July 21, 2005
Tonight I shall pick up my copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince from the library. If you'll recall, I was number 484 in the waiting list of well over 2,000 library users. I actually got a note from the library that my copy of the book was ready on Monday, but I have waited a little because I was not ready to read it. Anyway, to recap, I could have picked up this book from the library only two days after it was released.
In other words, what in the world are all of you doing still buying books? The last book I bought because I just had to read it and I couldn't wait was The Lost World by Michael Crichton. It was a let down and I vowed to never buy a book again but to use the library to its fullest potential. Now, I have a big list of library holds and they trickle in about as fast as I can read them. Save yourself some money and use the library. And if you are worried about fines don't feel bad about keeping a book a few days longer. Most libraries count on a certain amount of fees and fines coming in. By keeping a library book a little longer you are just giving them a little donation that they most likely desperately need anyway.
I gotta say I am really enjoying the show "Rock Star: INXS" on CBS Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights. The talent on this show blows "American Idol" out of the water (not that I watched that show all that much). Why am I watching "Rock Star" then? I am a fairly big INXS fan and I think this is a pretty interesting way of picking a new lead singer. Although, I must also admit that I am preparing for a let down concerning whoever they pick to replace Michael Hutchence. Hutchence co-wrote most of their songs. I would be very surprised if they can re-create the magic they had when Hutchence was the lead singer. But I don't blame them for trying.
A quick list of my favorite INXS albums:
- Welcome to Wherever You Are: Highly underrated. Good from beginning to end (although I do skip the last song).
- Kick: Phenomenal album that launched them as one of the top three acts of the time. Can't get enough of it.
- Listen Like Thieves: Features their first big hit "What You Need." I like "Kiss the Dirt" too.
- X: "Bitter Tears" ... great tune. "Stairs" is good too. This album was the follow-up to Kick and it didn't really set the world on fire.
- Full Moon, Dirty Hearts : Again, highly underrated. A "dash-off" album that has definitely grown on me over the years.
I like reading the "Letters" section of the Star Tribune, especially when those letters relate to stadium issues. Honestly, I could write every day about the stupid letters I read about this issue. They are highly entertaining. Today there was a letter from a gentleman from SLP who wrote:
I fail to see what the state has to do with a stadium in downtown Minneapolis or the pension program for Minneapolis teachers. If Minneapolis wants stadiums and funded teachers' pensions, let it pay for them.
Do any of you recognize the concept at work in this letter? That's right, it is the Me First platform! Good stuff. Since a new Twins stadium and teachers' pensions in Minneapolis don't directly affect him (and most likely his wallet) then he shoudn't have to worry about them. That's the spirit! A selfish Minnesota is a strong Minnesota! I like how he deftly ties the stadium and Minneapolis educational issues together inferring unequivocally that he doesn't care about either and therefore they are unimportant. Beautiful. Makes me feel all fuzzy inside that I live in such a "progressive" state.
That's all I got time for. Talk to you later.
June 24, 2005
No sports today. So if you are looking for in depth Twins analysis ... well, you should never come here for that, but if you are looking for stadium news maybe another time. There just isn't anything to report. Today I'm going to write about libraries, or more specifically library catalogs.
You see, I work at a library. The University of Minnesota Libraries to be specific, so I think about library matters a lot. I am the webmaster at the University of Minnesota Libraries and it is my job to make sure faculty, staff, and students can get to the resources they need through our website. Now, there are a lot of resources that we provide access to. We provide access to well over 250 licensed indexes, over 25,000 online journals, and hundreds of online reference sources (dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc.). But any librarian will tell you that the lifeblood of any library is the catalog. Or is it?
At the University of Minnesota Libraries our catalog is called MNCAT. In our catalog we list, arrange, and make searchable everything we own including books (well over 6 million), journals and magazines (well over 35,000 subscriptions), videos, maps, archival resources (did you know the U of M Libraries have one of the largest collections of Sherlock Holmes manuscipts and ephemera?), and much, much more. Our catalog is huge and its complete contents make the U of M Libraries the 17th largest research library in America. However, I have noticed some interesting statistics that may suggest that our catalog is decreasing in importance for people doing research at the U.
Check this out. Way back in 2002 I ran some statistical analysis on our catalog. What I was trying to do was gauge how many on-campus users we have vs. off-campus users of the catalog. These are the stats I found:
Catalog use August 23, 2002 - November 1, 2002:
|Total hits to the catalog||242,375|
|Hits from on campus||180,295|
|Of on campus hits, how many from in a library?||66,176|
|Off campus hits||62,080|
|Total hits to all other licensed indexes combined||154,454|
If you'll recall, I was looking for a statistic on how many people were using the catalog from off-campus. On a whim, I decided to look at how many people were using all our other licensed electronic resources combined (indexes and databases like LexisNexis, or Academic Search Premier) for the same time period. As you can see from the bolded statistics above, I was stunned to find that people used our catalog almost twice as much as people used all our other resources combined. Of course, the people who maintain our catalog were thrilled with this news. Back in 2002, it seems, our catalog was the resource of choice for the researchers at the U of M.
Are you still with me? Good. As you might imagine, I recently decided to run these statistics again to see if the pattern still held true. And what I found was equally as stunning (at least to me):
Catalog use December 8, 2004 -- February 25, 2005
|Total hits to the catalog||201,339|
|Hits from on campus||134,451|
|Of on campus hits, how many from in a library?||35,262|
|Off campus hits||66,888|
|Total hits to all other licensed indexes combined||236,881|
See the difference? Catalog use has dropped, while licensed index use has increased by quite a large margin. This isn't so much troubling as it is interesting (For a librarian like me. Are you still with me?). Essentially this suggests, at least to me, that the nature of library research is changing to, of course, less of a reliance on our catalog, but also perhaps less of a reliance on physical materials held by the libraries. It also suggests that online journal and magazine articles (what most indexes and databases point to) are becoming more and more important for scholarly research. In essence, books are being used less, and online resources more.
Ah, but it isn't that simple. Circulation statistics for the same time periods show that we still are checking out roughly the same number of books. So, what does that tell us? Could be one of two things:
1. Back in 2002 we purchased new catalog software. It could be that our new catalog is so easy to use that people rarely have to visit it more than once to find what they are looking for. Hence the drop in catalog use. Or ...
2. People are no longer using the catalog for information discovery. They are using the catalog more to find a known item.
Personally, I am leaning more towards #2. People are no longer using the catalog (as much) to look for resources on a particular topic. They are using the catalog when they already know what items they are looking for. If a person knows what he or she is looking for, they pop into the catalog, search for the title, either find it or don't, and then leave. Where are they doing their information discovery then? How are they finding out about what items to look for?
The obvious answers are Google and Amazon. And in the case of books, especially Amazon. This is even true of me. Whenever I am looking for a new book to read, I go straight to Amazon. I look for a book I've enjoyed before and then I look for other books that people have purchased along with it. Or I look at the Listmania lists that include a book I've enjoyed and I look at the other books listed with it. The method is foolproof for finding a new book to read. Once I've found one, I then go to the library catalog to see if we own it. Do you see what this means? It means, at least in the case of books, that libraries are being used less for discovery and more as warehouses.
Amazon and Google are kicking our butts in terms of information discovery, and especially serendipitous information discovery. Does this spell doom and gloom for libraries? No, not necessarily. There is more to the information seeking process than discovery. There is still access and retrieval, and of course, Amazon and Google still do not give access to copyrighted and licensed material (the good stuff) that is so vital for scholarly research. As the statistics show above, people are using our licensed indexes and databases a lot more to find information. However, in the face of this competition from search engines and online bookstores, how can libraries reinvent themselves to account for this shift in information seeking behavior, and not just in terms of the resources we pour into our catalog? What kinds of new services and added value can we offer to make the entire process of finding information easier for our patrons and users? I expect we'll see some subtle changes in the coming months here at the University of Minnesota that try to answer these questions.
UPDATE: Now that I think about it, I messed this post up. The focus should have been on the increase in index usage, not the decrease in catalog usage. I'm going to run these stats again in August to see if they still hold true. The fact of the matter is, however, research strategies are changing. We'll see what August's statistics suggest.
June 6, 2005
Long time, no see
Hey everyone. Sorry for my extended absence. You know how it goes, though. Between travelling to Baltimore and the nice weather we've been having, it has been hard to sit in front of the computer for too long. Anywho ...
Nothing to report on the stadium front. There was the Krinkie/Marty attempt to grandstand a little by proposing that the majority of the profits from the new stadium go to the county, but other than that nothing is happening. I must admit I'm getting a little pessimistic. This is even with Shooter reporting yesterday that ,"[c]hances appear favorable for legislative approval of a new ballpark for the Twins before the end of the current special session." I wish he would give more details about why he thinks the chances are still favorable.
It seems that the state budget debate has taken a turn for the worse. The DFL Senate, the governor, and the Republican House appear to be unable to agree on anything. I am beginning to think that by the time they get a budget worked out they will be so sick of seeing each other that they may not want to even deal with the stadium issue. I suppose our best shot is by tagging along with the Gopher's stadium and hoping that after our legislators handle that piece of legislation they'll want to take care of the Twins.
Did you see the poem Dean Johnson's staff wrote after Pawlenty vetoed the state poet laureate bill? It went a little something like this:
"The governor, on promotional tour,
Education is sound-bite du jour.
To govern through press, that is his goal,
But fly-arounds will take their toll."
Why, Dean, oh why do you insist on making this debate even more acrimonious than it has to be? Sigh. If anyone has any news on the budget or the stadium please feel free to share.
As you probably know, I was in Baltimore this past Thursday and Friday to speak at Johns Hopkins University about UThink. First things first, as I said below, I promised to find out why there is an "S" at the end of "Johns" Hopkins. The trouble with blogs is that sometimes people read them. So, while I was being introduced for my presentation on Friday the gentleman introducing me told the audience that I had written about my desire to get to the bottom of this mystery. Ha! That was a little embarrassing. So, he explained (and as bjhess has already pointed out) that "Johns" is actually a family name that was given first to Johns Hopkins great-grandfather. "Johns" was the maiden name of the benefactor of Johns Hopkins University's great-grandmother. So, there you have it. Truth be told, I was just joking around about my desire to get to the bottom of this "mystery." As CC pointed out already, it is easy to find this out through their website.
Overall, my trip went very well. I got into Baltimore on Thursday afternoon and drove past both Camden Yards and the Raven's stadium on my way to the hotel. Camden Yards is just beautiful. Quite frankly, it is so beautiful I don't even want to talk about it. It made me upset just to look at it. Let's move on.
Thursday evening I went out to to dinner with some of the staff from the Johns Hopkins University libraries, as well as my co-presenter Brewster Kahle, co-founder of the Internet Archive. I guess I wouldn't be surprised if you've never heard of Brewster Kahle, but for a librarian and techy like me he is pretty famous. Kahle is an Internet pioneer and millionaire with offices at the Presidio (neighboring the new offices of George Lucas). The Internet Archive is a bi-monthly snapshot of the entirety of the WWW which allows the user to see what a specific website looked like two months ago, or five years ago. Check it out:
You get the picture. As you might imagine, the Internet Archive has a huge storage capacity and currently contains approximately 1 petabyte of data and grows at a rate of 20 terabytes per month. Yikes, that is huge.
Brewster Kahle came to speak about this project and also his new initiative to digitize the entirety of human recorded knowledge ala Google and make it all "universally accessible." His talk was awe-inspiring, important, timely, engaging, and entertaining. The scope that he is dealing with, the higher plane that his thinking currently resides in ... wow. It was awesome to meet him and talk with him. His presentation mainly dealt with different media types such as print, sound/music, video/movies, and graphics and his desire to digitize all of it. He also tried to convince everyone how relatively inexpensive it is to do so and how librairies especially are at a unique point in our history to make a huge impact in this realm. He said more than once something to the effect that right now the technology community is looking to libriaries for advice, help, and assistance in doing all of this. "We are cool to the techies right now" he kept on saying, and we need to do something before we aren't cool anymore. Of course, I'm not doing his talk justice, but needless to say it was very thought provoking and inspiring.
And then there was me. Ha! Actually, I was Brewster Kahle's warm-up band, so to speak. I presented first, and I am happy to report that my presentation on UThink went very well. I spoke about our efforts to record the cultural memory of the University of Minnesota through blogs, and our efforts to use blogs to create community on campus, give instructors another way to engage students in the classroom, and most importantly to promote intellectual freedom. Our efforts to create "communities of interest" and promote intellectual freedom seemed to resonate with the audience the most, as well as the fact that the UThink project was designed without a committee. UThink is basically just me (and the excellent work of a programmer). One audience member labled my efforts "gutsy" and extolled the virtues of taking a chance every once in a while. That was flattering.
So, I think I held my own with Brewster Kahle, and after our presentations were over we both agreed that they dovetailed nicely. Kahle is certainly working on a worldwide scale, but UThink is an example of a local based project with some of the same goals: capturing the cultural memory of a group of people and making it accessible to all. All in all, our two talks worked great together and it was a very enjoyable day.
Anyway, that is about it. If you got this far, thanks for reading. Back to our regularly scheduled programming...
August 25, 2004
Work has been slain!
Work? Pffft ... Work has been vanquished for the day. With my trusty keyboard Stormtyper, and my fingers of fury, I quickly dispatched of numerous projects today like they were nothing more than mosquitos buzzing in my ear. I was like a work vortex, swirling towards unsuspecting projects before enveloping them in a twister of productivity. Oh yes, today was a good day. ILLiad? Your problems cease to exist. Stormtyper crushed your whining "Can't email" messages until they were nothing more than dust under my boots. SFX? No more will your password protected targets plague my dreams. Tonight I will sleep in peace. PEACE I TELL YOU!!! User permissions? Ha! Happy co-workers now bask in the glory of refreshed Samba directories awaiting their every command. Fear me computers! You do my bidding!
I am LEGEND. I am POWER. I am WEBMASTER.
July 23, 2004
Well, I'm going on vacation. I won't necessarily be away from home, but I won't be updating this blog again until August 2nd. I know, all 3 of my readers will be deeply upset, but sometimes a guy needs a break to relax and refresh. So, I've been thinking of what I should leave you with. What kind of pithy, well thought out commentary can I leave you with that will satisfy your Greet Machine needs until August 2nd, and actually make you return when that time comes ... unfortunately I can't think of anything. So, I will leave you with some comments about one of my favorite topics of conversation, buying books.
You might think that being a librarian that I would be in favor of buying books, or that I would have a large collection of books in my home. Not so on either count. Personally I think that by being a librarian I have given up my right to buy books all together. And therefore I don't. Obviously this saves me a lot of money, but it also requires that I use one of the greatest intellectual resources provided by this great land, our public and academic library system. Do you realize just how many books you have at your disposal right now by virute of living in the Twin Cities area? First of all, we have the U of M Libraries, which by the way is the 17th largest research library in the nation. Next we have the public library systems of Hennepin and Ramsey counties, not to mention the city systems of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Hennepin County alone consistently ranks in the top 10 nationally in terms of book circulation. They have a lot of books and they check a lot of them out. We are literally overwhelmed by access to information. Having said all of this, why on Earth does anyone buy books in this area?
Buying books is such a waste of money! We should at all times use libraries to satisfy our research and recreational reading needs. And if you say the library never has anything you want to read ... that just is plain ignorant. Right now in the library of your choice sits a book that if you read it you would think it was the best, most inspirational book you have ever read. You just have to find it. My strategy is to find a lot of books, and just put a ton of them on hold. If I don't like one I always know that I've got either more coming or more already waiting for me. How do I find a lot of books to put on hold? Excellent question! There actually is a place for bookstores in my reading strategy, especially Amazon.com. What I do is look up a book in Amazon that I really liked. Then, on the page that features that book, I scroll down to the Listmania section and check out a list from a reader. Lists from Listmania usually include other books somebody thinks you'll enjoy besides the one you initially searched for. Truly it works like a charm. When I find a book on a list that I think I might enjoy I go back to the catalogs of both the U of M Libraries and Hennepin County and wherever it is I put the book on hold. I'm so fond of this method that I wrote a web page that strips out everything from Amazon except for the lists and other recommendations they make for books. I call it the Serendipity Project. Check it out and let me know what you think (it is pretty basic right now and needs some work).
Anyway, that is how I find books to read. You might be wondering if there is any time where I feel actually buying a book is OK. Yes, I will grudgingly admit that there are times when purchasing a book is warranted. So, I leave you with the 7 Rules of Book Buying:
- You may buy any book you will read at least 5 times.
This is a tough rule, but I can't justify buying a book especially if I'm only going to read it once. That's ridiculous! The next time you get the urge to buy a book you know you are going to read less than five times, stop yourself, save yourself some money, and go to the library and check the book out! In fact, take that money and save it for something special, donate it to charity, or take it to zoo, buy some sardines, and feed them to the seals.
- You may buy reference books.
Of course reference books such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, manuals, field guides, travel guides, etc. will probably be read more than five times. Although you can get a lot of this material on the WWW now, so buy these books only when absolutely necessary!
- You may buy books for a university/college course.
You could try and check these out from the library, or ILL them, but most likely the due date will be before the end of the class. You may also want to highlight them, so I suppose you can go ahead and buy them.
- You may buy a book if you are planning on donating a large collection of them to the library.
Collecting books is a tough one for me. When people come to my house they are usually surprised to see that I have very few books. They ask, "Don't librarians usually have a lot of books?" And I say, "Yeah, I have a huge collection. Around 6 million volumes. You may have heard of it: The University of Minnesota Libraries?" But I suppose some of you have rather large collections of books. If this is the case, make sure you are buying books in order to someday benefit a library.
- You may buy books to use as decorations, but make sure this benefits a library.
This one is especially tough for me. But I do concede that books can sometimes spruce up the interior of your home. However, I do have a rather restrictive rule about this one. You can only buy books for decoration if you get them from a library book sale. That way the books you buy will have a direct monetary benefit to the library you are purchasing them from.
- You may buy a book if you are going to get it signed by the author.
This one is the only "no brainer" of the bunch.
- You may buy a book if you are buying a book written by a friend.
If I had a friend that wrote a book, I would certainly show my support by buying the book. I may even get it signed by the author!
So there you have it. Chew on that for about a week. I'll be back!
April 27, 2004
Reflections on UThink
Why the library? Why should the library host blogs on campus? I've heard this often enough where I feel it is an important question to answer. The easiest answer to this is, why not? But that probably won't satisfy the masses. I think most people are hung up by their own perceptions of what both libraries are and what blogs are. To many in a university environment, the library is a stuffy building with old books and even older librarians whispering "shhhh!" all the time. There is also a (better) perception of the library as a temple to knowledge, the epitome of academia and the holder of the record of the breadth of human history and discovery. The library provides resources people can trust, hand selected by subject specialists, meticulosly cataloged, and ready for use in scholarly discourse. The keyword there is "scholarly." Why in the world would the library be interested in blogs?
This brings up people's perception of blogs. To many, blogs are little more than electronic gossip devices, or personal diaries filled with drivel of little or no academic value. This is what I call the "blueberry muffin" effect. Why in the world should I care that you had a blueberry muffin for breakfast? And possibly more importantly, why in the world did you feel the need to write about it for the world to read? Are all blogs filled with this personal drivel? Can we stereotype them all and box them all into this corner of having very little scholarly value?
Obviously I would say no. I personally feel that blogs and libraries can help break these stereotypes that both must overcome. The University of Minnesota and the University Libraries are not unique in offering blogs to the campus community. Many other univeristies are taking this leap, and it probably all started with Blogs at Harvard Law. There is also a lot of research and thought going into blogs on college campuses which you can find here, and here, and here, and here, etc. Blogs are approaching the tipping point on many campuses around the world as a tool that can enhance the traditional academic enterprise. How do libraries fit into the picture?
Libraries can certainly offer blogs an air of legitimacy given people's already stuffy impression of the role of the academic library on campus. However, when you think about it, blogs are just another example of the breadth of human knowledge and thought in electronic form. There are blogs for every topic under the sun and more are being created every day. Why isn't it the job of the libraries to also collect this material? We already collect material in all subjects and all formats; blogs are merely an extension of a responsibility. Right now there are hundreds of faculty, staff, and students on the U of M campus that maintain blogs, blogs that discuss their lives, research interests, classes, political persuasions, work life, and more. Why wouldn't the libraries want to archive this (sometimes) very important content? In addition, this content is quite literally a gold mine of unfettered and unedited essays that represents a snap shot in time of the history of the institution. Regardless of whether a person feels these posts and entries are "scholarly" or not, they reflect what people are thinking about at the U of M right now. Libraries already collect material like this through the University Archives. Blogs, however, will offer a much richer picture for researchers of the future interested in the cultural memory of the institution.
Let's talk a little more about the whole "scholarly" thing. While I would agree that most of the libraries' tradtional holdings (books, microfilm, databases) contain materials that could be considered "scholarly" I can also promise you that right now the library's collections also contain literally thousands of books that you would consider to be absolute crap. If you don't believe me you haven't looked hard enough. That is why this perception of blogs as frivolous irks me so much. It is so subjective. This idea that blogs must be "scholarly" (as the reader defines it) to be worthy of being published is academic elitism and censorship at its finest. That is why it is so important for blogs to be housed in the libraries. As guardians of intellectual freedom libraries can encourage people to write what they want, when they want, without fear of institutional restraint. Blogs give people on campus the freedom to express their opinion in any way they see fit, and libraries can ensure that their first amendment rights aren't tampered with.
I fully believe in the process of writing. I think of blogs as a public practice arena for putting your thoughts on paper (or screen as the case may be). Sometimes your thoughts will be complete schlock, but as you practice more you are bound to get better at expressing yourself. Sooner or later you will become more adept at expressing an opinion, making an argument, debating what you feel is an important issue, etc. More importantly you will learn to trust your own opinion more, and you will find that you actually have opinions on a lot of topics. I guess what I am trying to say is that through all the crap people write on blogs there is usually the germ of an idea trying to get out. The University Libraries don't want to squelch that idea, we want to give you the chance to express it.
April 2, 2004
Find It Integration
Above is a link from the U of M Libraries Find It Linking Service that I put in my blog through the Movable Type bookmarklet function. First I created the bookmarklet bookmark (main menu of MT screen) so that I could use it later. Then I did a search in a Find It enabled database. Once the Find It menu appeared for an article I was interested in I used my bookmarklet bookmark to post the Find It menu URL to my blog. It was easy, and if I keep the bookmarklet page open, I can add more (although you do have to deal with multiple pop ups). This could be a handy way for faculty, staff, and students to keep a list of citations before they move it up to RefWorks, or whatever bibliographic management software they use.