Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media


Selection from Cites & Insights 4, Number 11: September 2004


The Library Stuff

Walt Crawford

Bell, Steven J., “End PowerPoint dependency now!” American Libraries 35:6 (June/July 2004): 56-9.

I’ll admit my first response to this article was “Why didn’t I write that?” But that’s the wrong response. Bell does use PowerPoint (at times), or at least has done so. I almost never do: my OpenURL presentation at OSU (which absolutely required PowerPoint) was the first time I’ve used it outside RLG in five years! So Bell’s in a better position to suggest alternatives to PowerPoint and offer ways to make it less of a crutch when you do use it.

The article begins with a striking contrast:

I’m convinced that our profession’s love affair with PowerPoint is stronger than ever. At the last three library conferences I attended, virtually every presentation by a librarian involved PowerPoint slides.

On the other hand, nearly every keynote presenter or invited speaker (almost always non librarians) made little or no use of PowerPoint. Granted, keynotes differ considerably from research-based presentations, but these speakers connected with their audiences effortlessly.

After noting problems with PowerPoint-based presentations and offering alternatives, Bell offers four excellent suggestions: Keep the number of slides to a minimum (10 per hour!); Avoid over-familiar PowerPoint templates; Unless it’s absolutely necessary, spare the audience details about your library; and Resist the urge to supply everyone with a printout of all your slides at the start of the program.

He discusses each of those suggestions. The last is one I find particularly interesting, as I had the experience years ago of speaking to a group that had a full-text handout before I gave the speech. There was synchronized flipping of pages and—although much of the speech was impromptu—survey forms indicated that people were unhappy that I was reading the speech. I did the same speech a couple of days later, but this time insisted that handouts not be provided until after the speech. This time, there were no such complaints on the survey forms, I had the audience’s attention, and the speech was a lot more fun. If you must use PowerPoint and feel the need to have handouts, distribute them afterwards.

The “10 per hour” guideline is also interesting; I’d love to see speakers limit themselves along those lines. When I was sitting through a recent series of otherwise excellent presentations, I counted PowerPoint slides at a rate from 35 per hour to 60 per hour. I’ve seen speeches where the slides seemed to have more text than the speech itself, although that may have been reader fatigue.

Bell offers good advice. Read it; think about it.

Berry, John N., III, “Gale/Library Journal library of the year 2004: San Jose Public Library and San Jose State University Library,” Library Journal June 15, 2004.

The December 2003 “Crawford Files” was based on the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library—not as the wave of the future, but as a likely success in a special circumstance. At the time, I hadn’t been to the joint-use library, but anticipated a followup column in a year or so after visiting it and talking to the two heads, SJPL director Jane Light and SJSU dean Patricia Breivik. That followup won’t happen, at least not as a “Crawford Files,” and John N. Berry III has done a first-rate writeup that probably does a better job than I would have. Is the joint-use library a success? That “library of the year” award—the second Jane Light’s been involved with—certainly argues that it is.

Berry notes that the award probably should be “Libraries of the Year” this time because the King library is such an interesting (and probably unique) “marriage” rather than merger. There are two library directors; there’s a “public collection” and an “academic collection” (both available to all users); and most library departments have two heads. They did settle on a single online system and a single website; there’s a single library card and combined reference services. Neither library was very well funded (SJPL’s funding isn’t bad at roughly $35 per capita, but it’s lower on a per-cap basis than many surrounding public libraries), both needed new facilities, and the combined project had critical support from San Jose’s mayor and the university president.

Results? Much longer opening hours than either had previously; some 12,000 users a day, reaching a million visitors three or four months earlier than expected; substantially higher citizen satisfaction with the library; rising circulation both in the King library and in the growing set of branch libraries. Here’s an odd one: Where master’s theses collection wasn’t circulated previously, the collection is now shelved in a public space and nearly 1,800 theses have circulated since the building opened.

It wasn’t a slam-dunk from the beginning, as locals know. Many SJSU faculty members hated the idea; some doubtless still do. Some San Jose residents believed better branches were more needed than a new Main—but Light, the kind of savvy politician libraries need more of, convinced the various Friends groups that by using redevelopment money for the new Main they could get a bond measure passed to improve branches. It worked: a $211 million bond measure, the first in San Jose in 30 years, passed—enough to build six branches and renovate 14 more.

A good article about an unusual library. Worth reading.

Block, Marylaine, “On analyzing web sites,” Ex Libris 222. marylaine.com/exlibris

Block devotes this column to her methodology in reviewing websites for The CyberSkeptic’s Guide to Internet Research. As she points out, while most people would never do such extensive analysis, you should study your library’s own website at this level of detail.

Without attempting to summarize an already-brief column, I’ll note the “central questions” that Block tries to answer after studying a site:

1) If I was the person this site was trying to serve, would I find what I need and what I would reasonably expect the site to provide; and

2) Would I find it easily? Is the navigation intuitive and transparent, and is the search engine(s) up to the task?

Recommended.

Brewer, Joseph M. et al, “Libraries dealing with the future now,” and Landesman, Margaret M., “Libraries investing in the future first—some practical suggestions,” ARL Bimonthly Report 234 (June 2004).

The first (and longer) of these two pieces discusses a September 2003 retreat in Tucson to address the asserted need to “transform” academic libraries rather than “muddling through.” I’m always uneasy with “transform,” and recall the brief life of the ejournal with library transformation as its theme, but the issues raised here certainly deserve thought. The baker’s dozen who took part in this exercise began with a dozen assumptions about institutions of higher education. Here are three of the twelve assumptions:

1. Institutions of higher education will experience a significant, long-term loss of budget and purchasing power over the foreseeable future.

8. Transformation will be “messy.”

9. For change to occur, faculty and staff must perceive the likely future pain of an untransformed institution to be greater than the pain associated with making the transformation.

The first assumption is the key to this whole exercise: If it’s false, there’s no driving need for transformation. The other two listed here seem both certain and crucial.

As for the strategies suggested as relevant for each of three library types (muddling through, transitioning, and transformed), readers are better qualified to judge them than I am. I’m not aware that buying materials “just in case” is a wholly discredited practice, at least for university libraries with hopes of maintaining their long-term significance as something other than article-pushers. I’m not entirely convinced that “Believing digital is ‘just another format’” is such a terrible thing. While I’d agree that transitioning properly involves changing what libraries count and measure, changing “what we value” seems a bit overreaching, unless that’s at a very low level. “Creating a national network of regional repositories and libraries of record for print” says to me that books (and print in general) are regarded by this group as an annoying necessity, to be marginalized as much as possible, but maybe I’m overinterpreting.

Or maybe not: Here’s assumption #8 about the transformed or transitioning library:

8. Libraries will support hybrid format environments for some time, but in new materials there will be a continuing shift to digital from paper and other tangible formats. Libraries spend as little money as possible on adding to print collections. [Emphasis added.]

I see nothing in the report that justifies this “don’t buy print if you can avoid it” slant. Later, the piece enthuses that shoving all that print into “analog repositories” will free library space “for the creation of collaborative learning environments, shared faculty development areas…” and other spaces that seem to be part of good classroom buildings or “information commons.” Maybe that is the future of the transformed academic library: Classrooms with reference librarians. It seems like a sad future to me, but I may misunderstand. Read this yourself and see whether you find it either agreeable or, as we are told in other words, inevitable (“libraries will not have a choice”).

Margaret Landesman’s accompanying piece offers sharply worded and highly useful advice, whether you buy into the “who needs physical collections in academic libraries?” future or not. For example, she suggests that librarians think more clearly about what things cost—more specifically, that increases in journal subscriptions be considered in dollar terms, not just percentages. If a $1,000 journal increases its price by 5% and a $300 journal increases its price by 8.3%, the $1,000 journal is taking twice as much more out of the library’s funds--$50 rather than $25. As Landesman points out, we don’t have the same problem when it comes to personal finances: “Tickets to the local opera cost just what they’ve cost for some years. Movie tickets have gone up substantially. I am not, however, tempted to believe that the fact that the opera did not increase its price makes it the more fiscally conservative choice.”

She goes on: “The problem is the price, not the price increase.” The real question with the $1,000 journal now offered for $1,050 is whether $1,050 represents good value—or whether that money might better be spent on other journals (or books?), including those from smaller publishers that have kept prices low but show higher percentage increases. The next point argues for libraries to find ways to turn ongoing costs (access and subscriptions) into “(mostly) one-time costs” (such as book purchases), e.g., by endowing certain digital resources such as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to assure long-term access.

That’s just the beginning. Landesman questions whether Big Deals have increased user satisfaction as much as they’ve increased journal counts; cautions against punishing the majority of publishers (that produce reasonably priced books and serials) because of the behavior of “Elseviley Verlag,” as one librarian names the key problems. She recommends library investment in transformative initiatives such as PLoS and BioMed Central (and here I agree that some degree of transformation is desirable, albeit not inevitable); notes that canceling print isn’t always a good idea; suggests meeting user needs by means other than ever-increasing subscription expenditures; and recommends that libraries work to establish institutional repositories.

I may not be wild about the idea that Google is the most appropriate “new front-end to our collections—it’s free, it works, it’s all anybody uses anyway,” and I’d like to see some mention that academic libraries collect more than journals, but overall this is recommended and offers excellent food for thought.

Edwards, Eli, “Ephemeral to enduring: The Internet Archive and its role in preserving digital media,” Information Technology and Libraries 23:1 (March 2004): 3-8.

Is it reasonable to think of the Internet Archive (IA) as a true digital archive? It’s ambitious—no question about that—and founder Brewster Kahle has good intentions. This article considers IA in some detail, notes the extent to which IA fails to meet library criteria for archival control, and looks at some library-based digital archiving projects. Edwards says that Kahle “regards electronic disseminators of information as digital librarians,” an unfortunate dumbing down of the term, and that he’s even suggested a “code of ethics for digital librarianship.” There’s nothing wrong with the code as excerpted, but I’m not ready to label everyone who disseminates information as a librarian. Given the limited searchability of IA (only by URL, last time I checked: it’s strictly a known-item repository) and IA’s automatic removal of any page at the request of that page’s author, it’s hard to say just what IA really is—or what it will be for the long term (assuming that it survives for an archival period, that is, a century or more).

IA has taken on a number of worthwhile initiatives. Edwards’ article is well worth reading in its attempt to place those initiatives in a library context.

Moody, Kim, “Online portfolios, or “WOW! Look at everything I’ve done,” LIScareer.com, June 2004. www.liscareer. com/moody_onlineportfolios.htm

Do you have trouble recalling the many and varied experiences you’ve had as a library student or library professional? Feel like you’re learning things at a rate of knots, but when you’re actually asked, in a job application, to demonstrate your skills, you can’t think of anything concrete to write? One solution is to create an online professional portfolio.

That’s the lead paragraph in a seven-page article that goes on to describe a portfolio in areas beyond the visual arts, show its benefits, consider why it should be online, discuss what to include and what not to include, and finishes with a list of nine good pointers for building an online portfolio. The latter range from “Less is more” (the virtues of simplicity in website design) to “Spelling and punctuation are still important in cyberspace!”

It’s a little late for me (and a portfolio that included “any articles or papers you have had published” would be ridiculous), but it’s an intriguing idea for those earlier in their careers—and even for people well along who have never gathered together a record of accomplishments.

I could argue with one or two items, but those are mostly the mild hyperbole one might expect from a new Australian library school graduate. I don’t think doing a portfolio online is likely to save “acres of trees,” and I think it even more unlikely that sending your portfolio URL to potential employers will avoid “overloading them with half a rainforest worth of paper”—particularly since employers are likely to print out papers they find compelling. Extreme turns of phrase aside, this is a thoughtful (and highly readable) piece on an idea I think makes sense for most newer and potential librarians. Recommended.

Tang, Jinshan, Sridhar R. Avula, and Scott T. Acton, “DIRECT: A decentralized image retrieval system for the National STEM Digital Library,” Information Technology and Libraries 23:1 (March 2004): 9-15.

“STEM” stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education” and the name of this NSF-funded digital library can be further abbreviated to NSDL. The digital library aims to support education n the sciences and is “expected” to include tens of millions of images in its decentralized form. This paper discusses a “content-based image retrieval (CBIR)” system—one that claims to retrieve images based on the images, rather than the text in accompanying metadata.

True image retrieval is one of the dreams of information science; many systems have been developed, particularly over the past decade. How successful are such systems? That’s always been interesting and never been clear. Those of us who don’t believe censorware can be truly effective, particularly for CIPA requirements (which only involve images), question whether it’s possible to recognize what an image is by working with only the image—particularly when distinctions need to be made between, say, classic art involving nude or semi-nude people and contemporary pornography of a type deemed harmful to children.

I don’t think DIRECT gets into such details. Its “feature-based image retrieval” is based on color histograms and texture measurements. The paper goes into some of the details on how “features” are extracted and evaluated for retrieval. Examples suggest that, given one photo including a body of water, DIRECT can successfully retrieve other images representing bodies of water. Could it do equally well at, for example, locating other bridges given one bridge within a picture? Only long-term experimentation will tell. There’s not enough here to claim that the image-retrieval problem has been solved, but it’s an interesting look at one ongoing attempt.

Understanding Metadata, NISO Press, 2004. ISBN 1-880124-62-9. 16 p. Downloadable from www.niso.org; available as a hardcopy booklet from NISO Press.

Bad points first: The formatting is dreary—three tight columns of justified sans serif type (Helvetica or something equally boring), with every paragraph indented even when it follows a heading. But the content is excellent: An introduction to metadata that should provide just enough background to get you going. Here’s the first paragraph, a reasonably concise definition for those who find “data about data” insufficient:

Metadata is structured information that describes, explains, locates, or otherwise makes it easier to retrieve, use, or manage an information resource. Metadata is often called data about data or information about information.

The second paragraph includes a key point for traditionalists: “Traditional library cataloging is a form of metadata; MARC 21 and the rule sets used with it, such as AACR2, are metadata standards.”

The second section discusses what metadata does: Resource discovery, organizing electronic resources, interoperability, digital identification, archiving and preservation. After a brief discussion of structuring metadata comes the longest section: Metadata schemes and element sets. This includes reasonably detailed descriptions of Dublin Core, TEI, METS, MODS, EAD, LOM, <indecs>, ONIX, CDWA, VRA, MPEG-7 and MPEG-21, and metadata for datasets. Read this booklet and you’ll know what all those acronyms mean—and may have some sense of why there are so many.

There’s more: A discussion of creating metadata and quality control issues, more on interoperability, including crosswalks and registries, and notes on future directions. Get the booklet from NISO or download and print it; it’s worth keeping around for future reference.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 4, Number 11, Whole Issue 54, ISSN 1534-0937, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG. Opinions herein do not reflect those of RLG. Comments should be sent to wcc@notes.rlg.org. Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2004 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

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