Archive for the ‘evangelism’ Category


Who’s working on sharing also-liked data?


Code4lib folks: I’ve got some questions that I’d like us to discuss. Please read on.

It sounds like a few sites are starting to collect user ratings (or just bare, anonymized circulation records) for their items so that they can be used in a “People who liked this item also liked…” suggestion.

This is a very good step, but there are advantages to the ability to use equivalent data from other libraries.

Some libraries will have use patterns that would be unhelpful. For example, just because the technical college’s library has a small popular-fiction section doesn’t mean that most people who liked the latest bestseller will also be fascinated by Chilton auto-repair manuals.

Other libraries’ data might be very helpful. For example, a small public library might be unable to generate a useful amount of also-liked information on its own, but would benefit from using similar information from a larger public library nearby, or from small public libraries across the country.

If we, as a community, haven’t already come up with answers to these questions, we ought to begin:

  • What kinds of information do we want to share? Are there any kinds of information that we know we don’t want to share, regardless of whether a user might actually want us to do so?
    I, for one, would consider attaching my demographic profile and perhaps my identity to a list of books I’ve checked out or enjoyed. Let’s preserve my right to share information as well as my right to keep it private.
  • How can we represent that information in a standard way that allows for optional components (like Dublin Core)?
  • Where should this data live?
    I have a suggestion here: each library’s data should live on one of its servers, and there should be a more centralized repository of information about what these libraries are sharing. Updates pulled through RSS could keep my library’s server up-to-date on what your users think.
  • How can we find only the information we want? (For example, you might want to retrieve a full data set with demographic information for each user. Or maybe you just want to retrieve the average overall rating for each item.)

Any thoughts, folks?


Kittens… or Beer?


Kittens... or Beer?

The code4lib 2007 cage match.

(Click the image for full detail.)


A reflection on conferences


So much of the work I do at conferences involves skipping formal sessions. The SQL workshop was great, but this round I’m getting a lot more done with a bit of peripatetic evangelism.

Gretchen Freeman asked about my online patron pre-registration wizard, and I explained that we don’t connect to a state database to validate driver license data; I figured out empirically that the penultimate group of digits is (month – 1) * 40 + day + (500 if female), for example. (Mine is 305: male, August 25.)

I encouraged John Craig to write a book on portable standard SQL practices.

I encouraged a wifi-management vendor to let library users register multiple MAC addresses, so that I could use my phone, my work laptop, or my personal laptop — and only have to enter my barcode and PIN the first time I claimed each MAC as my own.

I talked to Jim Rosaschi (who always reminds me of Jack Warden, may he rest in peace) about network tuning and URSA, and especially the idea of using a QoS appliance to let library-automation data trump mere web surfing.

So much of this depends on roaming, chatting, things not always considered Real Work. But I’m fortunate to work in an organization and a professional community that recognizes the value of shooting the breeze.


A link to the audio version of my presentation


I'm too chicken to listen to my own unprofessional presentation style, but if you're interested in what I talked about in Minneapolis, you can listen to it here:

Since it's Creative Commons licensed, you can edit out my pauses, bleep out my quite considerable profanity (ha!), repackage it, or merely create a YTMND out of it.


Librarians, technologists, and Free Culture


I'm closing the loop on the blogosphere by noting that I am apparently the canonical Dynixland example of a geek who solves problems because he's got an itch to scratch and shares the solutions because it's asinine to do otherwise:

If there's one thing the open-source movement has taught us, it's that innovative ideas, true competitive levers, often aren't found at businesses. Nowadays, they hide in new places: nonprofit or nongovernmental organizations, end-users with an "itch," social networks of folks with common interests, and sometimes a creative individual like a Ted Nelson or a Linus Torvalds. Or Ben Ostrowsky.
(emphasis and links mine)

In an extremely humble way, I insist that the Linus Torvalds comparison is much more apt, because while he does good work, it's really the community of users — and I want to emphasize the term community — who make Free Culture work. If you've read Grapevine: The New Art of Word-Of-Mouth Marketing (and if you haven't, perhaps your library will have a copy that you can borrow), you know that it's people like you who make the real difference.

I can invent a barcode generator that prints PDFs for cheap Avery labels, but it's the users like you who tell school librarians that it's a great way to save money (especially if you cover your labels with library tape anyway).

I can write an article on and share it freely with a license, but it's up to you to share the ideas with others and implement it yourselves.

So what's the next big thing that we can all do together? I'd like to see us encourage RFID vendors to establish an open standard for library RFID tags. Oh, sure, there are ISO specifications for how to transmit data over RFID, but (this may shock you; it shocked me) there is no standard for which bytes represent an item barcode, or anything else about the format of the data being transmitted.

One vendor may encode the library barcode as a hexadecimal integer; another may use plain ASCII, one byte per digit. One vendor may put the barcode at the beginning of the data, another may put it at the end, and a third vendor might encrypt it. How would you like it if a third of your books arrived at the cataloger's desk with the table of contents on page 37 and some vendors put the Cataloging-In-Publication data in pig-Latin just to compete with other book jobbers?

Or here's an idea that could be done pretty easily — if you know enough about podcasting to be dangerous, and you have users who would like to create their own podcasts, why not create a community broadcasting room? All you need is a small study room with a computer, a decent microphone, and a pop filter.

There's already a great Free Software audio editor (the aural equivalent of a word processor or a photo editor) called that will let your users clean up the sound if they choose to, and if you know enough to help them podcast, you'll be leading your community's techies onto the bleeding edge of Free Culture.

Bottom line: although I'm flattered to be compared to Linus Torvalds, it's my fellow librarians who ought to be more flattered. Linux users have rewritten the rules of information technology simply by telling others when they've found something good, and helping each other when things aren't that good.

At the risk of stealing material from Christ, I encourage you to go and do the same. If you don't have a blog, get one and get comfortable with it. Join a mailing list and ask questions. If you see a question you can answer, do it. It is so not about me. It's about you.

Forward this to your colleagues. Keep building strong communities of library people who care about each other. It's what we humans do best.