Monday, November 26, 2007

Trying on a new look

Darwins shoes..., originally uploaded by Norma Desmond.

I've updated this blog's template to something more readable. This won't make much of a difference to those readers who take in these words via an RSS reader, but just over half my visitors come to the site directly or stumble in here through search engines, so they might like the change.

The banner photograph is part of this image called Darwins shoes taken by Norma Desmond. The statue of Darwin can be found by the Shewsbury public library.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Blood on the Stacks

This year marks the second time that the Trinity University's Coates Library in San Antonio has run Blood on the Stacks, an alternate reality game that helps new students to get familiar with the school's library. According to this entry at the SHU - Blogcause07 blog, 'anecdotally the library and support staff reported feedback from students of feeling more familiar, less alien in the environment, the library was associated with fun and the staff were more approachable.' This appears to be yet another neat way that people are using ARGs to assist in a social environment.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

One Library Per Child

I had heard about the One Laptop Per Child Project (aka the $100 laptop) before May of this year, but it wasn't until I heard Rochelle Mazar's presentation at the WILU Conference at York that I picked up on the connection between it and the mission of libraries and of its possible educational opportunities for both here and abroad.

Fast forward to today. While the library blogosphere has been weighing in on Amazon's Kindle reader, I've noticed scarce mention of the OLPC's XO laptop. Ah, but there's still time for this to happen, because it has just been announced that the XO laptop will extend commercial sales through its GiveOneGetOne program until the end of the year. (So you should check it out.)

I'm glad for the extension for a number of reasons with one being that it was only today that I finished setting up a display in my library on the One Lap Per Child Program (and what it has to do with libraries).

There are other events that I'm hoping will develop from this. Hopefully more about this soon!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Access 2007 Wrap Up Part Three - The Importance of Being Relevent

Peter Binkley did a simple and elegant comparison of a number of online library catalogues to begin his presentation, Searching the OPAC - The State of Play. He did performed the same search in all the library catalogues he examined; he did a keyword search for the word canada.

Its a ingenious example. You see, if a user types in a one word search in a catalogue for, say, dogs and gets results in which all the books that are entitled 'dogs' came up first, you would be hard pressed to say that those results weren't relevant.

But if you search for the word, canada, in say in most university library catalogues, you don't get books entitled Canada coming up first. Instead, the first result you get will likely be a document with a long name like Emergency food service : planning for disasters (U of A), Post-war Canadian housing and residential mortgage markets and the role of government (University of Windsor), or Progress report by the United States. Environmental Protection Agency. Great Lakes National Program Office and Environment Canada (University of Toronto).

This is because these library catalogues use a scoring system in which search and item word matches are used to assign points to items in order to determine relevancy. So a book by a Canadian government agency (which will frequently have the word Canada in its name twice - once for the English version and one for the French) about something Canadian, will tend to outscore the single word titled books.

Discovery layers don't correct this problem: La sécurité humaine et les femmes autochtones au Canada is the first result from McMaster's library catalogue; NCSU's first response is Compendium of plant disease and decay fungi in Canada, 1960-1980.

Librarians have largely left the responsibility of the library catalogue's search algorithm to the commercial library vendors who (putting this delicately) don't dedicate as much development time to it as, say, Google. But with the advent of open source indexing software such as Lucene some librarians are beginning to tinker with relevancy rules. Is it just coincidence that library catalogues that are running either the open-source Koha or the open-source Evergreen both pass the canada keyword test?

Another means of improving relevancy is to put the most popular items at the top of the list, like Amazon does. Bibliocommons and Koha use circulation counts in their relevancy rankings while WorldCat Local uses the number of global holdings in theirs.

But relevancy is too difficult a problem that can be solved by the simple tinkering of the numbered weights in the search algorithm.
A fundamental shortcoming of the library catalog is that it doesn't (and as currently designed can't) know the why for any given search. A search for the subject "breast cancer" in PVLD's catalog results in over 40 distinct subject headings listed in alphabetical order from the simple "Breast – Cancer" through "Breast – Cancer – Religious Life" to "Breast – Cancer – United States". The catalog doesn't know that one person is searching for books on this subject because she has to write a term paper, and another because his wife has just been diagnosed with the disease – and therefore it gives no clue as to which of these subject headings is most relevant to each person. [PVDL Director via Everything is Miscellaneous]

One of the means by which Bibliocommons addresses this issue is through the resorting of items so that highly rated items by trusted sources appear on the top of the list. This is one way of informing the library catalogue of who you are, at who you are as defined by who else you find trustworthy. Richard Wallis of Talis suggested during his Access 2007 presentation that if the catalogue knew a bit about you, it could present better search results to you. Using the example of the keyword lotus, an engineering student would get items about the car of the same name while the botanist would get items about the genus Nelumbo. Mark Leggot, using his metaphor of the search box as Lego brick, suggested in his Access 2007 presentation that it shouldn't be difficult to embed a library search box into a course-specific page that was already constrained to the sources that were relevant to both the subject of the course and the course level. Addendum: As Shibboleth allows for some attribute-based authentication to be passed to an online source, there may be a potential to tailor the interface or search results based on the user's subject specialty or readership level [Scholr 2.0: 3.2.2 Shibboleth].

That's the last of my Access 2007 wrap-up blog posts. Sorry for the irrelevant ending.

If ebooks light your fire

Why spend $400 for Amazon's new Kindle ebook reader (with a DRM that would kiss libraries good bye) when you could buy 2 great ebook readers for the same price that is open source. Oh yeah, and one of these laptops goes to a child in a developing country. But you need to act fast!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Thursday, November 08, 2007

True story about a library journal that is so sad its funny

So a colleague of mine who has recently graduated from library school recently learned that she had a paper approved for publication in a peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the work of library science students on subjects of general interest to librarians. This week she received a 'proof' of her article which looked good except one thing: the article was dated as if it was from the year 2004.

We talked about this on the phone and I tried to reassure her that it*must* have been a typo because it could not be possible that a publication from a library school would back date their publication to a such an extreme. It couldn't happen.

But being curious, I checked the Library Literature and Information Science Index to see when this organization had published their last issue and was horrified to see that it was "Spring/Fall 2003". I urged my colleague to email the editors to see if the 2004 was in error - perhaps the result of some archaic publication management software?

She got an email back yesterday. It wasn't a typo. At one point, she was told, there was a delay in publishing and in order "to avoid confusion over any missing years" they decided to keep the years consecutive.


But it gets worse. MUCH worse. Guess what that name of this journal is? Come on! Guess!!


(wait for it)


You just can't make this stuff up.

In the literature - Librarians and Scholarship

    Fox, David, 1948-

  • Finding Time for Scholarship: A Survey of Canadian Research University Librarians

  • Abstract:

    More than half the participants in a survey of Canadian research university librarians indicated that scholarship activities were required or encouraged at their universities, yet most university librarians have year-round schedules of assigned duties that present challenges to the engagement in sustained, meaningful scholarship. Full-time librarians reported spending an average of 47 hours per week on all of their responsibilities combined, but most librarians devote less than five hours per week to scholarly activities. Ideally, librarians would like to spend 15 percent of their time on scholarship. Strategies for increasing time and support for scholarship are considered.

  • portal: Libraries and the Academy, Vol. 7, No. 4 (2007), pp. 451–462
  • University of Windsor link to article

Monday, November 05, 2007

Conversations in LibraryLand

Jon Udell of LibraryLookup fame is not a librarian but he has great talks with those from libraryland as part of his podcast series, Interviews with Innovators. Last week, he spoke with Beth Jefferson of Bibliocommons. Other interviews with direct library-content include chats with Stuart Weibel of The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, Art Rhyno of the University of Windsor, Geoffrey Bilder of CrossRef, and Dan Chudnov on OpenURL.