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June 17, 2010

Where next for resource licensing?

Five hours of presentations and discussion about scholarly resource licensing probably doesn't strike most people as a 'good day out' but, actually, yesterday's joint JIBS/Eduserv Where next for Resource Licensing? event was a surprisingly enjoyable and interesting experience.

My live-blogged notes of all the talks are available on eFoundations LiveWire. On that basis, I won't go into the details of any of the talks here. Rather, I'll focus on my overall impressions and thoughts (all of which is very much a personal view)...

Firstly, the academic landscape is changing, both in terms of student expectations and in terms of the nature of university 'business' practice (e.g. greater intra-UK and international collaboration around course delivery). A number of the talks provided evidence for this. Now, of course, we already knew that the landscape was changing... but it doesn't do any harm to keep reminding ourselves of how (and how much) and it was particularly pleasing (for me) to see Owen Stephens (who gave the opening keynote) quoting a couple of the speakers (Paul Golding and Chris Sexton) at our recent symposium by way of evidence.

Secondly, there is something of a tension between wanting to grow the complexity of our resource licences (to take account of newly emerging business practices and user groups for example) and the desire to consolidate, and indeed grow, our existing use of a small number of 'model' licences. (Clearly, this is an area in which the Eduserv Licence Negotiation team has had a big impact over the last 10 to 15 years). In theory, the emerging technical possibility for machine-readable licences (Mark Bide of EDItEUR gave an interesting talk about ONIX-PL for example) means that we can leave software to deal with making access decisions based on a growing collection of different licences. Yet there seemed to be little appetite for this in the room. (Indeed, I'm not even sure such a scenario is really possible or effective for a variety of reasons). As a counterpoint, my colleague Martyn Jansen put forward some suggestions in the final talk of the day to simplify the existing standard Chest Agreement, both in terms of having a smaller number of classes of users and in terms of simplifying the types of use allowed. For my part, this feels like a sensible way forward.

Thirdly, the idea of allowing 'walk-in users' in the digital age was called into question. Owen Stephens referred to the whole notion as "stupid" in his opening talk, suggesting that we need to completely revisit what we are trying to achieve by it and, more importantly, talk to publishers about what we want to do. Sticking my neck out a little, my personal take on this is that in the age of the Web and widely implemented federated access management it is somewhat unreasonable of academic institutions to expect publishers to provide any access to digital resources by walk-in users. But perhaps I'm just being naive about the issues here?

Fourthly, there was some discussion around overseas students. Louise Cole of Kingston University noted, with some irony, that in some cases walk-in users with no affiliation to the institution can get a better deal in terms of access to resources than registered students of that institution who happen to be based overseas. Again, I'll stick my neck out with a personal view (quite possibly a view not shared by my colleagues here!). Geography has become irrelevant and should play no part in our licensing deals. A university with 6000 undergrads should be dealt with as a university of 6000 undergrads, irrespective of whether 3000 of them happen to be based overseas. If this gives publishers problems in terms of pricing across different geographic markets, get over it. The world is largely flat.

And finally, another personal view about something that didn't really come up during the day (at least until drinks in the pub afterwards!) but which increasingly struck me as the day progressed. We seem to be hitting something of a disconnect between theory and practice in this area - which is probably something that neither institutions nor publishers really like to acknowledge. On the one hand, we have relatively complex discussions around licensing terms and conditions, coupled potentially with relatively detailed ways of exchanging those licences in a machine-readable form. At the same time we have an over-arching emphasis on security and data protection in the way our access management federation is delivered (in a way that I've not really seen justified in terms of the risk of abuse of the resources being made available thru that federation). Meanwhile, on the other hand (err... back in the real world?) Shibboleth and OpenAthens system administrators are nearly always just setting the simplest kind of "This person is a member of the institution" attribute, passing it to the service provider and having them gain access to the resource as a result.

Are we routinely comparing our technology choices against a measure of the risk we are dealing with? Are we joining up our discussions about new kinds of users and usages in our licences with the same constructs in our SAML attribute sets? And finally, are we taking note of whether people on the ground are actually acting in line with our somewhat theoretical technology-centric positions?

Or is the reality that the people doing the day job are getting by with a just good enough approach and that, actually, publishers are perfectly happy with that provided the university pays the subscription fee?

June 15, 2010

Brief e-Book usage survey

I've been tangentially involved in some discussions here at Eduserv about the future direction that our Licence Negotiation team should go in with respect to e-books. As I hinted previously, getting a good picture of where things stand and where the use of e-books is likely to go in the near future doesn't strike me as being particularly easy at the moment.

So, whilst we have already negotiated a number of Chest Agreements for e-books with Emerald, Springer, IEEE, and other suppliers, we are now seeking feedback on e-books to help inform future negotiations in line with our charitable mission of working on behalf of universities and colleges to bring savings to the community.

As a first step, we have put together a very brief survey covering current and planned future use, budgetary issues, and licensing models. The survey is only 5 screens and 16 questions long, all but 2 of which are optional. We are quite happy for you to only answer the questions that you know the answers to, skipping the rest (though preferably passing the survey URL on internally to other people). It is targeted at our Licence Negotiation contacts in the UK and Ireland (mainly in libraries) although it would be fantastic if we could also get some responses from faculty teaching staff as well. One of the things we are interested in is how the decision-making process works for e-books purchases. (Note that at this time we are not interested in responses from outside the UK and Ireland).

Anyway... we will publish an anonymised summary of the results of the survey in due course. If you have an interest in the way e-books are being used in UK higher or further education institutions please encourage someone at your site to complete the survey.


June 11, 2010

I/AM moves up from 6 to 5, alright pop pickers? Not 'arf

[Title for Alan Freeman fans.]

Via a tweet from @chrisb (of the JISC) I note that Educause have published the results of their survey of the Top-Ten IT Issues, 2010 (for US HE institutions).

I/AM (identity and access management) has moved up from number 6 to number 5, about which the report says:

Critical questions for Identity/Access Management include the following:

  1. What is the institution's documented process for verifying the identity of individuals and linking physical and electronic identities?
  2. What standards, trust systems, or existing federations (e.g., InCommon) can be used to ensure that an institution can trust another institution's electronic identities?
  3. Are I/AM policies and processes adaptable and flexible to allow for changes in roles and access rights over time?
  4. How should institutions strike the balance between carefully managing identity and access and utilizing broadly distributed networked resources?
  5. Do current I/AM strategies account for federation and single sign-on with third-party hosted and cloud-based applications?
  6. How can institutions create stronger linkages between physical and electronic identities?

(Note: the bullet points were not numbered in the original.)

I think the JISC's work on the UK Access Management Federation has done much to help with these kinds of issues in the UK, so I wonder if the critical questions in the UK might be somewhat different?  For example, number 2 would probably focus more heavily on issues around inter-federation trust (i.e. trust between institutions in the UK and those elsewhere).

Numbers 3 and 4 are interesting and I expect that these kinds of issues will be touched on during next week's Where next for resource licensing? event, organised jointly by JIBS and Eduserv and from which I hope to live-blog on eFoundations LiveWire.  The explicit cross-over between resource licensing and access management seems to feature fairly low in our discussion priorities (at least as far as I'm aware) though it is clearly a topic of interest to Eduserv, since we offer services in both spaces (Licence Negotiation and Access and Identity Management).

I suspect that number 5 is of interest to us all and, for information, we have a bit of work bubbling under here at the moment to link together OpenAthens with Google Apps, though I'm not sure if there's anything more public that I can share with you yet.

Number 6 looks interesting, though I'm slightly bemused by what it actually means.

June 10, 2010

Is the e-book glass half full or half empty in UK academia?

There was a article about e-book uptake in the (US) university sector in the THE the other day, re-printed from Inside Higher Ed, The E-Book Sector.

The piece suggests that uptake might be less than the general hype around e-book indicates except in the world of for-profit online education (I'm not sure how that applies in the UK?):

Among the respondents to a 2009 Campus Computing Project survey of 182 online programmes at non-profit universities, 9 per cent said e-textbooks were “widely used” at their institutions, while nearly half said electronic versions were “rarely used”. Even fewer brick-and-mortar institutions are deploying e-books in lieu of hard copies, with fewer than 5 per cent citing e-book deployment as a key IT priority in the short term, according to another Campus Computing Project Survey. And according to data from market research firm Student Monitor, e-textbooks accounted for only 2 per cent of all e-textbook sales last autumn.

In the UK, the final report from the JISC-funded National e-Books Observatory Project apparently paints a rather different picture:

E-books are now part of the academic mainstream: nearly 65% of teaching staff and students have used an e-book to support their work or study or for leisure purposes.

My initial reaction was that these two statements seem at odds with each other but on reflection I think not - "nearly half said electronic versions were 'rarely used'" isn't that different from "nearly 65% of teaching staff and students have used an e-book", it's just got a different emphasis.

As with our own snapshots of 3-D virtual world usage in UK education, carried out on our behalf by John Kirriemuir (a project which has coincidentally just come to the end of our funding though John plans to continue the work in other ways), stats are easy to play with. Whilst it may be technically correct to say "all UK universities are active in virtual worlds", doing so isn't particularly helpful since the uptake may be extremely patchy across each institution.

Nonetheless, the 65% figure quoted by the JISC-funded study seems very high to me (based on my very limited experience of the uptake of these things). Are e-books really gaining ground in UK academia that fast?

(I note that the JISC study doesn't actually define what it means by e-book, other than to say "it refers to generic e-books available via the library, retail channels or on the web". I'm assuming that the study uses that term in line with the Wikipedia definition:

An e-book (short for electronic book and also known as a digital book, ebook, and eBook) is an e-text that forms the digital media equivalent of a conventional printed book, sometimes restricted with a digital rights management system.

but I'm not sure.)



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