effinglibrarian's blog

Oh, the Humanity! (don't tear pages out of books)

I was just watching one of my favorite movies, Deep Red (or Profondo rosso or The Hatchet Murders or any combination of the three, depending on how the title was used).

And in it, David Hemmings goes to a library of folklore to read up on local haunted houses. When he finds a useful page, he looks around to see if he's alone then tears out the page!

I don't remember when book destruction started to bother me, but now I notice it more. If I see an episode of The Rockford Files where Jim tears a page from the phone book, I think, "no, Jim, don't!"

Most people don't think this is bad, but you're removing information so others can't access it. If the government did this, people would freak. Is it the intent that matters? Jim wants the number, but doesn't have a pen, so it's okay to tear out the page. But the government wants to keep something secret from the public and removes the page, so that's not okay?

Both piss me off.

Anyway, still love Deep Red. Still watch Rockford when I can find it. Still pay my taxes to the government. I guess being pissed off doesn't mean what it used to. I must be getting old. Oh, the humanity.

Service Oriented Library Systems

Each of the systems that libraries use are self-contained silos. Each has its own embedded database/data structure, built-in search tool, and presentation / interface layers. Each requires library customers to use its unique presentation and search tools to access its unique content. Each has a completely different look, feel, and functionality.

From the user experience perspective, this system design strategy is why it is so difficult for librarians, let alone library customers, to find Time (magazine).

Ok, I'm not that smart. I've been known to get out of my car and then drop my keys on the ground because I tried to slip them into my pocket, but that day I forgot to put on pants.

I don't know about searching software or aggregated algorithms or how all this affects Tom Cruise's fluctuating height.

"They could create a database using common tools, expose it as a web service, and simply 'plug it in.'"

I don't understand a freaking thing this guy says. But nothing pisses me off more than to hear someone say, "simply plug it in."

I want to whoop his ass.

So I don't understand what he's saying, but here are some things I think I understand:

I've heard of thin-clients. You have a server and you have a client; the client requests something from the server and receives it. In some ways, it would remind you of the old dumb terminals you used in 1990.

Now, the server stores data, software, account permissions, etc. And it hosts our front end interface. To visualize, think of Google.

If you type "4+5=" into Google, you get page a page that says, "4+5=9." Google understood that you wanted the sum of two numbers and delivered it; imagine an interface that understood your library request and delivered it.

Right now, most libraries use some form of a search box and drop-down menu combo. You enter a search and click on subject or author or whatever, to tell the interface which fields of the bib record to search.

But if you had a search tool that understood the type of search, then you could eliminate the hassle of clicking and re-clicking on buttons to find something.

This is what my brain is telling me right now is a cool idea:
I type Charles Nelson Reilly into my search box and hit Enter. And my search algorithm understands that those three terms match up with a person's name. Now, if my IP address matches one used by library staff, the server might think I'm searching for a patron with that name. If I'm at a public terminal or on the net (and not logged in as staff), I won't see patron information. If I enter a patron ID, then the search immediately understands that I'm searching for patron info and that's what I get, unless I'm not authorized to see it. (Now the problem with that example is that you might not want to store
patron information on that server; I guess it doesn't have to be, but the main server might store the permissions to access the patron records server.)

If I enter Gone with the Wind as my search, the server could respond with links to books, videos or magazine and database articles. If I click on the database article, the server sends the secure login page for that database.

Now, I'm sure that this isn't the reason for Eric's article. He's a tech dude, and I'm just a happy-go-lucky kid with my head in the clouds.

I know that databases are flexible and can be designed to accommodate any recipe for data recovery, but I don't know if pre-existing patron databases can be deconstructed and rebuilt into open-source or non-library proprietary software. I don't know how the records are formatted.

But go back to the Google example and imagine an interface that filters your search intelligently and either delivers the results automatically (type dvd pufnstuf and take that funky trip back to when white cowboy boots were cool) or sends a
login script to allow you to access newspaper, magazine and database content. Once you're logged in, type ebert and harry potter and get movie reviews.

I'm not talking about a federated seach, either. If it's possible to take what Eric says and apply it to what I want, then that's what I'm talking about. Unless he uses the phrase, "simply plug it in," then he's getting a Fedex box full of ass-whoop.

Are Librarians Cool?

If you need to ask the question, then the answer is "No."

Here are two of the latest articles branding the profession as "cool."

A Hipper Crowd of Shushers
For New-Look Librarians, Head to Brooklyn

But Librarians are not cool. That doesn't mean that there aren't cool librarians. I went to library school with a few people I would call cool. But does that make them cool (that I could label them as cool)? After all, who am I that I could call someone cool and have it mean what most people define as cool?

As an fyi:

  • I got a tattoo because a Richard Hell song told me to. Wow, I must be cool.
  • I skipped a Jane's Addiction concert because the crowd looked too trendy. Too cool for Jane's Addiction, gosh, my coolness is off the charts!

If those things don't make me cool, then I don't know what else to tell you.

But I've been places where, when answering what I do, someone will look around as if they're thinking, "oh, librarians hang out here; let's go someplace else." So sometimes, when asked, I won't say librarian; I'll answer "scientist." People aren't sure what to make of a scientist, but at least a scientist could be cool. Hell, maybe that's why the library has disappeared from the degree and most schools only offer "information science."

But ultimately, being a librarian isn't cool. I don't know how long it will be before it is, if ever.

So for now, I tell people I'm a scientist. An evil scientist.

John McClane is my Hero!

So, did you read the article last week about librarians being "digital immigrants"? I gave my opinion:

This is the current power struggle where the gamer community is trying to wrestle the role of expert from the professional community. It seems like this is a symptom of the gaming culture; kids can play games and manipulate the virtual world, but don't know crap about the real world. To them, everything is mouse-clicks and flashing lights and anyone who doesn't get that is a n00b or artard.

Did you ever notice that game guides are huge bestsellers? That's because the game culture is not about discovery, it's about being given the answer. They'll say it's about discovery, but how many people bypass the hard work of discovery and buy game booty with real money? Lots.

It's a real world, virtual world problem. We (librarians) live in the real world whose relevence is diminishing every day. We don't need to help it along.

Remember that fake Kurt Vonnegut speech about wearing sunscreen? It goes, Read the directions, even if you don't follow them. Great advice. Too bad the digital natives blew that tidbit off. And fyi, video games are damn hard; I haven't come across one yet that let me advance to the next level without finding the right key or opening the right door--video games are proof that there's often only one way to solve a problem.

Not total crap. And there was a debate about who is stupider, the under or the over 30 crowd. The kids say the old folks are dinosaurs who need to cover themselves with dirt and the old farts say that the kids are idiots who buy every hunk of plastic that Madison Avenue (or Tokyo) waves at them.

And I saw some valid points on both sides. For one, I've had a crazy life filled with drugs, sex and weeding the computer books (yes, in that order). I could use a well-earned dirt nap.

So along comes Live Free or Die Hard. And along comes John McClane to raise my weary head, brush off the dirt and show me that everything will be all right.

I don't know if you've seen this, but it's basically about an old fart, techno-dinosaur versus some hip hacker dudes. The hackers shut down all computer everything: communication, transportation, and power. And the whole country poops itself.

But what I liked, and what seems to support my opinion above, is this moment: McClane has just killed some bad guys and blowed up sumptin real good--

Matt (hacker kid): Did you see that?
John McClane (hero): Yeah, I saw it. I did it.

I did it. As librarians, we do it every damn day. I don't need some kid belittling my career because I don't spend 50 hours a week modding my PS3 to play games with my iPhone. What John McClane did was to remind me that all this technology can be wiped out in a day. I can't rely on it to get things done. But I can rely on me.

Yippee Ki Yay!

What's right or wrong with Wikipedia?

It's nice of Wikipedia to have an entry on Wikipedia.

As I read the entry, I came across this criticism:

"The site has also been criticized for...favoring consensus over
credentials in its editorial process..."

I don't know what Wikipedia's current editorial process is, but I think it's pretty open, allowing any registered user to post and/or edit any entry. And then it would be up to any one of the rest of us to correct that entry or make a claim that's it's inaccurate or complete bullshit.

This is the core of the democratic process. Present an idea and allow the masses to judge its value. And this is what seems to be good about Wikipedia. The people decide what is right or wrong.

And this is the state of much of the Internet. The people decide. If I blog something and you blog something and others blog similar somethings, the Internet will become filled with our ideas. And if we say similar things, then similar ideas will dominate.

Now I trust my own level of susceptibility to stating crap. But how can I be sure that you don't say complete crap? And if you or I have more free time to post our crap, then won't the Internet just be filled with your or my crap? Even if your intentions are good, are you or I qualified to load the Internet with crap?

We like to think of a hierarchical chain of knowledge, from the student to the teacher to the expert. But what if the opinions of students dominate: are masses of students qualified to make decisions in this democracy when obvious experts are ignored?

This seems to be the root problem with the Internet and Wikipedia. Is consensus of opinion good enough to help us make decisions?

How do you control information? Do you limit what is known, or, do you dilute the known with crap until the general understanding of everything is wrong? ...In other words, is it possible to use Wikipedia or Google or any other popular informational sources to make people stupid?

The complaint of lack of credentials is what interests me most. If one is an expert and paid to publish ideas (research, facts, conclusions, opinions), then others must pay, in some form, to access those ideas. If Wikipedia is free, then the ideas posted there would be inferior to those of the expert.

But if consensus is the arbiter of knowledge; if Wikipedia can alter the perception of people to believe that consensus is the rule, then the argument is that consensus limits knowledge because people will accept what's "generally known" as an expert opinion. If we are all experts, is anyone an expert?

Does this make any sense?

Teachers oppose Wikipedia because they've seen the bell curve and know that consensus only equals about a grade of C+.

An educated person knows her own limitations and says, "I am not qualified to answer that, but here is an expert source."

Where do you go for answers? If we define that source as an expert, then Wikipedia and Google are the experts.

There is the dilemma. People want agreement. Reality demands agreement. If ten of us call something a "chair" and one calls it "my son" then that person might be labeled as crazy. But what if ten of us say that the Earth is flat and one says it's round? By consensus, the Earth will remain flat until, when? We fear this kind of power that consenus can wield because of the scale of information access on the Internet.

Does consensus guarantee that the Internet will eventually be filled with crap?

Rest easy and read with confidence the words written here: I am The Effing Librarian. And I guarantee that everything I say, regardless of consensus of opinion, is complete and utter crap.

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