Thursday, November 22, 2007

OLPC Give 1 Get 1 Program Extended

By now you have probably heard of the One Laptop Per Child program's Give 1 Get 1 program which allows (North American) consumers to purchase an XO laptop for twice the price, and donating a second XO to a child in a developing country. Originally planned to run for just two weeks, it's now been extended to the end of the year.

One of the reasons given for the extension is to allow organized fund raising campaigns to get involved. I know I have heard several suggestions that U.S. schools raise money to purchase XOs for their own use while helping a school overseas.

It's on my short list for Christmas!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Amazon's Kindle Ebook Reader - the Next iPod or the Next Newton?

By now most everyone will have heard about Amazon's Linux-based Kindle ebook reader, either from the fawning Newsweek story (the future of reading!) or the thousands of other blog posts over the last 24 hours.

In case you haven't heard of it yet, the Kindle is a 10 ounce ebook reader with an electronic ink screen, rudimentary thumbboard, enough memory to store 200 books, and wireless connectivity to Amazon's new Kindle store (using Sprint's EV-DO cellular network). Books can be purchased and downloaded from anywhere within reach of Sprint's network in just a few minutes, according to Amazon. Amazon is starting with about 90,000 books in the Kindle store, many priced at $9.99 each. For an additional charge, certain newspapers and blogs can be subscribed to through the device and will be automatically delivered to it. All this for $399, with network access included in the initial price.

Interestingly, there's an experimental live reference service called "Ask Kindle NowNow". Hmmm, you can use this device to get books to read, and answers to reference questions... What existing institutions does this compete with?

Here's my take. As a consumer product, Amazon is trying to imitate Apple's iPod and iTunes experience, making it all "just work" by creating a closed system with Amazon very much in control. The Kindle supports documents in Amazon's proprietary Kindle (.azw) and non-DRM'd Mobi (.mobi & .prc) formats, as well as text (.txt) files. It does not support the industry standard .epub format. Documents in some other formats (including HTML and Microsoft's .doc) can be run through a conversion service (apparently for a 10 cent fee) and be added to the Kindle. PDF support through this process is described as "experimental".

I liked the iPod when it first came out. It lacked features of other digital music players (no radio, for example), but the product had a sort of tactile likability that appealed to me. The closed system, DRM'd content and the prospect of having your music library hostage to the whims of a large corporation, well, these things did not appeal to me. But I could definitely see why people liked it-- like taking a packaged tour, letting someone else make decisions often makes things easier.

But the Kindle does not appeal to me on an aesthetic level. It's bland retro 80s styling and awkward looking keys don't make up for the e-ink display. And on a practical level, putting money into building up a book collection in proprietary formats worries me more than ever. The iPod got away with it in part because it was introduced six years ago. I think the tide is turning away from proprietary formats and closed systems-- just look at Apple's unsuccessful attempt to keep the iPhone closed. The price also seems too high-- although it includes the wireless service, how many people really buy enough books to justify a $400 reader? Say you save $10 per title buying the electronic version, that's 40 books just to break even on the reader. That price will limit the appeal to anyone outside the book hyper-buying classes.

So is this the "iPod for Books" we have all been looking for? Not version 1.0, anyway. In fact, the Kindle reminds me of another Apple product that came to define a product that could not break out of a niche market due to high price and compatibility issues, the Newton.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Highlights from OCLC Western Director's Day 2007 : Part 2

Here is part two of my report on the OCLC Western Director's Day event.

OCLC President Jay Jordan discussed WorldCat Local, and said they had all the beta sites they needed, thank-you-very-much. I got the impression he's getting offers from a lot of libraries who want to be in on this. So far, the betas are involving extensive (and probably time-consuming) customization. They seem to be moving forward as aggressively as they can.

George Needham, OCLC Vice President Member Services, spoke about library trends, including the move to patron self-service, user-centered services, even design trends to make libraries seem more friendly and inviting.

The most notable thing he said was that according to studies, for information-seekers "convenience trumps quality". Patrons will choose easily accessible but mediocre data over high-quality data that's hard to get to.

Finally, Lorcan Dempsey, OCLC VP for Research, presented on OCLC's response to the changing information environment we find ourselves in. His presentation slideshow is online here.

He believes that libraries must adapt to patron habits and make our services convenient, because in today's world, time is scarce and information abundant. Brand recognition is increasingly important as patrons try to navigate this environment, and OCLC sees an opportunity to help libraries collectively build a brand to at least get a place on a map dominated by the Googles and Amazons of the world. To compete, our brand must be "web scale", and OCLC sees it's role as helping to stitch us together to help make one.

OCLC sees other business opportunities in creating system-wide efficiencies through integrated management services to libraries in various ways.

Finally, he briefly discussed the "WorldCat Grid", which will be a platform to open up OCLC systems as web services.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Tomorrow is Software Freedom Day!

Tomorrow is Software Freedom Day, the day set aside to promote free software. You may not be manning a booth somewhere, but you can still do your part. Tell a friend about free software. Or blog about it...

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Highlights from OCLC Western Director's Day 2007 : Part 1

OCLC Western held its annual Director's Day confab in Pomona, CA yesterday, and Cathy De Rosa (OCLC VP for the Americas/Global Marketing VP) presented some interesting findings from "Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources", a survey about public attitudes towards libraries.

In reviewing findings that the public felt their privacy was more at risk in libraries and on library web sites than while surfing the web, she remarked that libraries needed a privacy branding for their sites.

Many of us present felt that was an excellent idea. We do a lot to safeguard patron privacy, but don't say much about it. A logo and a self-certification program to go with it would be a simple, inexpensive, and probably effective way to make the point one more time that libraries are special places.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Reflections on a Year of Space Age Librarian

One year ago today I launched Space Age Librarian, the blog that turned the library business on its head and changed life as we know it.

OK, maybe not. But as I look back on the experience, what I've most enjoyed is the opportunity to collect my thoughts on the library issues that have come my way. The Firefox series, mostly still trapped in draft-blog limbo, has really opened my eyes to the promise of browser plug-ins to truly transform the computing experience. I hope to finish it someday!

I've also enjoyed adding a little to the voice of the biblioblogosphere, I really think it's becoming the voice of the profession. Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Instant Podcasting with Odiogo

I finally got around to testing the Odiogo automated podcasting system (they call it "podiocasting") on this blog-- you may have noticed the "Listen Now" buttons for each post. Try them out and let me know your impressions!

I have been very impressed with the ease of setup for Odiogo: just set up an account, incorporate the provided javascript code onto your site, and it's done. Odiogo's text to speech system works quickly to produce sound files and store them in Odiogo-land, and the podcasting feature works flawlessly in my testing. Shortly after I save a post, the feed appears on my podcast receiver-of-choice (Juice). Nothing to do after initial setup, it's all automatic.

The "voice" is clear enough to understand, and better than most I've heard-- better than the MS Reader voice, for example. The Odiogo voice also skips reading out the punctuation marks, something I've always found distracting in other text-to-speech systems.

I have noticed that listening to the posts out loud is very different than reading them.
It's the difference between writing an essay and writing a speech-- it's possible that this distinction will go away as this kind of technology improves and becomes more widespread.

The company promotes this technology as a way to catch up on blog reading via podcasting while commuting, exercising, etc. Based on my experience, I think they're onto something-- though I'm thankful my commute (long as it is) is not long enough to listen to all my feeds being read!

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Friday, July 20, 2007

AcqFest to Add Acquisitions and Serials Features to Evergreen

From the open-ils blog comes word of this week's Evergreen AcqFest, during which a group of coders and developers from the U.S. and Canada are meeting in Suwanee, Georgia to work on the acquisitions and serials system (code-named "Woodchip") for the Evergreen open source ILS.

The communal notepad is up as a Google doc and reveals some interesting ideas are floating about. For example, serials control systems have traditionally used calendar-based predictions for serial receiving, which would be adapted as they were used for the inevitable irregularities in subscriptions. Instead, the Woodchip people are looking into a collaborative system in which libraries would share predictive data for titles. Earlier subscribers, which would have worked out many of the quirks in a subscription, would share it with later subscribers, thus easing the workload. A small but smart idea.

Good luck to the Woodchip team. I can't wait to see the outcome!

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

VuFind Open Source Discovery Software Goes Beta

Earlier today, Andrew Nagy on Code4Lib announced Villanova University's new open source discovery tool VuFind is available as beta software (officially release 0.5). Half the blogs and listservs I follow seem to have echoed this announcement by now, so I thought I'd join the crowd.

Checkout the Live Demo to see how well they've incorporated the long list of features librarians are looking for in "2.0" discovery tools, including patron tagging, user comments, links to reviews, and faceted browsing. But it also has (or soon will have) the back-end features it will need to function in the library computing ecosystem: it supports LDAP and database authentication, retrieves holdings status from the local ILS (currently with Endeavor Voyager), with support for other ILSs on the way (SirsiDynix, Evergreen, Koha, and "more to come").
Other features on the way include a script for a nightly data sync with the ILS, and holds and recall features.

It looks to be a very well-designed, feature-rich
Solr-based product, and congrats to the team that created it!

VuFind is just one of several such projects (although a sharp-looking one) coming from libraries today. The pace of these projects seems to be picking up, the feature lists are being refined, and the technical issues ironed out. It will be interesting to see how the slower-moving proprietary vendors compete!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

LibLime Brings FRBR and edition linking to Koha

Koha support and developer company LibLime announced they've succeeded in adding some impressive new features to the open source Koha library automation system they maintain for the Nelsonville Public Library, namely a new web services module that uses OCLC's xISBN and LibraryThing's ThingISBN to link records for various editions of works.

Would-be readers will now see an "editions" tab that will allow them to see if other editions of the work they're looking for might be available.
Another interesting point is that the module allows a library to set a point to automatically regulate usage of xISBN (Which is only free for the first 499 queries per day).

For twenty-five years this has been a glaring flaw in OPAC design, so congratulations to OCLC and LibraryThing for providing practical means to overcome it, and also for LibLime, Nelsonville, and all the good Koha folk out there, for building a way to fix it. Now if only the other parties at the table could take the hint!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

WorldCat Local Goes Live!

WorldCat Local, OCLC's entry in the OPAC 2.0 sweepstakes has made its debut (public beta, anyway) at the University of Washington.

Basically, this is a scoped look at WorldCat which uses OCLC's bibliographic records and holdings data and links to a local circulation system for item status information. It thus takes the place of a traditional, locally-hosted OPAC, but it can offer many of the new features libraries now want in OPACS but often can't get from legacy vendors because of the complexity of the old systems.

It's interesting to see how the branding and page links blend in with the rest of the UW's web site. The faceting, links to other libraries, and the ability to directly request an item all are improvements over many of the OPAC 1.0 installs out there.

It's also interesting to observe that it handles non-inverted names like "John Smith" (as opposed to "Smith, John"), which like using a slide rule or sharpening a quill pen, does not seem like a skill much in evidence among today's students.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Another Library goes with Endeca

McMaster University continues to lead the way in Library 2.0 endeavors by announcing a "soft" rollout of its new Endeca-based catalog front-end.

Their catalog is here, with the new interface sharing space with the old Horizon OPAC until the fall.

It's an impressive achievement, and the new interface joins NCSU in moving Endeca into a surprisingly prominent place in the library automation business.

Monday, March 26, 2007

King County Will Evaluate Evergreen

Edward Corrado's ecorrado blog brings the story that the giant King County Library System in Washington State (43 branches, 19 million circs in 2006) is hiring Equinox Software to help them evaluate the open source Evergreen ILS.

Evergreen is certainly getting a lot of attention this year even before the serials/acquisition module is out. But the potential advantages of open source in the multi-vendor, multi-system environments in modern libraries are just too obvious to ignore.

Here's the press release:
Library Technology Guides: King County Library System selects Equinox Software, Inc. for Evergreen services

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

FiveBlogs Meme

Karen Schneider has virtually tagged all library bloggers to list the five "nonbiblioblogs" they follow, all as part of a nascent meme.

Here's my list:

1. TeleRead - all about ebooks

2. The Technology Liberation Front - a "full service technology policy blog" with an emphasis on freedom vs. regulation.

3. O'Reilly Radar - insights from the deep thinkers at O'Reilly Media

4. The End of Cyberspace - thoughtful look at What's Next.

5. Gizmodo - one of several gadget guides I follow.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Think Students are Ready for Free Online Textbooks?

From the Google Operating System Blog comes the story of Freeload Press, a company that purchases the rights to textbooks, adds advertising, then makes copies available online for free (including free pdf downloads), or sells reduced-cost print versions.

Although the ads are distracting, we've all come to accept magazines and newspapers (and websites!) loaded with ads, and there is so much resistance from students to current textbook pricing (and remember that most students have never purchased a hardbound book before), that I can't imagine this not being popular. Instructors would probably like more students to actually use the textbook, but whether publishers and authors agree remains to be seen.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

ILS Vendors and the Open Source World

I posted this over on the excellent Information Wants To Be Free blog and would like to expand it a bit here.

"Open Source software may not be for everyone, but the mere presence of OSS products in the library market highlights the premium pricing of the proprietary ILSs. If the vendors can’t handle the re-engineering costs now, just wait a few years until every upgrade bid is compared with OSS alternatives– it could really act as a brake on prices. Vendors could find themselves in a real bind."

"In fact, it seems to me that a valid strategy for an ILS vendor would be to pull a Novell. Rather than try to keep Netware competitive, Novell chose to buy a Linux distribution and migrate their customer base to OSS, where they can benefit from the efforts of the whole community and put their money to use in adding value where their customers can see it. They sell support as well as “official” versions of the software. Would your library buy an Open Source ILS if it was supported by Innovative or SirsiDynix?"

An alternative would be to open source a proprietary ILS and try to build a support community around it.

I think the greater software world has shown that these approaches can work, especially when a company does not have the resources to keep a proprietary product competitive. I think all the major ILS vendors are struggling with the realization that they cannot do what their customers are demanding at prices the customers can afford, which might be why so many are selling out to new owners while their customer bases are still intact.

I think moving to Open Source (one way or another) would provide a viable way for a vendor to meet customer demands while staying in business.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Firefox as Platform, Part 4

As I continue to look at Firefox plug-ins and extensions that contribute to the "Firefox as platform" concept, here is a Blogging plugin called Performancing. I'm using it for this post.

Haven't quite worked out the formatting details, but it seems to work smoothly and the interface seems easy enough.

UPDATE: While chasing down a bad link in this post, I found that this plug-in is now called ScribeFire, and has added some improvements along the way (Blogger support seems smoother, and it also claims added support for the new API, which I haven't tested). Whatever you call it, it's a great plug-in!

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Libraries - Choice of a New Generation?

From the prize-winning HeyJude blog comes word of an interesting study by the British think tank Demos called "Their Space : education of a digital generation", which discusses the use of digital technologies among children (born in the 1990s and the first that can not remember their first use of a computer) and the implications for education.

There are a number of findings, but the central one seems to be that this generation is using technology in a particular way, and the massive investment in technology for education has been organized in a way which seems determined to work "against the grain" of their practices rather than work with them. The enabling technologies of computers and the Internet are creating a generation more at home with peer-driven learning and self-paced discovery than the hierarchical and formal approach used in schools.

The study suggests learning technologies should be designed to work with the informal learning style that students bring with them to schools, and not try to force them to adopt the practices of the past.

In libraries, this is the "patron is not broken" concept, which is leading to redesign of our catalogs and web sites. Nice to know we're not the only ones facing up to this. It also made me realize that institutions of lifelong learing (libraries) may be just what this generation will need.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

OLPC Software News

The OLPC folks have sent out a press release describing the Sugar user interface being developed for the XO.

The hardware is innovative, but it's with the software aspects of the project that you can really see the educational focus of the project and the emphasis on collaborative learning.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Evergreen in the News ran a good summary of the Evergreen project last month-- it was even Slashdotted!

Good to know the word is getting out.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

OLPC Laptops to go into production by July

The AP is running a good summary of the OLPC project today, along with news that the XOs will go into production by July.

"Several million are expected to reach Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan, Thailand and the Palestinian territory."

An exciting way to start the year-- I wonder if people felt this way when the Model T was going into production!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Technology Trends to Watch in 2007

New Year's Day is always a good time to reflect back of the previous year and look ahead to the new one. Last year, for example, I would have predicted that strong new versions of the main Linux distros would have accelerated the adoption of Linux in businesses. This process is going a lot more slowly than I thought it would, but on the other hand, there is enough demand that Microsoft is now in the business of selling Linux to the corporate world, something I never thought I'd see.

So having established my so-so credentials, here are my Fearless Predictions for 2007:

1. OLPC XO launches, and 5 million Linux desktops and e-book readers are put in the hands of students in the developing world. Textbooks in e-book format will follow in country after country-- it's difficult to see how this cannot do to printed textbooks what digital music files are doing to the CD.

2. The Evergreen Open Source ILS continues to pick up new customers/sponsors (and momentum) in the library world. The rapid progress of this project is amazing, and a tribute to the open source model, as well as the bright people behind it.

3. Meanwhile, the Koha
Open Source ILS continues to add features, and LibLime's slick packaging approach shows what needs to be done to market this terrific program. A safe prediction: More libraries will discover Koha is 2007.

4. With most proprietary ILS products in the hands of private equity groups (including the recent announcement about SirsiDynix being acquired), and with reduced competition because of recent mergers, ILS vendors will face pressure to raise prices to enhance profitability for their new owners. I think that in conjunction with trends 2 and 3 above, this will cause more libraries to consider open source alternatives at upgrade time.

5. Libraries continue to add online discovery tools (like Aquabrowser, Endeca, and Encore) in an attempt to meet the expectations of patrons accustomed to slicker search methods elsewhere. Eventually, the primitive opacs we all know and (don't) love may be thought of as a staff only function. This can't happen soon enough, IMHO.

6. The continued rapid spread of read-write culture (and thinking back, I had barely heard of YouTube a year ago). The industrial revolution brought us mass "read-only" culture-- books and records produced by the million, broadcast spectra controlled by radio and TV networks, and a film industry dominated by just a few big companies. This century so far is bringing us a far more democratic and decentralized type of mass culture driven by the web and drastic decreases in production costs for content. Libraries struggle sometimes to get everything on best seller lists, but what if instead of the top 40 albums there are 400 or 4000? As the culture gets reconsidered, so must our ideas of collection development.

7. As a result of trend 6,
and the rise of the remix and mashup culture, copylefted and open sourced content will spread. As shown by what I suppose will be known as the pioneering months of YouTube, there is an amazing burst of creativity wherever lawyers and digital restrictions aren't. The tensions around this issue will only get worse as the disconnect grows between the technology-driven present-day reality and laws and institutions rooted in the past. In the end, the digitally restricted world will probably decline in importance as culture moves elsewhere. Good for libraries, of course, because it makes sharing so much easier!

8. Desktop Linux continues to spread. Vendors like Novell and Canonical have great desktop Linux products, and Microsoft's Windows Vista presents schools and businesses everywhere with difficult and expensive upgrade decisions. I'll say it again this year, we should see a few key, leading-edge migrations to Linux on the desktop.

9. My New Year's resolution is to not leave posts in "save as draft" limbo-- my optimistic prediction is more posts on Space Age Librarian!

10. Again this year, no flying cars or robot maids with lace aprons, and certainly no seamless interoperability!