Archive for December, 2006

Sunday, December 17th, 2006

Person of the Year: Me

Okay, all of us. See Time’s Person of the Year. And here’s 1982. It took a long time, but I think it was you all along.

Update: I recently emerged into the “real world,” and discovered the cover is a mirror. Very clever, but it raises the question—when will screens be able to display reflective metals, and not just colors?

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Sunday, December 17th, 2006

LCSH: Dave’s topic

From the Library of Congress Authorities. Click to enlarge or use this permalink.

Hat tip to the Mysterious Stranger, whose identity will be revealed in a future post!

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Friday, December 15th, 2006

Top LIS Stories of 2006

Check out the Ten Stories that Shaped 2006 from Library and Information Science News. Library 2.0 makes the list, with LibraryThing mentioned by name, as does the TASERing of a student at the UCLA library, the “Library Weblog Explosion,” James Frey, Privacy and Censorship.

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Friday, December 15th, 2006

If you listen to just one library podcast…

Talis’ Library 2.0 gang cooked up a GREAT podcast on Casey Bisson’s WPopac and his plans to distribute Library of Congress records.

I was on it, together with Ross Singer (Georgia Tech), Paul Miller, Rob Styles and Richard Wallis (Talis, Talis and Talis*). Casey couldn’t make it, but his and a good many auricles in Dublin, Ohio were burning. The topic is hugely important, and it was great fun. To paraphrase Melvile Dewey, contemplating a future of open library data is the most fun you can have with your pants on.**

The conversation went in various directions. The major issues are only just being raised, and nothing is settled. But I think we were all agreed that this is the most consequent library tech story of the year, at least.***

Not convinced? Check it out.

*Who minds the store over there when all the employees are off podcasting?
**I can’t find the exact Chevy Chase quote. Does anyone know it?
***Which makes the silence that’s greeted the announcement all the stranger. What the world needs is a set forum to discuss the topic. Talis has a forum to discuss the podcast, but they require registration and I always forget my login. LibraryThing would be okay, but most library data people are accustomed to an email list. I’m going to find out how hard it would be for us to set one up.

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Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

Cutter Classification, Reloaded

Abstract: Let’s bring back Cutter as the first free, open and socially assisted classification system.

UPDATE: I’m well aware there are some serious objections to the idea, and challenges to make it a reality. Use amandaellis set up a group for discussion of the idea. Check it out.

Open data is in the news. Casey Bisson is going to give out Library of Congress records for free. MIT put its records up, only to yank them when OCLC objected (or so I’ve heard). Talis hosted a wonderful podcast on open data—out tomorrow. Some nut on the lists proposed an open-data covers database. I’ve even heard something about authority files I’m just dying to talk about, but can’t.

That leaves classification. Since blogging about the evils of LCC (free, unavailable) and Dewey (unfree, unavailable), I’ve become increasingly attracted to the not-quite-dead “Cutter Expansive Classification.” Yesterday, I went to the library to xerox a 20 year-old article by Robert L. Mowery, “The Cutter Classification: Still At Work” (LRTS, 1976). It listed fifteen libraries using Cutter in the early ’70s. I intended to find out who was left. To my great pleasure, I found a 2004 LRTS article. “The Contracting World of Cutter’s Expansive Classification” by R. Conrad Winke (here, p. 122). Winke really did his homework, finding 57 libraries that once used it, 23 that maintain books in it, and four still using it. And I thought it was just the Forbes!

As Winke describes it, Cutter died a social death:

“Despite the fact that in its day, EC was commonly regarded as superior to DDC, Cutter’s failure to provide for the continuing revision, expansion, and publication of his work essentially assured its demise. … EC still might have been salvageable in the immediate years after Cutter’s passing had the librarians using the scheme at the time banded together and worked cooperatively at maintaining the schedules…. Instead, librarians at EC libraries seemingly did not pursue working together, but worked on their own until, in all but four cases, this became impractical and they abandoned it.”

What died socially, society can resurrect. And who better than LibraryThing to do it? Let’s bring Cutter back to life, as a free, open-source alternative to Dewey. Libraries shouldn’t PAY for their classification system, and it shouldn’t be controlled by one institution.

I think that, with all the statistical work we do with LCC, Dewey, LCSH and tags, LibraryThing can make some very educated guesses at where an unclassified book might fit within Cutter, particularly once it assimilates all the current Cutter records. LibraryThing users (more than 1,000 of whom are real live librarians) will, I think, be glad to help classify books, something never before tried in cataloging. And LibraryThing can can coordinate necessary schedule expansions.

Cutter is nearly dead because the libraries using it failed to connect with each other. I propose to reverse this, to bring it back to life as the most connected system ever devised—Cutter, Reloaded.

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Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

Four (?) social gurus on data portability

Steve O’Hear’s ZDNet Social Web blog has a four-person interview on data portability, and whether anyone outside of Web 2.0 circles cares.

Steve interviewed Andrew Anker of SixApart/Vox, Marc Canter of Broadband Mechanics, Ben Werdmuller of Elgg and Curverider and… *ME*, gulp.

Highlights include:

  • Canter spanking Google CEO Schmidt for “lying” about Google’s attitude to data. That takes courage!
  • Andrew Anker (Vox) claiming: “We’ve certainly gotten a lot of mileage out of the fact that all of our products have always supported full export.” But wait—why can’t you export your books from Vox? Why did LibraryThing have to jump through hoops to make its Vox backup utility?

The inteview was edited somewhat for length—I droned on, as per usual. What’s missing is LibraryThing’s data problem. We don’t own much of the bibliographic data, so we can’t provide it in the sorts of APIs we’d like. (An API to LibraryThing’s bibliographic data would be, in part, an API to Amazon’s API, and that’s disallowed.) And we plan to make money off some aggregate data—like recommendations. But we do what we can. They also cut out my reference to Shelfari‘s we-own-your-copyright-now Terms of Service. How nice of them!

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Monday, December 11th, 2006

Bisson and open data—let the revolution begin!

As some in the library tech world already know, library geek Casey Bisson won a Mellon Fellowship to develop WPopac*, an open-source OPAC (library catalog)**, with WordPress at its core. That’s cool, but it’s not even the big news.

The big news is that Casey plans to procure Library of Congress MARC records and distribute them free under the GNU license (here, here, elsewhere). This isn’t cool—it’s revolutionary.***

Here’s what I wrote on the Next Generation Catalogs for Libraries list.

“It’s not that free is cheaper than unfree, but that it holds the potential to change everyone’s relationship to data—from catalogers to readers.

Advocating for just this thing here a month ago I wrote “Who wants to be the Fred Kilgour of the 21st century?” Casey may well end up being that. But—with due kudos to Casey!—I’m not betting on it. The Fred Kilgour of the 21st century is all of us.

So, three cheers for Casey, Mellon and “free as in freedom”! I can’t wait to see where this all leads.

*Pronounced whip OPAC.
**Online Public Access Catalog, as opposed to the offline and private-access ones, I guess. There ought to be a dustbin for the acronyms of history—the acronyms that include concepts that are now simply assumed. Another good one is “RIA,” apparently “rich internet application” (as opposed to plain ol’ web aps?). I only heard the term last week—from a marketer, of course—and I make them. I christen this blog post a BPPOOIP, a Blog Post Put Online On the Internet Publically.
***I like another blogger‘s reaction, “Jumpin’ Jupiter! That’s monumental! That’s heroic! That’s…about damn time!”

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Sunday, December 10th, 2006

Nelifrag Beachideco multicoroundesmothotherlik

Check out Very Small Objects by Brian Collier, an art project that doubles as an extended Perec-ish joke on classification. His artist’s statement explains it well:

“In my projects and installations I combine quasi-scientific techniques of collection, analysis, and categorization with presentation strategies taken from science and natural history museums. I also frequently disrupt or pair these strategies with humor, competing aesthetic frameworks, and attention to moments that do not comfortably fit scientific models.”

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Thursday, December 7th, 2006

Rest in peace

Rest in peace, tech journalist James Kim, who died in a heroic attempt to save his snowbound wife and two young children who, fortunately, survived.

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Monday, December 4th, 2006

Is your OPAC fun? (a manifesto of sorts)

A few weeks ago I spoke at a conference on “The Future of the Catalog,” hosted by the ACRL Delaware Valley Chapter, and I’ve been meaning to blog about it since. It’s to late to blog it overall*, but one topic keeps bothering me.

At the close of a panel discussion, we were asked how a reinvented online catalog (an “OPAC”) could serve a nineteen year-old. All I had to do was put “findability,” “millenials,” “Google,” “ease of use,” “anywhere” and “now” together, and I was done.

Well, I snapped. Here’s what I said or wished I had:

What distinguishes LibraryThing from other OPACs isn’t tagging, user reviews, book recommendations, RSS or any of that. What distinguishes it is this: Everyone else’s OPACs people have to use. LibraryThing is optional. LibraryThing is an OPAC people WANT to use. They even pay. LibraryThing is the fun OPAC!

OPAC conversations center around “findability.” The OPAC’s job is to help you find and get what you want–and get out of the way. It’s the job of a dental drill. A good dental drill does not dilly-dally; nobody ever has a “driveway moment” with a dental drill.

It’s also the logic of the card catalog. The card catalog was there to help you find something, not to be fun.** And like so much else, this principle was translated to the digital world, perhaps too successfully. For all their drawbacks, OPACs do exceed card catalogs in finability. But they really come into their own in being surpassingly unfun!

Sure, it would be nice if OPACs made things findabile. A findable OPAC is at least not torture to use. But why not aim higher than findability? Nineteen-year-olds may use Google because it’s easy, but that doesn’t explain MySpace.

Why not be fun? The library itself is fun. (I simply don’t care about the library experience of people for whom books are a “task.”***) The catalog is a condensed representation of that fun. It’s not the books, but it has a lot to say about them, and it can be the springboard for so much more. I enjoy reading and thinking about books. I want to remember what I read, much as I want to remember my vacations. I want help finding new ones. I want to put my books out there for all see. I want to express myself about them. I want to find people to talk about our books. I might even want to date someone who reads the same things I do.

Surprise surprise, but I’ve just described what LibraryThing does. It is the fun OPAC.

How can your OPAC be fun? (No, not with Flash animations.****) Here are some first thoughts:

  • Provide blog widgets and RSS feeds so patrons can show off what they’re reading and what they thought of it.
  • Let people find what they want, but let them also get entertainingly lost. Encourage exploration, serendipity and lost-ness.
  • Give authors, subjects, languages, tags and other facets their own pages. That stuff’s interesting, and can lead one delightfully astray.
  • Allow patrons to interact with the catalog via tags, ratings and reviews. (And would it kill you to give them patron pages?)
  • Link outward. The web is fun. Point to it.
  • Allow (static) inbound links. What are you, a bouncer?
  • Let patrons access your data via API. Some clever patron will do something fun you hadn’t thought of.
  • Give patrons a reason to check in every day—something about the books, and ideally about them and the books, not some “trick” like free movie passes.
  • Talk to patrons in their own language (eg., with tags), not in some crazy argot, where “cooking” is “cookery” and “the internet” is “the information superhighway.”
  • Give patrons fun, high-quality recommendations.
  • Give patrons enjoyable metadata. I don’t intend to read any of the books in today’s NYT Book Review, but I loved reading about them.
  • Let users interact socially around the books they read. (Obviously, anything social needs to be voluntary.)
  • Make it usable and finable too.

Am I crazy? Discuss?

*It was a blog-worthy one. The panel included Thom Hickey of OCLC, Emily Lynema of NCSU and Karen Calhoun of Cornell and the Calhoun Report. Hickey presented some very exceptional work, including (fun!) author pages for WorldCat. I had not met Lynema or Calhoun before, and found their presentations and company most enjoyable. Emily and I shared a cab back to the airport. (I hope she gets a blog soon, so I can keep up with what she’s doing.) Others blogged about the conference here, here (Hickey), and here (ACRL).
**Going all the way back to (my hero) Cutter’s Rules for a Dictionary Catalog (1876). The same applies to today’s Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, summarized as “find, identify, select, and obtain.” (How about amuse? Waste some time? Get laid?) In retrospect, card catalogs seem fun. Hard-core bibliothecophiles***** “miss the feel”–flipping through the cards, sliding the drawers in and out, occasionally sliding one all the way out and carrying it with you to devour it in private, like a cat.
***Students who hate learning shouldn’t find their books quickly. The OPAC should spit out a nonsense call numbers, and they should wander in circles until their eyes light upon some other book–the book that changes everything–or until they collapse to the ground in punishment for their sins.
****Witness the Orange County’s Library’s snowman, much praised in liblogger circles. It’s not that I dislike it—I liked it—but what does it have to do with libraries? Someone there has a real sense of fun. Why waste it on some separate, siloed Flash ap?
****A perfectly good word as far as I’m concerned, but Google has only two uses, both in French.

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