Monday, June 25, 2007

Needham talk

Inside Higher Ed has some coverage of OCLC VP's George Needham's advice to librarians for accommodating "digital natives". They include...

  • Avoid implying to students that there is a single, correct way of doing things.
  • Offer online services not just through e-mail, but through instant messaging and text messaging, which many students prefer.
  • Hold LAN parties, after hours, in libraries. (These are parties where many people bring their computers to play computer games, especially those involving teams, together.)
  • Schedule support services on a 24/7/365 basis, not the hours currently in use at many college libraries, which were “set in 1963.”
  • Remember that students are much less sensitive about privacy issues than earlier generations were and are much more likely to share passwords or access to databases.
  • Look for ways to involve digital natives in designing library services and even providing them. “Expertise is more important than credentials,” he said, even credentials such as library science degrees.
  • Play more video games.
Most of these suggestions strike me as obvious, unoriginal or pointless. We've been hearing about how 24/7 chat reference is important for almost a decade and at least at our library, nobody ever used it.

One point he makes which deserves emphasis is understanding that folks like to jump in and experiment with applications before reading manuals or help sheets. Then again, hasn't it always been the case that people (particularly men) never read the manual? I know it was true of me when I got our new BBQ grill a few weeks ago. If it weren't for my wife, I would have fired it up with pieces of plastic packaging still inside the grill.

The reporter notes that librarians in attendance were "taking furious notes."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

online sales growth slowing

The growth in online retail seems to be slowing, according to the NYT:

Perhaps a reminder that a place-based experience remains quite important.

Somewhere in the article it says that online makes up a total of 5% of all retail. Seems like such a tiny portion, but I supposed that when you consider that there are lots of large ticket purchases (refridgerators, TVs, plants) that most folks are not likely to make online.

Personally, I dislike shopping in person (except in rare cases where there's some kind of interesting gadget involved) so I'm doing everything I can to push those numbers up. My wife on the other hand...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mossberg on centralized IT

The Chronicle of Higher Ed reports that the Wall St. Journal's technology columnist Walter Mossberg had this to say about centralized IT departments:
...he began his speech by calling the information-technology departments of large organizations, including colleges, "the most regressive and poisonous force in technology today."

They make decisions based on keeping technology centralized, he said. Although lesser-known software may be better, he said, technology departments are likely to use big-name products for their own convenience. That may keep costs down for an organization, he said. But it puts consistency above customization, preventing individuals from exploring what technology products are best suited to their own needs.

And change is coming, he said, whether IT departments can keep up or not.
This was part of a speech that also emphasized the declining importance of the personal computer.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Photosynth demo

This is a pretty amazing demo of a technology called "photosynth" that brings together photos of something by analyzing them.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Google Digitization and the CIC

Well, I'm glad to hear that Google is moving quickly with the big consortium of university libraries in the Midwest to do more digitization. The ivory towers on the coasts can't have all the fun, right? My academic home, is of course, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and I grew up in Minnesota, so I have a soft spot for this group of libraries.

This time around they are doing selective digitization, based on collection strengths. On their press release page, they offer a description of collection strengths, which I found interesting. Nortwestern U has a big collection of Africana, for example. I was a little nostalgic noting that one of University of Wisconsin's great strengths is European History and Social Sciences. The beauty of studying modern German history there was that if you were looking for any book on Germany published in US or Europe within a certain timeframe (the 1950s-1970s I think) you could practically count on it being there. The comprehensiveness of the collection seemed to diminish as you hit the eighties and tighter university budgets took effect.

One thing not to overlook here is that this goes far beyond English-language content; these books will be useful well-beyond the English speaking world. There is going to be tons and tons of non-English material in this collection. I can recall shelves and shelves of books in Polish, Chinese, Russian, German, French, etc. wandering Memorial Library stacks in Madison. I imagine that American university libraries are the most effective place to start for collections that span the world's corpus of written works.

Lorcan Dempsey sees this as a big step. He rightly points out that with this comprehensive data, Google is going to be able to build services that no one else can:

However, as we are beginning to see on Google Book Search, we are really going beyond 'retrieval as we have known it' in significant ways. Google is mining its assembled resources - in Scholar, in web pages, in books - to create relationships between items and to identify people and places. So we are seeing related editions pulled together, items associated with reviews, items associated with items to which they refer, and so on. As the mass of material grows and as approaches are refined this service will get better. And it will get better in ways that are very difficult for other parties to emulate.
By "other parties" I think we can read OCLC, who is doing their best to leverage all of the data in WorldCat to develop structured relationships between intellectual works, their authors, and subjects. Will Google learn to do FRBR before OCLC does?

The libraries that are party to this deal get to keep the digitize texts and do their own things with it. Will this give these big universities a "strategic advantage" over some of their competitors? Does this mean that size still can matter in the networked environment? This reminds me a little of the NITLE initiative, the original intent of which was to overcome the disadvantage of small sized liberal arts Colleges in the information technology arena. Here's an example of an area in which us small folks can't compete--we just don't have much unique material in our libraries. But I guess the point is that everyone can access this stuff to some extent through Google.

Monday, June 4, 2007

tweaking Google search

NYT has a nice piece that goes inside Google's 'inner sanctum': the search quality department. It gives you some illustration of how worked-through search is in Google, and how far ahead of the competition that they are.

At one point, they discuss the impressions of a recent recruit from Amazon to the department:

When he arrived and began to look inside the company’s black boxes, he says, he was surprised that Google’s methods were so far ahead of those of academic researchers and corporate rivals.

“I spent the first three months saying, ‘I have an idea,’ ” he recalls. “And they’d say, ‘We’ve thought of that and it’s already in there,’ or ‘It doesn’t work.’ ”

I think the best thing that we can do in academic libraries is try to co-opt this technology for our more focused purposes. I hope Google can keep their systems open enough for us to do this.

One small way we're thinking about doing this is including Google Book Search results on our OPAC search results page using their AJAX search API. Here's hoping that they soon add Scholar support for the search API.

Friday, June 1, 2007

future of textbooks

A government report on the future of textbooks proposes a new model for assembling copyrighted study material for courses. According to the Chronicle of Higher Ed., the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance,
proposes the creation of a "national digital marketplace" that would allow instructors to select and students to buy custom-designed texts -- a chapter from one book, a case study from another -- while protecting fair-use allowances and publishers' copyrights.
This could effectively replace much of library course reserves as we know it. Yet another example of "taking it to the network level." This time, it's nice to see it coming from a group concerned about reducing costs for students.