Low threshold strategies for libraries to support “other” types of digital publishing

Robert H. McDonald and Shane Nackerud summarized two different aspects of low threshold digital publishing. Robert covered Florida State University’s program of various institutional repository tools, and Shane outlined the University of Minnesota’s UThink blogging platform.

One of the big advantages of an institutional repository program to FSU was that it gave them something to highlight during the recent SACS accreditation process. Their philosophy for the project revolves around the idea of “Barrier free access”.

The structure involves three main tiers:
-The actual Institutional Repository (run on Bepress’ Edikit and PKP Open Journal systems)
-Outreach / Communication (blogs, web sites, wikis, etc)
-Finding Aids for the stored materials

EdiKit is a hosted service and easy to implement. Ex Libris’ Digitool service is going to be the main site for submitting documents to the repository.

The open source content management system Drupal is used to manage the respository’s web site. A big plus is that it automates the creation of a wide variety of RSS feeds. Robert considers RSS readers to be valuable real estate of our users, and any effort we can take to reach them is useful.

Implementing MediaWiki took more training than the organizers expected – fundamentally people just aren’t familiar with the edit it yourself model.

Future plans: get more faculty using the system, promote the basic ideas of open access journals, and work more on integrating everything together.

Robert’s presentation is online here: http://www.rmcdonald.info/presentations/lita2006


Shane gave us a tour of the history and current implementation of the University of Minnesota’s UThink blogging system. Essentially, the university provides free blog hosting to all students and faculty. Over 3500 blogs are currently hosted, more than 1000 of which are still being actively posted to. That’s more than 45,000 total posts.The system was built on a relatively low end server, with 120gb of hard drive space. Even with this limitation, UThink still has been able to let students upload files such as mp3s for the purpose of running a podcast. The blogs themselves are run on the Movable Type platform. There was quite a bit of tweaking in the background necessary to tie the blogs into students’ existing campus network accounts, but it all works seamlessly now.

One main goal in the creation of UThink was to retain the content students are blogging elsewhere as a sort of cultural memory of the university. Additionally the system promotes intellectual freedom, changes attitudes about the library, and helps form communities of interest. The most popular blog the system ever hosted, for example, was all about the sports teams on campus.

Interestingly, only 60% of the blogs are run by undergrad students. Shane theorizes that a lot of undergrad students have existing blogs elsewhere already set up when they come to campus, and don’t feel a particular need to change systems. Anecdotally supporting this, grad students tend to have most of the personal blogs (as opposed to class blogs, for example). Once students graduate, they retain access to their blog as long as they log in at least once every six months.

Two main types of academic use have emerged. Either a professor uses a blog to start discussion, or a professor requires students to maintain their own blog on class related matters.

Unexpected uses have also shown up. For example, other official campus sites outside the library have used the blogs’ RSS feeds to populate their own content.

One of the biggest hurdles in maintaining the system is comment spam. UThink recently added a captcha system (they require a user to type in letters from an image) to combat it. Also, some students don’t use the service because it is not anonymous.

Plusses of running the Uthink program:
-An opportunity to defend intellectual freedom (as when a local business threatened to sue if a disparaging post wasn’t taken down – Shane stood his ground and they went away)
-An opportunity for education in the area of RSS, podcasting, design, etc.
-A massive cultural memory repository has emerged – imagine if something like this was running around the time of September 11th, for example.

Lessons learned from the program:
-Serve those who want to be served
-Work within the current academic processes
-Using UThink to enhance existing library services has been more difficult than expected, but it has opened doors for discussion.
-A committee is needed – this is time consuming! Shane did most of the work himself, but would do it differently a second time.
-In the end, intellectual freedom and cultural memory are the big winners.

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