Friday, October 31, 2008

Google Book Search

Google and the US book industry have finally reached an agreement over the scanning of books for public access. Google will pay the authors of works scanned without permission at least 45 million dollars in compensation. Under the new agreement users will be able to view millions of in-print & out of print titles with the option to buy the titles or segments of the title (a sample of the books will be accessible for free). With the agreement reached Google will once again commence the scanning of titles for inclusion in their Book Search product. The new Google scheme will start in the US with plans to reach similar arrangements with publishers and authors in other countries. The US Association of publishers and the Authors guild are calling this a revolution akin to the iTunes phenomenon.

It will be interesting to see how this initiative will evolve and what if any impact this will have on Libraries.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Six Degrees Makes for a Small World

Did anyone see the documentary, How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer, on the ABC on Tuesday night? In a case of serendipity it examined an idea that was explored in Clay Shirky's book, Here Comes Everybody, that I was about to blog here. I highly recommend it and if you missed it you can still catch up with it on the ABC web site.

This documentary was about a relatively new field of science called network theory. It used the Six Degrees of Separation game, the idea that any two people in the world can be connected within six steps, as a way to explain Small World Networks. How come I know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows anyone in the world?

The answer goes something like this:
In any social group most people know all the other people in the group because the group shares something in common and there are many such groups. Most people can be considered to be part of several of these small groups - your workmates, friends, family, and so on. There are some people, however, who are part of many more of these groups than the average person. These highly connected individuals form the connections that create the small world phenomenon. While you may not be highly connected there is a good chance that you know someone who is - that is that you know someone, who knows someone. So when you meet someone new and after a brief conversation you realise that you both have a common friend you say, 'it's a small world, isn't it'. These highly connected nodes in the network are called hubs and they are the key for linking disparate nodes. This is essentially how Myspace and Facebook work.

Shirky devotes a whole chapter to small world networks and how social networking tools make use of these small worlds to bring people together. As I was reading this chapter I started wondering whether libraries could capitalise on these highly connected social hubs and convert them into library champions. How do we identify the people in our community that are part of many smaller social groups and get our message to them in the hope that they will pass it on? Indeed, can libraries become these highly connected social hubs for our communities? Surely we are in a position to bring together disparate groups - to make the library a place Does this have any implications for how we might engage in online social networks.

I don't have answers to these questions but I'll bet some of you have suggestions. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Here I Come Too...

In a case of me tooism I've also just finished reading Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. I agree with Linda and recommend that you track down a copy if you're interested in how social networking via the web is changing the way society operates. I think it has big implications for libraries - but if you've read anything I've written before you'll know that already.

I was struck at certain points throughout the book at how eloquently Shirky illustrates the impacts of technology and I thought that there was a bit too much to put into a comment on Linda's post. I think I'll create a series of posts of the next week or so, sharing some quotes and ideas from the book.

One of the main themes of the book that came through to me was that technological change can only create a revolution once the technology has become ubiquitous. Call it a paradigm shift if you like but Shirky argues that we are only just heading into the territory where the Web 2.0 tools are 'not new' and that we are only beginning to see the ways that these tools will change the way society works. He poses a lovely tech history question to illustrate his point:
Which went mainstream first, the fax or the Web?
People over 35 have a hard time understanding why you'd even ask - the fax machine obviously predates the Web for general adoption. Here's another: which went mainstream first, the radio or the telephone? The same people often have to think about this question, even though the practical demonstration of radio came almost two decades after that of the telephone, a larger gap than separated the fax and the Web. We have to think about radio and television becasue for everyone alive today, those two technologies have always existed. And for college students today, that is true of the fax and the Web. Communications tools don't get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. The invention of a tool doesn't create change; it has to have been around long enough that most of society is using it. It's when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that really profound changes happen, and for young people today, our new social tools have passed normal and are heading to ubiquitous, and invisible is coming.
Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody. p105

Clearly Web 2.0 is not pervasive in Australian society and in the wider community of public library users yet. Some would argue therefore that libraries are wasting their time implementing services aligned with Web 2.0 as most of our users aren't using those tools.

In the early days of the web there was much talk in the library world about how this new tool - the Internet - would revolutionise library services and that we needed to be involved in how it developed and how people navigated the Information Superhighway. Then along came Google and made finding information on the Internet simple and reliable. Meanwhile, our OPACs haven't changed remarkably in the last 5-10 years. There great for finding a particular title or author but if you visit your library's online catalogue wanting a 'good book' on management the OPAC can't help. There's no relevancy ranking, no indication of what others thought about this book, no indication of what are the really seminal texts.

Somehow, despite our intentions we got left behind as a destination for people seeking information. I don't want libraries to be in that situation again. I would argue that we need to start using some new communications technologies and integrating them into our services so that when they do become invisible libraries don't disappear with them.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Here comes everybody .... wait for me, I'm catching up.

I've just finished reading "Here comes everybody" by Clay Shirky which has helped me understand the fascination with blogs and social technology. In chapter 4 he explains it so well. Basically blogs are a conversation between people similar to those conversations you might overhear at a mall, at a cafe, in the train, etc. So these "conversations" are not meant to be read by everybody, only those people interested. If you're not interested, then the blog isn't for you. To quote Shirky on p. 85 "It's simple. They're not talking to you."

Before I read this chapter I really didn't get the whole concept of blogs at all and I didn't understand the attraction of them. So I've really come full circle to now being a blogger (still learning!) myself.

I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in this area - he uses some great examples of what technology and groups organised around social technology can achieve.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Beth Jefferson on Bibliocommons

I've just been listening to a fascinating interview with Beth Jefferson, founder of Bibliocommons - a social discovery system for libraries. Bibliocommons gives libraries a way to allow their users to contribute to the metadata of their collections by allowing them to tag, review and link items in the catalogue. It's a similar idea to what Jon Blyberg is doing with The Social OPAC. The best way to understand is to have a play with the Oakville Public Library Catalogue, which is running the Bibliocommons software.

What really struck me about this interview is the insight that Beth had on the role that social search and discovery can play in library services. Where Web 2.0 ideas, the Internet, library users, librarians and library collections fit in the puzzle that is the future of libraries.

A couple of points that had me nodding my head...

First of all, there is a recognition that the Internet is changing the ground rules under which libraries operate, but also that public libraries have a high participation rate from the community. We are in a very good position to harness the knowledge and good will of our users to improve our service

One of the roles of libraries has always been to facilitate the seredipitous discovery of books - the perennial RA question, "I just want a good book to read". Traditionally OPACs have done a very poor job at answering this question. Web 2.0 has shown how much benefit there is in social discovery (think Amazon recommendations for instance).

The vast majority of people who visit their library online do so to undertake tasks within the catalogue - search for books, check their account, etc. Integrating the social discovery tools directly into the catalogue places them 'in the flow' of our users and provides us with the best opportunity to gain maximum benefit from them. Sharing this social data between libraries (who use Bibliocommons) gives the critical mass of users required to give the social data relevance.

Librarians have traditionally seen themselves as expert navigators of information. However, we may be better served in the long run by providing the tools that let people facilitate social search and discovery as a means of information navigation. Combining these tools with traditional library discovery tools may give us the best of both worlds.

Beth makes many more observations in the interview than I have outlined herebacking them up with interesting data and there is much value in what she says. If you kind of understand the Web 2.0 concept but are wondering how it might fit with libraries I strongly recommend you have a listen to this podcast.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The State Library of NSW joins the Flickr commons

The State Library of New South Wales has joined the Flickr Commons. We are the tenth organisation to join. The first was the Library of Congress, closely followed by the Powerhouse Museum. You can read the Powerhouse Museum's discussion of their engagement on the Commons.

Have a look at our photographs on Flickr.

This is currently the State Library's most favourited photograph on Flickr.