A Review of 2016 in Information Services

As I look back over the directorate’s achievements in 2016, I can’t help reflecting that the remarkable ways in which we advanced Heriot-Watt’s information, technology, and learning environments this year epitomise the University’s values of looking outwards, pursuing excellence, respecting each other, taking pride in our institution and shaping the future.

Whilst last year was about securing the resources to invest then planning and preparing for change, this year has been about delivery.

Unifying our global library collection has become a reality with the successful roll-out of the Alma system. We recently reported usage figures for 2015-16 to the Society of College, National and University Libraries, including an average of 4 book loans, 216 electronic journal article downloads and 97 E-book section requests per full-time-equivalent student,  demonstrating how we actually fulfil most information needs worldwide.

Edinburgh, Galashiels and Malaysia received boosts to their Internet connectivity, whilst Edinburgh’s campus network and WIFI infrastructure underwent a major rebuild, enhancing security, resilience and performance.

The £1M/year Information Systems Modernisation Programme delivered new Security Control Room, Estates Management and Commercial Services’ Till systems, updates for iHR and the HWU website, as well as the Alma library management system. Its Student Administration Revitalisation Project has now selected Student Portal and Recruitment CRM products, and we have renewed the server and software environment for SAS.

This was the year that the University formalised its research data management and I am delighted with the role that Information Services have played in this, moulding policy and practice, supporting researchers, managing publication records and data, and building a technology infrastructure that will secure HWU’s research into the very long-term future.

The Edinburgh campus library was opened 40 years ago. Originally built for 150,000 books and 250 readers (for £707,000 including VAT! ), it was state-of-the-art in 1976. Our other campuses have leap-frogged us over the past few years, but the University accepted the Vision for the Library and Learning Landscape we drew up with Realm-ISD in 2014. The first deliverable was the immensely popular and successful £1.5M Learning Commons, opened in September, which colleagues from all areas of the directorate have contributed to.  The University is now investing £6M in a 3-year redevelopment project for the Edinburgh campus library, for which planning is well underway, and we expect work to start in the summer.

Alongside these developments, the University is also investing in the wider learning environment at Edinburgh, with classrooms being remodelled for different styles of teaching and learning, as well as having the latest learning technology installed. Radical new buildings like Lyell and Oriam have been commissioned this year. Once again, I am delighted that Information Services is taking a leading role in this field: we really are becoming the “goto” professionals in HWU, recognised by the academic leaders of the institution for delivering what they need.

Underpinning the changes we make to facilities are the liaison and support activities that link us with students and academics, ensuring that we develop in the directions that are required. A re-organisation of Customer Services this year has streamlined the ways in which we give assistance, with additional responsibilities and re-skilling enabling the promotion of several colleagues.

The Principal met  with the IS leadership team just before Christmas, and we discussed his ambitious ideas for Heriot-Watt. We assured him that Information Services are keen to play a central role in taking the University into that future.

I thank my colleagues across Information Services for all the work they have done this year to enable us to contribute so much to the University’s success.

Michael Roch

Director of Information Services

Retirement of Peter Sandison

Colleagues and friends have gathered to mark the retirement of Peter Sandison, Campus Library Manager for the Scottish Borders Campus, who has led our support of the co-located  students and staff of Heriot-Watt University and Borders College since 2007.

Peter with two former colleagues

Peter’s first contact with Heriot-Watt University occurred when he was a teacher on an English Language Summer School in the 1970s. In 1987 he was appointed Assistant Librarian at the Martindale Library of what was known then as the Scottish College of Textiles (SCOT). In 1996, having been Acting Chief Librarian, Peter converged the college’s Library, Computing and Audio-Visual services together and was appointed Head of Educational Services. The Scottish College of Textiles merged with Heriot-Watt  in 1998, and Peter became Manager of Library Services & Information Systems at the new Scottish Borders Campus. Borders College joined HWU at SBC in 2007, when Peter became Campus Library Manager. Additionally, Peter coordinated Friends International Borders, an informal group of local volunteers offering friendship and hospitality to overseas students at the Scottish Borders Campus.

Peter embraced all of these changes with gusto and consistently applied his considerable energy to enhancing the services he and his colleagues offered students and academics. He has worked enthusiastically with colleagues across Information Services globally, and brought his extensive experience to bear in formal committees and informal groups, always seeking to enhance the range and quality of our services. In 2015 Peter’s work was recognised through the Sprit of Heriot-Watt Award for Pursuing Excellence.

We thank Peter for all his work and friendship over the years and wish him a long and happy retirement.


Skype, Phones and Videoconferencing

Our successful transition earlier this year from on-campus email, calendars and address-books to Microsoft’s cloud-based Office365 system was intended to ensure that these critical services are available to HWU students and staff globally, from any device, 24 x 365.

Additionally, access to web-based versions of Word, Excel and Powerpoint, and the right to install full versions of these on our own devices, ensures that all HWU students and staff can create, view and share documents globally. See our Summer 2016 Power Hours programme for more information about getting the best from these applications.

New applications are also bundled into Office365, with new additions planned by Microsoft all the time – see http://fasttrack.microsoft.com/roadmap  for details. The application which has seen the fastest take-up across HWU is Skype-for-Business, an enterprise-strength version of the free application we’ve used for years to keep in touch with distant friends and relatives.

Skype-for-Business’s potential for learning, teaching, research and administration across our global University is immense, but there are practical limits which emerge most commonly when communicating with people who are not on HWU campuses, with their high-speed connections to the Internet.

Internet Links June 2016

We find that each device in a Skype-for-Business videoconference needs at least 1mb/s of download and upload bandwidth to each and every other device in the call. This is particularly challenging for mobile phones, whether on 3G/4G or shared WIFI connections, and even more so when more than 2 nodes are connected.

Skype bandwidth 2

I’ve just checked the download and upload bandwidth available to my mobile phone, sitting in the Edinburgh Campus Library, out of Semester on a sunny Friday afternoon:

Mobile Bandwidth

As you can see, participating in more than a 1:1 videoconference would be impossible, and even that is marginal.

Turning on my phone’s WIFI and connecting to the global Eduroam service, with very few people about I can get 37mb/s download and 7mb/s upload, so I could potentially participate in the following teleconference:

Skype bandwidth 3

However, new devices connecting to WIFI near to me, or additional participants joining the meeting, would reduce (and could exhaust) the bandwidth available to me,  causing me problems.

Please note that these practical limits are nothing to do with Office365 or Skype-for-Business. Whichever software you use to videoconference between PCs, tablets and mobile phones, you’ll need these amounts of bandwidth available for reliable participation. As mentioned above, problems between on-campus participants are relatively rare.

So, what can you do to ensure that videoconferences using Skype-for-Business are always successful and productive?

  • Use wired connections rather than WIFI whenever possible, but if impossible, use WIFI rather than 3G/4G mobile broadband.
  • Prepare and practise well before any crucial conference:
    • Ensure that all participants have the correct software installed, have read its instructions and practised making calls and being called
    • Check that all participants have Internet connections that are reliable and fast enough.
    • Check that every camera, microphone and loudspeaker (or headset) are correctly adjusted
  • Work out your “Plan B” in advance, and share it with all participants. This might include:
    • Agreeing to blank cameras and mute microphones whenever possible if network capacity is problematic for any participant.
    • Having a conventional telephone/speakerphone available, with its dial-in number known to all.
    • Sharing all participant email addresses to allow asynchronous communication and content sharing.
  • Speak to the Information Services Audio Visual team who, with many years of videoconferencing experience, will be able to give you expert advice on getting the best possible results.

Are You Skinny Dipping?

Observing risks taken by some banks ahead of the 2007-8 Global Financial Crisis, the fund manager Warren Buffett commented, “It’s only when the tide goes out that you see who’s been swimming naked”.

Working with information held only on your PC, workstation, tablet or phone is swimming naked – you need to cover yourself with a back-up copy.

Every day, random disasters hit people and their information:

  • Human errors
  • System failures
  • Fires
  • Floods
  • Thefts
  • Cyber-crimes

Your system might fall on the floor, you might leave it on a train… The list of potential disasters is long and growing …

Protect your information from loss – save it on the H:Drive or OneDrive provided by Information Services and we’ll back it up for you, keeping multiple copies in several locations.

Don’t get caught out when the tide goes out – we’re here to keep you covered!

Two Decades of the Information Revolution at Heriot-Watt

We are told that we are living through the Information Revolution, a step-change in human history likely to be ranked with the Industrial and Agricultural revolutions of earlier times. Like the generations who witnessed those periods of change, we find it impossible to see what’s over the next horizon, but a glance in the rear-view mirror can often reveal how far we’ve travelled.

Comparing our most complete annual figures with those of 1993-94, (2 years after the World Wide Web was launched) reveals enormous growth in both the range of information resources we offer and the numbers supplied. This growth has been made possible by the information technologies of 21st century scholarship, which have untethered scholarly information from buildings and shelves, enabling us to deliver it to Heriot-Watt’s students and academics world-wide, 24×365.

HWU (UK Campuses) Library Collection Statistics 1993-1994 2013-2014 % Change
Printed Books 107,926 159,812 +48%
Electronic Books 0 74,711
Total Books 107926 234,523 +117%
Printed Periodicals 1,550 3,000 +94%
Electronic Periodicals 0 44,845
Total Periodicals 1,550 47,845 +2987%
Book Loans 127,284 52,458 -59%
E-Book Section Requests 0 431,325  
Periodical Article Downloads 0  1,085,251  
Total Resource Requests 127,284 1,569,034 +1133%
FTE Academic Staff 496 752 +52%
FTE Students 4,445 8,379 +89%
Total FTE Users 4,941 9,131 +85%
Book loans per FTE Student 29 6 -78%
Periodical Article Downloads per FTE Student 0 130  
E-Book Section Requests per FTE Student 0 51  
Total Resource Requests per FTE Student 29 187 554%
of which Book Loans comprised 100% 3%

Heriot-Watt Information Services Leads Scottish Library Systems Procurement

Heriot-Watt University Information Services participates actively in relevant professional groups in Scotland and across the UK. The Scottish Confederation of University & Research Libraries (SCURL) has collaboratively procured electronic journals and books for many years, bringing negotiating expertise and economies of scale when dealing with publishers. This has enabled Scottish HEIs like Heriot-Watt to develop much richer online collections than any could afford individually.

Traditional library management systems such as Ex-Libris Voyager, currently used by HWU in Scotland and Malaysia, were designed primarily to manage the acquisition, cataloguing and circulation of physical books. In 2013-14 Information Services made 7 book loans per FTE student, compared with 130 online journal article downloads and 51 E-book section requests. Like other Scottish universities, we require a modern Library Management Platform which brings together all our resources on a single system, making them more manageable and accessible for all. Following investigatory work in 2013-2014, led by the Directors of IS at Stirling and HWU, SCURL is now working with the Scottish universities’ purchasing agency, APUC, to procure a common Library Management Platform for our sector.

Iain Young, Head of Resource & Facility Services in IS, chairs the SCURL working group managing this procurement and HWU is the primary vanguard institution. The tender process has begun and a ranked framework of selected products will be in place by December 2015. HWU will adopt the most suitable Library Management Platform from the framework and bring this into worldwide service for A/Y 2016-17. The new system will allow us to change the way in which many of our services are delivered and an internal project has begun to pave the way for this. We’ll update you on progress with this key enhancement throughout the coming year.

Extended #Edincampuslib Opening for Resit Revision

Starting today, Edinburgh Campus Library will remain open until 8pm Mon-Thurs for the summer resit revision period.

For all our opening times, please see http://www.hw.ac.uk/is/library-essentials/opening-hours/edinburgh.htm.

Enhancing Edinburgh Campus Library 2015 #edincampuslib

We told you earlier about the new accessible lift we’re installing, but that is just one of several exciting changes we’re bringing in this summer.

Analysis of paper journals held at Edinburgh revealed that complete runs of 25% of them are already available electronically to HWU students and staff worldwide. Senate’s Information Services Committee agreed that study space at Edinburgh being at a premium, we should dispose of the little-used paper copies.

Thirty eight tons of paper have been removed and 925 shelves will follow shortly . This will enable us to add approximately 35-40 more study spaces on our popular 3rd floor, allow daylight to reach more of the floor, and let more of our readers enjoy the fabulous views across the sunken garden to the ancient woodlands.

The library’s Gibson Craig Wing, which accommodates Information Services management offices and the Director of Music, is isolated from the main body of the building. It included a solitary centrally booked 30 seat classroom, 2.38. We have adjusted our perimeter so that this room is now accessed from the library and we will be refurbishing this as a Quiet Study Room, also offering excellent views across the gardens.

Taken together we shall be adding approximately 10% to the library’s seating capacity for next session. Watch this space for more details!

A Strategic Vision for our Library & Learning Spaces

The Cameron Smail Library on the Edinburgh campus was a state-of-the-art development when built in 1974, and served as a model for many other academic libraries in Scotland over the following years.

Forty years on, a building designed primarily for the storage and circulation of paper-based resources is now expected to be a 24×7 study centre, a technology-enhanced learning facility, an advice and teaching hub, a café and social space, whilst also housing the staff who procure and make available huge quantities of electronic information alongside traditional printed material.

In 2013-2014, there were an average of 7 book loans per FTE student, compared with 130 electronic journal article downloads and 51 e-Book section requests.

Information Services have been working with academic space consultants Realm-ISD, HWUSU, academic colleagues and Campus Services to prepare a strategic vision for the 21st century library and learning spaces the University requires at its Edinburgh campus. The summary report can be accessed through this link:

HWU-EDI-010-61-150113-Library Vision-C-FINAL

The next step of the journey to realising what we need is to have architects and other specialists prepare an options appraisal for the building and we expect to appoint a suitable firm in the next few weeks.

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