Friday, June 30, 2006

Library Reinstates NYT After Cancellation

The University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio has reinstated the library's subscription to the New York Times. The library dean, Mendell D. Morgan, Jr., had cancelled it to protest the newspaper's publication of a secret CIA program to track the financial dealings of terrorists.

Some library staffers had complained about "censorship" when Morgan cancelled the print newspaper, although I find that charge specious. The cry of "censorship" is a knee-jerk reaction for some librarians who use it to hide their true reason for opposing the removal of something--their personal affinity with its sentiments.

Librarians "censor" things all the time by buying books they agree with and not purchasing the ones with a differing viewpoint. The myth of librarians as unbiased arbiters of the provision of information is undeserved.

Academic librarians are supposed to provide materials that mesh with their university's mission and academic programs. The actions of the New York Times obviously demand some discussion whether it still belongs in some libraries.

To blindly continue to subscribe to a newspaper regardless of what it publishes because it is a famous "staple" is an abdication of responsibility. I hope the librarians who were quick to shout "Censorship!" will give this some thought.

Morgan said he may still cancel the print subscription after discussing the issue with others on campus.

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Fuss Over Cuban Propaganda for Florida Kids

The Miami-Dade County school board wants to ban a Cuban children's book called "Vamos a Cuba" from their libraries. The book is aimed at kids 5-7 years old:

It shows images of smiling children wearing uniforms of Cuba's communist youth group and a carnival celebrating the 1959 revolution.

I haven't seen the book, but it certainly sounds like propaganda from Fidel Castro's Communist government targeting young kids in Florida. The idea is to teach them to have a positive view of Cuba while they are too young to know the truth and hope that they retain that distorted image of Cuba as they grow older.

I see no reason why school kids in Florida should be subjected to propaganda from a foreign government. Kids should learn the truth about Cuba, not fairy tales. It is the responsibility of the school board and the libraries to collect books that will educate, not brainwash. This demands a process of selection and collection development.

Sadly, a U.S. federal judge ruled that the book must remain on the library shelves until a hearing July 21, apparently as a result of a lawsuit from the ACLU.

"Censorship" is not always a bad thing--not at all. Some books, in some circumstances, should be banned. This is one of them.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Alouette Canada's Digitization Project

I hope I spelled that right. "Alouette." An awkward word if your first language isn't French.

Alouette Canada is a new digitization project that will include books, historical documents, newspapers, and other items of some value to Canada's heritage. I don't see any digital books or anything else on the Web site yet, but there is--in the best French-heritage tradition--a "declaration" which announces 2006 as the "launch year."

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only) tells me several Canadian universities have signed on to the project, which will be mostly publicly funded. Enough has been collected ($120,000 by my count) to support the effort for the next few months, but after that, who knows.

It sounds like a worthy endeavor, but will the money really be there to keep the thing afloat for a long period of time? No solid long-term funding source has yet been found.

My reaction as a consumer of digital products: Throw a book on the Web site already. Let's see something.

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Google Library Project Wins German Legal Victory

Google won a legal victory for its library book scanning project in a German court, according to a story in the Guardian. A book publisher, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft (WBG), backed by the German publishers association, had asked for an injunction to prevent Google from scanning its books as part of its project.

The article states:

The copyright chamber of the regional court of Hamburg indicated though it did not rule specifically that it agreed by telling WBG that its petition for an injunction was unlikely to succeed. The court rejected WBG's argument that the scanning of its books in the US infringes German copyright law.

How much effect, if any, will this have on the U.S. lawsuit against the library project? In any event, this must raise Google's expectations of a positive outcome on this side of the Atlantic.

I previously wrote about the U.S. lawsuit: "Debating the Google Library Lawsuit."

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

What's Wrong With Dogpile

Walt Mossberg, tech columnist for the Wall Street Journal, was the keynote speaker at the closing seesion at the SLA Conference in Baltimore earlier this month.

After his speech, he fielded questions. Someone asked:

"What do you think of Dogpile?"

Mossberg replied: "Do you work for them?"

This reminded me about this metasearch engine that currently garners all of 0.5% of the search market. Google, in comparison, leads the way with almost 50%. Dogpile, so the scuttlebutt goes, is popular with librarians. Mossberg, apparently, doesn't rate it so highly (although I don't think he addressed that question but answered another the woman had asked).

Personally, I've never liked Dogpile very much without really consciously understanding why. But now I want to examine what there is not to like.

What's wrong with Dogpile? The name of the service is a negative. A "dogpile" is something negative. I don't want to think about a dogpile, much less surf to a Web site that would name itself that. I see on their site that the word has a different origin than I would have thought:

The inspiration for Dogpile came when its founders noticed that different search engines often return different results for the very same term. The more engines they searched the more results they found.

Following this discovery, the founders set out to create a way to bring the Web's best search engines together in one place to deliver more comprehensive and relevant results.

To capture this idea, the founders borrowed a sports term used to describe players piling on top of one another in the celebration and the Dogpile search engine was born!


But of course, I imagine few people think of this meaning for the word "dogpile." I wonder if people who work there even think of that meaning. Dogpile to me has a hugely negative connotative meaning--and I'm the customer. You just don't hit your customers with negatives. Hello 0.50%! Of course, there are other reasons why competitors like Google and Yahoo! are far ahead. The words "Google" and "Yahoo!" aren't negative at all, are they?

Librarians, I gather, supposedly like Dogpile because it produces results for your search from several of the most popular search engines: Google, Yahoo!, MSN, Ask, etc. You don't need to go to the others; just go to Dogpile and search them all at once!

But that's the problem. You don't get what the others offer. For example, if I search on the phrase "Paris Hilton," Dogpile returns an anemic 90 results! Google, on the other hand, returns 94 million. And Dogpile seems to mess with my phrases in quotes, sometimes ignoring them.

I learned a bit more about metasearch engines like Dogpile at searchengineshowdown:

Problems: These multiple search engines are a commendable effort; however, the problems still outweigh their benefits. All have significant limitations as a comprehensive search tool. They are subject to time outs, when search processing takes too long. Since most only retrieve the top 10-50 hits from each search engine, the total number of hits retrieved may be considerably less than found by doing a direct search on one of the search engines. Advanced search features on individual search engines are not usually available. Phrase and Boolean searching may not be properly processed or available. Often they exclude one of the major databases such as Google or Ask.

It's fun once in a while to see which search engines queried by Dogpile return which results, but I don't think I'll switch from the popular search engines anytime soon.

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Study Confirms Little Overlap Among Search Engines

A new study has found little overlap among search results on the first results page of 4 major engines: Google, Yahoo!, MSN Search, and Ask Jeeves:

Findings show that the percent of total results unique to only one of the four Web search engines was 84.9%, shared by two of the three Web search engines was 11.4%, shared by three of the Web search engines was 2.6%, and shared by all four Web search engines was 1.1%.

This small degree of overlap shows the significant difference in the way major Web search engines retrieve and rank results in response to given queries.


The paper is titled: "A study of results overlap and uniqueness among major Web search engines." Citation: Information Processing & Management; Sep2006, Vol. 42 Issue 5, p1379-1391.

Previous smaller studies also found little overlap in search results, one of them a study by Dogpile.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Wall Street Journal Features LibraryThing

Today's Wall Street Journal includes a story on LibraryThing.com and its creator, Tim Spalding. This is a Web site where anyone can catalog his/her own collection of books.

The first 200 titles are free. Unlimited use costs $10/year or $25 for lifetime membership.

The name of the service seems a bit off the mark, but sounds useful for someone wanting to have a catalog of his/her personal book collection on the Web. Sounds easy, too, but I haven't tried it yet. Not sure I want or need my book collection online.

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Letter Offers Insight into Pinder's Firing

Recently I wrote that Jo Ann Pinder may have been fired from her job as director of the Gwinnett County Public Library because she refused a hug. Probably there's some truth in that.

A letter from the Gwinnett public library board has been revealed. It was drafted a few days before she was fired and listed various interpersonal communication shortcomings of hers that the board was concered with--including problems with employees, public officials and board members.

There had been some speculation, including from myself, that this was a "conservative" versus "liberal" issue.

Library managers and a lack of people skills. Seems I've written a lot on this lately.

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Library Reverses on Spanish-Language Books

The Gwinnett County library board (Georgia) will reverse its previous decision to halt funding for Spanish-language adult fiction books, according to a news article. I had written about this situation previously.

Apparently the negative publicity on a national scale changed their minds.

Bill Roa of Duluth, who took issue with the decision to cut the books, said he was happy to hear of the board's apparent change of heart. But Roa, a Colombian-American, said the board should consider adding books in other languages, such as Bosnian and Hindi.

Well, that would only be fair, I think. If you have speakers of Bosnian and Hindi in your community, and you make a decision to provide materials in some selected languages, why not all? Fairness would demand that Gwinnett find out all the foreign languages spoken in their community and purchase some materials in every one of them.


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Monday, June 26, 2006

Albright Too Right for ALA

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was the keynote speaker at the ALA Conference in New Orleans. On the political spectrum, where would she stand? Certainly she is somewhere left of center. Those on the right routinely disparage her. But even as a Democratic Clinton-era appointee, she is still not left enough for ALA.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on her speech:

Attempts to condemn Castro's imprisonment of independent librarians and burning of books have been defeated at past ALA conventions, so for Albright -- who became the nation's first female secretary of state during the Clinton administration -- to criticize the Cuban regime before the group was potentially explosive. But she did not dwell on the history of the organization's attitude toward the Castro regime.

This is ALA today: such a strong defender of the Communist regime of Fidel Castro (Castro!) that it will refuse to support Cuban librarians abused by him!

What percentage of Americans support Communism? One percent? Three percent tops? Is there really no one who thinks it strange that Madeleine Albright's support of librarians under Castro's thumb would be "potentially explosive" to ALA librarians??

We are in the Twilight Zone.


But she won her loudest applause for oblique slaps at President Bush.

Castro yay; Bush nay. ALA librarians, circa 2006.

Other bloggers have reported on Albright's speech, including the antics of members of the so-called "Social Responsibilities Round Table" who distributed a flyer against Albright's appearance!

I'd like to see ALA sponsor a survey on the political persuasions of its members. Clearly, communists, socialists, and liberals are represented in faraway greater numbers than in the general population. Supposedly there is a push afoot to bring more "diversity" into the profession, but so far as I've heard, that doesn't include political diversity.

And as I've said before, it is not in the best interests of libraries or librarians for the national library association to be skewed so far in one direction. A moderate political course should be charted to keep doors open on both sides of the political aisles. This would benefit not only the profession but the people libraries are paid to serve as well.

The ghastly current situation of a pro-Castro (Castro!) library association needs to be immediately addressed.

I defy any ALA official to make a logical case for a politically unbalanced association as it stands today. I'm up for a few more laughs.

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Updike on 'Scan This Book'

Today's New York Times Sunday Book Review includes an essay by John Updike which is mostly a response to Kevin Kelly's widely discussed article "Scan This Book!"

Updike finds many faults with Kelly's vision of a digitized future and is persuasive in some ways, but comes off as someone pining for the world of his youth in others. I have to admit his skill with words enables him to effectively disparage some of Kelly's over-the-top pronouncements.

He questions to what extent the online world can reproduce the traditional one:

Books traditionally have edges: some are rough-cut, some are smooth-cut, and a few, at least at my extravagant publishing house, are even top-stained. In the electronic anthill, where are the edges?

Without looking, I know they're there. Not the same thing, but electronic books can have edges. Anything in the real world can have an electronic counterpart. "As offline, so online." The "edges" are there.

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Funding Foreign-Language Books

Last week I wrote about the situation at Gwinnett County Public Library in Georgia and their decision to stop buying "thrillers, romance novels or other works of adult fiction in Spanish." I assume this doesn't include books in Spanish on how to learn English. And apparently this isn't the same thing as an English-only policy.

Today's Los Angeles Times picks up the story with the obligatory and predictable quote from an ACLU rep. His assertion is extremely debatable whether illegal immigrants are "part of the community" and libraries should cater to them!

The issue is, of course, services for legal immigrants and does that mean libraries should buy foreign-language books for all languages spoken in their communities.

Buying foreign-language material is a tough case to make, I would think, since it seems every day public librarians cry about tight budgets, forcing hard decisions on what to buy, cutting staff, and so on.

Libraries, of course, can and do serve immigrants in many ways other than by providing books in their native languages--but is that absolutely a necessary piece of the service puzzle?

Have libraries that support these purchases provided books in all languages for all the various languages any residents speak or read? Which libraries have researched their communities and have come up with a master list? Funny questions, huh?

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Porn for All at DC Libraries

Patrons at DC libraries view hardcore porn on the internet with children nearby, according to an interesting letter in today's Washington Post. (I know, I know--"So what's the problem?" is what some ALA-variety librarians would say.)

The letter-writer complained to the librarian:

"The librarian I talked to was as disgusted as I was, but she had her orders. What appalls me is the utter hypocrisy of those who allow this to go on in the name of liberty. Those who rationalize this in the name of the First Amendment are the true pornographers -- not those who run the Web sites."

This is yet another example of what's wrong with librarians. A total absence of any sense of responsibility to their communities, backed by laughable references to the First Amendment: "Children can see harcore porn on these computers!" "Oh it's ok--remember the First Amendment!"

Public library administrators such as the ones responsible for this have an agenda and are in effect waging their own cultural battle with their own constituents. Users such as the letter-writer can be pesky for some librarians who don't like "interference" from those they are paid to serve!

The DC Public Library: Porn, decay, political grandstanding, inept, irresponsible leadership--"Engaging Minds, Expanding Opportunities"--the motto is empty rhetoric.

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Map Dealer Stole from Famous Libraries

A leading dealer in rare maps was found guilty of stealing about 100 maps from libraries worth a total of about $3 million.

E. Forbes Smiley III, the thief, apparently used an X-Acto knife to cut the maps out of books, and was discovered when he dropped the knife at a Yale library. Other libraries he "patronized" included Harvard, NYPL and the British Library.

The article says Smiley's crimes started in 1998, but another dealer is quoted:

"It's your gut," said Arader, who said he warned others that Smiley might be stealing. "The guy was buying stuff and selling it to my customers for 70 percent of the wholesale auction price, and he was doing it for 20 years."

Smiley seems to have been giving his customers an extremely good price for many years. And those no doubt extremely knowledgeable customers interested in buying old maps must have known they were getting a deal too good to be true.

But the customers looked the other way and didn't ask too many questions, I wuld surmise, because they wanted the maps at an impossible price while probably knowing they were stolen. It seems a common theme in stolen artwork. Criminals are tough to catch because they provide collectors with a fabulous bargain and the customers pretend they see nothing amiss in the deal.

It also indicates continuing security problems for rare materials in libraries. My first library job was in a rare book room and we kept a close watch on users, who were limited in where and how they could use the materials. But this article doesn't make clear if the maps were in a rare book/map room or in a more open collection where thieves could easily cut out pages without much trouble. I would hate to see the rare book room where a user could do this unnoticed!

Are these famous libraries mentioned in the story taking adequate precautions for protecting such valuable items? Doesn't sound like it to me. Lucky for them Smiley dropped the knife where it was noticed!

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Politicized Librarians Damage Our Profession

Employees of the Seattle Public Library have passed a resolution calling for President Bush to resign. That resolution will be introduced at the ALA Conference in New Orleans.

I'm wondering if these Seattle "librarians" have free access to psychological counseling services? I suggest they seek out such counseling at whatever price is necessary.

Who cares what these extreme left-wing people think of Bush or any other national political figure? And why are they so concerned about politics and not librarianship? What are these people doing in our profession? If they don't want to be librarians, then leave. Be social workers. Join the staff of politicians like Dennis Kucinish or organizations like the Communist Party of the USA.

Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin wrote about "unhinged librarians" protesting against First Lady Laura Bush's appearance at the ALA Conference. She quotes ALA councilor-at-large Mark Rosenzweig, whose rant must be read to be believed.

These phony so-called "librarians" are damaging the library profession with their head-scratching antics that only serve to call attention to the general public across the nation that there is something seriously wrong with librarians.

Can you imagine if these people were as passionate about their profession as they are about politics? Can you imagine how much further along we and our users would be?

I've written before about "reluctant" librarians. They are here because no one else would take them. They are failures who desperately looked for jobs in libraries after all else failed, and unfortunately were successful. They found a home in the American Library Association, which is notable more for its promotion of partisan politics (hello Fahrenheit 9/11) than for librarianship.

Years ago when I was a library school student, the older librarians expressed strong disappointment with ALA for becoming involved with things unrelated to librarianship. Things have only gotten worse in the intervening years.

A good first step would be the closing down of the ALA "Social Responsibilities Round Table," a grotesque piece of furniture around which are seated the aforementioned Rosenzweig and others with similiar extremist views.

Librarians, such as those in Seattle, need to get back to librarianship, and ALA is supposed to set an example for that by cultivating political neutrality and librarianship above all else. Otherwise, they need to get out of here and make way for real librarians who have a passion about this profession and aren't so clueless as to pass resolutions that have nothing to do with libraries.

There are a lot of great students coming out of library schools these days. I've met some of them. It's a shame fake librarians are currently standing in their way.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Future of Search, or, How to Beat Google

Most Microsoft workers search with Google. This comes on the heels of a widely-quoted statement by Bill Gates that Google has "done a great job on search."

Google is the champion of search results equaling a listing of decent links. But in terms of what search could--and will--be, Google's results are crude and primitive when considered from the viewpoint of the ultimate goal of search. But we don't see Google that way because at the moment, it is "state of the art."

What is it that search should be that Google, Yahoo and MSN are not? As Gates mentioned in the link above, search is still too much of a treasure hunt. You don't always find what you are seeking, or it often takes a long time to get to the place you want to go.

But the problem I was to address is the search result screen from the major players circa 2006. It's really nothing more than a list of links--some on target, some not, plus a few ads.

The way to beat Google is this: search results should be a sort of portal of information on the desired topic. If a searcher types "Paris Hilton," the results shouldn't be a list of links. The searcher should be taken to a portal page devoted to Paris. The page would include links as one small part of it. The searcher would see a number of sections or "web parts" (similar to a SharePoint page). One part would include news stories, photos on another, videos on a third, plus Wikipedia-style information on her career, a section on popular Paris blogs, and recent newsgroup postings. Many more possibilities, obviously.

The future of search is a portal results page for whatever the researcher wants--a person, a topic, a music group, etc. A portal for anything that can be searched.

I know what you're thinking. What about the "Lincoln" problem? If a searcher types lincoln, does he want the car or the president? Which portal does he get? One solution is to present the searcher with an intermediary page of several portal options, of which the searcher would select the one he wants.

Search results as just a list of links has got to go. The searcher wants a smorgasbord of information options on his desired topic. Google isn't delivering that ultimate goal, and neither is anyone else. If I were in the search business trying to knock off Google, I'd look into this with all the R&D I could muster.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Murder at the ALA Conference

Murder at the ALA Conference is the title of a murder mystery I've been thinking about writing for at least 10 years. Though I've outlined plots for it dozens of times, I haven't written it yet. But now with all the murders in New Orleans recently, it seems newspaper headlines may beat me to it.

How dangerous is New Orleans? Five teenagers were murdered over the last weekend, and Mayor Ray Nagin asked the National Guard to come visit his friendly city and help restore its usual composure.

But not to worry. The murders were miles away from the ALA Conference area, and occurred at 4am, too. A Statement was released Tuesday from the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau regarding safety in New Orleans. The Cliff Notes version:

New Orleans is safe! The National Guard will help patrol desolate areas far, far away from the conference site. It's not like guardsmen carrying machine guns will ring the convention center and escort librarians to their hotels. Chill, you won't get killed, really!

And as for the recent unfortunate murders, "Police investigating the situation are following strong leads that indicate vengeance was a clear motive, stemming from an incident that occurred in early May in neighboring Jefferson Parish." Well that's a relief! Nothing to worry about. Those vengeful killers aren't likely to be gunning for librarians, are they?

No doubt this safety Statement, released just before the start of the conference (a historical first, surely?), should quell the fears of jittery librarians unnerved by the spate of violent shootings. After all, there are killings in big cities all the time, so waddaya biting your nails about?

Can you imagine what a public relations nightmare it would be--on top of everything that's happened to New Orleans lately--if a library conventioneer goes down for the count? Screaming headlines! Murder at the ALA Conference! New Orleans has a strong interest in this event coming off without any hitches. I'll bet there will be coppers around every corner of the convention center.

As for my novel, I can't give away too much in case I write it (is there really much of a market for such a mystery, I keep asking myself?), but I'm envisioning a liberal versus conservative plotline where the main characters forget about librarianship, which they never cared much about anyway, and become feverishly obsessed with politics, of which they know very little but imagine themselves experts, and spend their time at the conference plotting to destroy their fellow librarians who hold differing viewpoints.

All fiction of course.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Libraries and Hispanics

The Gwinnett County Library Board's decision to cut their Spanish language fiction budget sheds more light on the firing of former director Jo Ann Pinder (apparently no official reason for her firing has been given).

It's looking more and more like a clash of cultures is at work, with the ousted Pinder as the liberal (who supported the Spanish budget) and the board as the conservatives, who want to move in a different direction.

The "liberal" model of dealing with the growing Hispanic community is to encourage bilingualism, illegal immigration, and champion bi-culturalism. The "conservative" way is is opposite: assimilation, encourage Hispanics to learn English, and an end to open borders.

Until now, America has taken a laissez-faire attitude toward Hispanics because they provided a service and no "threat" was perceived. They are "doing jobs that not even blacks want to do there" as Vincente Fox put it. That explains why America has allowed Hispanics to "get away with" illegal entry into the country without much of a fuss at all. But with illegal immigration now a national concern, this model is disintegrating.

Is it the business of libraries to encourage Hispanics to stay within their own separate culture or prod them to assimilate? Do libraries spend money on foreign language material when budgets don't allow them to satisfy the needs of their predominantly English-speaking users? The answer, I speculate, depends on the librarians.

Gwinnett's Spanish language collection is described as being "an instant hit" resulting in a dilemma: Do you halt a popular service because funds should be spent on programs more useful to most of the community, and in a larger sense because the popular service discourages assimilation and instead fosters a widening chasm between two American cultures--and therefore works to weaken national unity (although of course not everyone agrees with this reading)?

The article quotes Board member Brett Taylor:

Libraries, he said, should be about bringing different parts of the community together. "Even if we're reading in English and they're reading in Spanish, we see each other," he said. "We're together."

But we're not. Together but apart. That's the problem. Suppose over the next decade 40 million Vietnamese migrated to the United States. And suppose they made little effort to learn English and most spoke only Vietnamese. Then what? Libraries scurrying to find the funds for trilingualism? We see each other so we're together? A people whose primary language is English trying to learn Vietnamese to connect in some way with their fellow Americans--instead of them learning English? Is it in the best interests of immigrants to not learn English?

How many libraries have strategic plans for services for immigrant communities? How do you decide how much to spend on foreign-language materials? Should libraries strongly encourage immigrants to learn English and deliberately keep foreign-language collections to a minimum?

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Dying from Too Much Data

Death by data. Information overload threatens to kill the quality of research.

"We are starting to die from data," said a science professor quoted in an article in the June 23 Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only). The criminal is digital technology, churning out an ocean of information making it tough for scientists to stay afloat in their own field.

Librarians are expected to provide the needed help by categorizing and archiving the data, and according to the article, librarians are already doing that at Purdue, Johns Hopkins, and UC-San Diego.

Challenges:
  • Vast data troves to be processed
  • Poorly organized data
  • Unsecure storage
  • The need to protect proprietary information
  • "Small Science" data is vast but little attention given to it
  • The players (scientists, librarians, scholars) don't yet know their roles
  • Finding funding
The old model of a Librarian (1.0) as a walking encyclopedia of knowledge is ludicrous and impossible in today's world. Librarians of today and tomorrow need 2 skills:
  • The ability to organize mountains of data
  • The ability to find small units of data hidden in an ocean of information in a short time frame


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Monday, June 19, 2006

Debating the Google Library Lawsuit

Today's Wall Street Journal offers some insight into two opposing views of the lawsuit filed by book publishers against Google over its Library project, under which the search king will digitize millions of books (both in and out of copyright). No link to the story ("Debating the Google Suit") which is available only to subscribers.

The publishers' complaint:
  • Google is copying entire copyrighted books to provide "snippets" for its searchers
  • Providing snippets is a "crippled" approach to access and publishers have a better idea
  • Google is providing a digital copy of the book to the library--publishers want to charge libraries for that
  • Google isn't paying copyright owners anything
  • Google isn't asking permission

A Stanford law professor defends Google's approach:
  • If permission is necessary, that would block content from becoming accessible on the Net
  • If the law recognizes that kind of veto power, that will chill innovation
  • The scanning and access is minimal--just a snippet not a full page--which is protected under fair use
  • Fair use has been about the right to make a profit, which is what Google wants
  • The snippet is not a substitute for the original book

Publishers feel Google is horning in on their territory and restricting their own profits with their actions. They want total control of their books. If I had to make a prediction (I love making predictions), I would say that the courts will decide that there is room for both Google and the publishers. Forget any total victory for one side on this; both will get something, but not everything they want.

Of course, the two sides could always settle with an agreement between themselves that they can both live with. This avenue should have been thoroughly explored before the lawsuit.

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DC Library Proposal Draws Divergent Views

Today's Washington Post published several letters on Mayor Anthony Williams' proposal for the construction of a new main library building instead of refurbishing the old one.

I think the first letter-writer asks some questions that need answering.

Regardless of whether it's best to upgrade the current library or build a new one, Mayor Williams is interested in building his own legacy. He had nothing to do with the old building, but could always say a new one resulted directly from his own "leadership."

Let's not look too hard to find the obvious motivations from such politicians. A new building would be "his" in a way the old one isn't.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Google Botches Shakespeare eBooks

Google has launched a new Shakespeare site with digitizations of his works. The Google ebooks I examined all appear to be based on print books from the Harvard library.

Many of these Google ebooks have serious problems due to the conversion from print to digital. I'm a bit surprised that Google didn't check and edit the results for some of the more prominent titles before going public. Didn't they have anyone click through the pages to find obvious problems? Apparently not. It's very shoddy work in some cases. At the bottom of each page is the proud motto, "Digitized by Google." If I owned the company, I wouldn't want my name associated with some of this work.

Let's start with Hamlet. Here is a screenshot of one of the problem pages:

Google Hamlet

On the right are smeared words, and a couple of lines of type on the bottom are distorted (very common among the books I checked that have problems). You can read the distorted text in many cases, but Google includes a "search inside the book" feature. If you try to find the phrases from much of the distorted text, the search feature won't find them!

Let's move on to Julius Caesar. Here is a screenshot:

Google Julius Caesar

The words along the right margin are cut off! The reason of course is because that is the middle of the page where the binding is, and the mechanism used to scan the pages didn't or couldn't flatten the page enough to read all of the type. This is a right-hand page; the same problem exists for left-hand pages as well. Needless to say, this interferes with the search feature as well.

I'll finish with the Merry Wives of Windsor. Here is a screenshot:

Google Merry Wives of Windsor

Would you want your company's name on this product? Blurry, unreadable type that can't be found with the search engine, and who would want to try to read it anyway.

To be fair, not all the books I checked had problems (not that I looked at every page). Problem books include:
  • Othello
  • Macbeth
  • Comedy of Errors
  • Antony and Cleopatra
  • Love's Labor's Lost

Books I didn't see anything seriously wrong include:
  • Romeo & Juliet
  • King Lear
  • The Tempest
  • Richard II
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • Timon of Athens
  • The Taming of the Shrew

A little effort in terms of quality control or simply having a Google employee click through books to find obvious problems would have gone a long way. But Google apparently wants you the reader to do the job for them free of charge. At the bottom of every page is a link to notify Google of any problems, such as the ones I've described above.

I guess they're saying it's your job to notify them of bad pages; they're not going to take the initiative themselves.

I'm really starting to worry about Google.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Library Director Fired for Refusing a Hug

No one is really saying why Jo Ann Pinder was fired as Director of the Gwinnett County Public Library (GA).

The Gwinnett County Public Library Watch says it was an attitude problem:

"Jo Ann Pinder's inability to accept the role of humble public servant. If she had been more cooperative and respectful with past and present board members this would not have happened."

But according to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Pinder was fired for refusing a hug:

During the meeting Monday, board member Brett Taylor cast the lone vote in favor of keeping Pinder as library director. Based on conversations with fellow board members, Taylor said Wednesday he thinks an incident at a May budget workshop was the "nail in the coffin that turned the tide" against Pinder.

Pinder attended the May 15 workshop even though days before she had suffered a serious back injury. Taylor said board member Dale Todd went to hug Pinder after walking into the meeting late, but Pinder stopped her.

"Jo Ann said, 'Dale, please don't touch me,' " Taylor recalled.


So the moral is, if you're a public library director and you want to keep your job, hug the board members, at the very least. Another "people" problem.

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Berkeley Library Director Quits Over Union Problems

Berkeley Public Library Director Jackie Griffin resigned after butting heads with the local union.

The problem apparently was caused by the implementation of RFIDs in books combined with talk of staff layoffs, although there seems to be some dispute about whether the two were related.

For how long can automation and technological advances be restricted in the interest of keeping as many people as possible gainfully employed? I would hate to think my own job could be in jeopardy just because my library put RFIDs in the books. That would be a wakeup call telling me my job and career need upgrading so I'm not so easily replaced!

There is the suggestion of "people problems" as well, as some librarians claimed unfair treatment. It sounds somewhat similar to the situation in King County, Washington, where union-represented workers voted "no confidence" in the director, Bill Ptacek, apparently over his plan for "clustering" librarians.

Compare with the firing of the director of the Gwinnett County Public Library because she refused a hug.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

DC Library Debate

Renovate, or build a new one? That's the decision facing Washington, D.C.

Mayor Anthony Williams wants a new Central Library built, while some, such as the Washington Post's Benjamin Forgey, think the old building should be renovated and kept as the city's main library.

All agree the current library is in serious disrepair. I've been in it myself. It was a soul-shaking experience I wouldn't care to repeat. There's a whiff of death in DC's public libraries, with the main branch emitting more noxious fumes than any other library I can remember visiting.

What I find interesting is the mayor's comments and justification for a new library. Remember, the DC libraries have been underfunded for years and have been allowed to fall to their current state by Mayor Williams and other local politicians. You can't pretend to care about your libraries when you allowed them to go to an early grave.

But now, suddenly the mayor got that old time library religion, and he wants to throw bushels of money into it. A new library will be the savior of DC! The mayor lists all the social ills it will help solve. If a great library is so important, why hasn't there been any action all these years?

The current MLK central library is in terrible shape, thanks to political apathy. Why should anyone believe a new building won't suffer the same fate? But they're serious this time, aren't they? Things will be different this time around, won't they?

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Google's Federal Search Engine

Google has launched a new U.S. government Web site.

It is similar to FirstGov, but offers personalization features. After logging in, you can click the "add content" button and select from a list of subjects.

One would think that a giant company like Google, the leader in online search, will blow the doors off FirstGov, if for no other reason than that you would always expect a for-profit business to produce a better product than government agencies, which usually aren't thought of as very efficient, or having reputations for producing quality results.

But the current iteration of Google's "U.S. Government Search" doesn't look impressive and seems to be riding the popular wave of personalized Web pages. But as I said before, Google likes to begin humbly and end proudly, so maybe the site will eventually become much better. But is that Google's intention for it? As for now, it will rely on Google's name to build up an audience.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

SLA Attendance: I nailed it!!

13 off!

My prediction for total attendance at the 2006 SLA Annual Conference was made on May 30, 2006. I predicted 5,857:

With all this in mind, I think the 2006 conference attendance will be 5,857.

Total attendance was just announced at the Closing Session: 5,844. I missed by only 13 attendees! Statistically, that's a bullseye (don't ask me to prove it--it has to be).

They don't call me "Mesmerini" for nothing. See the link above for how I reflected on what the attendance might be, then went out on a limb and came within 13 of the actual number!

I am now offering to predict future conference attendance for any upcoming conference, and my fee is priced modestly at $1,000/per prediction. I am also offering a training service for helping other people predict future conference attendance at the humble price of $5,000/per 1-hour online session.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Springer to Launch New eBook Collection

Springer is launching a new eBook Collection. My comments on it are over at the SLA Conference Blog here. If your library is looking into purchasing ebooks, Springer's new offering is definitely worth a look. It launches June 20, but that didn't stop me from posting a sneak peek screenshot.

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Parrots Invade SLA

Parrots Invade SLA

A constellation of parrot stars invaded the SLA Annual Conference in Baltimore. This reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock's movie "The Birds." I wondered if they would, on cue, suddenly attack us all after appearing trained and docile.

I didn't notice them using their famed "dead parrot" routine, probably because they knew Monty Python had already exposed that trick.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

SLA International Reception

Here are couple photos from the SLA International Reception held Monday night.

SLA International Reception

SLA International Reception 2

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SLA Conference Monday

Morning breakfast was courtesy OCLC, as they informed their users about new services and initiatives.

Mary Ellen Bates

Mary Ellen Bates (note the shiny tiara she is wearing that was presented to her during her speech) presented on "Free Agency: from Athletes to Librarians." My remarks are at the SLA Blog.

Steve Abram

Stephen Abram spoke on "Innovation: How Exactly?" Many interesting comments. My report is over at the SLA Blog here.

Gary Price and Genie Tyburski

Gary Price and Genie Tyburski presented "New Web Tools." They gave out many Web sites I'll need to check out.

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Arrival at SLA Conference

I arrived in Baltimore today after a ride on Amtrak. The train arrived at my station almost an hour late, but once we got started, it was a quick ride with only a few stops.

My hotel is just a few blocks from the convention center where most of the conference action takes place.

Here's a lesson to remember. You know that letter SLA sends you in the mail with your registration badge and ticketed event slips? Yeah, bring that with you when you register. I did. I went to the Advanced Registration and there was a long line. Then some guy comes over and says, OK, who has the letter with your badge and stuff? I was the only person to raise my hand, so I went to the front of the line. I was registered and on my way in a couple of minutes.

I looked around a bit down the street to see what what there, found a shopping center, and across the street a food court, which was what I was looking for.

Back at the convention center, I went to the vendor hall and looked around. Saw a game show, a wine bar doing plenty of business, free gourmet food, I made conversation with an ebook vendor, and was generally impressed with the size of the hall, which apparently is the largest ever at SLA.

Next was the Opening General Session. The annual SLA awards were given out and each recipient was given a small bronze bust of John Cotton Dana, the founder of SLA. I wish I could have one of those some day, but then I guess I'd have to do something important, that's the tricky part.

The keynote speaker was Gwen Ifill, of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and Washington Week. Gwen talked about how important researchers are to her work. Journalism is under assault (but she didn't say from journalists themselves, which is what I'm thinking). She's glad she doesn't have to report on celebrities and the kind of thing you see on CNN and Fox News every night.

One thing that stood out in my mind was her statement that "I got into journalism because I thought I could change the world." And this is exactly the thing that conservatives criticize about today's journalists. This exact statement has been criticized by Rush Limbaugh and probably others, because journalists aren't supposed to change the world; they're supposed to report it and describe it. Gwen, I think I'm safe in saying, is not enamored with conservatives and is a liberal.

She was an engaging speaker and it was a pleasant speech. I can't say the same for many other keynote speeches I've heard at library conferences.

Here are links to my posts at the SLA Conference Blog:

Jackie Desoer

Judith Field

Barbara Beverley

The Scopus Show

Wine Bar

First Timers

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

SLA Redesigns Web Site

This is sla's new home page. Today is apparently its debut, and my initial reaction is very positive. To me it's a big improvement over the old page. The member login section is smaller, and so is each of the other sections. And there is more going on here--the page looks busier. A problem with the old page is that it wasn't busy enough.

SLA New Home Page

Compare with the old page:

SLA Old Home Page

I'm attending the SLA conference in Baltimore June 11-14 and am one of the conference blog bloggers. I'll post some stories and photos once I arrive.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Windows Live Books Matches Google Book Search

Microsoft announced that they will partner with the University of California and the University of Toronto libraries to digitize their books and make them available through Windows Live Books. The total number of books those libraries hold is about 50 million.

This figure matches the holdings of the five major libraries partnered with Google's Book Search: University of Michigan, Stanford, Oxford, New York Public Library, and Harvard.

Will this competition open the floodgates with the other major academic libraries joining one of these digital initiatives? Will they align with Google or Microsoft?

Other major libraries apparently still on the sidelines include University of Illinois, Columbia, Cornell, University of Texas, University of Wisconsin, Indiana, University of Washington, Princeton, and many others.

What are their plans? And with Google facing legal problems from publishers, will academic libraries shy away from them and favor Microsoft? More announcements from Redmond like this one would suggests that is the case.

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Speculation Grows on Google's Master Plan

The consensus among the pundits seems to be that no one knows what Google's Master Plan is--including Google.

But I'm thinking along different lines. Google does have a focused plan, knows what it is, and is moving as quietly as it can, on its tippytoes as it were, toward that goal.

Today's National Post (Canada) describes Google's strategy as "madly off in all directions." Brin and Page are "scrambling." And Google has an "inability or reluctance to aggressively commit itself to one strategic path." Well, I wonder if that's really true.

Richard MacManus (Read/WriteWeb) says, "Nobody knows what Google's grand plan is - I suspect not even Google."

Michael Arrington (TechCrunch), in a post about Google-love getting out of hand, said, "I want to understand what Google’s overall game plan is. I just don’t see it."

Are Sergey Brin and Larry Page in over their heads? That would be the conclusion if there really were no plan, or if "what we see is what we get" and the scattergun approach of flitting from one service to another to see what works and what doesn't is in fact the ultimate plan.

But my suggestion is that there is an "ambitious corporate vision" but the scattergun approach we are witnessing is designed to cloak the truth. It's something like the CIA removing documents from the National Archive in order to better hide the existence of other documents. That might be the purpose of the "variety show" performance Google has been entertaining us with for the past few years.

Why hide the true plan until some point down the road when it becomes obvious to us all? So its rivals comprehend it too late to do anything about it, and to give Google time to properly position their troops. Surround the enemy and demand his surrender before he even knows you're there.

The new Google Spreadsheets seems a crude product to me. But like Richard MacManus wrote in the link above, the idea is to begin humbly but finish with pride. It tends to relax the competition as well.

Some of Google's activities I suspect are less "serious" than others--the better to hide the stuff that fits in with the Plan. The best place to hide a tree is in a forest. The appearance to the world is one of diffusion because we don't know which activities fit the ultimate puzzle and which ones don't--but they do.

If I had to wager, I would say Google does have a focused Master Plan: To rip the head off Microsoft.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Top 10 Ways to Leave a Library

  1. With books under your arm, properly checked out, your head held high, a confident gait
  2. On a gurney, to an awaiting ambulance
  3. Crawling on your belly underneath the barbed wire, pushing your books ahead of you in the dirt as you go
  4. Nervously thanking and waving to the librarians at the circulation and reference desks as you beat a hasty retreat
  5. Unnoticed through an obscured window way in the back, and into an awaiting getaway car filled with strange people
  6. Handcuffed, gagged, drugged, and escorted by representatives of the CIA, Opus Dei, and ALA
  7. Waving a brand new flag of an alien culture diametrically opposed to your own
  8. Wearing an unbreakable mask designed and personally fitted for you by your favorite author
  9. Shouting obscenities as you bump into the automatic doors that refuse to open for you
  10. With your thralls holding you aloft in a modernist sedan chair, created entirely of pages torn from unpublished books authored by yourself

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Gaming Science Journal Rankings

Most people have heard about attempts to game the Google rankings, but a recent article in the Wall Street Journal ("Science Journals Artfully try to Boost Their Rankings") sheds light on attempts by serious scientific journals to improve their own "impact factor" rankings.

Why? Because as the article states:

Impact factors matter to publishers' bottom lines because librarians rely on them to make purchasing decisions. Annual subscriptions to some journals can cost upwards of $10,000.

Thomson Scientific will release its impact factors later this month. For those journals that score high, pressure will be on libraries that cater to scientific researchers to purchase subscriptions. A lot of (library) money is at stake.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

New Yahoo My Web Interface

Yahoo! My Web's new interface.

Yahoo My Web

Many library-related bookmarks, and should be a lot more coming.

Looks much nicer and more professional than del.icio.us and should eventually replace it. Del.icio.us looks like a throwback to the 1990s.

By way of TechCrunch.

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Publishers Continue Attack on Google

A French publishing group, La Martiniere, is suing Google over their Books Library Project.

Meanwhile, UK publishers used the occasion of the release of a report on Digital Rights Management to attack Google's Book Search project as well.

Google didn't play its cards "in the proper order" on their digitization project, as they have become the main focus of publishers' ire. Yahoo! and Microsoft, on the other hand, learned from those mistakes and are working hand-in-hand with publishers for their own projects.

The Internet Archive, mentioned in the Yahoo! article, includes books from Project Gutenberg; I contributed a couple myself a few years ago.

The publishing industry is acting like a cornered animal and seem to be on the wrong side of history. I wouldn't like to be in the position of relying on the courts to protect me from the wave of digitization, sharing, and collaboration that the internet has created. That's a losing battle.

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Blog Searchers and Web Searchers

The subject of Blogging is drawing some interest among serious academics. A new paper, "A Study of Blog Search," found similaries and differences among blog searches and web searches.

Differences

Blog searchers...
  • track references to named entities (people, companies, etc.)
  • locate blogs by topic
  • are more engaged in technology, entertainment (especially music), politics, and current events

Similarities
  • short sessions
  • an interest in the first few results only

The data was taken from the full search log of Blogdigger.com for the month of May 2005.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

Google Spreadsheets: Implications for Libraries

The AP reports that Google will introduce its new web-based spreadsheet Tuesday to a limited number of users on a first-come, first-served basis.

Signups will begin at 9am ET Tuesday at Google Labs. No word on how many people will be granted immediate access.

Google Spreadsheet is obviously a competitor to Microsoft's Excel.

The advantage of a web-based spreadsheet is that several people can have access to it at one time, and each can modify the master spreadsheet as s/he likes. An article in the UK Observer (no link yet) says up to 10 people can have access to the same spreadsheet at one time, at least for the initial test phase of the product. Instant Messenger is integrated into it, so spreadsheet users can chat while making changes.

Implications for libraries: Competition is great, isn't it? Everyone benefits by this clash of the titans between Google and Microsoft.

Librarians can build spreadsheets by collaborating with each other, perhaps in different libraries in different locations. But librarians can also collaborate with their users on their documents, offering help or advice.

Some people have access to MS Office at work, but not at home. Google Spreadsheets, in addition to the collaboration aspect, will appeal to those who can't afford to buy it for their home computer.

Update: Sign up here.

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Reflective Librarian Graph

Here is what this blog looks like as a graph. You can get your own here, or just input any URL and see a graph of it.

Reflective Librarian Graph

Possible uses for it:

  • Print it out, frame it, and hang it on your wall.
  • Use it as background for your blog home page.
  • Turn it into a small icon to appear in the address bar.

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Library 2.0 Graphs

This is a Blogpulse graph for Library 2.0 over the past 30 days. The best feature of blogpulse is that it allows you to hover over the top or bottom of graph lines, click on them, and read date-specific citings.

Blogpulse Library 20

This is a Technorati graph for Library 2.0 over the past 30 days. The graph can be changed from 7 days up to 360 days. The search can be limited to specific languages, or by blogs with "a little" of authority or "a lot" of authority.

Technorati Library 20

The Blogpulse and Technorati graphs for the same time period look similar but are not the same, but then, they have different search parameters.

Compare with the Google Trends graph for Library 2.0 I posted a couple weeks ago:

Google Trends: Library 2.0 with Quotes

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New Clancy 1 Fiasco

A new book by Tom Clancy is always a major event. Anything with his name on it sells thousands of copies. Fans wait in anticipation as they count down to the publication date for the book at Amazon. Customers can discuss the book on its Amazon page before it is even published.

For months, Amazon has listed a new book by Clancy as "New Clancy 1." It was scheduled for publication May 31, 2006. As the day approached, I periodically checked the Amazon page to see if they had any more info on it--the for-real title or a book description. But nothing.

The Clancy FAQ site listed the upcoming book with a link to Amazon.

I also watched as the sales ranking of this upcoming book moved lower as May 31 approached. It went down to something like #8,000.

But then, May 31 came and--no book! No official title. No book description. No explanation from Amazon. It's as if the date was always meaningless and not to be taken seriously.

Will a book really be published anytime soon, or is this page nothing more than a placemarker for the future Clancy novel which we all know will eventually be published at some time in the future?

As pointed out on the Clancy Wikipedia page, other book sites give varying dates of publication for the new Clancy book. The UK Amazon site gives publication as August 31, 2006. Should I believe that date is any more accurate than the US site? Barnes & Noble lists an upcoming untitled Clancy work "Unt #3, Clancy" to be published in June 2006. No specific day, just June. Advantage B&N, for not damaging their credibility with a specific day, like Amazon did.

The Amazon page already includes a few reviews of the mythical book. They have nothing to say about it, of course, but rather take Amazon to task for tricking them. One of them notes that the release date was changed, so that means Amazon has been monitoring it.

It's not a bad way to sell something in an underhanded way--create a page for a famous author, set a publication date, and watch the orders roll in for a nonexistent book.

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

eBay Joins Blogosphere

According to Micro Persuasion, eBay is about to launch blogs, wikis, and search tags. Auctionbytes notes that eBay just changed its newsletter "The Chatter" to a blog format.

As Jimmy Durante said, "Everybody wantsta get inta the act!" I've seen the future and it's a blog. At this point, with every major online player incorporating blogs into their product offerings, the long-term outlook for quality bloggers is far greater than that for journalists.

Hired blogslingers as a serious career option is just around the corner. Who will have the time or desire to read newspapers when everyone is reading and writing blogs--and the shift from reading print books to online content continues apace.

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eBooks As Best Sellers?

I often like to peruse the Best Seller lists of Amazon and the New York Times, and I wonder if we'll see eBook versions of books dominating these lists someday?

The NYT divides its Best Sellers between "hardcover" and "paperback" books. But maybe in the days ahead they'll add an "eBook" version list as well, due to rising sales.

The types of eBooks currently selling are science, computer and reference titles, if I'm not mistaken. But is crossover into the kind of titles beloved by the average leisure reader coming?

Stephen Abram suggests this is the case, because Harlequin (of all publishers!) is expanding its eBook program.

A short notice in Library Journal mentions that Harlequin began its eBook project last Fall and the response has been "overwhelming."

Harlequin's Web site suggests to its customers: "Imagine being able to carry 10 Harlequin books in your purse at all time! Download your favorite eBook from Harlequin onto your computer, PDA or reading device today."

And apparently that's what people are doing.

Project Gutenberg
and the World eBook Library are ganging up to provide access to 300,000 eBooks online at the World eBook Fair's Web site this summer.

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Your Compliments Folder

What do you call your compliments folder? Over at Library Stuff Steven Cohen writes about an email exchange he had with Iris of Pegasus Librarian about keeping a "Hundred Dollar folder" of all the compliments you receive.

Everybody should have one of these. Probably some very good uses--for your blog marketing, annual performance evaluation, resume enhancement for potential employers, and just something to leaf through to pick you up when you're down.

I call my folder "Applause."

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Friday, June 02, 2006

Waning Interest in Books?

More books were published in the UK last year than in the United States (206,000 to 172,000). And a recent NEA survey found that the percentage of Americans who read literature regularly has dropped from 57% in 1982 to 47% in 2004. Is this the beginning of the end for books in America?

I think what we're seeing is a shift in what people read, rather than a decline in reading. Fewer people are reading books but more people are reading internet texts on their computer screens. Blogs, newsgroups, entertainment news, sports--a lot of people read these things on the internet but not in print. The internet offers the ability to write and publish to people who in the old days couldn't have expected to see their words in print.

The article says people are reading less fiction, and there can be a lot of reasons for that. People today are looking for shorter publications--blog posts and the like. The average attention span isn't what it used to be.

I'm not impressed with the quality of writing from today's best-selling authors. Dan Brown in no Ernest Hemingway. The writing of some of the most popular writers is atrocious. But they sell because people don't care about that. They offer exciting plots which in today's crazy world might become reality. And everyone seems to buy the same handful of authors and titles. I can't remember the last time I read a best-seller that left me with the impression that I was reading the words of a great writer.

The UK has more books published because, methinks, the average Brit is less interested in spending a lot of time on the Web and staying on top of new trends, and reading is still more of a cultural activity there than here. Americans are in a hurry and are looking for new things at breakneck speed; Brits a bit less so.

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Blogs and Newspapers

Patrick Williams, managing editor of the Dallas Observer, quoted in a story about blogs, defended the honor of newspapers:
"If I were the king of journalism, I'd force newspapers to stop publishing for a month," Williams said. "Then let's see what would happen to blogs."

Williams seems blissfully unaware that the marketplace is in the process of forcing newspapers to stop publishing. Bloggers often use news stories as springboards for their opinions, but those stories aren't a necessity, they're a convenience.

Williams then said:
"Facts have to be the basis of opinion at some point. And if a blogger is collecting facts, then at what point does the publication cease being a blog and become an Internet news site?"

A blog doesn't necessarily need to contain any opinion. A post can be nothing more than a collection of facts. That's up to the blogger. And it's a non sequiter to claim that an opinion must be based on facts.

Williams unintentionally raises the issue of whether many supposed news articles are in fact blog posts--at least according to his definition. Objectivity in journalism doesn't exist and it never did.

When a reporter writes a slanted story combining facts with half-hidden personal opinions, at what point does it cease being a news article and has crossed over the line into blog territory?

That question could be raised about many stories published in the news sections of newspapers across the country.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Washington Post Cuts More Staff

The Washington Post is cutting more staff. About 170 people accepted early retirement offers.

Circulation of print newspapers continues to drop as more and more people get their news from online sources like blogs. If the Washington Post wants to cut expenses even further, they should negotiate with DailyKos and the Huffington Post to reprint their blog posts in their paper, or pay their regular bloggers a few bucks for some original content. Most readers probably wouldn't notice the difference in most cases.

My advice for the staffers who left: Go online and create your own job. Sell stuff on eBay. Buy and sell land on Second Life. Start your own blog, make a name for yourself, and get in on a syndication deal so your blog content can appear in newspapers for a fee.

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Newspapers to Pay for Blog Content

A deal is in the works in the UK for newspapers to buy the syndication rights of blog posts. The graph of the collaboration between the mainstream media and bloggers is showing a steep incline.

The current situation: the media is in trouble; bloggers possess value. More and more newspapers include bloggers and blog content on their Web sites. But in-house blogs aren't the answer for the media's headaches because that is just more of the same. Bloggers = journalists, so they will be paid like journalists in the future.

A growing divide in blogs will continue--those written informally and unseriously just for fun and those written with an eye toward professionalism and profit. More bloggers will opt for the latter choice, and the overall quality of posts will improve because bloggers will take more time in an attempt to appear more worthy of redistribution. Economics will win the day.

As I mentioned previously, many bloggers are better at journalism than those who are paid to do it. Those bloggers will rise to the top, powered by their superior writing/analytic skills, knowledge, energy, motivation, industry contacts, and so forth. I predict in the near future, some bloggers will make a pretty penny for their thoughts.

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