Panlibus Blog

Archive for November, 2007

Semantic Eagle or Turkey

Mark Dahl on his blog, named after OCLC’s Robin Murray’s well used Synthesize Specialize Mobilize phrase, reflects on what OCLC should do.

One item in his wish list being:

    • Semantic web strategy: OCLC needs to follow the Talis into the semantic web space. They need to be designing systems that share data in an open fashion

Implicit in Marks thoughts is the vision that data from wherever will be available for all to share.  Today this is not happening for several reasons.  One is the legal minefield of ownership, copyright, and copyrightability, in which myth, mistrust, self-interest, inappropriate business models, fear and inertia are holding us back.  Movements in the field of Open Data are slowly changing this and we are looking forward to an announcement fairly soon which will give this a major boost.

An enabler for the library world, and the the data we curate on behalf of humanity, to take its rightful place in the heart of the global web of data will be the use of semantic web technologies.  These will enable the interaction, as against just connection, between data sets on the World Wide Grid [as well described by Roy Tennant at the Access 2007 conference – video].

Mark suggests that OCLC, and by implication others, should follow Talis in to the semantic web space, start to use and gain the benefits from semantic web technologies such as RDF, etc.  Also by implication he means that OCLC’s Grid should be a freely open to all to consume and it should easily interact and integrate with other grids/platforms on the wider Internet to deliver combined benefit greater than the sum of the parts.  One way to do this is to provide APIs to what you are doing and hope that you will be able to communicate with systems produced by other folks out there.  Of course there is another way – work together.    Those that attended the Access 2007 conference will have also seen my presentation in which I made it clear that the Talis Semantic Library Platform is there for not only us to build applications and services on, but for everyone to do so including those who today may believe themselves our rivals or competitors. [slides,video]

Why should there be a massive duplication of effort in our world to get us to the point of being able to realise the potential of libraries participating in the beginnings of the emerging semantic web.  After all we stopped developing our own relational databases years ago. 

I will never tire of repeating the message that we [Talis] are more than happy to work with our community, and the not-for-profits & other vendors that operate within it, to move things forward for the benefit of all. Some would have you believe that slapping APIs on a set of services maketh a platform/grid that will enable the data held within those services to fully play their part in a global web of data, but it is only a step on the road.  Putting APIs on a service or system is a major step forward to be heartily encouraged and praised when it happens.  There are issues around the shape of these APIs, which I have covered previously, but let us leave them aside for today – suffice to say any API is better than no API!.  To realise the massive potential benefits of a global Web of Data, has more to do with the intention behind, and architecture of, the platform behind and therefore powering those APIs.

Let me draw an, appropriate for the thanksgiving holiday in the US, analogy….

The DNA for all birds is extremely similar – producing a couple of legs, wings, a beak, feathers, egg laying, etc. in all cases [waits for comments from bird experts shooting my uneducated assumptions down].  From this DNA mother nature, or Darwinian selection dependant on your point of view, has produced a bird with no real ambition to fly, specialised in staying in a fairly restricted location on or near the ground, making gobbling noises, and satisfying the human need for something more substantial than a chicken to be consumed on the occasion of large family gatherings – the turkey. 

That same DNA encoded collection of bird-like attributes also produced a bird which soars majestically and effortlessly high above our mountains and forests with tuned vision to focus in on relevant movements in a wide and varied landscape that are relevant to its life and existence, whilst inspiring all who catch a glimpse of in it the wild – the eagle.  Like most analogies it starts to fall apart when you dig in too it to deeply – when for instance the movement comes from a wild turkey which then provides eaglet-lunch.

What I’m trying to get at with this analogy is that there are many things out there, or proposed, which have very similar attributes [RESTful APIs, XML data structures, etc] which we need to look behind to discover the value they can offer beyond just simple connection. 

In other words, is the platform/grid, you are looking to use, an eagle which will help the value of your/their data to freely soar, or is it a turkey which just satisfies a fairly local need without inspiring anybody?

Eagle picture from Picture Taker 2, displayed in Flickr
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ILS Vendors – worried by OCLC?

sm_jordan_jay I’ve just spent my morning commute listening to Jay Jordan, OCLC President, giving his president’s update [mp3] to the October OCLC Members Council Meeting in Dublin Ohio.  I know, the phrase get a life came to my mind as well.  Nevertheless his hour in front of the microphone was a fascinating insight in to the thinking behind the cooperative monolith, and the commercial tensions within it.

Company or Enterprise? – Before Jay spoke a booklet had been distributed with the word Company inscribed [no doubt in nice friendly letters] on the cover.  OCLC watchers will know that associating such a word with the cooperative causes all sorts of internal concerns and issues.  Jay explained that the booklet had originated from a brand roll-out exercise that started in Europe, where of course OCLC activities are companies.  He asked members to leave their booklets behind ‘so they don’t escape the building and start any rumours’.  They are going to reprint the booklets with a different word on the front – the current front runner is Enterprise – hmm not so sure of the difference, tells me that an enterprise is ‘a company organized for commercial purposes; business firm

This struggling over terminology must be really difficult for Jay and his colleagues when they preside over a not for profit cooperative, enjoying income in excess of expenditure, which owns businesses on a global scale which make profits.  Its not just the company word that causes problems either; in the Q&A at the end of his session Eleanor Frierson was most put out by the fact that Jay had been presenting with an indicator in the background referring to the number of Active Customers [as against members] that they have.  Yet another terminology faux pas – that apparently Jay was already aware of before he stood up. As I say it must be really difficult – having to choose your words so carefully and not just say what you mean.

The thing that was most interesting in the whole session was also in the Q&A at the end.  To paraphrase a questioner called Tony [I didn’t get the second name], Jay was asked – if WorldCat Local was an ILS OPAC layer replacement; was the intention to move on and replace all the ILS layers thus competing with the ILS vendors in the US?

Jay pointed out that through its European companies OCLC was already an ILS vendor [the consolidation of capabilities he had referenced earlier in his talk].  As to them wanting to import these capabilities to the Americas or export them to Asia – whilst not wanting “to declare we are in the game, because we are not in the game yet of the OPAC replacement module [Jay indicated earlier that this module – WorldCat Local – would be coming out of trial within months] but ‘for heaven sakes’ the logical extension is to continue to build capabilities … and move what is appropriate to the network.  Not everything goes up to Dublin Ohio, obviously, but whatever logically goes there has to be under consideration.”

After an aside about what SirsiDynix think OCLC is up to, ”with 700 libraries linked in to one system they are kind of coming in our direction.”  Jay confirmed “ I think that it is inevitable” he qualified this with the rider that until they confirm that their platform could provide local value he did not want to talk about it.  He also said that if anyone gets upset about them doing it he “could plead my members made me do it” – knowing the ILS CEOs he doesn’t “think they are suffering from any misapprehension about what the future could hold.” 

A very revealing exchange giving some insight in to the fact that WordCat Local could just be the first assault on tradition ILS vendor territory.  I wonder what the venture capitalists behind some of them make of this logical extension of OCLC in to their markets?  I also wonder what the customersmembers make of the idea of putting all their eggs in to a potentially monopolistic OCLC basket?

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Amazon Kindle book reader interest

AmazonKindle For $399, from next week, you can have the new AmazonKindle book reader, ready to get some [up to 200] of the available 88,000 titles wirelessly downloaded ready for holiday season reading – turn off the wireless and the batteries will last a week.

Interesting that it is not a wifi device:

Unlike WiFi, Kindle utilizes the same high-speed data network (EVDO) as advanced cell phones—so you never have to locate a hotspot. – No monthly wireless bills, service plans, or commitments—we take care of the wireless delivery so you can simply click, buy, and read.

Get stuck on some of the concepts in the new e-book you are reading? – Turn on the wireless and check out Wikipedia!

Includes free wireless access to the planet’s most exhaustive and up-to-date encyclopedia—

Talk about blurring the edges between devices, you’ll probably be making phone calls on it next 😉

If, as Amazon predict, these devices will end up everywhere how long before the first librarian is presented with one along with the request to check out the library’s copy of Harry Potter on to it?

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Open Data Commons update

Jordon Hatcher has published a brief but yet tantalising update on the progress towards the the release of an Open Data license.

As he says, stay tuned – this is getting both exciting and interesting.

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Which API – yours, mine, everyone’s?

Remember me? I used to occasionally post on this blog 😉  – Jet-lag, an excellent conference, and an in-box to die for seems to have been keeping me away lately.  Sometimes a period of ‘just letting the news wash by’ can be helpful in picking up on the themes of the moment as against the day to day hot topics. [That’s my story and I am sticking to it 😉 ]  By the way thanks to Rob Styles on this blog and Owen Stevens on Overdue Ideas for their coverage of the Talis Insight 07 Conference.

The theme that has floated to the top lately has been that old favourite the Library System API.  I have been banging on about APIs for Library Systems for what seems forever – well at least since summer 2005.

Whilst rushing around the USA recently, I met with Patricia Martin, at the California Digital Library, and John Ockerbloom at the ICUDL 2007 meeting.  Both Patricia and Mark are involved with the DLF ILS DS initiative to ‘analyze the issues involved in integrating “integrated library systems” and discovery systems, and create a technical proposal for how such integration should be accomplished’‘ This is at an early stage at the moment in defining generic functions that ILSs will need to support to allow integration with discovery and other systems.

In Roy Tennant’s recent presentation at CODI 2007, he proposed a Library Software Manifesto in an attempt to rationalize the relationship between libraries and library systems vendors in which one of the consumer rights is:

I have a right to the API if I’ve bought the product. — An application program interface (API) is simply a structured way for one application to communicate with another. In other words, the ability of a software program to send a structured query to another application and receive a structured response. Using the API for a product I’ve bought should not incur an additional charge.

Brushing the dust off my ‘traditional’ library system vendor hat, I can see how that might ruffle a few feathers.  If your system already has APIs, you should be able to get at them; any new systems produced without APIs would be a case of architectural suicide by the vendor; which leaves the systems that need APIs grafting on to them, which is not an insignificant or low cost task.  As to any costs of supporting a library depending on the APIs they supply – that of course will be up to a vendor to justify.

Peter Brantley [Taliking with Talis Podcast interviewee], over on O’Reily Radar, reports on a presentation at the Digital Library Federation’s Fall Forum in Philadelphia, by NCSU Library’s Tito Sierra, Markus Wust, and Emily Lynema who presented their “CatalogWS” which is a web service that runs against a derivative of their library catalog, provided by Endeca, to provide a suite of really nice new-generation library interfaces.  – Yet another RESTful API set providing search and availability from their catalogue.

Just like the plethora of library APIs that have been offered to the world over the last few months in including John Blyberg’s PatREST, they are all excellent and useful when wishing to integrate with a specific library, or possibly library system.

We have to be realistic, if we want people to go to the trouble of integrating library systems in to other services, student portals, e-learning systems, library web sites, browser plug-ins, gadgets & widgets of all sorts, and the like, we need to make it easy for them otherwise they will go off and do something else interesting.  So for instance John Blyberg added PatRESTwww to the AADL system and used it create his go-go-google-gadgetSuperPatron also used it to build a LibraryLookup style browser plug-in to show Ann Arbour held books in Google book search.  But that is where it stopped.

No doubt a few people interested in what NSU holds will utilise CatalogWS to do some cool stuff, but that will probably also stop there.

What we need is easy to understand [by the non-library tech-geeks] consistent ways to integrate with a library system, regardless of the vendor, or open source project team, that produced it.  Sounds like a standard you might say.  The library world are good at standards you also might say.  – Pop the documentation for Z39.50 or NCIP under the nose of the average web developer to soon see that that is an over optimistic theory.

There are some standards that have taken off over recent years, OpenURL [well until they tried to improve it] OpenSearch, and to a lesser extent SRU.  These are understandable to non-library folks, and, mostly, are not coloured by any of that library or vendor specific profile stuff which make other standards so horrid and unworkable.

I am looking forward to the results of the deliberations of the DLF ILS DS initiative in the hope that they come up with something we can all follow, but even then we need a, preferably Open Source, reference implementation of these APIs that everyone can develop against.  In the same way that Apache Tomcat, as the reference implementation for servelets, drove the development of the many other open & closed source products that were measured against it; we need an open source reference implementation of ILS APIs.

We at Talis have a great deal of experience [Talis Keystone] integrating library systems using RESTful APIs, with other systems including student portals, e-Payment systems, and finance systems.  We are more than willing to share some of this with the right Open Source project to benefit the whole library community – if you have any thoughts on this or want to discuss it further drop me a line –

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Photo published by tsmyther on flickr

Insight 2007: Les Watson

les-watson-chartLes Watson is up talking about Reconfiguring the Library for 21st Century Learning, a bold title. Paul and Andy and other have seen Les before, so he comes with high expectations as a great speaker; easily able to deliver on a title that promises so much.

Les starts with a great statement:

There is, as yet, no paradigm for the 21st century library.

and explains that he was instrumental in the much acclaimed work on the Saltire Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University

He talks about the transition over time from a mainly agricultural economy where knowledge was about Know-How, through industrial and information based economies where knowledge is about Know-What to what we see as our destination; a Concept economy where the important knowledge is Know-Who and Know-Why. This story starts to feel directly relevant to me, not just in a passing interest in academic libraries, but as a lifelong learner trying to understand how I know what I do know and how to keep moving to cover more of what I don’t.

The chart showing the transition in the dominant economy he attributes to Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind. Yet another one to add to the bedside table.

The only tool to get the country as a whole up this curve is our education system, students coming out need to have more skills in collaboration and lifelong learning than those before them. In large part this is because the world is no longer about what we know, but about what we can work together to achieve – it is the discovery and emergence of the unexpected, the surfacing of the previously unknown that drives innovation. To support and illustrate that notion Les directs us to The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Having justified the need for real and fundamental change Les discusses a three-legged strategy: People, Technology and the Built Environment. Unlike most projects that consider these three in isolation, often at different times, Les shows that they interplay and must be considered together.

So with these three legs working together in a synergistic strategy Les goes on to tell us that buildings are predictions; that is the designs of buildings are predictions about how they will be used. But as well know that predictions are always wrong, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot we must try to build in a way that flex with the mistakes we make.

To do that Les believes it’s important to understand how far students today are from the education system they have to go through. To illustrate this point brilliantly he uses the great video A Vision of Students Today from the Digital Ethnography project at Kansas State University. The video tells us lots of things we already know – that their is a generation of digital natives who work differently to the generations before them, that think differently. Les goes a step further than acknowledging that culture and way beyond simply tolerating or even accepting that culture. Les explains that the education system needs to positively embrace this culture.

As Les talks about txting, Facebook and gaming he explains that the common thread is one of playfulness and fun and that maybe the fundamental change in education is one of building a play ethic rather than a work ethic; especially if we are to develop the concept economy he referred to earlier. In this play ethic there is a move to collaboration, synthesis rather than analysis of knowledge and above all engagement.

Les represents this in brilliant way with a quadrant chart showing intrinsic and extrinsic motivation on the Y axis and active or passive engagement on the X. He explains that our education is firmly in bottom-left, yet the people we want our students to become need to be firmly in the top-right. As a parent with school-age children this is a description that feels all too familiar. He quotes Sir Ken Robinson:

without motivation there is no learning

Les didn’t reference it, but a great parallel to this presentation is Sir Ken Robinsons’ talk, Do schools kill creativity?, at TED. What he did reference in addition to the Ken Robinson quote is Richard Florida‘s book The Rise of The Creative Class. Richard Florida podcasted The Rise of The Creative Class on IT Conversations back in 2004. This move from services to experience relies heavily on informal, social learning time. This instinctively feels right, all learning starts with conversation – remember how you started to learn to do our job? But if you’re still unsure he offers up Richard Feynman’s assertion from The Pleasure of Finding Things Out:

thinking is nothing but talking to yourself inside

For more insight into Feynman you might want to check out video of The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, from 1981. As an inspiring call for action, Les finishes up with an inspiring slideshow of great buildings that people want to engage with and a short video from an American Architectural Foundation project working on a Denver school – a project that makes the students feel welcome, important and the focus of the schools activities.

Uplifting and inspiring – if you get the chance to hear Les talk; or invite him to help you work on your own projects you should expect something special.

Insight 2007: Working toward a new model of library automation

Marshall Breeding’s flown across the pond to join us for today and as part of his visit he’s currently presenting to around 150 librarians on the need for a new model in library automation.

Unlike some voices in the community Marshall doesn’t claim to know what’s needed; though he has some strong suggestions for some of it. Luckily for us, listening to Marshall is like listening to our own list of internal priorities.

Firstly, he quite rightly points out that consolidation in the market has left libraries with less choice and less flexibility. Not only that, but we have no success in bringing new systems to market; Marshall cites Horizon 8 recently being axed before launch and Taos from a few years back. In minor contrast I would point out that We’ve just rolled out a major release to 90% of our customer base with minimal disruption – but Marshall is keen to remind us just when these systems were first architected, and Alto is amongst the oldest on his chart.

In fact the only recent ground-up new system to enter the fray is Evergreen, but Marshall isn’t too interested in that today as it’s really doing the same things in the same ways for the most part and Marshall sees reasons to break out of the current model.

Breaking out will require dis-satisfaction with the current model, not just a little, but real and increasing dis-satisfaction. What Marshall says he really wants to know is:

Who’s doing the something that’s cooler than the iPhone?

He goes on to cover the need for openness, not just open-source, but data, conversation, APIs and much more. There are many ways to be open other than open-source and Marshall is keen to get all of them in this new world.

He gives several suggestions, from getting NISO involved with a standardised API spec to ensuring Google can see and reflect your libraries holdings appropriately. There were one or two things on the list we’re not doing yet – maybe there’s more to add to our todo list…

A video if Marshall presenting Working toward a new model of library automation at Talis Insight will be up soon.

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Insight 2007: Young Librarians

After doing my (short) stint on stage as a bit-part in our Roadmap presentation, I thought I’d try and get into the hottest, hippest, coolest, wickedest, sickest (that means good now, apparently) session of the conference. A conversation with the Future, a panel session with a few voices you should know from Ian Corns’ young librarians series on Talking with Talis.

Chaired by Frances Hendrix, a woman with no small reputation, the session was a great chance for this group, all of whom have great future’s ahead of them.

In an echo of some of Euan’s thoughts there was a lot of passion for bringing libraries together with Facebook, libraries together with MySpace and libraries together with the web as it is today. What stops them doing that now? Empowerment, permission and time are big factors; with a unanimous message that the committees, debates and reports are just taking too long and that what they want is to just get on and do it!

The panel, Michael Stead, Bolton Central Library; Subnum Hariff, Bolton Central Library; Cheney Gardner, MLA; Claire Styles, Freelance Libraries Consultant and Anna Simmons, Luton Libraries were well-informed, energetic and looking forward to a brighter future for libraries – a future they plan to create.

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Insight 2007: What will ‘Businesslike’ mean when business isn’t like business anymore?

Paul and Richard might be missing-in-action for a day or so as the whole company is sitting over at our conference, Talis Insight and Paul and Richard are chairing tracks. It’s about half way through the first day and so far it’s been thoroughly great – but I would say that, I work here.

This morning kicked off with an opening welcome and teaser from Dave Errington, our CEO, followed by a presentation from Euan Semple from which I take the title of this post. Euan is one of those people who not only totally gets what happening in this changing landscape of social knowledge, but who also delights in sharing that insight.

Euan talked through a range of social changes that he helped happen within the BBC and that he is talking about all over. Blogs, Forums and Wikis form the first phase of the change, but Connect (an internal Facebook style service), a BBC senior managers blog, Plase a wi-fi based geo-location announcing service and also feature.

It would be so easy to rattle on and on about the technologies at play here, but that’s not the key thing. The key part of Euan’s thesis is that these tools provide fundamental changes to the ways people meet, learn about each other and both establish and maintain those relationships. That is, says Euan, the reason he ended up walking past the Whitehouse putting the world to rights with Thomas Vander Wal (who coined the term ‘folksonomy’).

There is something genuinely empowering about your own blog, or a wiki where you can correct any page within just a few clicks. This empowerment requires trust and Euan relates stories of managers who don’t trust their staff to do these things – perhaps those managers need to look at their recruitment policy, says Euan.

That trust brings up an even more interesting observation though. two clicks to edit a page; no 30 page report, no knowledge management system, no review committee – surely that can’t be Proper Work? However, contrary to first impressions, these are the most auditable tools there are. He shows a video of the changes to the Wikipedia entry for the 7 July London bombings – The footage shows how the page evolves and adapts as new information is brought together. At one point the page is replaced by an extremist comment, but almost immediately reverts back to a previous, objective, report. Shortly after Euan was asked to compare the reporting on Wikipedia with the reporting on BBC News Online; he found the BBC wanting…

Overall the thrust of Euan’s talk is that you should allow everyone in your organisation access to these new capabilities, both inside and outside the organisation’s walls. Oh, and once you have, get out of their way.

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Universal Digital Library

DSC00338 I’m sat in he impressive Posner Center at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA for the first afternoon of the Third International Conference on Universal Digital Library (ICUDL) 2007.

I am joining delegates from China, India, Egypt, and the US who are the main contributors to this initiative, with a smattering of folks from other nations. 

From opening comments from Ms Li Xiaoming (Chinese Ministry of Education), Prof. Yunhe Pan (Chinese Academy of Engineering), Sri Manohar Nadendla (Chairman, Library Committee, Legislative Assembly, Andrhra Pradesh, India), Dr. Noha Adly (Director, ICT, Bibliotheca Alexandrina), and Prof. Raj Reddy (Carnegie Mellon) we gained an overview of progress around the world towards the Universal Digital Library.  In China, where the digital library project is core to education, they have already scanned over a million books; India have scanned around 400,000 including school books which helps get [what would be expensive] books to schools;Egypt on their way to scanning 40,000 books have assembled 5 scanners, 120 people, working 2 shifts, 7 days/week.

The US digital Library project started back in 1993 with the National Science Foundation, who are sponsoring this event.

The slogan of the Universal Digital Library Million Book Project is “free to read for anyone anywhere anytime“.  As we saw from a live demonstration of its user interface, they have made a major step forward. – Go to advanced search, click the search button without entering any terms, and you will see that there is already over 1.4 million books, with nearly 300 million pages, in there.

The afternoon moved on to a discussion around copyright and how it will have to change – the repeated extension of copyright periods in legislation, often pushed through by the US mixed in with other elements in bilateral trade negotiations, was just making it worse.  Various initiatives in India are making orphan works from publishers with inventive new business models including advertising.

 There is some impressive brain power and international cooperation in this room and there has been impressive progress made and issues overcome towards their goal of making all authored works of mankind – not just books – free to read for anyone anywhere anytime. 

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s session and my chance to talk about Open Data Commons, which I thing will be quite relevant to the discussion – there is much discussion about individual copyright without the concerns about collections.

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