some interesting reading/commenting from MeFi

I had been holding off on linking to the Web Tech Guy and Angry Staff Person video/blog post because I have mixed feelings about the idea generally even though I know it was a big hit when they showed it off at the conference. Then it hit MetaFilter and I found the discussion there helped me not only flesh out my own feelings about it but gave me a look into how other professionals from different perspectives saw it. Most notably, I was interested in this comment by Larry Cebula who works for Washington State and runs an award-winning northwest history blog.

I work for the Washington State Digital Archives. We have something like 80 million documents, mostly from Washington State counties, online and add millions more per month. After years of resistance the counties are really hopping aboard and have become great fans of our service.

But still we get these complaints and worries. It is even worse with archives than museums because so many county and local archives count on revenues for access to fund their offices. We are about to put up thousands of cases from county courts, some dating back to the late 1800s. But the county insists that we display only the top half of the first page of each record–and charge 25 cents a page for users to even view the records beyond that first half page! It is anti-democratic and eliminates many of the potential advantages of digital history, but there you have it.

Slightly related librarian topic over at AskMetaFilter, a question about questions: What questions do library users most often ask?

Libraries’ Surprising Special Collections

Smithsonian magazine wrote a neat article about libraries’ special and interesting collections. Alas, they forgot to include links to any of the cited libraries’ websites. Someone from MetaFilter, actually a librarian pal of mine who works at Harvard, picked up the torch and started a thread with many more excellent examples.

hive mind, in Slate

I was interviewed for Slate about Ask MetaFilter. I like the way the article came out. When the hive mind works, it’s a beautiful thing.

where else besides the library can I ask a question online?

Brian has a few suggestions for other places to go online to ask questions or read other people’s answers. As you probably know, I work for Ask MetaFilter and I’m pretty happy with how it all works out, getting people answers to their questions. I’ve asked thirty questions there myself. Here’s a screenshot of what I think is a pretty usual list of questions.

php for librarian

donnagirl asks MetaFilter: “I have two weeks to learn PHP. Help me make a plan! Because my library job is ridiculously awesome, I’m being given two weeks to devote myself to learning php.” Good advice follows from the hive mind.

ReadMe, a readers advisory sort of wiki page

One of the types of questions we get a lot in Ask MetaFilter is “what book should I read on XYZ topic?” It’s one of those questions that the hive mind is actually good at answering because it’s just brainstorming and list generation by a self-selected group of people, not the “do I need to get this wound looked at?” sort in which you really shoudl ask a doctor. So, someone on MetaFilter decided to organize these questions into a wiki page. MetaFilter has our own wiki where a lot of information that may not need its own home on the site can reside, and where users can contribute content directly. The page is called ReadMe and contains a categorized list of over 650 topics on what to read, linking directly to the Ask MetaFilter thread where the topic was discussed. There’s even a section about libraries. It still needs a bit of tweaking, but what an awesome resource and a good concrete example of the nifty aggregating effects of blogs, and the “anyone can build something” effects of wikis.

books change lives

This isn’t specifically about libraries, but I know that many librarians consider Neil Gaiman a member of our tribe, since he’s so bloggeriffic and knowledgeable and appreciative of our profession. So, I thought you’d enjoy this story about how Neil Gamain pitched in to help scifi fan Jason propose to his girlfriend during a book signing event. Here’s Jason’s blog post explaining how it all went down. Neil Gaiman says it was his favourite bit of his visit to the Phillipines. [mefi]

cross-site promotion, are you on metafilter?

Me and the nice people from MetaFilter are starting an ambitious back-tagging project where a team of volunteers will be adding tags to the 42,000 posts that were on the website before we added the tagging functionality. We’re hoping that this will make it easier to track down double-posts and related posts and make browsing the site via tags a little more thorough. I envy sites like Flickr that have had tags since the beginning, doing it this way is hard and not at all optimal. In any case, if you have a MetaFilter login and would like to do a little volunteer tagging, please drop me an email or (preferably) an IM with your usernumber and I can get you set up.

weeding and noisy libraries, a community response

Simon Chamberlain’s VALIS blog points to a bunch of responses to the Wall Street Journal piece about what they see as aggressive weeding. He gives two nods to MetaFilter, one for the discussion about the WSJ thread [which I participated in] and one for a related thread in Ask MetaFilter asking when libraries started being so … noisy. One of my favorite things about these discussions is the interactions between librarians and non-librarians in a non-library setting. The other thing I like is that thanks to MetaFilter’s use of the XFN protocol I can link to every library worker I notice in these threads as a “colleague” and then keep track of their posts and comments. Look at all those librarians talking to each other, and to their once and future patrons.

Ask Metafilter in the news

Just a few cool media mentions of Ask MetaFilter this week, neither of which were written by me or people I know.

1. NPR in their Five for Friday column says “Mom always said two heads were better than one. What would she say about thousands of heads, all with varying tidbits of knowledge — and all willing to help answer anything or everything on your mind?” I think I might like to be friends with Melody Joy Kramer.
2. The Chicago Tribune gives AskMe a nod while reporting on the demise of Google answers saying ” While Yahoo Answers is more about facts, Ask MetaFilter, in its best moments, is about feelings, opinions, theories of life. A recent, not atypical question: ‘Did you marry someone despite misgivings and have it actually work?’”