Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Long Tail and Emily Dickinson

Librarians (and all information professionals) need to understand what the Long Tail is in order to fully comprehend the impact of Web 2.0 and the manner in which communication and publishing have changed. The Long Tail was first coined by Chris Anderson in Wired in 2004 which proposed that Amazon and similar Internet companies had changed certain business and economic models. While there are cultural, political, social, and business implications, I think using an analogy might be more appropriate for fleshing out these ideas.

Think of Emily Dickinson. Although she had lived during the 19th century, it wasn't until a century later that her works were "re-discovered," and appreciated by readers. True, the shift from the Victorian to Modernist had helped, but one can imagine what would've happened if Dickinson's ingenuity occurred during our times. According to the Long Tail, things would've been different. Her works wouldn't be hidden in her drawers, but perhaps would be published online or print-on-demand. With services such as Amazon and Netflix, the playing field has been leveled. (Think Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat).

Because physical geography and scale are no longer important, artists no longer need sales to occupy spaces on bookshelves and video stores. Even the most obscure of artists can have their work published online (be it on Youtube,, or Blogger). In many ways, the "steroids" of wireleness, as Friedman had put it, has merely intensified Dickinson's rise to fame in a matter of months (or days), up from from years and decades. This is the power - or perhaps - inevitability of Web 2.0.

For libraries to move into the "next" level, they must consider how to integrate Web 2.0 concepts such as the Long Tail into their operations. It's not difficult; in fact, it's likely inexpensive and likely not very time-consuming at all. It requires only creativity and an open mind. Here is what Anderson proposes for maximizing the power of the Long Tail:

(1) Make Everything Available - Unlike bookstores, which shelves books based on sales figures, Web 2.0 services make everything available. Without the need to worry about physical space, all you need is a database or catalogue, and some marketing, and voila, you let the patron decide for himself what title(s) he wants. It doesn't matter if it the item gets used only once, what matters is that it's there at all.

(2) Cut the Prices in Half. Now Lower It - When you lower the price, consumers tend to buy more. If lots consumers buy bits and pieces of something, that adds up and in the end, everyone is a winner. (Think iTunes).

(3) Help Me Find It - You can't select what you can't find. Amazon is one service that cleverly employs its users' recommendations, social tagging, and uses encourages an element of social networking for patrons to browse its huge selection of merchandise. It must be the smartest marketing ploy since Coke's secret formula. If libraries can maximize on such creativity, the sky's really the limit. Especially since gate counts are decreasing...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Librarian 2.0?

Library 2.0 has received quite a bit of controversy recently when Wikipedia community debated whether the term deserved a place on Wikipedia. In the end, Library 2.0 remained, and all is well. Or is it? How about the librarian of the "future," one who works in a Library 2.0? Stephen Abram has an innovative list of what constitutes this Librarian 2.0 model:

(1) Understand the power of the Web 2.0 opportunities

(2) Learn the major tools of Web 2.0 and Library 2.0

(3) Combine e-resources and print formats and is container and format agnostic

(4) Is device-independent and uses and delivers to everything from laptops to PDAs to iPods

(5) Develop targeted federated search and adopts the OpenURL standard

(6) Connect people and technology and information in context

(7) Doesn’t shy away from non-traditional cataloging and classification and chooses tagging, tag clouds, folksonomies, and user-driven content descriptions and classifications where appropriate

(8) Embrace non-textual information and the power of pictures, moving images, sight, and sound

(9) Understand the “long tail” and leverages the power of old and new content

(10) See the potential in using content sources like the Open Content Alliance, Google Print, and Open WorldCat

(11) Connect users to expert discussions, conversations, and communities of practice and participates there as well

(12) Use the latest tools of communication (such as Facebook) to connect content, expertise, information coaching, and people

(13) Use and develops advanced social networks to enterprise advantage

(14) Connect with everyone using their communication mode of choice – telephone, Skype, IM, SMS, texting, email, virtual reference, etc.

(15) Encourage user driven metadata and user developed content and commentary

(16) Understand the wisdom of crowds and the emerging roles and impacts of the blogosphere, Web syndicasphere and wikisphere

Monday, May 28, 2007

What Makes a Librarian?

Every one has a "trigger" for reflection in his or her career. Mine came relatively recently when I was confronted with an interesting commentary made by a young bookshelver at work. It was during a break when we were sitting around and talking about the library. The library is currently hiring new reference clerks to do both circulation and reference. My friend curiously questioned the purpose of having librarians when the work was seemingly so easy. He said something to the extent of:
Why have [librarians]? Anyone can do searching on Google. And anyone can point out which area the books belong to...

To a certain extent, he's right. I'm glad I had heard this comment. There are many who echo his sentiments. And in many ways, it should force us in the profession to reflect on what we actually do. Why are librarians important? Why is it necessary for professional training? Why should we be compensated well for what we do? Here are my reasons:

(1) Management - Not just staff, but also the collections, the buildings, the budget, openings and closings, conflict resolutions, and just about anything else related to the running of a library. There's a lot of responsibility involved, and the higher up one is, the greater the pressure. If not done properly, your position is on the line, and the library's as well.

(2) Knowledge -
Effective reference work means effective retrieval and searching skills. That means having a deep understanding of precision/recall, different commercial databases, boolean searching, reference titles, good memory, insatiable curiosity. Above all, it means intelligence. You can't be an effective librarian without a broad knowledge background, and that is why librarians need at least six years of education and a master's in order to be a librarian. All librarians are well-read, intellectual, and extremely creative; there's a reason it's a graduate programme.

(3) Bibliographic Control - Librarians may not all be cataloguers, but at the end of the day, effective searching means a solid understanding of MARC records and controlled vocabularies. Regardless of which kind of library, librarians need to have a good grasp of vocabulary in order to do competent searching on databases and search engines.

(4) Information Technology - Librarians have always been underestimated in their technological savvy. But I am always surprised at just how much of it is required in their work, and most librarians if not all do an excellent job despite the lack of formal training. Librarians have always been ahead of the game in technology, first with huge computers, then OPACs, then then databases, then finally the Internet. Now with Web 2.0, librarians are once again at the forefront with integrating blogs, wikis, and social software into their work.

(5) Teaching - I am forever amazed at the amount of teaching that librarians perform in their work. Yet, much of this teaching is unrecognized and underappeciated. Librarians teach a lot: from using a mouse, to writing resumes, to using Web 2.0 tools. Much of the time, librarians are not even formally trained with the pedagogical theories; they teach well based on their intuitive intelligence and passion for their work. So with that said, librarians deserve a pat on the back. Bravo to you all!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

To Continue with Web 2.0...

In my continuing series, of which I have written here, and here, and here, and also here, Paul Anderson's What is Web 2.0? Ideas, technologies and implications for education is the most comprehensive to date. As I have mentioned, I am compiling and synthesizing the literature surrounding Web 2.0, and will be writing an article. As information experts, we are constantly handling information, where we sit behind a computer most of the day churning through emails and invisible matter. Hence, I believe it's important to understand the architecture behind what we are doing online, and I believe Anderson does a superb job highlighting six major concepts of Web 2.0:

(1) Individual Production and User Generated Content - Free social software tools such as blogs and wikis have lowered the barrier to entry, following the same footsteps as the 1980s self-publishing revolution sparked by the advent of the office laser printer and desktop publishing software. In the world of Web 2.0, with a few clicks of the mouse, a user can upload videos or photos from their digital cameras and into their own media space, tag it with keywords and make the content available for everyone in the world.

(2) Harness the Power of the Crowd - Harnessing not the "intellectual" power, but the power of the "wisdom of the crowds," "crowd-sourcing" and "folksonomies."

(3) Data on an Epic Scale - Google has a total database measured in hundreds of petabytes (a million, billion bytes) which is swelled each day by terabytes of new information. Much of this is collected indirectly from users and aggregated as a side effect of the ordinary use of major Internet services and applications such as Google, Amazon, and EBay. In a sense these services are 'learning' every time they are used by mining and sifting data for better services.

(4) Architecture of Participation - Through the use of the application or service, the service itself gets better. Simply argued, the more you use it - and the more other people use - the better it gets. Web 2.0 technologies are designed to take the user interactions and utilize them to improve itself. (e.g. Google search).

(5) Network Effects - It is general economic term often used to describe the increase in vaue to the existing users of a service in which there is some form of interaction with others, as more and more people to start to use it. As the Internet is, at heart, a telecommunications network, it is therefore subject to the network effect. In Web 2.0, new software services are being made available which, due to their social nature, rely a great deal on the network effect for their adoption.

(6) Openness - Web 2.0 places an emphasis on making use of the information in vast databases that the services help to populate. This means Web 2. 0 is about working with open standards, using open source software, making use of free data, re-using data and working in a spirit of open innovation.

Monday, May 21, 2007


Managers Not MBAs by Henry Mintzberg is an intriguing book not only because it offers insight into the flimsiness of MBA programs, but also because I think it is applicable to the information profession and offers something which MLIS programs can learn from. Although they may appear to be quite different disciplines, I see a lot of connections between these two programs. Why? While MLIS produces managers who run libraries and information services MBA graduates go onto higher management positions.

In fact, librarians often have a more difficult job because they not only learn about the profession while in library school, but must also learn how to manage, often right out of school and into their first day on the job.

1. Science vs. Profession - There are two schools of thought in the history of MBA education. The Carnegie school believes in business as a science; hence the curriculum is very much lecture-based. The Harvard school believes business is a profession; hence, its curriculum is case studies-based. But there is little emphasis on actual management, which is ironic because the very skills needed in graduates of the program once they are hired and assigned senior managerial positions, don't have the requisite skills. In MLIS programs, there appears to be two schools of thought, too: (1) The I-School approach; and (2) the "traditional" library school. But what appears to be neglected is solid management skills on project management and leadership courses.

2. Experience vs. Education - MBA programs attract the best and brightest - but often the youngest and inexperienced. There is a huge disjunct between passion and ambition, with the latter being the more dominant of the two. Instead of admitting seasoned veterans who have managerial experience, MBA programs are often comprised of students with either only a year or two of "work experience" or straight out of undergraduate studies. Hence, MBA programs are not training managers like they're supposed to, but instead are giving ambitious individuals credentials to bypass the corporate ladder, and jump straight into influential positions. The MLIS appears to offer a similar ticket for those who want to move up, but not necessarily move in.

3. Integration vs. Specialization - MBA schools don't produce graduates with the skills to be managers because they force specialization rather than integration. Disastrously, specialization does not a good manager make, because it merely produces individuals with narrow skills and knowledge whereas managers need to be able to selectively adapt from a wide array of tools for different situations. In other words, while managers need to see the "big picture," MBA programs only pushes particular concepts, ideas, and rules on them and lets the individual to sink or swim after he or she graduates. MLIS pushes various combinations of "core" courses from cataloguing and reference without and leaves it at that.

4. MB/A vs. ML/IS - It appears these programs are comprised of two different intentions. While MBA programs are structured around "business" and "administration," where on one side is B: specialization in the business functions mostly for people with little experience, and on the other side is A: administration and management: programs designed to educate the experienced, and so adopting a wholly different approach. Similarly, MLIS programs are of "librarianship" and "information science." In essence, faculty is split among these two streams and often, the product is disintegrated and inconsistent.

5. Fast-track vs. Professional Will - What the MBA has produced is a culture of elitism, where one realizes that the MBA is not an education, but rather a fast-track up the corporate ladder. Whereas experienced and dedicated individuals languish in their positions because of their lack of credentials, MBA graduates freely jump from one industry to the other, and into positions without much knowledge of the industry other than the soft introductions from their MBA courses (or none at all). What this has created is a culture of "elitism." Managers at the top of the pyramid often lose sight of lower echelons when in fact they need to be seeing the whole pyramid. Mintzberg interestingly proposes an equation for explanation: Confidence - Competence = Arrogance

6. Best Bang for the Buck - With the high cost of education, applicants want to maximize on their education. Hence, the most popular programs are those of the shortest length (12 months) but offers the same degree as those with lengthier schedules. In a way, isn't this the same with MLIS programs? In terms of breadth, does this really shortchange students? Or perhaps the question should be, why the disparity?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Seven Steps to Searching The Invisible Web

Even with Web 2.0, searching for information is not an easy task. There's still an amazing mass of hidden content in the Invisible Web. Although an older article published back in 2001, librarians Gary Price and Chris Sherman's Exploring the Invisible Web: Seven Essential Strategies is nonetheless an excellent read for those of us interested in becoming better searchers. Information-seeking is a never-ending life-long learning curve.

Strategy #1: Adopt the Mindset of a Hunter -
Searchers are passive users of information-seeking tools while hunters are use tools, but also take advantage of their environment, the weather, knowledge of their quarry to act opportunistically whenever possible, using all manner of tactics when stalking their elusive prey. Thus, when attacking the Invisible Web, an active mind is needed to turn over every stone, ceaselessly looking for new "possibilities" of every website encountered keeping in mind that one can never find "everything."

Strategy #2: Use Search Engines -
Even though a great deal of content of the Invisible Web is hidden in databases unreachable by search engines, some of this content have Web interfaces still have simple HTML pages that are visible to search engines.

Strategy #3: Datamine Your Bookmark Collection -
Invisible Web content sometimes are already on webpages, but hidden in the databases within the site. Look through the sitemap and really "dig" into what the site has to offer.

Strategy #4: Use the Net's "Baker Street Irregulars" -
Even Sherlock Holmes relied on an extensive intelligence network, a motley crew of street urchins called the Baker Street Irregulars, to provide him with the most updated information of London. The Web has its own group of characters that are experts on searching and take pride in sharing their knowledge with others. Take advantage of such resources, which often includes discussion lists (and now blogs).

Strategy #5: Use Invisible Web Pathfinders -
Such pathfinders are like directories that lists links to Invisible Web resources.

Strategy #6: Use Offline Finding Aids -
Books, magazines, and journals offer valuable content about the Invisible Web. However, instead of relying on such printed material for website reviews, the trick is to find the "unreviewed" material by personally exploring the webpages for hidden databases and Invisible Web resources.

Strategy #7: Create Your Own "Monitoring Service" -
This requires a two-step procedure. First, identify the Invisible Web resources you find most relevant and monitor the "What's New" or press releases pages. The second is to subscribe to "What's New" lists such as the Librarian's Internet Index New This Week for weekly emails about useful internet resources. Of course, Web 2.0 has made this possible for everyone with RSS feeds!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mr. Bean Goes to the Library

Nothing like a little midweek humour to cure away the malaise and pass the time. Every now and then, I try to post something different to "mix things up" a bit and provide a different flavour to this blog.

I just couldn't help not sharing with you this intriguingly funny Mr. Bean clip, starring Rowan Atkinson (one of my favourite comedians) which is one of the rare sketches that didn't quite make it to the big screen and got left on the cutting room floor, only to be released when the DVD format came out. Just in time, too, for Mr Bean's return the big screen with his latest movie when it comes out later this summer. This clip is certainly ones that librarians would hold their breaths. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The 10 Forces

Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat is a must-read for information professionals. Although the word "Web 2.0" is not found anywhere in the book because it was written before 2005, the concepts are there. The ideas presented in this book are exceptionally juicy and thought-provoking for those interested in understanding not only how we got to where we are in the information world, but also where we are going. Friedman points out Ten Flatteners defines our 21st century world:

#1: Collapse of Berlin Wall: The fall of the Berlin Wall is the starting point for leveling the global playing field. Because the event became the ultimate symbol for the end of the Cold war, it allowed people from other side of the wall to join the global economy.

#2: Netscape: With Netscape, the World Wide Web broadened the audience for the Internet from its roots as a communications medium used primarily by scientists, to everyone who has internet connection.

#3: Workflow software: Technically, what makes this possible is the development of a new data description language, called XML, and its related transport protocol, called SOAP. Such programming allows a vast network of underground plumbing which enables Web and software applications to communicate with each seamlessly.

#4: Open sourcing: New open source software such as blogs and wikis has allowed communities to upload and collaborate on online projects. Free software has leveled the playing field for all, preventing big businesses to monopolize as they could in the past.

#5: Outsourcing: Outsourcing has allowed companies to split service and manufacturing activities into components, with each component performed in most efficient, cost-effective way. At the same time, poorer countries such as India benefits because not only can workers can achieve a better lifestyle and higher pay without leaving their homes, India as a whole becomes a global economic power by preventing a braindrain because of these new technologies.

#6: Offshoring: Similar to outsourcing, countries that could not produce certain products in the past suddenly can do so and become global players. Offshoring allows countries such as China to manufacture the very same product in the very same way, only with cheaper labor, lower taxes, subsidized energy, and lower health-care costs . How? With the internet, anyone from anywhere can have fast, free information blueprints to build just about anything and anywhere.

#7: Supply chaining: Using Wal-Mart as its primary example, supply chaining allows horizontal collaboration among suppliers, retailers, and customers to create value at a more efficient pace and at a lower price, thus resulting in the adoption of common standards between companies and more efficient global collaboration.

#8: Insourcing: Using UPS as a prime example, insourcing is about one company performing services on behalf of another company. For example, UPS itself repairs Toshiba computers on behalf of Toshiba. The work is done at the UPS hub, by UPS employees. Instead of being competitors, businesses are actually collaborating with each other in order to maximize profits and efficiency through the use of greater communication technologies.

#9: In-forming: With the advent of Google, Yahoo!, and MSN Search, everyone who can type has the same basic access to overall research information. Search engines has become a total equalizer. In-forming is the ability to not only build an deploy one's own personal supply chain - a supply chain of information, knowledge, and entertainment, but also for self-collaboration - that is, becoming your own self-direct and self-empowered researcher, editor, and selector of entertainment, without having to leave the house or office.

#10: "The Steroids": "Wirelessness" is the ultimate "flattener" because it amplifies and turbocharges all the other flatterners, making it possible to do each and every one of them in a way that is "digital, mobile, virtual and personal." Some of these new technologies are already a big part of our lives, including cell phones, iPods, personal digital assistants, instant messaging, and voice over IP, or VOIP. These are but the early technologies: the best is yet to come.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Mashup Competition for '06

Paul Miller has written an interesting article on creating mashups for a library contest. A total of eighteen entries were received for the competition, spanning everything from very simple enhancements to existing library functions right through to a collaborative effort to provide library services inside the Second Life 3D online digital world. Entries came in from public and academic libraries, as well as from the commercial sector. As is the trend with Mashups more generally, map-based Mashups proved common.It's a fun read! Here's an excerpt:
The 'mashup' is a point in time; a means to an end. Our purpose is not, necessarily, t encourage the neverending development of small tweaks and hacks around existing systems. Our purpose is to create a safe and incentivised environment within which the whole sector can begin to give serious thought to what they actually want in the future. Should we continue to change the systems we have incrementally, or are we approaching the point at which some revolutionary change is required? Mashups are 'easy', mashups are quick. Mashups free their creator to think differently, and to try the unexpected. Some of that which they learn will inform our collective thinking as we move forward.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Globalization 3.0

I've got some time now and finally catching up with some reading. I've got my hand on Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, which has been on my wish list since last year around this time. One thing which stands out is his argument that we are in Globalization 3.0. As an information professional, I find this immensely intriguing. Does Web 2.0 fit in this rubric? Is it merely a small piece of a much larger picture? I thought I'd share with you this interesting chronological framework:

Globalization 1.0 (1492 - 1800) - The world shrank from size large to size medium. It was about countries and muscles. The key driving force was how much muscle, horsepower, wind power, and steam power a country had and how creatively it deployed it. The main question was: Where does my country fit into global competition and opportunities?

Globalization 2.0 (1800 - 2000) - This era shrank the world from a size medium to size small. The key agent of change was multinational corporations (MNC's), which went global for markets and labour, spearheaded by the Industrial Revolution. The key dynamic forces behind this era of globalization was technology: steamships, railroads, telephones, then mainframe computers. The main question was: Where does my company fit into the global economy?

Globalization 3.0 (2000 - present) - We've entered the era where size small has shrunk to size tiny and flattening the playing field at the same time. The dynamic force behind our unique era is the power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally. The dynamic forces behind this is software in conjunction with the creaton of a global fiber-optic network that has made us all next-door neighbours. The question now is: Where do I fit into the global competition and opportunities of the day, and how can I, collaborate with others globally?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Web 2.0 Course this Summer at University of Western Ontario

Web 2.0 is slowly emerging in the LIS curricula. Amanda Etches-Johnson, the User Experience Librarian at McMaster University Library, is teaching an innovative course at the University of Western Ontario LIS school called LIS 757: Social Software and Libraries. Here is a brief description of what the class entails:
The term “social software” has been applied to Web-based software tools that facilitate communication, collaboration, and network/community-building. This course will explore social software applications such as blogs, RSS, wikis, social bookmarking, tagging, and online social networks within the context of library services.

What do you think? Is it time that LIS faculties make Web 2.0 courses mandatory, or at least integrated into the curricula? Here is a schedule of the weekly topics.
  • Week 1: Introduction to social software
  • Weeks 2 & 3: Blogs - introduction to technology, terminology & software options. Discussion of blog content, design, usability, and library case studies.
  • Weeks 4 & 5: RSS - introduction to RSS technology and specifications. Discussion of RSS trends and current issues, review of RSS aggregators, hands-on, and library case studies.
  • Week 6: Wikis – technology, software options, hands-on, and library case studies.
  • Week 7-8: Social bookmarking, tagging, folksonomies – technology, trends and current issues, hands-on, and case studies.
  • Week 9-10: Online communities and social networks – trends and current issues, exploration of various online communities, hands-on, library case studies.
  • Week 11: Gaming and virtual worlds.
  • Weeks 12-13: best practices, discussion, evaluation.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Search Engines for '06

Search engine guru Phil Bradley has written an excellent column about the latest and greatest search engines in 2006. I've been keeping track of Mr. Bradley's blog, and it's a hub of fantastic information geared towards librarians, information staff, information professionals and web designers. Here is an excert of his article on Ariadne:
It's very easy simply to concentrate on the 'Big Four' search engines - Ask, Google, Live and Yahoo, while missing out on what is happening elsewhere. I know that I'm as guilty of that as anyone else and so for this column I thought I would look back over 2006 and see which search engines have come to my attention, what I think of them, and see how well they have actually fared. This is of course by no means a comprehensive list, and I will inevitably have missed out some but I hope I will have caught the main contenders.

My search engine of the year? Cha Cha. Why? I've written a post about it a while back ago. It's a superb compliment to searching for those "needle in a haystack" type reference inquiries.