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Thread: SWJ Library RFI / Help

  1. #1
    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default SWJ Library RFI / Help

    Small Wars Journal could use some help and / or advice. Our library section, once the pride and joy of SWJ, is woefully out of date and is not much more than a flat listing of articles, studies, etc. We have sought outside professional help on this but so far it has proved too expensive for our budget. The COIN library is an example of the type of capability we are looking for. We would appreciate your thoughts and ideas on how to make this happen.

    --Dave Dilegge

  2. #2
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Library issue

    Dave & others,

    A lot depends on who the users are. If it is staff college students I assume they have other places to start, i.e. help from a professional librarian and directing staff. SWJ Library maybe an add-on for them. For those outside such places SWJ LIbrary is one of many places to check.

    Who else needs a library? SWC members as they look around for resources.

    The COIN Library I have visited before and today looked at areas where I have some pre-reading: Northern Ireland, Rhodesia, Algeria and Namibia. The library offers very little, a fraction of the books Jon Custis and I have found on Rhodesia for example. Little on Algeria (not surprising as most is in French) and nothng on Namibia - even in the South Africa (apartheid) section.

    Is an improved SWJ Library value for effort? Let alone cash.

    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Abu Suleyman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    A lot depends on who the users are. If it is staff college students I assume they have other places to start, i.e. help from a professional librarian and directing staff.
    I actually think that this is a case where a great library will pay off. First of all, even in most professionally staffed libraries, they are primarily knowledgable in academic writings, which is helpful, but does bias against things written by soldiers, and often the most that they will do is refer you to a preexisting list anyway. Secondly, and more broadly, a good library shows to the world, including those students, that this is a serious group of people who have done the scholarly research, and probably that there are things out there that are not in the scholarly domain that perhaps should be.

    Now I have a question: Are you intending to have bib references, or more like .PDF files? Bib ref's are interesting, and helpful, but in a limited fashion. The problem with .PDF files is that you may not have permission to reproduce and distribute those articles, and it may be a lot of work to get permission from both the publisher and/or the author.

    I suggest that if you are going to have only Bib cites that you also include files for citation managers like Refworks, EndNote, and Bibtex to make searching for those articles easier at the local library.
    Audentes adiuvat fortuna
    "Abu Suleyman"

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    Default I am pretty familiar with

    3 US military libraries: Army war College, Combined Arms Research Library (CARL) at Fort Leavenworth, and the NDU library. For those 3, at least, David is right. They carry all the military journals (in many languages) and such harder to find ones as Small Wars & Insurgencies and Low Intensity Conflict & Law Enforcement - now incorporated into the former. So, if one has access to these libraries one is in good shape. If you don't have access, then the best way to get it is through Inter-library loan but here I would agree with Abu Suyleyman that many university research librarians may not think of the military libraries. For the civilian researcher, knowing what you are looking for is the critical point - then you can tell your librarian to try the CARL etc.

    A good first step for SWJ would be a concise cataloguing of SWJ articles by subject, author, title, and date. Second, might be a list of bibliographies available online (like the COIN Library).

    Hope this discussion is of some use.

    Cheers

    JohnT
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 09-05-2009 at 03:16 PM.

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Keep it coming - I'm listening.

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    Who is the library for?
    How do you anticipate it being used? (Or how do you think it should be used?)

    We've all seen and recommended books for various reading lists. Most of those lists are far too long to even scratch the surface of - and many of the lists overlap with lots of the same books, many of which, imo, are recommended simply because they are popular, often times with the recommender having not even read it himself. They are nice to peruse, but not of much use, imo.

    Assuming that a library, as opposed to a magazine stand or a bookstore, is a repository of information organized to help people find what they are looking for, I think it would be ideal if the SWJ library helped to guide readers through subject areas. For example, let's say that I know squat about Iraq. It would be nice to be guided in a way like this...
    Here are some good references that provide an overview of the history...
    the culture...
    the current issues...

    Quick primers should be the first recommendations. If the individual wishes to delve into a specific area, then drill down (click on a link) into the longer, more in-depth materials.

    It should also be more than just a collection of references. Short explanations of what the individual can get out of the book/article/video/etc would be helpful. I'm thinking about the short blurbs that you see in reading lists at Amazon.com (but preferably a little more depth than three sentences, to include comments by others who have read the books). Allowing users to post book reviews would also be ideal.

    Now that the web has matured, recommendations can include not just book recommendations, but video clips (Charlie Rose interviews, for example), blogs by knowledgeable folks that focus on a specific AO (Registan), and well-written material from locals (for example, Iraq the Model).

    Lastly, one comment regarding the logical program design (as I now don my amateur programmer's hat). There needs to be a significant amount of thought put into the design underneath the hood - not just the user interface. I am not sure if this means an XML-based tagging feature, a relational database with lots of joins, or some crazy google-esque searching algorithms. That, imo, is where the real heavy lifting will be (and where you'll probably need to spend the most money, unless you can find some highly qualified individual who will do the work on the cheap, if you can win his heart and mind).

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    Also - be sure to consider integration of advertisements in the design phase. Links to amazon.com, barnes & noble, borders, eBay, Netflix, Pajamas Media, etc can help to fund the endeavor. Video tutorials could be made and commercials inserted for more funding (for example, see videos at Hulu.com or podcasts of the Sunday Talk shows).

    And, if this is to standout from existing libraries (like the one in the example), it should also integrate twitter, youtube, perhaps linkedin and facebook, and consider creating iPhone and Blackberry apps and a "librarian's" weblog might also be a consideration. Compatibility with popular browser add-ons like Zotero also worth considering.

    In this tight job market, an up-and-coming programmer might be willing to undertake or assist in order to pad his/her resume.

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    Groundskeeping Dept. SWCAdmin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Schmedlap View Post
    Lastly, one comment regarding the logical program design (as I now don my amateur programmer's hat). There needs to be a significant amount of thought put into the design underneath the hood - not just the user interface. I am not sure if this means an XML-based tagging feature, a relational database with lots of joins, or some crazy google-esque searching algorithms. That, imo, is where the real heavy lifting will be (and where you'll probably need to spend the most money, unless you can find some highly qualified individual who will do the work on the cheap, if you can win his heart and mind).
    Scmedlap,

    You are SPOT ON with all comments. The one quoted here, plus the fact that once we populate the content we will be extraordinarily invested in the design schema so the effort of subsequent changes may be huge, are behind our paralysis at the moment.

    It is always important to understand the problem before leaping to a solution. The nuances of the problem are being pretty well laid out here.

    Does anyone have a lead on the solution? i.e., appropriate technology, CMS packages, etc. that meet those needs, or at least their pros & cons? Ways to connect up with that competent up & comer developer?

    As Dave suggested, we can afford to pay more than beer money but not anywhere near what BAH or SAIC would try to charge.

    FYI, for the techies, we are looking at a Drupal - vBulletin integration as the leading contender for our future platform, but haven't fully developed all our requirements. Chief outlier (so far) is the reference library and that is a key piece in our strategy and in our users' needs.

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    Any reason why you are not considering Visual Studio (Microsoft product) or something similar? As popular as that is, there are lots of people competent with it. For a good example of how many people (including yours truly) use it, see the visual studio help forum. There are thousands of members helping each other out with development questions, hundreds of whom have made thousands of posts. I used this while developing my site and would get answers to every question within hours - sometimes within minutes.

    It sounds like you are pondering a complete re-work of the site. If so - check out the site for Mars Hill Church. I'm not sure what they used to develop the site, but it could be done with Visual Studio (so long as you implement AJAX functionality - which any decent programmer should be able to do). Okay, Mars Hill is not really a small wars themed site, but it is a great example of how an organization has created a modern site and leveraged web 2.0 to reach a large audience, as well as a site that has created a good library. I suppose that it is easier to create a library when the topic is one book, but it is a great example of an intuitive, accessible/logical, and easy to use library. For example, here is the library of sermons on Genesis; all sermons in order, from the start of the book to the end. Similar categories for other books in the Bible and for topics that arise in multiple books. The only shortcoming that I see on the site - at least as an example for SWJ's purposes - is that they do not have any ads to support the site (only one link titled "give" and that's it).

    The team that runs the site has thought of just about everything (my favorite example: right click on the homepage, click on "view page source" and then look at the top of the page). They have an iPhone app, regularly updated Twitter and Facebook pages, other social networking functionality, podcasts (audio and video), a blog, and much more. They are apparently doing things correctly because the Pastor has about 35,000 followers on Twitter (versus a congregation of just under 10,000).

    In regard to funding options - voluntary subscriptions might be an option. It seems to be working for Michael J. Totten (click here and scroll down). He has also recently made an offer on his forthcoming book. For anyone who makes a one-time donation of $1,000 (there are really some takers), he will give them a shout-out in the acknowledgement section of his book.

    One more thing - he posts some of his material via Amazon Kindle. People can subscribe to it (for a nominal cost), download the updates, and he gets a cut of the proceeds. Not sure how much revenue this generates (I guess that depends on how many SWJ readers have a kindle and are within range of 3G).

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    Council Member Abu Suleyman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Schmedlap View Post
    In regard to funding options - voluntary subscriptions might be an option. It seems to be working for Michael J. Totten (click here and scroll down). He has also recently made an offer on his forthcoming book. For anyone who makes a one-time donation of $1,000 (there are really some takers), he will give them a shout-out in the acknowledgement section of his book.
    If you are going to charge for something, it may shut some people out, but it has the potential to open a lot of doors as well, especially to military communities. You could potentially get a group access to article DB's like JSTOR, or one of the several University Presses that handle most articles. While that would shift your focus group away from the afore mentioned students it would give a great deal of access to people who are otherwise denied it. However, you might also be able to negotiate limited access through the presses (i.e. only certain articles), which you could provide free, but only if you don't charge money. I think you would need to sort out some of what you are trying to accomplish to do that.
    Audentes adiuvat fortuna
    "Abu Suleyman"

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    The voluntary subscriptions on Totten's site do not grant any special access. They are just voluntary donations by folks who like his work.

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    Council Member Billy Ruffian's Avatar
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    Default Collections Management

    There have been some really great posts here, articulating the needs of the patrons of this site. Schmedlap especially, you must have been Aristophanes in a previous life. Or at least one of his assistant librarians.

    I'm about 8 months away from my accreditation as a librarian, so please bear that in mine, but here are my thoughts:

    I'd recommend against buying into one of the commercial database providers right now (like JSTOR). I've used them before, and they are still at a loss at the moment to get a lot of the emerging literature properly sorted out and catalogued as members of the military community might like. I know COIN isn't a new discipline, but for a lot of information management professionals it is. If there was a buy in to one of the major vendors, EBSCOHost would probably be the best as I've found they just have more on militaries and conflict in general. It speaks to the point made earlier about how civilian universities tend to generally muck up information regarding the professions of SWJ's users.

    That being said... there might be a vendor out there who does get it right: I'm not true part of the profession yet so I haven't had a chance to go to the conferences and conventions where all the sales-librarians rack up their clientele.

    A quick, dirty and free workaround would be librarything. Its a generally neat web 2.0 tool, but tends to be more suited to an individual user. Still, if immediacy and money is an issue, it'll work.

    Overall, it sounds like what people want the most is a subject guide, a resource which lists off the basic reference sources, perhaps something along the lines of this. It was made by my colleague/professor Joyline Makani and integrates a lot of the web 2.0 and functionality features mentioned by Schmedlap. The format was developed by springshare who are one of the leading vendors on web 2.0 integration into online libraries.
    "I encounter civilians like you all the time. You believe the Empire is continually plotting to do harm. Let me tell you, your view of the Empire is far too dramatic. The Empire is a government. It keeps billions of beings fed and clothed. Day after day, year after year, on thousands of worlds people live their lives under Imperial rule without ever seeing a stormtrooper or hearing a TIE fighter scream overhead."
    ―Captain Thrawn

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