This Week in LIS - 27 June 2008

Weekly news and updates from Luther College Library and Information Services. To receive email updates, please sign up here.

Upcoming Dates

  • June 30 (Monday) Norse Apps Training Demo – 11:00 am
  • July 2 (Wednesday) Norse Mail, Chat, and Start Page Training – 9:00 am
  • July 2 (Wednesday) Norse Calendar and Docs Training- 10:45 am
  • July 7 (Monday) Office 2007 Introduction Demo – 11:00 am
  • July 9 (Wednesday) Office 2007 – Word Training – 9:00 am
  • July 9 (Wednesday) Office 2007 – Excel Training – 10:00 am
  • July 9 (Wednesday) Office 2007 – PowerPoint Training – 11:00 am
  • July 9 (Wednesday) Office 2007 – Publisher Training – 1:00 pm
  • July 9 (Wednesday) Office 2007 – Access Training – 2:00 pm
  • More information on upcoming training opportunities: http://lis.luther.edu/learn

Headline of the Week: The Internet: When Will the Disruption End? (Part 2)

Just as the Internet is likely to be one of the most disruptive overall technologies of our lifetimes, Google Books may become one of the most disruptive technologies for academic libraries. The immediate challenge is that Google Books’ deeper indexing and more advanced relevancy ranking usually works better than that of our local catalogs—and it always returns results.

So write Mark J. Ludwig and Margaret R. Wells of the University of Buffalo in Library Journal last week in a piece that examines the future and role of local catalogs in the new world that is dawning. The picture isn’t very rosy – but it is one that we need to pay attention to and consider carefully as we continue to devote significant resource to local catalogs.

In talking about this topic, I think it useful to draw a line around the part of the cataloging operation that is most under assault – the local OPAC. I believe that academic libraries will be continuing to acquire and catalog physical materials for the forseeable future, though I would not be surprised to see declining volume over time. As a society, we are not going to turn on a dime and instantly consume all our information electronically, which is good given that technologies to deliver ebooks and digital multimedia have some growing-up to do before they can be called effective. So the functions of building a maintaining a physical collection of materials and the people who provide those services will still have a role to play. The issue is how and where we catalog those items. Here are some juxtapositioned points to consider:

  • Google will in short order (within five years) have tens of millions of volumes imaged, OCRed, and available through their Book Search product.
  • Luther (and many other liberal arts college libraries) holds something in the neighborhood of 350,000 volumes, consisting of relatively similar content in non-digital form.
  • Google has full text indexing across their content, which even with some imperfect OCR is light years ahead of …
  • Other libraries living by the quaint, but mostly outdated MARC record. The new order is to index the thing itself, not metadata about the thing (reference to Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous).
  • Algorithms used by companies such as Google to determine relevance and ensure that any query receives some relevant hits are significantly more powerful than …
  • Algorithms used by local OPAC providers that rely on outdated Boolean search structures that often result in zero results returned to the user due to a malformed search.
  • Google has the muscle and presence in the marketplace to deal directly with publishers, ensuring that full-text searchable content of new material is immediately added to the index upon publication and discoverable right away.
  • Libraries (including Luther’s) have never been able to acquire this amount of content on day one. We have to select, purchase, and process materials before they are ever available to the user, often weeks or months after the information is first published.

Given that Google has more content that is more accessible and current, it is not a stretch to figure out what tool may be more useful for research going forward. With Microsoft’s initiative now defunct, it is also clear who the leader of the pack is and will be. Ludwig and Wells demonstrate clearly the power of more inclusive search results, better algorithms, and the deeper content pool. Students are already figuring out where to go to find stuff, and if we want better research, I don’t think we should be discouraging them (or ourselves) from taking advantage of one of the most far-reaching and profound projects to shape our relationship to information and knowledge.

I’ll take a brief side tour to note that while academic libraries are facing a period of tremendous change and realignment over the next few years, we’re not alone by any stretch. OCLC is the same boat as we are and I think may see decreasing relevance in the full-text indexing world without a significantly different approach to their primary products. The core of their business relies on the metadata they collect and metadata-driven services they provide, and while WorldCat is a great product, it doesn’t offer the same amount of end-user usability that Google does. The sheer power and depth of Google’s information store will quickly overtake OCLC as a central place for information on published information.

So, imagine a post-OPAC world where libraries no longer catalog to their own local systems, instead holdings are attached to Google Book Search data. Google will have purchased OCLC for the rich datastore they have and merged it into Google Book Search, which now includes:

  • full holdings information for millions of titles worldwide
  • integration of reviews, comments, ratings, live circulation and sales data for each title
  • affiliation tracking for users and libraries to connect individual users with libraries that provide service to them
  • an integrated electronic content purchasing system with publishers that lets libraries purchase access to current content that is delivered through Google Book Search
  • place-based searching allowing users to search for physical titles within a given radius of any location
  • user-initiated “interlibrary loan” that generates print-on-demand copies of digital works from the system at libraries around the world (that will be cheaper and easier than shipping volumes all over everywhere).

Some of the items below are already available. The sad part of the points above is that they are far too short-sighted in looking for the possibilities that are coming. The reality will undoubtedly be bigger and better. Ludwig and Wells write:

Is the average undergraduate student better off beginning his/her research with Google Books? If Google Books is scanning old materials and also getting new content from publishers, this leaves relatively little for small to medium-sized academic libraries to contribute. Libraries will need to find a way to add value beyond access and delivery once millions of items from research collections are added to Google Books.

I don’t see a bleak future for small academic libraries. I see a changed future where we focus more on local relationships with users, information literacy initiatives, and tackling the challenges of teaching our users how to winnow down vast information stores to manageable and useful sets. Our “value add” has changed fundamentally from one of increasing information pools to in many cases reducing them (smartly). The local catalog will morph into our little portion of the big catalog in the sky, and if that gives our users a better experience and lets us further refine our services and focus on the value we add to the stuff we collect and provide, it’s a good thing.

This Week in LIS Takes a Holiday

There will be no TWILIS on July 4th. Publication will resume on July 11th.

LIS Blog Highlights from the Week

The following articles are sampled from those available on the LIS Blog:

LIS Website Changes

  • All content from the existing library website has now been migrated into the new research site (http://lis.luther.edu/research). We are now planning a July 4th cutover from the old site to the new which will redirect all traffic to the new site. This will also soft launch Encore, the feature search product on the new research portal. We are still awaiting some work by Innovative to our Encore instance prior to full announcement to the campus of the switches. We will also be flipping Magnus to the new interface as well.
  • Course Guides have also now been added to the research portal in addition to the primary Area of Study guides.
  • In celebration of the upcoming site launch, we’ll also remove the “beta” tag running on lis.luther.edu. Even though we’ll really always sort of be in beta, we’re deep enough into production to declare victory on the implementation.
  • We will also be making a change to the default editing state in our Drupal site at the same time these other changes are put into place. We will be disabling and removing rich text editing using the WYSIWYG editor TinyMCE. Currently, that is the default editor for adding content to the site and we have found that it regularly produces formatting problems on the site. The new default will be plain text and new content will default to the Textile input type. Textile is a pretty easy and useful markup language that is also used for Writeboards in Basecamp.

Notes from LIS Council

LIS Council did not meet this week.

NITLE Opportunities

As a member of NITLE (National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education), Luther has the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of developmental and training programs intended for faculty, librarians, and information technologists. Events listed at the link below are currently open for registration by Luther participants. LIS Staff who are interested in participating in an event should speak with Christopher Barth. Faculty who are interested in participating should speak with Lori Stanley. Participation is contingent upon available funding and program acceptance.

Complete List of NITLE Opportunities

Notable Internet Resource of the Week: ImHONEST.com

“If you lost your digital camera, how would someone know it was yours to be able to return it?” asks ImHONEST.com, an Internet answer to the lost-and-found bin. They are developing a business model that reunites lost items with their owners based on the honesty of most folks in wanted to return a lost item. They cite two primary reasons items are not returned: 1) there is no identification of ownership of the item, and 2) it is a pain to return the item to the person. Here’s how their system works:

ImHONEST.com sells durable, permanent “lost-item return” labels – each with a unique identification code. After purchasing the labels, the customer affixes them to personal valuables and activates the label through our web site. When a lost item is found, the label’s message, toll-free number, and web address prompt the finder to report and return the found item. ImHONEST.com facilitates the item’s return by allowing the finder to drop off the item at any of The UPS Store® locations, or, if the finder wishes, they can coordinate a convenient, scheduled pickup service, paid for by the item’s owner.

The finder receives $30 worth of labels to use for themselves on their own items. There is an annual charge per label of up to $1.95 to keep the subscription active and to ensure you are notified when an item is found. Their testimonial section is light on people who have had things returned through the service and heavy on people who like the stickers, but it is an interesting take on hopefully reuniting lost items with their owners.

On the web at http://www.imhonest.com/

Around the Web

Here are a few links to interesting developments over the past week:

  • Open Source and Standards
    • None