The JIBS Workshop on Resource/Reading List Software - the Reality
This was a workshop organised by the JIBS User Group  to bring together both vendors and practitioners to discuss that old chestnut of reading lists, so dear to the hearts of many a jobbing librarian. The format of the day was that the morning focused on the vendors' story, with major market players being present. The afternoon was given over to practitioners, both librarians and learning technologists, to share their experiences on the implementation and the use of the products 'in anger' as it were. The final speaker took us away from the 'hows' by looking at the overarching question, the 'why'.
The event was an informal participative one with a final lively discussion session. The meeting was attended by 52 delegates from over 30 institutions in the pleasant surroundings of the Saïd Business School.
Two of the major commercial suppliers, Talis, represented by Karen Reece and Sentient, represented by John Davidson were present and the third supplier was LORLS (Loughborough Online Reading Lists System) from Loughborough University. This is an open source approach which was outlined by Gary Brewerton the co-developer of the software.
While the look-and-feel of the products varied greatly the end products, with slight variations in the different bells and whistles provided, were not a million miles away from each other. Their was emphasis on integration with other systems, for example LMS, VLEs, Open link resolvers, electronic portfolio systems etc. LORLS, as perhaps would be expected, did not have the glossy front-end or the development timeline, however it seemed to deliver the basics of reading list management very effectively in a well considered workflow.
The three counterparts to these were practitioners from Nottingham University, the Open University and Oxford University. Vivien Sieber, Senior Learning and Teaching Officer in the Medical Sciences Division at Oxford University led the way. The thrust of her paper was that it was still work in progress on the pilot scheme that is being run in the Medical Sciences division which began in April 2004. The major focus of the work is the integration of the Sentient product with Oxford's implementation of the Bodington VLE system. Teething problems identified were links to the local Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC), the upload of files from EndNote, issues linked to the local OpenURL resolver and the effect on Sentient reports by the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) interface. In short the integration with the existing and legacy systems. As yet the system has not been tested with students, this will happen in the coming months.
Christine Middleton from Nottingham University shared her experience of LORLS. At Nottingham a strategic decision had been made in the light of the need expressed by both the academic and library communities for reading lists to be made available online. In 2001 an evaluation of the Aleph and LORLS systems was undertaken with the conclusion being that LORLS, at that time, best fitted the Nottingham wish list. The implementation was successful and since that time there has been development and ongoing activity to convince the academics to employ the system. The development thrust was focussed on three areas:
- tagged output for citations
- further developments with link resolvers e.g. SFX
- liaison with bookshops
Interestingly the common concern from academics was the citation format; each department had its preferred format and managing this was proving a challenge.
Philip Adams from De Montfort University reminded the audience of the real need to facilitate the use of reading lists from the users' point of view. De Montfort had linked the launch of the project, using TalisList, with the BBC's Big Read in the summer of 2003. To date there were over 800 lists available. The system is linked from their OPAC and VLE. They have yet to implement the link to the ordering process and the creation of subject reading lists. A common thread through each of these case studies was that, in reality, it was the library staff who were inputting and creating the reading lists; there was as yet still no appreciable buying discernible on the part of the academics.
Howard Noble, of the Learning Technologies Group at Oxford University gave an informed overview of the JISC E-Learning Framework (ELF) which supports the development of open source software that complies with interoperability standards. The final comments that technology was useless without a change in cultural change were particularly apposite.
To sum up, I felt that the day had achieved its aim as a relaxed event culminating in a lively debate at the end which I felt was beneficial to both practitioners and vendors alike. The wide range of issues raised in the discussion session, from information literacy to collection management tools indicated the breadth and scope of the environment in which librarians are now operating and also the many uses for which reading/resource list software is being pressed into service. The much bandied term interoperability was omnipresent and my final thought was that the skill and challenge for jobbing librarians is to manage and exploit these connections to enable our users to locate the resources in a timely fashion and to enable the joined-up schema that we so often see on PowerPoint slides.
The speakers have kindly allowed us to load their presentations  on the JIBS Web site.
- JIBS http://www.jibs.ac.uk/
- JISC ELF - http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=elearning_framework
- Presentations of speakers at the workshop are available from the workshop programme page http://www.jibs.ac.uk/meetings/workshops/readinglist/index.html