Professional Development

Author Archive

Thomas @ ALA

Monday, July 6, 2015 3:40 pm

You remember that scene in L.A. Story where the Wacky Weekend Weather Guy is replaced by George Plimpton intoning, “Sunny. 72. Our next weather forecast will be in four days”? That’s me at ALA through next summer. Not exciting, and not much variation.

[Day 0: At Charlotte Douglas International Airport at 6:30am, deprived of sleep, food, and caffeine. Not really conference related, but I had to do it, so you have to hear about it.]

Day 1: Thomas meets with the LITA executive committee to discuss issues related to governance, budget, and membership; Thomas meets with the LITA financial advisory committee to discuss issues related to budget, membership, and governance; Thomas attends the LITA Open House, which touches on governance and membership; Thomas goes out to dinner with members of the LITA governing board to discuss issues related to seafood and beer; the current and incoming vice presidents entertain the table with anecdotes about their respective childhoods in south central Wisconsin and northern Wisconsin. Current LITA president reminds me that her term is up in three days.

Day 2: More of the same, only without the seafood and beer (the LITA committee of committee chairs, and the first of two LITA board meetings, where the current president reminds me her term is up in two days), punctuated by lunch with the other divisional presidents-elect and ALA president-elect Sari Feldman.

This was Sari’s chance to give us an informal sneak peek at the ALA publicity and visibility campaign now available at librariestransform.org. I think this is a very interesting campaign: it’s really ALA amping up the message that libraries are increasingly about services, and how valuable those services are. The web site has a cool video that’s worth a watch (about two minutes).

Day 3: Let’s just say I was up early enough that I had no trouble getting across the Pride Parade route. I attended the ALA Leadership breakfast, which focused on membership recruitment and retention. A couple of numbers that illustrate why this is such an issue. Since the 2008 economic implosion, the library profession has lost 60,000 positions; in the same period, enrollment in library schools has dropped by a quarter, from about 20,000 to 15,000. The median age of librarians continues to inch up, so: there are fewer current librarians; fewer future librarians; and more librarians edging toward retirement. Which is maybe why it will help to be more visible with the message that libraries provide transformative services (note to ourselves: we should also make sure that we actually provide transformative services).

Day 3.5. I did have a good meeting with an Ex Libris rep, and I did get to go to Top Tech Trends and the LITA President’s Program on Sunday afternoon, which Susan already covered. The speaker (or interviewee) at the President’s Program was Lou Rosenfeld, Information Architect. There aren’t that many people I can claim as acquaintances who literally wrote the book on the subject.

The current LITA president (who, all kidding aside, did a fantastic job this year, in trying circumstances) points out – from the stage – that her term is up in one day.

Day 4: A morning session to orient new board members and then an afternoon board meeting, at the end of which I was presented with a gavel and pronounced LITA president. I believe the now past-president’s comment was, “Bwahahaha!”

Highly productive dinner meeting with Steve Kelley and Jeff Eller at the Oakland Coliseum (A’s 7, Rockies 1).

Day 5: Up early in a coat and tie to be paraded through not one but two ceremonies, along with my cohort of new divisional presidents and many friends and well-wishers from LITA. I remind the new vice president that my term is up in 365 days and catch the red-eye home.

[Day 6: At Charlotte Douglas International Airport at 6:30am, deprived of sleep, food, and caffeine. Maybe it was all a dream! No, wait, here’s my gavel.]

TPD @ ALA Midwinter

Tuesday, February 3, 2015 10:59 am

For the record, ALA Midwinter can slog on through one of Chicago’s top five all-time snow storms. But there should be an honor roll of people who made it to LITA Happy Hour on Sunday night. With the confluence of Linus and Left Shark, it was a strange evening.

This is the beginning of a period that will be very heavy on organization business for me. By my count, I totalled over 16 hours in board meetings, board development, Deep Thinking about budgets and membership numbers, and all-around LITA and ALA strategery. Any of which I’ll be happy to share offline, but which doesn’t make for fun reading. Important takeaways: we’re looking at a generational change in the number of librarians coming into the profession and their level of participation in professional associations.

I did manage to get to LITA’s showcase for the leading edge, Top Tech Trends. For me, the eye opener was a discussion about Bluetooth Beacons. Like many new technologies, the potential here is both cool and creepy. Beacons can locate your mobile device to within inches and deliver very specifically target content. The first commercial application is to deliver promotional material to shoppers in a store, about the products they’re actually standing next to (so you get soup coupons in the soup aisle, dog food coupons in the dog food aisle, etc.). Museums are already working on content for self-guided tours. There’s an open question about how libraries can make use of this technology, though it’s easy to foresee wayfinders that take you to the right book stack, a “what’s scheduled for this room?” function, or “how do I work these projectors and lights?”, all delivered to your mobile device.

The good news is that Beacons are an opt-in technology, but they’re new enough that we probably haven’t seen the first wave of bugs, security holes, or hacks that game the system to hand over some very private data to persons unknown. So, there’s that.

And let me point out that [someone at] ALA decided to scan the conference IDs of everyone attending Top Tech Trends; the people tactually doing the scanning were employees of some external contractor who were given no information about what information was actually being stored, or who it was being shared with, and they weren’t told what to do when an attendee declined to be scanned. C’mon, ALA, we need better than that.

Monday morning, I led the LITA Town Meeting. This is our divisional bacon fest, community get-together, and discussion forum. We had a very good session with questions designed to generate ideas about possible changes to LITA’s membership and benefits and our annual National Forum. I’ll be typing those responses up for the LITA Board and a handful of committee chairs.

Now for the Blue Line back to O’Hare and back home.

Thomas Takes Left Turn at Albuquerque, Ends Up in DC

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 4:00 pm

TPD at LITA Forum and CNI

Last month (where does the time go?), I was in Albuquerque for the LITA National Forum. I can’t say strongly enough what a good, small conference this is for topics on applying technology to library projects (the 2015 Forum will be in Minneapolis, which will simplify travel – I expect to see ZSR faces there!). It packs an awful lot into 48 hours.

Keynotes:

AnnMarie Thomas, University of St. Thomas. AnnMarie is an engineering professor who specializes in playing and making. She spoke about setting up maker spaces that are something more than just a 3D printer. One of her specialties is Squishy Circuits, an innovative way to electrical circuit design using circuits made of play dough. Fun stuff (which is the point), and a good way to foster interest in STEM topics.

Lorcan Dempsey, Thinker of Deep Thoughts, OCLC. Lorcan’s talk, “Thinking About Technology…Differently” touched on a wide range of topics: how the relationship between information and knowledge mirrors the relationship between “stuff on the web” and “linked data on the web”; the growing use [by Google et al.] of embedded metadata in web pages, and the work to boost the quality and granularity of metadata for bibliographic items; the link from the reality that Google is where people are to the need to make our content more discoverable and to mesh our workflows for things like IR submission to the workflows of our authors – not the other way around.

Kortney Ryan Ziegler, founder of Trans*h4ck. Trans*h4ck is a hackathon and tech-oriented get-together for the trans a gender non-conforming community. An interesting and eye-opening talk, including the sad fact that in many libraries, trans patrons can’t even search the word transgender in library databases because filtering software automatically flags it as pornography. Another sad part of day-to-day life is the simple act of finding a public restroom where people won’t hassle you for which door you go in; one of Trans*h4ck’s first accomplishments was YoRestrooms, a mobile web site that uses Google Maps to locate gender-safe public restrooms.

Highlights of Breakout Sessions:

Forum usually packs in about 30 breakout sessions. Of the ones I could get to, highlights included further details on OCLC’s work to expand the vocabulary for embedding bibliographic data in web pages without giving Google the whole shebang of MARC fields. Also, a great session on improving libraries’ presence on social media by A) actually participating in Twitter and Facebook rather than using them as post-only media; and B) employing SMO (Social Media Optimization). As a parallel to SEO (search engine optimization), SMO helps explain a page to Facebook or Twitter in order to improve what people see when you Like that page.

Not long after returning from Albuquerque, I was on my way to Washington, DC, for the CNI Fall Meeting. If LITA Forum packs a lot into 48 hours, CNI packs at least as much into 26 hours (though with breakout sessions running in 9 concurrent streams, the percentage of content you can get to has gone down).

The opening plenary was a discussion featuring Tom Cramer, Chief Technology Strategist at Stanford; James Hilton, Dean of Libraries and Vice Provost for Educational Initiatives, University of Michigan, and Michele Kimpton, CEO of Duraspace (the organization that coordinates development on DSpace and Fedora). Interesting stuff on the role of educational institutions in creating the software we want to use; sustainable software development; and the difference between simply open source software and software that is the product of open communities.

There was a good session on interoperating with Wikipedia. There’s no denying that students’ research often follows a path of Google?Wikipedia?References, so we can at least work in the Wikipedia community to improve the visibility of relevant library holdings, and in particular digital objects in our repositories. One of the presenters is the head of the Wikipedia Library Program, which among other things is working on a program of Wikipedia Visiting Scholars. Often, prolific Wikipedia editors need the kind of database and full text access we take for granted, but don’t have access to a good academic library. As visiting scholars, they can get remote access to high quality sources, and improve Wikipedia for everyone’s benefit. Rutgers and George Mason were noted as universities that have supported Wikipedia visiting scholars.

Another good session on OCLC’s efforts to articulate bibliographic information through embedded metadata.

Several sessions on patron privacy, including some sobering examples of exactly how much private information “leaks” out of web sites. Takeaways from this session are being rolled into the forthcoming ZSR privacy audit.

“What Have You Learned, Dorothy?”

New Mexico has an Official State Question: “Red or Green?” I usually answer Green. Also, green chile cheeseburgers ftw.

One-seventh of the way through the 21st century, conference hotels still routinely fail at providing adequate wi-fi. Routinely.

Embedded metadata is happening, often in subterranean ways, but it is definitely a thing. Getting books, articles, and other library goodies in on the action is going to be important.

I didn’t mention it above, but Kuali OLE is also a thing, if only just barely. The Open Library Environment is inching forward, and two schools (Lehigh and Chicago) are successfully using its first modules in production. We track this project as having the potential to provide a community developed, open source, academically oriented ILS in the (near?) future.

Thomas @ ALA Annual 2014

Monday, June 30, 2014 3:44 pm

“I want you to know that we’re on our way to Las Vegas to find the American Dream…this is a very ominous assignment-with overtones of personal danger.”
Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

The show so far:

It’s hot. But it’s a dry heat, you say? Shya. At 110, hot is just hot. (“Too cold, too hot – does this guy ever dummy up about temperature?”) But with all the time everyone gets to spend waiting for a bus, a taxi, or a hotel’s promised shuttle, you get a lot of opportunities to think about the heat.

Worst. Signage. Ever. I should have arrived at LITA Top Tech Trends a polite five minutes late. Instead, I spent 45 minutes walking around, because at some point the convention center just stopped putting up signs for the South Hall. Finally, knowing I was within shouting distance, I found a long hallway with no signs at all, not even visible room numbers. Just go halfway down that hallway, turn left, and go all the way to the end of another hallway. I do find it helpful, in a cautionary way, to experience such bad user design in a non-web setting. (Toaster ovens and clock radios often provide this kind of good example of a bad example.) It reminds me of the high standards we set for ourselves and mostly meet.

In 15 years we’ve gone from convention centers without wireless to convention centers without enough wireless. Ditto hotels. Check back in 2029.

The rest of the world did something about second-hand smoke. Just saying.

 

For me, this conference is mostly a total immersion program for winding down LITA committee work and ramping up LITA governing board work. The to-do list for an incoming vice president is a lot of fun.

I did make it to two very good programs. The LITA President’s Program featured Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code (blackgirlscode.com). This non-profit organization works to address the disproportionately low number of women of color in the fields of IT, programming, web development, and related fields. Black Girls Code works in several locations in the US and a new location in South Africa, with programming for girls aged 7 to 17. It’s a pretty amazing example of what happens when you give girls (or anyone) the tools to do a job, and explicitly tell them “you can do this” (and block to too common implicit messages of “no you can’t”).

Monday morning was my one other time slot for catching a program, and almost by chance I saw Jeremy Frumkin of the University of Arizona, talking about technical solutions to address academic libaries’ online branding. Or in other words: we’re increasingly being asked to justify the money we spend, and simultaneously making ourselves invisible to usersin services like discovery and delivery of [very, very expensive] journal articles. InArizona’s case, they’re experimenting with a method that spotsPDF downloads through a campus proxy (like our EZProxy) and on the fly insertsa cover sheet to providing branding information – think “Access to this journal is provided by [Your University Library].”

A second part of this idea is maximize the amount of information a library logs in their proxy and to do more data mining there to pull out more specific answers to Who Benefits And How Much (terms like Business Intelligence and Value Proposition came up).

This is very early in the development of this service, and it will be interesting to see where it goes from here.

And so, off to another Board meeting, then an early dinner, and a flight home that’s so hilariously early tomorrow morning, most people in this town would call it tonight.

Thomas at USETDA

Tuesday, August 6, 2013 9:44 am

The week before last, I attended (and spoke at) the US ETD Association annual conference, in Claremont, California. This is an organization that works to improve the policies and practices involved in managing electronic theses and dissertations.

ETD people tend to be strong supporters of open access, so there was a lot of discussion of the American Historical Association’s July 19 Statement on Policies Regarding the Embargoing of Completed History PhD Dissertations, which “strongly encourages” universities to offer a six-year embargo on history PhD Dissertations. [And if your professional association says you should have that option, they’re sending a strong message that you should take that option.] Phrases describing the AHA statement at USETDA included “conservative”, “myopic”, “enforcing the status quo”, and a good old barnyard epithet starting with “bull____” (this by a historian, in the middle of his plenary talk). IMO it is at the very least a narrow, outdated view of what History PhDs might want to do in life (get tenure as history professors) and how they might accomplish that (slap a glossy binding on their warmed-over dissertation and call it a book). Mostly thoughtful comments on both sides of the issue at #AHAgate.

That plenary was the highlight of the conference for me. Char Miller, director of the Environmental Analysis Program at Pomona College, talked with great feeling about a sea change in both the nature and evaluation of undergraduate pedagogy, strongly de-emphasizing what faculty teach and emphasizing what students learn (so, measuring–and accrediting–based on outcomes rather than inputs). This makes it vital to have access to student works, including their theses. Miller talked in particular about undergraduate theses, and contrasted the situation at Pomona today with his experience: two [print] copies of his undergraduate thesis existed once, but other than a vague suggestion that one is in the Pomona archives, somewhere, no one has ever read it or could currently lay their hands on it. By contrast, one of his recent advisees called him, excited that her senior thesis has been downloaded hundreds of times.

Other highlights: what you have to consider if you’re serious about giving your ETDs (or any electronic documents) a lifespan of, say, 100 years; using a private LOCKSS network for archiving locally created content; and results of a survey of book and journal publishers that helps to refute some of the FUD propagated by people like the AHA. In an interesting bit of finger pointing, some publishers say they won’t touch a book based on an OA dissertation because libraries won’t buy them. Which really translates as: in the face of shrinking monograph budgets, a lot of libraries decline to buy based-on-dissertation books automatically on approval, because, well, they’re based on a dissertation, not because the dissertation is open access.

Oh, and Yrs Trly presented on OATD, the harvested finding tool for OA ETDs around the world.

————-

BTW, the slides for my presentation are at http://goo.gl/IphQw. My major points:

  • Making ETDs discoverable is an essential component of the ETD publication process (else, why bother?).
  • The ETD discovery tools we rely on either point to for-pay closed access ETDs when free, open access copies are avaialble, or have major user interface issues. This makes open access ETDs less discoverable than they should be, at a time when academic libraries are making incredible investments of time, energy, and money into increasing the discoverability of almost every other type of scholarly literature. OATD attempts to address these concerns, and is also intended to follow a community-driven enhancement path (other ETD search services a take-it-or-leave-it vendor solutions).
  • OATD harvests metadata from repositories using the OAI-PMH standard. OAI-PMH has major advantages over Googlebot-style web crawling for distributing metadata: it is more precise, puts less of a load on servers, and is already built in to all major repository platforms. I gave a very brief, very non-technical overview of OAI-PMH and how it makes a collection’s metadata avaialble.
  • In addition to harvested metadata, OATD uses a very lightweight web crawler to pull full text files. These are used to show highlight search terms in context and to pull sample images into search results.
  • A tool for sharing high-quality metadata really benefits from having high-quality metadata to work with. Improviing metadata quality and sharing it via OAI-PMH takes a little attention to detail, but pays off by better articulating what is in your collection and how it can be used, and by anticipating questions a researcher is likely to need answers to. (I was told I sounded like a cataloger, which I will take as a compliment.)

Thomas at ALA – Part II: The Revenge

Friday, July 5, 2013 9:58 am

Some less-than-stellar ALA programs reminded me of a couple catch-phrases from an old music ed. professor. First, “a good example of a bad example”. Or in other words, some guaranteed ways to make people walk out of your program in droves:

  • Don’t have or follow an agenda
  • Don’t alert the incoming crowd to the fact that your session was mis-identified in the program and is not sponsored by LITA (Library and Information Technology Assn.), but by LIRT (Library Instruction Round Table).
  • Don’t ask a couple hundred people seated in an auditorium to spontaneously break up for small group exercises.
  • If you’re a vendor, do not give a sales pitch, and do not bad-mouth your competitors (ever. Evv. Verrr.).

And the other catch phrase: “There is no excuse for a media glitch.” Or in other words, if your presentation relies on technology, make sure it’s working. Make sure it continues to work after the audience comes in and takes their share of the wireless bandwidth. And make sure you have static slides on standby if it doesn’t work.

Thanks for letting me vent.

The gem of the last day of conference was a LLAMA session on surviving after a library disaster. Librarians spoke about how they got back to normal(-ish) operations following an earthquake that knocked 27,000 books to the floor (damaging about 5% of them), broke compact shelving units, and caused some structural damage to the building; a tornado that ripped the walls off a remote storage facility; a vandallism/arson attack that destroyed library staff offices and triggered the sprinkler system, with result damage to collections; and the post-Hurricane Sandy disaster in Queens, New York.

Major lessons: no disaster plan will anticipate everything, so flexibility is key. Staff morale benefits from little things ilke coffee and cupcakes. In an earthquake, an old library wing built in the 1950s may have heavy damage, while a newer wing built in the 1990s will survive better (sound familiar?). And make sure you’re up to date on required maintenance for compact shelving units. Oh, and do we have enough book trucks to hold 27,000 volumes for triage and rough re-sorting?

Thomas at ALA – The Show So Far

Saturday, June 29, 2013 11:15 pm

After a friendly conversation with a very patient lady at the ALA registration desk, it turned out that the reason they had no record of my registration was…I hadn’t actually remembered to register. So that’s a shining start to the conference.

Friday afternoon I went to LITA 101, a gentle introduction to ALA’s coolest little division. [Ever use technology in your work? Then you should join LITA.] I spent the session assuring prospective authors that, yes, LITA has a place for them to publish, whether they’re working up an article, a book, or something in between. Saturday morning was taken up with committee meetings: one with a committee of committee chairs discussing how to lead a discussion (I’ll let you reflect on how “meta” that is); and one where in fact we talked through how to support authors working on that “something in between” publication. I think LITA will be able to put some interesting options out for people with something clever to share about how they implement technology in their libraries.

Saturday afternoon included a program by the LITA Mobile Interest Group titled “We Went Mobile, Now What”. Presenters included a librarian from Portland State University who discussed the usability testing process for getting their mobile web site up and running; and two librarians from Oregon State University talking about the process of replacing their original, now five-year-old, mobile site with a new responsive design for mobile and desktop computers. An important lesson: you can bribe undergraduates with coffee in exchange for feedback.

TPD @ CNI

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 3:39 pm

This slipped past me, but way back in December, I attended the CNI fall meeting in Washington, DC. Knowing that it never works to fly on a December morning to make an afternoon meeting, I cleverly took the train the day before, only to endure five and a half hours of delay as Amtrak worked to resolve engine problems. But I did get there for the kickoff, when half the attendees did not (fog socked in the whole eastern seaboard).

The opening keynote went straight to a subject that was repeated throughout the conference: MOOCs (see Lynn’s post that covered other MOOC sessions). Lynch addressed a number of issues with MOOCs that I haven’t heard about elsewhere:

  • A lot of schools are setting up MOOCs without a clear definition of success for the program
  • MOOCs will generate a lot of student data, and it is not clear who owns it and what rights they have to use it, and what access students will have to their own records. It may be very valuable content for data mining.
  • MOOCs have the potential to cause a lot of disruption in some doctoral programs, because we fund a lot of those doctoral students by having them teach the sorts of classes that are becoming candidates for MOOCs. Humanities doctorates in particular may be affected.
  • Our ability to teach 100,000 students at a time is probably outpacing our ability to grade their work

Other points: many schools are including alumni in library licensing agreements. We want to do that here, but we have to wait for some campus-wide systems to come online that will let us identify alumni accounts.

Encouraging court judgments in favor of fair use and rights of users to access copyrighted material is counterbalanced by electronic licensing terms that increasingly give publishers more than their traditional first-sale rights. As Lynch put it, “Will your children be able to inherit your e-books?”

Cliff’s opening keynote can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fvys5VZrjsI

Two other sessions I’ll comment on: in “Debunking Myths and Establishing Guidelines for the ETD Lifecycle,” four speakers addressed issues in long term curation and preservation of electronic theses and dissertations. Of particular interest was Gail McMillan of Virginia Tech, who presented “Do Open Access ETDs Effect Publishing Opportunities in the Sciences? Findings from the 2012 Survey of Academic Journal Editors“. This follows a similar survey of editors in the humanities and social sciences in 2011. This presentation gives substantive support to the argument that publishing an open access ETD does not greatly affect an author’s ability to get books or articles based on the ETD published. The slides are well worth a look.

Because of our investment in cloud technologies, I was particularly interested in “The Truth is Out There: Preservation and the Cloud.” David Rosenthal, Chief Scientist of the LOCKSS program, basically asked the question, “Can you afford to digitally preserve content for 100 years on the Amazon cloud?” And ultimately answered it, “No.” For long-term storage, you can rent space (think of a journal subscription that you have to commit to for 100 years); subsidized with ads (like Google Mail, but generally a non-starter in academic environments), or endowed, with an up-front payment considered to be enough to store the content “forever”. Because the cost of hard drive storage has been dropping by half every two years for several decades, preservation endowments have gained some traction.

But Rosenthal sees two problems: first, the cost of hard drive storage will level out. Disk prices will continue to decline, but not so quickly. Second, while commercial cloud vendors periodically drop their prices, they don’t do so as fast as drive prices go down and customers increasingly fund their profit margin. This makes the monthly payments to Amazon (and its successors) over the next century increasingly hard to support.

Rosenthal’s proposed alternative is low-cost local storage, specifically building storage “pods” from designs published by online backup company Backblaze. They provide plans for constructing units capable of storing 135TB, expected to last for four years, that cost about what Amazon would charge for one month’s rent on 135TB of space. There’s obviously a lot more to factor in, but in the end it’s a compelling case. Long term storage won’t make economic sense in the commercial cloud.

TPD @ ALA MW 13 in SEA

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 2:01 pm

By funny coincidence, since I’ve been at ZSR I have attended meetings in my previous home town (LITA Forum in Columbus) and the home town before that (Midwinter in Seattle). ALA Annual in Chicago this summer will make the trifecta. Do let me know if there are good meetings coming up in Ann Arbor or Madison.

At 47°37′ N lattitude, Seattle is farther north than Duluth, Minnesota: in January, if there’s any sunlight at all, it’s noticeable from about 8:30am to 4:30pm. But there usually isn’t any sunlight: clouds, rain, highs in the mid 40s, lows in the low 40s. Typical January in Seattle. They take seasonal affective disorder seriously there.

Highlights (unless you really want to know about the LITA publication committee, LITA’s committee of committee chairs, and the ALA committee of publication committee chairs… Oh, except that one of the newest LITA Guides to hit the stands is Cloud-Based Services for Your Library: A LITA Guide by Erik Mitchell, coming soon to library stacks near you.)

Big Data For Big Brother

If I’m a little slow writing up my Midwinter experience, it’s because I’ve been cowering in paranoid fear in my office since the first meeting I attended, OCLC’s member meeting – okay, not a harrowing experience – and keynote by Alistair Croll on “The implications and opportunities of Big Data.” The session benignly defined Big Data as datasets that are too large for traditional hardware and software tools to analyze. The term plays off the growth of Big Science: $10 billion to build a Large Hadron Collider, and then eleventy bajillion teraflops to analyze its output. Croll defines Big Data as the problem of analyzing data with a lot of Volume (a ton of data), Variety (many kinds of data), and Velocity (torrents of data).

Big Data has potential for good: medical data – including Google searches for symptoms – can predict disease outbreaks. Analyzing which farmers in developing countries benefit most from microloans helps target future loans where they will do the most good. Analyzing traffic data allows taxi services to have cars ready where people will want them. Likewise, when we’re driving, every one of our GPS-enabled phones or tablets contributes to real-time maps of traffic data so we can route around delays.

The darker side of Big Data becomes apparent when you realize the biggest dataset out there is our own increasingly trackable behavior both on- and offline. I won’t rehash too many of Croll’s points (I strongly recommend you watch it when you have some free time – link below), but some of the highlights:

  • Big Data gets used a lot to say “People in Group A tend to like Topic B and products like Item C, so we’ll put ads for C on pages about B.” We smile knowingly when Group A is Librarians, or people with Zip codes beginning 271xx. (Mac users may remember that Orbitz shows them ads for more expensive hotels than Windows users, the assumed connection being that if you have a Mac you’re either more affluent than most Windows users or more willing to shell out for a quality experience.) Things can get ethically and legally tricky when that group is defined by things like gender or race, and the product is, for example, low rate mortages.
  • There is so much data out there that we usually do not have the tools (or access to the data) to evaluate it, and we often accept that all competing explanations for something are equally well supported.
  • And humans aren’t very good at evaluating data anyway. We keep demonstrating that we will believe what seems right even when it’s demonstrably wrong. (Several long examples that can be summed up here and here.)

Croll concluded with the idea of Good Data: to Volume, Variety, and Velocity, he adds Veracity and Value: data that is true (and that can be checked), and data that has a useful context. A telling line from the conclusion: “Google can find more articles than any librarian, but any librarian can find better articles than Google.” There is a continuing need for human insight that can apply all of the data as something more than an algorithm.

Watch the presentation here:
http://player.multicastmedia.com/player.php?p=xz2atn08&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=z%20-%20ARCSymposium_CollectiveInsight_Feb2013&utm_campaign=OCLC%20Member%20Update

Other meetings of note: I nearly missed LITA Happy Hour because I actually sat down with a colleague and discussed a reasearch project for a couple of hours. It’s the sort of thing that makes it worthwhile to schlep cross country and attend a conference in person. I heard both a former Ohio colleague and a current WFU colleague (Roz) present on the experience of bringing Summon up at their libraries (we were a lot more laid back about it). And at the LITA Town Meeting, a few of us graybeards determined that the key to LITA’s future is piratically taking over RUSA, ALCTS, and LLAMA – because, hey, where would they be without technology? – and creating a unified Library Services Division (LSD). Having come up with the idea, we leave it to the youngsters to make it actually happen.

Then, with nothing to do until the 11pm red-eye home, I spent the afternoon in the Seattle Public Library:

Seattle Public Library, top floor reading room

Thomas at LITA Forum

Saturday, October 6, 2012 7:57 am

The 2012 LITA National Forum started yesterday with an engaging keynote by Eric Hellman, formerly of OCLC, Openly Informatics, and more citation linking projects than I can count. Eric’s new venture is Unglue.It (http://unglue.it), which presents an interesting new approach to funding e-book publication.

The talk went through a number of factors related to the economics of e-books and how they affect libraries. A couple of notable points: 4 of the big 6 publishers in the U.S. will not sell e-books to libraries at all; and the potential effect on retail sales means e-book publishers can/will only support library lending if they make the e-book lending process sufficiently INconvenient for the user. In other words, force the library to irritate the users enough, and the users will just go buy their own copy.

Unglue.IT’s model is to approach rights holders, agree on a cost for publishing a book with a Creative Commons license (they support multiple flavors of CC license), and then hold an online pledge drive to raise that amount, NPR-style. The hipper way to put it is that they’re crowd-funding e-books for the public common.

The first book out of the gate was Oral Literature in Africa, a 1970 work considered seminal in the field, long out of print, and notably unavailable in any form anywhere in Africa. It is now available as a free download.

Unglue.It is in between online payment handlers at the moment, but when they are up and running again, we’ll have a chance to fund the publication of So You Want To Be a Librarian, by one L. Pressley! (No date yet announced for I Wanted to Be…A Lumberjack! by T. Dowling)


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