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Archive for July, 2007

It’s just a wild and an untamed thing …. –Rocky Horror Picture Show

Back in the Really Olde Days when I was but a wee nipper, our high school biology teacher had us do an interesting exercise. We were to pretend that we were stranded astronauts trying to make it back to our base. He gave us a worksheet listing various items that we could take with us and we not only had to chose which items we would take to help us survive, we had to rank them in order of their importance. First, he had us do the picking and ranking on our own. Then he gave a second copy of the worksheet and we had to form small groups and do the same thing. Afterwards, we compared the two worksheets. The one that we had done as a group had more right answers than the one we had done individually. This was my first introduction to the intelligence of the collective.

What I find most fascinating about LibraryThing is not the bookshelf or community functions, but the tagging. The LT community is now large enough and has generated enough tags that they can actually catalog by consensus. That is, if you pick any one book from the list and have a look at its tags, most of them will accurately describe the book. There will always be a few inaccurate tags in the mix, but the majority are spot on. LT is an excellent example of a folksonomy–a taxonomy where the terms are generated by non-experts.

The other thing–and this is a big one–that fascinates me about tagging is that for the first time we can really see how people think about and use information. To understand why this is exciting you have to understand that most of the time librarians can only count the number of times people access information. That is, we can tell how many times a book circulates or how many hits a database gets, but we can’t tell what the patrons thought about the information they found. Did they find the book they needed? Was that article really what they were looking for? LT is essentially an on-line laboratory for information scientists.

I think that it would be very cool to be able to either overlay or import LT’s tag clouds into our own catalog and then to be able to search on them. LT has already done most of the work, including cleaning up the spam tagging, so it would essentially be a free extra for us.

This is one of the most interesting Learning 2.0 assignments to date. I was inspired to look up other articles on tagging in the Library Literature database and to follow the discussions on LT itself. I highly recommend watching the video of Tim Spaulding’s lecture on LT and tagging at the Library of Congress which is about 40 minutes long. Tim introduces LT and then talks about the strengths and weaknesses of tagging vs. controlled vocabulary and about the importance of opening library catalogs to on-line search engines. I also recommend checking out the discussion of tag mashups, LT’s version of Boolean searching.

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It’s amazing what you can learn surfing around the Net. New words for me:

Tumblelog–basically a blog that is more like a scrapbook than a journal. You can create one with software like Tumblr.

Chimping–showing people the cool new digital photos you just took while going “Oooo! Oooo!” Used by Scott Kelby in The Digital Photography Book. Yes, I have chimped and I plan to chimp again :-).

Long tail–coined by Wired editor Chris Anderson in this 2004 article. Essentially, Chris points out something that librarians have known for a long time. The popularity of a particular book often generates interest in similar, lesser known works. Chris takes the concept a little further, however, noting that businesses can make more money by selling to many niche markets than they can by selling to a few highly popular markets (think “bestseller” or “blockbuster”).

Check out this cool LibraryLookUp bookmarklet created by John Udell. If you’re browsing Amazon.com and you want to see if your library already has this book, just click on LibraryLookUp and it will automatically do an ISBN search of your library’s catalog. Won’t work with our catalog, possibly because the public interface doesn’t have an ISBN search option.

Here’s a cool idea involving handmade journals. The Wisconsin South Central Library System distributed 60 blank journals to participating libraries. Patrons could check them out, add their own content, and then bring them back. The University of Wisconsin is now digitizing the completed journals. A neat intersection of old (bookmaking) and new (digitization) technologies.

If you’ve ever wanted to find out what book you are, take the quiz here. My results are as follows:

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You’re Brave New World!
by Aldous Huxley
With an uncanny ability for predicting the future, you are a true psychic. You can see how the world will change and illuminate the fears of future generations. In the world to come, you see the influence of the media, genetic science, drugs, and class warfare. And while all this might make you happy, you claim the right to be unhappy. While pregnancy might seem painful, test tube babies scare you most. You are obsessed with the word “pneumatic”.

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My colleague, Peg, is a bad influence enabler constant source of inspiration to me. Peg has gotten into digital photography and kindly lent me one of her digital cameras when she when she went off on vacation. Before leaving, she pointed out that the camera only had memory for 647 photos. Did I think that would be enough? Oh, sure, I said. No problem, I said. Famous last words.

If the batteries hadn’t have given out, I would have easily taken 647 snapshots. It’s so easy with digital and SO very addictive. As a journalism student some twenty years ago, I took the basic photography course required for reporters. Fun and ease were not terms associated with photography back then. Taking professional-looking photos meant hours and hours of being closeted in pitch black developing labs with noxious chemicals and no guarantee that your prints would turn out after you had sweated blood over them.

With film, I was, at best, a mediocre photographer. I got some good shots. I got a lot more bad ones. But with a digital camera, I’m able to get good-looking snaps most of the time. Here are a few of them:

No gardener, of course, could possibly resist taking close-up pictures of their flowers. This photo of Johnny Jump-Ups is currently serving as my desktop wallpaper. Incidentally, if you want to see more photos of plants taken by gardeners, click here.

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Everyone takes pictures of their pets. My faithful dog, Fluffy:

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I have always loved taking pictures of clouds.

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This is a street sign in my town. I call this picture “Going Nowhere Fast”:

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So now I’m currently reading books on digital photography and shopping for a camera. I learned how to optimize my pikkers for uploading to my blog in Adobe Photoshop (guys, the university has a license for this program and you can download it from Computing). I’m contemplating getting a home computer for the first time in about seven years (had one, lost it in a house fire). Yes, I’m going over the Dark Side. And I’m okay with that 🙂

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I did manage to log into UA Portal finally and had a look around. Not bad, really, but it struck me as a lot of duplication of effort. Even if I could check my e-mail from there (I can’t and I don’t care to find out why–that’s kind of like asking why Darth Vader always wears black. He’s evil, just go with it), why would I want to? I can use Pine (which I prefer) or Webmail. Along those same lines, why would I want to check my employee info from UA Portal when I can go straight to UA Online from my web browser?

Thanks to the handy My UA Portal Project Page (click on Project website), however, I discovered why this portal software is so user-unfriendly: it’s made by the same people that inflicted Banner and UA Online upon us. Fellow U. of Arnor staffers now shudder and grow cold, but if you don’t know what these things are, let me explain.

Banner is administrative software which we use to cut and track purchase orders, travel requests, and other necessary accounting procedures for the university. I was one of the second wave of unfortunates who attempted to learn the system and it was like a return to the Bad Olde Days of early computer software. As I remember it, you were presented with a blank worksheet with few or no command prompts. You had to guess what function keys to press in order to accomplish any kind of data entry. Banner wasn’t about to tell you what they were. It has since improved–the curses and imprecations of three campuses have a way of making that happen–but it was far more annoying that it had to be.

Ditto UA Online although my problems with that software tend to revolve (again) around login difficulties.

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How can you possibly go wrong spelling things out with zombies, I always say? I was hoping to be able to show the actual zombiebet, but it appears that WordPress doesn’t want to display the generator HTML as anything but HTML. Vexing, but not worth losing keystrokes over.

I haven’t forgotten or bypassed the topic of RSS feeds, but there isn’t that much to say. I don’t find them personally useful. If I find a website interesting, I will visit it on a weekly or daily basis depending on how often it is updated. For websites I don’t visit on a regular basis (usually commercial sites), I prefer to sign up for their e-mail updates. The way to get my attention is to send something to my inbox. Otherwise, I don’t notice it.

Of all the Web 2.0 features we’ve reviewed so far, I’m most excited about the possibility of adding RSS feed capability to our library’s catalog. However, I think that we should also give them the option of getting automatic e-mail updates when something new in their subject area of interest is added to the catalog.

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I hate My UA Portal. I hate it for the same reason I hate everything else that issues forth from the Black Gate of Mordor Statewide: it’s far too difficult to sign on in order to perform a simple function. Whenever there’s a detailed FAQ for login problems that means that the design of the portal is just plain flawed. Ditto with EDIR, the on-line staff directory for the U. of Arnor. It took me two calls to the Help Desk to do what used to take me less than five minutes the old-fashioned, pen-to-paper way: update my contact information. Don’t even get me started on the whole walking thing. In one of its more enlightened moments, Higher Up decided to encourage employee fitness by handing out pedometers and having participants keep track on-line of how many steps they took. The problem? Yeah, you guessed it. The database was, once again, difficult to logon to and glitchy once you were in it. Do I still walk, you ask? Every day, rain or shine. Do I bother keeping track of my steps? No, I don’t. Another good idea shot in the foot (pun intended) by badly designed software.

So, while I was waiting for the Help Desk to reset my password yet again, I skipped ahead to the next lesson, checking out library-related blogs. I discovered this page at Library Garden is very helpful if you are looking for library blogs to scope out. It can help you find cool stuff like this:

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I want one. I want one bad. I think that the library should buy a bunch for us Learning 2.0 survivors students. Only $2.50 a piece.

Of course, you should be aware that surfing the net in search of librarian blogs can also you lead you to things like the following. A warning to delicate readers. The following animated music video contains repeated uses of the f-word and the n-word. I must say this is the only literacy-related video I have ever come across that makes reading sound like a dangerous, gangsta-related activity.


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I wanna roll with the gangstas, but I’m afraid that I’m just too white and nerdy ….

–“White and Nerdy”, Weird Al Yankovic

Okay, true confession time: when the day comes when we can plug our brains directly into the Net, I will be one of the first in line to get the implant. Not for any work-related reason whatsoever, but simply because I get a high from new information. Back when I was training to be a journalist, I interned at the local newspaper. The paper had a teletype machine that they got the news from the Reuters and AP wires over and I’ll never forget the rush I got holding the printouts and realizing that I knew what the breaking stories were before anybody else in town did. That doesn’t automatically make me a fan of the latest gadgets–overpriced, overhyped junk you don’t need is overpriced, overhyped junk you don’t need–but it does make me very open to things that are new.

A common complaint I hear about new technology is “that application is a fun toy, but it’s not really applicable to my work or to the work of the library”. The best reply I have for that statement is not mine, but rather this post by Jim Bumgardner called “Utility is overrated”. What does one call Jim? A Flash programmer? An artist who works in software the way sculptors work in clay? A devil who creates the neatest, time-wasting computer toys ever seen on the Net such as this musicbox or these graphics? As the Jimster says, “my body produces software the way other people produce poop”.

Jim’s point is that software is art and, as such, it doesn’t have to be utilitarian. When it has utility, Jim says, it becomes either a tool or a weapon. I would go a little further and say that in the beginning everything is a toy. That is, new technology frequently doesn’t have a clear use. It is only over time that we begin to see how it can be applied, either by itself or in combination with other technologies.

And now a fun little music vid going out from me to all you techsters out there:

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