Monthly Archives: July 2007

Open Library Opens

There is a temptation to think big when it comes to books. For example, here’s a clip from the newly-revealed Open Library Project’s website, part of the Internet Archive .

What if there was a library which held every book? Not every book on sale, or every important book, or even every book in English, but simply every book—a key part of our planet’s cultural legacy.

First, the library must be on the Internet. No physical space could be as big or as universally accessible as a public web site. The site would be like Wikipedia—a public resource that anyone in any country could access and that others could rework into different formats.

Second, it must be grandly comprehensive. It would take catalog entries from every library and publisher and random Internet user who is willing to donate them. It would link to places where each book could be bought, borrowed, or downloaded. It would collect reviews and references and discussions and every other piece of data about the book it could get its hands on.

But most importantly, such a library must be fully open. Not simply “free to the people,” as the grand banner across the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh proclaims, but a product of the people: letting them create and curate its catalog, contribute to its content, participate in its governance, and have full, free access to its data. In an era where library data and Internet databases are being run by money-seeking companies behind closed doors, it’s more important than ever to be open.

So let us do just that: let us build the Open Library.

It’s a little far from complete, to say the least, and the building won’t be easy, but it’s an interesting concept. Basically, if I understand it, it’s a wiki platform for combining information about books from various sources to create a single, open source, publicly-built and publicly-modified catalog of books past and present. It’s sort of like Google Book Search, only it isn’t owned and controlled by a mega-corporation. It’s a little like Library Thing, but more ambitious in its goals. (Library Thing is excited.) It’s a little like OCLC’s Open WorldCat only it’s . . . open. In the free web version of WorldCat, the public can find books and add reviews, but only libraries that pay for the not-open Worldcat are included and they must subscribe to the First Search version to underwrite the free version.

Will librarians embrace this new project? Will book lovers? Library Thing has over 2 million unique records, WorldCat has 85 million, and Google won’t say. The Open Library demo has apparently around half a million records so far, but to be fair it’s only been open for a few days. It remains to be seen how it will catch up and become as complete as it would like to be.

What’s really interesting to me about these visions of a complete and public library is that they make three very interesting assumptions: first, that books are an irreplaceable cultural resource; second, that ideally they should be available to all, without charge; and third, the best catalog includes everything ever published. There’s a touching belief here that books and democracy are somehow interconnected, and that everyone should have access to books – all books. It’s a little ironic, when so many communities are deciding they really can’t afford a public library anymore.

Still, optimism about a DIY Internet-based library catalog abounds. Over at BoingBoing Rich Prelinger says “I have a hunch that it’s going to be the primary way many if not most people access books, and I see it becoming an always-open window on the desk of every librarian.”

We shall see . . .

What We Can Learn From Technology Readiness

One of the more interesting programs I attended at ALA was a three hour workshop by Professor A. Parasuraman of the University of Miami. Parasuraman was an original developer of the ServQual instrument, and he spoke on the origins of Libqual. This workshop was sponsored by ARL. I imagine that quite a few of you who have worked with LibQual previously have attended a presentation by Parasuraman. It may sound boring, but Parasuraman was a riveting speaker, and the time went by in a flash. It was a great way to develop a deeper understanding of the basic principles of LibQual. But there was more to the session than that.

The second half of the workshop focused on e-service quality, or the dimensions of how effectively websites and web resources serve their customers. These dimensions include such factors as efficiency, responsiveness, technical functioning, customer security, privacy and problem handling. Where things got interesting is when Parasuraman talked about technology readiness. In a nutshell, there is a hazard in offering certain technologies or features on your website because there are great ranges in technology readiness. If your users are not technologically ready for these features, they won’t get used.

That doesn’t mean to say you shouldn’t adapt new technologies for your site or library. Every community has its “explorers” and “pioneers’ who will always try new technologies. Where care must be taken is in avoiding the tendency to believe your new technology is successful based only on the reception from explorers. There are still many segments of the user community who are far less ready to use the new technology, and then shun it. That’s where the National Technology Readiness Survey comes in. The survey gathers data about the technology readiness of individuals. The latest survey is available for 2006. There are four areas in which customers are asked about their technology beliefs. The most salient one for us may be the dimension of innovativeness.

One’s innovativeness (for technology) is expressed as the ability to “keep up with the latest technological developments in one area of interest.” Before I give you the summary of the responses may I remind you to look at this recent post.

I wrote about how I was sometimes feeling less able to keep up with all the things I’d like to. I questioned if it was just me or if there was something larger at work. Apparently some other librarians also blogged about the challenges of keeping up. Walt Crawford captures some of that discussion in his July 2007 issue of Cites and Insights. Guess I’m not alone. Then I heard the interesting data that corresponds to this in the workshop. Here is the trend in percentage of respondents when asked about their innovativeness (keeping up with the latest technology developments in your area):

68% – 1999
69% – 2000
65% – 2001
59% – 2002
60% – 2004
57% – 2006

So between 1999 and 2006 fewer people describe themselves as innovative. They are reporting that they keep up less well than in previous years. I suspect that individuals are putting in as much time on keeping up as they always did. That certainly is the case for me. Where things seems to be contributing to the declining rate of innovativeness, is the sheer number of technological developments that one needs to keep up-to-date with. According the the NTRS, we are being overwhelmed. I see it as an indicator that the given amount of time you have to keep up and increase your technology awareness is insufficient. It may be something we need to accept.

So what does all this mean for academic libraries? Well, don’t be alarmed if it seems you are having difficulty trying to keep up with all the new technologies. You are not alone. Also, as technology diffusers, we leverage new technology for new services and resources. But don’t expect, at least initially, to achieve widespread adoption by your user community. Technology acceptance is slow because many of our library users are technology unready. As always, the more we know about our users, that is a better chance to improve service delivery.

Urgent Action Needed On NIH Policy – Call Your Reps

A friend writes:

You all know firsthand as academic librarians that the present system of scholarly communication is badly broken. Faster and wider sharing of knowledge, like that funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), would fuel the advance of science. Broad communication of research results is an essential component of the US government’s investment in science. The NIH strongly supports this goal and has instituted a voluntary system intended to make scientific research more broadly available for use. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, that system is not working. That is why NIH is now asking Congress to include language through appropriations to make the program mandatory.

Recently, we’ve seen wonderful developments as both the US House and Senate Appropriations Committees have approved language in their FY08 Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Bills that would require NIH-funded researchers to make their final manuscripts publicly accessible within 12 month of publication in peer reviewed journals.

We need your help to keep the momentum going. The full House of Representatives and the full Senate will vote on their respective measures this summer. The House is expected to convene on Tuesday, July 17. We’re asking that you contact your US Representative and your US Senators by phone or fax as soon as possible and no later than Monday afternoon. Urge them to maintain the Appropriations Committee language. (Find talking points and contact info for your legislators in the ALA Legislative Action Center. It is entirely possible that an amendment will be made on the floor of the House to delete the language in the NIH policy.

Want to know more? Listen to an interview with Heather Joseph of SPARC on the ALA Washington Office District Dispatch blog. Find background on the issue along with tips on communicating effectively with your legislators in the last two issues of ACRL’s Legislative Update and at the Alliance for Taxpayer Access website.

It’s critical that you, as constituents, express your support for the current language in the appropriations bill that would make the NIH public access policy mandatory. Tell your legislators what it would mean to you, your students, your faculty and your community if you could all gain access to this research. It is especially important for supporters to speak up now given how vocal opponents have been (see recent LJ Academic Newswire article and AAP letter.

Another Reason I’m Glad To Be An Academic Librarian

Compared to public librarians, I think that academic librarians have it easy in some ways. We tend to complain about students and faculty not using the library, but let’s face it, to a large extent we have a fairly captive audience. Many students need to use their academic library at some point, be it for a reserve item, to use a computer or to find a study room. The academic library is also conveniently located somewhere on campus that makes it easy for students to drop in during the course of the day. Few have to get in their car or take public transportation for a library visit.

Having attended a few public library-oriented sessions at ALA, I see that those folks have no audience except for the one they create. No one has to go to the public library; they have to want to go. So public libraries are getting savvy about marketing and designing programs to attract their community members of all ages. Compared to some of the outreach efforts I heard about it seems that academic librarians are not doing nearly as much to engage their patrons outside the library. And that may be because our survival is not entirely dependent upon it.

Oh, and academic librarians rarely have to deal with this sort of thing, but for our public library colleagues it must be the bane of their existence.

Library Associations Are Not Masters Of Their Domain

What is the value of owning a simple domain name? By that I mean owning as a domain name a popular single word such as chocolate, music or beer – or library. It can actually be enormously profitable. The business of snapping up simple names, turning them into domains and then building portal or retail sites around them is the topic of an article in the June 25 issue of BusinessWeek magazine. It profiles two businessmen who acquire single name domains where one usually finds a generic, and not very useful, web site. They then turn the site into a snazzy and informative center for one-stop shopping that represents all things related to that topic.

That got me thinking about the domain for the word library. First, who owns it, second, what’s there, and third, what could it be that it currently isn’t. Not that I was surprised, but I discovered that neither the domain for library.com or library.org is owned by ALA or any library assocation. Library.com is owned by a company that sells products to libraries and library.org is the exact type of generic site discussed in the article. While library.com may be hard to get, it seems that library.org is ripe for the taking. Think about it. Doesn’t it seem appropriate that anyone who goes to a domain named library.com or library.org should get taken to a site sponsored by the premier library organization. And the result shouldn’t be a redirect trip to www.ala.org. That’s for librarians. What we need to provide is a site that is all about libraries, with appropriate links to the best resources, but is geared to the public end user.

Why is this important? Research tells us that one in six Internet searchers never use a search box. They opt instead for typing their single word into the address bar of the browser. The goal is to get directly to a site that will be a starting point for information on that topic. We may not approve of that search strategy, but that’s what people do. From the domain owner’s perspective it’s a way to capture a huge number of searchers. So I’m recommending that ALA and our other professional library associations give some serious thought to buying up the library domains (both com and org), and then turning them into serious portals about libraries and librarians. This isn’t about making a big profit. It’s about creating awareness and capturing an opportunity to make a difference.