Thursday, 27 November 2008

Mashed Libraries

I'm off in London today to attend the Mashed Libraries event at Birkbeck college. It looks 
like a great opportunity to explore some of the approaches and, for me, I'm hoping to get a 
grip on how others are approaching their own resources/data sources.

There seems to be a hefty practical element, it'll be interesting to see how that goes for 
those of us who are perhaps (ahem...) not code-minded! I've been given the opportunity to 
outline what we're doing at our library and - I hope - get feedback on the approach. Hopefully 
I'll be able to return home jam packed with ideas for how our library can do some really 
innovative things with our sources and resources.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Understanding the Value of an Information Qualification

Meredith Farkas [via Andrew Eynon's Library Blog] has posted the results of a brief survey into how prepared people felt by their academic Library School courses (and her own analysis). The results make for interesting reading - and it's interesting to see the sheer number of times that a lack of technical skills preparation appears. In many ways the information community places an almost iconic focus on the ideal of the (academically qualified) 'professional' but it's clear from even this small survey that there is a gap between the theory and practice.

Although I agree that there's always a need to keep these kinds of courses current and relevant I'm not sure that equating the idea of a 'professional' librarian with a trained librarian is all that useful - experience is an essential part of building an engaged career and (at least in the UK) lots of library studies students undertake their course whilst employed. 

If librarians are signing up for courses to extend their practical knowledge with theory then surely course coordinators can, at the same time, learn practice from the students? I dubious of the suggestion that study can make anyone 'professional', a qualification is one thing but professionalism is a heady cocktail of study and practical experience. 

Where is library2.0 'happening' except in libraries? One of the challenges for academia is that it has to engage with practice whilst also maintaining enough of a distance to allow far-sighted theory and research patterns to develop. To expect that, at the end of a course (never mind an undergraduate one), a student is equipped to move into the leading-edge of any field is unreasonable - for most, study is about learning key skills which can be applied to a work environment in order to expand and extend their capacity.

[Photo from Andrew Schwegler]

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Review: Sony Reader

About a month ago I took the plunge and bought a Sony Reader after having used an iRex iLiad as a test device in work. All in all I've found the shift from paper to e-ink mostly trouble free. In Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series (disclosure: Big fan!) books are just one type of ImaginoTransferenceDevice   and once you get past the initial oddity of reading off the e-ink screen you quickly become immersed. 

After a prolonged period of reading on the device I've tried to sum up my experiences in three key areas: build, interface and content.


The screen of the Sony Reader is considerably smaller than the iLiad (6" vs 8.1") and, as a result, so is the device. The weight is also considerably less and all in all the reader is as easy to handle as a paperback book.

The case is metal, and the buttons etc are really nicely placed for my style of reading (right hand on the right edge, left on the bottom-left corner). I've had no real problems using the buttons but the forward/back buttons on the right edge do feel slightly flimsy and I've got my fingers crossed that they stand up to long-term use.

In general the device feels very stylish (unlike the iLiad I had no fear of using it on the train) as well as sturdy. No doubt the screen would suffer from any direct knocks, and I doubt it would like being used in the rain but the leather cover provided with the device helps to give some protection, and to ensure the device looks more like a designer accessory than a mini computer.


This is an area where I fully expected the Reader to lose out to the iLiad - but I was totally wrong. Firstly, the difference in boot time (from flicking the switch to reading a page) is astounding. With the iLiad I would turn it on, and then settle in to read (and even make a cup of tea) - with the Sony the delay from "Switch" to "On" is undetectable unless you've added some content, in which case it briefly indexes the content.

Unlike the iLiad, the Sony doesn't have a touch screen which means that there's no capacity for notes or other advanced features (although Sony's new PRS-700BC offers similar features). For me this isn't a problem, and in fact the limited '0-9' menu buttons work very well and disguise the lag which exists in all e-ink interfaces.

Changing pages is easy, and I prefer the placement of the buttons to the iLiad's 'flip' - which requires that you keep your left hand on the side of the reader continuously. There are additional features (MP3 playing, bookmarks etc) which seem to work well but are really secondary to the 'reading' function which is simple and elegant.

One down side is that the reader only offers 3 levels of zoom, whereas with the iLiad you're able to dynamically zoom using the stylus or use up to 5 levels of zoom for text files. 


The reader copes with PDF, ePub, TXT, RTF, LRF & LRX formats (see here for more info). You can also convert from additional non-DRM formats (for which I use the free Calibre software). One annoyance is that often material (both free and purchased) is poorly formatted, with one 'page' taking a screen and a half on the Reader (leading to a half-blank page every two page-turns). I can't understand why this is as the formats and reader clearly allow re-pagination, it seems like a lack of effort on behalf of the ebook publishers.

 Free sources like Gutenberg are great places for content and you can buy books from Sony's partner - Waterstones (who have a truly awful ebook site) - along with other sites like Fiction Wise, W H Smith and Penguin.

It's in the content that the Sony falls down (to be fair, as does any ebook device). The range of ebooks available from online stores is tiny in comparison to print and it's common to find that only one book from a series is available online. The pricing is also, to put it mildly, insane! Commonly the ebook versions cost more than the paperback's in-store price, never mind Amazon or the used market.

As a quick example, here's prices for Tom Holt's book "Falling Sideways":

Waterstones Online e-book: £7.99
Waterstones Online Paperback: £7.99 Price: £5.99 Cheapest New Price: 38p Cheapest Used Price: 1p

To me, ebooks should cost considerably less than the printed copy - surely?

One final note: Annoyingly, the Reader doesn't support Mobipocket format ebooks which means that all the DRM'd books bought for the iLiad won't work on the Sony device. There's a lesson here I feel...


The good and bad in brief:
  • The choice of content is (at least for now) disappointing and, unless you're willing to go down the route of bit torrent material of dubious quality and legality, you'll be paying more for it.
  • The device itself is lovely, and you'll soon wonder why books seemed so special
  • No back light is a good thing - you don't get tired reading the e-ink screen.
  • No. You can't read in the bath - and you'd have to be brave to take it to the beach. But as soon as you count the weight difference between 2 paperbacks and this you'll still pack it for travel.
  • I definitely read more - especially as finishing a book on a Sunday afternoon doesn't mean I have to wait until I get to the shops next Saturday. A few clicks and I've got a new book ready to go.
  • Shopping is an unpleasant experience. Remember online book shopping before Amazon? Just like that, but with a range of incompatible formats to deal with as well. And non-net savvy users will probably stick to Waterstone's (poor & pricey) selection.
So, would I buy again? Absolutely. Would I recommend it? Well, that depends. If you're an avid reader it's a great way to keep content without filling up your spare room, but it's pricier and less flexible than dead tree. Who would get the most out of the Reader? If you're the kind of person who travels on trains and planes a lot, or carries loads of books this will be a great buy. Similarly, if you tend to constantly read and don't plan ahead (like me...) you'll appreciate the convenience of instant delivery. Oh, there's a lot of pulp lit as well by the looks of things if you're a fan.

For £199, the Sony Reader is a great buy but buy with your eyes open. This is an area ripe for growth and Amazon's decision to launch the Kindle platform has in many ways left them out of the more general eBook sales world. I'm not sure if that situation is sustainable, but if they don't start selling other formats I'm sure some other vendor will combine a breadth of stock with a simple interface and corner the market. Maybe Fiction Wise could do this with a sleek interface and brand growth.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Link Round Up

Some Fabulous Posts you might have missed:

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Social Networks for Digital Natives

Generally, there are two reactions to Facebook (and the ilk): What an opportunity! and What a waste of time!

Whatever your view, Facebook is an environment which allows libraries to connect to users (particularly 16-35 year old, middle class users...) and some libraries have made great use of the resource (example, example, example).

But, you'll find that it's mostly Higher Education (and some Further Education)-type libraries that are really engaging with Facebook. Why? Because lots of organisations have banned access - especially council authorities hosting public libraries.

Here's an interesting post on why Social Networking sites shouldn't be blocked [via Library Stuff]. It's a fair point, those of us who are 'heavy' web users don't find it easy to differentiate between 'work' and 'play' (and that swings both ways!). Those social networks are in both arenas and the tools are used in both ways. Ironically, the blurring of work and play which is often blamed for wasting time is probably going to be as essential as email over the coming years.

IT and personnel departments need to think carefully about exactly what they are preventing access to when they block these kind of sites (even if it's for 'ideological' reasons). Closing the door on opportunities by using technology to try and replace sensible and pragmatic management is never a good long term strategy and will only result in librarians losing out on skills, and patrons losing out on services.

Thought of the Day

Photo by Silversprite [via The Surly Librarian]

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Jump Starting Your Web 2.0 Knowledge

UKOLN has published a set of Briefing Documents on Web2.0 (and other) issues which would act as a great introduction for anyone looking to catch up quickly with the technology in the area.

Well worth reading and sharing.

Skyscrapers Need Solid Foundations

There's a lot of interest in metasearch platforms/ discovery portals and the like and I've heard a lot of libraries talk about their experience with the 'dark records' - the poorly catalogued or generally dodgy data which lies within every Library Management System - which are brought to the surface by faceted navigation.

The Cataloguing Librarian has a great post on this very issue, which points out the one key piece of information every library should know: a state-of-the-art interface is only as good as your core data will let it be.

OCLC Round Up

Wow, there's been a lot of talk about OCLC's change in policy (which they had a few goes at - here's some the policy differences wikified). A fair amount of the reaction from librarians has been anger that the new policy might impede the work of LibraryThing and similar projects. It's strong to refer to records passed through WorldCat as 'infected' but you can see how an unfriendly policy can poison the viral spread of information.

As of February next, OCLC's new policy kicks in and - in essence - the rights of libraries over records contributed to WorldCat will change, and sharing (particularly for commercial reasons) will be more tightly controlled. Knock on effects are likely to be felt by both the open library community (deliberate non-caps there) and even organisations like Talis.

There's been an 'interesting' response from OCLC in the form of an open letter [pdf] - which seems to reflect many people's fear that OCLC is essentially circling the wagons and not trying to engage with the community.

For libraries, there are some key questions which need to be answered before February:
  • What do we get from our arrangement with OCLC? Is it worth it?
  • What are our plans for data which might be affected? How are the affected?
(ok, big gulp... and)
  • Does OCLC represent the future or the past?
For me, it's the attitude that might be worrying. Take, for example, how Karen Calhoun (OCLC) refers to the idea of Commons:
OCLC's and the members' central asset is the WorldCat database that we share. It is our common investment, our "commons." I believe it is the right course to protect the commons.* Thus, as Garrett Hardin has suggested in his writings about the "tragedy of the commons," it is appropriate to regulate the use of the commons. OCLC needs to manage WorldCat data sharing to assure that benefit accrues back to the members who have invested in WorldCat, and that the WorldCat commons is not exhausted through over-exploitation. Protecting the commons means adopting "some rights reserved" as the data sharing model.  While a data sharing model based on "no rights reserved" is a laudable ideal, if OCLC were to adopt such a policy, it is possible, if not likely, that the WorldCat commons and the OCLC cooperative would not survive. 
If OCLC really want to engage with librarians (as opposed to Library managers) they need to quickly realise that WorldCat represents part of a wider metadata commons - and decide whether they want to fence off 'their' part with over-the-top guidelines or play and active role.
In case you need more, here's a good synopsis of the situation and there's a good page on the code4lib wiki - here.

Slow Posts

You may have noticed the lack of posts recently. I'm currently moving to a new role - with a specific focus on Web 2.0 - which, while very exciting, has meant a lot of time handing over 'old work'. 

Expect a trickle of posts until December....

Photo from edmittance