Saturday, August 30, 2008

The forcast is getting more cloudy all the time

Lots of different thoughts flooded my brain as I watched the introduction video to Ubiquity for Firefox. This video should be required viewing for librarians because its a proof of concept that illustrates what 'web 2.0' or 'cloud computing' can be: the user makes use of a website's services without even visiting that site.

The obvious question is how do we integrate the local library into this new ecology? I've been mulling it over and on first glance, I think that answer might be that we don't because we can't. I came to this conclusion after trying to envision a user trying to add a book or an article that they wanted to recommend to a friend. The most likely scenario is that this is an item in that user's own collection. To this end, I suspect that the most natural fit for this space is a web-based citation service such as Zotero 2.0 or newly released Mendeley. LibraryThing could work for books.

If we do want libraries to provide this service to our users (and I do), I think at a minimum, our library catalogue has to provide a means for a user to create their own virtual collections of books that include items from their library and from their own shelves . From my understanding, Bibliocommons is the only library catalogue service that can do this.

Friday, August 22, 2008

On my list for next generation library catalogues - lists

One crucial feature that is missing by most library catalogues (and LibraryThing, to boot) is the ability to make and share lists of books. I consider it a crucial feature because I have this notion that most of our formal education consists of actively learning through works of text.

But there are other more subtle reasons why a listing making function is important for a library catalogue. For example, allowing users to create public lists of books is one of the few ways that readers can be connected with each other in a way that they can control.

Lists, I believe, are also an untried means by which collections librarians could share the reasons why they have selected some of their choices for the library. For example, some time ago the English Literature librarian at MPOW added We need to talk about Kevin, Vernon God Little, and Elephant (and others that I have forgotten - natch) to our collection because they were all cultural responses to the Columbine shootings. When I was collecting for science at MPOW, I actively sought out and acquired books on a number of topics (such as works about Tallgrass Prairie) that would be too narrow to properly represented in any of the traditional collection development policies. If I had the ability to create lists, I could group material together that were related but not necessarily represented by the same formalized subject heading.

Biblicommons does a fabulous job of providing users with the ability to create and share lists and does one better by automatically creating a "For later" list for each registered user. This will hopefully cut down on the inevitable "toread" tags. Although seeing a library catalogue filled with toread tags wouldn't necessarily be a sad sight to see.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Because Ideas Matter - Finding Special Collections on the web

Some years ago MPOW made the painful but necessary decision to remove the bibliographies that were are all grouped together in the Reference Collection and to re-catalogue each one so that each bibliography could be found with the subject it was about. This meant that bibliographies on Shakespeare could be found with the other Shakespeare books which would make it more likely to be stumbled upon and more likely to save the user a trip to another set of stacks in the library.

I bring this up because this project came to mind when I was doing some follow up research on a book by and about Jane Jacobs. The book contains material from the Jane Jacobs Papers that are located, not in New York City or Toronto as one would first presume, but in Boston College. Now those papers are from her life from 1916 to 1995. Jane Jacobs passed away in 2006. Where are the papers from her last decade? That's not a rhetorical question - I haven't found out where they are yet.

If the future of academic libraries means currating our unique collections, we have to start doing a better job of letting the world know what we have to offer. This means recognizing that most people search for a subject - not for a bibliography or a directory of library special collections. But how can we achieve that? How can we nestle information about the unique and rich collections in our libraries right beside the subjects that they are about in the online world?

There is a way. Thank you Wikipedia.

Now you go to it! Add your library's collections to The Free Encyclopedia right now!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

At one time, I also used to feel sorry for the lonely books on the shelf...

Look on my reference works, ye mighty, and despair | Ask Metafilter

Good design is being mindful of the details

Today I was inspired by IDEO's Paul Bennett's TED Talk Design is in the details.

When I clicked on the video, I was expecting a showcase of stories of the design genius behind IDEO's many product successes but instead I pleasantly surprised as a Bennett described great design ideas in a hospital setting that were suggested not by his team, but by the nurses on the floor.

Bennett reminds us that good design requires mindfulness and humanity.

I was trying to think of similar instances in which the library or reading experience has been redesigned or hacked in small but significant ways and couldn't come up with any offhand.

One thing that did surface was this photo which doesn't really follow the ideas I'm pursing in this post, but does illustrate one small way in which something that is necessary and functional in a public building can also be designed to be beautiful