Filed under: entropy, information studies, librarians, libraries, poetry, tech services, technology
An additional benefit to the new and improved digital library catalog is the capability to include a table of contents on a book’s record. I can see that there would little use in listing chapter or section names within a single work, but I’ve often wondered why there seems to be such inconsistent work in listing the individual names of collected items within a single work — specifically the names of short stories and poems. With the ease that this can be done in a digital catalog, I’ve been impressed by the number of library catalogs that contain little to no information on the contents of anthologized works.
A quick survey of three major public library systems (New York, Chicago and L.A.) shows a general trend toward only stories and poems of a certain level of fame being listed in the contents of a book, with spotty and inconsistent results even in that regard. An equally quick survey of smaller library systems revealed the same trend.
As an undergraduate English major, it was often that I was in search of a specific short story or poem and the above-mentioned issue with contents of collections constantly plagued my searches for those specific works. I keep expecting the situation to improve, but, despite the newer and easier technologies, I still find it rather difficult to find what collection a given story or poem might be in. There are online (usually fee-based) databases that provide this information, and that is extremely helpful — but in constitutes a “double-search” in that one must first go to the database to find out what volumes the story or poem might be in and then go back to the library catalog to find if the library carries that specific collection or not. It’s frustrating when you realize how easily that information could be included in the library catalog records.
I can’t seem to find much history on this. It seems as though, in the move from traditional catalogs to online catalogs, it was probably difficult to foresee all of the uses of the online catalog — but I think it’s time, among the other things library catalogs are doing these days, for catalogs to start carrying this info.
Filed under: information studies, libraries, prediction, technology, wikis
The Semantic Web is the talk of the global village lately. And I think it will prove to be the next big paradigm shift in the world of technology, pushing us ever closer to producing computers and other things that can fully interact with their environment.
A new mediawiki extension looks like it might be the beginnings of a bridge between libraries and the semantic web — an extension called Semantic Forms. The promise here is basically to provide a means of using a wiki as a mulitple-input database without expecting everyone to learn the code necessary to update wiki pages. It will certainly be useful in other arenas as well, but I can foresee how libraries might be able to use this extension in making their web content more readily availble to (and updateable by) their customers.
Are we ready for Libraries 3.0? We barely had a chance to get used to the idea of Libraries 2.0! I can only imagine that 4.0 will show up sometime in May 🙂
This hints at a core issue (to me) with today’s libraries: that technology is way outpacing the library. It used to be that we could just assume that the library would catch up a few years behind the technology, but it seems now like the technology changes before we even get used to the idea of the change from before. But how could we keep up? I have no answer for that — I really don’t know.
Perhaps the Semantic Web (Semantic Library, anyone?), will give libraries a new means of keeping up, even while providing us with new means of interacting with today’s technology.
In working intensively on my wiki project for the last several weeks, I’ve come to several conclusions, one of which is that making something “stupid easy” is hard.
David Weinberger, in his book Everything is Miscellaneous, attributes much of the success of the World Wide Web, Google, and other internet phenoms to the creators of those successes having made their product so simple to use. Creating web pages for the web became something not relegated to only computer scientists — anyone could figure out at least how to use the software to create one. Research and research on the web became something even an elementary student could do, simply by typing in a few terms at Google. Wikipedia made writing an encyclopedia something not only more democratic, but even easier than creating a web page — all a person has to do, essentially, is type.
So, it makes sense that, if I’m trying to create something new, I might want to make it as user-easy as possible if I want it to be successful. Ah, but therein lies the proverbial rub. At the time of reading, I was so struck by the idea that these things successes being because of their ease that I hadn’t considered how much work the creators of those successes might have had to put in their products to make them so easy. I’m no computer science person — the extent of my knowledge about computers up to now has been built almost entirely on trial and error (lots and lots of error), so perhaps it’s easier for people who know what they’re doing to make it easy than it is for people like me. It must be. My project still lacks the ease-of-use that I’ve noted in other successful web sites, and I suppose it will continue to until I’ve gone back to college to learn computer science, or trial-and-errored my way into an easier site.
And, really, I think the coding part of the wiki creation issues I’ve had is only half the problem in making things easy. The other half has been the design — what makes what easier to see, to read, etc. I’ve read scads of material on this topic this semester, and much of seems to be fairly intuitive to me, but again, the point here is that it’s hard to make it easy.
And, of course, I’m supposed to be taking it easy over these five days off from work and school too….
Looking back at Dr. Vannevar Bush’s famous article “As We May Think” offers an interesting view of what difficulties lie in trying to predict the future as well an interesting view of what it means to look back at someone’s prediction from what was their future.
When Dr. Bush laid out his vision of the Memex, everything seemed to rely on the mechanical and the physical. It seems a little preposterous to us now to have a machine full of whirring gears and vacuum tubes, microfilm and photo transmitters when we can just store everything by a virtual/digital means. But Dr. Bush could not have foreseen the digital/virtual world because in his time there was much (if any) cultural background for that kind of thinking.
In a recent article from the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, Richard Veith outlines a number of ways in which Dr. Bush’s article has been cited for things it did not say. I think, from the modern viewpoint, from the vantage point of a cultural background that now includes virtual/digital technology as well as nodal information storage and retrieval — people are able to see the ultimate outcome of Dr. Bush’s predictions even though he couldn’t. In taking Dr. Bush’s vision a step farther than he could, I think people naturally tend to give him credit for the vision nonetheless. It’s a little like finding a prediction of a catastrophic event after the fact of the catastrophic event.
I’ve been heard to comment a lot lately on similarities I see between today’s culture and the predictions made in the book 1984. Orwell’s saving grace was that he didn’t delve very much into the mechanics of the things he was predicting, thus the TV’s in everyone’s home through which everyone could be watched doesn’t sound all that preposterous to us today, considering the massive use of security cameras and web cams. Unfortunately he put a date on it. In 1984, it still seemed rather unlikely that there would be a camera everywhere a person went, and yet, by 2004, it was easily foreseeable — but again, only after the fact, only once we’re immersed in a culture that predicates that kind of thinking. Had Orwell illustrated what he believed were the mechanics behind the camera in every home, it no doubt today would seem a little amusing, having nothing at all to do with digital photography or the internet.
So, where does that leave us with trying to predict the future of libraries? Will INFORMATION (that all-encompassing term we use to mean “everything knowable“) be readily available to every human being in the world? Will that information be organized? Will it be organized in a way that everyone can understand? My answer to all three questions is a definitive YES. But I don’t think it will be in available in a form that looks much like the internet. My own prediction? We’re going to have to move beyond the limitations of magnetic media for storing our information first. Something more organic and dynamic will have to be the basis, the base unit of storage for all of this information — assuming future technologies will require a base unit of storage. I mean, what the heck do I know anyway 🙂
For a minor aside, here are some links to poems I found that are about libraries (in no particular order other than the last being my personal favorite) :