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personal information ecology

I've been getting a lot of questions recently about what technology tools--both software and devices--I use for collecting, storing, and retrieving information. As someone whose academic training was in library science, this is a topic I think (and care) about a lot. And while I'm not very good at organizing my physical environment, I do a pretty good job of organizing my digital life. Here's a rundown of what I'm currently using, and for what...organized by task rather than by platform, because most of what I use is cross-platform anyways.

Much of the way I deal with information is shaped by the fact that I have two computers--a big, heavy MacBook Pro that mostly sits on my family room table, and a small, light MacBook Air that travels with me--as well as an iPhone and an iPad. (Skip the "ur a stoopid Apple fangirl comments, mkay? I use each for different reasons, I find them all useful, nearly everything I'm about to discuss will work perfectly well on PCs and Android devices, and none of that is really the point of this post.)

Note Taking

I have terrible handwriting, and stopped taking notes on paper a long time ago. I do nearly all of my note-taking on my MacBook Air. I used to put all my notes into plain text files, using BBEdit (a Mac-based ASCII text editor). But I had a hard time keeping track of them, and an even harder time accessing them from other devices.

Now I use Evernote for note-taking. I love it, for a number of reasons. First, there are clients for all of my computers and mobile devices. Second, there's a web interface that lets me access my notes from someone else's computer (or in a lab at RIT). Third, I can take photos of whiteboards and/or handwritten notes, and Evernote will do text recognition on the images. Since everything, including the images, is easily searchable, I seldom have trouble finding the notes I took on a given subject or at a specific meeting.

Even better, Evernote now seems to be integrated with my calendar on my iDevices, so when I create a new note during a time that a meeting is scheduled, it automatically names it with that meeting. That just makes me happy!

I know Evernote is useful for other things, but note-taking is pretty much all I use it for, and it's perfect for that task.

The Evernote software is free, but a premium account (which I have) will run you $5/months or $45/year. The big advantage of the premium account for me is offline access to any of your notebooks, which has been really helpful when I travel (especially overseas, where data is harder to come by). It has other perks, as well, like way more storage space, but since I use Evernote mostly for plain text notes and a handful of images, that's not a big issue for me the way the offline access is.

Saving and Sharing Things I Find Online

I was one of the earliest users of the social bookmarking site (a quick search of my archives indicates I started using it in December 2003-- good god, was it really over 8 years ago??), but after its acquisition by Yahoo my usage declined, and when it changed hands again last year I pretty much let it go. Since then, I've tried a couple of tools for online bookmarking, but hadn't really found anything that worked for me. (Including, which I had high hopes for but just didn't feel right to me.)

I loved two things about One was the ease with which I could share a set of bookmarks with others, by using a simple url that combined my username and a given tag. So, for instance, bookmarks related to the Intro to Interactive Media class (course number 295) could be referenced with The other was the fact that I could subscribe to the bookmarks of other users, and by doing that I was able to create a customized news page that showed me the links that people I was interested in were collecting. It was a great way to find new things, and keep up with what friends and colleagues cared about.

Over the past few months, I've found services that appear to address both of those needs, although not in the same system.

Pinterest is what I'm using to bookmark personal stuff--recipes, home decor and craft ideas, clothing, art, etc. It's great for an at-a-glance look at recipes or fashion, where recall is closely tied to how something looks, not what it's called. More importantly, it's what I'm using to see what other people are collecting. It's a highly visual site--everything is arranged by image, and you can't even add something that doesn't have an image or a video on the page (which is why this will never be my only bookmarking tool--there are too many things I want to save that are text only). It also suffers from a lack of tagging capability, so anything you add goes in one collection and one collection only.

Clipboard, a new service created by ex-Microsoft research exec Gary Flake, addresses my need to quickly bookmark and tag resources related to research and teaching. Unlike delicious, it actually allows me to grab a piece of the page (as large or small as I want...but not just as an image. The text and links come with it, as well, which is a really nice touch. As a result, I can find things by look as well as by text. I think this is going to become my new go-to site for organizing my work-related resources.

Finally, InstaPaper is what I use to save lengthy online text (magazine articles, long-form blog posts, etc) for reading later on a mobile device. When I'm in online browsing mode, I usually don't have the time to really immerse myself in a thoughtful text. But there are plenty of times during the day when I suddenly find myself with unexpected reading time--waiting for a doctor's appointment, sitting on an airplane, lying in bed unable to sleep. If I've saved the interesting things to read to Instapaper, I can launch the app on my iPhone or iPad and read them then. Instapaper strips out all the ads and awful formatting, and makes the text readable for even my aging eyes. There's no monthly charge for it, but I did pay for the iOS app.

Citation Management
I was an Endnote user for a very long time--I started using it for my dissertation research back in the '90s, in fact. But last year I finally switched away from Endnote, and started using Zotero for all of my citation management. What made it possible for me to make the jump to Zotero was that it allowed me to import my entire EndNote database--given that I had literally thousands of references, that was a non-trivial process.

Zotero is an open-source tool that runs inside of your browser. Until recently, it only worked with Firefox (cross-platform), but there's now a "standalone" version of Zotero, too. I haven't used the standalone version, so I'm going to talk about how the browser-based version works.

Zotero recognizes a large number of scholarly publication sites (like the ACM Digital Library, or JSTOR, or SSRN, or Google Scholar), and gives you a little icon in your URL bar that allows you to add the item to your library. If it's one of the sites it recognizes (generally one that has embedded appropriate metadata), it automatically adds all the bibliographic data to the citation for you. What's even better, though, is that it also grabs a snapshot of the item (or, in some databases, a downloaded copy of the PDF) and attaches it to the citation--so you've got easy offline access to the item at any point.

There's integration between Zotero and major word processors, just as there is with EndNote, so you can add in-text citations and a bibliography to your paper using whatever your preferred citation style is.

Zotero has some other nice features, as well--there's cloud storage, so you can sync your bookmarks to any computer you're using (and if you've got a giant library like mine, you can pay to upgrade your storage space), and there's the ability to create shared libraries that you can allow read and/or write access to for others. That works really well for collaborative research projects, or for bibliographies built by a class.

Sharing Data Across Computers
All of the tools above have the ability to allow me to access my data from any computer. But there are a lot of other files I work with on a regular basis--word processing files, spreadsheets, images, etc. For those, I use Dropbox. The free version gives you 2GB of space, but I pay for the next level up, which gives me 50GB for $99/year. It integrates into your OS (Mac or Windows), so that your Dropbox folder is simply another folder on your computer--but anything that you put into that folder gets saved to the cloud, and synced to your other devices when/if they're online. There are iOS clients, so I can access any of my files from any of my devices. And there's a web client, so I can grab a file from Dropbox from any internet-connected computer.

Because the files are stored locally as well as online, you have access even if you're not online (and even if the Dropbox server is down)--a big advantage over Google Docs, which always seems to have service outages during critical document editing periods for me!

You can also share a folder with other Dropbox users, so that any time one of you changes a file, the new version will be synced for everyone. This is great if you're working on a project with someone and don't want to be constantly emailing changed files back and forth. The downside is that you can't selectively grant read-only access to folders or files. That means if you share a folder with someone else, they could delete the contents of folder and the files would be removed from your computer, as well.


So, that's the gist of it. I've been using all of these tools (with the exception of Clipboard) for long enough now that they've become integral parts of my ecosystem. Many are "freemium" services (Evernote, Dropbox, Zotero) that I happily paid for once I realized their value to me. And the end result is that I have easy access to the information I need when I need it, despite the fact that I'm constantly moving between computers and mobile devices.

sirsi dynix executive conference: lee rainie

I always have mixed feelings about being on the same program as Lee Rainie from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. He's totally amazing, and I love listening to him. But I hate having to talk after him, since he's such a difficult act to follow...

Starts with a confession ('because it's Sunday') that his initial proposal to Pew didn't even mention libraries as potential users of the data--but they turned out to be the biggest consumer of their data. "The library-industrial complex is amazing to behold."

Talks about how Internet use changes communities of learners. Cites McLuhan, and every technology having its own "grammar." If that's the case, their research indicates that the grammar of the Internet seems to be to create and foster communities.

93% of American teenagers use the internet!

Most notable gaps are age (young people use it more), education (increases use), disabilities (lower use), and language preference (new surveys on Spanish-speaking people indicate much lower adoption). Race is becoming less of an issue, at least from a cultural standpoint--it's economic class that's more important.

A growing number of broadband users see the Internet as a place to "hang out." They also see the Internet as their most important source of news.

People have phones, but (surprise, surprise) the majority don't use all the features they have access to. Partly they're frustrated by the interface, but more often they just want phones to be phones. They have "feature fatigue." (from an HBR article)

Women want maps on their phones.

Pictures are becoming a critical part of conversation and communication. (Yes! I"ll be talking about this.)

Wirelessness is more important as a predictor of active use of the internet than even broadband access.

55% of 12-17yos have profiles on social networking sites. 55% are users. These are not exactly the same 55%! Some lurk but don't have profiles; some have profiles but don't spend much time using the sites.

Girls use the sites to support and reinforce existing social networks. Boys use it to "meet new friends." 2/3 of profile creators limit access to their profiles. They're not indifferent to privacy.

Five New Realities

1) There are more people in more communities thanks to the Internet. 84% of internet users belong to an online community, including communities that pre-dated the internet presence. You can find the groups more easily online. Internet use is a predictor of whether people have joined any kind of social group!

2) Many communities with heavy online communities are highly socially meaningful. They often have a "real life" component. Online communities are tremendous places to build online capital.

3) New kinds of communities afforded by the Internet. The newer breed is built around individuals themselves. For example, communities that emerge when someone falls ill. (Or, perhaps another example, the community that arose around Jim Gray's disappearance.) Communities around user-generated content. Around a blog post, aYouTube video, for example. We're not bowling alone.

4) Communities behave in different ways. Groups are much more on "high alert" status, responding more rapidly to new inputs. Quotes Gillmor "If someone knows something in one place, everyone who cares about that will know it soon enough." (I may have that quote wrong.) Talks about Howard's idea of "Smart Mobs." (Tells a compelling story about 30 kids being notified and arriving at the scene of an accident involving their friends--before the police got there. People customize information not just for a daily "me," but also for a daily "us". (Yes! Facebook news feeds, for example.) Librarians should think of themselves as nodes in these information networks.

5) People in groups tend to need other people. ("Who knew Barbra Streisand would be right?") People who said the internet was useful in major life changes--34% said the net put them in touch with people who offered information and advice, and 28% said it helped them find professional sources. The internet, for most people, was tool to find other people. IN a world of information abundance, social networks and other people matter more and more and more. So, action item for librarians--you need to be a visible node in the network.

In conclusion...the people libraries want to serve are changing the way they interact with each other, and the way they learn. They're more self-organizing and self-directed. They're better equipped to capture and disseminate information. They're more tied to group outreach and knowledge. They're more tied to group insight. More attuned to friend and foe, competitors and allies, through scanning their networks.

sirsi dynix executive conference: jerome nadel

(whoops. forgot to change status to "published," so this is going up hours after I wrote it...)

I managed to get myself out of bed at a fairly early hour despite a very late arrival in Colorado Springs, aided by the blindingly bright sunlight streaming through my windows. So I'm here for the first speaker of the day, Jerome Nadel of Human Factors International.

We're in the 3rd wave of the information age, he says. The 80s were about hardware, the 90s were about software, today it's about usability. We've had a shift to 'self-serve'--from ATMs to computer-based shopping. We don't want intermediaries. In the library, we want to query directly--from open stacks to OPACs.

He claims it's provocative for him to say that the library is no longer just a physical place. Um...duh? That's not exactly a new concept.

Things that work are both useful and usable.

What are the attributes of usable things? Can be distilled into three key factors: easy to learn, hard to forget, easy to explain. This means that wherever you are, the things you need should be there.

User-centered design is too user-centric, he says. It's not just about making the user happy. It's also about influencing the user through the interaction model you create. This is driven by business needs. Need to know the organization's success criteria, as well as the users' needs.

(For my 425 students: he's emphasizing the creation of personas, the cataloging of user types, with tasks specified by high and low frequency.)

He's frustrated with people talking about "2.0" as a collection of technologies rather than a paradigm. Having a blog, or a wiki, doesn't make you a "2.0" organization.

Shows a before and after from the Library of Congress web site--now it focuses more on the tasks and users that the library supports. The earlier version was designed much more around the library's organizational structure. (This is pretty basic IA stuff, but probably appropriate to this audience.)

Contextual pointing. Wherever I am, point me in the relevant next direction. Portals that work are "about you."

Says that you need a large "n" to use folksonomies effectively. I disagree. Smaller "n"s give you local picture. Invaluable for persona development, localization, etc.

Says people are less and less willing to use browsing because the browsing paths haven't been well designed.

Results are more important than search. (Not sure I buy his argument that libraries focus "too much" on the latter. How do you separate search and results? They're intertwined.)

contest judging bonus: discovery of book burro!

This year I was once again asked to be a judge in OCLC's second annual software contest, which is open to anyone who develops an applications that takes advantage of OCLC data services (like xISBN, which combines records for multiple editions of a single book, or WorldCat, which provides information on which libraries have an item in their collection).

The winner this year was a very impressive tool called Umlaut, but while I completely appreciate the skills it took to implement, and the value it provides to library patrons, it's not something I'll use on a day-to-day basis.

The runner-up, on the other hand, is something that I've already installed and fallen in love with. It's a fabulous tool called Book Burro, created by Jesse Andrews. Here's the brief description:

Book Burro is a Web 2.0 extension for Firefox and Flock. When it senses your are looking at a page that contains a book, it will overlay a small panel which when opened lists prices at online bookstores such as Amazon, Buy, Half (and many more) and soon whether the book is available at your library.

Once you've installed the extension, anytime you go to a bookstore listing (like the Amazon page shown below) an unobtrusive pane is displayed in the top left corner of your page. By default, it shows you the price for the item on other bookseller sites. But if you configure the extension with your zip code, it also shows you local libraries that have the item, listed in order of distance from you. Suh-weet!



This is a tool that will significantly improve my day-to-day quality of life--both for knowing what the RIT library has so I can borrow it, and for letting me know what they don't have so I can suggest that they order it. And, when I do want to acquire a copy for myself, I'll be able to easily comparison shop without having to go to multiple sites.

internet librarian 05: parting thoughts

This is the first conference I've attended in a long time that's made me want to blog non-stop. And it's not insignificant that it's a library-focused conference that inspired me.

When I took a job teaching information technology, instead of a job teaching in a library school, I assumed I was leaving my library roots behind. I wasn't able to justify travel to library conferences, and I felt my ties to the professions starting to dissolve. But over the past several years, with the rise in social computing as a theme in technology, I'm delighted to find the threads weaving back together. Suddenly, libarians are talking about the same things that technologists are talking about--managing information, collaborative filtering, metadata and classification schemes. And I'm in the wonderful position of having a legitimate foot in both camps.

At the speakers' reception last night, Michael Stephens told me he was preparing to do a survey of librarian bloggers, and asked me if I'd participate. It was lovely to be thought of as a librarian in the present tense.

And now, as I fly over Utah's extraordinarily beautiful Great Salt Lake (I've never seen it before, and am grateful for the clear skies that are allowing me this bird's-eye will be on Flickr soon), I'm thinking about how to keep these bonds a little tighter in the future. I really should touch base with some of the faculty I know at UW's I-School, and see about maybe giving an occasional guest lecture over there. And I'll be working hard on the folks at MSN, whose absence was notable this week. Google's not making the mistake of ignoring libraries in their quest to win the hearts and minds of searchers, and MSN shouldn't be making it either. If that's the only tangible legacy I leave behind, it will have been a year well spent.

internet librarian 05: search engine choices

Greg Notess and Gary Price, two genuine experts on search engines and our choices.

Greg and Gary both start out by saying "Google's not the only answer." It's the job of information professionals to know all of the options, not just the most popular one. Gary notes how hard it is for anybody but Google to get the word out about their products.

Current web search engines with unique databases
* AskJeeves
* Google
MSN (says librarians really should pay more attention to this!)

meta engines
* A9
* clusty/vivisimo
* dogpile (one of the few that hits all 4)


  • redlightgreen
  • topix
  • findory (heh...I just had dinner with the ceo of this.)

Greg says that he doesn't like to start his searches with Google. As a reference librarian, if he starts with something other than Google it boosts his credibility with patrons--he's not just doing the same thing that they do! :) Shows the example of a discussion list posting that was only available on Yahoo (not on Google or MSN). If you care about comprehensivenss, you have to be willing to use multiple sources.

AskJeeves give you a different kind of relevance view. Says they've come the farthest on "quick info" on a search. Shows a search on "Chicago" as an example. He and Gary then also show a search on "the Beatles," which gives you a variety of useful "expand your search" options. They note that AskJeeves have reduced the number of ads on their pages, which many people don't realize. (In contrast to other

MSN Search is up next. Acknowledges that not all Microsoft products are best of breed. BUT...MSN search is no longer powered by other people's indexes, and right now they're doing a better job than anyone else of keeping things fresh. They also mention that MSN Search gives you free access to Encarta content. You get two hours of access each time you do a search leading to Encarta (can limit to Encarta only, or let it be part of the overall results). They haven't promoted it, but it's a feature that librarians should be promoting--particularly as a comparison to wikipedia.

Shows MSN's search builder, which is great for showing people how to build complex searches--uses drop-down boxes and sliders for ranking. They don't show; will have to ping them about that, because I suspect they may not be aware of it.

Next up is Yahoo; they recommend that people use rather than, to avoid clutter. Shows that you can edit the tabs (there's a tiny "edit" link up there...) to the kinds of vertical/specialized searches you want. (That's cool! I didn't know that!) If you're logged into Yahoo, the settings will follow you. In advanced search, they show off the creative commons option, as well as their "subscriptions" search, which is extremely interesting (Mary Ellen mentioned this on Monday, too). He shows the blog search stuff that's been added (that's another post that's brewing for me; I'm extremely unimpressed by their implementation of blog search). Then they show Mindset, as well--again, I don't love that shopping/research is the only axis. Shows the shift from "did you mean"

Complains about lack of transparency in how search engines (especially Google) works.

Damn. I need to go to the airport, and will miss the metasearch and vertical search discussion. Hopefully someone else will blog it...I'm outta here!

internet librarian 05: google debate

Rich Wiggins squares off against Roy Tennant in a debate over "Google: Catalyst for Digitization or Library Destruction?"

Rich starts off, and is utterly charming. Some funny starting slides, hard to capture in print because of their visual impact.

Starts by talking about a similar debate they had 4 years ago. (The slides are dense with bullet points now, and I'm sitting where it's hard for me to see the screen, so I'm not going to try to transcribe them. Later I'll look for a pointer to the presentation online.)

How many bytes are in the LIbrary of Congress? This is a non-trivial question, with lots of technical aspects. You can't gloss those aspects (resolution, color, etc) because you'll end up wasting effort. Rich cites Brewster Kahle's estimate of 20 terabytes.

Rich says it's becoming so inexpensive to capture full-text and images that complete digitization is becoming realistic. Disk space is cheap, scanning technology has improved. He asked google what they're using, and they wouldn't answer. (Color me shocked...) I wonder whether Microsoft will be more forthcoming, considering their partnership with OCA. I hope so. [add musing on google's secrecy here]

Refers the comment last night by Stephen Abrams that we spend more money getting abook through ILL than we do to buy it. (That's a really interesting thing to think about.)

There are a bunch of straw man arguments here. He dismisses the preservation argument--we have better access, since you can still get the stuff online after a fire. (But what happens when the power goes out? That happens a lot more often...) Doesn't address the question of what happens when data is stored in proprietary formats--do we know what format Google will store this information in?

His bottom line, "Google Print has taught us to 'think big.'" (hmmm. does the period go before or between the single and double quotes there?)

Argues that this vision of digitization will have to be done by a forward-thinking company -- not by government. It has to be a company. (He claims that Google invented Ajax!!!!) Mocks Microsoft, saying they're playing catchup, and not very well. "Hmmm...Google's going to digitize millions of books? We'll digitize 150,000!"

Now it's Roy's turn. Starts out by saying that his bottom line is "more access is better." He thinks it's great that Google's digitizing stuff, that OCA is doing it, that libraries have been doing it for decades. There's a lot of room for everyone to be involved. Says he's going to try to be provocative, and starts out a halloween-themed slide that reads "Google: Devil? or Merely Evil?" (I didn't get a photo of this, but would love to get the slide from him.) Says he's going to talk about the scary monsters that he sees lurking in this project.

The first monster: the fair use problem. He's concerned about Google trying to shield themselves with fair use. Because this has pulled the issue into the courts, it has the potential to result in restriction of fair use rights for everyone, including libraries.

The second monster: Closed access to open material. For example, there are many copies of Call of the Wild that are freely avaialble. But when you go to Google Print, you won't know that--you'll see the reprinted, proprietary version from a publisher, without an indication that it's in the public domain and can be found from other sources. "And to add insult to injury, they give you links to buy the book, but no links to libraries." He's been assured this will change, but it hasn't happened yet, and there's no guarantee that it will.

The third monster: Blind, wholesale digitiazation. He's not so sure this is a good thing. Large collections in research libraries are choked with out-of-date crap, so that their collection numbers are high enough to keep them in their "tier." Also, because copyrighted information is more difficult to get to, people will rely on old, out of date information because it's free and easy to get to. Is this a good thing? (This is a great point that I haven't heard mentioned before.) OCA is more focused on selective digitization--for example, American literature.

The fourth monster: advertising. How long before we see ads for antidepressant medication next to Hamlet? Google's window of opportunity to do "good things" will be constricted by their responsiblity to stockholders.

The fifth monster: secrecy
The agreements between Google and libraries have been largely kept secret. Before the announcement, the Google libraries could not even talk to each other. Michigan revealed theirs (but not until a Freedom of Info Act request forced it, and months after the project was announced). Rumor has it that UM has the best agreement from the library perspective, and that other libraries are agreeing to much less onerous terms. This is a hot button for me. One of the things that I really like about Microsoft is the extent to which its researchers regularly collaborate, publish, and present outside of the company. If Google's intent is purely philanthropic, why does the commitment to "provide access to the world's information" stop at their front door?

The sixth monster: longevity.

  • What do google, Enron, and WorldCon all have in common? Answer: They are or were publicly traded companies motivated by profit. Two are now gone.
  • What does google have in common with libraries? Answer: They're both on planet earth. (much laughter)
  • How old is the harvard library? Answer: 400+ years. How old is Google: 7. So, which of these organizations do you want to trust with your intellectual heritage?

Now Adam Smith gets a chance to respond. Flashes a charming grin, and says "I'm not that dangerous, am I?" :) (This is what scares me most about Google. Their people and their products are indeed so seductively charming, it's easy to take their claims of purely philanthropic motivation seriously.)

He encourages feedback and criticism--says that's how they make their products better. They launch things quickly so they can get feedback quickly. They walk a difficult path in trying to make many parties happy. Their goal is to make information more accessible, not hidden in library stacks. Says he'll be here to answer questions.

He's asked about the scanning process--they've developed a proprietary non-destructive scanning process, but are not at liberty to disclose that. Someone asks about privacy, Adam refers them to Google's privacy policy. Someone else asks if it's true that one of the libraries requested that only manual page turning be part of the scanning, and he again invokes "no comment."

I ask about the disjoint between the stated policy of helping the world by making information accessible and the veil of secrecy surrounding everything they do, and he's unable to respond--says he's only been there two years, and isn't really familiar with the reasoning behind their policies on disclosure. I express surprise that he hasn't asked for clarification, since I would think he's asked this fairly often, and he says he's never been challenged on this in a public forum before. I'd love to think that's not true, but I suspect that the Google mystique, which they cultivate so very well, has a lot to do with that.

Lots of discussion, not all of which I capture mentally (let alone here on the screen).

glory days

I'm in my hotel room, getting ready for bed while my iPod mini plays songs on shuffle. Right now, Bruce Springsteen is singing "Glory Days," a song I love but haven't listened to in ages. And it got me thinking not about high school, but about library school.

It's odd being at a library conference without the bulk of my library posse...a group of tech-savvy librarians that coalesced in LITA in the late 1980s when many of us were students or recent alums of the University of Michigan School of Information and Library Studies (at least two name changes ago; it's now the School of Information).

For years and years we've gathered at ALA conferences--for dinner, drinking, and occasional debauchery. During those years we've married and divorced (not each other, thankfully), changed jobs and career paths and addresses. We've gotten older, too. We don't drink quite as much as we used to, or go out quite as late.

The part that's the hardest for me to come to terms with cognitively. We're not the young turks at the conferences anymore...we're a bona fide old guard. We're library directors, business owners, and pundits. We're the ones giving the keynote speeches. I can remember vividly the night that two of us ended up accidentally crashing the LITA president's reception in New Orleans, and feeling so completely out of place. Fast forward to today, when at least two of our crowd have been LITA presidents themselves (including my companion that night), and the bulk of us have been on the board at least once.

Here at Internet Librarian, I see the next posse hanging in the halls. They're talking about blogs and flickr and They're laughing out loud at the stodginess around them (as well they should), and carving out their own space. And I find that I'm not at all jealous. I love seeing them blaze their own paths, create their own disruptive force. I don't want to go back to who and where I was fifteen years ago. But I am oh so glad for the friendships that were forged during those conference romps, and the memories that remain. I can only hope that this new group of go-getters will have as many joys and successes in the profession that we've had.

So here's to you, my glory day friends. You know who you are.

internet librarian: the googlebrary

Tonight's panel is moderated by Stephen Abrams, with a number of library pundits and Adam Smith from Google Print. Before the presentation even begins, a young man circulates around the room handing out a glossy sheet with the Google logo at the top entitled "The Facts About Google Print." Gotta love their ability to spin things. It's not an "FAQ," it's not "information"--it's Facts.

I've spent a lot of time over the past few days talking with librarians who are openly enthusiastic about Google's digitization project--not because they love Google, but because they desperately want this information in searchable form. This evening at the speaker's reception, someone said to me "the only question is when this will happen." I looked at him in surprise, and responded that I thought that an equally important question was "who."

So, the panel's about to start...and the first thing I notice is that I seem to have been transported into a web 2.0 panel: all white men, all the time. The only difference is that all of these men are over 40. <sigh> I don't mean to denigrate any of the panel members--they're all smart, accomplished guys. Rich Wiggins from MSU, Steve Arnold from Arnold Info Systems, Roy Tennant from Cal Dig Lib, Mark Sandler of Univ Mich, and Adam Smith from Google Print.

Oh...wait! Barbara Quint, editor of Searcher Magazine, is here, virtually (via speaker phone). A truly invisible woman in this case.

Stephen Abrams is a great moderator--energetic, funny, engaging. Notes that Google's under fire from publishers and authors, and now the threat of congressional hearings. "I'm sorry, I'm from Canada. We think your congressional hearings are great entertainment."

Starts with Adam. "I'm Adam, I'm from Google, and I'm here to give you the TRUTH about Google, and dispel the misinformation that's out there about Google." (Heh..."I'm from the government Google and I'm here to help you.")

"We're doing this out of necessity, not desire." (They're hitting this line hard in a lot of contexts these days; I rather liked Nicholas Carr's comment on this approach last week.)

Shows the three "user experiences" they intend: the publisher program, public domain books, and copyrighted books. The last is the one that's most contentious. Smith says: "This is allowed under fair use." Huh. Judge and jury, case closed? If it were that clear cut, would there be this much controversy surrounding it? While they may well be right, to present opinion as fact is troubling.

Abrams takes over again, and says that we're going to move fifteen years into the future. We've built the megalibrary, and we're looking back: what did we do right? Or...what did we do wrong? How did we get here?

Rich Wiggins starts out. He appears to have fallen under the Google spell... "Looking back, the leading search engine company, worth billions, has digitized the world's culture." A truly utopian vision. (I like Rich, and he'll probably read this, so I'll apologize in advance--Rich, I'm criticizing the ideas and tone, not the person. :)

Roy Tennant totally takes the other end: Google is bankrupt due to mismanagement, and the rest of the world has figured out how to do digitization well. (Adam, he says, has cleverly cashed out in 2009.) The MARC format is dead, libraries have discovered that systems don't integrate well, and have come to grips with how to change them. I like this Utopian vision a lot better than the last one! (He and Rich are debating tomorrow morning; I'll definitely have to attend that keynote!)

Mark Sandler: In 2020, Internet Librarian has become the Librarian conference; ALA in turn has become the American Print Library Assn. (Much laughter...) Google may or may not be there--he doesn't know what the life span of a 7-year-old multi-billion dollar company is. But in Billings MT and Berea KY there are now libraries with 50 million, 100 million volumes available to their readers (from the speakerphone, Barbara's voice cries "Yes! Yes!").

Barbara looks back from 2020 to 2006, when Google launched "Google Press" (I can't make sense of what she's saying--the voice cuts in and out...) Five years later, it is renamed the "Google Full Court Press." (wish I could hear all of this)

Steve talks about his book, "The Google Legacy." Says he's the only person in the room whom Sergey Brin has said is stupid. (Anybody have the cite to that? I couldn't find it in a quick search...) He says he's not interested in Google Print or Google Scholar, he's more interested in GoogleBase, which allows Google to become world's largest publisher of scientific information. Abrams asks him to explain GoogleBase, and he responds: "I'm not explaining Google Base. It's not my job. Sergey thinks I'm stupid, and we have someone here from Google that Sergey thinks is smart. Let him explain it." Heh.

He makes a critical point here, though. Microsoft's products don't delight. Google's products do delight. (Quick round of Microsoft bashing ensues, during which I'm glad I'm not on stage. :)

Adam gets to have his futuring moment. Says 2006 was a turning point year, where "we all worked together to do the right thing." We freed ourselves from the worries of digitization and formats. In 2020 everyone is an author, everyone is a publisher, everyone is an archivist, everyone is involved in the creative process. (He should read danah's post from nearly two years ago... "Consumption and production are fundamentally different and there are different forms of pressure when engaging with either. There is no way that one can possibly say that the threshold for consumption is equivalent to the threshold for production.")

(Roy suggests a round of Kumbaya at this point. I nearly fall off my chair. You go, Roy!)

Stephen asks "what will happen to the librarians in 2020?"

Mark says that some of them will be gone. Why would we need "local providers" when they have the WalMart of libraries? (He says this with a straight least Roy seems to raise his eyebrows.) Local libraries are going to have to change their mission. It has to be about access, about pampering users and adding real value to their lives. They're going to be like "cosmetic counters". WTF?!? Apparently he's serious here--he keeps going on this tack, as I become increasingly astonished.

Barbara weighs in over her spotty audio feed. (I have to ask...why are they using a telephone line run through the sound system rather than a high-quality IP solution with a direct audio line out of the computer? Skype gives far better quality than what we're hearing.) She says readers are more tightly connected to their readers, authors are building books out of Google's content. Book prices are dropping, open access keeps increasing. Librarians are helping to discriminate between good, bad, lousy and lousier materials. "when everything is digital, you're paying people to help you not read bad stuff." Librarians become censors. (Why the choice of that extraordinarily loaded word rather than the less judgmental and polarizing term "filters"?)

Roy says he wants to jump into this "digital lovefest." Digital won't make print go away--it never will. Putting digital materials online increases book circulation. Libraries have never been just about "stuff." They're about service. That doesn't change when collections are digital. (Yay!)

Rich says the cloudy part of the crystal ball is about how we'll be accessing this information. Display technology will change a lot about how we access things. If we have "e-paper" widely available by 2020, it changes this discussion.

Steve says everyone in this room needs to wake up the associations and get them more engaged in the role of the library as an institution. Unless that happens, we'll have a repeat of what happened in Salinas, where the library was shut down. This is a job for everyone here to carry back to the associations and be militant about it, so we don't become marginalized. Also, the library is an institution about learning and information, not limited to a type of material. It is a manifestation of how to organize and access information, whether it works with digital or print artifacts. Having said that, he thinks there will be a "pushing down" of librarianship into some institutions (like schools), and a pushing up into businesses--but the pain will be in the middle. That's where the impact of Google will be.

Abrams breaks in, and says Adam is an "immigrant" into the world of libraries. What does Adam think?

Adam responds by saying that just because everything is digital doesn't mean everything is good. (Um, yeah. This isn't news to anyone in this room.) Editorial control will still be relevant and important. How do we communicate what's good, when everyone's "good" is a little different. Hopefully the "truly good" will rise to the top.

Stephen points out that Google has two new patents for determining the "quality" of information. Asks Adam what the impact of that will be on libraries. Smith doesn't seem to really answer the question directly.

Audience questioner takes the room to task about the fact that we're taking this very lightly; also points out that many of the panel members have a vested interest in Google's success in this space. Barbara responds (again nearly unintelligible, but seems to be focused on serials).

Librarian from a small library says that his life isn't long enough to read what they already have, let alone adding so much more. How do we evaluate all that information? (I'd like to see more discussion of collaborative filtering here...) Mark responds that as a collection dev officer, they try to buy "all but the very worst books." Says in research libraries they've always operated on the "long tail" model--you can't anticipate what researchers might want, so you collect broadly to try to cover all the bases. Maintaining that physical collection is tremendously difficult, and makes it harder and harder to move forward.

An audience member asks about preservation...Adams quite appropriately points to the work being done by academic researchers in this area.

A couple of questions about digital rights management. One commenter says Michigan's agreement with google is quite impressive in this regard. (I'm starting to feel a little bad for him; the audience wants him to answer all of their questions about what they think is wrong with Google, and of course that's not fair for him.

I ask about the fear of a single source--Steve responds that there will be at least three companies that will do this, that the market will force this to happen. Google will be one, obviously. Yahoo is looking at this as well. MSFT will probably be in that space. There will not be a single source, no matter how hard anyone tries. That will be emergent--the market will accomplish that. (Barbara says we have three: open content alliance with Yahoo and whoever else joins, and Amazon, and Google.) Steve disagrees--he believes there will be three, and the only one we know for sure at this point is Google. Barbara responds that right now we do have three--digitization is coming from three players, not one. Roy points out that Yahoo is only one of many players in OCA.

And then, as if on cue...

Big Announcement The Open Content Alliance tonight had an official inaugural event in San Francisco--and at the reception it was announced that Microsoft is joining the alliance, and is funding the digitization of 150K books over the next year. Microsoft's contribution will be known as MSN Book Search.

Smith's response: Google absolutely welcomes Microsoft's participation in OCA, because it's all about making the world a better place.

Some discussion about what will happen to the physical artifacts? Who will take responsibility for ensuring that the books themselves continue to exist? Will they be lost in the digital shuffle?

Roy: Librarians still have a lot to learn about Google. And Google still has a lot to learn about libraries. (he gets some applause on this)

[Oy. I'm tired. There are other things being said, but I'm no longer able to listen and process and type. Sorry.]

microsoft "search champs"

On Sunday I'm leaving for a short trip to Redmond, where I'll be part of a new advisory group ("Search Champs") that Microsoft is forming to provide feedback on their search engine development.

Back when I was more active in the library profession, I once heard a wonderful conference talk by Herb White. He was bemoaning the trend in libraries to teach end-users how to do complex online searching so that they'd discover "the joy of searching." "I have no joy of searching," he said. "I have joy of finding!"

Those of us who chose to go to library school really are different from most other people, in that we do have "joy of searching"'s the hunt that's fun for us, not the catch. We're like the housecat that triumphantly drops the dead mouse on the doorstep--we don't want to consume it, we just want to show you how good we are at tracking it down. So I'm not the typical search engine user. I'm interested in the high-end functionality, the little-known tips and tricks that let you find elusive materials quickly.

I'll be curious to see who else turns up in this "search champ" group. They aren't releasing the names before we arrive (privacy issues, apparently, though the privacy will be moot once we all meet face to face...), so I have no idea who they're targeting for advice. (If you're going, feel free to "out" yourself here!) I'm not 100% sure how I ended up on the list, though I suspect that Scoble may have had something to do with it, since he was copied on my original invitation.

There's an NDA involved in this, natch, but I'll blog what aspects of it I can without violating any confidentiality. Process, at least, if not content. Oh...and I do tentatively plan to hit the Redmond/Seattle-area blogger meetup next Tuesday night.

libraries and standards

Dorothea has a curmudgeonly post today about what she sees as the absence of librarians in the technical standards community.

She's says she might be wrong--and she is. So here's my curmudgeonly response. :)

There are many, many librarians and libraries involved in technical standards development and implementation. For goodness sake, who do you think developed the Dublin Core?

Making generalizations about the library profession based on one academic library is a bit like making generalizations about the web development profession based on one development firm. People with an interest in standards tend to cluster, and there are plenty of places in library land to find them:

  • OCLC, of course. (Based in Dublin, Ohio, for those not familiar with them...which is how the Dublin Core got its name.) Take a look at some of the research initiatives they're involved with, most (if not all) of which have librarians in key positions.
  • The Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), a deeply library-focused organization formed jointly by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and EDUCAUSE. Its founder, the late Paul Peters, was one of my most-favorite library people. And its current director, Cliff Lynch, is a near legend in the library technology field. Take a look at their current projects
  • The Open Archives Initiative--check out the number of library folks on their Technical Committee
  • The NISO OpenURL committee, based at CalTech's library.

I know there have been librarians on a variety of IETF and W3C committees, as well, but I don't have time to look all of that up. My guess is that some of my regular library community readers will add some of that in my comments section.

everyone should have a library to love

Torill Mortensen writes this lovely ode to a childhood librarian:

I think everybody should have a library close by, a library to love.

However, much as I love the librarians at the library here in Volda, not many come up against the librarian of my childhood.


It was the first hint that people valued the reading of books, and the reading of books in a certain order. It was also the first time an adult had encouraged me to read a book since I had learned to read. And it was the first time I understood the power of librarians. Since then I have worshipped them.

I wonder if every academic has one of these larger-than-life librarian stories in their childhood. For me, it was the librarian at the Eastham Public Library in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The picture on their web site shows the front of the library, which used to be the sum total of the place--a small, weathered Cape Cod building. In recent years it's been expanded, but they've retained the original front building.

Every summer when I was a kid we'd spend the last two weeks of August vacationing in Eastham. And as strong as my memories of beach and sun and salt spray are my memories of that little library, and of the grandmotherly librarian who--mirabile dictu!--remembered me every year when I returned. I'd walk in the front door, she'd smile in recognition, and immediately steer me to new books in my favorite series (I loved series books. From Cherry Ames, Nancy Drew, and The Happy Hollisters to The Prydain Chronicles and The Dark is Rising. I read so quickly, even as a child, that series books allowed me to prolong the narrative in a much more satisfying way than stand-alone novels.)

That's not why I went to library school, but it's definitely the archetypal image that I hold in my head about libraries and librarians. And I worry that my kids won't have that experience, as libraries move inexorably online, and virtual reference and Amazon recommendations replace the warmth and sense of belonging that the librarian in Eastham gave me every summer.

fall frenzy

This is a crazy quarter in terms of traveling. Normally I don't travel much, if at all, during the academic year (except during breaks). But this quarter, I have three back-to-back trips in October and November. So today has been travel arrangement day. :P

October 16-19 I'll be at the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) annual conference in Toronto, where I'll be on a blog-related panel that Alex Halavais put together. Minor detail...I need to write the paper. Ack. (It's based on some earlier work I did related to Usenet, so I'm not at ground zero. But I'm still a little panicked.)

October 26-28 I'll be at a workshop in Albuquerque, NM, for PIs (principal investigators) in NSF's ITWF program. Everyone who's gotten research money over the past few years from that program will be there to talk about their research and share ideas, results, etc. I'm excited about this, because it's a great opportunity to get to know other researchers in the area of women and computing. However, because of the spam filtering problem I mentioned yesterday, I didn't know I had to prepare a 5 page summary paper--which is due Monday.

November 2-4 I'll be at the Internet Librarian conference in Monterey, CA, where I'll be on a keynote panel on blogging "Top Tech Trends for Libraries" (sort of a 'do-over' of the ALA panel I was on, but sharing the podium with new people), and then doing a separate presentation on "Beyond Blogging." I'm way behind on getting the paperwork done for that, too. (If y'all are reading this, I am coming. Really. I promise I'll have everything filled out and sent back by the end of this weekend!)

All that has to be balanced with MW afternoon teaching schedule. I really don't feel good about missing more than two classes a quarter (it's only a ten-week quarter, so there are only 20 class meetings). So that means rushing home on Tuesday the 28th and Tuesday the 4th (including a red-eye flight home for the latter), so that I can make it to my Wednesday 2pm class.

Which is a very roundabout way of saying don't be surprised if blogging falters a little during the next couple of weeks. That's a lot of stuff to prepare for.

ala conference: top tech trends panel

For the past several years, I've been mostly an in-name-only member of the Library & Information Technology Association's "Top Technology Trend Experts." Since I was actually at ALA this year, however, I participated in the panel discussion. The first time I did this, 4-5 years ago, it was a lot like a committee meeting, and there were more experts in the meeting room than audience members. This year, however, we filled our 300-person meeting room in the convention center, then opened the panels to the room next door and filled it, as well. Guess people are hungry for information on new technologies!

As predicted, there was no wifi to be found, so I didn't bother bringing my computer. Instead, I took notes the old-fashioned way, on tiny pads of paper stolen from hotel meeting rooms.

ala conference: govt info tech

A colleague and I have been talking recently with people at the US Government Printing Office (GPO) about using technologies like XML, XSLT, and OpenURL to enhance archiving of and access to government publications. That's why I had several govt document related meetings on my ALA schedule.

The GITCO meeting included a discussion led by the GPO Superintendent of documents, Judy Russell, on the growing problem of "aging and aged" CD-ROM products. While this includes aging media, the larger problem is aging software. Many (if not most) early CDROM products used proprietary disc-based software to provide access to data (like dBase, for example). But as OS environments evolve, these programs stop working. Emulation of older OS's is a short-term solution, but that doesn't scale or endure well.

Clearly, the current move towards separation of content (data) and presentation (software/access) in publishing will help to prevent this in the future. But the problem of what to do with what's already out there is a big one.

live from toronto

Moblogging on my Sidekick from the ALA conference. No WiFi to be found outside of coffeeshops, alas. Will probably switch to offline notetaking for sessions, since I hate thumb-typing.

Nearly done with my latest women and tech rant. Will post it later today.

ala plans

For my use more than my readers', here are my plans for the upcoming ALA conference. (Makes more sense to put it in the blog where I can quickly get to it than to put it on my desktop in yet another text file.)

Saturday, 6/21, 9:30am-12:30pm (Sheraton - Essex)
How is federal government information reaching the public in the 21st Century?

Saturday, 6/21, 2-5:30pm (Hilton - Tom Thomson)
Federal Documents Task Force Meeting
U.S. Government Printing Office Update with Sheila McGarr, Tad Downing and others, followed by a Census Bureau briefing from Andrea Sevetson. Also: a progress report from the FDTF work group on Permanent Public Access to Government Information and a final hour of discussion on hot topics of the day, including Canadian partnerships and future FDTF activism.

Sunday, 6/22, 2-5:30pm (Marriott Courtyard - Courtyard A)
Gov't Information Technology Committee
GITCO will discussing ongoing projects such as the Census 2000 Toolbox, the "Tech Watch" column, and e-competencies. There will also be a Census update and discussion of future projects.

Sunday, 6/22, 4-5:30pm (MTCC-801B)
Top Technology Trends: A Conversation with LITA Experts
LITA experts discuss current and future top technology trends Panel moderated by David Ward.

Monday, 6/23, 8:30-10am (MTCC-Auditorium)
Cliff's Notes 2003
Clifford Lynch, Director of the Coalition for Networked Information, will highlight technology and information policy trends and developments from his unique point of view.

Monday, 6/23, 10:30-12 (MARB-Forest Hill BR)
The Library as Electronic Publisher: New Models of Dissemination of Scholarship
Many libraries are involved in digital publicaton projects that will help scholars independently disseminate knowledge. These projects rely on sophisticated software and systems architecture as well as the strategic positioning of libraries in the publication process. This program will describe the technological implementation and management of library scholarly publishing programs and demonstrate the challenges and opportunities of different approaches.

library weblog links

I'm going to use this post to aggregate links to some library-related weblogs that I'll be talking about at ALA next weekend. Unlike most of my posts, this one will be regularly edited/updated, rather than static--at least until the conference. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list...for that, try the DMOZ list of LIS Blogs, which had 224 listed at last count. Also, links are in no particular order, at present. (That may change.)

The Shifted Librarian (Jenny Levine)

The ∏ber-librarian of blogaria, Jenny Levine is the only "A-List" librarian blogger I know of. She works for the Suburban Library Service outside of Chicago, and blogs about a variety of library and library-tech topics. (Jessamyn West)

She says she's a "non-librarian" now, but I'm firmly convinced that once you're a librarian, you're always a librarian. "Non-practicing librarian" might be a better description. :) Jessamyn writes about librarianship, though. And she mentions my old LITA friend Karen Schneider in her blog, which makes her okay by me!

Commons-blog (ALA)

From the description: "commons-blog is an American Library Association site collecting news, discussion, and commentary related to the information commons in theory and practice."

The Rogue Librarian (Carrie Bickner)

Assistant Director for Digital Information and System Design at NYPL's Digital Library. Bickner is also active in the web standards arena, working regularly with the infamous Zeldman, and writing for publications ranging from Library Journal to A List Apart.

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