Wednesday, May 31, 2006

18th Century Bloggers--and Earlier

A professor at the University of Guelph makes a case for the self-published periodicals of the 1700s as ur-blogs from which the current online variety are descended. Under this theory, Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, and Samuel Johnson were bloggers. They and others "brought about social change by highlighting debates over politics" and other contentious issues.

The book Blog!: How the Newest Media Revolution is Changing Politics, Business, and Culture already makes a case for Thomas Paine as a proto-blogger.

This stretches the definition of a blog so much that any similar impulse, no matter what the medium, could be called a blog. But this suggests to me that "blogs" don't have to be something written or typed on a keyboard. We could also include "oral bloggers" who effected social change with their words.

Paul Revere was an oral blogger, with his loud warning that the British are coming. Jesus was a blogger. What would Jesus blog? He blogged the Sermon on the Mount, and other statements that effected great social change. Other ancient oral bloggers would include Cicero and Demosthenes.

Who was the first blogger? What was the first blog? Were Egyptian hieroglyphic writings the earliest blogs? Or what about those cave paintings that are many thousands of years old? Art blogs!

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Predicting the Future

My prediction for the total number of attendees at the upcoming SLA conference in Baltimore: 5,857. Not just anybody can predict future conference attendance. It helps to have mentalist skills. It takes a special, amazing talent, and one must consider a cornucopia of factors that affect attendance. I pondered all the important angles: geographical, sociological, economical, statistical, librarical, and nostradamical. Then I slept on it and the number came to me like a revelation.

And if I'm wrong I can always delete the post and never mention it again.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

2.0 Thermo

2.0 Thermo

Bloggers

 Arrow Up

Journalists fret over increasing significance of bloggers. Court stomps Apple, bloggers rejoice.
eBay/Yahoo!

 Arrow Up

With this contract, I thee wed.
Google

 Arrow Up

Dell to install Google software on its systems.
Web 2.0

 Arrow Down

Have CMP and O'Reilly permanently damaged the term?
Library 2.0

 Arrow Up

Public domain, everyone welcome, no lawsuits--listen up, O'Reilly!
Microsoft

 Arrow Down

Low worker morale on top of recent disappointments.
Xu JingLei

 Arrow Up

Most popular blog.


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More Blogger Conferences Cropping Up

More specialized blogger conferences are cropping up. Liberal political bloggers will invade Las Vegas for YearlyKos. Christian bloggers have GodBlogCon in California.

Are librarian bloggers being left behind by religious, political, business, and media BloggerCons? Is a librarian blogger convention in the works? Could high-profile political, business, and entertainment figures be persuaded to show up? Of course, we'll take it for granted that all the library bigwigs will be there.

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Las Vegas Told ALA to Stay Away?

This story was told to me years ago by an older librarian. I mentioned that the American Library Association (ALA) annual conference always seemed to be held in the same handful of cities. I wondered why that was, and why Las Vegas, an extremely popular destination, wasn't on the future schedule.

He said there were two reasons. The first is that because of the conference's large number of attendees, not that many cities can handle it.

But about Vegas in particular, he said after ALA was in Vegas the last time, they received some complaints from the Vegas tourism people. They said the librarians did nothing but attend the conference. They didn't gamble in the casinos, they didn't go to the shows, they never opened their wallets.

In short, the librarians didn't do what everyone knows tourists are expected to do in Vegas.

So the Vegas people said: ALA, don't come back. We don't want you.

The last time ALA was held in Las Vegas was in 1973. But it is now on the upcoming schedule to be held there in 2014. 41 years! I'll note here that the Special Libraries Association (SLA) annual conference has never been held in Vegas.

In 1973, did the Vegas people tell ALA to stay away? Can anyone confirm or refute the older librarian's story?

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Oh Oh 2.0

John Battelle is attempting damage control over the Web 2.0 Service Mark flap, and has admitted sending a legal letter to an Irish nonprofit with their own 2.0 conference was a mistake. Tim O'Reilly, Battelle, said, is offline and "on a boat in the middle of a very big body of water" so therefore can't comment on any of this right now!

Yesterday I wondered aloud about the fate of "Library 2.0." Michael Casey, who coined the term, has now said that he considers it in the public domain.

Here is the Google Trends graph for "Library 2.0" from January through April 2006:

Google Trends: Library 2.0 with Quotes

For comparison, here is the graph with both "Library 2.0" and "Web 2.0" for January through April 2006:

Google Trends: Library 2.0, Web 2.0 with Quotes

Something tells me that red line will shoot up considerably after the May stats are in.

Interestingly, of the other "little" 2.0s--Identity, Law, Media, Advertising, and Democracy--none has enough traffic to show up on a graph.

Sometimes Google Trends gives different results if you include quotes around a term with more than one word.

Well, I think I've edited this post enough for one lifetime.

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Friday, May 26, 2006

The Fate of "Library 2.0"

A controversy has erupted over the fate of the term "Web 2.0." CMP has applied for a "Service Mark" of the term, and has sent a cease-and-desist letter to IT@Cork, which is using "Web 2.0" in the title of an upcoming conference.

This episode tells me the term "Web 2.0" is a hot commodity. Alternate terms like "living web" haven't caught on. Some bloggers think "Web 2.0" has jumped the shark, but that's not what I'm seeing. The usage of the term continues to grow. It exploded in 2005 and usage has increased every month of 2006. So the graph is moving upward with no end in sight.

What about "Library 2.0"? It's easy to imagine there will be conferences with this term in the title. I don't see it listed in the USPTO database.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

I'm a Blogger for the SLA Conference Blog

I accepted an invitation to be one of the bloggers for the SLA 2006 Conference Blog.

It'll be a different experience because blogging for SLA's blog is different than blogging for Reflective Librarian. But I expect to have a lot of fun and blogging there and here during the conference (June 11-14) should keep me busy.

The conference looks promising because there are several Library 2.0/Web 2.0 presentations, something about chocolate, a guy with a collection of parrots, and an awards reception on board the USS Constellation. Is that a great library conference or what?

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Cooper Dumped Brooklyn for DC

Ginnie Cooper, newly-hired director of the DC Public Libraries, said in today's Washington Post she left the Brooklyn Public Library early because of the "compelling" opportunity of building a 21st century library in the nation's capital. The controveries swirling around her in Brooklyn had nothing to do with her decision, she said.

Cooper's salary will be almost double that of her predecessor. Questions remain about her attempt to take a $20,000 "business" trip to Asia, the decision to shut down a branch library for 4 days after an altercation between users, and taking more than 6 (!!) weeks vacation not allowed by her contract. Whew!

Her explanation for leaving Brooklyn defies credibility and I have to wonder how many people actually believe her. I'm also not hearing answers to the questions raised in this and previous stories about her tenure in Brooklyn.

As for DC's role in all this, who can say they have any confidence in their decisions--hiring or otherwise?

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Library Fine Business Model

Is the lifting of library fines long overdue?

Some libraries no longer charge fines for overdue books. They want to make their libraries a more positive experience for their patrons and not create ill-will by nickel-and-dimeing them to death.

For some libraries, fines collected for overdue materials is part of their business model! They need the money. The Chicago Public Library collected over $1 million in fines last year, and the San Diego Public Library pocketed almost as much.

It makes me wonder if these libraries could stay in business if everyone brought their books back on time.

Netflix and Blockbuster are leading the new wave by eschewing fines for overdue movies.

Incoming ALA President Leslie Burger defends fine collection:

"People understand that it's part of the way our institutions do business. It recognizes that when somebody takes an item out from the library, they're entering into a contract to take it out for a certain period of time. When they decide to keep it out longer than that, they pay a fee."

The problem is demanding repayment for small amounts of money is bad policy no matter how you look at it, and probably not cost-effective either. Hounding users with collection agency low-lifes is about the worst thing a library can do, if it's a goal to cultivate a positive image, encourage people to come back to the library, and make them feel like voting in favor of that library levy on the ballot.

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Bloggers Tip Over AP

Some sort of Tipping Point has arrived. The news that the Associated Press has entered into an alliance with bloggers seemed unimaginable just a couple years ago. This is a recognition by the mainstream media of 2 things:

1. They're in trouble
2. Bloggers possess value


I recently completed a survey by a library organization asking where I get my news and what sources I read to stay on top of developments. The answer is from blogs. My news aggregator is filled with Library 2.0 and Web 2.0 bloggers who keep me up to speed on what's up. The best information delivered the fastest to my desktop comes from bloggers. Many of the best and brightest in many industries have their own blogs and they are the ones who need to be followed.

The daily newspaper is something given away for free at the subway station entrances and I find it useful for reading cartoons and who's in town at the trance clubs. The news in those papers is often something I already read on the internet at least a day previously. And not only did I already read all the stories of interest to me, but I probably read some comments about those articles on somebody's blog as well.

Many bloggers are better at journalism than those who are paid to write it for newspapers. The blogosphere has shown that reading, say, the front page of the Washington Post is not much different than reading, say, the Daily Kos. The most prominent feature of today's journalism is advocacy and the furthering of an agenda. Not coincidentally, that's what most bloggers do as well.

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Trouble in Seattle

Suppose 92% of the librarians who work with/for you said they have no confidence in you? That's the situation facing Bill Ptacek, Director of the King County Library System in Washington.

One of the biggest complaints is his "cluster" initiative. Branch libraries are grouped into clusters and librarians might be assigned to any library in their cluster at any time.

Ptacek said this will improve service and efficiency during a time of budget problems. That would be true if the staff members were robots, not people. As always, the human element can't be ignored. It's a cliche that the organization that fights human behavior is doomed to failure, and that seems to be the fly in the ointment here.

My only image of the King County library system is that banner ad that seems to be a permanent fixture at the top of the ALA jobs page.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sleepless Nights in Libraryland

It's late at night, so very late, and I need some books. I need to go to the library, so I go, but it's closed. It's midnight. It's late, it's really too late. And the library is dark, so very dark. I can't see the books on the shelves through the front door glass. No movement in there, inanimate. I have no key. So I turn and go back home.

Now I've returned home, the light is out, and I can't sleep, I can't stop thinking about things. I can't stop thinking about books I want. Read the books online? No, the books I want are never online. Why do I always need something I can't have? Why do I always need to get somewhere I can't go? And when I do go somewhere, why can I never remember why I needed to be there? Do I really need to go anywhere ever?

Questions invade me, imprison me. Why am I denied what I want? Why am I forbidden what I need? When will everything be immediately available to anybody who wants it? When will the world have no choice but to satisfy me? Where did it all go and how can I get it back?

Surrounded by the unanimous night, defenseless, I think about libraries. Questions pulsate to the surface again. Is the profession dying out? Will the internet destroy us? The management of knowledge. Have we lost control of it all? What did we ever control? Are we headed somewhere we don't want to go? Who's in charge and what is our fate?

The red clock numbers say 3 am. Darkness nods its head. Dreamland denied. Books cover the floor. Too dark to read the symbols. I listen to the radio. Late at night, I turn the radio down so low you can hardly hear it. You have to. If it's late at night, you have to turn it down as low as it will go. But it's no use, even at its lowest. The late-night chatter doesn't penetrate. Rabid talk on sports. The same news bulletins I've heard a hundred times. Electronic voices, backward messages, wingnut authors and their absurd books. I turn it off. The darkness speaks with its low hum, growing louder, angrier, like someone striking two books together on the other side of the library, then like the sound of someone tipping over an entire range of books down onto the floor.

Books again. Libraries again. The deafening darkness enveloping me, suffocating me, closing me page by page, won't be quiet, won't go away, screaming some indecipherable message. Social workers, political agitators. When will librarians wake up? When will I go to sleep? The last page is turned. Then suddenly everything is alright and everything goes away.



Down on the street below, I hear a car horn honk. I forgot. An ancient friend from library school. Didn't expect a ride tonight. I get dressed and go outside. I slip into the back seat of the car. On the floor are a few old books, rare and valuable by their looks. "We'll have to stop for gas before we cross over to D.C.," but we don't.

We cross the Potomac River, racing past the Washington Monument, speeding across the Mall, hurtling toward the Capitol building with the headlights hacking through the dense darkness of the Washington night. We turn onto the next street beyond, and pull into the driveway at the front of the Jefferson building of the Library of Congress. The doors are open. Extremely bright lights stream out into the defeated night. The driver turns to me with a grin and points to a figure appearing in the doorway, now as wide as all the world, who waves the simulacrum of a hand in a benevolent gesture to the new recruit. Welcome aboard.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

DC Library Leader to Make More Than Mayor

Ginnie Cooper has been hired to be the DC Public Library's new Executive Director. Her salary will be $205,000/year. DC Mayor Anthony Williams makes a paltry $152,000.

"Baggage" may well become Cooper's nickname, if it isn't already. She ran away from her job as head of the Brooklyn Public Library after she had to give back $27,000 in pay after she took more than 6 weeks of vacation not allowed by her contract. She tried to take a trip to Asia for a conference on the public dole to the tune of $20,000.

Even one of Cooper's anonymous "supporters" admits she has personal issues, including problems with interpersonal communication.

The news story at the ALA Web site and statements in the some of links given above by John Hill, President of the DCPL Board of Trustees, ignore her problems and instead paint her as someone who must surely be one of the greatest living librarians in the world.

The criticisms aimed at Cooper need answering. Cooper and Hill both need to address them. How did so much acrimony build up between Cooper and the Brooklyn board? How much blame does she take for that? Why did Hill and the DC board hire someone at such an exorbitant salary with such a checkered past? How does Hill answer the obvious ethical questions surrounding Cooper?

The DC Public Library system, by all accounts including my own, is in a terrible condition and needs a lot of help--and it can only receive that kind assistance through a coordinated effort from library and civic leaders working together. Can Cooper work with others?

Ask yourself: If you were hiring a librarian for your library, would you hire someone who did what Cooper did? I wouldn't, and I don't think you would either.

I've questioned before the type of people who somehow find themselves gifted with leadership positions in libraries. Cooper's hiring gives no reason to be optimistic that things are changing. Wouldn't it be wonderful if she proved me and others wrong? For the sake of those awful public libraries over in DC, we can only hope.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

BookExpo: Librarian Lounge

Librarian Lounge

The Librarian Lounge in the Exhibit Hall at BookExpo America, May 20, 2006. Provided courtesy of Library Journal.

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BookExpo America: Exhibit Hall

Exhibit Hall 1

The Exhibit Hall at BookExpo America, May 19, 2006. Book publishers make deals and show their new titles, authors sign books, etc.

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BookExpo America: Autograph Area

Autograph Area

The Autograph Area at BookExpo America, May 19, 2006. People are waiting in line to get a free copy of a new book autographed by its author(s).

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BookExpo America: Leslie Burger

Leslie Burger

Leslie Burger, incoming President of the American Library Association, spoke at BookExpo America 2006, May 20, in Washington, DC. The title of her speech was "Your Library on Steroids: How Public Libraries Are Transforming Their Communities."

The speech focused on subtle things libraries can do that would make a big difference in how people see them. "Stories of Hope & Inspiration" included her own Princeton Public Library website which includes a link on the home page where patrons can "Buy a book for the library." It takes them to Amazon and a "wish list" of books the library wants.

Other points:

A recent USA Today article said Starbucks wants to sell & maybe publish books. Burger said that means books have a future and selling them will continue to be profitable.

People have come to expect programming from libraries so they need to deliver.

The Library of Congress is "considering" junking LC Subject Headings. Burger said no one searches for things by subject headings. When she wants to find something, she types keywords into Google.

Many books sitting on the shelves in public libraries look so bad that people don't want to check them out and will buy a nice new copy instead. Libraries need to trash the old books with library bindings and buy ones with better eye-appeal.

Put authors on library tours. Conventional wisdom says authors don't think they can make enough money selling books at these events to make it worth the effort, but Burger said authors sold lots of books at their events.

Libraries can get money by partnering with Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

As usual, when the discussion turned to non-library topics and politics, the presentation suffered. Otherwise, an interesting talk by Burger.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

BookExpo America: The Googlemobile!

Google Car

Several of these "Google Book Search Mobile" cars were parked outside the Washington Convention Center during BookExpo America 2006.

I would have taken a photo of a "Windows Live Books" car if I had seen one or if they had any. Didn't see any.

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BookExpo America: Blog 2.0

Bloggers

The panel of "Blog 2.0: How Blogs Continue to Re-define Author, Publisher and Reader Dynamics." BookExpo America, May 19, 2006. From left to right: David Wilk, Dan Burstein, Anna (pronounced "Ahnna") Marie Cox, Markos Zuniga, Kyle Crafton, and Michael Cader.

Dan Burstein mentioned that books about blogs don't sell as well as they should. Bloggers don't participate that much in the print world. He suggested blog books should be targeted at people in the print media who want to learn about blogs.

Michael Cader defined a blog as a website that showcases an individual voice. If you don't have an electronic voice in today's world, you're not being heard.

Anna (pronounced "Ahnna") Marie Cox, who I was looking forward to seeing in person because she's kinda hot, only spoke for a few minutes about joining wonkette.com and her book deal.

Markos Zuniga (Daily Kos) said blogging identifies good voices and the strongest voices in a niche.

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BookExpo America: Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina, former Chairman & CEO of Hewlett-Packard, speaking at BookExpo America May 18, 2006 in Washington, DC. The title of her speech was "The Future of Publishing in the Digital Age." Her book will be published in the Fall. The point of her talk was that businesses that resist technology ultimately fail, as will businesses that resist basic human behavior. I found the speech veering too close to platitudes & cliches without saying a lot. Is she running for public office?

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BookExpo America: Best American Fiction

Best American Fiction Since 1980

"The Best American Fiction Since 1980: Results and Analysis from the New York Times Book Review Survey."

What is the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years? The survey concluded it is Toni Morrison's Beloved. Is it possible political correctness trumped good literary sense amongst the distinguished voters? Some of the panelists took issue with the winning book. They instead praised Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, and John Updike.

The panelists here are (in the photo left to right) Thomas Mallon, Liesl Schillinger, Sam Tanenhaus, Cynthia Ozick, and Greg Cowles.

Something truly bizarre happened here. I'm not the biggest conference-goer in the world, but I don't remember ever seeing this happen. The presentation was scheduled for 2:30-4pm. At 3:20, Cowles abruptly got up, took his bag, and left the podium without one explanatory word! Earlier, he was asked to give up his mic so Ozick could speak. Maybe he thought he wasn't being called upon enough by the moderator (apparently both of them work for the NYT Book Review). The life of a professional book critic! It must be ugly.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

BookExpo America: Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson At BookExpo America

Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine, spoke at BookExpo America today about his forthcoming book, "The Long Tail."

The back cover of the book says "the future of business and culture isn't in hits, the high-volume head of a traditional demand curve, but in what used to be regarded as misses--the endlessly long tail of that same curve."

A section of the book called "In The Library of Misshelved Books" caught my attention. The Dewey Decimal System comes under fire:

However, as the Google era has shown, we're suddenly realizing how limited those fixed ways of making sense of the world really are.

Anderson writes about Dewey Category 200, Religion:

This taxonomy says more about the culture of nineteenth-century America in which the system was developed (and probably something about Melvil Dewey himself) than it does about the world of faith.

Truth to be told, the Dewey Decimal taxonomy really isn't about the world of knowledge at all; it's about the world of books.


During his speech, Anderson outlined some of the differences between blogs and books:

External Context (blogs) vs Internal Context (books)
Capturing Ideas (blogs) vs Exploring Ideas (books)
Conversation (blogs) vs Lecture (books)
Narrative & Pacing
--Blogs tell a story quickly
--Books tease out a story in its entirety

The book is filled with discussions about Web 2.0 concerns, such as Amazon, Google, and Wikipedia. Probably just about anyone reading this blog would find it interesting. The book is scheduled to be published July 11. Anderson has been blogging on the progress of the book as well.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

On Web Language: Evangelist

Before attending the recent Computers in Libraries conference in Washington DC, I thumbed through the program and was struck by the short bio for one of the speakers: Paul Miller, Technology Evangelist, Talis Information Ltd. The job title had somehow never registered with me before. What the heck is a Technology Evangelist, I wondered.

The traditional definition of an Evangelist is "a bringer of the Gospel." Famous Protestant ministers are usually associated with the word: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, etc.

A lot of people must claim this title, because the Google Number for "Technology Evangelist" is 212,000. An early use of the phrase: "He [Bernard DeKoven] is one of a handful of technology evangelists across the country who are striving to bring the power of personal computers into corporate conference rooms"--PC Week, Nov. 17, 1987.

There is even a Wikipedia entry for it:

A technology evangelist is a person whose job is to assist organizations adopting new technologies. The role of Technology Evangelist was first created by Guy Kawasaki while working for Apple Computer in the late 1980s when the Apple Macintosh was first being marketed.

I find this definition problematic on two fronts. The religious fervor aspect of "evangelist" is missing, and Kawasaki's job title back in the 1980s was "Software Evangelist."

Netlingo.com similarly defangs the word with its definition: "One who advocates something, as in technology."

An evangelist has always been more than just an assister, promoter, or advocate. You can't be an evangelist for anything unless you really believe. One of the Oxford English Dictionary's definitions is "A zealous advocate of a cause or promulgator of a doctrine." Can all the people tagged with this title really boast such a huge dollop of zeal? Probably not, as it has become more of a status symbol to be recognized as a web "evangelist" even if one isn't really possessed with the traditional internal fire and brimstone.

Guy Kawasaki, in the 1980s, was identified in the news media as a Software Evangelist: "Filevision is one of the most impressive uses of the Mac so far," says Guy Kawasaki, Apple's "software evangelist," who helped seed the software development community with Macs during the past nine months" (InfoWorld, July 16, 1984). He even had this title printed on his business cards.

Kawasaki's job "was to use the fervor of a missionary to persuade software developers to write programs for the machines."

Some people are identified as a specific kind of technology evangelist. Listed here are a few along with their Google Numbers:

Technical Evangelist = 229,000
Software Evangelist = 129,000
Internet Evangelist = 87,400 ("We'll start in the center ring with Gates, impressario of Microsoft Corp., the world's largest software publisher, and Internet evangelist par excellence." Chicago Tribune, Oct. 23, 1994.)
Network Evangelist = 96
Hardware Evangelist = 27

We live in heady 2.0 times, and there are corresponding evangelists for Web 2.0, PR 2.0, Mobile 2.0, and Office 2.0. Somewhat surprising is the Google Number for "Library 2.0 Evangelist"--Zero! (although sometimes it seems their number is legion.)

Social software applications attract their own evangelists:

Blogging Evangelist = 26,600 ("If you're not reading it in RSS you're wasting your time," declaimed Microsoft's blogging evangelist, Robert Scoble, who says he subscribes to nearly 1,300 feeds." AP, Feb. 27, 2004.)
RSS Evangelist = 1,660
Podcast Evangelist = 166
Wiki Evangelist = 89
SharePoint Evangelist = 25

Even individual Web sites accrue evangelists:

Amazon Evangelist = 9,010
Yahoo! Evangelist = 525
eBay Evangelist = 143
Flickr Evangelist = 26
Second Life Evangelist = 20
Wikipedia Evangelist = 6

The evangelist bar has been lowered to such a height that anyone can jump over it. All a netizen needs is to decide which Web site or application s/he enjoys the most and proclaim devotion--with or without the traditional passion.

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Borges and His Libraries

Sunday's New York Times contains an article on Jorge Luis Borges, the onetime director of Argentina's National Library. Borges wrote many famous short stories, among them "The Library of Babel," upon which the Library of Babel Paradigm is based.

The author of the article notes that Borges wrote this short story while working at the Miguel Cane municipal library, and remarks somewhat oddly:

Borges later wrote that "the innumerable books and shelves that appear in the story are literally those I had beneath my elbow." But like the room in which the story was written, which can be visited, the library itself is small with a limited collection of books, and hardly seems worthy of the immortality Borges bestowed on it.

I'm not sure what Borges did or didn't say about that library but I guess any library he knew would be potentially "worthy" of inclusion in his own writings and the inevitable immortality, regardless of how large or small it was.

The author, Larry Rohter, thinks the National Library would have been a much better model for "The Library of Babel" because it is much larger and closer in size. I think it's easy to see how Borges sat in the smaller library and fantasized about one that was infinite--the opposite of his immediate surroundings. It seems the sort of thing a creative writer would think about. A shadowy shelf in the basement of the National Library is where the narrator of "The Book of Sand" left that troublesome tome.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

After Scanning Comes Translation

An article in Sunday's New York Times ("Scan This Book!") discusses book digitization projects such as Google's and the building of a universal library containing all books in all languages.

Superstar, an entrepreneurial company based in Beijing, has scanned every book from 900 university libraries in China. It has already digitized 1.3 million unique titles in Chinese, which it estimates is about half of all the books published in the Chinese language since 1949.

The Million Book Project is scanning books in Chinese, Indian, Arabic and French.

Recalling the Library of Babel Paradigm, that library faced many of the same problems we have today. On the positive side, it housed all human knowledge--and these digitization initiatives bring us closer to that goal. But the denizens of Babel were stumped when confronted with books in unknown languages:

He showed his find to a wandering decoder who told him the lines were written in Portuguese; others said they were Yiddish. Within a century, the language was established: a Samoyedic Lithuanian dialect of Guarani, with classical Arabian inflections.

Language was one of the biggest roadblocks in Babel. Therefore, as more and more books in foreign languages are digitized, the problem of adequate translations will need to be addressed. What do we do when millions of books written in Chinese and Indian are placed on the internet but few people in the Western world can read them? The more foreign-languages books become available, the greater the pressure to create translation applications that can give the English-speaking world a good idea of what these books are saying. Right now, Babelfish and other translation services are inadequate to the task.

Translation is the next big step after digitization. Because without translation, the digitization of Chinese, Indian, Arabic, Japanese, etc. is useless to those of us in the West because few of us understand those texts. As in Babel, language is a roadblock today's digital library needs to overcome on the way to the Perfect Library.

Funny that we're even talking about this, isn't it?

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Google & Libraries: The Love Affair Heats Up

Here's your latest valentine from Inside Google Book Search:

Librarians are our heroes.

Here's the touching story: a teen services librarian tried to help a youth find a book. Nothing. Failure. Sadness. But wait! The librarian tried Google Book Search and ta-da! Success! Happiness all around.

Google's moral: Search tools are "no replacement for authors, books, libraries or the trained information professionals we call librarians."

But isn't the real moral of this story that a librarian will fail without Google? That librarians need to use Google because if librarians rely solely on their own skills, users will go away frustrated and unhappy?

I can't wait to see more stories like this, can you?

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SharePoint Rising

Like I said, watch out for SharePoint to explode big-time next year after the release of Office 2007. Sorry I'm missing the conference. Maybe next year.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Crisis Within Michael Gorman

ALA President Michael Gorman's essay in the May 2006 American Libraries has engendered a lot of commentary in the biblioblogosphere--most of it negative.

Gorman's issue for his year as president was the supposed "crisis" in library education: library schools don't teach students what they need to know, faculty focus on research of no value to libraries, etc. Gorman wrote:

If you believe, as I do, that there is a crisis in library education that threatens the very existence of libraries and librarianship....

Well, no. A very nice rebuttal to Gorman's Crisis is this article ("Crying Wolf"). Encroaching technology is a threat to Gorman's personal view of librarianship--that explains the eschatological language.

The bottom line is there is no crisis in library education. Gorman wasted his year as president promoting discussion of a problem that doesn't even exist. I predict Gorman's imagined crisis in will disappear from the public marketplace of ideas on the day his tenure as ALA President ends. It's nothing more than a manifestation of his own personal fears--like the monster in the movie "Forbidden Planet." When Gorman leaves, the "monster" will vanish as well.

Information Science will prove to be something like the savior of Library Science rather than the beast that killed it.

No one agrees on a definitive definition of librarianship, but Gorman's definition is certainly the librarianship of his youth. But the profession continues to evolve and technology will always be a far more important part of it from here on out, because technology is more important to our culture and our users. Libraries must reflect that.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Google's Library Strategy

Why is Google courting libraries? Google has created a Librarian Center and is asking for stories on interesting ways librarians have used Google's tools. They intend to make a movie with librarians as stars and will premiere the flick at the ALA conference in New Orleans!

Google Book Search is partnering with five large libraries: The University of Michigan, Stanford, Harvard, Oxford, and the New York Public Library. The idea is to digitize books and make them available to all on the internet.

I suspect those 5 libraries have tons of books on their shelves that are in the public domain and are only available at their library or just a few others as well. And many of those books may not be available through ILL. They are inaccessible to anyone outside the immediate geographical location of the physical building. Digitizing books like that and loading them onto the internet is an enormous benefit to the public.

Apparently Google wants to be the first Web 2.0 company to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. If the Dalai Lama or the Pope were a company, it would be Google. Isn't that what we're being led to believe? Who else has been so kind to libraries and their users?

What is Google's perception of librarians:

a) Respected professionals
b) Valued partners
c) Hopeless mediocrities
d) Useful idiots

Some librarians are extremely wary of Google. Recently, a Google official spoke in front of a roomful of librarians about the digitization project. He assuaged (not sausaged) the fears of the librarians by stating:

"There's no way you can supplant a library with a search engine."

But Google is more than just a search engine. Google is also a web software company. They are a competitor of Microsoft. And they don't want to "supplant libraries" as they currently exist. I don't believe it's Google's intention to open "Google Libraries" around the country and take away users from our public and academic libraries. But as a profit-making company, they do covet sections of what are considered "library territory" for themselves.

Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

It's been the library's traditional role to organize information for the purpose of providing access to it. The overlap is the cause of library fears. But does Google know its own library endgame?

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Blogging BookExpo America

I'm planning to attend BookExpo America May 18-21 in Washington, DC. In case you're missing it, look for a few posts and photos here next weekend.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Newspaper Snippet Generator is Fun

You've got to try this out. But I'd like a full-page version. By way of Micro Persuasion. Here is an article on Google and libraries:

newspaper

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ALA Censors Scott Savage

Scott Savage, the conservative Ohio State University librarian who recently ran afoul of liberal professors who didn't care for his book suggestions, has now apparently been censored by the American Library Association.

According to the article at WorldNetDaily, ALA agreed to publish a column by Savage in its entirety within the pages of American Libraries. But that invitation was rescinded as Savage was asked to cut it in half or it wouldn't be published. So WorldNetDaily published it themselves.

I don't think I'm being too speculative when I suggest that there are a few at ALA who can tolerate criticism and opposing viewpoints but most of the people with real power can't. Hence the overturned decision on the column once the higher-ups got wind of it.

It's a well-written piece. I'm impressed by Savage's writing skills. ALA's self-inflicted wounds make it an easy target. It needs to plot a moderate political course for the benefit of its members and librarianship in general. It's sad to see what it has become in recent years.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Pathfinder 4.0

A few collected thoughts on the history and future of library subject guides. I find it convenient to call them "pathfinders" because it's one word, not two like "subject guides."

1.0 -- Typed, handwritten, or word processed
2.0 -- Web pages
3.0 -- Wikis
4.0 -- Mashups

Pathfinder 1.0
Subject research guides must have been handwritten before the invention of the typewriter in the early 1800s. After the personal computer became commonplace in libraries in the 1980s, pathfinders were no longer typewritten but created from early word processing programs such as WordStar, WordPerfect, and PC-Write. But there were no online links in the pathfinders because there wasn't yet any online world as we know it until the creation of graphical internet interfaces such as Mosaic and Netscape Navigator in the early 1990s. The pathfinder file could now be kept on the computer and edited and copied more easily. Pathfinders were (and are) copied in different colors and multiple copies placed in racks in the reference department--the
only access point for users. They were used primarily for finding in-house resources associated with the subject.

Pathfinder 2.0
Sometime probably in the late 1990s pathfinders were created not just to be printed out and kept in the racks. By this time, most libraries placed many of their resources online on their web site. Now pathfinders were created as web pages with programs like FrontPage. They included links to databases and external resources available somewhere on the web. Users could now access the pathfinders online or by taking a printed copy from a rack of them.

Pathfinder 3.0
Sometime in the early or mid-2000s, wiki-based pathfinders made their introduction. Wiki pages encourage collaboration, as often many people are permitted to edit the information and contribute their knowledge of the subject. Two prominent examples are the subject guides available at the St. Joseph County Public Library, and Ohio University's Biz Wiki.

Pathfinder 4.0
Mashup pages incorporate content from several different sources. 4.0 combines a number of Web 2.0 applications: wiki, blog, RSS, IM, video, etc. I don't know of any that have been created. If you do, please drop me a line. This is my concept of where the pathfinders are headed next. The idea is to create an entire community around the pathfinder subject within one web page. SharePoint can do the type of thing I want. More people will become familiar with SharePoint and create things with it next year as it is integrated into Office 2007. There may be other products out there that can easily create a mashup like this, but SharePoint is the one I'm familiar with.

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20 Toy Librarians

Someone should make a video game out of this idea. Evil-fighting librarians saving the world from terrorists. Maybe a movie even. A great way to fight the stereotype of the passive, nonviolent librarian. It could be a librarian version of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers or the Magnificent Seven.

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Librarians and Religion

A federal district court ruled in favor of a Christian librarian who was fired after she requested to have Sundays off because of her religious beliefs.

No matter what your religion is--Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Scientology, Eckankar, whatever--how would you like to work for this library? It's another indication of the longstanding problem with the quality of people who have gravitated to positions of authority in libraries.

According to an earlier story, the library had no problem with staffing on Sundays after the librarian was fired, so why the problem accommodating her beliefs?

This is apparently the website of the Rolling Hills Consolidated Library in Missouri, for what it's worth. Where are the email links for the staff members? And let's get rid of all those dead links, Rolling Hills--and work on removing your dead ideas and discriminatory policies as well.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

SLA 2006 Conference Blog

SLA's 2006 Conference blog is now up. The URL is different from the one I gave before that was used last year:

http://slablogger.typepad.com/sla_2006_conference_blog/

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Library of Babel Paradigm

From Steve Gillmor's InfoRouter blog:

Search is dead. The amount of viewing/listening time is finite. It's not about finding stuff; it's about throwing stuff away.

And:

The noise is the problem.

This brings to mind the Library of Babel Paradigm. That library's biggest problem, like today's internet, was too much noise--useless information obscuring the good stuff. To turn the Library of Babel into the Perfect Library--or to bring the internet under control--means to somehow find the ability to eliminate the noise found in both.

Noise in the Library of Babel:

Multiple copies of books with no or little usable information.
Multiple copies of the same book with an insignificant difference in each.
Catalogic restrictions (try finding one).
Language roadblocks (books in numerous or unknown languages).
Physical restrictions (traveling endlessly to find a book located far away).
Staff restrictions (too few librarians).

Noise on the Internet:

Too much information of little use to most people.
Difficulty of removing useless information from one's view.
Difficulty of finding useful things.
Language roadblocks (Babelfish doesn't do it yet).

If we could only control the noise, we're close to home.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Iraqi Virtual Science Library

This is a story on the new Iraqi Virtual Science Library, which provides full-text access to thousands of scientific journals for members of Iraqi universities. Journals include those from IEEE, IOP, and ACS. Nice stuff.

Hopefully this will help Iraqi scientists re-enter the international scientific community. Amazing something positive like this could happen when the mainstream media always hammers it into our brains that everything associated with the Iraq war is negative and counter-productive.

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The Terrifying Impending Labor Shortage

The Boomer generation of librarians is supposedly retiring soon. It sounds like library staff rooms will be ghost towns at the peak of the withdrawal. Will anyone be left? What if everyone leaves? Well, Google would step in.

The "Retirement Exodus" (not to be confused with the Old Testament Exodus) is the subject of a program at the ALA conference in New Orleans. I thought it was only fair that I advertise it since I've written on this supposed historic exodus and the resulting "labor shortage" before, and since I've been gloomy about the upcoming ALA conference.

I'm starting to get scared about the exodus. Am I prepared? Are you prepared? Is your library prepared? What will we do when all the Boomers leave us? How will we cope? Maybe we'll just have to shut down all the libraries.

Maybe this will be an opportunity for grief counselors to meet with the younger librarians who are staying and help them overcome the trauma of losing all those Boomer librarians and their inimitable skills.

It could also happen that the shortage is the most overhyped event in the history of libraries and the retirement pace will be far slower than anticipated and there will be no great labor shortage.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

SharePoint and Wikis

SharePoint as a collaborative alternative to wikis is the point of Oliver Rist's recent Infoworld column. It seems to me SharePoint is far more preferable for team projects because it can do much more than your average wiki. I don't even think it's a fair comparison.

SharePoint will be integrated into Microsoft Office 2007, so I expect it will become almost as commonplace as Word or Excel. The use of SharePoint should explode next year since it is such an easy to use (and manage) collaboration tool.

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Burger's Red Meat

Incoming ALA President Leslie Burger tossed a piece of red meat at the ALA Council in the form of a news report on a recent Madeleine Albright speech (nothing to do with libraries, but this is ALA after all). The former Secretary of State (a Clinton appointee) is the keynote speaker at the ALA conference in New Orleans.

I think it's a smart move by Burger to post this, sort of saying, Let's all go to New Orleans together and listen to Madame Secretary diss Bush. The news report included the following quote from her:

...the Iraq war "may well have been history's greatest disaster of American foreign policy."

That's more a prediction than anything, but it's just what the ALA Council wants to hear.

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The Shushing of McClay

The results of the ALA Councilor-at-Large election are in. Greg McClay, the conservative librarian who maintains a blog called Shush, garnered the fewest results of anyone (2,034).

It's another indication that ALA is a tough place for anyone who isn't a liberal. In effect, it's a wing of the Democratic Party.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Boomer Librarians: Get Outa Here!

Will you pleez leave?

John Berry of Library Journal somehow managed to write something that I not only agree with, but agree with en toto.

His commentary in the May 1 Library Journal ("Start a Corps, Not a Corpse") discusses the recent ALA request for proposals for a new Library Corps that would recruit retired librarians to help libraries in need. Berry thinks it's a bad idea and the Baby Boomer librarians need to get out of the way and make room for young library graduates. The Library Corps should support new librarians, not find another way for old ones to continue their roadblocking.

Berry wrote:

I believe there would be fewer libraries that "need assistance" if the boomer librarians had been better at what they do.


Exactamundo! What can the boomers help with anyway? I decided to make a list of all the things boomer librarians do best:

1. Make catalog cards
2. Outsit everyone else until they fall into a top library management position
3. Scoff at new ideas
4. Create a librarian-centric rather than user-centric library
5. Display poor interpersonal communication skills
6. Display poor customer service skills
7. Remain blissfully uninterested in new technology trends
8. Repeatedly declare that "things would fall apart if I left."

And I came up with a good working definition of "a library that needs help": One that has few young professional employees.

I've seen too much dead wood in libraries and I'm sure anyone reading this has as well. I think nothing much was ever expected of boomer librarians. They came reluctantly to this profession and never embraced it. Rather, they maintained a death grip on their telephone receivers and yakked with their friends and relatives all day long instead of doing anything productive. Now they are overstaying their welcome and are damaging the development of libraries. As Berry wrote:

So far, the old folks have held on to those jobs, the attrition has been very slow.

This refers to the supposed "labor shortage" that has been expected for quite some time now but hasn't arrived because the boomers refuse to leave. I think of the young library grads I meet and imagine that these eager kids full of new ideas may not get a career in librarianship because of all the motionless flesh ahead of them.

ALA's Library Corps, as Berry notes, would exacerbate the problem. Once again, ALA's ideas are like a work of art in reverse: they get everything backwards.

As Berry wrote, the role of retirees should be:

[to] volunteer to work on raising the funds to augment the salaries of those young people as we place them in the empty spots in small libraries.

As for Berry, I take back anything I may have said about him in the past. After this commentary, all is forgiven.

Boomers of retirement age: Go to Florida. Go to Arizona. Go somewhere, just get outa libraries already.

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