Panlibus Blog

Archive for June, 2007

Team Talis at ALA


Given the recent flurry of blog posts exposing the schedules of those making the trek to Washington DC for the ALA conference, it’s now the turn of the Talis contingent.

Rob Styles and I will be heading over to ALA this year, on the back of some other bits and pieces we are to do on that side of the Atlantic. We’re due into National/Reagan about lunch time on Saturday 23 June, and then heading back home overnight on Tuesday 26th.

Other than heckling Rob in Marshall Breeding and Andrew Pace’s ‘Speaking Technically‘ panel, I’m not wholly sure what the mix of coffee, corridors, chat and session attendance will be, but look forward to finding opportunities to share ideas with a lot of people. My cell phone works in DC and, network permitting, we’ll also be visible on irc, skype, im, etc as usual.

See you there.

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OCLC’s Eric Hellman talks with Talis

Eric Hellman In this Talking with Talis videocast, I talk with Eric Hellman, Director of OCLC’s Openly Informatics Division. 

Openly Informatics are responsible for the 1Cate  service for access to e-Journal lists, links and locations.

During our short conversation we discuss the new OCLC xISBN Web Service which is also from the Openly Division


View Now [5 mins]

The conversation with Eric was recorded at the Talis Office on Wednesday 13th June 2007.

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You can always keep it in a silo

I read with interest Sean Chen‘s post Economics and Organization of Bibliographic Data over on schenizzle.

He was reacting to the overall theme he sees coming out of the Library of Congress’ Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control that library data is trapped in silos – which is bad.

Much of the discourse until now has been of the nature, “Wouldn’t it be great if … LCC was available in an open web service … MARC went away … webify our infrastructure … get rid of catalogers … have better OPACS.”

So what makes a silo? I’m pretty sure I can speak for everyone and say we (libraries) want to be relevant in the information future. How have we backed ourselves into a corner? And what exactly is that corner?

Well you can’t argue with the wanting to be relevant sentiment.  He goes on:

I am kind of suspicious of talk about all silos being bad. I think there can be an argument made on the behalf of silos. Silos exist for a reason, the information needs of a community are different. Then again there is probably a stronger argument that our silos exist because of the way we have acquired, collected, organized, and developed resources with our vendors and within our libraries.

He is totally right, the way our data is held and presented is heavily influenced by the way we have acquired, collected, organized, and developed resources with our vendors and within our libraries – note the lack of mention of how the needs of the users of the data might shape things.

He is also right in saying that ‘information needs of a community’ is a factor in justifying a silo.  It justifies community specific views of data, yes – trapping that data in a one size fits all silo, no. 

Is the community he refers to bounded by the institutional and/or geographical boundaries of the library – or is it a community of first year students at a University, or a community of junior readers at a public library, or a community of researchers?   Just because the walls of a silo fit the boundaries of a library organization, it doesn’t necessarily fit with community boundaries.

Rolling Sean’s interpretation of the Working Group’s ambitions forward you should be able at one stance be able to see an aggregated view of all [as in Global] library holdings whilst at the same time being able to present a filtered view suitable for the much narrower needs of an individual community.

Sean also postulates as to who could be custodians of this aggregated view on behalf of the libraries.  The Library of Congress, OCLC, the Internet search corporations, and the library systems vendors are considered in his analysis.

Sitting in the offices of a library system vendor, I disagree with his I don’t think they are that interested in selling us a new way of doing things that may very well put them all out of business?  comment.  Some vendors may not be interested, but I don’t think the vendor community has much alternative than to facilitate the opening up of data, services, and systems for the benefit of all.   If the vendors don’t facilitate this, someone else will. 

We at Talis have been practicing what we preach for many a long month now, building the Talis Platform and promoting the principles behind it. Seeing this pay off in the ability to create Union catalogues in minutes, and watching others starting to take on board the realizations of the way forward, is most gratifying.

So who should be the global custodian of the aggregated view of the global library? – All of us

In the same way that, there are islands of great service on the web (Google, eBay, Technorati, Wikipedia, etc.) but nobody is custodian of the whole web; the Web of Data will not be hosted by any one organization – yes there will be islands of of great service adding value, augmenting and interrelating bibliographic data from many sources (LoC, OCLC, Talis, Open Communities, and others), but data itself will be held, and replicated, in many places.

OK that vision may not be realized next month or even next year, but, as the already visible tendrils of the Semantic Web start to spread, the decisions we make today [about how open our data and services are to be] will have dramatic impact on our ability to play our rightful, relevant, part in the future information revolution, that some are already calling Web 3.0

(Photo taken by eScapes Photo displayed in Flickr)
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Tim Coates talks with Talis about Public Libraries

Tim Coates In this Talking with Talis podcast, I talk with Tim Coates.  This is the first in a series of podcasts looking at the landscape of opinions about the future of public libraries.

Tim’s history is as an author and bookseller – he was with WH Smith, and became Managing Director of Waterstone’s.

Over the last few years he has become very well known for having strong opinions about, and proposals for, the way the public library service in England should be structured and run.  Tim produced the report “Who’s in charge – Responsibility for the Public Library Service” in 2004, which sparked much debate, that is still rumbling on today.

Listen Now

Download MP3 [55 mins, 38Mb]

 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 the MLA and others 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 Tom Coates was conducted by telephone on Friday 8th June 2007, edited in Audacity.


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Giving Away the Public Domain


Scanning Boing Boing this morning for its usual daily meanderings through the underbelly of wonderful stuff on the web I find an interesting snippet titled Giving away the public domain docs the US gov charges money for

The piece points to and Carl Malamud, the site’s creator, is quoted as saying has created a mirror of NTIS.Gov’s [National Technical Information Services] store that sells public domain materials. Our twist is that instead of sending you the materials, we’ll release them back into the public domain for everybody to use. We mashed some of the materials up in a little infomercial here.

In the US the law states that stuff produced by the federal government goes into the public domain. They don’t get the privilege of Copyright or any other protection over the contents of reports, photographs, papers or databases.

This doesn’t stop the government charging for them though.

The radical step taken at is to use a one-off purchase by a member of the public to free the data back into the public domain.

Casey Bison talked about releasing the LC data under a similar pattern of thinking, but with so much FUD around who may or may not own what data it looks like that hasn’t been organised just yet.

It’s a shame Library of Congress isn’t on the list at, or I may just have stumped up for it myself.

Found via Boing Boing

Where Has All the Cash Gone – MLA responds

Following my previous postings about the debate, or lack of it, around the future of public libraries in the UK, my attention has been drawn to an article by Tim Coates in the Readers Digest Magazine. (thanks for the heads up Chris)

In the article, Our Libraries: Where Has All the Cash Gone? [pdf], Tim explores the statistic that every family in Britain is paying £50 per year for a library service, which by several measures is a dwindling service.

In the comments to his blog posting about the article, Tim reproduces a letter of response from John Dolan, Head of Library Policy at the MLA.

Readers Digest: Letter to the Editor
Public libraries – more than meets the eye

Sir, I am writing in response to your article “Our Libraries: Where Has All the Cash Gone”. The MLA urges local authorities to provide appropriate resources to meet the needs of local communities for learning and leisure. People made over 290 million visits to libraries in 2005-2006, borrowing over 275 million books. Staff answer almost 50 million enquiries from the public each year. They provide over 30,000 computer terminals, with access to trusted online resources. Libraries run thousands of reading groups, hundreds of local history groups, homework clubs and family activities every week. The MLA is driving improvement, and consulting with others to set out the next stages of public library development. Readers comments are welcome. Please email John Dolan:

So we have some more debate position stating on the subject, but will it moves things forward?  We have the MLA consulting on the way to improve things within the current structure, and others like Tim Coates asserting that the current structure is part of the problem.  A case of arguing past, not with, each other methinks.

Time to say again that we at Talis would be delighted to facilitate a debate about the future of Public Libraries in England – hands up who would come if we did!

OPAC Eye Candy

YakPac Following a link trail started by Tim over on the Thingology Blog (thanks for the heads up Tim), you end up at posting by ealing on  Live from the LC.  The posting open source session: reflections is a brain-dump of one of the sessions at a conference. – I may be being dim, but I haven’t worked out which conference yet.

The bit that caught my eye was this about the presentation from Joshua Ferraro of LibLime:

Joshua talked with us about open source integrated library systems, specifically Koha and Evergreen, and about his company, LibLime, which provides support and/or hosting for libraries who choose open source ILSs and can’t or don’t want to rely exclusively on in-house talent. The implementations of Koha that Joshua showed us were simply stunning. (Here’s one; here’s another, and another [in Turkish!]; and another [!!!]. You should leave this post and go play with them now. I’ll understand if you don’t come back.)

The last one of those, to YakPac, is worth following, just to jolt your brain out of its comfort zone where it thinks it knows what a library search interface should look like.

OK, I’m not so sure that the average researcher would be happy using it, but their kids would! 

As I have said before, we are now entering a world where having different interfaces for user groups, or even times of the year/day is possible.  Building on a Platform; using components from many sources, including Open Source; making use of Web 2.0 technologies – these things will liberate us from having to make do with the interface that comes with a system to satisfy all our users.

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Diane Hillmann talks with Talis about metadata and standards

Diane Hillmann In our latest Talking with Talis podcast, I talk with Diane Hillmann of Cornell University.

Diane has been associated with library metadata standards, such as Dublin Core and RDA for many years.  We discuss these and other standards and the recent meeting, held at the British Library which recommended the bringing together of work on RDA and DCMI.  We also go on to discuss the work of the National Science Digital Library Metadata Registry, RDF and how the Semantic Web will influence library metadata and the way it is produced and shared. 

Listen Now

Download MP3 [56 mins, 39Mb]

 During the conversation, we refer to the following resources:

This conversation was conducted by telephone on Thursday 7th June 2007, edited in Audacity.

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Building a consensus

Chris Armstrong of Information Automation Limited has picked up on my recent posting Public Libraries – What Next?  about the state the UK public library service, where I review some of the reports and documents published on the future of England’s library service.

In his info NeoGnostic posting, Are there any other views on Public Libraries? Chris says:

Most readers of iNG will be aware of concerns voiced here in the past about what is happening (or not) to public libraries in the UK. Those same readers cannot fail to be aware of the continuing onslaught from Tim Coates in The Good Library Blog on any body which has any responsibility for public libraries: from CILIP to MLA; from Demos to the (now closing) Laser Foundation.

He the goes on, having referenced my post, to ask:

Talis are very committed to libraries (obviously!)… I wonder if that extends to hosting a forum of the great and the good – professional bodies, government, MLA, and the concerned – to work out a way forward that will benefit the public and their libraries?

Chris you are right, we at Talis are very committed to libraries, and very committed to doing what we can to help bring them, and the services they provide and use, in to 21st Century.

We would be more than willing to consider hosting forums, both in the physical meeting as well as the online debate sense.  As I indicated in my original post, I am recording some podcasts with people with opinions in this area (the first of theses will be available in the next few days) and am more than happy to discuss podcast possibilities with others. (Just drop me an email

This is not new thinking from Talis.  We have held research days and other events to address these issues, and have been very disappointed with the number and willingness of people to respond to invitations and engage.   I therefore fear that if we booked a room in a convenient place, on a date which avoided other library events, and invited the great and the good – the response would be a little underwelming.

Talking of getting movers and shakers together, there is the Talis Insight 2007 Conference in Birmingham November 6th & 7th.

This free two day conference is open to all executives and information professionals across libraries, local authorities and educational institutions. With the umbrella theme “Inspiration for Change”, we welcome you and your colleagues to join us. 

Confirmed speakers already include John Dolan and David Potts from the MLA.  There are still a couple of open speaking slots in the programme, so if you feel that you can contribute to furthering the debate, contact my colleague Karen Topham-Steele []

We, as in all of us, are hopefully trying to construct a consensus, that that will mostly satisfy most of the protagonists in this debate.  Like all construction exercises, the difficulty is in ‘getting the builders in’  Any suggestions for compelling reasons for the majority of the main players in this debate to attend a forum, will be gratefully received.

One thing is certain, if only a few agree to work together it will just return to the position stating status quo, with sniping from the sidelines.


(Photo taken by shiny red type displayed in Flickr)


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Public Libraries – What Next?

I’ve been doing a bit of reading of late.  Bringing myself up to speed on the state and the future of the UK public library service, in readiness for some podcasts with some interesting folk in this area.

An obvious candidate for review on the subject was the MLA‘s A blueprint for excellence – Public Libraries 2008-2011 – “Connecting People to Knowledge and Inspiration”  [pdf] The purpose of this document was to describe a process of consultation on the improvement of England’s public library service during the next four years.  It presented a series of six propositions which have been out  for public consultation for the last few months.  With the consultation process closing at the end of May, it will be interesting to see the results when in the autumn a campaign to promote public libraries and to gain support for continued improvement, is launched by the MLA.

I then came across the final report of the Laser Foundation entitled Public Libraries What Next? [pdf].  This parting shot by this, now in the process of winding up, organization is a review of the projects and reports they have funded since 2001.  In their time they have funded a couple of thought provoking reports on the subject of public library provision – Overdue: How to create a modern public library service by Charles Leadbeater of the think-tank Demos, and Who’s in charge: responsibilities for the public library service by Tim Coates.

Finally in my brief sortie in to the world of proclamations about what should be done in our public libraries, I came across my ex colleague Ken Chad’s Changing technologies, changing business models: a challenge for public libraries [pdf]- a response to the MLA’s Blueprint for excellence.

Wading through this lot, it is clear that all the authors have in common a passionate belief that public libraries deliver massive benefit to our society, and they should be protected and improved.

Things, or I should say more correctly priorities, then start to diverge somewhat.  Some of the blogging and other coverage around these reports over the months has to say the least been a bit critical.

It may be just a personal opinion, but I get the feeling that we have had enough position stating around this important subject, and it is about time there was some working together to start to get things done.  As I said earlier, it will be interesting to see how the consultation process shapes the content of the campaign that the MLA will launch in the autumn, but forgive me for being skeptical as to its potential for bringing the disparate voices together in this passionate area.  Lets hope my skepticism is misplaced.

(Photo taken by MildlyDiverting displayed in Flickr)

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