Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet Gives Poor Families Books

posted by birdie

As reported in The Economist, the President of Chile, a medical doctor and breath of fresh air after the cruel rule of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, has instituted a project to give a box of nine books to over 400,000 impoverished families. Her choices, among others, are Kafka's "Metamorphosis" and Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye".

In today's The Lede (blog) from the New York Times...If You Had to Pick Nine Books...you are welcome to view other reader's opinions, and offer your own choices if you so desire. What would you choose?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Eight laws of library technology

by John Miedema

Greetings. I have worked in the information technology industry for over a decade, mostly as a web developer for IBM. One day I was in my local library, looking at the library OPAC, thinking, ‘Why isn’t this more like Amazon?’ That thought took me to library school. It turns out librarians were thinking the same thing, and they are busy reinventing the OPAC. To my surprise, what I learned at library school was that I was less interested in library technology than librarianship. I have recently launched a new blog, slowreading.net, where I intend to focus more on reading research and practices in libraries and in culture. But I have a number of thoughts on information technology that I have not unpacked. I wanted to do small justice to them by summing them up in a single post. I hope they are useful to somebody in the library field.

1. It all comes down to data and rules. Anyone beginning their journey into information technology must feel overwhelmed. The industry is so diverse, with so many vendors and products and jargon. No one can learn it all. So just dive in and learn something; in time you will see that it all comes down to two things: data and rules. Remember in the eighties when you learned WordPerfect 5.1? Then they made you switch to Word. Turns out the switch wasn’t that hard; the products were fairly similar. In short order, you found yourself learn Excel, then intuitively picking up on other software programs. Next thing you knew, you were building web pages. There is a snowball effect, and it keeps going. Maybe you’re at the point of designing an Access database, or picking up some JavaScript. Before long, it all blends. You hear talk about .Net, Web 2.0, web services, SOA, and the semantic web — cakewalk. In the end, there is not much new under the sun. It all comes down to data being sloshed around by the application of programmatic rules. Content and syntax. I hope that helps describe the big picture, and gives you courage to try anything in the field.

2. Organized information is handier than disorganized information. Just like closets. It sounds obvious, almost a definition of cataloging. Now let me offer this slant — any degree of increased order is helpful. There are many methods of increasing order: back-of-the-book indexes, full-text indexes, controlled vocabularies, taxonomies, etc. The thing all of these tools have in common is that they reduce the state of disorder or chaos in information to some degree. This is especially helpful as the quantity of information being managed increases. The task of a librarian in the information age isn’t necessarily to bring high-end classification systems to the web. Things like social tagging are catching on because they bring just a measure of order to large bodies of content. Do you have any innovative ideas that simply bring a little more order to information? You may have a major invention on your hands.

3. The rate at which data is being recorded is accelerating faster than our ability to manage it. Call it information entropy or info-glut. It seems that the ability to record information has necessitated it. How did organizations ever get by without all the data they now record, one has to wonder. The information technology industry keeps inventing new ways to cope with the situation — content management, business intelligence, tagging, and so on — but there is another practical option: collect less information. Will we be less informed? Not if we apply an old-fashioned solution, the scientific method. Scientists collect a finite number of observations from the natural world, apply scientific rigor (repeatability, etc.), and make valid conclusions more often than not. They don’t try to record everything. I’m just waiting for the day that some vendor clues into this, and packages it up as the next best thing. Maybe library science should pick up on this first!

4. Librarians should not build their own software systems. Librarians should experiment with every new technology out there. Librarians should become very technically literate … in order to know what they want, and what they are getting when they go to a vendor to purchase a system. System development is deep water. If a new technology makes it easy to get started, it will be all the harder to finish. You can’t build a system out of Web 2.0 widgets. Forget technology; go conceptual. Think very hard about what patrons want; most don’t know. There is an old joke among developers that systems would work great if it weren’t for the users. Users complain more about font-size than function. In truth, design is a two-step between users and experts. Once you designed it, hand it over to the vendors and their code-jockeys for development. I’ll make one significant exception; open source development has the potential to harness all levels of development skills into a worthy product; it just takes longer.

5. These days there is only one way to acquire a system: buy a package, and two, custom build it. No one does custom builds anymore, right? It’s too costly; buy a package. It’s the 80-20 rule: get 80% of what you want, and configure it for your organization. That’s the sales pitch. More often you get 50-50 or worse. Just because it’s shrink-wrapped doesn’t mean it’s a package. Think configuration. Ask your vendor how much configuration is required. Is it custom programming in disguise? That’s where the dollars drain out. Coding is not just keystrokes. Don’t treat developers like mechanics and they won’t treat you like business executives. The technologies are young compared to the automotive industry and there are few truly standard solutions; everyone is learning on the job. They are not building cars, they are building the assembly line.

6. RSS and XML are cooler than you think. RSS is a simple Web 2.0 technology that completely changes our relationship with the web. Instead of having to go to the web, the web comes to you! If you learn nothing else about Web 2.0, learn RSS. It’s a great step toward what’s coming next. If you want to learn the next most important thing, learn XML, god’s gift to the web. XML is a character based data format that allows disparate systems to talk to each other. It is the heart of Web 2.0, which is righteous on so many levels. It is easy to get started; at no cost anyone can micropublish through a blog. These technologies are just the beginning. Keep your eye on these buzzwords: web services, service-oriented architecture, and the semantic web. Librarians are already talking about semantic libraries. There’s lots coming down the pipe.

7. Print is the next evolution in information technology. If technology evolved in the order of its importance, then print would be the next big thing. There’s no question that digital technology is better for finding information. Scan those books, bring it on. But finding information is only half the picture. What is preferable for reading information? People talk about the continuum of data to knowledge. Data is something out there, on the web perhaps; knowledge is something in your head. We go through of process of taking information that’s out there, and internalizing it. That’s where print is so important. When it comes down to serious reading, especially of challenging material, there is no equal for print and books. There are many more examples where print has persisted where personalization matters. The business world still prefers print for signatures. Print has something that the greatest quality e-Book cannot have, fixity, the quality of unchangingness that we need to evaluate ideas. In the final analysis, we require something in our hand to make it real. It’s just the way we’re made.

8. Library technology is less interesting than librarianship. It is important to remember this. It is becoming a more distant memory now, but remember that not so long ago it was believed by many that digital technology would replace libraries. Librarians were told they could become knowledge workers in the private sector. I’m glad that seems quaint now. In the final analysis, information technology is just infrastructure. Want to code; go into computer science. Think back to why you went to library school. Librarianship is much more than technology. I’m sure you can speak to that.

Librarians Can Be Very Nice People

posted by birdie

OK, we've reported on the ghost in the library, now here's a dear little story about a library angel in Kansas City.

Exorcist Wanted...In the Library

posted by birdie

Uh oh, ghost in the library. In the library bathroom to be precise. Here's the story from Zee News, Kent, UK.

Have A Lend of Us

posted by birdie

Could this be your library? One librarian is "trampy", the others are "a bit dim", "helpful and gay" and "sweet and dyslexic". Maybe...

...but it's really an inside peek at the cast and crew of the new Australian TV comedy, "The Librarians" from The Sydney Morning Herald.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Pastor Orders Harry Potter Books Removed From Catholic School

posted by birdie

I'm not sure where the Rev. Ron Barker of St. Joseph's School in Wakefield, MA has been for the last ten years (in his study?), but apparently he became aware--last month--of the character Harry Potter, and the seven books in which he was the title character. The following report is from Fox News, so read it at your own discretion:

"A Catholic pastor at a Massachusetts parochial school has made all the Harry Potter books there disappear, saying they are spiritually dangerous for children and could encourage them to engage in witchcraft. The Rev. Ron Barker of St. Joseph's School in Wakefield, Mass., said he stripped the library there of the fantasy series by British author J.K. Rowling in the last month after discovering the novels were among the 10,000 volumes on the shelves.

"This is a parochial school and I have the moral authority to do this," he said in an interview with FOXNews.com. "For some people, reading those books is a vehicle to become involved in the occult. ... My basic premise is for the spiritual protection of the children."

Anatomically Correct Art Censored in Bookstore Window

posted by birdie
Someone, we're not exactly sure whom, didn't want their child walking by and seeing the collaborative window exhibit "Playing Doctor" at the York University Bookstore. The exhibit was an attempt to facilitate awareness about the importance of being checked for testicular and breast cancer.

Here's the story from Excalibur, the campus paper of York University in Toronto.

Library of Congress Chewed Out by Congress

posted by birdie

How much must this hurt...to be compared to Wal-Mart in terms of inventory tracking.

But yes, according to this piece from the Washington Post, "corporations such as United Parcel Service and Wal-Mart know how to keep track of their packages and merchandise" {better than the LoC}, a weary but sympathetic congressional panel, headed by Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) told officials of the Library of Congress yesterday.

Not wishing to be compared to a mega-store, Librarian of Congress James Billington responded, appropriately, "We are a working library, not a storehouse. It requires a different approach".

Update: 10/26 12:35 GMT by B : A reader's observations on the L0C situation entitled "Black Hole at the Library of Congress" from a Michael Lieberman's blog at the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

Library porn filters would block patrons' legitimate inquiries

posted by Blake

The San Jose Mercury News Says Filtering was a bad idea a decade ago, and still is. Responding to a minor nuisance at the downtown library by dampening the rights of inquiry and speech of all patrons at every city library is an unacceptable trade-off.

Libraries an integral part of the bigger picture

posted by Blake

The Truro Daily News - Truro,Nova Scotia,Canada - says It's impossible to imagine a modern society without easily accessed, well-stocked libraries. But a little like not missing your water until the well runs dry, if libraries do falter due to the current attrition, we will wake up one day and cry over what̢۪s lost.

New OCLC report on social networking

posted by michelley

OCLC just released a report called Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World, which addresses social networking and what role libraries may play in this area. Based on their other excellent reports, I'm sure it will present fascinating research.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Books for the Ages, if Not for the Best-Seller List

posted by Blake

Have you ever wondered about the NY Times Best Seller List? Books for the Ages, if Not for the Best-Seller List : The List compiled in strict secrecy to prevent cheating by publishers and authors, is not a completely accurate barometer of what the reading public is buying, and it has generated controversy from time to time. The novelist James Patterson has more work on the list than anyone else... How is it put together? How accurate is it?

Christian group pushing to filter porn from San Jose libraries

posted by Blake

The Mercury News: A Christian group led in part by a former San Jose city councilman is pushing for anti-pornography filters on computers at the city's public libraries. "We want to provide free access to information. Parents are certainly welcome to guide children's use, but it's certainly not the library's role to do that," branch manager Pam Crider said.

Rare book found in charity shop

posted by Blake

Rare book found in charity shop A rare first edition of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest has been handed in to a charity shop. The book, which dates back to 1898, was discovered at the branch of Oxfam in Nantwich, South Cheshire - appropriately inside a handbag.

The Virtual Librarian, A Novel

posted by Blake

birdie writes "The Virtual Librarian, a forthcoming novel from Theodore Rockwell, award-winning author of "The Rickover Effect" and "Creating the New World," and co-author of three other important non-fiction works. He includes as co-author his deceased son, who discussed with him many of the ideas that led to this story.

In "The Virtual Librarian," information technologist Keith Robertson keeps reminding himself that Lib is not a real person; she's a virtual librarian software, nothing more. Like the telephone voice that tells you whether your flight's on time. But Lib's software is evolutionary, designed to keep improving itself as it learns. So she is outgrowing her creators and developing a mind of her own."

Sex, Drugs and Bombs: Confessions Of A Librarian

posted by Blake

Here's a new contender for my favorite headline ever: "Sex, Drugs and Bombs: Confessions Of A Librarian": Places where children are kept calm in storytelling corner, dads can escape the chaos of home to do the Sunday crossword and students can find the silence they need to get on with their studies. Certainly not places where drug dealers hide their stashes and flashers lurk in waiting for their unsuspecting victims. But that's exactly the kind of thing Don Borchert has experienced in his 10 years as a librarian in California.

New Show Down Under...The Librarians

posted by birdie

There's a "New Australian black comedy on the tele...The Librarians...review in The Age.

"There's something intrinsically comic about a library. It's a place of order and quiet, but anyone can come in, and they frequently do. The line between control and chaos is crossed every day. So the new ABC comedy series The Librarians is the subject of considerable speculation within the book-lending profession. The librarian who gave the series' writer, producer and star Robyn Butler a tour of the State Library expressed the fears of many when she took the comedian aside and asked: "You're not going to be mean to librarians, are you? You're not going to wear cardigans and say shush?"

Monday, October 22, 2007

E-books multiply, but who's reading them?

Sony and Amazon are betting that digital novels will replace ink and paper. Some readers aren't so sure.

| Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Caitlin Lyons labors in the towering stacks as bibliophiles trickle into Boston's Brattle Book Shop. Many are repeat customers, here to browse an eclectic collection – hundreds of thousands of loosely categorized tomes that spill from these two floors onto outdoor shelves in an empty lot.

It's an avalanche of paper, concedes Ms. Lyons, a recent English major with an ecosensitive streak. She acknowledges that this vast inventory, digitized, could shrink dramatically into an easily managed series of reads on a PC, PDA, or some dedicated device's screen. That, she says, would represent a loss. "Way too many things are becoming technological," she says, cradling a fragile-looking hardback copy of Benjamin Disraeli's "Sybil." "A bookshelf and a study? You can't do that on a disc."

Digital evolution has long since swept the audio and video realms, leaving holdout purists clinging to tubes, vinyl, and film. Holding back the broad digitization of books – besides the special sensory experience they deliver in their traditional form – has been a spotty digital inventory and the lack of a dominant device for displaying them.

But as habits change and content inventory nears critical mass (Google, to name one prospective repository, is still wrangling with copyright issues), digital books might finally gain a foothold, observers say – not as a replacement format, but as an alternative delivery system not unlike the audiobook. Both the publishing industry and the reading public appear to be shaking the notion that for the beloved book, digital equals death.

"Around 2000, I think [publishers] thought there was going to be a brave new world and they were going to have a whole new thing, and I think that's part of what went wrong," says Sara Nelson, editor in chief of Publishers Weekly. What's clearer now, she says, is "there will be plenty of niches and plenty of space for books in digital form, not so much as a direct competitor, [but] as an added format."

In fact, digital loomed very large in the book-publishing world back at the beginning of this decade. No less than Bill Gates was referring to paper as a "reading 'technology' " nearing obsolescence. Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab was dabbling in "electronic ink." Booths at BookExpo America were crammed with devices from firms of all sizes. Partnerships bubbled.

"There was an enormous outpouring of messianism," says Richard Curtis, president of his eponymous literary agency and founder and president of E-Reads, a publisher of both print and electronic books. "In the next five years there was a backlash as the people involved realized that it was far more complicated than they thought – technically, in terms of digital-rights management, and culturally." Even big firms such as Warner, with its ipublish, were left with little to show for their investments.

Today, more quietly and with adjusted expectations, the push for digital books has been renewed. Sony is tweaking its 10-month-old Portable Reader tablet. Giant book e-tailer Amazon is plotting its own move into digital sales, with a prototype product in testing.

Year-over-year growth at fictionwise.com, a leading digital-books retailer, moved from a fairly flat 20 percent in 2005 to a projected 28 percent this year, according to Steve Pendergrast, a spokesman. His firm markets its own reader: the eBookwise 1150.

"Sony's marketing grows the entire e-book market and gets people thinking about buying a device," Mr. Pendergrast says. "They shop around, and some percentage of them opt for ours instead of theirs."

Nearly half of his firm's e-book sales are now in romance titles, Pendergrast says, a category that was in low single digits as recently as 2004. Other areas likely to be well served, Ms. Nelson and others say: books with perishable information that are candidates for one-time use – travel books, for example. The advantages are clear.

"There's portability, flexibility," says Mr. Curtis, who allows that he still likes an old-fashioned book before bed. "Can't read the 10-point type [of an e-book]? Bump it up to 12 points. Load 40 books into a device and carry it to Frankfurt or wherever." Still missing, says Curtis, is that "explosive spark" device that will appeal to a fast-fingered generation.

That means a device ripe for iPod ubiquitousness, industry-watchers say – perhaps an efficient convergence device served by a content aggregator like audiobook giant Audible.com.

It might involve Apple. Last month, HarperCollins announced a pilot project in which samples of more than a dozen fiction titles could be accessed by users of the iPhone. The publisher said the move would gauge demand for a cellphone format. There are other pockets of promise. E Ink, in Cambridge, Mass., for example, has made recent strides in flexible plastic display screens.

Curtis's small, independent firm has persevered since 1998, he says, kept in the game through sales of print books. "Now the [e-book] industry seems to be established on enough of a basis for us to go on," he says. "We're moving forward aggressively."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

LibVibe - Library News

A newscast of our own. Concise, professional, listenable.
Hear the difference. Tell a colleague.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Internet Archive is now officially a library

posted by Blake A Very Defiant Duckling Named Ender points out we missed News From a Few Months Back that In May, California officially recognized the Internet Archive, established in 1996, as a library. The designation makes the online archive eligible to apply for several federa

Friday, October 05, 2007

Radio Station Decides Not To Air Allen Ginsberg Poem 'Howl'

posted by leo

Banned books don't exist just in libraries -- in fact, they don't even have to be books.

The New York Times has a story today about how WBAI, a radio station in New York, decided not to air 'Howl', the well-known poem by Allen Ginsberg.

This is the 50th anniversary of the court decision that found the poem not obscene due to its "redeeming social importance".

Unfortunately the radio station felt they might get slapped with punitive fines by the FCC if they aired the piece, so they decided to stream it over the Web instead.

The poem has been broadcast several times since the court decision. But one lawyer familiar with First Amendment issues observes that as a consequence of the FCC's so-called "zero-tolerance" policy, "it's a completely different era".

UPDATE: Here's the segment WBAI didn't broadcast, "Howl Against Censorship".