Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Google working on images

Today I was randomly looking for chamber of commerce signs online. You know--the decal ones that people used to put on their storefront windows. Maybe they still do. But they aren't taking photos of them...at least from my 2 minute search. But what did come up was interesting--the Google Image Labeler.
It's basically a game that you can play, to tag images with a random other person who happens to be online. You get points for all your tags. I don't know what you do with your points...maybe redeem in the Google merchandise store?

This Image Labeler game, plus the article in the NYTimes about the Automated Image search, makes me think that Google has the hots for images right now.

Of course, the two efforts are probably not related at all, except by proximity in my own mind...the automated image search is geared for products. The labeler might be for something else entirely. And they're going about it completely different ways.

Distributed cataloging, anyone? Maybe we should add some gaming aspects to Connexion for all the Gen Y'ers coming up through the ranks.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

working knowledge

I am an online community builder for librarians. In short, my job, my actual job, is to help librarians find and connect with each other online. I've said many times that I think I have the best job in library land. Sometimes, honestly, like today, it's not all that. It's not that I get discouraged, though sometimes that happens too, as I'm sure happens in the course of many of our day-to-days, but rather that I find my job very, very difficult. Head. Banging. Against a Wall. Difficult.

The parts that are most challenging for me have to do with resources. In our environment, as in most, resources are limited, and even though my particular project is considered well-funded, and indeed we are, it is a constant struggle to align those resources towards absolute efficiency and effectiveness. Of course, resources aren't just the dollars. There's also our time and our staff. I work really hard, and I know the team that I work with works really hard, to try and make the best decisions that we can about how to line things up effectively. Still, things are changing around us so rapidly. The plans we make are almost never exactly manifested. We always dream much bigger than we're able to implement. We always want to do more than we're able to in a day. By the time we're implementing there are three, five, or ten more things we wish we would have known. How can we be more clever? do this smarter? start that sooner? (And I'm not even really talking about the technology here. I'm talking more generally, about every aspect of the work.)

The other thing is that everybody cares so much about this work. In some ways I think it's a burden to feel so passionately about libraries and community. I often wonder if caring about the work as much makes me less effective. Am I missing something by taking things as seriously? How can I infuse humor, light, and even some degree of dispassion into my work so that I can be as personally nimble as the technologies I use and advocate for?

One of the best books I've read on libraries and change is "The Thriving Library" by Marylaine Block. I love this book. She outlines the things that "thriving" libraries are doing - not as a recipe, but as an example of some things that we can draw into our own libraries and communities. Come to think of it, Robert Putnam does the same thing in his work "Better Together" where he looks at successful community building projects and says 'here are a few things that work. it's not a recipe. just something to think about. something to try.'

So fine, there's no recipe. There's no perfect process, no perfect "plan for results". I think I can deal with that. And maybe things get easier as you gain experience and move through your career, (and perhaps that's another story). In all, I'd still say I have the best job EVER. I even know somewhere that the fact that it's difficult for me, that I'm constantly feeling like I'm new at this and that there's a lot to learn, is part of the reason it's such a great job for me.

But maybe tomorrow could be easier. Maybe tomorrow my cleverness could just swoop in and *poof!* solve the tough questions currently in front of me. Shoot, it wouldn't even have to be my cleverness. It could be yours. Please?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Alarm when your library is too loud?

Boisterous talk over at the Chronicle Wired Campus this morning about the potential of an alarm/flashing lights in academic libraries when the decibel level gets too loud.

To me, this seems like overkill. But then again I wouldn't want to go around shushing any more than anyone else. So maybe you can establish the top floor/West wing, etc. as the group study/open talk area...and the rest of the building can be a quieter zone?

An alarm would seem more obtrusive, to me. But I do remember well from my student days, the intercom to tell us that the library was closing in 15 minutes. Could you simply use it?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Today's most e-mailed article from the Chronicle of Higher Education

"Snacks in the Stacks: Libraries Welcome Food Amid the Books." (It's
No lie, that was the number one e-mailed article.

I don't know whether to be happy or sad about this fact.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What am I doing?

As much as I enjoy the notions that OCLC is the Death Star, that we who work here dress funny, or that we're poor civilian contractors, I enjoy it ever so much more when somebody actually gets it. (Thanks to my colleagues for pointing this out on our team's delicious feed. Follow along if you'd like to know what we're reading online.)

Meanwhile, I have been very slammed with getting myself back into a worky work type of head space. Some days it's hard to do even though I remain very excited about what I'm working on; difficult because my library land self is stuck back at ALA 2007. It's like I've been time-warped to the present, I'm actively trying to catch up *and* keep up, not to mention try and lead something. Specifically, I'm helping to get a new group of WebJunction staff settled, working very hard on our new, very exciting, and altogether networky platform (coming later this summer, more on that later), and finally, as Alice mentioned, getting ready for Anaheim. Will be my first time out in library land since last year. I'm hoping I remember what to wear. Either way, I'll be there, and hopefully, really, truly be "back" to library land by that time as well.

That all being as it is, I sometimes find it difficult to know what, exactly, to blog about. Maybe I've lost my blogging groove. To bridge the gap while I find it again, I've added my twitter feed to the lower right hand side bar of our trusty It's All Good site. If I'm not blogging, you'll at least know where I appeared last. I'm here! Really, I am. And guess what else? I'm "doing" something! You can follow my tweets on the web, via RSS, or text "follow itgirl" to 40404.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


We've just been talking about fun activities we've got up our sleeves for ALA Annual. Booth contests, the blog salon, and the 5 of us all at the LITA President's program. Very fun--I am getting excited already.

I also saw that you can buy passes for Disneyland or Disney's California Adventure for at least $10 off the regular price. Cool.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Economic downturn could be uplifting for libraries

I have been sidetracked this morning, reading the headlines about the economy. I started the track by wondering what retail chains were going bankrupt, then mosied over to read about the "how to pay for college" crunch, and then ended up on biofuel and a global food shortage.


When I think about Maslow's hierarchy, food and shelter have to come before such things as problem-solving, community or eventually self-actualization...many of the things the Library (with a capital L) excels at. At least, the Library sets up the environment to make self-actualization more likely.

But people can't get excited about ideas or the life of the mind if they are hungry.

So it may seem like we as a society are heading into a time where we must hunker down and not do anything (translation: spend money). And of course I know all too well the whole "the library is free" mentality is a double-edged sword--it's free but it must be funded adequately.

But I was thinking that the economic downturn could be just the thing for libraries to use as a springboard to make their case to the American public:
1. We are a vital city service--as important as electricity or clean water.
2. Use us in good times and in bad.
3. We welcome ALL the people of the community here for technology access.
4. Hope lives here, at the library. Hope for improvement.

When all the headlines you see are about closing doors and belt-tightening, we can stand out from all the bad news: our doors are open, we are the place to come for education, entertainment, information...basically we are the place to come when you want to hope for a better life.

Is this realistic or am I just searching for a way out of all the bad news headlines?
Happy National Library Week.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Why Intellectual Freedom Still Matters

Maybe I'm the last person on earth to twig to this controversy, but this week, I had my pride in librarianship refreshed.

Gloria Won, a librarian at University of California at San Francisco medical center, discovered that Popline, a federally-funded health information database housed at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health was ignoring keyword searches using the word abortion. (Ironically, Popline bills itself as "Your connection to the world's reproductive health literature.") She contacted the database's manager, who confirmed that this had been done to comply with an interpretation of federal rules about making information about abortion available through federally-funded sources.

After the story went public, the dean of the Bloomberg School quickly changed the policy, recognizing that this was an overinterpretation of the rules.

No matter whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, access to information that makes your case and can potentially save lives is vital. Calling out a stupid, misguided and ill-advised policy that limits this access is part of long tradition of librarians fighting for intellectual freedom. I salute Ms. Won for her actions, and hope that we can all embody her attitude in our work.

The Human Touch---in Wired?

Wired magazine features nine "Wired Business Trends 2008" in April. Number 9 is called "The Human Touch: Algorithms are terrific, but to search smarter, find a person." The article is specifically about websites such as Brijit, which publishes summaries of 125 magazine and newspaper articles and audio and video programs daily, rating and classifying them so readers can quickly decide what's relevant; Mahalo, a "human powered search engine" that hires freelancers to compile search results; ChaCha, which offers live guidance on analyzing results; and Squidoo, which allows users to create their own pages on specific topics of interest.

These sites leverage the amazing abundance of the web to allow personality and individuality to emerge. So where are libraries in all this? Is there a way we can begin to capitalize on the fact that the web magnifies the importance of personalization? Why do we keep the vast majority of our services on such an impersonal level? The old verities simply don't hold water any more.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

prediction markets

Hey look! I'm blogging!

There's a special section in the NY Times today on technology innovation. The cover story is about prediction markets and their usefulness for business decision-making. Something about it unsettled me, at first, but then I started thinking about the possible applications a little closer to home. What if we could use such a tool to help direct the features we choose to build at WebJunction for our members there - it's a smallish set of the library profession (30K members, 70K visitors a month) or even help direct decision-making at OCLC with the wisdom of the membership of our vast, global cooperative. Would you make "bets" on what's coming and what's next if you could win an iPod? It has such a lovely tone of fun and gaming that I think people might actually 'play'.

I'd love to hear if anyone knows of any library-related application of prediction markets *in libraries*. If our patrons could bet on the future of the library - where would that be?

Flickr has video!

Oh, I am so excited about Videos on Flickr. Not that YouTube doesn't cut the mustard, but I've had trouble uploading a few things to YouTube.

Plus I do prefer Flickr's more visually pleasing, clean interface. (90 seconds or less...this is microcontent at it's finest!)

Monday, April 07, 2008

Mr. Sustainability

This morning among other stalling tactics I have been practicing while I stubbornly resist finishing my now-overdue article for NextSpace, I scanned the interesting articles in the latest two print magazines to hit my desk: American Libraries and Governing. Both had cover stories on environmental topics, which was not surprising as Earth Day is in April, spring is finally coming, etc.

So after I mopped up the drool from all the great green library architecture featured this month, I flipped over to Governing, to see that Fayetteville, AR has hired a person to help them be greener in the city government. And the guy has become known as Mr. Sustainability. AND he's all of 30 years old. How cool is that?! Nice that he's gotten some recognition for his work, and I hope it inspires some of us to be greener in our workplaces, too. Do you turn your monitor off at night? Flip the lights out? Walk occasionally, instead of always riding the elevator?

It strikes me that libraries are part of a not-so-big, green lifestyle by implicit design: you don't need to own the book in order to read it, absorb its knowledge and share it with others.

May be we should start capitalizing on our built-in green-ness, in addition to our beautiful new LEED-certified buildings. Can you appoint a Mr. (or Ms.) Sustainability for your staff? Or maybe it's a rotating distinction, that different staff members (or a volunteer!) wears for a couple of weeks, notes behaviors, and then suggests easy changes.

If you have a cotton/canvas library bag available for sale, why not team up with local grocery stores and make you bag available for purchase at the grocery store check-out? Whole Foods is aiming to be plastic-bag free by Earth Day. If they can do it, so can your grocery.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

April Show-ers

April is a busy month for conferences and other events, so all of the library highwaymen and highwaywomen are loosed. OK, I'm not as busy as the guys from Unshelved, but here's where I'll be in April:

April 4, webcast for Infopeople in Cupertino, CA, with Joan Frye Williams (Fixed the "P," per Mia)
April 17, Library of Virginia, Richomond
April 22, Oklahoma Library Association Annual Conference, Tulsa
April 24, Kentucky Library Association, Academic Library Section, Cumberland Gap State Park
April 30, "From Center City to the Exurbs: Trends in Public Library Realities," Columbus

The webcast is limited to California viewers on Friday, but it will be archived the following week.

I like that last one in Columbus; any program I don't have to fly to seems like a vacation.

I'm also hosting the annual OCLC talent show (a blatant takeoff on American Idol) in April, but we sure don't open that one up for the public!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Lost Podcast

Many of you who read this blog know that Joan Frye Williams and I do a regular podcast on library issues called "Thinking Out Loud." The backfile is available here.

So why has this previously unreleased entry suddenly appeared on a totally different web site with no attribution? If anyone figures out what's going on, I hope you will a.) tell me; and b.) enjoy your day.