20 December 2009
The last bookstore in Laredo, Texas is about to close.
(Seriously! How can you be a city of almost a quarter of a million people and not have a bookstore?)
Wonder if their libraries are any good. Wonder if they’re about to be. Wonder if and how it changes your lending policies, your services, if there is no bookstore there at all…
16 December 2009
So apparently LibLime (a support vendor for Koha, a major open-source ILS) has done a bait and switch — people who signed up for Koha support are in fact getting a vendor-specific, only-sorta-open version of the software.
I’ve been having unkind words about LibLime percolating in my head for a week which I’ve been not posting here, because I try not to be an unkind-words sort of person. But I no longer feel restraint about that.
So here’s my experience with LibLime:
They deleted my, and all my classmates’, final projects (Koha demos which they were hosting). The day before they were due.
A miscommunication was involved, and it can’t be said to be entirely Koha’s fault. The demos had been, properly, on a deletion list. But they also deleted them without notifying their client in advance. Or…noticing that there had been a tremendous amount of activity on these sites. Or, indeed, noticing that they had had support transactions on those sites within the last few weeks.
(This was ironic as part of my group’s conclusions about Koha is that you shouldn’t run it unless you personally are very comfortable with a Linux command line, or have a close and trusting relationship with an IT department or hosting company. So much for that plan…)
In addition, the demo sites they gave us were missing some very important functionality, and they couldn’t figure out how to fix it. I figured out how to fix it. Let’s keep in mind here that I’d never worked with Koha before this term, and the documentation…well, isn’t ideal, let’s say. I couldn’t implement (or verify) my solution because I didn’t have access to a command line, but I could use the knowledge to figure out a hack I could implement from the front end which got it working well enough for our purposes.
So for those playing along at home: yes, that means the person totally inexperienced with the software and without access to the command line diagnosed and fixed the problem before the person who gets paid to do that.
LibLime…oh, LibLime. I want there to be inspiring, kick-ass open-source support companies for the library world. I want open source to be able to offer both market and conceptual challenges to traditional software. I want the library world to have the agility that open source offers to try new tools and new paradigms. None of that is going to happen without quality support. That support, alas, is not you.
15 December 2009
By popular demand — by which I mean an insistent Jon Herzog — I’m going to give you a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at being a contestant on Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me, the NPR news quiz (responsible for my recent fifteen seconds of fame. We’ll be back to your regularly scheduled library themes soon.
Q: What happens when you call 1-888-waitwait?
A: I have no idea. I emailed them, using instructions on the linked page, which is somehow up despite not being part of their current round of web design, and indeed impossible to find from there. Anyway, I told them the stuff I wanted to know, and nothing happened for a while, and then I got a phone call from assistant producer Emily Ecton asking if I was free on Thursday (I wasn’t, but I said I was, because when Wait, Wait calls you…duh!).
Q: So yeah, how does that whole being on the show thing work?
A: Well, per above, Emily and I chatted a bit on the phone, I presume so she could ensure I had a comprehensible voice and could carry on a conversation without saying anything obviously psychopathic. And she said they had an opening on the Bluff the Listener segment (simultaneous, silent reactions from me: “Woooo yeah awesome!” and “OMG, that’s the hard segment, I’m hosed”). And then she said I needed to wait by a land line phone on Thursday at 7:30 and they’d call, and of course I don’t have a land line phone, which led to hilarious Seeekrit Planning as I obtained the use of a friend’s land line without telling my husband where I was or what I was doing, since the idea was it would be a Christmas surprise for his voice mail. (It can hardly be on our home answering machine when we don’t, per the above, have one.) Anyway, eventually they call, and you listen for a bit to the previous segment (which turned out to be a later segment during the aired version), and then you chat with Peter Sagal.
Q: How do you prepare for a thing like that?
A: You obsess over all sorts of witty and charming conversations you could have, none of which happen because instead he asks you a question you don’t want to answer, and you ignore your final project, also due Thursday, to cram boston.com Odds n’ Ends headlines, none of which will turn out to be the story you are asked. (Nota bene to my professor and teammates: I was working hard on my final project all week, yo. Disregard previous sentence.)
My friend whose land line I was borrowing also told me “never trust Charlie Pierce if he mentions Townsend, Wisconsin” and “they love having an excuse to bring on someone with an accent to tell the real story”. Charlie Pierce was on but did not mention Wisconsin, and I (in the crush of post-finals stress + headache) completely forgot her second piece of advice, which turned out to be utterly applicable and correct.
Q: Soooooo how do I hear that message?
A: Can’t help you with that. They’ll be calling me within the next few days to set things up, so I don’t know how it works yet. And I want it to end up on my husband’s voice mail, so you’ll have to call him. I’ve pretty much told him not to answer the phone next week.
Hm. Any other questions?
14 December 2009
In the continuing saga of our information overlords, they’ve come out with Google Translate. As a former Latin teacher, I mostly love and partly dislike this system:
+ The on-the-fly translation is pretty sweet. In particular I love seeing how it recalibrates its concept of whole phrases as it gets new input — something I would have liked to have shown my students as a good practice.
+ It supports a bunch of languages and lets you choose any pair of them for initial & target (including some helpful options for non-Latin scripts and Romanization).
– Latin is not among the languages it supports, which limits my ability to probe it.
-/+ Using a language I know less well but can hack at lower levels (Spanish), I can see there are definite (and unsurprising) weaknesses, especially as sentences get longer (and presumably as grammar gets more complex, although once that happens my ability to translate the Spanish is also hampered). So minus, it doesn’t work as well, but plus, it still won’t be supplanting anyone’s language-homework-doing any time soon ;).
-/+ It uses statistical patterns derived from really big corpora (as we might expect of Google), not computational rules. On the one hand, my inner linguistics nerd is sorta sad. On the other hand, it’s awesomely googly (and more pragmatic/scalable, I’m sure).
However! The library angle I was getting at here is that you can search web sites in other languages. Enter terms in the language you know, and it’ll translate and search. Looks like it will only search one language at a time, and I don’t know how it deals with ambiguous terms, and I’m sure the quality degrades with phrase searches, but this does increase our ability to find all relevant information on a query, and I’m sure the tools will improve with time.
12 December 2009
On the internet, everyone gets their fifteen seconds of fame.
9 December 2009
The biography “Napoleon” by Emil Ludwig recently arrived at Toledo’s main library, with a brief note that read: “I removed this book from your stacks in 1949 and did not check it out. I apologize. It’s an excellent book and in good condition.”
And this, I guess, is why your circ clerks need to have some discretion about fines.
8 December 2009
Amazon loses $2 on every ebook sold?!? This makes exactly as little sense as you’d think.
(h/t Jim Henley, via Google Reader.)
6 December 2009
Blog post at Walking Paper raises the question — what are the best statistics for measuring libraries? Points out that circulation statistics, while heavily used, are limited and limiting.
Not sure what I make of his approach — seems to conflate “statistics you show to the general public” and “statistics you show to oversight bodies” while being biased toward the former — but it’s a good question.
What statistics would you use to measure library performance?
(h/t Librarian in Black)
1 December 2009
Today I’m looking at the web site for the University of Washington Libraries, because they’re one of the first WorldCat Local sites and, I admit, I kinda have a crush on WorldCat. (It’s slick. It’s clean. It has all sorts of augmented content without overwhelming me with it. And…and isn’t my library supposed to be a portal to connect with information, not just the information we happen to have? If my library doesn’t have something, shouldn’t they make it easy for me to find it anyway?)
So a couple things I am really liking about the UW web site…
Trendy, front-and-center single searchbox gateway to the catalog. Oh, and it’s purple.
Surrounding content, again, copious without being overwhelming. It’s in boxes. Nice clean boxes.
“Shortcuts” is a great title for one of those boxes. Not jargon. Makes it sound like they’ve thought about what people might want to get to quickly, and made it easy. (Hopefully based on some actual usage; no way to tell…)
Obvious access to things everyone cares about, like library hours and how to pay fines (you’d be surprised how hard it can be to find some places’ hours).
Widgets! A whole box full of widgets! Did you know there’s an app on Facebook that will format your bibliographies for you? Genius. And they made widgets so you can embed stuff in your own blog or browser or iGoogle. Beautiful.
And up top, a little “click to talk with a UW librarian” box, with a picture of someone who looks like a central-casting librarian — and completely hilarious hover text. (Unintentionally hilarious? I hope not.)