Thursday, February 28, 2008

Libraries COE

Sun Microsystems, The University of Alberta Libraries and The Alberta Library create Centre of Excellence for Libraries: "SANTA CLARA, CA February 27, 2008 Sun Microsystems of Canada Inc., the University of Alberta Libraries (UAL) and The Alberta Library (TAL) today announced the creation of a new Sun Centre of Excellence for Libraries (COE)."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Digg + Local Library Purchases

Digg + Local Library Purchases: "So here’s my idea: take the engine that runs Digg, the “social news” website, and repurpose it as a web application that allows library patrons to collectively decide which books the library system should purchase. Patrons would “login” to “LibraryDigg” with their regular library card number and password, and then could enter books, DVDs, etc. that they want opened up for consideration." [Distant Librarian]

What I really like about this idea is that this service would provide public feedback illustrating what the library community is interested in and what are their unmet desires. I'm positive that this sort of information would be of interest to more than librarians as in my library, one can always see users check out the responses on the library's complaints bulletin board (which one day I would love to put online like Carleton's Dear Library service.)

But I'm not sure that I would use the Digg engine. I check out Digg and Reddit frequently and its not exactly a secret that the system is constantly being gamed (e.g. "Garbage can be turned into oil through a green method. We dispose of enough garbage per year to create a years worth of usable oil! Why aren't we funding these guys millions! UP VOTE THIS!!").

Instead, I would be more inclined to use something more independent engine to determine popularity.
Digg's Design Dilemma - Bokardo : The result of all these factors is that Digg breaks the cardinal rule of voting: independence. As outlined in James Surowiecki’s book The Wisdom of Crowds, independence arises when a person makes a decision (votes, diggs) without the direct influence of others, on their own, by making up their own mind. Of course, there will always be influences on that decision…what others have said, where their political party is leaning, their current situation, but in the end they need to have the privacy of their vote. On Digg, no votes are private, and when you make them you can’t help but notice the way others are voting...
The voting on Digg is in contrast to a site like, where voting (saving a bookmark) is done more independently, often without having any idea whether or not someone else even viewed it, let alone voted on it... On, the main value is personal, as people use it to store bookmarks that are valuable to them. On Digg, the bookmarking utility is secondary to the voting, in both the interface and the wording used on the site.

This all being said, I do support the notion that a library community can be trusted to select some of the materials that can be found in *their* library.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Riddle me this at your library

The MIT Libraries Puzzle Challenge is a series of puzzles released during the MIT semester. The series began with three puzzles in the Fall 2007 semester, and will continue with three more puzzles during the Spring 2008 semester. Puzzles are produced with the dual goals of being fun for our community and of introducing solvers to resources they might not otherwise know about.

My personal epiphany that there was a natural connection between puzzle games, learning, and libraries happened while I was playing the World Without Oil ARG and read as strangers on a forum thread worked together to identify a foreign language used in a video clue (Bulgarian) and then translate and transcribe the speech within hours.

I'm not the only one to have made this connection.

And MIT has been playing puzzle games with their students for over 25 years.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Read about Griefers. Then be one

I've had a long standing prejudice that if you rely on WIRED magazine in order to understand Internet culture, then you probably are not particularly WIRED.

But two things have happened since I've made this conclusion : WIRED has become a much better magazine (I'm talking since the days from when they would lovingly profile venture capitalists and worship corporate heroes). And I've become older and (more) out of touch.

The article that made me come to this realization is from February issue of WIRED (16.02) and is called Mutilated Furries, Flying Phalluses: Put the Blame on Griefers, the Sociopaths of the Virtual World. Before this article, I knew that griefers existed but didn't know much more about them than that. After this article, I'm shocked to say, that I have now some small sympathy for their cause : the battle against "The Internet is Serious Business." I can't and won't excuse the worst of their behaviour (the death threats, for one) but now I can see the humour in the crassness and the method in the madness.

This deeper understanding has helped navigate the world of the very offensive and very amusing forumwarz [waxy]. In this role-playing game about the Internet, I'm playing a Troll. Who knew being a griefer was so much fun?

[cross-posted on NJA]

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Big Why About The Big Here

Its early evening. The Toddler is in bed. Right now is a short period of personal time before the promise of sleep will lure me to bed before the rest of the world settles in to watch primetime television. For some days now, this is the time where I begin researching answers to such questions as

Where is the nearest earthquake fault? When did it last move?

I've been meaning to complete The Big Here Quiz ever since I first stumbled upon it in an issue of Whole Earth Review years ago and I've finally hit its half-way point. Its 30 questions are meant to inspire watershed awareness but in doing the quiz I've found that it has generated more than just a stronger curiosity and connection to where I live. It is making me a better librarian.

Finding who can delivery pizza to your house is not hard. Finding out whether "the soil under your feet, more clay, sand, rock or silt?" is surprisingly hard. Determining out how water gets into your tap and tracing where it goes after its sent down the drain is largely dependent on how much information your local utilities care to share with you. The information you need to finish this quiz can largely be found online, but in forms that have been fragmented and rebound depending on government level, jurisdictions, and departmental politics. (Watersheds transcend such boundaries).

By doing this quiz, I have been reintroduced to many government document websites that I have not visited in a long, long time. Many of these sites now feature GIS driven datasets which with a bit of trial and error, can usually be cajoled to produce information but the results are usually disappointingly thin. I'm waiting for the next generation of localized collections of data visualizations but I think it will be a long, long time before EveryBlock comes to Windsor, Ontario.

Like a good homework assignment, it is the curiosity that stretches while pursuing the question which is more important than the "answer". Now I'm wondering about the worms in my backyard, whether I really understand the concept of azimuth, and where is that closest fault line...