tagswarming @ your library

The Missouri Botanical Garden is tagging the illustrations in their collection using volunteers and a shared del.icio.us account. They call this approach TagSwarming. Here is their tag cloud, and here is the blog entry from the digital library guy who created this project. They are always looking for helpers, if this sort of project idea intrigues you.

OPACs old and new, Ms. Jessamyn goes to Washington

I’m at the Calef Library in Washington today doing some computer maintenance and just all around tech chit-chat with the librarian. She’s involved in a discussion with the board of trustees about whether she can get health insurance this year and it’s not going particularly well. Her husband is a farmer, he doesn’t have health insurance either. It’s ineresting how many librarians in my region have farmer husbands. The library here is open 19 hours a week and she works ten of them, the other nine are staffed by a volunteer. You’ve probably seen the pictures of this library on Flickr, it’s a really lovely space. The librarian is a real can-do gal. She’s working with a nice space, a teeny budget, and a moderately supportive board. Her and I talk about technology and the things I explain to her stick with her.

We were talking about wireless today — the library has broadband on two computers via cable modem, the librarian shares her computer with the public when it’s busy — and she said “You just buy some hardware and set it up and you’re done?” I said yes, mostly. Next thing you know, we bought a wireless router with a wireless PCMCIA card for under $30, delivered. Next week when it arrives I’ll show her how to set it up, help her make some configuration handouts for her patrons, and we’re done. It will be the first wireless hotspot in Washington Vermont and probably the only one within 10-15 miles. When we were through talking about wireless, the Town Clerk called, she was having trouble with her email and couldn’t get the librarian’s report from her email in order to put in the town report. I walked over there and showed her how to enter her username and password into her dial-up configuration, and also how to use Word’s “recover text from any document” feature to get the librarian’s Word Perfect report into the clerk’s Word document. I got back to the library and tol the librarian she didn’t have to retype the report and this made her pretty happy.

I’ve been talking to the librarian here about getting her catalog online. ILS software is sort of expensive, though she could probably get the funding. For a library that for all intents and purposes is going to stay small, major feature-rich ILSes are not as important as things such as an easy interface and a simple and cheap data input mechanism. I’d been talking to Timothy over at LibraryThing about whether he’d consider rolling out a version of his super software for teeny libraries. His encouraging answer was “not yet” but we’ve been talking about it.

This brings me to my next topic, sparked by Jenny Levine’s TechSource post about Library 2.0 in the Real World and my new pal Casey who maybe you’ve heard of. Casey Bisson built an OPAC prototype that runs on WordPress. No, seriously, look. It will run with any vendor’s ILS. He talked about it at ALA well before I got there, and people were buzzing about it all week. Not only is it a clever hack, it’s clean, simple, unbranded and highly functional in ways that seem pretty obvious to bloghappy me. I’d love to see a prototype running publicly so that he could get some feedback from folks who maybe don’t come from the born-with-the-chip generation.

In my neck of the woods, small ILS vendors are charging $1500 for this level of functionality, the ability to put an OPAC on the web. Non-tech savvy librarians who don’t have the ability to code these features themselves find ways to pay it. And, bringing this post full-circle, then they find other ways to get health insurance for the year. I think you know the moral of this story. I’m happy to have some good news to report from here in the hinterlands.

using itunes as a cheap and easy music preview tool

While we’re talking about social software, let’s talk about libraries using the tools that their students and patrons are already using. Union College in Schenectaty NY takes advantage of iTunes’ feature allowing other people on the same network to listen to each other’s music. So, if I’m at the library using the wireless and someone else is at the library using the wireless and has decided to make their music available, I can listen to it as if it were my music. The library uses their own copy of iTunes to offer tracks of new music that is available for checkout at the library. Innovative, free and clever!

Flickr/Yahoo & Library collaboration

Coming on the heels of the recent news about Google’s foray into international government entanglement, here’s some encouraging news perhaps. Flickr is working with the National Library of Australia to “build a image bank with over a million images to be managed by the National Library of Australia.” This seems to not be an archival process but a way for the library to use what Flickr does best, upload, store and allow tagging and categorization of lots of digial images, combined with the mission and purpose of the library. I’m not sure how the library is managing these photos, but it will be fun to see contemporary photos in the PictureAustralia database. I saw a demo of this project when I was in Australia last year, it’s a pretty great resource. [thanks mom]

when is a search engine not a search engine?

Is it okay to remove sites from search results in response to lawsuits? Check out this search and make sure you read the disclaimer at the bottom. Then read about Google agreeing to censor their results in China, begging the question “Are censored results better than none at all?” Gmail and Blogger will also not be available to Chinese users of Google. As a quickie example, you can see the results for Tiananmen Square searches: US Google, Chinese Google, Chinese Google search using Chinese characters. The Chinese searches have the disclaimer “据当地法律法规和政策,部分搜索结果未予显示” or “In accordance with local laws, regulations and policies, part of these search results are not displayed.” This is all in addition to other blocking strategies, commonly referred to as The Great Firewall of China. However in this case Google.cn doesn’t just block searches for keywords, it blocks selectively sometimes without saying that it’s doing so. Slightly more explanation and intrigue over at Search Engine Watch, Google Blogoscoped and Google’s own official blog.

Why does this matter to librarians? Well, it’s obvious how it matters to librarians in China. It also calls into question the very idea of objectivity in search engines everywhere. As Google spends more time and effort currying favor with librarians trying to show how sympatico they are, this move is a departure from expanding access. People who search Google.cn for topics like Tibet or Falun Gong (or possible even other less innocuous topics) won’t just find an absence of results, they’ll find results that are skewed towards the Chinese government’s policies about those topics. That’s wrong. Pundits argue that this is a sensible move for Google from a business perspective, and I won’t debate that, but it does serve to starkly highlight the differences in saying “free acces to information” if you’re a for-profit shareholder-owned company. Any librarian who has had to grapple with a filter with an unknown blacklist will be familiar with the struggles that people on the non-filtered side of Google are going through trying to figure out just what is happening. [metafilter]