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

Selection from Cites & Insights 4, Number 7: June 2004

The Library Stuff

Misek, Marla, “eScholars of the world, unite!” EContent 27:3 (March 2004): 36-40.

Do traditional book and academic publishers actually “reject millions of manuscripts each year”? Are online publishers really “more inclined to publish content,” and if that’s true, does it carry implications for quality control? For that matter, is it really reasonable to call UC “the world’s largest research collection”?

Maybe, maybe not—and I’m not sure any of those questionable assertions have much to do with this article. Misek offers a readable overview of California Digital Library’s eScholarship Repository—which, interestingly, is not only open to the public for free downloading, but also open to submissions from outside UC.

An interesting view of how the repository works, its connection to EditKit, an “end-to-end publication system” for digital publishing, and plans for the future. The repository isn’t huge yet: It had 2,366 freely-accessible papers in November 2003, and a mid-January count suggests that about two papers a day were being added. There’s more to the repository, including an ejournal and “dozens of research series.” A good non-scholarly of this project.

Fryer, Donna, “Federated search engines,” Online 28:2 (March/April 2004): 16-19.

A good discussion of metasearch engines from a distinctly commercial perspective. Worth reading, but read cautiously—and when someone says there’s an opportunity for libraries to “out-Google Google,” don’t assume that’s possible in a way that users would find convincing. (Yes, libraries can offer relevant results that Google can’t; no, it’s not likely that any library vendor can provide the speed and “relevance” ranking that Google does over a range of bibliographic and full-text databases.) The article seems to ignore results-handling issues entirely, and holds that “partial de-duping [that is, deduping only the first few returns from each database] is better than none,” adding, “This is an issue that NISO will have to address.” I’m not part of NISO’s metasearch initiatives, and wonder what they’re going to come up with; surely enforceable standards that would make cross-database relevance ranking and deduping feasible are among the least likely outcomes.

Burke, Linda, “The saving grace of library space,” American Libraries 35:4 (April 2004): 74-6.

Linda Burke notes the continued doomcryers in the library field—“we won’t need buildings any more, and our circulation is dropping”—and wonders why people don’t seem to have abandoned large bookstores. Her community college library needed renovation and was under pressure to add more computer workstations. After the renovation, not only did students come in far more often to use the computers, they also used the rest of the library’s facilities. With some active marketing and changes to make the library more of a community center, and some new activities, many more patrons began to use the library—and circulation, which had been declining or flat, went up by more than a third. As this heartwarming article concludes, “There is no downside to a packed, well-used library.”

Janes, Joseph, “Reality by consensus,” American Libraries 35:4 (April 2004): 90.

Some columns are worth revisiting; this is one of them. Janes discusses his experiments with “the ESP game,” in which you and an anonymous online partner see up to 15 images and provide labels for the images. If your label matches your partner’s label, you earn points.

So what? This experiment (a research project from Carnegie Mellon) may offer insights as to how images can reasonably be indexed. Sure, you can index art images by the painter and provenance, and other images by source and date (if you know that), but what can you say about the images themselves? “People often choose the obvious, the easy, and the concrete”—and somehow that’s not surprising.

This experiment won’t yield an index to all the images on the web. It isn’t a substitute for professional indexing. But the more we know about how people think of images, the more likely it is that we can find ways to retrieve them.

Janes, Joseph, “Librarians are not search engines,” and Pace, Andrew K., “The business of search engines,” American Libraries 35:5 (May 2004): 58 and 60-61 respectively.

If you didn’t read these columns carefully when they appeared, go back and do it now. Janes objects to a T-shirt (or something) he saw with this catchphrase: “Librarians: The Best Search Engines.” He notes that any search engine is mindless and that librarians really don’t want to be in direct competition with search engines. This is another case where librarians need to get the story out—what you actually do, why it counts, why it’s worth paying for, and why it’s not something a computer can replace.

Pace discusses the state of commercial web search engines and makes one strong assertion: “Make no mistake, the search engine companies are not in the business of creating relevant and accurate Web search results. Google is an advertising firm—they all are.” That’s not quite right. Google is no more an advertising firm than any commercial radio or TV station. Like those, all or nearly all of Google’s revenue may come from advertising, but that’s because Google (like radio and TV) offers a service people find compelling enough to make the ads workable.

Google is a business, and that business depends on advertising revenue. That doesn’t make it an advertising firm, and it doesn’t make it evil. On the other hand, Pace makes a lot of other points with which I generally agree—and they’re points that librarians need to think about. Also worth reading.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 4, Number 7, Whole Issue 50, ISSN 1534-0937, is written and produced Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG. Opinions hereindo not reflect those of RLG. Comments should be sent to Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2004 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

All original material in this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.