Information Retrieval

Privacy: A Bigger Challenge Than Ever

Even for a place where personal information is under siege, the case of Brandy Combs is unusual.

University of Florida police allege Combs stole a university librarian’s personal information to fraudulently obtain more than $31,000 in student loans and took a student’s information to get a false student identification. He was arrested on May 20 on charges of fraud and passing false checks.

While the details of the case were unusual, having a breach of private information at UF was not. The university experienced more than 130 confirmed privacy breaches in 2008, compromising the information of about 358,000 individuals, according to the UF Privacy Office.

UF officials said they’re taking steps to improve security as new regulations increase reporting requirements and fines for breaches. But they say the nature of a university means keeping large amounts of information that is sought by hackers and others.

“Every university, because it’s a university, is a prime target,” said Chuck Frazier, UF’s interim chief information officer. “You can be attacked from anyplace and every place.” The Gainesville Sun.

A Special Librarian/Historian Invites Your Queries

She's tall, she's elegant and she welcomes all comers...wouldn't you like to know more about this lady?

Barry Moreno, the New York historian and author of “The Statue of Liberty Encyclopedia” will be responding to NY Times readers’ questions about the revered woman of New York harbor.

Readers who would like to submit a question to Mr. Moreno should do so in the comments box below. His first set of responses will be published on Wednesday.

C'mon librarians, think of a real stumper and see if he answers it.

Filtering in Washington State

From The Seattle Weekly:

Tomorrow, the State Supreme Court will hear Bradburn v. North Central Library Region (NCLR). The North Central Library Region is a system spanning Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, and Okanogan (WA) counties. Like other library systems that receive federal funds for Internet access, the NCLR is required to have the ability to block minors from seeing materials deemed "harmful" to them. Typically, libraries disable those filters at the request of adults.

Nevertheless, the NCLR has instead decided that it will judge the merits of each adult's request to disable the filter. This, says the ACLU, "hampers adults in researching academic assignments, locating businesses and organizations, and engaging in personal reading on lawful subjects." ACLU spokesperson Doug Honig says that the majority of requests to lift the filter has been denied.

The organization sent out a partial list of sites that have been blocked by the filter:

* The website of an organization encouraging individuals to commit random acts of kindness
* The Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra website
* The website of an organization encouraging women to carry to term by creating "a supportive environment for women in crisis situations to be introduced to the love of Christ"
* YouTube

“Query-free” federated search

The May/June edition of D-Lib Magazine has an interesting article about a prototype tool that helps writers to find relevant content and references by watching what they type and performing searches based on the context of their writing.

The article’s abstract gives the motivation and a general description of the tool:

Information awareness is distinct from explicit information seeking, such as searching. In this article we describe an information awareness tool that supports text composition by providing awareness of relevant content and references proactively and non-intrusively. As a user composes text, the tool automatically searches multiple sources, retrieves results, and displays links to the results. A working prototype of the tool has been implemented using Web 2.0 and Digital Library 2.0 technologies, and is flexible and highly configurable for both Web search engines and deep web targets.

Full blog post here.

Search is too important to leave to one company – even Google

Search is too important to leave to one company – even Google:

The question of what we can and can't see when we go hunting for answers demands a transparent, participatory solution. There's no dictator benevolent enough to entrust with the power to determine our political, commercial, social and ideological agenda. This is one for The People.

On Futuristic Door Stops

Recently, I faced the hideous situation of dead hardware. I had gotten dependent upon my Palm T|X. That model of personal digital assistant ("PDA") was great as it had built in 802.11b WiFi as well as Bluetooth. As long as I was within range of a wireless access point that I had rights to use, I had the Internet in my pocket. Early on, it worked quite well with a wireless infrared keyboard. I had a precursor to a netbook in basic form as I could use the keyboard to compose Word-compatible documents on a small screen. The device was great for trying to read online content such as Mobile Twitter, The Dysfunctional Family Circus, Instapundit, and more.

Unfortunately the PDA got stuck in a soft reset loop. It was showing its age. Three years of dutiful service is beyond what would reasonably be considered "mean time between failure". Although I was able to eventually break it free of the soft reset loop, it is now stuck at the digitizer calibration phase of initial setup. After multiple efforts, the digitizer could not be re-calibrated. I had a very futuristic looking doorstop.

Replacing it was an interesting battle. Initially I was carrying a legal pad and pen with me. While my "analog PDA" worked well for me, it was not small. It also looked quite anachronistic in today's world. That did not work well in the end.

Getting a smartphone was out of the question. Nobody calls! As it is now, I don't really have a cell phone simply because the usage for inbound calls was so light. For outbound calls, I use Skype. While devices like the Palm Centro, the Android G1, and the iPhone exist they really do not meet my needs. If I get a phone, I want one that makes calls. I would much rather have a separate PDA let alone a separate camera.

Getting a replacement PDA is a complicated adventure. The market for stand-alone PDAs is virtually non-existent as of late. I visited retailers like Office Max, Office Depot, Best Buy, and even a pawn shop in search of something comparable. Nothing was available as the trend today is the marriage of the PDA and the cellular telephone.

In the end, I had to turn to eBay. In addition to securing a Terminal Node Controller for certain projects, I picked up a replacement. Instead of getting a Nokia N800 as was sought, I wound up with a Palm IIIx. The Palm IIIx, while serviceable, is a very old device. This PDA is actually old enough that it has a battery door to replace the AAA batteries it runs on. I did get a keyboard to go with it but I need to get a suitable cradle to hook it up to a host computer. The device not only does not have Bluetooth, it does not have 802.11b WiFi either. IrDA-compliant infrared is the most the device has for signalling.

With these recent travails in replacing a PDA, I had given quite a bit of thought to eBooks. How truly valuable are eBooks? How do they compare with an old-fashioned RadioShack book light? As neither my paper books nor the Kindle have any backlight in them, such cannot be curled up with in bed without a booklight. Having to shine a booklight on the screen of the Kindle would be no different from shining one on the Palm IIIx. In that situation, you have a better chance of seeing your own reflection than seeing what you want to read. I am twenty seven years old and should not need "The Clapper" to be able to use an eBook device effectively in bed.

While the eBook may seem to be the way of the future, it does seem to be excessively involved and expensive compared to picking up something from the shelf. For those that feel the need to have everything available to them in one place, I suppose eBooks have a place. Right now I am finding print material to be easier and more enjoyable than the eBooks promoted today.

What is important to you: cute or practical?

Creative Commons License
On Futuristic Door Stops by Stephen Michael Kellat is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

Yahoo!: Users don't want to search. They want answers

Wired: Yahoo wants to kill the 10 blue links. The company thinks its customers don’t care how many pages a search engine indexes — nor do they want to search. They want answers.

At least, that’s what Prabhakar Raghavan, who heads Yahoo Labs and Yahoo Search Strategy told a group of reporters Tuesday at a briefing about Yahoo’s future in search.

Unfortunately, Yahoo had no real innovation to show off — just some better-integrated results and talks of search becoming smarter.

Linked Data is Blooming: Why You Should Care

Linked Data is Blooming: Why You Should Care: Linked Data: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Linked Data is an official W3C project. An independent community page for Linked Data describes it as "using the Web to connect related data that wasn't previously linked, or using the Web to lower the barriers to linking data currently linked using other methods."

Getting married and having kids: How Librarians Can Really Help

I've really been loving the Command-F blog lately, and "getting married and having kids" is a real standout.

The days of people coming to the American public library for answers, if they ever existed, are long gone. So are the naive days of the humble scholar who seeks the authority and expertise of his betters. People come to reference services to begin or continue on a story in their lives. Public library reference services help people complete their stories, and so help make them better citizens. Academic library reference service help make people better scholars. Or we could say that all libraries help make people better citizen-scholars.

Stat of the Week No. 5 - The Most Popular Search Term at the NYP Library is…

Recently, the Digital Experience Group gave a presentation to the occasional meeting of our Site Managers, the people who run each of our branch libraries. These are the people who work every day with our patrons, help them with their requests, and get them situated on the computers. They know the NYPL patron as well as anyone. We asked this group, “What do you think the most frequently searched word on the NYPL web site is?” We got a lot of good guesses: “Jobs”. “DVD”. “Books”. “Hours”. “Classes”. “Late fees”.

Good guesses all. Many of these searches are definitely in the top 25 or so on a regular basis. But over the past year, one search term has consistently occupied the number one spot, and not by a small margin. I mean, we’re talking a 1996 Chicago Bulls level of dominance. That term is…

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