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


Selection from Cites & Insights 4, Number 9: July 2004


The Library Stuff

Walt Crawford

Farrelly, Michael, “The culture wars,” Bookslut (May 5, 2004). www.bookslut.com

What? You don’t know about Bookslut? Take a look. It’s mostly book reviews with a mix of columns, well written with loads of attitude. There’s also a related weblog by the editor. Farrelly does the Library Rakehell column. This one’s a doozy:

I woke up one morning not too long ago and realized that in the “culture war” being waged by conservatives I am nothing short of a terrorist insurgent.

I am not armed with rocket-propelled grenades, chemical weapons or even a vaunted dirty bomb.

Rather my library science degree, framed and hanging on a wall in the back room of my mother’s house, is the weapon of mass destruction they fear the most.

This isn’t an attack on conservatives. It is an attack on neocons, the movement that “runs on ignorance and snap judgments.” Think Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter—those who “make their bread and butter filling the airwaves with half-truths, presumptions and sketchy information.” They’re not true conservatives: They don’t really believe in smaller federal government (as long as Republicans are in charge).

This is the group that detests ALA for saying it’s up to parents to decide what their children read and view—that it is not the role of the library to dumb down everything else so parents can use it as a free child-care center. A true conservative might think that government should generally not act in loco parentis—but, as Farrelly reminds us, these people are not real conservatives. (A true conservative might hold firmly to the First Amendment as well!)

One columnist has come up with this nonsense after grumping about librarians letting down their hair—“usually wrapped in a tight bun, of course”—to criticize the USA PATRIOT act: “Librarians now constitute one of the country’s main centers of thoughtless and unreconstructed leftism. It is the sort of ideology that you expect to find among naïve college students and destitute Latin American peasants. But librarians?” Well, yes—not because librarians are “thoughtless and unreconstructed” lefties (whatever that might mean), but because you can read and pay attention to what the laws actually say.

There’s more, in a bold and—in my opinion—generally correct column. As Farrelly notes, “no librarian in their right mind would allow a child to view pornography”—and that has nothing to do with approving censorware that blocks out huge swaths of constitutionally protected material for all patrons.

There is a bitter twist in all this librarian hatred. Librarians are all for freedom of expression no matter what is being said. A good library has Bill O’Reilly’s latest screed in its collection along with Al Franken’s histrionics. Michael Moore’s bombast should be as readily available as any Nazi propaganda film. There is an equality of ideas, good and bad, within a library. Librarians don’t agree with everything on their shelf…

Anyone who hates a librarian simply for their profession should be immediately suspect no matter their political orientation. Opposition to libraries is opposition to an informed populace.

Fernandez, Joe, “Facing live reference,” Online 28:3 (May/June 2004): 37-40.

This is an interesting commentary on the growing phenomenon of computer-mediated real-time reference service. You might know it as “ask a librarian” or “virtual reference.” I’m including this article partly because I’m astonished by the name Fernandez chooses for the article, one that’s apparently common in Australia: Live reference. I always assumed live reference was what happened at the reference desk, but Fernandez labels that “face-to-face (FtF) communication.” I guess. We learn that “LR is now considered an essential part of many virtual libraries.” I wasn’t aware that there were so many virtual libraries…

It’s a good article, but at least one sentence struck me as sufficiently unusual to deserve direct quotation: “In this dyadic, synchronous, and task-oriented form of computer-mediated communication (CMC), theories and concepts from the field of pragmatics are taken to a completely new dimension.” I’m sure they are.

Morgan, Eric Lease, “SRW and SRU in five hundred words or less,” D-Lib 10:5 (May 2004).

This brief discussion introduces Search and Retrieve Web Service (SRW) and Search and Retrieve URL Service (SRU), two protocols viewed as the “next generation Z39.50” for querying databases and returning search results. Both protocols are simpler than Z39.50 (with three operations—explain, scan, and searchRetrieve) and designed as web services; SRW uses SOAP while SRU uses URLs. Both use Common Query Language (CQL), presumably defined as part of the overall specification. This introduction just gets you started; it does include the URL for the NISO documents: www.loc.gov/z3950/ agency/zing/srw/

Five from RLG DigiNews

Start at www.rlg.org and go from there.

Bausenbach, Ardie, “Character sets and character encoding: A brief introduction,” RLG DigiNews 8:2 (April 15, 2004).

Here’s a good, brief, understandable introduction to Unicode—why it’s needed, how it works and how it relates to XML and MARC21. It won’t tell you everything you need to know, but it will get you started.

Deegan, Marilyn, and Harold Short, Dawn Archer, Paul Baker, Tony McEnery, and Paul Rayson, “Computational linguistics meets metadata, or the automatic extraction of key words from full text content,” RLG DigiNews 8:2 (April 15, 2004).

Six authors for a six-page article: Sometimes that’s how cutting-edge research gets reported. This article reports on a Mellon-funded pilot project to see whether meaningful keywords could be extracted algorithmically from masses of OCR-converted scanned full text. The project used the Forced Migration Online content—80,000 pages of full text from the grey literature and journals on human displacement (refugees, diasporas, etc.). I won’t attempt a detailed summary; the conclusions are positive—some degree of automatic extraction does appear to be workable in situations such as these.

Hedstrom, Margaret, “Research agendas set course for digital archiving and long-term preservation,” RLG DigiNews 7:6 (December 15, 2003).

This brief article discusses two reports that propose complementary research agendas for digital archiving and long-term preservation. Both reports—linked from RLG DigiNews, which doesn’t include the URLs in the clear text—“stress the growing centrality of digital information in government, commerce, research and education, cultural heritage, and even interpersonal communications” and the inadequacy of current preservations strategies. I note this article to remind those interested in true digital preservation that the problems aren’t even close to being solved; these reports reflect some of the efforts to find solutions.

LeFurgy, William G., “PDF/A: Developing a file format for long-term preservation,” RLG DigiNews 7:6 (December 15, 2003).

PDF has enormous advantages for text-based digital documents. It maintains a faithful image of the intended layout, in part by embedding typefaces as needed. It’s easy to generate. It can include good navigation tools and allows some level of searching. The disadvantages—other than not being pure text open to pure-text manipulation—relate mostly to its status as Adobe’s proprietary format.

This article discusses a preservation standard based on PDF—PDF/A. As specified in a draft ISO standard, PDF/A doesn’t allow inclusion of audio and video content, Javascript or other executables, or encryption, and requires that all fonts must be embedded (and legally embeddable) and that colorspaces be specified in a device-independent manner. The standard, if adopted, will presumably also make PDF/A an effectively open format, not a proprietary format. Important work to make preservation of formatted digital publications practical; clearly explained and worth following.

Steenbakkers, Johan F., “Treasuring the digital records of science: Archiving e-journals at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek,” RLG DigiNews 8:2 (April 15, 2004).

The KB is the national and depository library of the Netherlands; it’s also one of the first to attempt to serve as a true digital archive for e-journals. In this case, you need to put location and corporation together: Elsevier Science is a Dutch operation, and Elsevier now has a formal archiving agreement with the KB. National libraries are almost certainly the best candidates among existing institutions to serve as trusted digital repositories. While such repositories might be “dark archives” at present, the formal agreements mean that they would become accessible resources at any point that Elsevier or a successor was no longer able to provide access to articles.

This article describes the KB’s “e-Depot” and some of the long-term implications for digital preservation. This is important stuff; the article bears close reading.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 4, Number 9, Whole Issue 52, 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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