Archive for January, 2009

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Cataloging and fun

On Thursday we introduced a silly new “meme” page called “Dead or Alive?” which listed your authors by their mortal status–alive, dead, unknown or “not a person.” (See the blog post or check out yours.) The feature drew on the birth and death dates of the authors in our Common Knowledge system, a free (Creative Commons) “fielded wiki” for miscellaneous “cataloging” information (think “Wikipedia for book info”). To move an author from the “unknown” column, members had to find their dates and enter them onto into Common Knowledge.

Here’s a chart of Common Knowledge contributions over the last month.* Can you spot the day “Dead or Alive?” went live?

As you can see, birth, death and gender edits (gender is where you mark an author as “not a person”) went through the roof when the feature was announced—from an average of 143 edits per day, to 3731 and 3584, 25 times the average. Other edits went up too—a 30% increase.

A few members joked that it was a plot to encourage contributions to Common Knowledge. It wasn’t that. I just thought it was a funny idea, but I wasn’t unaware that it would have that effect. Indeed, the upshot shows again something of a LibraryThing finding—that regular people will contribute cataloging information if you make it meaningful to them. That is, whatever incentive there is to add author information, the incentive is increased when they’re your authors, and increased again when that information does something for you. Of course, even if incentive is personal, the effect is general; you update the author because you have his or her book, but everyone else shares in the value of that update.

The way this works undercuts a common myth of “Web 2.0″—that there are all these people out there adding “user-generated content” out of altruism or an extreme mismatch between time and exciting things to do. And it cuts against an older myth, that cataloging is so boring you have to pay people to do it.

We’ve seen the same jump every time we introduced a new Common Knowledge category, and again when we made that category “come alive” in some way for members. And although the short-term jump will surely level out, the overall rate of “dead-or-alive” entries certainly not. You get more changes when the changes do something for people.

Now, of course, there’s a whole list of things this doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that LibraryThing members are doing their job well (although I suspect they are). It doesn’t mean the same would apply to much more difficult forms of cataloging, or to forms that generally presuppose professional training (ie., LCSH). And it doesn’t mean that regular people will get to the “rare stuff,” indeed it probably means that average cataloging attention is directly related to popularity of the underlying item.

Even so, pretty cool. Oh, by the way, I’m adding a feature allowing you to compare yourself to other members, which should inflame the other great motive for personal metadata—competition. After all, my library has a higher dead/alive ratio than yours!

UPDATE: Here’s the current chart, without day-norming. Notice how everything went up.

*The numbers are normed against day-related changes. Basically, we smoothed out that many more edits are made on Monday than Saturday.

Labels: cataloging, dead or alive, Social Cataloging, zombies

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Bowker/CIG news..

Over on the main blog, I wrote a long post about LibraryThing CIG/Bowker deal. It’s an excellent deal.

Read the details here.

Labels: Bowker, CIG, librarything for libraries

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

The Guardian asks “Why you can’t find a library book in your search engine?”

The OCLC data-grab has hit the “real” media—an article in the Guardian. The article asks the simple question, “Why you can’t find a library book in your search engine?”

It’s an obvious question. The answer isn’t quite as simple as they put it. Libraries would be in Google if their library catalogs could be spidered. But they’d still be hampered by OCLC in various ways. Anyway the coverage of OCLC, Open Library, and LibraryThing are spot-on. And the subtle nationalist angle—an American site!—can’t hurt.*

Three cheers for the Guardian. Next up, the New York Times? We can hope.

*Did you know OCLC invaded Iraq?

Labels: guardian, oclc

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Open Shelves Classification: First draft live and at ALA Midwinter

If you’re at ALA Midwinter in Denver on Saturday, come talk about this interesting new project. See below for details.

Back in July I blogged to start something called the Open Shelves Classification, a free, crowdsourced alternative to the Dewey Decimal System, and created a Group for it. Soon afterward two librarians, Laena M. McCarthy of the Pratt Institute and David Conners of Haverford took over leadership of the project. For the past six months they and a growing contingent of LibraryThing members, some librarians, some not, have been working to come up with basic principles and working on pieces and on the numbering system. They’ve also done some interesting work testing the proposed top level against real library records. Much of their work is collected on the Open Shelves Classification Wiki. Laena did a nice post on the OSC on the Public Libary Association blog.

The OSC team has reached some agreement on a first drag of the “top level categories,” some fifty categories that, it is hoped, all books fit into somewhere. And you are invited to help classify works in LibraryThing!

Want to help? Go to a work page in LibraryThing and scroll down to the bottom. You’ll find a chart of the top-level categories. If you see a good match, click on it. You’ll be prompted to say whether you know the book yourself or not. And then you’ll get to see how your classification vote match up with anyone else on the site.

You can classify anything in LibraryThing. If you want to help the most, however, click the “Find a random work” link here or below the classification chart. It’ll take you to a random work, but also contrive to get multiple members classifying the same works. The idea is that it’ll give us a good idea what categories are easy and obvious, and which are causing doubt.

Whatever you find, come and talk about it on the Open Shelves Classification group.

In Denver on Saturday? Laena and David are going to be at the ALA Midwinter show in Denver this weekend. (So are Sonya, Casey and I.) To move the OSC along we reserved a conference room at the Courtyard Marriott (Google Maps) from 1-3pm on Saturday, January 24th. Anyone at ALA is invited to come, as indeed are regular LibraryThing members–the Courtyard is outside the velvet rope.

Labels: ala, ALA midwinter, alamw2009, Open Shelves Classification, OSC

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Library social media wins one

Update: We can’t make it to today’s Nylink/NYPL event. Get your tshirts at ALA Midwinter or by asking for one.

Big news. As you may have heard, OCLC has reversed itself and delayed its new Policy due to take effect in February. They will be setting up a “Review Board of Shared Data Creation and Stewardship”*, with broad member consultation promised. At best, they’ve heard the message and may end up embracing truly free and open library data. (A man can dream!) At worst their strategic retreat gives free-and-open data proponents time to articulate and broaden their case.

For people like me who have been pluging away at this for months and feeling increasingly depressed about what seemed the library world’s inevitable slide into data monopoly, it was a big, big win. The LibraryThing team went out to Silly’s. That’s a party.

Social media won. Content aside, however, it was a big win for library “social media,” particularly the “biblioblogosphere.”* OCLC’s new Policy was rushed through so quickly that it effectively bypassed traditional library-world tools, like professional conference. Press coverage too was minimal, late and mostly dependent on the blogosphere. Even the hastily-convened ARL/ASERL panel hadn’t spoken yet when OCLC felt the need to reverse course. The blogosphere was running ten- or twenty-to-one against the Policy.

Other social media also played their part. From the trendy, excitable Twitter to the cliquish Facebook to that forgotten workhorse of professional communication, the Listserv. Even AUTOCAT, which many of the Library 2.0 types I hang out with consider past hope, showed little support for the policy and much criticism. And over them all, the Code4Lib wiki was pressed into action tracking and aggregating what everyone was saying, allowing arguments to build on each other and makin it crystal clear to everyone that they were not alone.

Of course, we don’t know why OCLC changed course. There’s a rumor going around that important library director or two said they wouldn’t abide by it. It’s also possible that ARL/ASERL is going to come out solidly against it, and OCLC saw it coming. But even if the ultimate decision rested with some powerful people, they must have drawn on the blogosphere for information and support. Maybe the payoff from all those library-sponsored professional development courses won’t come from helping patrons get on the MySpace bus, but from getting the library world off a train to nowhere.

So, open-data people. You’re not alone. You have power. The library world is listening. What do you have to say?

Labels: facebook, oclc, social media, twitter

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

How books are made

From the Digital Marketing Team at Macmillan, who rock.

Labels: humor

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

OCLC protest teeshirts are here!

UPDATE: OCLC just announced creation of a “Review Board of Shared Data Creation and Stewardship” to review the policy with members. And that was one nipple. What could two nipples do?

We made a teeshirt out of the best of our parody OCLC logos, protesting the new OCLC Policy. I think it works pretty well.*

We’ll be handing out at this Friday’s OCLC Policy discussion at the New York Public Library (sponsored by Nylink) and at the American Libraries Association Mid-Winter conference in Denver. So far we’ve made exactly one. We’ll probably make 100. They cost $5 to make, so a $5 donation is appreciated (but not required). If there’s demand, we’ll sell and ship them for cost.

Sonya strikes her “defiant” pose:

*Except for being nipply on me. I didn’t want to post it, but Mike had the best argument, “With all the things that LibraryThing members have done for you, don’t you owe them a nipple?”

Labels: nipply, oclc

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

Why libraries must reject the OCLC Policy (part 1)

I have been thinking about the new, proposed OCLC Policy, scheduled to take effect in mid-February. I was driven to act after a recent AUTOCAT posting, in which a librarian suggested libraries not expose their collections to the web, except for “original cataloging,” for fear of the new OCLC Policy. How terrible would that be?

I’m not sure the specific fear is justified, but fear certainly is. As the Policy states, violations of the OCLC Policy “automatically” terminate a libraries right to use any OCLC records. And OCLC gets to say what constitutes a violation.

It got me thinking about compiling all the arguments against the Policy. I want to start with the process and legal ones, which have gotten very short shrift. OCLC spokespeople are persuasive personalities, and OCLC’s “Frequently Asked Questions” allay fears, but the Policy itself is a scary piece of legal writing and, as it explictly asserts, the only writing that matters.

1. The Policy fundamentally changes the character of OCLC, a “member” institution, with no formal member approval and with little member input.

WorldCat is why OCLC was created, is OCLC’s largest revenue source, the basis of most of their other services and the most common way OCLC interacts with its members. The Policy transforms WorldCat in many respects, but most of all in how OCLC relates legally to its members from a cooperative to a sort of licensure.

OCLC is supposed to be a member organization. But what member organization would fundamentally alter its core business and transform their relationship with members without putting the issue squarely before them? Yet OCLC has done just that.

2. The Policy is a legal document. No other statements matter.

The policy is a legal document, not a statement of intent or aspirations. It explicitly states (§E7) that it is “the final, complete and exclusive statement of the agreement of the partiwith respect to the subject matter hereof.” That means that the “intent” of the Policy as voiced by OCLC spokespeople or the seemingly gentler “Frequently Asked Questions” have no legal standing. If it’s not in the Policy, it’s not part of the agreement.

Licenses are legal documents. You don’t sign legal documents based on casual pleasantries. If a landlord says you can move out at any time, but the lease says you have to give notice and pay rent until a new tennant is found, trust the lease or make the landlord change it.

3. The Policy is illegitimately retroactive.

The Policy limits the use and transfer of all records, not just new ones. The diligent catalogers of forty years ago who thought that OCLC was a humble cooperative helping libraries copy catalog had no idea that they were laying the foundations of a data monopoly.

Retroactive licenses are legally dubious and morally obnoxious. If OCLC wants to impose a new license, it should not do so on legacy data.

4. The Policy is perpetual and will create a perpetual monopoly.

Most licenses lay out what does and does not “survive” termination. Not here. There is no out from the Policy whatsoever. You can leave OCLC and sit on your records for twenty years and they still effectively own them, and they can still strip your library of them at any time. The policy lasts forever, on every record it touches and no matter who touches it.

The perpetual nature of the agreement means that, once this policy goes into effect, it’s all over. The vast majority of the world’s library data is owned and restricted. What US library could even think of exempting themelves of every “OCLC-derived” record? The “network effect” is just too great.

Unless OCLC changes its mind or dies, there will be no second chance.

5. OCLC can change the Policy at any time, in any way.

As the Policy states, “OCLC may issue a modified version of this Policy or a substitute for this Policy at any time.” There is no check whatsoever on what this new policy can require or prohibit. Given the lack of member input that characterized its introduction, OCLC members may confidently expect to have no role in any future changes or “substitions” either.

A perpetual license that can be changed at any time is a lot of power to any institution. Does OCLC deserve that sort of power?

6. If you violate the policy your library automatically loses the right to any “OCLC-derived” records you have.

(§E1) “The rights to Use and Transfer WorldCat Records afforded by this Policy shall automatically terminate upon any breach of the terms of this Policy.”

Imagine losing all the OCLC-derived records in your library catalog. Imagine turning all your automated systems off until every bibliographic and authority record that passed through OCLC at any point was identified and removed from your library, and new “untained” ones found or created from scratch. What library in the United States could keep its doors open if it lost the right to use “OCLC-derived” records?

It sounds dire, but according to the Policy, if you violate the Policy in “any” way, OCLC can shut down your library.

7. OCLC has sole discretion to declare a library in violation and strip it of its records.

Not only can OCLC shut down your library, but you have no recourse to stop them. As the Policy states “[§E6] OCLC has the sole discretion to determine whether any Use and/or Transfer of WorldCatRecords complies with this Policy.”

If someone handed a government agency the power to kill libraries, and do so with no appeal or legal recourse, librarians would be in the streets in protest. Why does OCLC get a pass?

Call to action

Librarians and interested parties have only a month before the OCLC Policy goes into effect. It is time to put up or shut up.

UPDATE: Note that it’s Friday, January 16. See the page.

*I am dying to be there, but I simply can’t make it. One way or another, however, we’ll try to get our word out.

Labels: oclc

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

This is like a Heinlein Novel!

I recently enjoyed a recorded talk by Christine Peterson, co-founder of the Foresight Nanotech Institute, on open-source security and politics.

The basic point is to get alpha geeks to think about what they can contribute to basically polticial questions–to better, less invasive physical national security but also to stand up and fight against absurdities like polling machines running proprietary software, when everyone in software knows open source would provide a much better check on potential hacks.

She has a section that mirrors how I feel about the new OCLC Policy and librarians’ and library technologists’ responsibility to get engaged and do heroic things, to keep libraries “free to all” and not the cornerstone of a perpetual monopoly:

So you may be sitting there going, “God, the Constitution! Franklin, Jefferson… this is like a Heinlein novel! She’s trying to convince me I’m in a Heinlein novel, where there’s heroic action to take.”

Well, guess what, you are! You really are. This is a critical time. And there’s going to be huge decisions and a lot of work to be done. And you’re the best ones to do it. I hate to tell you that. I know you have other things to do.

Labels: inspiration, oclc

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

New Products…

1. The iPhone Wheel:

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard
Of course, every LibraryThing employee is a Mac person…

2. The Pomegranate

Would like some garlic fingers? BTW: Can you guess what this is advertising?

3. Who can forget If Amazon sucked like our old OPAC?

4. Someone should do a joke pomegranate-like OPAC video. It would start out with standard features, then add Web 2.0 features, like tagging, then searching everything every printed, then searching all TV shows, including never-aired episodes, then searching all conversations in Starbucks, Panera Bread and Roy Rogers, then searching all thoughts that took place within a meter of an iPhone, etc.

Labels: Uncategorized