Panlibus Blog

Archive for June, 2007

Understanding the culture of collaboration

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Today’s Financial Times includes a special supplement, Understanding the Culture of Collaboration, much of which is reproduced online for those who don’t have the physical paper land on their doormat each morning…

“The conventional view that business is all about competition is being challenged by the idea of collaboration, as companies look to find ways of exploiting the power of partnership.”

There’s even an article on the role of ‘new technology’…

At Talis, we fully recognise that the bad old days of lock-down, lock-in and beating the ‘enemy’ at all costs are (thankfully) on the way out. Collaboration, cooperation, sharing and openness must be our watch words moving forward. It takes two to tango, though, and it never ceases to amaze me that so many representatives of our potential partners in this space appear unable to comprehend any model other than the one in which they compete and -necessarily – win or lose.

Today’s picture is by Rochelle Hartman, CC-licensed on Flickr.

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Press Release: OCLC and Talis Co-Operating

George Needham (OCLC) and Rob Styles (Talis) staffing the OCLC Blogger's Salon
Photo courtesy of Libraryman.

Paul and I had a great time last week over at ALA in Washington. One of the highlights, it has to be said, was OCLC’s generous Blogger’s Salon. They hired a suite in the hotel for the night and provided copious quantities of beer and wine for the assembled masses.

George Needham and Eric Childress were doing a sterling job behind the bar, but it’s important with any event to have a change of crew ready, so when we saw George and Eric looking like they could do with a break it was my pleasure to step in and give them a hand.

We met quite a few of the OCLC folks that night, as well as Libraryman, RochelleJustRochelle, Heidi, Blake, Casey, Andrea, Aaron, Michelle and many others – it was great to put faces to some of the names we read every day. Great blogs and great people.

George, Eric – I know it was only helping you guys out with the bar, but it felt good, right? Maybe we could do some more stuff together? Drop us an email;


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Frances Hendrix in conversation

frances In this Talking with Talis podcast, I talk with Frances Hendrix, of the Laser Foundation.

We discuss the work of the Laser Foundation and the projects and reports that it funded from 2002 until its closure earlier this year.

Our conversation moves on to discuss the state and structure of Public Libraries in England, the current debate on the subject and some options for the future.

Listen Now

Download MP3 [49 mins, 44Mb]
Note: Unfortunately there was a technical problem with this recording when it was first posted – this has now been corrected. RJW 01/07/07

During the conversation we refer to BLCMP (Birmingham Libraries Mechanisation Project a library cooperative which in 1999 converted in to the commercial company Talis), and the following resources:

The debate about the future of public libraries in England is at times a passionate one, with the protagonists often having greatly differing but no less strongly held views.   With this series of podcasts I am attempting to provide a balanced view of those opinions and the people behind them.   To that end I have approached several people both within and outside the library establishment with an invitation to record a conversation.  Whilst awaiting responses and scheduling recordings I would love to hear from others who believe they have something to add.  Contact me ( if you want to suggest a possible interviewee, or wish to be considered yourself.

The conversation with Frances Hendrix was conducted by telephone on Friday 28th June 2007, edited in Garageband.  

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Speaking Technically panel at ALA 2007

My colleague Rob Styles and I are just back from our trip to North America. Whilst there, we dropped in to the ALA conference in Washington DC for a few days, and Rob participated in a panel session convened for ALA by NCSU’s Andrew Pace [blog] and Vanderbilt’s Marshall Breeding.

The panel, “Speaking Technically: a conversation about cutting-edge library automation and technology with Andrew Pace and Marshall Breeding”, took place on the main exhibition floor at the Washington Convention Center and was over-attended with people spilling out of the allotted space into the surrounding exhibition proper.

As well as Rob, panelists comprised Oren Beit-Arie of Ex Libris, Jabe Bloom of TLC, Taco Ekkel of Medialab, Betsy Graham of III, Robin Murray of OCLC and Berit Nelson of Sirsi Dynix, and our two moderators had made a point of keeping panellists in the dark as to the questions in the hope of eliciting fresh, honest, and personal rather than corporate responses. In checking my spelling of names and affiliations for that last sentence, I found it interesting that throwing the search “’name’ blog” into Google only produced an authored blog in one instance; Rob’s. I’m not sure whether that says anything or not…

The first question, to all of the panellists, was (and I’m paraphrasing, as I’m out of practice at writing quickly and a founder member of the (large) population of individuals who struggle to read my handwriting…) “In the business of library automation, how do you balance business and technical considerations in reaching a decision?

Jabe took the first stab, stressing the importance of the total cost of ownership (rather than the up-front cost of purchase) in purchasing decisions. He highlighted the need to apply the most appropriate technology in order to manage costs over the lifetime of an application, before talking about the value of user-centred design in ensuring that the tool fits the job rather than the other way around.

Robin Murray said that everything comes down to balancing considerations of cost, value, and time.

Taco said that Medialab “likes to do what libraries like to see”.

Berit talked about the need to continually respond to change, arguing that we cannot assume our legacy technologies and approaches to be the best solution moving forward. Berit went on to make an important point, asking where library systems fit within the ‘overall public interface’, and how well they succeed in opening up backend systems or integrating with alternative providers such as Medialab with Aquabrowser. Partnership, Berit stressed, can cost more than building it yourself, and the need to ship and locally configure every software update has a serious impact upon the speed with which any one vendor – or libraries in general – can benefit from innovation.

Rob talked about the need to change the technologies used in order to meet business objectives, or to shift the business in which you are working in order to take advantage of new opportunities.

Betsy talked about the need to watch Google, Yahoo! and other successful internet innovators.

Oren picked up on Rob’s points, and went on to sum up nicely by saying “A technology decision is a business decision.”

To my mind only Berit, Rob and Oren actually answered the question. Maybe the others said something profound which I missed. Or maybe I failed to accurately record the question, and they all answered the one that was actually asked…

Andrew and Marshall then changed tack, asking each of the panellists a question in turn.

First, to Jabe, “TLC focusses on public libraries, with separate systems for smaller and larger libraries. Why?

Jabe’s answer suggested that the richer capabilities within their top-end products were too complex for use in smaller libraries that lacked the staff and budget to make best use of them.

Next, to Betsy, “III has stayed above current mergers and acquisitions in the sector. Their systems have, however, been accused of not being sufficiently open.

Betsy agreed that III can be perceived to not be open, but argued that this was untrue. “We are completely standards based.” “III can run on Oracle, and the libraries can do what they like with that data.” “We hope to provide an api into the database with Encore.”

From where I was sitting, the muttering would suggest that many members of the audience shared in the ‘misconception’ to which Betsy referred.

Rob was up next, but I was concentrating too hard to remember to write the question down! Essentially, he was asked to explain what the Platform was about, which he proceeded to do. I know that ‘superficial’ was a word used in the question, but Rob’s answer put paid to that particular association, and illustrated the ways in which third parties such as Aquabrowser are already enhancing their own products on top of the Platform.

Next, to Taco, “Aquabrowser is used because OPACs suck. How can Aquabrowser keep innovating enough to justify their additional cost as the ILS vendors themselves begin to develop their own OPACs along similar lines?

With apologies to Taco (my note-taking was clearly a bit erratic at this stage…), I didn’t manage to write down what he said. I imagine that it was something along the lines of Medialab being small enough to remain nimble, and a stressing of the importance of listening to – and engaging with – customers and their customers in continuing to enhance products? Taco – feel free to correct me in the comments!

Next, to Robin, “OCLC is acquiring a lot of companies right now. How do you put the pieces together?

Robin talked about fragmentation in terms of brand, supply and technology in the library sector, and argued the need for web-scale solutions which (he contended) only OCLC can provide. It wasn’t clear whether the web-scale brand should be ‘library’ or ‘OCLC’. I do also continue to wonder, as Robin has made similar arguments before, where we go with web-scale? Web-scale surely doesn’t have to mean what Robin seems to; a hulking great monolith of a system, competing head to head with the highly recognisable destination sites on the web. Web-scale can mean technologically robust and scalable, almost invisible, and designed in such a way as to integrate with local, niche, horizontal and vertical applications inside and outside the domain; enabling and facilitating the use of libraries, rather than creating a destination site, sucking data into it, and fighting to attract consumer eyeballs to The One Library.

Next, to Oren, “You’re maintaining both Aleph and Voyager, plus a load of standalone products. Where do you go now?

Oren talked about the different roles played by Aleph and Voyager moving forward, and stressed the importance of finding the best products for the job.

To Berit, “Sirsi Dynix has a reputation – and a high profile – for talking about innovation. How does what Stephen Abrams says fit with what you do, day to day?

Stephen is looking 18-36 months ahead. Whilst we sell products to librarians, they are used by your users who are also immersed in the communities that Stephen talks about. He helps us to bridge the gap and create products to reach out to those users.

Finally, to the whole panel once more, “Open Source has captured our attention, with implementations in Georgia and British Columbia and more on the way. Does this interest change anything?

Oren argued that local implementation of open source and the buying of a commercial solution from a vendor was not actually a strict binary situation. Both, he argued, were viable solutions and it was down to individual libraries to select the best ‘product’ for their needs. Ex Libris “embraces open source”, but everyone needs to remember that costs include more than simply the lack of a license fee. Which solution will have the highest Total Cost of Ownership in each local situation, and which will best meet your needs? The answer will not always be the same…

Betsy noted that III make use of open source software such as Lucene.

Rob talked about the importance of making use of open source software to lower costs and benefit from innovation within a community, and stressed Talis’ ongoing activity within several open source projects where we continue to contribute to their codelines moving forward. We have also released some of our own products under open source licenses, and this will continue.

Taco made a great point, suggesting that Open Source was a distraction. We should be thinking far more broadly about openness across our data and systems.

All in all a great session, despite disappointing performances by some members of the panel. I hope Andrew and Marshall get approval to do this again, and welcome the avoidance of the usual corporate hype machine. Rob picked Robin Murray up on one of his points towards the end (Robin agreed that he perhaps hadn’t meant what he said), but it would be an interesting challenge to facilitate far more of that back-and-forth whilst preventing the session from degenerating into a slanging match.

Various organisations represented on the stage have fundamentally different views of the world, and of the ways in which they and libraries can, do and should fit within it. The vigourous agreeing with one another would make those who don’t know think otherwise.

Well done, Andrew and Marshall, and kudos to all who turned up on stage, despite the explicit removal of those traditional vendor comfort blankets; the pre-prepared answer and the ‘bought’ questioner.

And for any audience member who picked up something I missed, or any panellist who feels their point isn’t adequately represented above, feel free to comment below…

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LITA Top Tech Trends


Sitting in a large and historic ballroom in the mayflower hotel, Washington. John Blyberg is sat at the top table looking awfully dashing in a tie – apparently a rare occasion to see John in a tie. Roy Tennant thinks it’s a world first.

Also up with John and Roy are Joan Frye Williams, Walt Crawford, Marshall Breeding and Karen A. Coombs, chairing is Maurice York.

The room is pretty full, maybe 500 people in all. Just a few more than the vendor panel I’ve just been on.

The official account is scheduled to appear over on Litablog, but there’s nothing up there yet, there’s supposed to be a podcast going up too.

Maurice York is chairing and introduces Marshall to start with his trends…

Marshall starts by talking about the impact of consolidation in the marketplace, many libraries have been forced into migrations that they had not planned as a result of products being discontinued. Not all vendors can be tarred with this same brush. The consequences of these business decisions may produce more disruption than we’ve ever seen. Interest in Open Source is longstanding for stuff like Apache and Linux, but we’re now considering o/s for the ILS. Interest and understanding has moved from technology evangelists up to decision makers. Georgia is a great example, British Columbia is following on Evergreen, other jumping on board with Koha. But, in perspective the numbers are ‘miniscule’ compares to those buying commercial ILS. Will this become an avalanche of people moving to open-source ILS? Companies are popping up to provide support, LibLime, Equinox et al. But we must ensure we play fair; how will these o/s ILS stand up to the 100mpage RFP’s we’ve tortured ILS vendors with? The landscape has been well and truly re-defined.

Jon Blyberg follows with something he describes as unsexy. It’s great to talk about frontends, but the backends really need to be shored up, sorted out. Better frontends will stress the entire system. Materials handling, specifically RFID, book sorters and shifters. Lori Ayre talked yesterday about creating a market for the long tail, which we can do, but we have to be able to support the demand for the long tail that you create. RFID privacy concerns have been raised, but for tagging books this bogus. Moving on, we’re saying a trend towards vendor interoperability which is very interesting, mostly at the frontend with products like Primo. To do that the vendors have to de-couple the opac from the ILS, which hasn’t typically been done. They also have to learn to talk to each other, which also hasn’t been done. Interesting opportunity for libraries, where they’re given the opportunity to do democratic development. With Evergreen and Rochester’s Next-Gen catalog, as customers can we be part of that market?

Walt Crawford, comes back on the RFID privacy concerns. a bit of ping pong goes on between John and Walt about the relative priorities and whether or not it’s the libraries role to address this. Joan wades in and suggests that both are persisting in using logic to discuss a political issue. RFID issues with the libraries were about getting the RFID message out, because unlike Walmart and the feds the libraries don’t have lawyers.

Karen Coombs, talks about 3 trends:

  1. Consumer content creation is awesome and huge, but there is no archival policy for YouTube. Her grandfather sent letters back from the war, today the soldiers in Iraq are emailing, blogging and posting digital photos; but who’s preserving it? There’s a huge potential for these things to be lost and libraries need to think about capturing it. Picture Australia is a great example of this, where the AL is gathering contemporary photos from contributors through Flickr.
  2. Digital is the format of choice for our consumers. We all know that, but it’s getting “worse” in that the library has no provision for supplying streaming video, audio and so on. “I know everyone will cringe if I mention e-books” but we have to see that e-books are not the problem, the problem is the reading mechanism. Karen has 12 book cases of books and would really appreciate this stuff digitally. We have to get in this game, how do we get in this game?
  3. Last thing is “off-the-wall” according to Karen. The line between desktop and web has been obliterated. Google Docs, YouTube remixer, Google Gears even more blurred, offline edits. This blurring of lines is only going to continue. We haven’t figured out how to get content to desktops, how do we get it into web applications?

Roy takes his turn, but prefaces it with a caveat that the panel don’t consider themselves experts, but lucky people who get to spout…

  1. Demise of the Catalog: being able to push the ILS into the back room where it started it’s life, so we can put new tools in the front room that help people find information. Primo, Verde, Worldcat Local. These tools unify access to lots of info sources, not just the catalog. Kill the term OPAC.
  2. SaaS: library vendors, SD, OCLC. Libraries can get out of the business of running the software. Use the system on servers that vendors maintain for you. There’s no reason that can’t look exactly like it’s your own. Key benefit is software updates, transparent, painless.
  3. Intense Marketplace Uncertainty: echos what Marshall said. Evergreen and Koha, intense disrupters. Dig at SD for pulling the rug from under their customers. Real support options for o/s. mergers and acquisitions. Worldcat local as a disruption. Google, direct content access and so on, make the business of creating an index irrelevant.

Walt Crawford stands for the people at the back, who can’t see as the room is too long… Also picks 3 trends…

  1. Privacy still matters: before you throw away privacy to be more amazon like, be sure that people know what that means and that it is what patrons want. Intellectual freedom is key to democracy.
  2. The Slow Library Movement: locality, the library is part of its community. Mindfulness, think about what you’re doing and why. Pay attention to open-source.
  3. Local Publisher: lots of libraries could be doing this with very small teams. Helping local people to publish. Walt sees this as a key role for libraries in the world of citizen content.

Joan’s trends are not around technology, but around the behavioral trends. Things happen in cycles, and the cycle that’s come around again is the smorgasbord of technologies. Libraries respond as if new technologies were tactical. Trying to do the same thing, but using the new technology.

Joan recalls OCLC replacing a typewriter with a workstation, but they didn’t change any workflow either side, but “we’d automated it”. She relates this to her niece using a mobile as a phone, as a flashlight, as a camera, for texting and so on while Joan still considers it just to be a phone. This is the difference between simply seeing a new technology and recognizing how it changes the possibilities.

Fashion right now is to encourage library staff to adopt new 2.0 technologies by running competitions for an iPod or similar. This leads people to simply “tick the boxes”. You don’t just have to try or spot a technology, you have to grasp its potential and that is threatening for many people.

if the civilians don’t need us will they still want us

Half of the people Joan works with see that book sites are really cool and have really huge, potential – the other half saying “it’s not a library/you know it’s gonna break/I’m not sure we can guarantee quality”

“well hello, discovery has left the building, fulfillment is not far behind”

To make the library successful we have to adopt a technique from AI, self-organizing systems. Modify ourselves based on what we learn in real life. Currently there is an absence of feedback to intelligently evolve the system.

The insight we can take from all of this panel session is two-fold.

Firstly, the world has changed; things are not the same as they were even five years ago. The way information is published, the way it is discovered and the way it is distributed have all changed. The way software is built and deployed has changed beyond all recognition. The library software industry has changed in response to this – some by changing what they do (that’s us!), some are responding more to the economics than the opportunity, through mergers and acquisitions.

Secondly, there is a huge amount of change necessary for libraries to adapt and evolve into this new world order. There are many opportunities in community building, service provision, technology facilitation and intermediation as well as a huge opportunity to help develop the web as a whole.

All in all a very good round-up of what’s what. Let’s hope those present can really grab the empowerment that was being given out and take that “let’s try something new” attitude back to their libraries with them.

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John Dolan talks with Talis

John_DolanIn this Talking with Talis podcast, I talk with John Dolan, Head of Library Policy at the MLA – the strategic body for museums libraries and archives in England.

We discuss his career in libraries, the MLA and they way public libraries serve their communities.  We then move on to discuss A Blueprint for Excellence document and the public consultation process which has followed its publication.

Listen Now

Download MP3 [61 mins, 73Mb]

 During the conversation, we refer to the following resources:

The debate about the future of public libraries in England is at times a passionate one, with the protagonists often having greatly differing but no less strongly held views.   With this series of podcasts I am attempting to provide a balanced view of those opinions and the people behind them.   To that end I have approached several people both within and outside the library establishment with an invitation to record a conversation.  Whilst awaiting responses and scheduling recordings I would love to hear from others who believe they have something to add.  Contact me ( if you want to suggest a possible interviewee, or wish to be considered yourself.

The conversation with John Dolan was conducted by telephone on Friday 22th June 2007, edited in Garageband.  

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Bowker acquire AquaBrowser

Via Library Technology Guides – R.R. Bowker acquires Medialab Solutions, developer of AquaBrowser Library.

In this pre-ALA announcement the New Jersey based bibliographic supply company reveals that it has acquired the Dutch company Medialab Solutions, the supplier of its FictionConnection search portal.

Maybe they just liked it so much that they bought the company.  There again maybe they saw the strategic benefits in owning the supplier of an innovative library search interface that is independent of ILS/LMS vendors. – Having trouble integrating our enrichments into your OPAC, well try our OPAC instead.

Medialab Solutions, which will become part of Bowker, yet retain its Amsterdam offices, was one of the first Talis Platform partners.  This enabled libraries which had contributed their holdings to the Platform, for Talis Source and other services, to rapidly deploy an OPAC instance in the AquabrowserOnline service.

Yet another player in the where do I get my OPAC from stakes.  Things are starting to get interesting

Google to digitize a dozen more libraries

google The Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) has announced a partnership with Google to digitize 10 million books over six years.

From the press release [pdf]:

The CIC is a consortium of 12 research universities including University of Chicago, University of Illinois, Indiana University, University of Iowa, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, University of Minnesota, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Purdue University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“This library digitization agreement is one of the largest cooperative actions of its kind in higher education,” said CIC chairman Lawrence Dumas, provost of Northwestern University. “We have a collective ambition to share resources and work together to preserve and index the world’s printed treasures.”

The project will also provide broader and more in-depth access to historically significant print resources.

Google will have the opportunity to scan some of the most distinctive collections from the CIC’s holdings, now over 75 million volumes.

As a part of the agreement, the consortium also will create a first-of-its-kind shared digital repository to collectively archive and manage the full content of public domain works digitized by Google that are held across the CIC libraries.

From the CIC FAQ page:

Does the Agreement include both public domain and in copyright works?

Yes. The digitization initiative will include both public domain and in-copyright materials in a manner consistent with copyright law.

For books in the public domain, readers will be able to read, download and print the full texts from the Google site. In addition, the consortium will build a shared digital

repository for all 12 universities’ digitized public domain materials so the holdings can be collectively archived and made available to faculty, students and the broader public.

Book Patrol picks out some of the terms of the agreement:

-The CIC makes at least a 10,000,000 volume commitment.
-Google “reserves final discretion over which Available Content it will Digitize.”
-Google shall own all rights to their copy and can use it at their discretion.
-Google will digitize both in-copyright and out-of-copyright material. The out of copyright material will be readily available to the CIC and the public.
and the kicker- Google will hold the in-copyright material in digital escrow until either they get permission from the copyright holder or the material enters the public domain.

Hmm – hold the in-copyright material in digital escrow – now that’s an interesting angle to get around the copyright laws.

Making available digitized public domain materials to the broader public must surely be welcomed by all.  The value in information is only realized when people have access to it, use it, and build upon it.

Getting to that digitized information, from the indexed full text held by Google, will be easier than it is to get to the physical books now.  I wonder how much easier it would be if the library metadata, assembled over the years by cataloguers, was brought in to play alongside Google’s secret indexing sauce.

“Why Cant I do the same for book loans?”

In the latest issue of the Panlibus Magazine [pdf] David Potts, of the MLA discusses the feasibility study that they have commissioned to examine the issues related to the provision of a national unmediated library loans system.

In an age where ordering from the Internet and delivery to our doors is commonplace, David Potts, Community Libraries Programme Support Officer for the MLA, asks “Why can’t I do the same for library book loans?”

Read the full article [pdf]. 

Although this particular article is only directly relevant to the 149 local authorities in England, the subject will resonate with many public library organizations everywhere.

Frances Hendrix of the Laser Foundation has sent a response to David’s article, which she has kindly agreed to me publishing here so that the debate can continue.

The straight and blunt answer to your question David, is “because you are a librarian and work in or for libraries”.

This technology, or 60 plus percent of it, was available technologically and philosophically with V3fm, the de fact national catalogue for resource sharing. It was well on the way to providing what you describe, and the plans to develop it along the lines you are now setting up a study to determine, were well in hand.

Just look at some of the early (and I am talking up to more than 10 years ago), and the numerous projects such as ION which set down the route to achieving this. We were talking resource discovery across the nation and all systems all those years ago. We were well into delivering this when the Combined Regions (librarians), took their bat home and of course MLA came into force and Laser changed its status.

The case has been made! There was a national committee some 7 years or so ago, who conducted   a huge survey and piece of work to determine the need for a National Catalogue for recourse sharing purposes, and how to do it. Why are we still harping on this? What is there to ‘feas’ about., we know the technology is there., we can be sure people would want it unless for selfish reasons they wanted to hang onto some arcane system of doing things., current ILL systems are not cheap for the library to operate and are underutilised., it is a niche service that libraries can provide yet they don’t market (in fact in many libraries this ability and service is hidden from the user altogether).People would pay for a premium service., so why waste time ‘feasing’, why not do some market research and launch something in partnership with a proven MLS supplier? It is time the People’s Network had some real and better services surely, and the only way is to work with the commercial companies some of whom are majoring on resource discovery and sharing.

We know it is feasible, we know it makes sense, we know some of the commercial companies could do it and we know the costs are limited.

Do please read The Futures report, Charlie Leadbeater’s Overdue and many other research projects done under the auspices of Laser and others. The case has been made, it is time now for action not more studies.

What is this feasibility going to cost and why reinvent wheels that are ready to roll? I thought MLA were looking at a Blue print for the future, this proposition is  one from the past!

I despair!!

MS Photosynth – Jaw-dropping demo

photosynth Take yourself to this video of a presentation at the 2007 TED ConferenceDon’t argue just take a look!  (Thanks to Phil Bradley for the heads-up)

It is appropriately labeled as a Jaw-dropping Photosynth demo by Microsoft’s Blaise Aguera y Arcas.  Watch out for the bit where he zooms in to the book.

Now go and have a play with it yourself here.

Next, mash together in your mind this, plus the Microsoft Surface technology and the Mulltitouch technology that I’ve discussed before

Finally, go lay down in a darkened room and imagine the way we will interact with our digitized resources in a few years time.

Personally I can’t wait!

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