Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cern 'Open Sourced' the Web

Sir Tim Berners-Lee was recently interviewed by the BBC to mark today's 15th anniversary of the day that Cern put the web's code into the public domain.

Berners-Lee indicated that making the web free to use had a vital role in spreading its use worldwide. However, the decision by physics laboratory to release the web code into the public domain was not a straightforward one. The difficult part was explaining the true nature of what the web was going to be and that this was going to take off and it was a really big thing. Therefore, Cern couldn't hold on to it and "the best thing to do was to give it away."

In a fateful decision that significantly helped the web to grow, Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau managed to get Cern to provide a certification on April 30, 1993. Once the technology and program code was in the public domain anyone could use and improve it.

Cailliau notes:

"If we had put a price on it like the University of Minnesota had done with Gopher then it would not have expanded into what it is now. We would have had some sort of market share alongside services like AOL and Compuserve, but we would not have flattened the world."

As a side note, in A Short History of the Web, Mr. Cailliau recalls that during sessions in the CERN cafeteria, he and Berners-Lee discussed a catching name for the system. The only exception that he noted when Berners-Lee proposed 'World-Wide Web' was that it is difficult to pronounce in French. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, April 25, 2008

Is Your Library Trapped in a 'Phantom Zone' ?

About a year ago David Lee King posted his change the unchangeable rant. I believe that there are many libraries and library leaders out there trying to change their organizations. However, too many are doing so while maintaining the same organizational structures and paradigms they have used for the last half century.

As I talk to many librarians on this topic it simply seems to me that too many libraries are stuck in a 'Phantom Zone', like that in Superman comics. In the 1978 movie, Jor-El supervises the conviction of three criminals caught attempting to overthrow the planet's government. The dome of the planet's capital city opens and an extra-dimensional pyramid - the Phantom Zone - tumbles out of the sky and absorbs the three criminals into an eternity in dimensional limbo through space.

Many of the cultural rules that exist in libraries today are based on the traditional functions that libraries perform including buying, processing, and organizing materials as well as providing services at a desk within a building. The degree of change that the staff embraces, from incremental to radical, leads to a modification or replacement of these rules. The organizational tension between the agents of change and the agents of the status quo become apparent since staff generally has a tendency toward the routine while external influences on the structure create a need for disruption of those routines.

In his 1996 book Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within, Robert E. Quinn discusses how deep change differs from incremental change in that it requires new ways of thinking and behaving. Deep change is a major movement and is discontinuous with the past and generally irreversible. It distorts existing patterns and involves risk taking.

In the 2003 article Resistance to Change in Libraries: Application of Communication Theories (Access depends on your local license), Sharon Gray Weiner applies this to libraries:
"Discontinuous change means that there is no previous experience, no model of the process, and no consensus about how change should be handled. It invalidates the rules and assumptions that determine an organization's operating procedures. Technology is an important source of discontinuous change. Disintermediation is a concept that has arisen in relation to information technology and institutional change. It means the obsolescence of all institutions that function as intermediaries. Institutions are seen as encumbering and static, imposing an outdated order, and existing only to resist change and to postpone their own demise."

This is not a new idea being presented to libraries. In fact, Charles Lowry wrote about this approach nearly a decade ago.

To meet today's challenge of continuous change simply requires the mobilization of all library staff through the creation and support for a continuous learning environment as well as a real engagement in organizational problem solving. A library that is encouraged and accepts change will result in an organization that is closer to Ranganathan's "the library is a growing organism" and characterized by adaptation and evolution.

There is a way out of the library Phantom Zone, but it requires a significant cultural shift that needs to be started from the top down and supported from the bottom up. A library organization that is not challenged and chooses to resist environmental/cultural change will result in one that maintains traditional service activities. It will also experience growing tensions as the expectations and the need to change results in an increasing amount of internal conflict.

Sphere: Related Content

Monday, April 21, 2008

Tossing Technology Eggs

I had a chance to chat with Richard Akerman over lunch at the NISO conference last month.

During our conversation he made mention of the various position / white papers he has created over the years. What caught my ear was when he said he experiences about a two-year time delay between the time when he poses an idea and the time the same idea emerges from elsewhere in the organization. It is not until it reemerges that it gains organizational buy-in.

This made me feel good since this is the same idea lag time I generally experience. As I talked to other technology-oriented librarians this does seem to be the general trend. Add on another 6-12+ months of working through the logistics and politics of getting an idea off the ground the technology concept-to-release gap is about three-years.

Three years!? I can't think of another part of a library organization that such a delay is acceptable. For some reason with technology it is OK. But I digress.

In my Why Someone May Hate Your Ideas post I point to an egg and bird analogy, which I shared with Richard.

When technology staff tosses out half-baked ideas to library staff it is like tossing them an egg when they are expecting a bird.

Technology staff can look at the egg and see what will happen; the egg will hatch, the hatchling will grow and eventually learn to fly. It may eventually have eggs itself and the cycle is repeated. Since the library staff expected a bird they simply let it drop and splatter on the floor. Unless the library environment is very forgiving, an egg (a premature technology idea) will simply not survive.

At the same time, libraries can no longer wait two-years for an egg to hatch. As library technologists, we need to do a better job of tossing our staff and customers hatchlings (prototypes). The time has come for libraries need to carve out a part of their organizations to focus on creating Library Labs like the one at the National Library of Australia. It is a place in which prototypes and emerging ideas can be made available and tested. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, April 17, 2008

National Library Week Featured in 1961 Peanuts Reprints

United Feature Syndicate did a great job matching their Peanuts reprints with the current calendar. As it turned out, Schultz honored National Library week back in 1961 and the reprints coincided with this year's celebration. (Note: the online versions are a couple days behind)

This one made me chuckle.

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Should Librarians Rely on Associations for Technology Guidance?

Once again, dusting off some older topic stubs...

The results of a Medical Library Association's Task Force on Social Networking Software survey to see which social networking tools were important to association members are available. The survey results were summarized:

" new social networking technologies are important to MLA members, but only up to a point. While MLA members understand that these technologies may be important, they do not always see a personal or professional use in them (yet!)."
A couple specific results:

  • 73% respondents rated blogs very to somewhat important for sections, chapters, and SIGs of MLA. However, only 52% reported using blogs in their professional life when combining the same numbers.
  • 71% respondents rated RSS very to somewhat important for sections, chapters, and SIGs of MLA. 39% reported very to somewhat important use of RSS in their personal life
  • "overwhelmed with the technology options and not yet sure how the tools may really help them in their daily lives."

Hmmm. So, members are looking to MLA for information and guidance on new technologies. They want MLA to tell them how these technologies are going to solve problems and make their life easier. They also see technologies such as RSS and Blogs as being important to the Association, but not important enough for them to use in their personal lives.

Double hmmmm.

I have opening wondered for some time now if the reason libraries can be slow in adopting new technologies is simply because by the time a trend is spotted, a need for a task force identified, a group is created, a survey administered, recommendations made, resources identified, a project group assembled, a position paper developed, final version approved, and the result communicated (huff puff) - the original concept is likely already outdated.

The shelf life of technology has gotten so short that I not so sure I should expect any professional association to provide me with guidance. While annual meetings are a great place to hear about emerging technologies, I believe it should be a part of every librarian's continuous learning process to explore themselves (using tools such as RSS and blogs!) and no longer wait patiently for an annual meeting to hear about them. One needs to find out for themselves how these tools can be used in their daily lives and not wait for someone else to tell them

If our profession Associations need to start doing anything, it is to provide more sandboxes to play in and promote a culture where it is OK to get dirty. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Open Source Alerting Portlet

This is a post that somehow got stuck as a draft stub since last summer. So, after blowing the dust off....

Virginia Knight (Senior Technical Researcher, ILRT, University of Bristol) describes in an Ariadne article an open-source alerting portlet in an effort to investigate how five Resource Discovery Network (RDN) hubs might be turned into subject portals.

The alerting portlet that is being designed provides a means for delivering timely notification of update information of various kinds including details of new bibliographic records, new records to the IRC catalogues, news items, additional services such as events, call for papers reminders, etc. It notifies customers about new resources in their subject interest areas and to allow them to register those areas with the portlet software. An email message that notifies users of publications which match the keywords and data sources specified in the subscription.

I know I get way to much email and the last thing I need is more of it. I have unsubscribed to nearly all mailing lists due to in-box overflow. I don't know if I would subscribe to any new services that only provides email alerts.

What would be really cool is if an RSS feed which pulls in the customized alert information could be generated and subscribed to instead of an email. The portlet interface could then be used to tune the alert. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Do You Pecha Kucha?

In looking over various posts regarding CIL2008, I noticed several discussing Pecha Kucha. While the concept is not news to me since it is similar to Lightning Talks, the name and particular format was until I read it in a Feburary ARL E-News.

Pecha Kucha (pronounced peh-chak-cha) is Japanese for the sound of conversation (chatter) and represents a fast-paced series of presentations.

The idea behind Pecha Kucha is to keep presentations concise, audience interest level high and to have many presenters sharing their ideas within the course of one session. The format is 20x20: each presenter is allowed a slideshow of 20 images, each shown for 20 seconds each. This results in a total presentation time of 6 minutes 40 seconds on a stage before the next presenter is up.

At CIL the attendees felt that the format was just the right amount of stimulation needed at 4 pm after a full conference day. Each of the five panelists use the format to express their opinion about a particular 2.0 technology Sphere: Related Content

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Internet as an Extension of Man

I had planned on another post NISO Discovery conference post, but came across this draft stub from a couple months ago....

Every few months I pick up my first edition copy of Marshall McLuhan's classic work, Understanding Media, and select a random section to read. The name of this blog, after all, is a McLuhanism. He is known for his visionary interpretation of the effects of technological communication on society. For those who are unfamiliar with him, it was McLuhan who coined the phrase "global village."

I continue to be amazed how this now 44-year-old book reads as if it were just released today. It was written when TV was still in its relative infancy and the first personal computer was almost twenty years into the future. I am sure if it were released today it would receive the same attention as the Tipping Point and Ambient Findability.

The subtitle of this work is "The Extensions of Man." The term extension refers to how an individual or society creates or makes use something that extends the human body or mind in an innovative way.

McLuhan also cautioned that every technological extension also results in the amputation or modification some other extension. For example, the loss of Morse Code skills with the development of voice-based radio. Online social networks and SecondLife extend our sense of community. However, they also diminish relationships based on "face-to-face" oral communication. (Are two avatars talking to one another face-to-face?) How many times have you come across people in the same room or house instant messaging /texting each other?

McLuhan developed a scientific basis for this thought, what he termed the "tetrad." The tetrad allowed McLuhan to apply four laws, framed as questions, to a wide spectrum of mankind's endeavors, and thereby give us a new tool for looking at our culture. As a 'new' medium, these tetrads also apply to the Internet, a technology that was just being conceived at the time.

The first of these questions, or laws, is "What does it (the medium or technology) extend?" In the case of the car it would be the feet. In the case of blogging it would be paper; an extension of the voice.

The second question is "What does it make obsolete?" One might argue that the automobile makes walking obsolete. The growth of email is making the personal letter sent though the postal service obsolete.

The third question asks, "What is retrieved?" The automobile could retrieve one's sense of adventure lost after the US westward expansion. The sense of community returned with the spread of online social networks.

The fourth question McLuhan asks is, "What does the technology reverse into if it is over-extended?" For example, an over-extended automobile culture mkes some long for a more pedestrian lifestyle. Similarly, the over-extension of Internet culture engenders a need for being unplugged from the network. Sphere: Related Content