Tuesday, March 25, 2008

bibliographic utility computing

As OCLC re-invents itself from a staid bibliographic utility to a company that can provide "next generation" library services, it's funny how that old fashioned term "utility" takes on a new meaning.

I was at the Orbis Cascade Alliance Council meeting last week as the group was discussing the possiblity of a partnership with OCLC for a group catalog on the WorldCat.org platform. As I reflected on the consortium's potential move from an isolated, server based union catalog, to one that lives in the cloud I thought about how this decision parallels those that many organizations will be making in the next few years as they make what Nick Carr has dubbed, The Big Switch to utility style computing. OCLC likes to call this "moving to the network level," but I think it's also just as much a move to "cloud" or utility style computing.

I'd heard most of what the OCLC sales force had to say at the meeting before. But one thing that struck me was how they explained the point of worldcat.org. OCLC believes that libraries need a "presence" on the web like EBay, Amazon, or Google. And that presence needs to be two-way, meaning users interact with the site and their interaction improves it.

If WorldCat is able to become a real "presence", maybe more database vendors will be open to representing their content in it and it will become a federated search killer. Maybe libraries can have more control over the digital content they give their users vs. just sending them off to an external, commercial website.

Where does local customization and control play in this potential juggernaut? Hopefully OCLC will keep opening up their APIs, and let libraries still have the ability to customize their own records in various ways.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Introducing accessCeramics

Our Flickr-based database of contemporary ceramics images is up and running at accessceramics.org.

We're now at the stage where we are working with invited artists to submit images.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Wikipedia's internal dilemma

between inclusionists and deletionists is discussed in the Economist.

Google Sites

As mentioned previously in this blog, as former JotSpot users, we've been eagerly awaiting Google's re-release of the JotSpot wiki technology. Well, it just happened with the release of Google Sites.

Google is only releasing Sites as part of their Google Apps for Enterprise suite, so it was a little hard for us to access it, being a department in a larger organization. Our IT sysadmin had signed us up for Google Apps for Education (just to trial it), so I had to contact him to enable access, which fortunately wasn't a problem.

We may try out sites for our departmental intranet, which serves to manage policies, procedures, etc. for the library.

Sites is a fairly nice, easy to use wiki, definitely up a level from early wiki software. It allows for very modular page layout with easy insertion of widgets like Google Gadgets or spreadsheets, documents, and presentations from Google Docs.

The feature set strikes me as fairly basic however. It really does not aspire to be the "programmable wiki" that JotSpot did. With JotSpot, you could basically create these little database-backed applications with some pseudo-programming.

Another thing that's a little disappointing is the lack of integration with Google Docs...it's easy to post a Google Doc or spreadsheet on your page, but you have to copy the url to it and it can't be edited right there within the page if you want it to.

The access control options are pretty limited, too. We have parts of our intranet that we'd like to wall off from the rest of the world and parts we'd like to show off. With sites, access is controlled at the level of the whole web site. We thought that we might work around this with access control on individual Google Docs.

There are plenty of up-and-coming wiki options out there like Wet Paint, but I have a feeling we may go with Google Sites because we're enjoying Google Docs so much and it's nice to have things in the same ecosystem. Funny, Google is managing to make this web-ecosystem application tie-in that might be called similar to Microsoft's desktop and Office strategy. And it seems to be sort of working.

Currently we use an old fashioned static web site with Macromedia Contribute editing software for our staff web site/intranet. I'm thinking the advantages of Google Sites would be:
  • moduler - we can drop dynamic elements like RSS feeds from basecamp project mangement right into our pages
  • easier to edit - wiki style, no filesystem confusion
  • search is included
  • integrated with Google Docs
  • access management may be easier than what we use now (Apache .htaccess)

code4lib presentation on Flickr/ceramics database

This is the code4lib lightning talk that Jeremy McWilliams and I did.

I'm including the first slide, which advertises our pretty well attended trail run up on Wildwood trail.

We're hoping that this project can demonstrate some of the advantages of using a digital asset management system "in the cloud," one that is part of a greater, participatory network.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

the global library catalog

Global approaches to the library catalog:
Which one will become the richest, most comprehensive and useful place to search for information in books?

the next generation library catalog phenomenon

When Casey Bisson gave an update of the Scriblio project as a lightning talk at code4lib last week, he made one comment that struck me: "Do we need another OPAC?" He was referring to the bevy of open source projects out there that support some kind of next generation search interfaces for library catalogs: eXtensible catalog, VUFind, FacBac, Scriblio, etc.

I recalled the first code4lib in 2006 when Casey's presentation on WPOPAC was one of the hot topics of the conference. NC State had just come out with their new Endeca based catalog then and people were pretty fired up about this idea of applying modern search features like faceting and relevance ranking to library catalog data.

Since then, many vendors and open source coders have jumped in to this area to make their play. Last year's code4lib conference also featured SOLR prominently and its potential role in the next generation OPAC.

I spent much of my time over the past couple years as Summit Catalog Committee Chair arguing for the need to move the Summit catalog over to a next generation platform. (Still hasn't happened.)

It's funny what a couple years can do. This area that was so cutting edge two years ago now seems overcrowded and almost passé.