By Meredith Farkas | May 8, 2005
I’ve never really been “up” on Canada. For one, I’ve never been there (not that I wouldn’t like to, but the opportunity has not presented itself yet). Two, I, like many Americans, sadly know very little about Canadian geography, politics, history, culture etc. But I’ve become very enchanted with Canada over the past few months after getting to know some amazing Canadian library bloggers and after seeing what’s going on in Canadian libraries. I don’t know what the deal is up there, but it seem to me that Canadian libraries are way ahead of the curve. They’re actually doing things that most of us are just talking about down here in the States. They seem really receptive to open source software and to implementing bleeding edge technologies in order to improve services to patrons. They’re willing to experiment and to learn from their experiences, for better or worse. I know I’m generalizing, but the academic libraries I’ve been hearing about up there have really blown me away with their progressive thinking.
First, there’s the University of Alberta. They have RSS feeds of their library news and of new books, both by library and subject. I’ve always wondered how useful an RSS feed is of “new books” (since few people want to sift through every new title), so the separate subject feeds are amazingly useful.
The University of Calgary has been experimenting with wikis and blogs. Their University-wide blogging initiative is pretty exciting!
The weblogs.ucalgary.ca service is a collaborative effort, initiated by the Learning Commons and Information Resources. Hosting is provided by the Learning Commons. The goal is to provide an open and extensible suite of tools to support collaboration and communication by members of the University of Calgary community. Anyone who is involved with the University of Calgary is welcome to post weblog entries here, and everyone is welcome to post comments.
The weblogs.ucalgary.ca system currently supports several powerful features:
* Personal weblogs for every University of Calgary member
* RSS feeds for syndication of content to other applications (for example, the feed containing all new content in this system.
* Surveys and web forms for gathering information from individuals easily
* “Buddylist” – similar to an Instant Message buddylist, you can define users of this system as “buddies” and then view an aggregate page of content posted just by those users
* Organic Groups – define your own custom groups, for the members of a lab group, colleagues in a research lab, or any other group of people who are working together – and have all relevant content posted by the group members be displayed in a central location
* Podcasting – simply attach an audio file to a weblog file (which will then upload the file to the server for you), and it will be automatically included in the RSS feed for use by podcasting clients – and downloaded onto your listener’s iPods (or other portable audio devices)
* News feeds – keep up to date on news, events, and information that relates to the University of Calgary, through one simple interface
* … and many more features
What a great environment for collaboration and the sharing of ideas! They also have a wiki, which serves a variety of purposes — collaborative project spaces, the CLA Wiki, explanations of new collaborative technologies (blogs, wikis, podcasting, etc), and to-be filled spaces for different academic departments. There are also two brilliant bloggers I read who work at the University of Calgary, Paul Pival and D’arcy Norman. Paul’s blog is a personal favorite of mine beacuse of his interests in screencasting and services to distance learners.
Then there’s the University of Winnipeg. First of all, I love that their library’s URL is cybrary.uwinnipeg.ca. Then, right at the top of the library’s front page is a big, can’t-miss-it, link to their wiki, what would batgirl do? It looks to be in the early stages of development, but is shaping up to be a great resource for students trying to navigate the library and the research process. The University Library has also recently adopted CUFTS as its OpenURL link resolver. CUFTS is an open source link resolver, which was developed by the brilliant folks at Simon Fraser University. CUFTS is just part of ReSearcher, “an award-winning integrated suite of open source tools for locating and managing electronic information resources.” ReSearcher contains several components:
* GODOT, a full-text link resolver and interlibrary holdings locator and requesting system
* CUFTS, a full-text link resolver, knowledgebase, and electronic collection management tool
* Citation Manager, a tool for capturing, managing and exporting bibliographic data in a wide range of formats
* dbWiz, a cross-database search tool
Right now, are there any comparable open source offerings coming from the United States? That is some very exciting stuff, and I’d recommend that anyone interested in open source library/information management systems should check this out!
Mark Leggott at Loomware discussed how the University of Winnipeg is going to get rid of their current OPAC and adopt one that is more like RedLightGreen (yay!). He also disccuses the library’s growing independence from proprietary software:
I am convinced that folksonomy is the way to go with our library catalogues. We are talking very seriously at the University of Winnipeg about ditching our WebOPAC in favour of our own RedLightGreen-style search interface. We will be dumping all our MARC records out to XML and building our own interface: at least I hope so. I have been talking about OLAF (Open Library Application Framework) for about 2 years now and I’m convinced that now’s the time. Although I don’t know all the details yet, I am committed to moving forward this year with the start of our own OLAF, which I hope will replace our (increasingly Permian) Integrated Library System in the next 12-18 months. [...] We already have a number of open source components installed/built and in operation (MyCybrary, ILL, Offline Circulation, Spine Labels, E Resource Management, Linking, Repository), so there are not too many left. The existence of OS tools to make this a no-brainer is getting better and better with each passing day. I will be providing more details from LoomWare over the next while, so stay tuned.
Also from the University of Winnipeg’s blog pages come the Do-It-Yourself Librarian (Carolyn Minor) and Schwagbag (Sherri Vokey — who is actually at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas now, but still squats at their server). Both are passionate about implementing cool new technologies to improve the information literacy of students.
There are some other amazing bloggers in Canada whom I’d be remiss not to mention:
- Peter Scott’s Library Blog
- The Blogdrivers Waltz by Geoff Harder
- Technogeekery For Librarians by Carol Cooke (from the University of Manitoba)
- Science Library Pad by Richard Ackerman
- Blog Without a Library by Amanda Etches-Johnson
- Librarian Activist
Now I know there are libraries in the States that are doing amazing and progressive things (and I’m sure there are Canadian libraries that are stagnating), but it seems like on the whole there is far more of an interest in innovation up in Canada. Even the sessions at the CLA Conference look a lot more interesting than those at the ALA Conference. The libraries and librarians in Canada that I’ve read about definitely fit into the “change agents” category, and they definitely inspire me!
Maybe I’ll finally have to take a trip up there!