Friday, 7 May 2010

Widgets and institutional collaboration

One of the reasons we became interested in widgets was that they seemed like a quick and easy way to start weaving together some of the disparate parts of University life. One of the truisms of working in large organisations is that service providers tend to focus on the boundaries between themselves and other groups (i.e. this is what we do) - despite the fact that for users these boundaries are either invisible or annoying.

The University Library has traditionally been seen as a provider of content. That content is then whisked off and used in the core processes of the University - research and teaching. The UL is now moving to support these core processes more directly - which means getting more closely involved with other bodies in the University.

Institutional collaboration, between the University Library and CARET, is at the heart of this project. Another important connection is with the Management and Information Services Division (MISD). They hold the student data (which courses students are on, which exams they are taking) which is essential to providing relevant services. We are hoping that our exam papers widget will provide a blueprint for using this data to retrieve learning objects - and also cement the working relationship between our institutions.

Our other initial collaboration is closer to home -with DSpace@Cambridge (the University's institutional repository) which forms part of the University Library. We're not just interested in getting valuable information out of DSpace (exam papers, theses, reading lists etc.), but also at getting material in. Part of the exam papers widget project will be to provide a widget for the deposit of material into the repository.

Collaborations tend to work best if there is something concrete to work on together, and widgets are a fast and lightweight means of providing that collaborative basis. Which makes widgets important for strategic reasons as well as for functionality.

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