19 September 2009

out-of-print books

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 9:08 pm by Andromeda

Google has rights to a gazillion out-of-print books, people freak in expected manners, Globe article here.

One of the things that came up in my library automation class is the place of database aggregators in the marketplace. There are lots of databases out there, and it’s not realistic for every library to negotiate contracts separately with every database it might want, so you get these organizations with the clout and capacity to negotiate these bulk deals and resell them to libraries, who then only have to (and only get to) negotiate with one vendor.

The case of out-of-print books seem similar: many of the people and institutions who might be interested in having access to some of them don’t have the know-how, time, money, etc. to negotiate those rights. So one of the few organizations that does have the ability to do so on a grand scale, does so — and immediately you fall into problems of monopoly.

Which raises the question of whether there’s anyone who actually *can* get those orphan books to the light of day, some entity living in a narrow slice between practicality and regulation.


18 September 2009

the perfect is the enemy of the good; the good is the enemy of the perfect?

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 12:06 pm by Andromeda

In my Library Automation class yesterday, the concept of satisficing came up.

Digression: satisficing is where I feel most acutely the cultural conflict between the librarians I read and talk with in school, and the software geeks I socialize with. So any time that comes up, there’s a lot going on in my head.

Someone noted how the nature of research was changing as new search tools become available — not, to be tactful, that the quality was suffering, but that people are drawn to accessibility over exhaustivity. A favorite classmate of mine leaned over and said, “How is that quality not suffering?”

Well, class is not the time to go into that, but here’s my answer to her:

It depends.

Making search easier, making records and then content more accessible, means that more searches come up with something. It means that people are more prone to treat searching for information as a realistic tactic. It means that the generation of ideas, and the development of content and other products based on those ideas, is easier. It means we will have a world with more generation, more creativity, more content, more entrepreneurship.

And that content will cover our world with information kudzu which, like kudzu, will often have to be macheted away. Some of that content, those prototypes, those ideas, will be horribly flawed (broken, misleading, decontextualized) because they were based on incomplete or inaccurate information. But sometimes, the idea that exists, the product that exists, even if broken, is better than the idea or product that does not. I’m typing this on a browser with bugs on an operating system with bugs on hardware that’s getting increasingly apoplectic, but my life is better for having these.

So satisficing, yes, you are my little love for what you bring to our lives. But I think the cataloguers and old-school library theorists of the world have a very real point as well when they decry you. Because sometimes, the incomplete search really isn’t enough. There are objectives and applications for which good-enough is good-enough, but if I’m talking academic research (at least, past the undergraduate level)? If I’m talking, good heavens, medical research? Intelligence and security work? I would really rather the investigators not satisfice. And to this extent, the easy availability of patchy search, the least-effort temptation, really is a problem, and even a threat.

So there you go, M: the answer behind my expression.

14 September 2009

Free libraries aren’t free

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 7:25 pm by Andromeda

I feel like I should have something intelligent to say about the fact that Philadelphia is closing all of its libraries in a month, but I don’t. I sure hope this is Philadelphia playing the world’s most straight-faced game of high-stakes political chicken.

11 September 2009

I can totally go study every morning

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 10:02 pm by Andromeda

Dudes! Did you see the library they’ve got here?

Thank you, McSweeney’s.

10 September 2009


Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 9:43 pm by Andromeda

One of the great things about using something like Dewey on your bookshelf is that, cleaning up around the house, you discover that The Collapse of State Socialism goes between Utopia and The Road to Serfdom.

6 September 2009


Posted in Uncategorized at 12:25 pm by Andromeda

First off, let’s just say I loathe shopping. Hour wandering around the store trying to find everything, unhelpful (if even findable) service, and me progressively losing patience with roughly everything in the universe.

At some point, though, it penetrated the haze of impatience that the problem I was seeing is analogous to that of faceted classifications vs. linear shelving. Electronic catalogs are great in that they allow us to search and browse in faceted ways, like I think most of us think. But whenever you have to put actual physical objects on shelves, you have to break that paradigm; there’s only one order they can go in. (Perhaps if you are very nerdy, and your products can be fully specified along a small number of axes which have few values, you can do a partial ordering, taking advantage of the vertical nature of shelving and more complicated arrangements, but really, who are your patrons then? And what are you selling?)

So anyway, here I am trying to find, e.g., a backpack for a toddler. Does it go in the children’s section, near toddler clothes? Does it go in the back-to-school section, which exists only at this time of year (and is admittedly a good idea even if it reclassifies things according to a wholly different facet than the norm)? The various sections of the store are labeled, but there’s so many facets I might treat as primary that the labels are unhelpful. (And in this case, really, “so many” means “more than one”.)

I need a tool to help me navigate. Knowledgeable, easy-to-find sales staff with social skills would work, but that seemed not to be the store’s priority. Kiosks that let me search an inventory and gave me a map would help. Luckily, these are things that libraries often (not always…) do well, and care about. But there is no LC, or other standardized classification system, for this sort of store.

(The answer, by the way? “Luggage”. But only if you want it to be hideously appliqued with brightly colored, strongly gendered merchandised characters. Otherwise you are out of luck.)

2 September 2009

A shrine, a rant, and zombies

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:47 pm by Andromeda

(Sorry to have been quiet lately; I’ve been out of town a lot.)

Today’s thought-provoking post is Outreach is Undead over at In the Library with the Lead Pipe. (I mean, seriously thought-provoking; it has a bibliography. And I? Have academic journal access. Oh yeah.) And if you’re not into thought, it has Bela Lugosi. How can you lose?

OK, so seriously, what it’s talking about is outreach, and how an attitude of outreach (marketing, community connection) needs to permeate everything librarians are doing, not be ghettoized off in some separate department. No shambling, zombie-like circ clerks off the public-relations hook. (OK, the post doesn’t quite put it that way…Actually I am overrepresenting the zombie content. But it was a good post. And I am totally in agreement with its thesis.)

There’s a point, though, when she brings up one potential definition of outreach — basically activities done beyond the physical bounds of the library — and says,

Pointon’s definition is great, but it pulls into play the struggle libraries are having with “library as place,” an issue recently addressed in The Journal of Academic Librarianship by Sennyey et al., 2009. Current library services transcend the physical boundaries of a library building. Many collections and services offered by public and academic libraries are used remotely. Users access library services from home, in their offices, and even via mobile devices. “…the bond between users and the physical library will change and if poorly managed the “library as place” will become just another campus building” (Sennyey, et al., 2009). In this way, defining outreach by physical boundaries (a body) does not reflect the wealth of services that libraries provide and undermine our community-centered work.

And I’m torn here. On the one hand, I totally love the shifting focus of libraries from books to information, of which books are a subset. And I love electronic services and electronic community (hello, I’m blogging).

But it also seems like place is one of the major advantages that libraries (and bookstores) have over Google (and Amazon). (Or, as the Boston Globe noted recently, really good video stores over Netflix.) Unless you live in one sweet house, you can’t go to Google and curl up in a comfy chair in an atrium. It’s not a place you can congregate, run into people. Being a place that facilitates types of interactions, that adds a physical dimension with sensory appeal, matters.

I was thinking about this recently when I visited the Boston Public Library, which is, of course, one of the great shrines of librarydom. The place is gorgeous, of course…stone and carved names, a sunlit atrium with a pool and a statue that looks like joy. And it’s huge and drips with quiet majesty and this sense of old knowledge. I could spend a long time in one of those chairs in that atrium, in the shade, watching the sun, with a book.

And then I encountered really awful customer service from almost everyone I encountered there (except the perceptive and personable security guards), which is a whole separate rant I won’t get into, except to say that service, personal connection, human interaction, is another major asset libraries have over the Google world, and that bad customer service drives me absolutely up the wall, and that, really, that’s what the outreach post is talking about when it says it has to be an attitude that everyone has. You microfiche staffers hiding in the basement, surrounded by ancient and barely used machines? You, too, are outreach, and the way you help a patron (or not) has a lot of influence on whether I come back. Mind you if I ever need copies of articles as they appeared in the print edition of some newspaper, I’ll have to come back, because Globe and Herald reprints are stupid-expensive and you let me print at 25 cents a page, but how often is that likely to happen? And wasn’t that a missed opportunity to compete on service, on a library’s irreplaceable strengths? Oughtn’t you to be something more than cheap?