Archive for July 2006

Practicing What I Preach

July 25, 2006

OK, so I started going through some of our older posts and tagging links to websites. You can access all of our tags at del.ico.us (/techview) and also keep up with our tags with the pad on the right.

Get More Out of del.icio.us

July 24, 2006

If you’ve not signed up yet, you seriously need to get over to del.icio.us and create an account to start tagging the web. If you’ve already started, you may enjoy Sean Tierney’s post on “6 ways to pimp your del.icio.us.” I’ll provide a brief summary:

  1. Create a “toRead” tag that you can access offline (software like Avantgo can cache these to your phone/pda).
  2. Use the “Private Saving” feature to conceal bookmarks you don’t want to share with the world (in settings > experimental>private saving).
  3. Follow what you’re “mentors” are tagging. In the del.icio.us world, a mentor is a person that writes and thinks like you do…you can subscribe to an RSS feed for these tags to see what they’re finding that’s interesting.
  4. Expose your tags through your blog or other online media
  5. See what other people have bookmarked.
  6. Create an open public dialog (freedbacking) on your site.

To practice what I preach, I just started an account for techview at del.icio.us. So check us out (ok, wait a little bit so we can get some stuff in there first).

Skills for the 21st Century Librarian

July 19, 2006

I ran into this post on skills for the 21st century librarian over at librarian.net. One of the items they mention is a knowledge of PHP and MySQL. While I’m not a fan of PHP (C style languages confound the Java programmer in me), I think it would be useful for folks to take this is step further and learn how to implement frameworks like Symfony, CakePHP, or PHPonTrax. I myself (a ColdFusion user) like Model-Glue:Unity that actually writes most of the boring, repetitive code needed to implement a web application. One of the biggest issues you’ll face once you’ve gotten the basics of any programming language is code maintenance. Using frameworks like these, while they may have a bit longer learning curve, really do pay off in the long run since they force you to code in a specific way and be consistent in team development environments.

One addition I would make to this (at least in listing web languages) since AJAX has become such a buzz word over the last year is JavaScript. Some of the AJAX libraries that have been developed are truly amazing (see prototype, moo.fx, dojo, Spry, script.acul.us, rico, the entire Yahoo! UI library).

I’ve seen a lot of books on PHP, and I figured this would be a good one for my four-month-old to get her started…PHP and MySQL for Babies.

Improving the OPAC – Fruits from the discussions

July 18, 2006

The discussions on the state and future of the OPAC have been quite interesting and from them I’ve been inspired to tweak our OPAC. One tweak is in production, the other I just put together as a proof of concept on our test server.

Tweak One – Simplifying search options
In a posting to the Next Generation Catalogs for Libraries, Karen Schneider said

In 2002, one of the first modifications to Librarians’ Internet Index on my watch—a data-driven decision based on what I saw from search log analysis generated for another purpose—was to *remove* the options to refine the search on the front page by subject, title, URL, description, and I forget what. Search failures dropped a whole bunch. I forget the percentage, I can look it up, it was high double digits.

library after LC announced the end of its series authority support. We had wondered how much series searching was done and I mentioned that I could probably find out. We turned on OPAC search logging for our user interface when we upgraded to SirsiDynix iLink so I went to the logs and extracted the series searches and put them in a spreadsheet. It was immediately obvious that the users had no idea how to do a series search. We found call numbers, titles, subjects, and search queries we couldn’t categorize. The only successful series searches were performed by librarians. The consensus was that we would be doing our users a service by removing this search option from the basic search screen. It is still available on the advanced search screen.

Next, I am going to see what kind of analysis I can do on subject searches.

Tweak Two – giving the user choices

A recurring theme in the discussions is about the OPAC is giving the user choices. Don’t let them reach a dead end. Give them other places to look. I started thinking about the public library which is less than a mile from campus and wondered if our students are patrons there as well. Is the public library providing additional services? Different services? It turns out that there is a strong college presence in the public library though there is no way to determine the student/faculty/staff mix. This led to me to consider the possibility of customizing the OPAC to include continuing a search from our catalog to the OPAC of the public library. We already had one “continue search in …” link (Google Scholar) and I found that it wouldn’t be that difficult to create the structure to add our own links. In short order, I added a link that would take the search string and pass it to the public library OPAC. Personal note: the wives of three of the librarians here are in the same book group and we sometimes compete to find the next selection for them. This would speed the process to see if the book is available locally.

Continuing the fun, I added Open WorldCat as a continuing search option. OCLC has a web page on the URL syntax to link directly to an ISBN/ISSN in Open WorldCat though I decided to make our link a general search. My thought was that search continuation would be most useful if a search in our catalog wasn’t satisfied in which case there wouldn’t be an ISBN/ISSN to search. I could put in two links, one to a specific item and the other a keyword but that might be confusing. Oh, in case you are wondering, OCLC doesn’t support external searches to your institutional FirstSearch account. I asked.

Related to this, I also added the “Continue search in …” box to the page displayed when a search resulted in no matches.

With the sometimes virulent OPAC bashing that takes place, I would like to conclude this post with a plug for our ILS vendor, SirsiDynix, which provides its customer base with pretty sophisticated tools for customizing the iBistro/iLink OPAC.

The Catalog Under Scrutiny Part 3

July 13, 2006

When I started this post, I thought a summary of the state of the library catalog would be a pleasant way to get started in blogging. Hah! NCSU’s new interface and Karen Schneider’s series on Why OPACs Suck had me thinking about the catalog in a new light so I started reading and following links and I found a ground swell of discussion and criticism about the ILS and the OPAC. On the NGC4LIB (Next Generation Catalogs 4 Libraries) listserv alone there have been 533 posting between 6/7/06 and 7/13/06. Having reached part three, I find myself with access to more information that I can synthesize. I feel like the computer in Star Trek when given an unsolvable logic problem by Captain Kirk – sparks, smoke, meltdown.

However, by delaying, I find that someone has done the work for me. I’m referring to Jennifer over at Life as I Know It. In addition to her excellent OPAC Blog Posts – A List, she has added OPAC Resources, which covers most of the documents and other resources that I was going to list.

I do have a couple of additions to her lists:

So, you now have several months of reading material a few clicks away and I encourage you to dip in and get a feel for what is happening with the catalog and the OPAC. I know I’ve gained a new perspective from what I’ve read. It is a lot more complicate than I realized.

Net Neutrality

July 13, 2006

I started writing this entry a few weeks ago. The deeper I delved into the topic, the more complex the entry became. Eventually I just kind of gave up since most of the arguments for and against net neutrality appear to be waged by special interest groups. However, I was watching the Daily Show last night, and found Jon Stewart’s “report” on Ted Steven’s comments on the Net Neutrality debate and thought I’d have another go at it…

So what is this net neutrality thing anyway? Without delving too much into network engineering, the Internet is a series of fiber lines layed out by telecommunication companies and are commonly called “pipes” (or tubes in Sen. Steven’s parlance). When you sign up for your home Internet access though an Internet service provider, you basically pay them to access all of the wonder that is the Internet. As the Internet has grown in popularity over the years, some very smart folks have developed new ways of leveraging the Internet to do things other than surf websites and send email. The telecommunication companies that own the lines that this traffic travels over want to essentially tier access to the Internet to allow them to recoop their investments for burying these lines and encourage future network development. They would charge premiums to ensure a quality of service for these sites, in essence making sites that paid a premium “faster” than sites who are in the second tier.
It’s odd to see how businesses are lining up on this issue. Not surprisingly, big telecommunication companies like Verizon and AT&T are on one side citing the current congressional debate is odd since “it amounts to holding a congressional vote on hypothetical business plans” (see Net neutrality debate still simmers). On the other side, companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft (and the ALA for that matter) are lining up to oppose this move from the telecommication companies. These companies argue that if the telecommunication companies control what you are able to view and which tools you are able to do that with, the innovation that has marked the Internet as such an important tool will be stifled.

I’ve heard different people argue for, and against, net neutrality. I think the one that has impressed me the most was a discussion that involved one of the lead project managers for Internet2. For those who don’t know, Internet2 is an ultrafast network between research universities. One application of Internet2 is to transferr exceptionally large datasets (in the tens of thousounds of gigabytes) to supercomputers for analysis. They actually looked at tiering existing networks, but could not find a cost-effective way to do so. They actually found that creating an ultrafast network (100GB/sec) was more cost effective than trying to tier their information. The counter-argument was that the government shouldn’t regulate business plans…if large companies want to figure out its most cost effective to run fiber to individual houses than it is to tier network traffic, let them.

Anyway, here are some sites I found that may be of some interest:

Pro Net-Neutrality:

Against Net-Neutrality

BiblioPage – New Search Service Afilliated with Amazon

July 10, 2006

In the book section of LIS News, Blake reported on BiblioPage.com, an interesting new search service afilliated with Amazon. UPDATE: A reader, Tim, points out that there is a similar service, isbndb.com. isbndb.com also gives price comparisons between various such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Abebooks, etc. Take a look at both. Thanks Tim.

Here is how they describe themselves:

BiblioPage.com is a book finding service. Currently we have a database of approximately 500,000 unique titles. We are an affiliate site of Amazon.com and provide links for our users to purchase titles. The information provided on this site is meant to help anyone who is interested in finding a good book to read.

Behind the scenes they access open Z39.50 servers around the world and parse the MARC records to build a database of unique titles. I find it most interesting to see web services drawing upon traditional library collections to enhance their services. When you add an item to your personal library on LibraryThing.com, it searches a variety of libraries for the bibliographic information. With BiblioPage, the Amazon shopping experience is enhanced by drawing upon the skills libraries have in organization bibliographic data. I hope we begin to see more of these connections.

Give it a try and be sure to drill down to a specific title. there you will find a brief description of the item, related subject headings, and a “Browse the Shelf” feature arranged by LC classification. You could easily think you were in an OPAC. Take a look at this screen print.
BiblioPage Item Display