I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, Thomas is at ALA, not CNI. The poor guy is so confused” (or words to that effect). Which I usually am, but on opening up my note taking app to jot down a few things about Midwinter, I found my notes on CNI meetings from back in December. Consider this a late Christmas present.

A recurring theme at CNI was presentations of joint projects between libraries and vendors. This is equal parts intriguing and worrying. On the one hand, vendors increasingly hold the keys to our systems, services, and content. If they aren’t willing to try new ideas with us, those ideas just won’t get tried. On the other hand, CNI was set up with the idea that the library’s lab partner for these experiments would be campus IT. Perhaps this is another sign of the changing nature of campus IT that is also reflected in the declining attendance at CNI of university CIOs. So for example:

Librarians at Columbia are working with JSTOR Labs to reinvent the scholarly e-book (though still as a PDF suitable for reading only on a laptop-sized display). They’ve done a lot of work with users to establish how scholars, and especially humanists, actually use books, and they’ve created a tool that automatically determines the topics that appear in a book and charts, by chapter, where the book goes into depth on each topic. They will eventually have an open source tool that will let users upload their own texts to generate this kind of chart.

Another example of the library/vendor partnership: The University of Wisconsin is doing open source development around a set of APIs that have recently come out of Ex Libris to work with their Alma platform. We like what we’ve seen about Alma, but as a vendor-hosted, vendor-run platform, it is only as open as Ex Libris wants it to be. A cynic might point out that we’re only hearing about these open APIs now that FOLIO is becoming a real thing (and that cynic is me). But the librarians at UW are making progress in building a new presentation layer that will run over Alma and pull in records and content from non-library sources. A more open Primo, if you will. Similarly, the University of Pennsylvania is hooking up Alma to the open source Blacklight discovery platform.

A third example was a report from the University of Florida about working with Elsevier to enhance linking between faculty members’ preprints in their institutional repository and published articles in ScienceDirect. Providing a darkly pessimistic comment about Elsevier’s concern for locally hosted OA articles is left as an exercise for the reader.

A non-vendor connected presentation: librarians from the University of Oklahoma talked about the Virtual Reality Lab they’ve created. They have put a lot of thought into how groups of students can experience VR in the same physical space without, say, wandering into each other or tripping on each other’s various cables. The result is a physical workstation that allows for freedom of [physical] movement as users explore in [virtual] space. A couple of notes on the side: their lab users are disproportionately male and white, so there is work to be done to make sure it’s a welcoming space for everyone; and the three things you need for a VR lab are space, money, and people. So, yeah. Also, they currently need to support three separate VR platforms (Oculus, Vive, and Google Cardboard), so until instructional/scholarly content starts to settle on one platform, it may be wise to hold off. That said, I have notes that: A) phone-based viewers like Cardboard are quickly catching up in quality to dedicated headsets like Oculus and Rift; B) the technology is moving very fast; C) this is a really good way to explore museum pieces, if you can get high quality 3D scans. Software that Oklahoma is writing for their lab is open source and NCSU is testing it in a (forthcoming?) VR lab. A lot of usually sensible people think that VR is more than just woo.