Friday, February 29, 2008

Nicholson Baker on Wikipedia

A review by a favorite writer of a favorite thing..Nicholson Baker captures the Joyful Wonderment of Wikipedia like nobody else: "It's like some vast aerial city, with people walking briskly to and fro on catwalks, carrying picnic basket full of nutritious snacks."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dumb Я Us (ie. "we are dumb")

Susan Jacoby says we're all getting dumber. And the NEH says we're losing our desire and ability to read. This is particularly disturbing these days, when the internet gives us unprecedented power to create the world - or at least cyberspace, and that's a big part of the world for many people - in our own image. The internet is - among other things, to be sure - a giant marketing survey, where everybody's opinion on everything is eagerly solicited and everyone's net behavior is monitored down to the last click. Social bookmarking services like Digg, and ubiquitous "rate this" exhortations ensure that everything - even news and opinion itself - is ranked, commodified, and channeled back to us as more of what we like - reality, new and improved, on the basis of our votes. Consensus trumps authority, and surely, if we're all getting dumber, that has implications. It also has implications for us librarians - we authoritarians of the controlled vocabularies and assigned subject terms (folksonomy, shmokesonomy). Some books on the topic (I think...haven't read them yet) are Andrew Keen's Cult of the Amateur (2007)(but beware, Lawrence Lessig says it's just a brilliant parody), and Lee Siegel's "Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob" I'm also looking forward to Barbarians at the Gates of Public Librarians, which I believe touches upon related matters.

Obama for a change

This is neat too...Obama seems to be taking this change thing seriously! Well done!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Web2.0 democracy is a myth (thankfully!)

Here's a foresighted post that comments on the Dumb Я Us post above. Chris Wilson at Slate argues that the extreme democracy of sites like Digg and Wikipedia is indeed much exaggerated...that although the unwashed masses are allowed to have their say, the final product is vetted and quality-controlled by a relatively small number of responsible chaperones. Intriguing and encouraging! I also recently heard a theory that the feedback so eagerly solicited at news sites, for example, really isn't used for anything other than to make comment contributors feel their opinions matter, and compel them to come back. Ingenious, and why not indulge them with this harmless bit of fun?

Nancy Sinatra introduces European Digital Library

Europeana is the most bewildering place I've been to for a while...after spending a good 15 minutes being walked through a very elaborate demo of the far from complete site, I broke away and found a press release that gave me some sense of where I was. Evidently I was experiencing the demo version of the new European digital library, to be launched in November. (excerpt)"The website, branded Europeana, will break new ground by bringing together millions of digitised resources from Europe’s archives, museums, libraries and audio visual collections through a single portal. The site model was previewed at a conference in Frankfurt last week to holders of digital content, including curators, archivists, publishers and librarians. They were shown how a user would be able to use sophisticated browsing and searching to find paintings, photographs, objects, books, newspapers, archival records, films and sound that have been digitised by Europe’s heritage organisations."

The site is aesthetically pleasing, incorporates web2.0 features and lots of cool technology, but doesn't strike me as as a place to go if you're looking for something specific about Europe. If you're looking for everything about Europe, it's excellent. I even dutifully tried to fill out a questionnaire at the end, but the questions were too hard for me ("Did you like the colors? Why?") There's the above mentioned demo, which is fascinating if you just let yourself go and don't worry about losing your bearings, and also The Boots video an introductory video with Nancy Sinatra (of Italian extraction) singing about Vincent van Gogh's boots (until now, I never knew what that song was about!) American blues harmonica also figures prominently in the video. Crazy, man!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Onion radio - at last

At last, Onion radio news with Doyle Redland.

And of course, not to be missed, ONN, Onion Network News...

Nation Of Andorra Not In Africa, Shocked U.S. State Dept. Reports


A metagator is not, as you might suppose, a University of Florida linebacker who eats alligators, it's a webpage that aggregates (metagates) many rss feeds in one place. Knowbodies' pagecast on libaries and technology is an example of metagator you can customize yourself - I simply collected a bunch of libtech feeds and pulled them into one page. Bozpages can also be assembled according to your needs, although the ones I link to from here are preconfigured (web2.0 and tech news) A new service that provides preconfigured metagator pages in various topics is Alltop Check out the pages on news, social media, and politics. Very nice! (see also popurls, to which Alltops is indebted)

Virtual Reference Service from GPO

USG depository libraries are pursuing the idea of collaborative virtual reference with the Government Information Online (GIO) Ask a Librarian service. (note: a few years ago, a group of U.S. embassy librarians around the world tried to get something similar going, but it never went we can read at the now retired ircworld blog) Read all about the GIO project in Barbara Quint's Information Today article.

U.S. deployments abroad

For that often asked question about the frequency of U.S. military interventions abroad, the CRS report Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2007 comes in handy.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Enter a url at and it will find similar sites for you. It answers the question, "people who tagged this site also tagged what other sites" - but only retrieves results from the popular page, so results are limited. Works nicely though - I was looking for sites that recommend books on the basis of reader behavior (ie. similiar to Amazon's "people who bought this also bought that") and entered one such site, returned whatshouldireadnext library thing, and is a useful supplement to Google's "similar pages" feature.


Sometimes you might like to send your library patrons a bunch of links to information they've asked you for. Rather than send a long unsightly list of urls, you can arrange them in a pleasant nosegay and wrap it up in a single link. LinkBunch assembles the links for you and hides them behind a single url. For example, had I been as clever last Wednesday as I am today, I would not have posted that off-putting list of urls that I extracted using the link-extractor tool. (In fact, reviewing the post I see that I didn't even mention that I'd used the link extractor, which was the whole point of the post! ) Instead, I would have written a few lines about the link extractor, and then simply pasted all the urls together in this LinkBunch...where those interested could peruse them at leisure.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Neat Gmail trick points out that you can append text to your gmail address simply by inserting a "+" between your email id and the text, and the email will still be delivered to your mailbox, e.g.
Then, by using Gmail's "filter messages like these" feature, you can sort messages by "sent to" address and direct all the ones containing "copyright" into the same folder. Another example - when you sign up for a listserv, you can use "" to ensure that all emails from that particular listserv are automatically sorted.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Bozpages are simple one-off pages of RSS feeds, so you can keep track of a bunch of feeds in one place. Same idea as Pageflakes/Pagecasts, which you'll find over on the right, and which I posted about below. Here's a ready-made Bozpage drawing from major web2.0 blogs.

Felon Spy

Enter a street address in the U.S., and Felon Spy will reveal names, addresses and convictions of felons living in the neighborhood. After all, you have a right to know who they are! The site is very professionally done, and the rhetoric rings true...and thank goodness it's just a spoof! I was suckered for about 15 minutes, checking out familiar neighborhoods in the U.S. and gaping goggle eyed at all the criminals out there. This is brilliant and hilarious, but also ominous! The comments at LifeHacker are interesting...many seem annoyed that the site doesn't work very well ("It's not very accurate. I know of three guys with felony convictions living on my road & it didn't show any of them.") I guess it's a commentary on our current state of affairs that anyone - even someone as gullible me - could fall for this!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

To read or not to read

Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter, reflects in an article in the Guardian on the alleged decline in reading, and on last year's National Endowment for the Arts study To Read Or Not To Read. See also post at Lorcan Dempsey's blog, with links to related items on reading.

White paper: Preservation in the Age of Large-Scale Digitization

This 60 p. white paper "Preservation in the Age of Large-Scale Digitization" was written by Cornell librarian Oya Rieger for the Council on Library and Information Resources in Washington DC. Here is the executive summary:

The digitization of millions of books under programs such as Google Book Search and Microsoft Live Search Books is dramatically expanding our ability to search and find information. The aim of these large-scale projects—to make content accessible—is interwoven with the question of how one keeps that content, whether digital or print, fit for use over time.

This report by Oya Y. Rieger examines large-scale digital initiatives (LSDIs) to identify issues that will influence the availability and usability, over time, of the digital books these projects create. Ms. Rieger is interim assistant university librarian for digital library and information technologies at the Cornell University Library.

The paper describes four large-scale projects—Google Book Search, Microsoft Live Search Books, Open Content Alliance, and the Million Book Project—and their digitization strategies. It then discusses a range of issues affecting the stewardship of the digital collections they create: selection, quality in content creation, technical infrastructure, and organizational infrastructure. The paper also attempts to foresee the likely impacts of large-scale digitization on book collections.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Book rental

This snippet has been making the rounds and inspiring mirth among librarians...

book rental service? - Selekta
was just thinking. my sister does -alot- of reading, and spends like $1000 a year on just books alone. most of them she reads once then never looks at again. is there any kind of like…video rental store but for books? would make things alot cheaper, plus once one person has read the next person can get enjoyment from it etc

Yet this is not necessarily a laughing matter, and Krunk4ever adds some perspectives worth thinking about...

The Leading Public Policy Research Organizations in the World, 2007

If you like poring over lists and charts, and also like think tanks, this document should be in your bathroom. Contains lists, tables, pie charts and ratings of think tanks all over the world. Norway has only 15, soundly humiliated by our Nordic neighbors; Finland has 26, Denmark 30, and Sweden 69. Thankfully, I'm 1/4 Swedish (maternal grandmother)


Paula Hanes writes in Information Today:
(excerpt)"While news might be a readily available commodity in our internet world, a small U.K.-based company thinks there’s a better way to present it to users—with relational analysis and explanatory graphics that provide users with contextual insight. Silobreaker ( has officially launched its new search service for news and current events. Its goal is to provide meaning, context, and insight to content using easily understood graphical tools. Silobreaker pulls current content from approximately 10,000 news, blog, research, and multimedia sources. It then automatically and on-the-fly extracts and tags people, companies, topics, places, and keywords; understands how they relate to each other in the news flow; and puts them in a visual context for the user. The free service is aimed at anyone wanting an in-depth perspective on current news for personal or business use, but it should prove especially appealing to journalists, researchers, scientists, consultants, marketing professionals, and industry analysts."

I tried a search on "missile defense", and the returns were impressive! A good supplement to Google News...

useful webmaster tools

webmaster-toolkit has much useful stuff...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Picturing America

The National Endowment for the Humanities project "Picturing America" uses art as a a catalyst for the study of American history—the cultural, political, and historical threads woven into our nation's fabric over time. U.S. schools and libraries are invited to apply online for a set of 20 laminated posters, but anyone can download the handsome 120 page"teacher's resource book" - a useful tool for any teacher who would like to use art to enliven history lessons.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Rules of thumb

When digging a grave by hand, haul away 17 wheelbarrow loads of dirt and pile the rest by the hole. You will have just the right amount to backfill.

When you are working in the vicinity of high voltage, keep 1 foot of distance between you and the power source for each 1,000 volts. For instance, stay 13 feet away from a 13,000 volt power source.

Wish I had a penny for every time I needed to have those rules of thumb at hand (sigh) while working the reference desk! Now that I've discovered the superb, I'm prepared to field any question that comes my way!

Tech Tools for the American Voter and the 2008 Congressional Election

Interesting/useful site...
"This tutorial is a visual walk-through of how to find what you need to know for the upcoming Congressional elections. Use the tutorial to help you find out if you are registered to vote, biographical information on your Congressman or Senator, his or her voting records, and money donations and campaign fundraising for the upcoming election.

The tutorial is divided into five parts – “Can I Vote?”, biographical information on members of Congress, voting records for members of Congress, fundraising and campaign finance activities of candidates, and challenger research. The tutorial shows the different sites and how you can find the information you seek to learn more about the voting process and the candidates."