Collaborative eScience libraries - Springer Link

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Apr 27, 2007 - Linn Marks Collins · Mark L. B. Martinez · Ketan K. Mane ·. James E. ... Kathryn R. Varjabedian · Miriam E. Blake · Richard E. Luce. Published ...
Int J Digit Libr (2007) 7:31–33 DOI 10.1007/s00799-007-0020-y


Collaborative eScience libraries Linn Marks Collins · Mark L. B. Martinez · Ketan K. Mane · James E. Powell · Chad M. Kieffer · Tiago Simas · Susan K. Heckethorn · Kathryn R. Varjabedian · Miriam E. Blake · Richard E. Luce

Published online: 27 April 2007 © Springer-Verlag 2007

Abstract In the context of collaborative eScience, digital libraries are one of many distributed, interoperable resources available to scientists that facilitate both human and machine collaboration: machine collaboration in the form of standards such as the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting and human collaboration in the form of collaborative workspaces. This paper describes a set of collaborative workspaces created at the Los Alamos National Laboratory Research Library, initial patterns of use, and additional user requirements determined based on these initial patterns of use. Keywords eScience · Digital library · Human–computer interaction · Collaboration · Collaborative workspace 1 Introduction The nature of collaborative science is changing, driven in part by emerging information technologies and in part by scientists’ imagination about how to use these technologies. Foundational research underlying these changes began in the 1980s in the field of computer-supported collaborative work (CSCW). In 1989, the National Science Foundation in the US began using the phrase “collaboratory” to describe a virtual collaborative research center, or “a center without walls, L. M. Collins (B) · M. L. B. Martinez · K. K. Mane · J. E. Powell · C. M. Kieffer · T. Simas · S. K. Heckethorn · K. R. Varjabedian · M. E. Blake eScience and Human–Computer Interaction Team, Los Alamos National Laboratory Research Library, Los Alamos, NM 87545, USA e-mail: [email protected] R. E. Luce Emory University Libraries, Atlanta, GA 30022, USA

in which the nation’s researchers can perform their research without regard to geographical location” [1]. Since 1989, these centers without walls have evolved into a grid of distributed, interoperable eScience resources that are not centrally controlled and involve machine, as well as human, collaboration in the form of autonomous workflows [2,3]. Digital libraries are one of the many distributed, interoperable eScience resources that facilitate both human and machine collaboration. In terms of machine collaboration, standards such as the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH) make it possible to create composite, virtual collections by augmenting individual collections with metadata harvested from other repositories [4]. In terms of human collaboration, collaborative workspaces provide a social component to digital libraries that expands their role in a manner consistent with the collaborative nature of eScience by facilitating collaborative discussion, discovery, and collection development.

2 Collaborative workspaces At the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Research Library, we are currently prototyping and testing nine collaborative workspaces for scientists. These workspaces are modeled after the social software tools that facilitate collaborative discussion on the Web. A significant difference is that the virtual communities involved in these workspaces are smaller than those that have emerged on the Web—the size of a collaborative, interdisciplinary research team instead of a segment of the population—and access is restricted to these users. Using social software tools solves two problems that were identified in a recent report by the UK Working Group on Virtual Research Communities, that many of the



L. M. Collins et al.

Fig. 1 The eScience Information Space (ESIS) is one of the nine prototypes of collaborative tools that we are developing and evaluating. It supports tasks that are common to researchers in any field, such as collaborative reading and writing. Other prototypes support strategic planning and annotating datasets

collaboration tools currently used by researchers are difficult to use and that it is not clear whether one model for collaborative research tools will work in the context of all sciences [5]. While collaboratories tend to be highly specialized for particular domains and may be difficult to use, the most commonly used social software tools on the Web are easy to use for collaborative discussion, an activity scientists engage in regardless of their field whenever they write grant proposals, analyze data, and co-author papers. Each of the collaborative workspaces is configured for a specific purpose. The core technology is Drupal, a content management system with flexible functionality for supporting personal authoring (blogs), collaborative authoring (books), and collaborative discussions (in forums and comments added to blogs and books) (Fig. 1). Other Drupal features of importance to users are an authentication module, which makes it possible to restrict access; an RSS aggregator, which makes it possible to aggregate information feeds from diverse sources; and modules for integrating other collaboration tools such as, the social bookmarking tool, and Gallery, the image management system.


In the nine collaborative workspaces that we have created for scientists, radically different patterns of use have emerged. In one case, within 48 h of notification, 1,006 users had created accounts and 226 comments had been posted in forums. The main post on the home page had been accessed 2,966 times. No one at the Research Library had been asked for help in using the site, even though Drupal was new to most of our users. These facts provide some measure of its ease-of-use and of our users’ motivation to use it for collaborative discussion. In this case, the discussion was about the Research Library’s journal collection, an essential resource for scientists. In another pilot test, users did not post a single entry after the first week. The pilot test was initiated by users, suggesting that they wanted a tool for collaborative discussion. In practice, however, they discovered that they needed a whiteboard for writing equations in order to focus the discussion on their research. Each of the other pilot tests has elicited a pattern of usage between these two extremes. Some, but not all, users have

Collaborative eScience libraries

been motivated to use each site. Based on these pilot tests, we have discerned several patterns of use: • More users visit the site and read the content than contribute content. • Most of those who contribute content are responsible for writing documents or making presentations and are seeking input from other users on these documents and presentations. • Collaborative workspaces created for specific purposes are used more frequently than those created for general discussion. When people are writing a paper together or compiling information together their participation in the collaborative workspace is a natural extension of their work. • Even if users want to collaborate online, they find that some features are essential to their work and override any other benefits they might derive from an online collaboration. One of these features is access control. In most cases, users will not contribute content unless they can restrict access to it.

3 Future work These patterns of use suggest additional requirements. Since more users read content than contribute content, it is important to include relevant information feeds. ScienceSifter allows users to create aggregated information feeds of journal tables of contents, with links to the papers [6]. Individual feeds are created by the LANL Research Library for locally-archived journals or provided by the journal publishers. Since collaborative workspaces created for specific purposes are used more frequently than those created for general


discussion, it is important to include support for the kinds of tasks that scientists frequently perform, such as annotating datasets. The Karst Collaborative Workspace, a collaborative endeavor with scientists and librarians at the University of New Mexico, is being designed to allow users to annotate image datasets and to archive their annotations with their datasets [7]. By integrating additional functionality we hope to collaborate with our users in creating a rich discussion and discovery environment.

References 1. Lederberg, J., Uncaphar, K.: Towards a National Collaboratory: report of an invitational workshop at the Rockefeller University, New York. National Science Foundation, Arlington (1989) 2. Foster, I.: Service-oriented science. Science, 308(5723), 814–817 (2005) 3. Yu, J., Buyya, R.: A taxonomy of workflow management systems for grid computing: (2005) 4. Lagoze, C., Van de Sompel, H.: The making of the open archives initiative protocol for metadata harvesting. Libr. Hi Tech 21(2), 118– 28 (2003) 5. Report of the working group on virtual research communities for the OST e-infrastructure steering group, VRC Final Report: 6 – virtual research communities.pdf (2006) 6. Collins, L.M., Mane, K.K., Martinez, M.L.B., Hussell, J.A.T., Luce, R.E.: ScienceSifter: Facilitating activity awareness in collaborative research groups through focused information feeds. In: Proceedings of the 1st IEEE international conference on e-Science and grid computing (e-Science 2005). Melbourne, Australia, December 2005 7. Collins, L.M., Northup, D.E., Martinez, M.L.B., Van Reenen, J., Baker, M.A., Crowley, C., Powell, J.E., Freels-Stendel, B., Heckethorn, S., Park, J.C.: The Karst collaborative workspace for analyzing and annotating scientific datasets. In: Proceedings of the 12th international conference on human-computer interaction (HCI International 2007), Beijing July 2007