Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Have You Googled Your School Lately?

There is a March 24 New York Times article about Google's new "Search-within-Search" feature. (Thanks to Impact Lab for alerting me to the article and providing the moniker "Search-within-Search".) Both NYT and Impact Lab note why this is a dubious feature for retailers.

It got me wondering, though, whether this feature also applies to libraries. It does not appear to yet, but it looks like it does apply to educational institutions, at least if you have "university" in your name. Google any university, and there is the new Search-within-Search feature allowing Googlers to search your university web site without ever setting mouse within the site itself.

Librarians sometimes feel a bit Google-shy these days given our patrons' preferences for Google over our own databases and online catalogs. Our own online catalog vendor, Ex Libris, has recently announced that they will be building Google's Book Search API into their products. How long before no one ever needs to set mouse within our sites, too?

What I Have Learned About Facebook

Now that I have experimented with a library group page on Facebook, I have reached several conclusions:

1) For an organization like a library, Facebook intends for you to create a page rather than a group. Many thanks to Michelle Spomer from Azusa Pacific University for her advice on this subject. (Michelle is also responsible for organizing the Facebook group for Theological Librarians.) Groups are very closely tied to your personal account and activities; pages, which seem to have originally been designed to promote musicians, allow for a more "professional" presentation of your organization that is linked to a very limited personal profile that can for the most part be kept private.

2) There is real, live tech support available if you have the patience to work your way through to a link where you can send Facebook a request for support. Kieran from User Operations at Facebook emailed me the following: "These Pages are distinct presences, separate from user profiles, and optimized for an organization's needs to communicate, distribute information/content, engage their fans, and capture new audiences virally through their fans' recommendations to their friends. Facebook Pages are designed to be a media rich, valuable presence for any artist, business, or brand."

3) Unless you have programming skills and a server to support your programs, there is not a whole lot that you can do with your library page . . . yet. There are a number of libraries that have created search widgets for Facebook to allow direct querying of their online catalogs, but they also have access to servers on which to load and run those widgets. WorldCat has created an application to allow searching of WorldCat.org from Facebook; there are a number of Meebo apps for enabling a chat window -- here's a link to one.

4) Searching in Facebook for applications to add to your page is a cumbersome process at best. You are better off if you can find direct links to applications that others recommend (like the links in item 3 above). The Library 2.0 Interest Group and FacebookAppsForLibraries are two groups where you can find links to some creative and interesting applications. Though both of these groups are so large with so many hundreds of postings and discussion topics that sifting through them to find good links is still a time-consuming process.

5) Facebook itself is still very much a work in progress. I have experienced everything from intermittent browser crashes in both IE and FireFox, to updates that do not appear for half an hour, to search results that disappear and reappear as you repeat searches. And there are many n00bs like myself cluttering up the landscape with tentative and irregular offerings. In short, you need a lot of time to search, sift, and experiment.

I have not published my library page yet; that is another advantage of pages vs. groups -- you can build your page over time and wait until you are ready to make it public. When I do publish it, I'll let you know.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Institutional Repositories & the U of Iowa

The Chronicle has an article on student protests over the University of Iowa's policy that makes all student theses part of a freely available institutional repository. Of particular concern are "theses" created by graduates from the University of Iowa's Master of Fine Arts program. As noted by C. Max Magee on themillionsblog.com, "In so many words, their [the graduates'] fiction, poetry, and non-fiction will be given away for free before they have the chance to get it published, thus wrecking opportunities for remuneration and resume-building." Magee goes on to ponder whether the University of Iowa's MFA program suffers from "an inferiority complex" and is overcompensating by calling fine arts projects "theses" when they should really be identified as something else.

To my mind, this is an interesting parallel to Harvard's decision to encourage faculty to only sign publishing contracts that give Harvard the right to post a copy in their institutional repository.

Both schools are making an effort to increase open access to scholarly information as well as to maintain some institutional branding of the academic work that flows out of their ivory towers. Harvard's faculty, however, can receive exemptions from the Dean if a publisher will not agree to Harvard's terms. University of Iowa students can at best get a two year embargo that delays the release of their work for up to two years.

Institutional repositories are a significant feature of the open access movement and can do much to unfetter scholarly information from the control of commercial copyright. There still are many unresolved issues, however, not the least of which is individual freedom to opt out of participation in an institutional respository.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I'm On Facebook . . . So Now What?

I've jumped into Web 2.0 with one toe. (It hurts when you land like that!) I have created a Facebook page for our library, but now I'm wondering what to do with it.

For starters, I have discovered that one can create either a group page, which people can then join, or one can create a business page, and people can become "fans" of your library via the business page. Those of you that are experimenting with Facebook, which kind of page are you using? It seems to me like the group page provides more avenues for interaction.

Secondly, according to some of our communications people, most of our Anglo students have Facebook accounts while most of our African American students have MySpace accounts. Are others noticing this kind of racial divide? Does one have to maintain a presence in both MySpace _and_ Facebook in order to build/serve an online community?

(Thanks to Matt Ostercamp from Information and the Future for pointing me to a very helpful essay by Danah Boyd examining the socio-economic divisions between MySpace and Facebook.)

And what do people do with their library Facebook pages? My view is that the library page will eventually be part of an overall campus presence on Facebook, so it may only serve a limited purpose in terms of our online campus community. But if any of you have creative suggestions for things to do with a Facebook or MySpace page that your patrons have appreciated, I would love to hear about it.

1900 Years of Paper & Counting

Wired's Science blog has an interesting posting on the history of the introduction of paper into Chinese society. While the invention of paper officially dates back to 105 A.D., archaeological evidence is supporting the idea that paper making was already practiced in areas of China for one or two hundred years prior to Cai Lun introducing it in court.

One wonders what cyber-archaeologists a millennium or two from now will say about the first ebooks. Will they only credit a future Chinese inventor of 2105 with the first universally-adopted ebook plaque, or will they recognize the abortive and less-than successful attempts of the late 20th century?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Ongoing eBook Morass

My thanks to techdirt.com for a posting that got me thinking this morning about the morass that is the state of ebooks in libraries.

I have been having an email exchange with InterVarsity Press trying to obtain permission to provide online access to articles from their New Testament dictionary series for course reserves. It turns out that IVP has already licensed their material via Logos's Essential IVP Reference Collection which is strictly CD-based, and thus they cannot provide permission for online use of their materials in another format. As I grumbled to IVP, CD-based materials are untenable for us to support distance and online education -- we need access to web-based materials for our students.

The sad reality is that the ebook is still a great concept in search of the right technology. There is a great paper by Linda Wilkins and Paula Swatman from the 19th Bled eConference in June, 2006 entitled E-Book Technology in Libraries: An Overview. A quote from the end of their paper:

"Despite attempts by the Open E-book Forum (now The International Digital Publishing Forum) to provide general access to electronic content, a wide variety of proprietary standards still exist rendering most e-books compatible only with certain devices. The lack of an agreed standard implies that an ‘agreeable machine’ to deliver books to a mass audience has not yet arrived on the scene (Turney 2005)."

And the scenery has not changed in the past two years. As the Library Journal reported last month, an experiment by the Sparta Public Library in New Jersey in loaning out Amazon.com's Kindle not only runs afoul of Amazon.com's license, it represents quite a financial risk in terms of the cost of the equipment and content that one is allowing to walk out the door. Perhaps a more hopeful model of the use of ebooks in a library setting is the North Suburban Digital Consortium right here in the Chicago area.

Which brings me back to the posting at techdirt.com pointing out the absurdities of trying to make ebooks available via interlibrary loan (if the license even allows one to do so). What at first blush should be a technology that increases the availability of a resource by making it easily transmittable, in reality is a technology that only serves to trap that resource in a complicated web of copyright restrictions. Librarians have already been dealing with the complexities of ejournal licensing which can sometimes be different title-by-title within packages provided by the same vendor. As the ebook grows in popularity and available formats, we will likely find ourselves equally perplexed with sorting through the conflicting restrictions of ebook licenses.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Turabian Deposit

Remember -- you read about it first here:

I was at a Doctoral Committee meeting this afternoon where we indulged in another round of therapeutic commiseration about the difficulties of proofreading doctoral theses for correct Turabian format. Not only is it a time-consuming process, but there is also the question of who is responsible to do it. It is not unheard of for the duties normally belonging to a document fellow to be lodged somewhere in the library where the librarian must become the angel with the flaming pen to guard the gates of decent punctuation.

Today, though, I was struck with an inspiration: Charge all hopeful doctoral candidates a Turabian Deposit equal to $2 per page of their submitted dissertation. For every page with a formatting error, the dissertation reader gets to keep the $2; for every page without a formatting error, the $2 gets returned to the student. This would serve three purposes:
  • It would incite students to exert real effort at proofreading.
  • It would help keep dissertations down to a manageable length.
  • It would provide some remuneration for what is usually an underpaid privilege.
"But," you say, "what about the dissertations without any formatting errors? Who would pay the reader then?" Somehow, I do not think that will be a serious problem.