Libraries: A Good Thing

December 31, 2013

When you cannot locate information on Google, what does one do? Some people just guess? Others use spreadsheets and make up data? Quite a few people go to the library. Well, “quite a few” may be one of those unsupported factoids about modern life.

Navigate to Pew Research and check out the outfit’s most recent report How Americans Value Public Libraries in Their Communities. You can find it at http://bit.ly/1bLMEOt for now.

The report contains good news and bad news. Here’s a positive finding:

91% of Americans who have ever used a public library say it is not difficult to find what they’re looking for, including 35% who say it is “very easy.”

On the other hand, the Pew Report says:

“54% of Americans have used a public library in the past 12 months, and 72% live in a “library house hold.”

If accurate, this statement identifies a Pew sampling issue and underscores the need to reach the 46 percent of folks who don’t use the library more than once in a blue moon.

Since my team started Marketing Library Services in the late 1980s, library marketing has remained an important job. I sold this publication to Information Today and the MLS information service, like library marketing itself, remains mostly unchanged over the last 20 years. That in itself makes clear one aspect of the library market: It is slow moving.

I noticed the last time I used our local library that useful online resources were no longer available to patrons. The budget pressures on libraries are significant. The vendors of commercial databases have priced their commercial reference products so that  only a few institutions can afford them.

The Pew Report does little to lessen my concern that easily distorted free Internet information is creating a false sense of “research security.” Libraries are an asset. I want to see them become more important, offer more commercial database access, and communicate that there is more to research than letting Google’s personalized research provide information automatically.

Here’s hoping for a more vital role for libraries in 2014.

Stephen E Arnold, December 31, 2013

A Translation Guide for Scientific Papers

December 17, 2013

I think this is supposed to be funny. I am not sure that Elsevier, ACM, and other real academic publishers will see the humor, however. You may be able to find the original translation table at this Twitter link. No guarantees, so you know that I am indifferent to Google’s rules and regulations for important content. Let me highlight three of the “translations” from @sehnaoui:

  • “It has long been known” means “I did not look up the original reference”
  • “Correct within an order of magnitude”  translates as “Wrong”
  • “It is clear that much additional work will be required before a complete understanding of this phenomenon occurs” means “I don’t understand.”
  • “It is hoped that this study will stimulate further investigations in this field” connotes “I quit.”

These phrases appear in information retrieval papers and in text mining, predictive analytics, and natural language processing studies.

Stephen E Arnold, December 17, 2013

Libraries: A Reminder of How Research Used to Be

December 5, 2013

A library invites search. A library experience can be social or solitary. One can proceed by asking a reference desk staffer where something is. One can locate books by wandering around. The word “serendipity” applies to this approach. One can use a card catalog with actual paper cards.

Image source: http://www.bibliotheque-institutdefrance.fr/catalogues/catalogues.html

Whoops. Wrong tense.

One used to be able to search in this way. No more. On a recent visit to the local library, I did speak with a reference desk professional. We browsed a computer screen looking for information. Unfortunately due to commercial database vendors’ policies, the information I sought was not available. One of my team called the commercial database vendor to find out how to access the specific information, and we did not reach anyone. Neither our voice mail nor our email elicited an answer. No joy.

I walked around the library. When I was a much younger version of myself, I found great satisfaction in the serendipity method. I recall learning about giving talks by browsing and coming across an illustrated volume by “Redpath.” I recall only the single word, and I have not been able to locate that particular volume again. No joy.

If you recall the libraries with books, magazines, card catalogs, and vertical files, I have a recommendation for you. Navigate to The Atlantic and peruse “The Evolution of the College Library.

I have access to a wealth of information on my local system and via the Internet. I have a number of information retrieval systems and tools. I even have a few books that I keep as a reminder of the good old days.

Know what?

None of the modern tools is as satisfying to use as a traditional library. For me, I enjoy the physical space and the experience of using a traditional book or reference book. I even like the distinctive odor of ink on paper. I can live without microfilm, but it was fun once to figure out how to locate a reel, thread it, and look into the past in odd, slightly off kilter representations of a page.

There were filters just like there are today. But there were, as now, ways around them. What’s lost? More than an old-fashioned, labor-intensive approach to research. The physicality of the library was for me as important as the collection.

Stephen E Arnold, December 5, 2013

SearchHub is More than a Forum

December 3, 2012

SearchHub.org is the latest open source community resource offered by LucidWorks in support of Lucene and Solr developers specifically. More than a blog or a forum, SearchHub is an interactive community to exchange ideas. One new item of interest is a session video, “Solr 4: The SolrCloud Architecture.” Read this description to see if this video might be helpful for you or your organization:

“In this talk, Lucene/Solr committer Mark Miller will discuss the low level architecture and design decisions around SolrCloud and distributedLucene Revolution 2012 Download Presentation indexing. Come learn about the latest work on Solr’s new scaling and fault tolerance solution – how it works and how we built it.”

In addition to this session video, there are screencasts, other conference videos, and many how-to instructional pieces. Also, there is a wonderful compilation of resources on the Reference Materials page. Documentation, comparisons, white papers, and tutorials are all included.

SearchHub.org is another way for LucidWorks to give back to the open source community, supporting Apache Lucene and Solr. However, some users may benefit even more from the utilization of LucidWorks products including LucidWorks Search and LucidWorks Big Data. These products are ready to go out-of-the-box and are supported by the industry-vetted power of LucidWorks.

Emily Rae Aldridge, December 03, 2012

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Wikipedia Studies Itself

August 31, 2012

We think studies about oneself are fascinating. TechEYE.net shares our enthusiasm in “Wikipedia is Accurate Says, er, Wikipedia Study.” Last autumn the Wikimedia Foundation tapped Epic, an “e-learning” company, and researchers at Oxford University to perform an assessment of Wikipedia’s accuracy. The results of the reflectively funded study? Wikipedia was found to be more accurate than Encyclopaedia Britannica. What an upset! Writer Nick Ferrell notes:

“For the record, if you wrote a page on Wikipedia about yourself, you would find that one of its teams of editors had deleted it for being advertising. However when Wikipedia commissions a study into itself and reports that it is wonderful, this is apparently ok.”

Apparently. Incidentally, a 2005 external peer review showed an average of four mistakes per article, as compared to Britannica’s three. The free encyclopedia has improved markedly, it seems. The new report also found Wikipedia articles tend to be more up-to-date. No surprise there; I’ll give them that one, at least.

Ferrell observes:

“What makes us smell a rat is that the report said that there were little differences between the two on style and overall quality score. We were not aware that the Encyclopaedia Britannica articles were penned by a person with a crayon, like some of the Wikipedia articles appear to have been. Nor does the Encyclopaedia Britannica employ people with faked doctorates.”

Good point. I think I’ll wait on an objective study before I draw any conclusions.

Cynthia Murrell, August 31, 2012

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Vertical Searches for User Manuals

August 4, 2012

Makeuseof presents a handy collection of vertical search sites in “Can’t Find a User Manual for Your Gear? Search These Specialist Websites.” Writer Saikat Basu observes that, in the excitement of a new purchase, most of us stuff our user manuals into some corner and forget about them—until we need them! He comments:

“User manuals – those thick (or thin) soft covered sheaf’s of paper with multi-lingual instructions and weird hieroglyphics that we don’t bother to read. . . . We all have rummaged through the house looking for the user manual we ‘misplaced’. No luck.

“Here’s where a bit of smarts comes in. The meticulous guy with foresight will either scan it and keep a softcopy in his computer, or look for a softcopy that’s usually available as PDF on the manufacturer’s site.

“There’s a third option – a bunch of specialist websites which does the hard work for us lazybones, and stockpiles user manuals for us to search and download.”

So, instead of combing through the filing cabinet or, worse, those paper-piles every office seems to collect, turn to this list of sites that can put the desired information at your fingertips at the speed of, well, of your Internet connection. Basu details six sites, describing the purpose behind each, how it works, and what he values most about each one. For example, he likes the forums on Safe Manuals, and appreciates the teardown diagrams at iFixit.

The other four sites that made the list include Retrevo, Manuals Online, eSpares, and Free Manuals (aka TheManuals.com). I recommend tucking the article away for your next manual-related urgency. At the end of the article, Basu puts out the call for reader recommendations, so check the comments section for similar sites.

Cynthia Murrell, August 4, 2012

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Crowd Sourced Dictionary Holds Promise

July 24, 2012

Dictionaries become part of our lives shortly after we start to read and many of us remember the classic textbook copy of Webster. The old texts seem to gather dust, and the addition of a crowd source dictionary will not increase their popularity.

A new dictionary is in the works according to Stylist Magazine’s article “The World’s First Crowd-Sourced Dictionary.” Dictionary publishers Collins are inviting the general public to contribute to their online dictionary, and become involved in the evolution of the English language.

This new online reference will contain not only words, but some of the phrases from slang between friends to abbreviations, jargon or made-up buzzwords, all input by the users.

Anyone can be a part of the process and submitting content is simple, as:

“Users just need to log and submit their phrase of choice, which will go through an editorial evaluation and if accepted appear on the definition page, with your name forever imprinted as the creator of that word.”

“If there’s a word you use with your friends that you think is absolute genius, now’s your chance to let the world know. Collins will also giving away prizes to a person who submits a word every day until the 31st August 2012.”

The thing that makes Collins stand out from other user content sources like Wikipedia is the moderation and approval aspect. A crowd sourced dictionary is not only an interesting concept, but may bring the occasional chuckle as we watch trendy buzzwords come and go.

Jennifer Shockley, July 24, 2012

Sponsored by IKANOW

Prochonism Criticizes TV Shows for Time Lingo Goofs. Do TV Writers Care?

June 26, 2012

We have stumbled upon an interesting site. Prochronism.com is the project of Princeton History grad student and Harvard Cultural Observatory fellow Ben Schmidt. It tracks lingual anachronisms (words or phrases are not in their correct historical or chronological time) heard in period TV shows. Schmidt creates word clouds and charts that graphically represent the usages of such language. He also offers commentary. For example:

“The worst phrase, at 30x more common, is ‘status meeting.’ It’s a very rare term in either period, which means that we might be able safely to ignore it: but there are a lot reasons not to. It falls pretty readily into the category I discussed in my Atlantic piece of Mad Men dropping 70s and 80s corporate speech in the 1960s recklessly; the very few places it is used in the 1960s seem to slant towards the government/engineering end of the spectrum, making it out of place at a creative small startup; and the Ngram curve veers pretty sharply up around the Carter/Reagan great divide.”

Picky? Perhaps, but we language folks can get that way. What’s interesting to us, though, is the juxtaposition of text mining and the boob tube. What does such a focus say about America’s intellectual bifurcation?

The sun may not rise. TV writers drag themselves out of bed late in the day anyway and may miss the news about their egregious disregard of TV lingoing.

Cynthia Murrell, June 26, 2012

Sponsored by PolySpot

How Librarians Play an Integral Role When Searching for Historical Documents

June 25, 2012

The Center Square Journal recently published “Meet Julie Lynch, Sulzer Library’s Historical Search Engine,” an article that introduces readers to the librarian who oversees the archive of manuscripts, maps and photographs donated by residents of Chicago’s neighborhoods north of North Avenue.

According to the article, the Northside Neighborhood History Collection encompasses more than 30 collections that document the history of schools, religious institutions, neighborhoods, homeowners’ associations, local businesses, community leaders, parks, the Chicago River, and the streets and transportation in communities located north of North Avenue to the city limits on the east, west and north sides of Chicago.

Due to the nature of her work, Lynch is the human equivalent of a search engine. However, she differs in one key aspect:

“Unlike Google, Lynch delivers more than search results, she provides context. That sepia-tinged photograph of the woman in funny-looking clothes on a funny-looking bicycle actually offers a window into the impact bicycles had on women’s independence. An advertisement touting “can build frame houses” demonstrates construction restrictions following the Great Chicago Fire. Surprisingly, high school yearbooks — the collection features past editions from Lane Tech, Amundsen and Lake View High Schools — serve as more than a cautionary tale in the evolution of hairstyles.”

Despite the increase in technology that makes searching information as easy as tapping a touch screen, this article reiterates the importance of having real people to contextualize these documents.

Jasmine Ashton, June 25, 2012

Sponsored by PolySpot

SciFi 451 Now an Error Code

June 18, 2012

There is a new law code in the online world and though it honors Ray Bradbury in reference, it might possibly censor others that do too. The article 451: Web Censorship Status Code explains the possibilities when the server is subject to legal restrictions which prevent it servicing the request. One has to wonder, Is this error code bad news for a consulting firm with the same name, 451?

It is very possible that issues may arise as the article gave the example of:

“A Google Android developer and co-creator of one of the first Web search engines, Open Text and XML, proposed to the Internet Engineering Task Force that code 451 be used for, “when resource access is denied for legal reasons.”

“Now, I haven’t made an error when making this request. Furthermore: The server understood the request, but is refusing to fulfill it. In this case, the server did not even see the request. It was intercepted by my ISP and rejected by them on legal grounds. Therefore, none of the existing “error” codes fitted.”

Ironically, the name of this code and the companies below come from Ray Bradbury’s classic science-fiction novel, Fahrenheit 451. Now 451 Research, a leading global analyst and Data Company and 451, who have been in business since 1995 developing interactive design might be afflicted with issues.

Internet Censorship was common place in Middle-Eastern countries and former dictatorships like China, Iran and Egypt. Now, to the disbelief of millions, it has come to the United States. This code will possibly cause havoc for innocent companies of the same name.

Jennifer Shockley, June 20, 2012

Sponsored by Ikanow

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