I first became aware of Morris Cohen because he has the same name as my grandfather only spelled slightly differently. We exchanged emails a few times and I finally met him at Yale when I was in town for the Reblaw conference. He went out of his way to find a time we could have coffee and chitchat about quasi-radical librarianship and he made an impression on me as both a deeply principled and interesting person as well as someone who cared about mentoring and passing on his legacy. I was saddened to learn of his passing this week. There are good obituaries available at the New York Times and Library Journal.
So hey this is interesting. I’ve skipped a lot of the Google Books ebookstore stuff lately because I’m honestly not sure what to make of it. And I don’t buy books anyhow. But a friend mentioned this Google Labs Ngram viewer, a fun tool that lets you search the full corpus of the Google Books databases. Here’s a New York Times article about it and data geeks should read the article Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books (free reg. required – click for PDF ILL) or nose around in the datasets. I did my own dopey search pictures above – Hegel vs. Hitler. And here’s what’s interesting. The big jump in the late 1940’s is fairly predictable, but who was talking about Hitler in 1620?
I clicked through and poked around some and here’s what I found. No one was talking about Hitler. OCR is, as you know, imperfect. So the words that Google Books’ optical character recognition thought of as “Hitler” were actually words like “Ruler” and “bitter” and “herbe.” How about that?
We can talk about whether there’s really a problem with people not knowing how to use a computer in the abstract. I think my life is enriched by having access to and knowledge about technology, but it’s tough to make the argument that lack of access/knowledge makes other people’s lives worse. That is, until people suddenly need to find a way to get tax forms so that they can file their mandatory tax reporting, or they need to learn to do their taxes online. That is, if they know how to use a computer. The IRS sent this update in September (pdf). I don’t know about your library but many of ours don’t get paper forms either. Brian talked about the hilarity that is the IRS’s understatement “You May See an Increase in Patrons”
With the continued growth in electronic filing and to help reduce costs, the IRS will no longer mail paper tax packages that typically arrive in January of each year. If you still wish to use a paper form, the IRS has several options available to help you obtain paper copies of individual forms and instructions, including:
â— Accessing our forms and instructions online at IRS.gov. You can quickly download the latest products from our site.
â— Dropping by your local IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center.
â— Going to your local post office or library (if they participate in the federal tax products program) [emphasis mine.
So hey, 2011 is around the corner. We should probably get ready for this.
One of the sad side effects of the interesting evolution of the Google Books/Google Editions product is how many people have been saying “Libraries should have done this. This should be our territory.” While there are some great library-like digital content sites such as Open Library they’re often more concerned with curation than content creation. And we have a lot of content that needs to go digital. But who has time and who has resources?
This week the Berkman Center announced a Digital Public Library Planning Initiative, bringing together a diverse group of librarians and free culture advocates to make a plan for a Digital Public Library of America. Exciting ideas brought to the table by people I trust, about things I care about. It’s a grat time to be a librarian.
Here is the Trailer for the imaginary feature film “The Library”