, OverDrive is better used with iPad than a laptop. Just the portability alone and the fact that you can curl up into a chair without something warm or hot (especially in the summer) in your lap makes the iPad or tablet computer a better option for reading e-books or listening to audio books versus the laptop.

That said, to get started, you have to download the app and get your library card in hand. (Setting-up can be quite a daunting process compared to Reading Rainbow's app). Once you are set up and learn your way around the app and the library's website, you are good to go. OverDrive is definitely not as intuitive and easy as ReadingRainbow, where you can just navigate to islands of interest. Rather, navigation here requires browsing images of book covers or tapping on hyperlinks organized by genre. However, the plus side is that you can search for what you want (whereas Reading Rainbow forces you to just explore what they have available). While OverDrive was great for downloading both e-books and audio books, I do not think it sparked the enthusiasm of my firstborn as much as Reading Rainbow. Nonetheless, my firstborn enjoyed listening to the audio books and hopefully learned some new words and how they are pronounced or sound, compared to just reading the text by herself.

Another thing about OverDrive is that the collection is limited. For one reason or the other, the selection of books was particularly limiting for my peculiar interest in Judeo-Christian theology. I found few books (7 from four authors) discussing Jesus. On the other hand, I could not access the Word of Promise audio Bible that I had previously borrowed in CD-form from the same public library and had to settle for a less dramatic King James version. As such, I conclude that OverDrive perhaps may not be a platform to go for a specific hobby-related interest, but more what is the popular interest. Another down side to this, is that you only get 14 days to listen to or read the books borrowed. In addition, some books that you may be interested in may have to be placed on hold as someone else is currently reading or using the file. So you might have a queue waiting for an e-book or audio book to become available.


That brings me to Audible. Audible requires setting up an account with Amazon or signing into your existing account with Amazon. That said, I was offered a 30 day trial version of the service, enabling me to download the app and experience it. It is from this app that I was able to access the Word of Promise audio Bible, which I downloaded and was able to listen to even without Internet Access. The strange thing about this was that my CD player and radio died 2 days after I downloaded the app (must have been jealous).

Compared to OverDrive, Audible seemingly offers a greater variety of books for one's peculiar hobby-related interest. Further, you do not have to wait in a queue for a popular book. You can essentially get any book that you want for either a monthly or annual fee. Randal (2014) mentions that Kindle Unlimited charges $9.99 a month, but the fee for subscription to Audible is 14.95 per month. With this price, I will just stick it out at OverDrive and perhaps just buy the e-book that I really want that the library does not provide access to.


Now listening to audio books is like listening to the radio. When I was a child, there used to be radio dramas. And listening to audio books, (especially fictional ones) or those that employ dramaturgical or theatrical elements, reminded me of those days when I'd listen to radio dramas. Yet, I am a more visual person, and eventually tune out audio as background noise (apart from the interesting fiction books like the ones my firstborn were listening to). Further, I can only listen to one book at a time and could not fathom downloading a new audio book daily, weekly or monthly. What this means is that I would have to download books that I'd want to hear for a year, and then listen to each book until it is completed, before going on to the next book. As such, I don't think paying $14.95 per month is justified for listening to audio books, just the same way that I am unaccustomed for paying to listen to radio stations with their annoying ads.

That said, I end my report on my experiences here. Up next (in the future) is my report on the experience using Google Play as a platform for accessing e-books.

Reference:

Randall, T. (2014, July 31). What’s better than Kindle Unlimited for $120 a year? This free alternative. Bloomberg Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-31/what-s-better-than-kindle-unlimited-for-120-a-year-this-free-alternative.html

Monday, August 4, 2014

What the iPad and Tablets are good at?

So if you haven't gotten a tablet device as yet, I guess this post may be useful in helping you decide whether or not the device is a good fit for you and your lifestyle. Here in bullet points, I summarize what the iPad in particular and tablets in general are good at. While I conclude that the iPad is bad for typing, tablets in general are good for media consumption, and for some types of media generation. Here is my list of what the iPad is good for:

With tablet technologies you can:
  • read e-books
  • listen to audio-books
  • surf the web (with quality of web surfing limited to those sites that provide a mobile website)
  • check email (with quality of email access dependent on the email provider providing a mobile email app)
  • play games 
  • watch video
  • take or capture photographs or video


However, you can't use the iPad to replace a laptop or PC. In fact, the iPad is best functional when synchronised with other devices (such as an iPhone, PC or laptop). This especially because not all Websites and Web services are fully functional when viewed by a tablet. Secondly, there are certain things better down on a laptop or PC with a large screen and a keyboard that is large enough for you to type 60 to 120 words per minute.

Mobile apps coexisting with the printed book?

I had the opportunity this summer to explore mobile apps on the iPad. In addition to experimenting with the tablet and mostly free mobile apps, I also completed my online course on "the future of storytelling". In this course, one of the final segments was on transmedia storytelling, which mentioned how the narrative of a traditionally published novel was extended through the use of mobile apps. Through this particular segment, I learned about MirrorWorld and Mirada. In this blog post or entry, I briefly introduce both MirrorWorld and Mirada, with some discussion of how these represent a new trend of convergence between traditional book publishing and mobile app development.

To begin, MirrorWorld is one of the works of Mirada in modern storytelling that mixes both traditional and technological techniques to expand on a story world first told by a novel. According to Mirada's About page,  Mirada is "a studio designed for storytellers" (Mirada 2014, "About"). They specialise in "synthesizing archetypal oral tradition with modern technique" (Mirada 2014, "About", para. 2). Mirada further dubs Mirror World as the "World’s First Living Storybook" (Mirada 2014, "Cornelia"). In my understanding of Mirror World, Mirada built a mobile app that functioned as a story engine or database that permits users to explore the story world and be immersed into an interactive experience while exploring the story. For more information on this (or if you want to check out the app for yourself), explore the following websites:


However, I just wanted to opine here that after seeing Mirror World and learning about the development of the app to expand on the novel, I think the future of traditional book publishing will persist. Hence, future books being published will have accompanying apps. These accompanying apps will expand the story world of the traditionally published book visually and otherwise. What this means in my opinion is that the printed book is not yet dead, but will co-exist in the future with apps that expands upon the narrative that the book tells.


References:

Mirada (2014). About. Retrieved from http://mirada.com/about

---(2014). Cornelia Funke’s mirror world: Crafting the World’s First Living Storybook.
Retrieved from http://mirada.com/stories/mirrorworld