Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Harvard Raises the Bars

One of the Harvard dormitories abruptly decided to bar their books. Nearly every shelf has two brass bars fixed to it lengthwise, preventing anyone from stealing the books on the shelf. Or, you know... reading them.

Apparently, some of the old, valuable books were being stolen, so the University needed a cheap way to secure the books. They've promised to move the less valuable books off the barred shelves. I can see bars being cheaper than chaining the books to the shelves, but I agree maybe some locked glass doors that a librarian could open would work well enough and actually allow the books to be read. I guess that doesn't happen with e-books.

The best part is how Harvard went about doing this without telling anyone they were going to. Like maybe the students wouldn't notice the brass bars or something, or would think the brass bar fairy left them there overnight.

Maybe the whole library was part of an elaborate heist and all the books on the barred shelves are just quick mock-ups, like furniture store displays! The university, having been robbed of millions of dollars worth of books, decides to save face by maintaining a ruse that the books are still there! I think I could almost respect that more than the real reasoning. Also, how cool a heist movie would that be?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Discovery Interface is Kind of a Crummy Name

Ever wish library catalogues worked more like Google*? You're not alone. Some libraries are trying to find better search software. More power to them! However, there are 'pockets of resistance':

'Some argue that new search products—sometimes called next-generation catalogs or discovery interfaces—amount to a dumbing-down of catalogs.'

What? A library catalogue that would help users actually find something? Horrors!

Very cool idea, but very expensive, and it seems another argument for librarians being computer savvy. (I don't mind that. I'm comfortable around computers. I think computers plus libraries equals brilliant.) Adjusting to a specific library's needs will require better strategies for organizing the information in the database and knowledge as to how to make the searches relevant. The article gives an example of how searching for a book on Thomas Jefferson got someone papers from a conference in Brazil. Not so useful.

Adjusting systems to specific needs instead of trying to cram it into the one-size-fits-all standard
isn't new; my current course instructor told us about a project organizing aviation materials. If it's all aviation, standard cataloguing doesn't work so well.

It seems that computer know-how is becoming a lot more important in the information sciences; I think programming experience could be of immense help and now I'm kind of interested in pursuing that avenue to help with my future librarianing.

* Again with the Google. I know.

Monday, September 28, 2009

UK Libraries and the Generation of Now Now Now

In a pleasant little news snippet, More than four thousand public libraries across the UK, Wales, and Northern Ireland now allow anyone with an existing library card or proof of address. If you have a library card in London, you can now use it in Cardiff and so on. (Assuming you want to go to London or Cardiff - any Doctor Who fan can tell you that's where all the aliens invade or attack or just horrible things in general happen.)

This is a pretty cool idea, and one I think will work. They're also considering allowing people to return the books at a library other than the one they took it from, the logistics of which make me twitch. If I'm looking for a book in Belfast, I really don't want to be told I have to go to Derry. I don't even like it if I have to go to two places in the same city. Does the second library ship it back to the library of origin? Is it limited to libraries in the same city?

The article mentions the system is very similar to British Colombia's existing BC OneCard. BC OneCard allows you to return a book in any participating BC OneCard library, which still makes me antsy about waiting times.

And really, isn't that a product of my generation? If I have to wait for anything, it's unbearable. Everything has to be instant or I'm unhappy. People used to (and still do) hand write letters and send them through the postal system. Now we're all about e-mail; we call regular old mail 'snail mail'. Even the instant world of computers and the internet make me fidget; my computer needs to load quickly. My connection speed has to be fast or I'm sitting there impatiently tapping my fingers and rolling my eyes. Maybe I should just slow down and read a book or something.

Internet Longevity and the Treehouse

Quentin Hardy writes for Forbes,

"If Google's actions seem entirely wrong, consider how we would feel if, in response to all the criticism, Google simply destroyed the 10 million-volume corpus. We would feel an almost irrevocable loss."

I would, I really would. I've only used Google Books once to poke around in it, but it's one of those things I intend to go back to, to poke at whenever the urge strikes. I think the immediate gut reaction to the notion of that database being erased is about on the same level as hearing about a fire in a library. The initial action, mind you. Buildings burning are lamentable in their own way as well.

Another part of me thinks that database that's already scanned in isn't going to go anywhere. One thing I liked about Tad Williams' Otherland series was its depiction of the Treehouse, a site with no set address, a networking of machines set up to be the last true place of freedom on the internet. Is the database too big to be stored elsewhere? I don't know. I just know that once something's out here, it seems like it's out here forever. And that is why I am very glad cell phones didn't have cameras when I was in high school, because the embarrassing stuff that happened to me that would have been captured and posted would never, ever go away. And that is why we all heed the tragedy of the Star Wars Kid.

As an aside, Jonathan Zittrain's TED Talk 'The Web as Random Acts of Kindness' mentioned that it's been agreed on not to post the real name of the Star Wars Kid on that Wikipedia article. You can find it easily enough, but just not on Wikipedia. The discussion page of the article points to a policy regarding the biographies of living persons.

"Wikipedia articles that present material about living people can affect their subjects' lives. Wikipedia editors who deal with these articles have a responsibility to consider the legal and ethical implications of their actions when doing so... Biographies of living persons must be written conservatively, with regard for the subject's privacy... This is of particularly profound importance when dealing with individuals whose notability stems largely from their being victims of another's actions. Wikipedia editors must not act, intentionally or otherwise, in a way that amounts to participating in or prolonging the victimization."

On the other hand, I bet 'Star Wars Kid' isn't even in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Insert Joke About Computer Bugs Here

The Denver Public Library has to destroy some its books. They were taken home by a man who scanned them for Project Gutenburg.

I have to wonder how Project Gutenburg, the first producer of free electronic books, feels about that whole Google Books project. A quick read of their news page doesn't mention much about Google, and nothing at all about Google Books. Will they combine? Has Project Gutenburg run into the same lawsuits? Doesn't seem like it.

In any case, that news article is about a man named Roger Goffeney who checks out books from the Denver Public Library to archive them online for Project Gutenburg. According to the article, Mister Goffeney's apartment is infested with 'bed bugs', and those bugs hitched a ride on the books he returned, causing the library to quarantine and fumigate. The library banned him and asked that he return the books in a secured drop. So this guy just dumps them back in the regular return slot, which causes the library to quarantine and fumigate again. The library is thinking of suing him for the cost of the books they've had to destroy. Mister Goffeney is thinking of suing the library to get his library privileges back. Yes, please, Roger. C'mon back in, grab some old books, get bugs in them. That will certainly help preserve the information contained in them. He just didn't think it would be a big deal to get rid of the bugs.

Apparently it's a very large deal. According to (horrors) Wikipedia, bed bugs can live up to eighteen months in isolation without food. That's a pretty long time to put books in quarantine, but maybe it's better than destroying them. On the other hand, bed bugs feed on humans and human waste and not stuff that's in books, so I'm wondering how much damage they've actually done. Seriously, I want to see. I'm like a twelve year old boy, if someone announces something is gross, I immediately want to see it and poke it with a stick. Luckily, I have the internet to provide gross stuff to look at, like this far-too-jaunty National Geographic video.

Maybe I shouldn't have done that before turning in for the night.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Google Book Search and Why I Still Haven't Seen Pulp Fiction

Google hatched a plan back in 2002 to scan books so they could be searched and read online. Not just some books: all of them.

My immediate reaction is that this is an awesome project. Think about it - the world's biggest library. The world's library. Everything you could read, online and waiting. Isn't that what a library is? Access to books and information? Libraries and the internet have already started holding hands. Is this the perfect marriage?

I can go to a library and take out any book for free. I don't have to pay for my library card. The library bought the book, or someone donated it but they bought the book, whatever - the book was paid for in some manner. Once the book is in the library, anyone with a card can take it out. This is true in tiny communities all the way up to big cities; anyone can take this book out provided they don't take it so far as to strand it far away from its library home. I've never heard of an author having any problem with this, but then again, I haven't looked.

I've never heard of authors complaining about people lending their books to their friends. The friend doesn't buy a copy, so just like the library, the author doesn't get any cash from it. That's still okay. So where's the point where it's not okay to pass books around without paying for them? When the books travel between cities? Can they only go X number of miles?

Authors should be paid for their works. Authors are often a struggling lot to begin with; they put in work, they should be paid so they can do things like, say, eat. Or sleep somewhere warm and dry. Maybe even get a new shirt every once in a while, that kind of thing. We all agree on that. We all agree that libraries are good things, too, so at what point does it become wrong to distribute those books for free?

Musicians have had this problem ever since someone came up with file sharing. I always hear differing reports: either the music industry is crashing because of people downloading music, or it's actually pretty much doing the same. I like to think it's doing about the same, but I don't have the facts on that one and I'm not sure I'd trust anyone who said they did. I know I was very pleased when iTunes started selling single tracks for ninety-nine cents. I could preview it for thirty seconds, which was often enough even if it wasn't perfect, and it was still better than buying a CD for one track I knew I liked and thirteen others I had no idea about. It's convenient, and I buy a lot more music than I used to because of it. iTunes can be dangerous; ninety-nine cents adds up quickly.

I don't have to buy music. I have the ability to go find a torrent site, look up what I want, and just take it for free. It's illegal, but I can do it. I have a responsibility not to do that, a responsibility to pay for things I take. This paying thing makes it possible for the people who make the music to eat, sleep in warm places, and sometimes get a new shirt. That's how it should be.

I guess what puzzles me is where the line is for books. I don't agree with authors being denied money for their work. I don't like that there are some books I can never read. I don't even like it when I try to rent a movie at the store and they don't have it. If it's not new, it's just not there, and that bugs me. Some of us haven't seen Pulp Fiction yet. I would hate for it to become difficult to read a book just because it wasn't new. More difficult, anyway. Some of those suckers are out of print and I'd have to scour second hand book stores in cities far larger than the one I live in. So Google books would be good, right? Yes. And no. Maybe. I'm not the only one having a hard time deciding.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jimmy Wales' Wikipedia TED Talk

Jimmy Wales is the creator of Wikipedia - or at least the base concept. In this 2005 TED talk, he talks about how Wikipedia came to be, how it operates, and how many people the non-profit organization WikiMedia employs: one. He's the lead software developer and he's only been employed there since January 2005. Everyone else is a volunteer, a random person on the internet who contributes simply because they care.

Also noteworthy: Jonathan Zittrain's TED Talk 'The Web as Random Acts of Kindness'. The Wikipedia content starts at around 9:15, but it's all good.

Wikipedia is Slowing Down and Pasqualina Is a Fine Irish Name

TIME Magazine has an article about Wikipedia: Is Wikipedia a Victim of Its Own Success? The article states in early 2007, Wikipedia no longer grew exponentially. Considered a blip at the time, it's clear now in 2009 that something new is happening.

Whenever I have to explain Wikipedia, I say something along the lines of, 'It's an online encyclopedia that anyone can edit.' It's not just anybody editing it any more; now it seems like it's pretty much a bunch of young white guys with undergrads in wealthy countries. That isn't exactly startling for any online site. Wikipedia meant to have a far larger scope of contributors. The article states that women, for example, are only 13% of the contributors. I have to wonder if the article kept in mind the ability to mask gender on the internet. I know I've posed as male numerous times in order to be treated differently, though more so fourteen years ago than today, and more than a few of my handles have been gender-neutral.

"In Wikipedia's early days, every new addition to the site had a roughly equal chance of surviving editors' scrutiny. Over time, though, a class system emerged; now revisions made by infrequent contributors are much likelier to be undone by elite Wikipedians."

Very true. Sometimes it's hard to make edits. I have a first-hand experience with this.

I am remotely related to a Canadian hockey player; his mother is my father's cousin. My grandfather and his brother married two sisters from the same family. I've met everyone in question; my branch is where the non-Italian folk start creeping in. (That would be my mother.) One day I decided to look my relative up and was surprised.

"His father is an Italian immigrant who moved to Montreal in 1979 and works in the construction and delivery of furniture, while his mother is an Irish-Canadian who works in marketing with Air Canada." I don't know if she works for Air Canada. I could probably find out, but I do know she doesn't have a drop of Irish blood in her. Not a drop. Her name is Pasqualina. She's from as close to the same stock as my father without actually being his sister. I've met her, I've hugged her, I've spoken with her, and I'm pretty sure if you mentioned that she was Irish-Canadian on Wikipedia, she'd give you a very strange look.

'How strange,' I thought to myself. 'I guess I'd better correct this.' So I made an edit. I didn't even make the edit in the article, just the discussion of the article. Wikipedia only trusts 'reliable sources'. Now, without going through an epic rigamarole to prove who I was (possibly requiring a photo with said hockey player's wedding invite to our family plus wedding favour crystal clock, which would even then not be conclusive but would be incredibly tacky), I had no way of proving who I was. Therefore, the New York times - the publisher of the article this tidbit of information on the wiki page was gleaned from - was more reliable than me, even though they'd made a mistake. And how do you fix that, really? Years later, do you contact the New York Times and mention, oh, hey, that story you wrote on that hockey player, his mother's not Irish? So there it is, this glaring (to me, at least, and apparently to a couple of other posters on the discussion page) mistake set there until someone writes an article with the correct information - and that source better be more 'reliable' than the New York Times. Yeah, that's gonna need at least two articles from different sources to get changed, and even then I foresee a debate.

I am more reliable than the New York Times! On that subject, at least. It's just no one on Wikipedia will believe me. Is that wrong? No. On the internet, I can say I'm related to Barack Obama and no one is required to believe me. Nor should they, since he is not related to any Canadian hockey players like I am.

Do I still like Wikipedia? Yes. Definitely. I love the whole concept. I know when there is a breaking news story, like a shooting at a university, I can look it up on Wikipedia and get very regular, often first-hand updates far ahead of the standard news media. And there's a personal note, too, that someone very much like me is out there experiencing this and typing it out to inform others. I find it remarkable how regular people are now, with the help of digital and cell-phone cameras and videos, becoming reporters, first on the scene because they are at the scene. That's amazing.

Do people get things wrong? Of course. Any time you use Wikipedia as a source, you'd better double-check it with something else to make sure you're not repeating a mistake. You apparently run the same risk using the New York Times, too, but at least they're easier to quote in a bibliography.

As for whether or not this two-year-plus lull is a sign that Wikipedia is dying, I highly doubt it. The reason it's more accepted as a source now is because that big boom in the beginning already happened and has tapered off. As long as new things keep happening, getting discovered, getting re-discovered, Wikipedia will grow. Or maybe it won't, and it'll be like that old set of encyclopedias down in my basement, out of date but still useful for older subjects. Down in my basement, for example, Pluto is still a planet.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Big Brother: Amazon Remotely Deletes 1984 From Kindles: Kindle users woke up one morning to discover their copies of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm missing with nary a trace. Amazon had pulled the e-books from their customer's e-readers and credited said user's accounts with the price of the books.

It's pretty hilarious in a sad way that this happened with 1984 of all books. 1984 was written by George Orwell back in 1949. It did not predict leg warmers, but it did paint a picture of a future in which everything people said or did was monitored and information was constantly being changed and redacted. There was also New Speak, which were new words made up like DOUBLEPLUSUNGOOD. It's an interesting read.

People compare Amazon's move to sneaking into their homes and stealing a book off their shelves while leaving a cheque on the table. Amazon caved to a publisher that decided against providing an electronic version of their book and... hoped no one would notice? Maybe. They could have at least left a note with the cheque, after all. That was the first news story I read about digital books that twigged my interest.

Next up: A private school in Massachusetts decides to get rid of all their books in favour of e-books. They not only got rid of the books and replaced them with e-readers - the Headmaster thought books were 'outdated technology' - they also decided to put in some TVs and a pricey coffee bar as well, because that's just what you need around expensive electronics: beverages.

So is this the way of the future? Will traditional libraries be replaced by digital ones? No, I don't think so. It might work for Cushing because Cushing has money. Sharing eighteen e-readers (Kindles and Sonys) seems pretty stupid; however, every student at Cushing has a laptop. When I mentioned this story to my mother, she blandly added, "They probably have two, in different colours." So if everybody has a laptop, everybody can access this library. All good, right?

As long as the format for e-books remains reliable, they should be fine. Personally, I remember replacing my cassette tapes with CDs and my VHS movies with DVDs; before that, my parents were replacing records and 8-Tracks with cassette tapes and debating whether they should buy a VHS or BETA player. All this change took place over a relatively short period of time, and technology keeps changing. My friends are replacing their favourite movies on DVD with the new Blu-Ray versions. I intend to sit it out and wait until I'm sure Blu-Ray is sticking around a while, but I only got rid of the last of my videotapes earlier this year. (A guy named Donald Smith mentions format changes in the comments section of one Cushing story. He seems pretty impressive, which is why I'm going to try to use his comment as a primary source in the assignment I'm turning in on Cushing's decision for my class.)

Part of me, the part that has to salvage information from my freshly-wrecked hard drives every few years, wonders where the copies are 'stored'. I don't have an e-reader of my own, so I don't know how it works. I know that when I buy a song with iTunes, I'm only allowed to authorize a finite number of computers to play it. That bugs me a lot, since I figure it's my property and I should be able to do what I want with it. (So I make back ups, converting the format from m4p to mp3 so it, uh... all has the same format.) Blah blah blah related topic but back to the original. How many downloads does the school get to have? I assume they're going to keep it in some central database, hopefully with backups. It'd be a shame to lose all that due to a misplaced magnet. (Not that a fridge magnet is going to do damage.)

Would it work for other schools and libraries? Probably not, no. An important concept of public libraries is the accessibility of their information, meant to lessen the divide between the haves and the have-nots. Not everyone has a laptop. Many libraries now have computers for use, but it's like sharing around those eighteen e-readers: the main content of a library is still going to be the physical books. The technology needed to read a traditional book hasn't changed in centuries, though it has evolved things braille and audiobooks that help the sight-impaired enjoy books. Maybe digital books are good for the paper-impaired.

An Introduction


I am currently a part-time student of library sciences. Previously, I took welding courses. Somewhere along the line, I'm going to have to decide which career path to take. I am twenty-eight years old, a brunette, and hopefully interesting.

It's been a long time since I last confessed blogged.