Panlibus Blog

Archive for September, 2006

See Richard Wallis discuss Talis Whisper in the second TDN videocast

Richard Wallis in a TDN videocast

My fellow member of Team Evangelism here at Talis, Richard Wallis, stars in the second of our ongoing series of TDN videocasts, following where Hollywood hopeful Andy Latham led last week.

Richard provides an overview of the Whisper prototype and highlights a number of the issues that it was designed to stimulate discussion of in the library sector and beyond.

Have a watch over on the TDN, or via Google Video or YouTube if you prefer. And don’t forget to let us know what you think, both of the format and the content.

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A good day for Microsoft?

BBC Technology News site

Visiting the BBC News site as I so often do, I was this morning greeted by this on the Technology pages;

  • Microsoft announcing prices for their new media player (note to Microsoft… you will never dislodge the iPod with a bakelite-brown device. Never, ever, ever.)
  • Microsoft signs Peter Jackson up to do Xbox stuff.
  • Microsoft signs an agreement with the Beeb.
  • A poll, asking whether Peter Jackson should do Xbox stuff for Microsoft (70.27% of the highly non-representative sample of 11,589 voters thought he should when I voted)

The Anatomy of Buzz at work. Microsoft’s PR machine can burble away all it likes, but this kind of attention (which, admittedly, Microsoft’s PR machine would be involved in generating) is worth so much more than advertising by Microsoft.

I also note, over in the right, that Richard Branson has unveiled my space ship, It’s getting cheaper, too, so I may need to revisit my maths.

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Talking to Elizabeth Lane Lawley

One of the judges on OCLC’s software contest, Elizabeth Lane Lawley, has an interesting post about the process, and about the value it brought her in the discovery of a new and useful tool.

I couldn’t agree more, and tried to respond to her post with the following. Somewhere along the line, though, my TypeKey id, her site security and (according to the error, anyway) my e-mail address had a major falling-out, and no comment was accepted.

So I’m posting it here, and trackback-ing/ tracking back to her original post in order to complete the loop. My original comment has only been altered in order to turn written-out URLs into hyperlinks on the words.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone had the opportunity to make the sort of discovery that Liz did?

“Both the winner and runner up are, indeed, excellent examples of library innovation, as were the entries received during the Mashing up the Library competition which also ran this summer.

We maintain an open ‘Innovation Directory‘ to showcase such examples in one place, in order than everyone else may learn from them.

The 18 Mashing up the Library entries are in there, as are Umlaut and BookBurro, and more than thirty others.

It would be great to add the other nine (?) OCLC entries, if we could find out what they were?

This first iteration of the Innovation Directory is (deliberately) technically simple, and we are inviting comments from its users on the features and structures that would be of most use to them before we implement a richer solution.

For now, anyone with an entry to contribute should get in touch with us and we’ll get them added.”

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Ross Singer wins with Ümlaut

Georgia Tech‘s Ross Singer has won OCLC’s Research Software contest with Ümlaut;

“an OpenURL Link Resolver intended to improve access to library collections by contextualizing citations and available holdings more accurately for a given user.”

Well done Ross, and consider yourself added to the ever-growing Innovation Directory (number 52, I believe)!

I originally came across Ümlaut in the first LibraryGeeks podcast, which is worth a listen.

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Rangaswami revisits the livebrarian

99514863 6D9Ebeec56 M from Flickr

In a conversation that grows more interesting with each iteration, JP Rangaswami last night revisited his original thoughts on the ‘livebrarian’. I responded to his initial post yesterday, and would now like to drill down a little more into this latest chapter.

JP writes;

“…that the profession of librarianship has understood the need to change with the times, and that they are looking at the web and to the web quite seriously”

Well, that’s a relief… The themes of ‘disruptive innovation’ addressed in the white paper [PDF] to which I linked yesterday have much to offer in this context. Libraries are not, as some commentators have argued, rendered obsolete or irrelevant by the Web… so long as they recognise the need to reach out, to engage, and to become of the Web. Libraries that fail to engage with their actual or potential users on their own terms; libraries that fail to reach out of their buildings and off their web sites in meaningful and valuable ways; libraries that fail to recognise the importance of diverse resources, both physical and digital, ‘authoritative’ and not; libraries that persist in placing themselves as gatekeepers between the searcher and that for which they search; libraries that respond to searchers’ problems in navigating the system by suggesting that they have undertaken the search ‘wrong’. Those libraries deserve to cease to exist, and they will not be missed.

He continues;

“…the time dimension associated with the World Live Web is one that has magical possibilities and horrendous potential for problems as well”

Given my rather different perspective on time, I agree… and remain intrigued by the opportunities!

JP finishes this section of his post by stating that;

“we need to look at the social space and engagement and experience as closely as we look at the classification and finding and retrieval, and within this we need to understand more about the relationships and trust bonds between searcher and find-enabler”

This must lie at the heart of the conversation. Trust is key, and it is something that libraries have gained over many years. On the whole, the population trusts libraries [PDF of a report I commissioned in a previous life, one finding of which is that libraries are regarded as trustworthy to the sample of the UK population questioned]. How do we maximise the potential of that ‘brand attribute’, without squandering our hard-won status? How might libraries, with their trusted status and perceived authority, insert themselves into social flows with a light touch, guiding, assisting and facilitating whilst not controlling, hectoring, or stifling? It’s not necessarily something that has always been done correctly in the past, and it would be both dangerous and wrong to suggest that librarians know how to tag and classify ‘correctly’.

JP quotes my point, that;

“The library of Library 2.0 exults in integrating the consistency and cohesiveness of formal classification systems with the more fluid granularity of the folksonomy”

before going on to caution;

“There’s the rub. How to take historical taxonomies and ontologies and mold them into such a shape that they can be enriched by the Wisdom of Crowds, while managing to keep out the Madness of the self-same Crowds. Capture the passion, connect with the perseverance and patience, discard the Damn Fools and their biases and anchors and frames.

This can be done. This will happen. But only if we allow the passion of the amateur to flourish at the same time as the professionalism of the ‘expert’. There’s a Long Tail aspect somewhere in this, where we need to move out of the Hit Culture and understand that Search and Find become real when you deal with the outliers, the low-frequency requests and responses. That’s where expertise comes into its own. In the niches, in the nooks and crannies.”

[my link]

Oh, absolutely. Partly, the answer lies in a very large crowd contributing to our view of a very Long Tail, in order that some of the inevitable quirks and biases are ironed out to a degree. Community ownership must surely also have a role to play; ensuring that the Crowd itself comes to self-police a resource in which it has invested effort, to which it has an attachment, and in which it perceives a value. Opening up individual library catalogues to comment, classification and tagging surely provides none of those things. Aggregating, sharing that aggregate, and offering it as something to which anyone can add and take away… Do that, and we might see something interesting emerge, especially as the original contributors begin to reabsorb – or call programmatically upon – the community’s enrichment of their seed. [Although in a different area, our Directory work begins to leverage some of this potential.] Why not allow anyone to comment, to classify, and to amend, offering means for them to identify themselves if they wish? A browser of the whole might then choose to give more regard to alterations made by a librarian, or by a professional in the subject, or by an inhabitant of Beverley. They may simply choose not to give credence to additions made by those who chose to remain anonymous.

JP goes on;

“Paul Simmons had some very interesting thoughts about ‘unused’ pieces atrophying and being greyed out, whether it’s software functionality or links or information or books or whatever. There’s something about the idea that I like, that intrigues me, yet I push back. Because it’s to do with the time dimension. There may be some things that come into play only once in a blue moon, but that doesn’t make them less important. In fact at blue moon time they may be critical, far more important than anything else. I think that holds true for software, for links, for information. And for books.”

It is certainly true for material culture such as the humble book, and all too often we are in danger of falling into the trap of believing that resources not visible to Google do not exist, and therefore have no value. It is, of course, untrue, but it will take a very long time to digitise all of the books in existence today, even if we should want to. Part of the answer here lies in recognising the hybrid nature of the environment in which we exist today, and finding ways to more easily make the connection between the local and the remote, the digital and the physical. In one small way, integration between libraries and online services such as Amazon illustrates part of this, but there is more to say and so much more to do. What, if anything, is ever ‘unused’?

Finally (for now);

“What I have seen so far in web-enabled ‘Ask and I shall give you advice’ services is less than promising. Even Damn Fools are better. Which is why I am glad that the profession of librarianship takes this issue seriously, their domain expertise is necessary. But it is not sufficient, not until we get the value of the Wisdom of Crowds and the movement away from the Hit Culture.”

Erm. Yep.

And there, for just now, I shall stop. JP’s essays, and the comments posted in response, have proved fascinating to me, and I look forward to continuing to explore the boundaries with the benefit of all the different perspectives being brought to bear here. Thank you, JP, for getting this particular mental ball rolling…

Today’s post is again illustrated with a Flickr image that combines the bank (JP works for a London-based investment bank) and the library. On the basis of this search, there are plenty more where these two came from, so I look forward to an ongoing conversation. Today, Martin Male provides a Creative Commons-licensed image of the old Bank of Nova Scotia building in Ottawa; now the Library of Parliament. Having gone through a phase three or four years ago of visiting the Canadian capital regularly, I’ll be there once again in just over a fortnight, so will look out for this bankrary!

Update: {sigh} Now I need to find pictures of libraries and telephone boxes.

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WiFi in libraries

An electrical socket on Flickr

The Museums Libraries & Archives Council (MLA) released a report (PDF) at the end of last week, looking at the take-up of wireless networks in public libraries in England;

“A report launched today from the MLA and WiFi specialist RegenerateIT anticipates that by 2009 half of all libraries will offer some form of WiFi (wireless technology). The report estimates that there are currently about 23 per cent of library services delivering WiFi with 42 per cent of library services planning to offer WiFi in the next financial year. Benefits of WiFi in libraries include more flexible use of space – particularly important given the limited space in many rural areas – and increased availability of library PCs, allowing a greater total number of users to benefit from IT access in the library.”

I continue to be bemused by the number of commercial organisations that fail (unlike Talis!) to provide some form of network access to visitors. I could name a plethora of big organisations in London and elsewhere that set great store by their meeting facilities and the quality of their biscuits, yet fail to let visitors onto any sort of network for ‘security’ reasons. Erm… Locate a spare telephone socket, get your phone company to ADSL-ify it, and stick a wireless router on it. Visitors get online without going anywhere near your precious network, it costs next to nothing, and the busy are (perhaps) more likely to ‘give up’ a day for your meeting!

So. If the place you’re visiting won’t let you online, and the coffee shop at the railway station is too expensive (or an unclaimable expense), I’m sure many travellers would turn with gratitude to a nearby public library (or its car park) for Net relief – especially if they could be reasonably certain that any library would offer the capability.

One topic that the report does not appear to cover, but that I’ve come across as an issue more than once, is that of electricity. As we all know, laptop batteries drain depressingly quickly whilst connected to wireless networks, and it’s often essential to wire up to power in order to benefit from wireless communication. Yet more than one library of my acquaintance refuses to allow patrons to plug their own electrical devices into the library’s power supply, apparently because they have not been PAT tested. So you can use our network, but we’re not letting you have our electricity.

Hmm. A barrier to take-up, or a quirk of the over-zealous administrator?

This picture of an electrical socket from the 1940s was taken in London by Dave Arquati, and is available on Flickr with a Creative Commons licence. I hope the picture wasn’t taken in a London library.

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JP Rangaswami contemplates the ‘livebrarian’

Seattle Public Library and the Bank of America on Flickr

JP Rangaswami, author of the routinely insightful Confused of Calcutta blog, had an interesting post yesterday in which he considered the role of the ‘livebrarian‘.

JP is not a librarian. He’s formerly CIO and now ‘Chief of Alternative Market Models’ at London investment bank, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein (which seems to have expunged Wasserstein from its name?). Suddenly, my ‘Technology Evangelist’ looks tame by comparison…

Returning to my point, JP writes;

“There are a number of critical differences between the physical libraries of yore and the digital library that is the web. I think there is a way of categorising them:

Time. Libraries are static. The web is live.

Shape. Libraries have books and magazines and CDs and DVDs and tapes and a few other things. The web has all of these, sound, picture, video, text.

Location. Libraries are physically located in particular places. The web is everywhere and global.

Scale. Libraries contain a discrete and finite number of items. The web is infinite.

Classification basis. Libraries rely on Dewey and its extensions. The web relies on tags.

Nature. When you take a book out of a library, it is with you and not with the library. When you take something out of the web, it is still there.

Speed of change. Libraries measure their purchases and their culling and their weeding in months. The web does it in seconds.

I could go on, but that’s not the point.

The point is that the web is live.

So we need livebrarians. Part bookseller, part journalist, but primarily librarian. Librarian of something that is live.”

I could stand back and wait for the horrified howls of the biblioblogosphere but I won’t, because JP makes a number of valid points. Some I might question, others I would identify as extremely valid differences deserving of protection.

I would argue, though, that the libraries we are trying to build today embrace many of JP’s points.

The library of Library 2.0 [pdf] is fully immersed in the living flows both of the web and of the physical and social spaces within which it rests. The library itself grows, shifts and adapts to the world around it, whilst offering a resolute core of public service values and societal memory.

The library of Library 2.0 [pdf] celebrates the wealth of material held within our buildings and reaches out to integrate it with the multiple media streams pervading cyberspace.

The library of Library 2.0 delights in offering a physical space in which its beneficiaries can meet, interact, communicate and learn, whilst extending and re-imagining those services in an online space, whether integrating with Amazon, appearing in Second Life, or delivering traditional services to the distance learner.

The library of Library 2.0 exults in integrating the consistency and cohesiveness of formal classification systems with the more fluid granularity of the folksonomy.

The library of Library 2.0 refutes the primacy of the book, recognising the diverse ways in which different audiences respond to different delivery mechanisms for different purposes.

The library of Library 2.0 harnesses the enthusiasm and talents of its staff, its benefactors and its beneficiaries in order to ensure that the latest modes of expression and fashions in thought are available for all, alongside a wealth of context and depth.

To turn JP’s neologism around, the deadrarian has no place today, and nor does the deadrary. Libraries are vital (in all senses), and seizing the opportunities presented by modern technology, modern thinking, and falling costs of execution and ownership to reach out further than ever before. They deliver services that people want, need and value, and they deliver them where, when, and how required.

“The libraries we have are new, a different paradigm.”

“Kids are allowed to make noise. In fact everyone’s allowed to make noise. There are no SILENCE signs in the web.”

That one’s for you to respond to, Michael Stephens! I think you might have a Flickr stream to share…? 😉

At Talis, we recognise that libraries need to change in order to fulfil their potential in the 21st century. We see many (typically isolated) examples of librarians and others beginning to push those changes through. Coming from a background in the library world, we are now forging a new organisation capable of seizing opportunities to work in a totally different way, delivering value to libraries and their beneficiaries, wherever they may be. A commitment to Open Source. A commitment to Open Data. The construction of a Semantic Web-underpinning Open Platform, and an active effort to engage set us apart from traditional providers in this space, and point the way to libraries which are very much alive for many years to come.

Turning to the comments, ‘Dan’ (presumably Daniel Pett at the Portable Antiquities Scheme? Hi Dan!) draws attention to the People’s Network Enquire Service, a centrally controlled virtual reference solution also available in other forms outside the UK. A wholly personal opinion, this, but I’ve never liked these things. Give me a library that simply runs a proper IM service any day… That’s a library that’s making the effort to fit itself into my workflow and my way of working, rather having the hubris to expect me to drop out of Adium and engage with them on their terms in their monolithic, screen- and cpu-grabbing client. Who’s the customer, again?

My illustration, in an attempt at lateral thinking, shows the view across to the Bank of America from inside the Seattle Public Library. The picture was taken by Victor Szalvay, and is available on Flickr, licensed with a Creative Commons licence. Thanks, Victor!

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A cautionary tail of distributed dependency

I couldn’t help noticing this from the NCIP mailing list last night :

We have just become aware of a problem that seems to be impacting SirsiDynix Unicorn, Polaris, TLC, Endeavor and Relais sites using NCIP. The problem is that the version 1.0 response messages from these various systems are unable to find the dtd at the NISO website and the applications fail.

Translated from the Buzzwordeese:

The modules, in several Integrated Library Systems (ILS), that read messages (inter-library loan, inter-library borrowing, etc.) from other ILS systems are all failing. This is because the web site, that holds the document that defines the protocol for these messages, stopped serving the document.

So the systems supported by several library system vendors, and by implication many more than several libraries, were prevented from carrying out a key part of their business because a single document disappeared from a single web site.

A classic ‘all eggs in one basket’ situation. The obvious solution to this, you would assume, would be to hold many copies of the document so that the systems can always get at a copy. Unfortunately it is not that simple. That centrally located document is the single source of truth for the agreed standard, so should be the only one referenced by the checking algorithms in the message reading software.

As these established standards evolve very slowly, the solution is probably to get the individual library systems to hold a copy locally and only check for changes occasionally. That way the systems could continue until the master version was available again

I assume that the effected vendors are engaged in a rapid analysis as to how this situation can be prevented from being repeated. But what lessons can be taken away for the increasing number of similar situations in a Web 2.0 world?

The first lesson is for most applications using XML messaging. Architect your code so that your application does not depend a single centralised copy of the XML schema always being available.

The second lesson is to ensure that key data is replicated in reliable robust way. Take the example of internationally distributed networks of data that Google & Amazon use to distribute the risk of failure and overload.

Finally, if a change to a configuration could effect many systems, ensure that the change can be easily made once in a logically central place. This one seems to contradict my previous thoughts, except that I use the phrase ‘logically central’, so that in application terms it is held in one place but physically it could be held in many places – store it in Amazon S3 for instance and it could reliably be anywhere on the planet.

These principles are reflected in the core Directory components of the Talis Platform. The Directory provides a central place to store and serve information about library and other collections, their locations, and the protocols used to access those collections. If information about a collection changes, (be it a correction the geo-location for a library building so that it now appears in the right place on a map, or the fact that the search interface now runs at a different Internet address) that change can be made by anyone that is aware of the correct information by accessing the Directory User Interface. The change is then immediately reflected to all the systems that use it.

Obviously, as with all of the Platform components, the Directory has been architected so that it can be scaled and widely distributed across many locations.

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Superpatron (Ed Vielmetti) posted ‘a note to self’ yesterday entitled Zed REST. I’ve probably got my national stereotypes wrong, but surely Ed should have called it Zee REST, leaving it to the British to call it Zed REST.

Anyway, Ed was musing as to the possibility of writing a Z39.50 adaptor so that research library catalogues could export a PatREST(pdf) interface for public use. In that way a simple client could be constructed to talk to a wide range of catalogues, without having to mess about with horribly binary encoded formats.

He then goes on to add:

A variant on this theme would be SRU REST, which would start from SRU/SRW and export PatREST on the user side.

The implicit message of this being, that as SRU is a RESTful interface that returns XML, it would be far easier to work with. This is most certainly true.

It is no accident that in the recent free upgrade (which I talked about earlier) to Talis’ own product range, we are providing open access to Z39.50, SRW & SRU by default. If you already have a Z39.50 client, by all means continue to use it. But if you are starting from scratch, don’t touch it with a barge-pole go for SRU if you have the option.

So Ed, as a footnote to your note, can I suggest you start with SRU, and then look at a way of getting Z39.50 targets visible via SRU. Then you only need to build one PatREST adaptor. Ah the joy of reuse, very Library 2.0!

Where do I get a Z39.50 to SRU adaptor from to make this possible? – You get Yaz Proxy.

Yaz Proxy from the Danish company Index Data, is a GPL licensed application which amongst other things provides “SRU/SRW server function, to allow any Z39.50 server to also support the ZiNG protocols“.

With its in-built XSLT capabilities this could be just the thing to to get Ed closer to his ambitions without having to mess with those with horribly binary encoded formats.

The only thing a would question, is why invent a PatREST search standard, when a perfectly serviceable RESTful search interface is, or can easily be, made available for the many visible Z39.50 catalogues? I’ve studied PatREST, which as a work in progress has a lot going for it and John Blyberg should be praised for his efforts in producing it, but looking at the searching elements of the standard I can’t help feeling that SRU has solved many of the issues that PatREST may have difficulty in solving. Things like the ability to request an Author + Title search, or a search limited by published date ranges.

Don’t get me wrong, as I have said before SRU/W is not perfect, but I think it addresses many of the search query issues that may come to haunt PatREST, OpenSearch, and other ‘simple’ search protocols. Maybe there should be some combining of standards going on in this area. I wonder what happened to this initiative?

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Free to SRU

When you approach things in a different way things just start dropping in to place.

Paul in his post yesterday commenting on Peter Murray‘s latest episode of his excellent series of posts around Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), referenced some of the work we are doing here at Talis…

Programmatic access that means the user need only interact with a library user interface if they want to? Programmatic access that means software can pull this stuff together and act upon it on our behalf? Bring it on! Which, of course, we are… 🙂 Platform APIs. Talis Keystone integration pieces. Large, scalable and affordable stores of data, freely contributed, freely shared and freely consumed by the wider community. Watch this space for the next piece in a puzzle that looks more fascinating every day.

Most of the developments Paul references are major broad advancements in the way library services and library data can begin to interoperate with other library and non-library systems and services. But its not all just about the big picture, As an old colleague of mine used to say, “remember that screen full of information is just a cunning arrangement of individual pixels!“.

Like the morning mist rolling away from the rising sun, the approach that is delivering the Keystone Sandbox, Platform APIs, and open development community is rolling across the way we, in Talis, approach everything we do. We not only talk, and in my role evangelize, about what is currently termed the Web 2.0 or Library 2.0 way – we practice what we preach.

The latest example of this comes from something called Project Lyra. [For the Talis customers reading this, switch off for the next couple of sentences as you are probably Lyra’d-out by now and will be glad when its all over!] For the rest of you, Project Lyra is the process to migrate the Talis customer base on to two new [to them] standards – ISBN13 and Marc21. Much easier to type than do, without disrupting the daily operation of those libraries. As the bibliographic core of a library system is based around the local flavour of Marc, changing the version of Marc is not a snip. The approach to the developments required for the Lyra enhancements, to our Library Management System product, was different to he way we have previously approached this sort of thing before. It has been about cross team cooperation, componentised developments, and disparate modules of the product suite sharing APIs to common components. For instance the cataloguing component needs to find bibliographic records to edit; the OPAC needs to find bibliographic records to display to users; the Z39.50 target needs to find bibliographic records to deliver to other library systems. Somewhat radically, in historical terms, we now using the same searching and indexing component to support all that functionality.

All very interesting, but what is the benefit/lesson for me in all this, I hear you say. Well [sticking with the searching and indexing bit], if that component can support three disparate internal system operations, it certainly should be able to support other external requirements. So why not make that component externally accessible for others to use.

That is why as Talis customers take the latest upgrades in the Lyra program, their systems will by default and for free become Z39.50, SRU & SRW capable. This addition dramatically increases the interoperability capabilities of those systems. For the uninitiated, SRU & SRW are Web Service based standards which make it far easier, especially for the non-library community, to integrate library search in to other applications than it ever was with Z39.50. Show Z39.50 to mashup developer and they will run a mile!

Although great for the users, and potential users, of the Talis Library Management Suite in UK & Ireland Libraries, that wasn’t the point of giving you a little insight in to how changing your approach in this way can have many unanticipated benefits.

My point is that the world is changing, whether we like it or not, and the products we and you use will have to change to enable you to reap the benefits that will flow from this gear-change in the power of the Internet.

Putting a sticker on the box in which the software is dispatched saying “The contents of this box conforms to the aspirations of Library 2.0“, or firing up a token blog won’t crack it. To do their bit to help the whole library community realize it’s potential in the increasingly information rich world, the vendors, the open source community, the library system managers, and the librarians need to start thinking differently. (I’m glad to say at least some are already).

To lift a quote from Roy Tennant talking about OPAC developments, it is not about “Putting lipstick on pigs”. There is a fundamental shift in the application of technology and the thinking behind it going on, and I for one am enjoying the ride with an organization which understands it.

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