Saturday, April 15, 2006

meta library

Note to self:

A meta library = the hypothetical aggregation of all possible libraries, in all languages, in all times -- including unorganized bits of information that exist in a "library" of miscellany (items such as your name when you draw it in water on the sidewalk by the swimming pool before the sun dries it away, grocery receipts, unrecorded audio, unrecorded smells, undocumented "realia"). It's a library of everything, almost totally un-navigable, un-searchable, un-measurable. Questions: is such a library useless? if so, a) how to make it useful? b) how to access it? Remember: the old Octavio Paz fable about the cartographers who make such a perfectly detailed map, that the map ends up the same size as the world it describes. And it's useless because it doesn't fit anywhere.

Okay. But what are the uses of thinking about this impossible library -- what's the meta-library good for as a thought experiment? What can it do that other things can't?


Listening: Earsugar

blackmarket microeconomics

The BBC reports:

"US officers have been buying back stolen computer drives, many of which contain sensitive military data, from an Afghan market near a key airbase.

Shopkeepers in the bazaar, next to the Bagram airbase outside Kabul, have been selling the finger-sized "flash drives" reportedly stolen from the facility.

An inquiry has begun into how security was breached at Bagram. Shopkeepers said the drives were stolen by Afghans employed at the base as cleaners, office staff and labourers."


Mood: "neener neener neener"
Shushing: those who can work but choose not to.
Listening: Devo
Reading: Enochian Experiments of Benjamin Rowe
Watching: The Yes Men

Weather: hot, dry, dark, and windy, with random helicopters.

Friday, April 14, 2006

kirkyan timesuits for books 4

Something like Semacode (if it takes off) opens the possibility for a real 'internet of things', a real 'spime world'. Things linking to information (on the Web and elsewhere), and things linking to things = ubiquitous computing.

It's the "things linking to things" that really fires my imagination. Not "things linking to websites", but things that link up to (and let us engage and affect) other things and other people, whether the Web is a bridge or not. That is: "If you need me to pick up some soymilk, just IM my RFID." As in: the RFID that looks like an earring, but's really a fashionable implant. Was "head-mail me" coined in The Authority?

Lots of ramifications for books here, as usual. Today I went walking through the stacks thinking through the actions of using a semacode tag. Imagine it on the book's back cover:

I pick up my treo, snap a picture of the tag (pointed to in red here), and am taken to (and here the possiblities are lots and lots, but to be somewhat specific: a message board forum, an ftp transfer for open source access content related to the topic, and an e-mail form addressed to the publisher or author of the book with subject line response to 4th edition) web resources.

I've posted previously about cellphones in the library, and semacode just seals it for me -- these annoying little bite-size computers with their glintzy plastic charms dangling and chirrupy ringtones are everywhere, and they're used for so much more than talking. They're used in ways we couldn't use telephones, and they're becoming something other than telephones... Not quite computers, not quite phones, not quite dayplanners... and new uses are springing up as the technology gets sharper. Let's put the library on these machines.

In an "internet of things" (~ semacode + ~ RFIDs + ?), where books talk to users, users talk to librarians, librarians talk to books, books talk to librarians, and so on, librarians have a chance to become permanently relevant -- if we stay on top of the game. These cellphones can put a whole library in your purse or pocket, and they'll be talking to other "things" and "books" non-stop.


Listening: Talking Heads
Reading: Vannevar Bush

Thursday, April 13, 2006

collection development 1

Wasn't it Marshall McLuhan who said that we are "driving forward while looking in the rear-view mirror"? That's collection development. A lot of times you don't know that you need something until you need it -- you don't know you need it unless you lack it.

In an effort to stymie such minor informational droughts in a military library, I had started keeping a list of keywords from reference request forms. Over time, once scores of these forms accrued and I had lots and lots of keywords, I went back and attempted to "standardize" my keywords (derived from the words used on the form and from my memory of what the patron really needed -- these two things not always coninciding). I picked the most appropriate subject headings (used LOC subject headings), and made a new document with these.

Now I had a way to track the subjects (in a controlled vocabulary) that were sought in our library -- and I had a way to track the frequency in which they occurred over time. I kept it all arranged by date. I could track the kinds of topics that get asked for most often over weeks, months, or years.

Over time a pattern develops. You can begin to anticipate patron needs and make objective claims about needed resources (for budgetary or administrative reasons).

Of course, any body can get a sense of what'll be needed if you just get to know your patrons and listen to what they need for a few years... but a slightly more formal tool than "gut feeling" can help in a lot of cases, because things will inevitably slip your memory unless you make some kind of record. This is also helpful for librarians who don't plan on working in just one library for multiple years.

It's not hard to do (it just takes discipline to keep all this info together), and you don't even have to use subject headings or anything. But some kind of document similar to this is very useful.

It's like that car of McLuhan's. It's like being able to take an occasional glance out of the windshield -- highly desirable if you're on any kind of super-highway at all.


Listening: one of Terence McKenna's Palenque talks
Feeling: groovy
Shushing: nobody

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

voynich manuscript and ed kelley

What's the Voynich Manuscript? It's a big mystery. What's the link between this strange manuscript and Ed Kelley? Did Kelley forge it, or what?

These hints: come thanks to the friendly folks over at Key 23. Despite all the educated guesses (like the one below), there seems to be no conclusive evidence as to what the meaning (or language) of the manuscript is, or who is responsible for creating it.

Terence McKenna even had a try. See this, and this, and especially these.

Gordon Rugg ("The Mystery of the Voynich Manuscript", Scientific American, July 04) writes: "Elizabethan scholar John Dee and his disreputable associate Edward Kelley visited the court of Rudolf II during the 1580s. Kelley was a notorious forger, mystic and alchemist who was familiar with Cardan grilles. Some experts on the Voynich manuscript have long suspected that Kelley was the author." His article's about his discovery that it is feasible to create work similar to the Voynich by means of a coding tool. This shores up support for those that think Kelley made the manuscript.

But still, anybody who could really know is very likely long dead.


Listening: The Pointer Sisters
Shushing: slow walkers!

for egyptophiles

Theban Mapping Project from the American University in Cairo is very very cool. It's rich with interactive zoomable atlases and embedded media files, all kinds of resources like articles, timelines, images, and movies. If you like Egyptology, you'll love this.


Listening: Leo Kottke

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

who watches the watchmen?

This article in The Village Voice on filming policemen is pretty good. Police don't like to be photographed breaking laws. They will fight you if you try to, sometimes.

In New Orleans, last September, we saw lots of law breaking by lots of people, and the police were (very unfortunately) in that number. See here, for an apparant lite case of looting.

I remember marching on downtown Washington, D.C., staring up at men in black uniforms with telescoping cameras on the tops of tall buildings as we thronged thousands-thick. They didn't look real pleased to see us. I guess there's some kinda dissident database somewhere now, with all our pretty mugs posted to.

So remember: if you photograph the police, make sure to do so only when they are obeying the law. And don't you go breaking any laws. And whether you're breaking laws or not, the police will photograph you if they want to.

Now get back to work.


Listening: LibriVox!

because this needs a molting


'It seems to be against Gmail's terms of service to open an account soley in order to create a media commons. Too bad, as Gmail's very generous storage would make for an idea spot to swap music, video, and other media back and forth amongst a small community. Maybe there's a better way to do this, and a more legal way, but... Gmail sure does make itself convenient. So you wouldn't, for instance want to tell a bunch of collaborators the username and password for a dummy Gmail account, because that is most probably against the terms of service. So this is certainly to suggest that I would never encourage any such activity or participate in anything illegal myself, even if I might be inclined to agree with those that say "Google would never know or care, would they?".'

Well, I don't know about all that. But I overhear some good stuff sometimes.

Someone else's take on the many uses of Gmail, here. It's enough to make a guy want to experiment.


Reading: lots and lots of book reviews.

taxonomy and folksonomy

So in grad school I felt myself leaning pretty far to the "f" in the folksonomy vs. taxonomy debate, though at that time we didn't have the word "folksonomy" invented yet. I don't think. I remember sitting in cataloging class thinking something pretty close to "we should search, not sort." I was thinking that smart objects (book records with enough information and catalogs with enough power to tell us where they were) could self-describe, a la Google -- that is, let the records describe themselves based on how they are used. Sort of.

This leads us to tagging and folksonomy -- what people call and how people label the stuff that they use. Flikr and Technorati have got it right; they let users describe things in natural language. Tags are intuitive, they build community, and they're fun. Controlled vocabularies are stiff and inert, slow as sloths in butter, and famously limited by the limits of their descriptors' imagination and knowledge.

That said, controlled vocabulary is of course vital. We need prescriptive language, and we depend on it, because it has structure, consistency, and authority. It's not made up by crack-adled circus clowns, after all. It's deliberated on in an ongoing, rolling, decades-enfolding process by specialists and subject experts. That stability is its great strength.

Now what we need to make happen is: records built on strong taxonomy with subfields for folksonomic tags.

A word on tags. Too many of them make tagging meaningless for any given record. If you have to read through a thousand tags for one record, then any given tag in that record is relatively useless. One strength of tags is that they point the user in a direction. So if we're going to exploit tagging for library records, it seems to me that we have to control it. The best way to do this is to keep only the 30 or so most relevant tags -- relevance being determined by repetition. So if the tag "archaeology" is the fourth most attached tag for your Planetary: Leaving the 20th Century (by Warren Ellis -- and read him) record, it will be the fourth most relevant tag. It warrants inclusion in the subfield.

This all leads to reader participation in the organization of information. Librarians no longer have a monopoly on this. Computers and people are finding new, sexier ways to it for themselves. For librarians to stay in the game, we've got to incorporate self-organizing, bottom-up, grassroots, folksonomies into the very careful and rather inert records we create. We need moveable records (or, to clarify: portions of records) that make library materials dynamic for our users. iBistro is a step toward Amazon, but we've got to start stepping faster.

Anyway, the point I meant to get around to is that I want to see tagging incorporated into cataloging in a big way, and soon. If I've missed such developments, please share.


Listening: PM Dawn

a-z audio interviews

Lots-n-lots of audio interviews with "greats of the 20th century" from BBC here:

Found via Librarians Index to the Internet.


Listening: William Burroughs on the cut-up technique

swicki search

Eurekster's swicki search engines look fun and useful.

They claim: "A swicki is new kind of search engine that allows anyone to create deep, focused searches on topics you care about. Unlike other search engines, you and your community have total control over the results and it uses the wisdom of crowds to improve search results. This search engine, or swicki, can be published on your site. Your swicki presents search results that you're interested in, pulls in new relevant information as it is indexed, and organizes everything for you in a neat little customizable widget you can put on your web site or blog, complete with its very own buzz cloud that constantly updates to show you what are hot search terms in your community."

A meta-search for swicki searches here:

And a favorite swicki here:
Vision Thing (transhumanism, etc.):

The site still has lots of bugs. Very beta, but take it for what it's worth.


Listening: Cee-Lo

Monday, April 10, 2006

third world libraries 1

Friends of African Village Libraries works to help villages in Africa get libraries up and running. Donations go to buy materials and maintain collections, hire a librarian, and train library assistants. Their mission:

FAVL is dedicated to increasing access to reading material and other information in rural villages in sub-Saharan Africa. The goal of FAVL is to serve all members of the village community. One core public served is the local community of readers- both schoolchildren, adult learners, and other persons commited to reading. Being able to read educates the mind and expands the imagination. Most children, particularly in rural areas, have little access to books. While they may go to school, they will probably have little opportunity to read age appropriate material out of the classroom. We believe that every child and adult should have the opportunity to pick up a book and read. Another core public served by village libraries are local farmers, crafts-makers, traders, and others who use to library to acquire specific information- whether about building a compost pit, a chicken coop, or treatment of dysentery. FAVL strives to include in every library collection as much relevant, useful information as is available."

Check it out.

So far they've set up half a dozen libraries in Burkina Faso and Ghana, with plans for more.


I've recently developed a fascination for broadsides -- a charming old medium that got the word out to the people before newspapers became common. Usually someone turned a profit on them (they weren't free), but they were also posted publicly, both as an ad to entice buyers and as a public service. Broadsides featuring pictures were more expensive to print, but there are some great images in them, when you can find them. They told stories, songs, attempted to sway public opinion, and report the news. Here are a few archival broadside resources:


Watching: Incident at Loch Ness
Listening: RU Sirius show

higherEd blogCon

Some mighty good exchange is going on at this week. Go there to get ideas about new uses for blogs in libraries.

The idea here (Kris Johnson's presentation) is that the library message ought to remain consistent in the 'new' medium of blogging (or in any medium). Pretty good. Check it out.

Lots of other great resources at the main site.