Technology Trends and Libraries: So many opportunities

Big room, pack with librarians.    Some folks on laptops, but not as many as you’d think at a tech conference.  (Maybe it’s just me…)  Applause for lunch.

Speaker: Eric Lease Morgan, Head of Digital Access and Information Architecture Department at the University Libraries of Notre Dame.  LITA trendspotter for ALA.  Folds defective floppy disks into decorative origami flora and fauna.  (Big applause on that one.)

Enormous opportunities for our profession.  It’s not about the “what”, it’s about the “how.”  

See the technology that’s happening and extract that one level out.  It’s not about the iPhone, it’s about mobile computing.  It’s not about web 2.0, it’s about making sites interactive.  It’s not about the Prius, it’s about green living.


We’re getting to smaller and smaller bits of information.  People expect little facts.  Not looking for reading lots of text, they just want this date, or that telephone number.  

Mobile technology.  People expect their content to be on the little gizmos.  

Semantic web is more of a reality than we think.  Making information readable by comuters.  If computers can read this linked data, it will find relationships between data quicker and more thoroughly.   Example of linked data set. Uses RDF to describe Walden.   Linked data doesn’t have specific value to things, but pointers.  A pointer would, for instance, have a pointer to the author and link to a URI.  Computers can find relationships between the pointed data and allow researchers to see the links, the long ends of the tail that perhaps aren’t as well-known or as researched.

Libraries have created a lot of cool technologies.  The MARC record was really cool in 1965. (Laughter.)  Invented way before many other computer applications.  The first 5 characters in a MARC record are a left-hand, 0-padded string that tells you how long the record is.   There is an aski character at the end of the record – character 29 – that indicates the end.   Another cool library invention is Z-39.50.  Broadcast searching.  Worked in its heyday, but open search works better today.

We have to realize that we had lots of cool technologies but others have superseded them.  

Search is more powerful than browse.  People feel more comfortable doing search; there’s too much stuff to do an effective browse.  However, the concept of browse is to find more like this one.  How to implement that around search some way?  Search is not so much about high-precision, it’s about needing a few things that will solve my problem now.  The universe of people doing comprehensive search are primarily people doing dissertations.  Relevancy rating is about who you are and what your context is and how to magically insert the reference interview into the equation.

Wisdom of the crowds.  Internet was designed to withstand a nuclear attack.  There is no central place.  That concept means there is no central authority.  The wisdom of the crowds is an alternative to authoritative something-or-other.  

How do libraries fit in to this?  How can we use these things?  The challenge is to see the forest for the trees.  Don’t be too concerned about specific details.  We’re trying to provide the same sorts of services about books, etc. and also provide services on new media and electronic resources.  We’re being stretched.  Journalism facing a similar problem.

Principles of librarianship still very important.  We build the collections for the historical record.  Organize it so it can be easily found.  Preserving the collections – preservationists have the hardest road.  Provide access to the stuff.  How do we do this in today’s environment?  This is where there are enormous possibilities.

There are a number of places competing where we are.  We used to be more of a monopoly.  Now it’s fashionable to be into information.  We’re not as much a “public good” as we used to be.  Can’t take for granted that we’re going to be funded.  Need to prove that we can save people time.  

We have to spend time doing more R&D, innovation.  We need to spend more time playing.  

Why not figure out a way to systematically start collecting the stuff that’s out there that’s free.  Why not develop communities to systematically collect?  

Once you collect you’re going to want to organize.  Don’t advocate MARC.  We have to communicate in XML, which more people understand and use.  Controlled vocabularies aren’t as important as they used to be.  

Access – many times we think in terms of databases.  We want to use indexers to more of our advantage.  Indexes are really good at finding content.  Indexes work like the back of a book index – it’s a list of words with a number that says where the word can be found.  

For extra-credit, go beyond just giving them the thing.  Perhaps provide tools to help the patron use the content.  What might you want to do with a book?  Read, understand, share, trace an idea, cite, annotate, etc.  What we can do is with a combination of statistical analysis, we can provide data sets that can act as a tool for them to use.

It’s possible to create a collection.  Directory of Open Access Journals.  Available via OEI.  Wrote a program that harvests the information via OEI.  End up with a searchable index of journals.

Google books and the digital access archive.  The internet archive has  indexed and scanned and digitized public domain content.  It is 100% free.  You can get the book, the full text of the book, and then do really cool things with it.  Has been creating his own library.  Can search the full text listing.  

We can provide services against the index or against the texts. – universal access to human knowledge.

Has created tools to harvest this sort of information.  “If one person can do this, imagine what a whole community can do.”  Once the text is collected, you can offer services against the text – dictionaries, find in a library, turn into an audio version.  

Question about privacy.  Probably more important to us than patrons.  Might become an opt-in service.  

Question – do you see this process becoming a more automated process?  Can fall into consortial model.  One consortium can collect one particular type of knowledge (health and medicine) and another something else (forestry.)  The consortia can then share their collected knowledge.

Fascinating presentation, frankly more techie than my skills allow but thought-provoking.  What sorts of collections could we gather with this sort of concept?  What fabulous things could we do with it?

I’m definitely going to follow up with this guy.



Filed under Libraries and Librarianship, LibraryTechConference

2 responses to “Technology Trends and Libraries: So many opportunities

  1. Sounds like a pretty interest presentation. Is it online anywhere?

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