Monday, July 31, 2006

Is Your Web Site's Metadata Being Used?

I recently rediscovered a June 2005 article entitled Optimising Metadata to Make High-Value Content more Accessible to Google Users by Alan Dawson and Val Hamilton.

The article details a study that revealed that the constructing a web page title tag from the content of four metadata fields (title, type, author, date) is the most important step in Google optimization. While HTML has a "meta" tag which is often (painstakingly) used by libraries, its value is currently negligible in a Google dominated search engine world due to misuse.

According to the authors, even if web page includes meta tags for a description and other data they are not used by the public Google engine. (Google appliances do index meta tags). Instead of using the meta tags the public Google extracts "snippets" (the official term) from the full text of documents to serve as page summaries. The value of Google snippets as descriptions and in indexing is highly variable.

Google rankings can be improved by including the content that one would place in the meta fields as visible text - not HTML embedded tags - near the start of the page. They suggest placing the text beneath the title and author name. This increases the odds that when a search term matches a word in the Google snippet will include the term in the description, or at least at the start of it.

While the top of each web page may begin to look like the start of a catalog record, this approach not only makes the metadata visible to searchers it increases the odds that it is actually being used. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Continuous Learning: Making it a Priority...Period

In Continuous Learning: Making it a Priority Without Breaking the Bank , Meredith Farkas at TechEssence writes how librarians need to continue to learn, to grow, to expand our views of libraries and technologies. Her post is on dead on point.

Meredith's post focused on what administrators should do to support learning. I would like to build upon her post but focus on what librarians should be doing themselves, regardless of administrator support.

Professional Literature: Meredith points to freely available online journals that would benefit librarians such as Ariadne, D-Lib, College and Research Libraries, Cites and Insights, Library Journal, School Library Journal and Educause Review. In addition, she points to DLIST and E-LIS as repositories for scholarly communications. Knowing these tools are out there is one thing, carving of time on a regular basis to actually read them is another.

Blogs: There are a growing number of blogs out there that focus on librarianship and applied library technologies. As Meredith points out the great thing about blogs is that there is no editorial delay. While some may feel that the lack or peer or editorial review weakens professional communication, bloggers report on events or information as it is happening.

Webcasts: A growing number of organizations that are offering free access to webcasts which allow librarians to interact in real-time with other professionals. While some services may only offer free archive access they are still valuable learning tools. Free webcasts are available through OPAL, the SirsiDynix Institute, the Blended Librarian community, and InfoPeople. WebEX is one of the larger pay-per-use commercial hosting sites where use is paid for by the presenter, not the attendees.

Podcasts: Podcasts are a convenient tool for learning. At this time few librarians are using podcasts, as they do blogs, to inform and educate their colleagues. Podcasts relevant to librarians include The Library Channel from Arizona State University, LiS Radio from the University of Missouri, SLIS Media Feed from Indiana University, Check This Out from Jim Milles (University at Buffalo Law School), Open Stacks, and Talking with Talis. OPAL and the SirsiDynix Institute also make their webcasts available in podcast format.

Here are some ways librarians can integrate technology/research into their daily workflow:

  • Create tasks in your planner as a reminder to review online (or print) resources on a weekly basis. Sometimes workflow makes them a low priority, but the reminders will prompt you to at least browse them on a regular basis.
  • Librarians should set up a Bloglines (or any aggregrator) account and begin learning how to use RSS feeds. Not only will the content be useful, but learning how RSS feed aggregators work is becoming an essential skill. If needed, one can take advantage of RSS online tutorials.
  • Contribute to Wikipedia. Some write off this as a authoritative source since anyone can contribute. Not only can you help make it more authoritative, you will learn how to use a wiki along the way.
  • Attend webcasts. Invite colleagues to join you and make it a journal club gathering.
  • Download podcasts. I often grab my iPod and lunch and go outside on nice days, particularly from The Library Channel. I have also been known to listen to podcasts while mowing the lawn.
  • Set aside some time at various meetings to discuss interesting developments in librarianship and/or technology. Have people share what they have read or played around with that is particularly interesting to them.
Learning new technologies is an essential part of the continuous learning process and should be a higher priority. Librarians also need to carve time out of their schedule to experiment and eat their own dog food.

The challenge is that library professionals that would benefit most from this advice are not likely to read this (or any other) blog. Hopefully those people will pick up Michael Stephens' Web 2.0 and Libraries: Best Practice for Social Software. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, July 24, 2006

Carnival of the Infosciences #47

Come one, come all to Carnival of the Infosciences #46. (Note: Was scheduled as #47 but the production schedule changed on me. I would change the title but it would break any links....) The entries here were selected from my blogroll and from items uncovered doing Technorati searches on library oriented subject tags or were submitted by fellow bloggers. The editorial choices are simply topics or points of view I found interesting.

Submissions:La Grande Wheel

Rick Roche is taking on a very ambitious project in bulding the Practicing Librarians' Book Review wiki. The site provides a forum for librarians to write about books they have read and communicate their thoughts to the library community without having to be accepted by a journal. Becoming a contributor to the wiki is as easy as signing up and logging on. Good luck, Rick!

Steve Matthews at the Vancouver Law Librarian blog provides a general summary in Drupal & An Introduction to Open Source CMS Products. Drupal is a content management system build for LAMP. (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP for those unfamilliar with the acronym.)

Editorial picks:

  • At Library Juice Rory Litwin discusses "Wikipedia and Why Librarians Make Good Wikipedia Contributors". Wikipedia is cited by some librarians as a non-authoratative source because of the lack of content and editorial control, but Rory argues that librarians should take a more active role, which I agree:

  • "Initially I didn’t see much of a connection between librarianship and Wikipedia editing, because working on an encyclopedia seemed to me to be more of a writer’s or a researcher’s pastime than a librarian’s. As I got into it, however, I realized that the standards for writing a Wikipedia article are similar to a reference librarian’s approach to answering a reference question, especially in relation to one of the main “pillars” of Wikipedia: the “Neutral Point of View,” or NPOV, policy."

  • StevenB posted to ACRLLog his reaction to a Boston Globe editorial about the "Catered Generation". There are probably many Carnival readers that agree with his perspective:

  • "Is [sic] seems our profession has likewise become preoccupied with discovering methods to provide students with the lowest-common denominator research tools and the elimination of anything that might be perceived as too complex for fear that students will - what - complain that libraries are too hard to use. Do we fear that students will abandon our resources for the ones that do coddle them by eliminating the possibility of failure? It’s almost impossible with most search engines, no matter how awful your search is, to get nothing in return. You can’t fail. With a library database if you do a poorly conceived search you will likely retrieve nothing - the equivalent of failure. Heaven forbid we might expect someone to show some resolve and actually think about what they did and try to improve upon it - even if the cause of failure is as minor as a mispelled word."

  • In Continuous Learning: Making it a Priority Without Breaking the Bank , Meredith Farkas at TechEssence writes how librarians need to continue to learn, to grow, to expand our views of libraries and technologies. As library professionals this learning process needs to happen every day, every week, and every year that we are on the job. Perhaps most importantly this activity should be encouraged by administrators as an integral part of our work:

    "Administrators should encourage all employees to continue developing their skills and knowledge in this rapidly changing field. It should be just as much a part of our job as attending meetings, serving on committees, and other basic responsibilities."

    Next week's carnival (#47) will be hosted by Woody over at ISHUSH.
    For future dates, check the wiki. Make sure to take a turn hosting as well!!!

    "La Grande Wheel" is by laanba and published by rights granted through Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0

  • Sphere: Related Content

    Wednesday, July 19, 2006

    Why Librarians Should Eat Their Own Dog Food

    I am on a local task force investigating the deployment of the next version of Microsoft's Sharepoint Service. During the first meeting the convener kept referring to us as the dog food group and that we would be "eating our own dog food." Since I had not heard this phrase before I did what any librarian would do - I went to the Wikipedia and Google.

    The metaphor is that a company "eating its own dog food" not merely considers the value of the product for consumers (i.e. whether the dog will eat the dog food), but is a consumer of the product. As a great example, a recent article in BetaNews describes how Microsoft no longer releases any software that it is not first using in production in house. In fact, Microsoft indicates this approach ultimately saves the company staff time!

    In software development to "eat [one's] own dog food" refers to a point at which a product under development is delivered, in rough state, to all on the project for use. These early versions may contain bugs, crash often, lose data or otherwise be unusable. It is a way of verifying that the product works under real-world conditions. This approach makes the staff feel the pain before our customers feel it.

    The problem as I see it is that all too often librarians come up with ideas for services but really do not fully understand all the aspects of (including technical support!!!) before moving ahead with planning and deployment. The library using it's own products and services before general availability has four primary benefits:

    1. Librarians are familiar with using the products and services they develop.

    2. Library staff have direct knowledge and experience with its products and services.

    3. Customers see that the library has confidence in its own products and services.

    4. Library staff, with perhaps a very wide set of technical skills, are able to discover and report bugs in the products and services before they are released to the customers.
    So, as a standard part of the innovation process libraries should indeed be eating their own technology dog food first in order to see how good it is. We should be actively using some aspect of the products and services we offer in a production environment before we offer them to our customers.

    For example:

    • To gain a better understanding of how IM would work for virtual reference services shouldn't librarians be using IM in other aspects of their jobs; e.g. communicating with each other?

    • To support wireless and mobile devices staff should be using them to perform basic staff functions, such as working in the stacks?
    • If a library offers a laptop distribution service shouldn't the staff be using laptops themselves?

    • If a library provides digitization hardware for customer use shouldn't the staff assisting these customers be engaged in digitization projects?

    • If the library is considering rolling out RSS feeds wouldn't it make sense that library staff be using them first?

    Sure, it will take time for the staff to get use to the taste and texture. Sure, they may not like it at first and wonder why they can't go back to their old food.

    In the end we should never expect our customers to eat what we are not willing to eat ourselves. Sphere: Related Content

    Monday, July 17, 2006


    If you ever purchased tickets online or even posted blog comments then odds are that you have used CAPTCHA (TM by Carnegie Mellon University) but did not know that the technology had a name or that a large NSA funded project is behind it.

    CAPTCHA stands for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart" and is a challenge-response test used in computing to determine whether or not the user is human. The most common type of CAPTCHA displays an image containing distorted letters of a word or some sequence of letters and numbers. The user then needs to type the letters of a distorted image.

    The different approaches include GIMPY , BONGO , and PIX . Sphere: Related Content

    The (infosciences) Carnival is Coming (to town)

    The Medium is proud to be hosting the Carnival of the Infosciences #47 , which will be posted next Monday, July 24th.

    Have you read or authored anything that you wish to share?

    Please submit your posts to eric.schnell [at] with the word "Carnival" in the subject line.

    Closing date is Sunday July 23rd at midnight.

    "Carousel" is by Frottage Cheese and published with rights granted through Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0
    Sphere: Related Content

    Wednesday, July 12, 2006

    Technology and Library Staff Buy-in: Update 1

    In an earlier post I discussed the concept of how the creation of a technology group could help the process of fostering innovation.

    Based on ideas gathered from others, my original concept was to create an informal group consisting of techies that would get together on a regular basis to brainstorm and play around in a sandbox. Any practical ideas would be communicated to anyone we felt would be interested. I discussed the idea to library administration and they where supportive.

    The reality became that most of us already had so much on our plates (sound familiar?) that we couldn't find a good time to get together on a recurring basis. Therefore, an informal approach to such a group is challenging since "real" responsibilities take precident (much like ALA committee work).

    Timing is everything. Upon returning from ALA our administration had a unexpected renewed interest in emerging/disruptive technology. I was approached with the idea of formalizing the group, which I jumped. I proposed moving ahead with my original concept, but having a formal charge which will make participation a part of the group members responsibilities.

    One challenge is that the desire to create formal processes and procedures for the group was expressed. The concept presented was that the ideas and technologies would go to a larger leadership group for a formal vote on what to continue exploring.

    Argh! I feel this approach is very problematic. One can not manage technology by majority rule. The technologies that would make it through such a process would not be those that are the most innovative. I stand by my viewpoint that such a group has to work outside normal processes.

    I will make sure to post updates as things progress.

    "Technology is like a fish. The longer it stays on the shelf the less desirable it becomes" - Andrew Heller Sphere: Related Content

    Monday, July 10, 2006

    Are Most Library Instruction Programs Antiquated?

    I remember one of the most unpopular courses in the school library media track in grad school was a nonprint production class. Most of the students disliked it because they didn't understand why knowing how to create nonprint materials was relevant to librarianship. In hindsight, especially in today's environment, many of those students feel that knowing how nonprint materials were created helped make them better selectors and users of nonprint information resources.

    As I was browsing through the LOEX 2005 Conference site and came across a presentation entitled Information Literacy Isn't Enough: Why Librarians Need to Teach More in the Digital Age by Rob Withers and Lisa Santucci of Miami (OH) University that seemed to echo this approach. Their basic premise is that libraries need to move their instructional programs beyond information literacy since "“If you have a hammer, everything becomes a nail."

    The traditional approach taken in most library instruction programs includes providing step-by-step instructions on using the various systems. Withers and Santucci's approach focuses on gaining an understanding of how information is created and on the information environment in general. The customer gains a better understanding about information from the perspective of a consumer and a producer. They learn how information, and misinformation, can be created and how decisions by creators impact the ability to locate and use information.

    I agree.

    Since library and information systems in general are constantly changing it no longer makes sense to teach our customers how to use the systems. Instead, it makes a great deal of sense that we should be teaching our customers how to create information will help them be better selectors and users of information.

    The greatest challenge will not be the customer's acceptance of such a program, but upgrading librarian attitudes towards new and unfamiliar technologies. For such an approach to succeed librarians also need to first learn how to create content themselves. Such a requirement may be as unpopular now as the nonprint course was in library school. Sphere: Related Content

    Wednesday, July 05, 2006

    Are Real World Library Tools an Entitlement?

    In a post over at Tame the Web, Michael Stephens has a thread about How to Sell RSS. While the topic is interesting in itself, what caught my attention was the following comment (name omitted since it is the perception I am addressing, not the person):

    "I have grumbled on various library blogs .... about how little stock I put into the whole Library 2.0 movement because it struck me that you were preaching to the choir and not providing us with real world tools that we could use to improve as librarians."

    Like libraries themselves, there are librarians that have resources and librarians that do not. We do not blame a successful library for the failings of another. Similarly, the failure of a librarian to improve themselves should not be placed at the feet of other library professionals. Librarians need to communicate with their administration to make sure they have the resources to help them improve, or find a new position in an organization that does. Self improvement is just that.

    Many, if not all, technology-oriented librarians want to come up with new tools and share them with the world. It is not that simple. The resources required for libraries to innovate are thin everywhere - even at large academic institutions. In fact, the exception to the rule is when someone not only comes up with a solution but has the resources to make it available for all. ( a recent example: LibX).

    There are many librarians out there with great ideas but not the resources to do anything with them. Blogging is a way to get ideas out with a hope that someone with resources can take the idea and run. At the very least it may spawn other ideas.

    Unfortunately, all too often the choir is the only group that will listen. Sphere: Related Content