Library Lab/The Podcast 008: The Molecule of Data

Listen: 20:46
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How can libraries use the power of metadata — those little molecules of information that help describe the greater work — to help users get more out of their search for resources?

Karen Coyle — herself a librarian — has spent decades helping to build an understanding of the incredible new powers unleashed by the digitization of libraries. She spoke with David Weinberger for this week’s LibraryLab/ThePodcast.

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Creative Commons music courtesy of Brad Sucks and photos courtesy of alapublishing and rykneethling.

Library Lab/The Podcast 007: The Velocity of Books

Listen: 22:28
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With the web, people are reading more than ever before you could say. But what are we reading? Likely it’s all short form: blog posts, tweets, status updates. They’re words, but it’s not exactly literature.

But innovators attempting to bridge the gap between literacy and the social web have found that there’s not only a huge appetite for books, but that the web can actually make the experience of reading books more enjoyable.

LibraryThing is one of those innovations. A social network with links to tens of millions of books in its database, LibraryThing connects readers to one another to discuss, share recommendations, and generally celebrate literature.

David Weinberger spoke with LibraryThing founder Tim Spalding about what libraries can learn from their successful experiment with the digital book club.

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Creative Commons music courtesy of Brad Sucks and photo courtesy of adamcrowe.

Michael S. Hart

First, an email from Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive about Michael S. Hart:

A dear friend and an inspiration unfortunately died yesterday.

He dedicated his life to getting books to everyone in the world. He did this with no compensation and lived a life of near poverty. But he always shined with good cheer, optimism, and high respect for others. I got to know him through Project Gutenberg twenty years ago. Visiting him in his house was a joy– it was stacked high with books all around, and a glowing green terminal in the basement where he first helped type in the classics and then lead thousands of volunteers to bring over 37,000 books online as beautifully edited ebooks. A forward thinker, in the same light as Richard Stallman and Ted Nelson, who saw how the world could benefit from our digital tools. Every reading device I have ever come across always started with the Gutenberg Project collection including our Internet Bookmobile.

On first meeting him, I remember dodging traffic with him as we walked calmly across Lakeside Blvd in Chicago (which is a highway and extremely dangerous). He said he did this in normal course when he was growing up. The cop let us get away with only a warning.

Another Michael flare is that he wrote email that was “right justified” by changing the words to end at the right place– I have never known another to do this. He said that he did this to avoid text editors reflowing his text and “destroying my phraseology”. For instance below are two letters from this summer, and I included Greg Newby’s obituary.

A special man, a guiding light, a good friend. I miss him.


Here is the first of the two letters Brewster mentions:

On 7/16/11 4:38 AM, Michael S. Hart wrote:

A Graceful Exit

As most of my friends know, I have accomplished all of the goals I have set for myself throughout my life, and I think I can say, without fear of too much repercussive responses, that the career I have chosen in eBooks has been a success in terms of what I’ve been trying to accomplish for these last four decades.

At the same time, I do realize that other persons have had other ideas/ideals about eBooks, who have called me everything from an outright raging Communist, to sincere Socialist, to unqualified, in terms of membership. . .not ability. . .member of Capitalists Exploiting The World. . .no kidding. I do realize that is might be difficult for persons living on the other side of this world, given the information they have to work with, to view me, or any other American, as anything other than a Capitalist Imperialist, so I bear less in the way of ill feelings about this.

However, now the time has come to talk of other things.

Yes, I do have one more impossible goal I dream of, but I do not believe I can accomplish it in the same manner I accomplished an assortment of previous goals, with a combination of persistence, ability, and convincing others to give me unofficial assistance, as I face a combination of limited time, limited resources and I must admit, declining energy levels, though I still manage to do more work than I ever did before.

However, I do realize that without some serious changed in life, there is little possibility of accomplishing my last goal with a lifestyle continuing in the same vein.

Therefore, I now would like to remind you of my last goals:

1. A Billion eBook Library

2. Spending More Time In Hawaii

3. Working To Create A Graceful Exit

Here are the details:

A Billion eBook Library

Premise #1:

There are ~25 million books in the public domain.

If we do ~40% of these that will be ~10 million eBooks.

Premise #2:

There are ~250 languages with over a million speakers.

If we do ~40% of these that will be ~100 languages.


10 million eBooks translated into 100 languages yields


Note: I realize how impossible this sounds, given the powerful lack of interest by thousands of translators, and other experts I have contacted, but given previous personal experiences shared by each of you and myself, I think we must realize it IS possible, even if we are going to have to do all to much of it ourselves.

Nevertheless, I plan to devote a serious amount of the time I have remaining to doing the setup required.

2. Spending More Time In Hawaii

As most of you know, Hawaii was just too laid back for me to stay there more than a month at a time when this opportunity first appeared.

However, you must also realize that from 1999 to 2011, I obviously have aged 12 years, and the difference for me between 52, when I could still pretend to be ~40’s, and today, when there is little pretending possible, I am now much more likely to spend at least half my time there, if not even more, given that I might expect the pressures to increase to abandon my Illinois residence for various and sundry reasons we should maybe discuss when we get together next.

However, I can tell you that pressures of Winter, here in Illinois, plus those of advancing age, make it more and more difficult to look forward to more of this.

I should add that even though Spring is my favorite of all the seasons, this spring was an effort, but with a lot of luck I once again managed to do all I planned.

However, I must also admit that this, too, will get to be more and more difficult as the years progress.

Therefore I am very glad to announce that I have a job with John in Hawaii that will, when needed, provide me with the ability to live in a neighboring apartment to John’s for as much of the year as I would like, and we will see how this works out starting this Winter.

3. A Graceful Exit

I would like to support all the efforts I have before, plus the final one I have listed above, without any of repercussions that could take place with I shuffle off this mortal coil.

In some ways I would like to simply work behind scenes as much as possible so I won’t be missed when I’m gone from those activities, but I also realize that my name just might be worth something in public relations so I leave some of that decision open for your advice.

As John and Greg can testify, I am still capable of an awful lot of Newsletter writing, though it does take a toll, particularly when I have lots more to do for the other portions of my life. Again, I leave this open a lot for your advice.

Please refer to the previous message I sent about work on setting up a new, and much different kind of setup, for The Billion eBook Project, I will resend it.

If I/we play our cards right, perhaps I can leave this scene without causing undue trouble, and perhaps I can even manage it in absentia as some kind of motivation, perhaps setting some goal, perhaps even some rewarding procedures for accomplishment.

I, personally, do not think the world at large really, sincerely wants to provide literacy and education from anyone to The Third World, in spite of all lip service to the contrary. . .so I warn you that the possibility exists that this project will not be supported from an outside set of sources that I still plan to approach– so you might find that you are more on your own that I would like to hope, and that you might have to expect, really, a future that is more like the past, in terms, sadly to say, of having to do a LOT of this work on an individual basis more than having the world’s support.

I hope you feel up to the task. . .you will be tempted more and more to rest from exhaustion as you get older and older. . .the all nighters will turn into just get up early when the air is clear, but you will also find that what you can accomplish in those fewer hours will be more than you ever did before, because experience’s power is greater than you might think today.

That is what I leave you with. . . .

Another goal that is nigh well on to impossible.

Little hope of finding any real world support.

And the hope that your experience will leverage future endeavors for you as much as it has for me.

I hope you can put enough into these efforts that I am able to depart as gracefully as is possible these days.

Hoping to thank you soon for your time & consideration,


Thank you for the gift, Michael. Rest in peace.

Podcast: Dan Brickley on libraries, linked data, and cataloguing the Web

We’ve had the pleasure of working with Dan Brickley this summer on a spectacularly difficult and interesting project, trying to figure out how to associate content from the Web with the sorts of categories used by libraries. In this podcast, Dan reflects on some of the general issues facing librarians trying to make Web-based distributed collections navigable, and how much hope we should have for a future of Linked Data. (I apologize for the sound quality. I recorded it from Skype, and without the expert help of the magnificent Dan Jones, the usual producer of our podcasts.)

Click to play: Dan Brickley on cataloguing the Web

Library Lab/The Podcast 006: From Brick and Mortar to 1s and 0s

Listen: 19:16
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Some might assume that libraries and museums have outlived their purpose. When every book and archive can be recreated and reinterpreted digitally to create an incredible user experience, how is the physical and human infrastructure of the institution still necessary?

It’s a challenging question, but libraries and museums aren’t finding themselves replaced by the internet, as the cynical might assume. In fact, their roles as curators and archivists are becoming more important than ever.

Susan Hildreth is the director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services which serves the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums.

Susan recently got on the phone with Harvard Library Innovation Lab’s very own David Weinberger to talk about the role these brick and mortar institutions play in the digital age.

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Creative Commons music courtesy of Brad Sucks and photos courtesy of spaetz.

Library Lab/The Podcast 005: Stock in Paper

Listen: 25:54
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If you’ve worked in technology at all you probably recognize the name “O’Reilly” — it has become practically synonymous with “tech help.” For anyone who has tried to code a line of html, or figure out what the heck that icon on the iPhone screen is, O’Reilly Media has produced a manual to explain it.

In the digital age shelves weighted down with books like these are becoming less and less common. Creators are turning more to online resources and tutorials to help them with specific issues. But, as you might expect from a forward thinking technology company, O’Reilly has been there to meet their readers.

Part of this has been due to the initiative of O’Reilly’s founder Tim O’Reilly who has seen an e-book revolution coming.

Tim recently sat down with Harvard Library Innovation Lab’s very own David Weinberger to talk about using the web to curate and archive knowledge, and what innovations publishers like he have to take on in order to survive.
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Creative Commons music courtesy of Brad Sucks and photos courtesy of Flickr users Simonov and Joi.


The Harvard Library Lab, which issues grants for library innovation at the University, is holding a forum in which all the projects get 5 mins to introduce themselves. (The names prefacing these blurbs are of the presenters, who are not always the project leads or developers.)

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Sebastian Diaz: Slideshow generator. Makes it easy to create slideshows out of images from image repositories. It initially is using the VIA repository. You can search by keyword, select the slides, set the delay between slides, and publish it. It’s intended for classroom use, or, of course, for anyone.

Sebastian Diaz: Enhanced Social Tagging for Classifiation and Current Awareness. It’s currently under development. (The code is at Github.) It enables the merging of tag sets that use different vocabularies without having to define a dictionary ahead of time. The tool produces a filter, “and you aggregate based on that filter,” renaming tags (or associating them?) based on the filter. People can make their own aggregated feed out of these multiple tag sets. It’s a form of behavior-driven development.

Sebastian Diaz: Deposit@Harvard. This tool eases the process of adding open access material to open access repositories, including Harvard DASH. This is an issue because not all repositories have the same APIs or metadata definitions.

Abigail Bourdeaux: The Copyright and Fair Use Tool: An interactive workflow tool for those trying to determine the copyright status, and fair use status, of materials, particularly for use in the classroom. (It has not yet begun coding.)

Abigail Bourdeaux: Online Digital Atlas Viewer. This is a viewer designed specifically for viewing historical atlases online. These atlases may have overlap from page to page, may switch scales, etc. ODAV will help to reconcile maps through Open Layers, to overlap and scale them seamlessly. (It has not yet begun coding.)

Marc MGee and Dave Siegel: Enhanced Catalog Searching with Geospatial Technology. They’re working on ways to spatially search information in the Harvard Library system. They’re using PRESTO Web Services tools. They’ve taken 1,700 MARC records and sent them to Metacarta, a geocoding company. Metacarta assigns lat/long to words it’s extracted from text. They then put markers on a map to show docs relevant to those places.

Bobbi Fox: Library Application Collaboration Development Tools and Resources: How we can better coordinate library innovation at Harvard. They’ve reactivated the ABCD Library discussion group, which has been a “roaring success.” They’ve also been talking with groups all across the library system about what would help. They’re also coordinating with the new University CTO. From the small group discussions they’ve confirmed that everyone wants simple and convenient ways to keep up with the various projects, but we tend to disagree about what “simple and convenient” means 🙂 Also, it’s clear we need to work get over the cultural barriers against sharing what we’re doing. Most people are not all that excited about centrally provided services such as bug tracking or source code management.

Justin Daost, Chris Erdmann: Wolbach User Experience Lab. The center for astrophysics got a Microsoft Surface, which interacts with objects near its surface via infrared cameras. They’ve been working with Microsoft Research to see how it could be use in the Library. Microsoft also connected them with Andy van Dam at Brown U. where they’re working on the Garibaldi Project, a way of browsing a set of related content. They’ve been working on the LADS project that lets people scroll through a timeline, zoom in on high res images (without using much memory), click on hotspots that display related metadata, etc. They are using this to give access to special collections. Also, they created an interface to enable librarians to update it easily.

Andy Wilson: QR Codes in the Library: This project would put QR in the stacks that would load onto a mobile device research guides relevant to that area of the stacks. They will spend the fall semester gathering more usage data before going to full implementation; they want to make sure people will actually use it.

Skip Kendall and Andrea Goethals: Zone 1 Rescue Repository: 1. Working with faculty members to look at their own personal archive (personal papers, etc.), and to think about policy recommendations. 2. The Rescue Repository is a place to put content the final destination of which is not yet known.; it’s a type of staging area, for use by anyone at Harvard, with very low barriers to getting content in. People can nominate content for long-term preservation. Content can be exported into other repositories. It will be open source software. (MIT is collaborating on this project).

Carli Spina and Kim Dulin: Library Analytics Toolkit: An open source, highly configurable dashboard for viewing library statistics. It will be configurable for individuals, departments, entire libraries, etc. By having it in similar formats, libraries will be able to compare their data. It will be widget-based and extensible, drawing data from standard data collectors, and will be built on existing dashboards (e.g. NCSU, Brown U., and the Watson Library at the Met). It is at the wireframe stage.

Cheryl McGrath: Interactive Carrel Seating App: Currently getting a carrel requires a bunch of paperwork and staff time. People have a wide variety of requests: Near a bathroom, in sunlight, no glare at sunset, are there crumbs in it, etc. This open source app lets users browse and search, and reserve the carrel. Carrel users can also post msgs to one another. The team thinks this app may save 5 weeks of labor for a staff member per year.

Library Innovation Podcasts: That’s my project:

Chip Goines: DRS Access for Mobil Devices: Creating an API to enable mobile devices to locate items in a “page-turned digital research” object, returning info about that particular page. [pdf]

Kimberly Hall: The Connected Scholar: “Building ideas and exploring sources within an online culture of attribution.” It lets researchers track what they’re looking at/copying/jotting down, and enables collaboration in the management of information resources. This should help scholars see where their ideas are coming from, to better understand their creative process.” It should also help students develop the habit of attributing sources. Students will be able to see their research process through the tool.

Reinhard Engels: Highbrow: A textual annotation browser that displays the density of references to a text. E.g., you can plot the Biblical references in Aquinas, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, and Maimonides. (Augustine is more interested in Psalms than Aquinas was, and no one is interested in Mark.) You can zoom in on the line chart until you get to the actual text. The source text preferably should have a clear coordinate system (e.g., chapter and verse, or numbered lines of poetry). In working with Dante references, Reinhard has hit scaling issues: one set of commentators has almost 300,000 annotations. So, he slices them by century, or by various other facets. Or you can browse by line and see how many annotations there, and what they are. He’s now working interactive annotations, enabling students and researchers to enter annotations.

Tom Dawson: Yana: “an open source template for scholarly journals to develop mobile apps.” “Yana” is Sanskrit for “vehicle.”) “The goal of the Yana project is to provide a light-weight, modular, open source template within which open acccess publishers can develop their own mobile applications.” The aim is to make it easier for journals to do open access publishing on mobiles.

I talked about LibraryCloud, and Matt Phillips did a demo. LibraryCloud is an open library metadata server. It’s coming along well.

James Burns, Jesse Shapins: extraMUROS. The aim is to provide a multimedia library without walls. It will bring together collections from all over and let users browse and search, curate in their own fashion, and be able to publish collections. James and Jesse show an early build of their browser that lets you quickly scan multiple collections. (Very cool.) You can drag objects into a scratch space — either collections or individual items. It can look at the items you’re choosing in order to refine your search. There’s a map view that is also very cool. It even has a 3D view (No, no glasses required 🙂 And a timeline view.

Q: Will you fund non-tech-heavy proposals?
A: Yes!

Q: Could these be sources of revenue for the Library?
A: Nope. It’s open source for the greater good of libraries.

Why don’t more academics do Open Access publishing?

A report on a survey of 350 chemists and 350 economists in UK universities leads to the following conclusion about open access publishing:

…our work with researchers on the ground indicates to us that whatever the enthusiasm and optimism within the OA community, it has not spilled into academia to a large extent and has had only a small effect on the publishing habits and perceptions of ordinary researchers, whatever their seniority and whether in Chemistry or Economics.

The report finds that faculty members want to publish in high “impact factor” journals unless they have some specific reason why they should go the Open Access route, e.g., they need to get something out quickly. The subscriptions their libraries buy mask from them the extent to which their work becomes inaccessible to those who are not a university.

The report ends with some recommendations for trying to move academics towards OA publishing.

Library Lab/The Podcast 004: We Read in Public

Listen: 32:18
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Guarding patron privacy is kind of the default in the library business. When it comes to knowing who checked out what and when libraries usually prefer to flush the cache — except when it comes to collecting fines!

But in an age of public Amazon purchase lists, automatic tweets, and even sites setup to automatically share users’ credit card statements with the world at large, are libraries simply living in the past?

Jeff Jarvis, in public

That’s what Jeff Jarvis suggests.

A professor at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, and one of the web’s most notorious oversharers, Jeff Jarvis sat down with Harvard Library Innovation Lab’s very own David Weinberger to talk about how the library can merge the values of privacy with the web’s power to share.

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Creative Commons music courtesy of Brad Sucks and photos courtesy of gypsy999 and richard.pyrker.