Saturday, August 24, 2013

The divergence of libraries

Hard to believe that a podcast on the changes occurring in television (e.g., how do people watch TV) could spark thoughts about libraries, but this podcast did just that.

Graeme Turner, who was interviewed in the podcast, talks about the divergence that is occurring in television programming.  There are those programs that can be watched at anytime (e.g. Breaking Bad), while some should be watched in real time (local news).  Could this concept be applied to libraries?  Are the services of  public libraries diverging?

Let me take a simplicity view of what public libraries do, as I argue in favor of divergence.  First, libraries are information repositories, which help people connect with needed or desired information.  We are all familiar with the services associated with this, which include buy and circulating books, interlibrary loan, creating information repositories, etc.  These are the familiar services that people point to when the talk about the library.  When people associate a library with books, this is what they want.

Second, a library is a community center or a gathering place.  It is a place where people themselves are the information repositories and the information conduits.  This is the library where people are active and doing "stuff".  This is the library where space is important and how that space can be used.

If this point of view is correct, then we should acknowledge the divergence and figure out how to capitalize on it.  This mean not trying to make one building and staff do it all, but recognize that the building for connecting people with information may be different than the building used to connect people with each other.  For example, the community work that the library does might become a part of that community's actual community center.  Why try to make the library the community center?  Take the library staff that is focused on those community activities and put them in the community!  (Whether than be at the community center, the senior citizen center, the fire station or whatever.)  The work of these embedded community librarians might be funded by community partners, who understand that having library staff among them is a good thing.

I can hear you worrying about the impact on the library building and whether people would come to it.  I think the library's service and use of space would change.  I can imagine several scenarios including the library using less space, the library partnering more closely with the K-12 and academic libraries, the library developing innovation information delivery services, and more.  The library might even partner with other information delivery services in the community (and I'll leave that to your imagination).  I can also imagine closer partnerships between public libraries.

In this view, there could be independent services that are provided on a contract basis to the community, rather than being a part of each public library.  For example, what if there were library technology trainers that contracted their services to several libraries?  Like circuit librarians, these trainers would schedule times at specific libraries, based on the contractual agreement.  This could raise the level of training available to the community and lessen the cost.

Walkway at Government Island, Stafford, VAThis type of divergence would be an interesting and useful conversation to have with colleagues.  While what I'm proposing might not come to pass, I can see some options that might be worth pursuing anyway.  It could also yield useful conversation with library funders and community members. I think just using the word "divergence" would make people stop, listen and think about what it means for the building, staff, services and the community.  We might find that the conversations leads us down a path that none of us had considered.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Rest in Peace: DialogClassic

I heard today that the classic version of Dialog® is on its last legs. All of the databases that were available in the old version of Dialog are now available in ProQuest Dialog. While I recognize that the command line version of Dialog is not what today's searchers want to use...and while I recognize that our technology has gotten better...I mourn.

Many librarians learned how to search for electronic information on the Dialog system.  We learned commands, tricks, and short cuts.  We memorized details about specific databases and consulted documentation to double-check details so that we didn't spend extra time or money online.  We spoke in phrases peppered with file numbers and field names.  We shared stories of commands (or searches)  gone wrong and the charges that they caused.  And we smiled.

In talking to someone from ProQuest today, I used the phrase "under the hood."  She immediately thought I was referring to a 2001 article by Carol Tenopir entitled "Why I still teach Dialog" (Library Journal, 126(8), 35-36), which is available through ProQuest.  In it, Tenopir writes:
For new students in an LIS program, DialogClassic helps them understand the workings of the systems they will be searching, teaching, or designing. 
This is true.  It is also true that teaching someone to search Dialog's old command line interface takes patience. The learner must be willing to try and fail, and learn from those failures as well as the successes.  It is also true that most - if not all - of our searching these days is not done with a command prompt, but through some Google-like interface or an advanced search screen.  It is difficult to teach students something that they will not use after the class is over.  Face it, no one is going to run home and search using a command prompt just for fun!

However, I believe that understanding the old ways helps you understand how we do things now. All of us that used Dialog in the old days have a knowledge about the system that our younger counterparts will never have.  Although hard to quantify, I would argue that there is value to that knowledge.

The Power of Full-Text 

I remember when full-text records came to Dialog and the power that came with it.  I no longer had to use a document delivery service to obtain the full-text.  Not only was that a cost saving, it also meant I could get the full-text to my client faster.  Initially the full-text was not searchable.  When it became searchable, it was revolutionary!  Now we take full-text searching for granted.  And instead of have full-text that is in ASCII, we have full-text that is presented in PDFs with graphics, etc., intact.  The addition of full-text has been due to re-typing, scanning, and other methods.  Some of it has come with added errors. All of it has been appreciated.

By the way, could we look at those companies that produced the Dialog databases as being early pioneers in digitization?  Yes, I think so.

First Dialog, then Google

We can also argue that Dialog paved the way for many services, including Google.  I remember working with programmers on DR-LINK, a product of TextWise, and calling upon my Dialog knowledge in helping them make sense of the files that had to be turned into coherent databases.  The command level search had taught me much about file structures and expectations. I'm sure that others that have built services have had the same revelations not from using fancy interfaces, but from "getting their hands dirty" at the command prompt.

In Memoriam

I wonder if ProQuest will throw a virtual event when DialogClassic is finally turned off?  Or perhaps some of us "old Dialog searchers" will just find a way to gather, light candles, and tell stories of a great system that began it all...

Friday, August 16, 2013

The sound that you hear vs. the sound on the recording

This week, I went on a tour of the Belfer Audio Archive, which is one of the largest sound archives in the United States, and a quick walk from where I work.  Besides looking that their collections and listening to recordings on cylinders, we had a chance to talk with Robert Hodge, who is the audio engineer and the person who is transferring sound from these older formats to digital files.

From Bob's talk, I left with two interesting examples.  First, Bob demonstrated how the sound quality of audio recorded at 78 rpm changes depending on the stylus used.  I grew up with a record player that would play 45s, 78s, and 33s.  We used the same stylus (needle) for all of them. The sound, though, is better if you use the correct stylus on the 78s.  Obviously, I think, you should digitize using the correct stylus and equipment for the recording.  In the metadata, information on the equipment used should note that decision.

Second, when you play an old cylinder recording, as an example, using the technology of that era, you are hearing what that technology allows you to hear.  However, what if you can play the recording on better technology and hear more?  While that will be pleasing to your ear, which version is correct?  Which should you digitize?  One organization might decide that using the original equipment is correct, while another might want to retrieve the actual audio that is on recording, and both would have made the right decision.  What matters is that the metadata convey how the digital version was created, so that a decision such as this is known.

Monday, August 12, 2013

2014 National Agenda for Digital Stewardship

The National Digital Stewardship Alliance has recently released its 2014 National Agenda for Digital Stewardship.  As the site says: 

The National Agenda for Digital Stewardship annually integrates the perspective of dozens of experts and hundreds of institutions, convened through the Library of Congress, to provide funders and executive decision‐makers insight into emerging technological trends, gaps in digital stewardship capacity, and key areas for funding, research and development to ensure that today's valuable digital content remains accessible and comprehensible in the future, supporting a thriving economy, a robust democracy, and a rich cultural heritage.

Over the coming year the NDSA will work to promote the Agenda and explore educational and collaborative opportunities with all interested parties.

 In an announcement to the CNI community, Clifford Lynch wrote:

This is a very valuable concise survey and agenda for high priority areas of digital stewardship; it's also important because it reflects the wide consultation and breadth that characterizes the important leadership and coordinating work of the Alliance.