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January 12, 2017

Olin Library: Library as place, as lab, as local theater

I went to see my friend Jeff Goldenson — we worked together at the Harvard Library Innovation Lab — at Olin College, where he’s director of the library. Jeff’s taken a library that was an under-utilized resource and, with full Administrative backing, turned it into a playground and a lab…by learning some lessons from community theater. Most importantly, he’s turned it into a place that the community feels it owns.

Olin’s got 350 students, all engineers, half of whom are women. It’s a school that stresses hands-on learning, which turns out to work well for Jeff’s approach. The library’s got two floors, neither of them particularly large, and 15,000 volumes. (Here’s a banana for scale: My local community library has about ten times that many. Yes, it is an affluent community. Nevertheless, please keep in mind that I’m still looking for work.)

Here’s some of what Jeff — who’s background is in architecture and design — has done:

First, he has done the expected things to make the library more inviting — a place as well as a resource, as Jeff puts it. These include a media tools library, maker spaces, coffee spots, some very cool events. (Ask Jeff about the Awkward Family Photobooth :)

Second, he has encouraged students to participate in coming up with new ideas for the library and, since it is a hands-on engineering school, building them.

Third, he has taken some fantastic steps to make the library re-configurable, well beyond the usual putting wheels on everything. For example, he is not only putting things on shelves in the stacks that you won’t find in most libraries, he’s coming up with ways of enabling shelves to be generally repurposable.

Fourth, Jeff being Jeff, everything he thinks of or builds is done in open, shareable ways. (Jeff undoubtedly doesn’t want me to be as cagey as I’m being in this post.)

Fifth, when you have a chance, ask Jeff about cardboard. And vinyl. And other materials that lets him and others alter the physicality of the library — the library as place — the way a local theater company creates sets. For example, once a week the Library turns a structure in the lobby into a coffee shop. It’s very popular, but it still looks like a library structure repurposed as a coffee shop. But with the magic of some cardboard, paint, and just a few inexpensive touches — e.g., some cheap hanging lamps — the structure and the space are transformed. It’s set design, with the library as the theater. This way of thinking lowers the cost and risk of altering the perceived meaning and feel of the place.

The result is not just a supercool library but a model for how existing libraries without lots of resources can give themselves over to their communities…and become a point of pride for them.

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October 11, 2016

[liveblog] Vinny Senguttuvan on Predicting Customers

Vinny Senguttuvan is Senior Data Scientist at METIS. Before that, he was at Facebook-based gaming company, High 5 Games, which had 10M users. His talk at PAPIs: “Predicting Customers.”

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

The main challenge: Most of the players play for free. Only 2% ever spend money on the site, buying extra money to play. (It’s not gambling because you never cash out). 2% of those 2% contribute the majority of the revenue.

All proposed changes go through A/B testing. E.g., should we change the “Buy credits” button from blue to red. This is classic hypothesis testing. So you put up both options and see which gets the best results. It’s important to remember that there’s a cost to the change, so the A-B preference needs to be substantial enough. But often the differences are marginal. So you can increase the sample size. This complicates the process. “A long list of changes means not enough time per change.” And you want to be sure that the change affects the paying customers positively, which means taking even longer.

When they don’t have enough samples, they can bring down the confidence level required to make the change. Or they could bias one side of the hypothesis. And you can assume the variables are independent and run simultaneous A-B tests on various variables. High 5 does all three. It’s not perfect but it works.

Second, there is a poularity metric by which they rank or classify their 100 games. They constantly add games — it went from 15 to 100 in two years. This continuously changes the ranking of the games. Plus, some are launched locked. This complicates things. Vinny’s boss came up with a model of an n-dimensional casino, but it was too complex. Instead, they take 2 simple approaches: 1. An average-weighted spin. 2. Bayesian. Both predicted well but had flaws, so they used a type of average of both.

Third: Survival analysis. They wanted to know how many users are still active a given time after they created their account, and when is a user at risk of discontinuing use. First, they grouped users into cohorts (people who joined within a couple of weeks of each other) and plotted survival rates over time. They also observed return rates of users after each additional day of absence. They also implement a Cox survival model. They found that newer users were more likely to decline in their use of the product; early users are more committed. This pattern is widespread. That means they have to continuously acquire new players. They also alert users when they reach the elbow of disuse.

Fourth: Predictive lifetime value. Lifetime value = total revenue from a user over the entire time the the produced. This is significant because of costs: 10-15% of the rev goes into ads to acquire customers. Their 365 day prediction model should be a time series, but they needed results faster, so they flipped it into a regression problem, predicting the 365 day revenue based on the user’s first month data: how they spent, purchase count, days of play, player level achievement, and the date joined. [He talks about regression problems, but I can’t keep up.] At that point it cost $2 to acquire a customer from FB ad, and $6 from mobile apps. But when they tested, the mobile acquisitions were more profitable than those that came from through FB. It turned out that FB was counting as new users any player who hadn’t played in 30 days, and was re-charging them for it. [I hope I got that right.]

Fifth: Recommendation systems. Pandora notes the feature of songs and uses this to recommend similarities. YouTube makes recommendations made based on relations among users. Non-matrix factorization [I’m pretty sure he just made this up] gives you the ability to predict the score for a video that you know nothing about in terms of content. But what if the ratings are not clearly defined? At High 5, there are no explicit ratings. They calculated a rating based on how often a player plays it, how long the session, etc. And what do you do about missing values: use averages. But there are too many zeroes in the system, so they use sparse matrix solvers. Plus, there is a semi-order to the games, so they used some human input. [Useful for library Stackscores

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September 18, 2016

Lewis Carroll on where knowledge lives

On books and knowledge, from Sylvie and Bruno by Lewis Carroll, 1889:

“Which contain the greatest amount of Science, do you think, the books, or the minds?”

“Rather a profound question for a lady!” I said to myself, holding, with the conceit so natural to Man, that Woman’s intellect is essentially shallow. And I considered a minute before replying. “If you mean living minds, I don’t think it’s possible to decide. There is so much written Science that no living person has ever read: and there is so much thought-out Science that hasn’t yet been written. But, if you mean the whole human race, then I think the minds have it: everything, recorded in books, must have once been in some mind, you know.”

“Isn’t that rather like one of the Rules in Algebra?” my Lady enquired. (“Algebra too!” I thought with increasing wonder.) “I mean, if we consider thoughts as factors, may we not say that the Least Common Multiple of all the minds contains that of all the books; but not the other way?”

“Certainly we may!” I replied, delighted with the illustration. “And what a grand thing it would be,” I went on dreamily, thinking aloud rather than talking, “if we could only apply that Rule to books! You know, in finding the Least Common Multiple, we strike out a quantity wherever it occurs, except in the term where it is raised to its highest power. So we should have to erase every recorded thought, except in the sentence where it is expressed with the greatest intensity.”

My Lady laughed merrily. “Some books would be reduced to blank paper, I’m afraid!” she said.

“They would. Most libraries would be terribly diminished in bulk. But just think what they would gain in quality!”

“When will it be done?” she eagerly asked. “If there’s any chance of it in my time, I think I’ll leave off reading, and wait for it!”

“Well, perhaps in another thousand years or so—”

“Then there’s no use waiting!”, said my Lady. “Let’s sit down. Uggug, my pet, come and sit by me!”

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February 26, 2016

Obama's Librarian of Congress nominee

I’m very happy with Pres. Obama’s nomination of Carla Hayden to be the next Librarian of Congress.

She’s been a people’s librarian as the head of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore — an actual librarian rather than an historian or academic. I expect her to work to make the treasures of the Library of Congress even more accessible to all.

She’s is on the board of the Digital Public Library of America which has a thorough commitment to open access and to the use of technology to unlock the riches of library culture.

It is also worth noting that she is not an elderly white man. Having a black woman as the head of the Library of Congress says something important, starting with “It’s about time.”

We’ll see where she stands on copyright issues. I have some hopes about that.

This looks like a brilliant choice.

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December 17, 2015

The Library in the Life of the User: An open platform use case

OCLC has posted an excellent report based on a recent conference, looking at how libraries can participate in the life of users, rather than thinking about the user’s life within the library.

I like this a lot. I’ve been talking about it in terms of libraries now being able to participate in the appropriation of culture that traditionally has occurred in private discussions outside the library: The user borrows a book, takes it home, and talks about it with her friends, etc. It is in those conversations that the reader makes the work her own.

Now that many of those conversations occur online, the library has the opportunity to offer services that facilitate these conversations, learn from them, and contribute to the act of cultural appropriation. That’s a big change and a big opportunity. (I’d say it’s huge, but I can’t use that word without hearing it in Trump’s voice, not to mention envisioning the shape of his mouth when he says it. So, nope, that word’s gone.)

One of the points of talking about libraries in the life of the user–Lorcan Dempsey‘s phrase from 1973 (I am a Lorcan fan) [LATER: In the comments below Merrilee Proffitt points out that the report says that while Lorcan popularized the phrase, it was coined by Douglas Zweizig. Sorry!] –is that user lives are much bigger than their lives in libraries. The library’s services therefore should not be confined to the relatively limited range of things that users do in libraries. In fact, users’ lives are so big and varied and unpredictable that libraries on their own can’t possible provide every service or address every opportunity for engaging in their users’ many acts of cultural appropriation.

Therefore, libraries ought to be adopting open platforms, i.e., public-facing APIs that let anyone with an idea build a new service or integrate into their own sites or apps the ideas being generated by networks of library users. Open platforms are ideal where needs and opportunities are unpredictable. Outside of cats trapped in physicists’ boxes, there is no more unpredictable domain than how people are going to make sense of their culture together.

Therefore: Open platforms for libraries!


November 6, 2015

More cracks in the enormous dam in the river of scholarship [#blockThatMetaphor]

Here’s the TL;DR (also known as a well-written lead paragraph, by Scott Jaschik):

All six editors and all 31 editorial board members of Lingua, one of the top journals in linguistics, last week resigned to protest Elsevier’s policies on pricing and its refusal to convert the journal to an open-access publication that would be free online. As soon as January, when the departing editors’ noncompete contracts expire, they plan to start a new open-access journal to be called Glossa.

The article tries to explain how much it costs for a library to subscribe, but that’s not fully possible because Elsevier’s pricing structure pretty much requires libraries to buy inconsistently-priced “bundles.”

Elsevier has responded in a way that is likely to make no one happy, not even Elsevier.

Imagine a world in which the works of scholars are available to anyone who is interested. What a concept! A hearty thank you to the board of Lingua.


The tireless Peter Suber has a list of similar “Declarations of Independence” by journals.

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October 28, 2015

[liveblog] International Univ. Lib. conference: Afternoon panel

I’m at the International Conference on University Libraries (Conferencia Internacional sobre Bibliotecas Universitarias) in Mexico City.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

I am often relying on simultaneous translators, so the following is extra-specially unreliable.

Lynn Rudasill, U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The process of traditional Business-Based Strategic planning

  • Define the mission

  • Establish measurable goals

  • Implements strategies for those goals

  • Align resources to support these efforts

  • Employ the strategy as a large, iterative formalized process

The IFLA Trend Report reports on regional trends. It was developed by info people, not librarians. It reports on five trends

  • Increasing access to info

  • Online education

  • Privacy and data protection

  • Hyper-connected societies

  • New societies

Another report worth reading: The ALA Center for the Future of the Library Trends.

Her favorite: The Horizon Report series. The reports lay out timelines. The recent one has some topics shared between Higher Ed and Academic Libraries, including maker spaces.

These reports make clear the problems for strategic planning: “”We are no longer hierarchically based. We are networks.””“We are no longer hierarchically based. We are networks.” Not top down.

So we have to move from strategic plans (static, hierarchical) to strategic planning (dynamic, networked). Alternatives:

Strategic Framework: Identifies service objectives and their populations. Locates services that are no longer useful.

Grassroots Strategic Planning: Open engagement by all employees, often beginning with an all-=staff retreat. Ideas are broadly solicited, often anonymously. All ideas a discussed equally. There are brainstorming sessions. Decisions are made by buy-in from all quarters.

SOAR (was SWOT): Strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results. It’s an “appreciative inquiry to focus on best possible future.” It’s a much more positive approach.

Agile planning and scrum development: Flexible leadership, and overall leader and facilitator. Crosstraining. Teams focus on specific goals. The product owner is responsible for the final result.

Lourdes Epstein Cal y Mayor

[I missed the beginning. Sorry.] She thinks it important that research labs accept the ethical dimensions of what they’re doing. She quotes a tweet from @JGrobelny: “Libraries need to protect the culture of learning, not just its resources.” We have not done a good job measuring the impact of our work. What’s more important, our resources or our competencies? Even the distinction between hard and soft skills is suspect.

Ranganathan’s 5th Law of Library Science: “The Library is a Growing Organism.” We shouldn’t be surprised that libraries are changing. She cites Michael Gorman’s 1998 update of this.

We should pay attention to the growing number of Open Access scientific journals. This is crucial for libraries.

We need to be learning the lessons of Web 2.0. There is a profound change in the role of the social, in power relations. We need a broad view of what is happening.

The rise of VUCA: Volatility uncertainity, complexity, and ambiguity. We should match it with Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility. We need to pay attention to those who we have written off or marginalized.

We should be doing more with predictive analysis to help our users. We need support from our institutions for this. For example, theDASH repository at Harvard (Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard). [Yay!] And “why aren’t we creating our own courses?”why aren’t we creating our own courses? We should be organizing info organiccally, with a virtuous circle of data, information and knowledge.

We live in amazing, amazing times. If we can join in the cycle of the generation of knowledge, we will succeed: user centered, open to society, and library-based…that’s how we create communities and networks of knowledge.

What do we do with information? Technologies of information set the emphasis. [Translation is fading out] Digital natives won’t be able to make sense of information unless we teach them the key competencies. The solutions are not technological. You can’t just hand out iPads.

We have to be mindful of our discourse. We get distracted by shiny tech. We have evolved from manuscripts constrained to the elite. But now with digital objects–not just digital books–there can be mass production of interconnected info, used by prosumers, some of whom may be kids coming up with worthy contributions. How do we assess all of these resources? That’s a major challenge for libraries.

But we’re learning. Bloom’s taxonomy is transforming into verbs: record, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, create. Now the last step of learning is to create. If I’m not creating, I’m not fully learning. A library that does not understand this will turn into a museum or a warehouse. Creation and collaboration the keywords of our time. Our use of library space should reflect this.

We need to move from:

  • individual to collective

  • Consumer to producuer

  • Resources to rpocessors

  • Institutional to “out-stitution” [does not translate well]

Scott Bennett

Scott is Yale University Librarian Emeritus. His topic is “Library as Learning Space.”

He says there have been leitmotifs today, including the librarians ought to act more as educators. Librarians tell him that they want to build a space for learning, but then can’t say what they want to go on in the space. Scott is going to talk about what learning is.

Libraries have recently faced two revolutions. First, the self-empowerment revolution brought about by the presence of Internet browser. Second, pedagogical changes from the Sage on the Stage to a Guy on the Side. This changes the relationship between learner and teacher, and between novice and expert.

As a consequence of the first much of the print collection has disappeared from prime library space. Because of the second traditional services–reference services–are vanishing. Scott will focus on the second.

Two concepts help understand the revolution in learning. First, from learning about to learning to be. E.g., away “from learning facts of science and toward learning to think like a scientist.”from learning facts of science and toward learning to think like a scientist. Second, learning as a perpetual process of becoming.

We should think of ourselves first as educators. That will help us decide how to shape library space. “We must focus most fundamentally on the voluntary relationship between expert and novice, teacher and learner.”

The first question is: Who owns the learning space of libraries? Second: How do we shape the experience of becoming.

Wh owns library space? “Almost everyone on campus feels ownership. Yet we typically treat students as guests or visitors.”Almost everyone on campus feels ownership. Yet we typically treat students as guests or visitors. We’ve started creating student-owned commons, especially in science buildings. Students own their tutoring space as they occupy it.

“How does our presence shape our relationship with students?” Reference desks announce a relationship in which one person owns the desk and has authoritative knowledge. The desk also is designed for queueing. “”So designed, service desks reinforce a transactional, consumerist vision of what we do.””“So designed, service desks reinforce a transactional, consumerist vision of what we do.” We’ve tried re-designing them, but we rarely think about how we can present ourselves to learners, establish a relationship with them, without using the desk to define who we are and how we work.

Tutoring staff typically do not see themselves as Sages on Stages. This determines how they shape their tutoring spaces, which sends a distinct message to learners that is quite different from that of the typical library space. Librarians think of themselves as learning coaches, but the spaces and services send a very different message. That helps librarians sense of themselves as professionals, but does not engage in the new forms of learning.

To become educators, we have to rethink our presence in library space. Presence involves issues of ownership and pedagogy. Librarians understand themselves primarily in terms of learning and not service delivery. The goal is for us to be in learning spaces without dominating them. Presence in learning is the single most important issue in planning spaces.


Q: Libraries are filled with people doing low-quality learning, sitting quietly. But we have spaces that can accommodate more engaged, embodied learning.

Q: What traits must a librarian have to become an educator in this learning speaes?
Scott: The librarian should shift his/her sense of primarily focus from the student to the faculty because that scales better. Mopping up after a bad teacher is not as effective as working with the teacher. “Librarians ought to have their offices with the educators in their disciplines.”Librarians ought to have their offices with the educators in their disciplines. The library building should not be their home.

Q: All organizations ought to have strategic planning.

Lynn: Sometimes we only the measure the things that are easy to measure. We don’t go beyond log analysis to see what the students are learning. Also our planning, we tend to be driven by the advances of techology. But why aren’t we driving technology instead of allowing it to drive us?

Lourdes: We’re moving to new processes but haven’t established ways to measure. Now we can automate much of the measurement. But we also need to carry out qualitative studies. But we also have to ask what we’re going to do with the data. We have done many studies but we do nothing with them. We don’t go to the Dean and ask for backing for new programs.

Q: I agree with Lourdes that the library ought to be seen as a lab. We have to adapt.

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[liveblog] International Conf. of Univ. Libs: Morning talks

I’m at The 13th annual International Conference of University Libraries (Conferencia Internacional sobre Bibliotecas Universitarias) at the Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

I keynoted, and now there is a panel discussion, led by Dr. Saul Hiram Souto of the Universidad de Monterrey.

Mariel Alvarado

The first speaker, Mariel Alvarado, is from Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile.. [I’m listening to a simultaneous translation, so I will get more wrong than usual. Her topic: “Reinventing the Library: Technology as a Catalyst.”

Human capital is the most important factor for the success of any organization. “Our users often are ahead of us in technology. ”Our users often are ahead of us in technology. Librarians must become better at this, understanding the available tools. We need pedagogical dexterity: educators + librarians. Three steps: 1. Investigate what’s happening and how our users are operating. 2. Develop solutions. 3. Innovate differentiated services suiting our culture’s needs.

Librarians need to be at the heart of education. They need to be teaching media literacy. They need to be going where the students are so they can consult with librarians at any time. Mariel’s group is building online scheduling of meeting with libraries. Help students decide which journals to publish in. Rural students need to learn how to use the Web to search the university library.

Look at user needs to design services. Her library uses a well-developed methodology that runs from user interviews through wireframes and usability tests of prototypes.

The library is more than books. We should reinvent our spaces, from social spaces to high-tech knowledge commons. Also: exhibitions. But we also need “libraries everywhere.” Libraries can be parts of conferences by being given a small space.

Worldwide trends: Libraries should become part of the syllabus; teach students about the use of libraries. Students need to learn how to use digital information. Libraries also need more competencies because of all the new tools. But libraries also have to radically change. We have to increase attention on data management. We have to better understand and promote Open Access. We should help our students to be creative and innovate in “micro-spaces,” i.e., spaces dedicated to particular topics.

Libraries need to show their influence on their community. Publishing is expensive, leading to more emphasis on Open Access. “Let’s make sure we’re part of this technology.” There’s a decreasing demand for traditional library services. “We need to be involved in the semantic web, linked data, not just the old cataloging.”We need to be involved in the semantic web, linked data, not just the old cataloging.

We have to be respectful of copyright and not facilitate theft. We should help control plagiarism. We need institutional archives that have copies of the publications of all of our faculty.

We need to support accessibility.

How do we measure use? We generate lots of data, which allows us to be strategic, looking for patterns of use. We can do predictive analytics. [She goes through some analytics with charts that I cannot capture.]

Ferndando Ariel Lopez

Fernando is an Argentina scientist and educator. Techno @fernando__lopez.

Where are we in the economic, social, and cultural changes occurring now? The way knowledge, culture, and science are created, distributed, and consumed is changing. Many more of you have seen a movie on the Internet recently than in a theater [as evidenced by a show of hands]. We are sending msgs on WhatsAPP rather than ringing a doorbell.

The adoption rates are accelerating. It took radio 38 years to reach a million users. It took the iPad 80 days. It’s all converging on mobile. In Mexico, the 15-24 year kids are the most connected online: 31%.

Fernando points to evidence of the size of the Net. Lots of YouTubes and Facebook posts every minute. Plus the Internet of Things. But there are privacy implications.

We should be training not on TIC but TAC and TEP [couldn’t read them on the slide]. These technologies empower people.

How to share?“ Identify, normalize, render visible the knowledge that our universities are producing.” Identify, normalize, render visible the knowledge that our universities are producing. Fernando covers the the concept of openness, which he sees as a cultural change. Open Source. Open Hardware. Open Education. Open Data. Open Science. (We just had the 8th worldwide Open Access Week, he reminds us.)

He goes through categories of tools for each.

Presence on social networks is very important. That’s where our users are. We should create Facebook fan pages for our libraries, and we can put our search engines there.

Three sites to know about:

David Schumaker

David Schumaker is at the Catholic University of America. His topic: “The Management of Knowledge Work and Innovation.” “There is a human element that must be present,” which is his focus.


  • Library services have changed

  • The roles and skills of library staff are changing

  • Library management practices must change

Four mgt changes:

  • Library service positions must be re-defined.

  • We need new supervisory practices, based on Peter Drucker‘s ideas.

  • Library assessment must focus on measures of impact and value.

He introduces Christensen’s theory of disruption. Library services has been disrupted by the Net and Web. Libraries are adopting new, higher-value services where the disruptors are not competing.

Some data: In academic libraries, initial circulation is down 44% since 1991 and reference questions are down 69% (source: Association of Research Libraries). These numbers only collapsed around the year 2000, coinciding with the increased use of the Net. “This is classic disruption.” Many librarians resisted and disdained this, but the Net become the first resort for many users.

But the number of attendees at group presentations held by the library has gone up 144%, while the number of those presentations grew 81%. Presumably, many of these were teaching info literacy.

1. “Library service positions must be redefined.” The demand for traditional ref questions is down. “The predominant questions are now directional and technical.” Libraries need to staff up with people who are excellent instructors.

2. “Library knowledge workers ‘cannot be supervised closely or in detail. They can only be helped.'” (Drucker) Effective instruction adopts multiple learning styles. The best instructor is not delivered as a one-shot lecture. Librarians have to establish strong relationships with instructors. Librarians will increasingly work in cross-organizational roles. “How do we manage staff who largely work outside of the library, engaged in knowledge work not measured by our traditional measures?”How do we manage staff who largely work outside of the library, engaged in knowledge work not measured by our traditional measures? Drucker says that managers have to become facilitators.

3. “Library managers must become relationship managers.” Library managers have to establish collaborative relationships with their counterparts in the university.

4. “Library assessment must focus on measures of impact and value.” The old measures measured collection size, budgets, activity counts, etc. New measures: Anecdotes of library contributions to teaching and research, and the impact of info literacy instruction on student success.


Q: Should libraries set aside a budget for these changes?

Fernando: That’s always a good idea. But the technology I mentioned is free, although there are training courses. But in my experience, money is not the limiting factor.

Q: How can professional libraries foster a culture of critical thinking about the new tools, e.g., social networks, Google, etc.? Often these companies are not neutral.

David: First we have to be critical thinkers. The rise of new technologies has shaken some of the traditional assumptions of many librarians about, for example, the quality of research. allows scholars to become aware of flaws found in scholarly published papers. That kind of capability has upset the traditional mindset of librarians that if it was published in a reputable scholarly journal, it must be ok. “The meaning of critical thinking has changed because of the new tech.”The meaning of critical thinking has changed because of the new tech. Librarians should be leaders in understanding the implications of this. Only then will we be in a position to lead.

Mariel: We need three things: 1. When deciding about tech, we have to ask: what is the goal? 2. What are the alternatives? Open Access, Open Data offer free services. 3. What is our budget?

Fernando: There has to be state policy about technological independent. E.g., some countries mandate the use of open source software, and that Google et al. must keep a copy of their data in the country. Librarians must focus on training people on technological literacy. Also, the young have a poor sense of privacy. They should know that they should keep a copy of their social network data.

Q: [Didn’t get it]

Mariel: Tech is moving to the cloud, which is more convenient. ILS’ will not be eliminated in the short term. In the long term they will be assimilated into other services.

Saul: Library catalogs are no longer the trustworthy source for journal titles that we hold. When I saw what the new discovery services will do, I said that they’ll take our jobs. A lot of what we do will be redundant. Obviously there are other factors in play. Libraries are a compulsory part of universities. We have to take these changes on.

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October 7, 2015

[liveblog] The future of libraries

I’m at a Hubweek event called “Libraries: The Next Generation.” It’s a panel hosted by the Berkman Center with Dan Cohen, the executive director of the DPLA; Andromeda Yelton, a developer who has done work with libraries; and Jeffrey Schnapp of metaLab

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Sue Kriegsman of the Center introduces the session by explaining Berkman’s interest in libraries. “We have libraries lurking in every corner…which is fabulous.” Also, Berkman incubated the DPLA. And it has other projects underway.

Dan Cohen speaks first. He says if he were to give a State of the Union Address about libraries, he’d say: “They are as beloved as ever and stand at the center of communities” here and around the world. He cites a recent Pew survey about perspectives on libraries:“ …libraries have the highest approval rating of all American institutions. But, that’s fragile.” libraries have the highest approval rating of all American institutions. But, he warns, that’s fragile. There are many pressures, and libraries are chronically under-funded, which is hard to understand given how beloved they are.

First among the pressures on libraries: the move from print. E-book adoption hasn’t stalled, although the purchase of e-books from the Big Five publishers compared to print has slowed. But Overdrive is lending lots of ebooks. Amazon has 65% of the ebook market, “a scary number,” Dan says. In the Pew survey a couple of weeks ago, 35% said that libraries ought to spend more on ebooks even at the expense of physical books. But 20% thought the opposite. That makes it hard to be the director of a public library.

If you look at the ebook market, there’s more reading go on at places like the DPLA. (He mentions the StackLife browser they use, that came out of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab that I used to co-direct.) Many of the ebooks are being provided straight to a platform (mainly Amazon) by the authors.

There are lots of jobs public libraries do that are unrelated to books. E.g., the Boston Public Library is heavily used by the homeless population.

The way forward? Dan stresses working together, collaboration. “DPLA is as much a social, collaborative project as it is a technical project.” It is run by a community that has gotten together to run a common platform.

And digital is important. We don’t want to leave it to Jeff Bezos who “wants to drop anything on you that you want, by drone, in an hour.”

Andromeda: She says she’s going to talk about “libraries beyond Thunderdome,” echoing a phrase from Sue Kriegman’s opening comments. “My real concern is with the skills of the people surrounding our crashed Boeing.” Libraries need better skills to evaluate and build the software they need. She gives some exxamples of places where we see a tensions between library values and code.

1. The tension between access and privacy. Physical books leave no traces. With ebooks the reading is generally tracked. Overdrive did a deal so that library patrons who access ebooks get notices from Amazon when their loan period is almost up. Adobe does rights management, with reports coming page by page about what people are reading. “Unencrypted over the Internet,” she adds. “You need a fair bit of technical knowledge to see that this is happening,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be this way.” “It’s the DRM and the technology that have these privacy issues built in.”

She points to the NYPL Library Simplified program that makes it far easier for non-techie users. It includes access to Project Gutenberg. Libraries have an incentive to build open architectures that support privacy. But they need the funding and the technical resources.

She cites the Library Freedom Project that teaches librarians about anti-surveillance technologies. They let library users browse the Internet through TOR, preventing (or at least greatly inhibit) tracking. They set up the first library TOR node in New Hampshire. Homeland Security quickly suggested that they stop. But there was picketing against this, and the library turned it back on. “That makes me happy.”

2. Metadata. She has us do an image search for “beautiful woman” at Google. They’re basically all white. Metadata is sometimes political. She goes through the 200s of the Dewey Decimal system: 90% Christian. “This isn’t representative of human knowledge. It’s representative of what Melvil Dewey thought maps to human knowledge.” Libraries make certain viewpoints more computationally accessible than others.“ Our ability to write new apps is only as good as the metadata under them.” Our ability to write new apps is only as good as the metadata under them. “As we go on to a more computational library world — which is awesome — we’re going to fossilize all these old prejudices. That’s my fear.”

“My hope is that we’ll have the support, conviction and empathy to write software, and to demand software, that makes our libraries better, and more fair.”

Jeffrey: He says his peculiar interest is in how we use space to build libraries as architectures of knowledge. “Libraries are one of our most ancient institutions.” “Libraries have constantly undergone change,” from mausoleums, to cloisters, to warehouses, places of curatorial practice, and civic spaces. “The legacy of that history…has traces of all of those historical identities.” We’ve always faced the question “What is a library?” What are it’s services? How does it serve its customers? Architects and designers have responded to this, assuming a set of social needs, opportunities, fantasies, and the practices by which knowledge is created, refined, shared. “These are all abiding questions.”

Contemporary architects and designers are often excited by library projects because it crystallizes one of the most central questions of the day: “How do you weave together information and space?” We’re often not very good at that. The default for libraries has been: build a black box.

We have tended to associate libraries with collections. “If you ask what is a library?, the first answer you get is: a collection.” But libraries have also always been about the making of connections, i.e., how the collections are brought alive. E.g., the Alexandrian Librarywas a performance space. “What does this connection space look like today?” In his book with Matthew Battles, they argue that while we’ve thought of libraries as being a single institution, in fact today there are now many different types of libraries. E.g., the research library as an information space seems to be collapsing; the researchers don’t need reading rooms, etc. But civic libraries are expanding their physical practices.

We need to be talking about many different types of libraries, each with their own services and needs. The Library as an institution is on the wane. We need to proliferate and multiply the libraries to serve their communities and to take advantage of the new tools and services. “We need spaces for learning,” but the stack is just one model.


Dan: Mike O’Malley says that our image of reading is in a salon with a glass of port, but in grad school we’re taught to read a book the way a sous chef guts a fish. A study says that of academic ebooks, 75% of scholars read less than 50 pages of them. [I may have gotten that slightly wrong. Sorry.] Assuming a proliferation of forms, what can we do to address them?

Jeffrey: The presuppositions about how we package knowledge are all up for grabs now. “There’s a vast proliferation of channels. ‘And that’s a design opportunity.’”There’s a vast proliferation of channels. “And that’s a design opportunity.” How can we create audiences that would never have been part of the traditional distribution models? “I’m really excited about getting scholars and creative practitioners involved in short-form knowledge and the spectrum of ways you can intersect” the different ways we use these different forms. “That includes print.” There’s “an extraordinary explosion of innovation around print.”

Andromeda: “Reading is a shorthand. Library is really about transforming people and one another by providing access to information.” Reading is not the only way of doing this. E.g., in maker spaces people learn by using their hands. “How can you support reading as a mode of knowledge construction?” Ten years ago she toured Olin College library, which was just starting. The library had chairs and whiteboards on castors. “This is how engineers think”: they want to be able to configure a space on the fly, and have toys for fidgeting. E.g., her eight year old has to be standing and moving if she’s asked a hard question. “We need to think of reading as something broader than dealing with a text in front of you.”

Jeffrey: The DPLA has a location in the name — America &#8212. The French National Library wants to collect “the French Internet.” But what does that mean? The Net seems to be beyond locality. What role does place play?

Dan: From the beginning we’ve partnered with Europeana. We reused Europeana’s metadata standard, enabling us to share items. E.g., Europeana’s 100th anniversary of the Great War web site was able to seamlessly pull in content from the DPLA via our API, and from other countries. “The DPLA has materials in over 400 languages,” and actively partners with other international libraries.

Dan points to Amy Ryan (the DPLA chairperson, who is in the audience) and points to the construction of glass walls to see into the Boston Public Library. This increases “permeability.” When she was head of the BPL, she lowered the stacks on the second floor so now you can see across the entire floor. Permeability “is a very smart architecture” for both physical and digital spaces.

Jeff: Rendering visible a lot of the invisible stuff that libraries do is “super-rich,” assuming the privacy concerns are addressed.

Andromeda: Is there scope in the DPLA metadata for users to address the inevitable imbalances in the metadata?

Dan: We collect data from 1,600 different sources. We normalize the data, which is essential if you want to enable it for collaboration. Our Metdata Application Profile v. 4 adds a field for annotation. Because we’re only a dozen people, we haven’t created a crowd-sourcing tool, but all our data is CC0 (public domain) so anyone who wants to can create a tool for metadata enhancement. If people do enhance it, though, we’ll have to figure out if we import that data into the DPLA.

Jeffrey: The politics of metadata and taxonomy has a long history. The Enlightenment fantasy is for a universal metadata school. What does the future look like on this issue?

Andromeda: “You can have extremely crowdsourced metadata, but then you’re subject to astroturfing”You can have extremely crowdsourced metadata, but then you’re subject to astroturfing and popularity boosting results for bad reasons. There isn’t a great solution except insofar as you provide frameworks for data that enable many points of view and actively solicit people to express themselves. But I don’t have a solution.

Dan: E.g., at DPLA there are lots of ways entering dates. We don’t want to force a scheme down anyone’s throat. But the tension between crowdsourced and more professional curation is real. The Indianapolis Museum of Art allowed freeform tagging and compared the crowdsourced tags vs. professional. Crowdsourced: “sea” and “orange” were big, which curators generally don’t use.


Q: People structure knowledge differently. My son has ADHD. Or Nepal, where I visited recently.

A: Dan: It’s great that the digital can be reformatted for devices but also for other cultural views. “That’s one of the miraculous things about the digital.” E.g., digital book shelves like StackLife can reorder themselves depending on the query.

Jeff: Yes, these differences can be profound. “Designing for that is a challenge but really exciting.”

Andromeda: This is a why it’s so important to talk with lots of people and to enable them collaborate.

me: Linked data seems to resolve some of these problems with metadata.

Dan: Linked Data provides a common reference for entities. Allows harmonizing data. The DPLA has a slot for such IDs (which are URIs). We’re getting there, but it’s not our immediate priority. [Blogger’s perogative: By having many references for an item linked via “sameAs” relationships can help get past the prejudice that can manifest itself when there’s a single canonical reference link. But mainly I mean that because Linked Data doesn’t have a single record for each item, new relationships can be added relatively easily.]

Q; How do business and industry influence libraries? E.g., Google has images for every place in the world. They have scanned books. “I can see a triangulation happening. Virtual libraries? Virtual spaces?

Andromeda: (1) Virtual tech is written outside of libraries, almost entirely. So it depends on what libraries are able to demand and influence. (2) Commercial tech sets expectations for what users experiences should be like, which libraries may not be able to support. (3) “People say “Why do we need libraries? It’s all online and I can pay for it.” No, it’s not, and no, not everyone can.”People say “Why do we need libraries? It’s all online and I can pay for it.” No, it’s not, and no, not everyone can. Libraries should up their tech game, but there’s an existential threat.

Jeffrey: People use other spaces to connect to knowledge, e.g. coffee houses, which are now being incorporated into libraries. Some people are anxious about that loss of boundary. Being able to eat, drink, and talk is a strong “vision statement” but for some it breaks down the world of contemplative knowledge they want from a library.

Q: The National Science and Technology Library in China last week said they have the right to preserve all electronic resources. How can we do that?

Dan: Libraries have long been sites for preservation. In the 21st century we’re so focused on getting access now now now, we lose sight that we may be buying into commercial systems that may not be able to preserve this. This is the main problem with DRM. Libraries are in the forever business, but we don’t know where Amazon will be. We don’t know if we’ll be able to read today’s books on tomorrow devices. E.g., “I had a subscription to Oyster ebook service, but they just went out of business. There go all my books. ”I had a subscription to Oyster ebook service, but they just went out of business. There go all my books. Open Access advocacy is going to play a critical role. Sure, Google is a $300B business and they’ll stick around, but they drop services. They don’t have a commitment like libraries and nonprofits and universities do to being in the forever business.

Jeff: It’s a huge question. It’s really important to remember that the oldest digital documents we have are 50 yrs old which isn’t even a drop in the bucket. There’s far from universal agreement about the preservation formats. Old web sites, old projects, chunks of knowledge, of mine have disappeared. What does it mean to preserve a virtual world? We need open standards, and practices [missed the word] “Digital stuff is inherently fragile.”

Andromeda: There are some good things going on in this space. The Rapid Response Social Media project is archiving (e.g., #Ferguson). Preserving software is hard: you need the software system, the hardware, etc.

Q: Distintermediation has stripped out too much value. What are your thoughts on the future of curation?

Jeffrey: There’s a high level of anxiety in the librarian community about their future roles. But I think their role comes away as reinforced. It requires new skills, though.

Andromeda: In one pottery class the assignment was to make one pot. In another, it was to make 50 pots. The best pots came out of the latter. When lots of people can author lots of stuff, it’s great. That makes curation all the more critical.

Dan: the DPLA has a Curation Core: librarians helping us organize our ebook collection for kids, which we’re about to launch with President Obama. Also: Given the growth in authorship, yes, a lot of it is Sexy Vampires, but even with that aside, we’ll need librarians to sort through that.

Q: How will Digital Rights Management and copyright issues affect ebooks and libraries? How do you negotiate that or reform that?

Dan: It’s hard to accession a lot of things now. For many ebooks there’s no way to extract them from their DRM and they won’t move into the public domain for well over 100 years. To preserve things like that you have to break the law — some scholars have asked the Library of Congress for exemptions to the DMCA to archive films before they decay.

Q: Lightning round: How do you get people and the culture engaged with public libraries?

Andromeda: Ask yourself: Who’s not here?

Jeffrey: Politicians.

Dan: Evangelism

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August 11, 2015

1M copyright free images ready for viewing and tagging

The British Library has posted one million public domain images — images not subject to any copyright restrictions — at Flickr. (They did this at least a year ago, but it’s still worth noting, isn’t it?)

The public can view them, copy them, and reuse them freely in every regard. An article in Quartz by Anne Quito reports:

So far, these images, which range from Restoration-era cartoons to colonial explorers’ early photographs, have been used on rugs, album covers, gift tags, a mapping project, and an art installation at the Burning Man festival in Nevada, among other things.

The Library posted them not only so they could be enjoyed and reused, but so the public would do what the Library is not staffed to do all by itself: add tags. Says Quartz:

to date, the collection has garnered over 267 million views, and over 400,000 tags have been added to images on Flickr by users. Through a “tagathon” with the Wikimedia UK community, the Library discovered over 50,000 maps in the collection, which they are now in the process of fitting into a modern map.

I can’t figure out how to search within a collection at Flickr, but this view at least does some clustering.

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