Socially Portable, my contribution to the BIGWIG showcase

I decided to do something for the BIGWIG Social Software showcase even though I wasn’t going to be at ALA. I think I missed out on most of the awesome parts of this excellent idea/event, but I was still happy to put a little something together. Then I went to NYC for a long weekend, and ALA happend in DC and I sort of forgot about it until now.

I have to say, a wiki with the exhortation “Please note that all contributions to Social Software Showcase may be edited, altered, or removed by other contributors. If you don’t want your writing to be edited mercilessly, then don’t submit it here.” (as all mediawiki wikis have) seems like an odd place to put presentations that you’d sort of hope wouldn’t be mercilessly edited, but that’s a small gripe in an otherwise enjoyable exercise. My presentation is called Socially Portable and is a short and hopefully amusing look at portable applications (for Mac and Windows) for people interested in having identities that are not just flexible but actually mobile. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks very much to Michelle, Jason and Karen for putting this together.

I [want to] love libraries

Many people have worked hard on ALA’s I Love Libraries website. I know this because I was (in a small way) one of them.The site was advertised in the State of America’s Libraries published by ALA in April but didn’t go live until this week, just in time for Annual. In the intervening time we got what can only be described as a sub-par “coming soon” page which is really amazing to me considering that the URL had already been widely distributed.

I don’t see much need to pick apart the website page by page, but I do have some critiques that I hope will be illustrative or helpful.

1. Who didn’t learn anything about long URLs? ALA didn’t. There is no reason in 2007 to have that much extra junk in a URL.
2. In 2007, a “find your library” page should not go to a list of links of how you can find your library. It should go to a search box or a map.
3. Don’t hide your blog. Don’t bury new content at the bottom of your main page.
4. Things professional websites have that this one doesn’t: favicons, copyright statements in the footer or on the legal page not up top looking defensive, an overall design sensibility, content (not just links to content), an about us page with the names of real people on it, valid markup, alt text for images, accessible coding, valid security certificates, copyright statements that word wrap appropriately.
5. The rules for adding content to the Ilovelibraries.org Flickr group exclude humans and allow only institutions. Which 2.0 guideline does this violate? I asked to join. I never even heard back from the group moderator. Why is this restriction necessary?

In short, this is a 1.0 site that is pretending to be a 2.0 site and is a perfect example of how all the blogging tools in the world won’t make your organization responsive and interactive if your corporate culture is restrictive and controlling. Put another way, I’ve been clicking around this site for half an hour and I don’t even know what it’s trying to do. It’s all over the place. Is it to raise money for ALA and libraries in various ways? Is it a way to ask questions and get information about libraries? Is it a way to share content and/or my love of libraries with other people? Is it a way to push ALA content at more than the usual suspects? Is it a way to make ALA seem hipper and more “with it”? The about this site page is unrevealing: “Simply put, you love libraries, and we hope this Web site will keep it that way!” Huh.

I feel like if we could understand why ALA thinks ilovelibraries.org is a good, well-designed website for achieving their goals, we might understand more about why people have a hard time with technology and why there is such a digital divide in librarianship, much less among the public at large. For now it remains a bit of a mystery, at least to me.

Why we need librarians, or tagging vs folksonomy, some explanations

David Weinberger has a concise summary of Thomas Mann’s long article about the concept of reference and scholarship and how it fits into modern day librarianship, especially research libraries. This is the sort of thing Michael Gorman talks about in grouchy pundit ways, but Mann really digs deeper and seems to understand both sides of the equation. Weinberger’s posts sums up some of the high points with some strong pullquotes, but I’d really also suggest reading Mann’s entire essay. Here are some quotes that I liked, but don’t think that gets you off the hook from reading it. You hve to get to about page 35 before you hit the “what sholdl we do about this?” part.

I cannot claim to have a system that flattens all the lumps, but I am concerned that many of the more important problems facing scholars are being ignored because a “digital library” paradigm puts blinders on our very ability to notice the problems in the first place.

On different types of searching:

Note that as a reference librarian I could bring to bear on this question a whole variety of different search techniques, of which most researchers are only dimly aware of (or not aware at all): I used not just keyword searching, but subject category searching (via LC=s subject headings), shelf-browsing (via LC’s classification system), related record searching, and citation searching. (I also did some rather sophisticated Boolean combination searching, with truncation symbols and parentheses, discussed below.) Further, as a librarian I thought in terms of types of literature–specialized encyclopedia articles, literature review articles, subject bibliographies–whose existence never even occurs to most non-librarians, who routinely think only in terms of subject searches rather than format searches. And, further, one of the reasons I sought out the Web database to begin with was that I knew it would also provide people contact information–i.e., the mail and e-mail addresses of scholars who have worked on the same topic. The point here needs emphasis: a research library can provide not only a vast amount of content that is not on the open Internet; it can also provide multiple different search techniques that are usually much more efficient than “relevance ranked” and “more like this” Web searching. And most of these search techniques themselves are not available to offsite users who confine their searches to the open Internet.

On folksonomies:

While folksonomies have severe limitations and cannot replace conventional cataloging, they also offer real advantages that can supplement cataloging. Perhaps financial arrangements with LibraryThing (or other such operations) might be worked out in such a way that LC/OCLC catalog records for books would provide clickable links to LibraryThing records for the same works. In this way researchers could take advantage of that supplemental network of connections without losing the primary network created by professional librarians.