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Big Lottery Fund £80m community library award

A major £80 million award for public libraries from the Big Lottery Fund – as part of The Community Libraries Programme – was announced earlier this week. The award will be distributed to 58 English library authorities that successfully submitted bids around developing exciting new spaces (either new buildings or modifications of existing ones) aimed at engaging local communities.

A number of flagship libraries have been built in the past few years – stand up Bournemouth and Brighton, and more are being planned, with high profile projects in Newcastle and Birmingham, for example. But there’s been a marked tendency to select central libraries. I’m not here to undermine any focus on central libraries. Tony Durcan made a very strong case for the central library at this year’s PLA. Particularly in terms of accommodating special collections and in having the space to accommodate changing needs, they complement other service points around the authority very well.

However, the 2006 Local Government White Paper “Strong and prosperous communities” really crystallised a community-centred agenda to which public libraries are in an excellent position to contribute.

It has worried me for some time that the new community libraries run the risk severe under-funding. Topping Fold, in Bury, is an example of a community library that is particularly well-known in public library circles. Anyone who has ever met Elizabeth Binns of Bury Libraries or seen her speak can’t fail to have been impressed by her strength of personality. Topping Fold community library, located in the middle of a very run-down council estate in East Bury, started its life as a vacant hardware shop and was Bury’s fourth such outreach library, the first three of which had been opened with a combined budget of only £1000. The deep cynicism that Elizabeth and her colleagues had to combat in Topping Fold was the result of the council’s chronic record of substandard offerings to that community. The fact that Topping Fold is now an estate that people are queuing up to live in is a tribute to extraordinary energy, determination, and not a little good luck.

But if these community libraries are to become more widespread, more resources are clearly needed. The public library service simply doesn’t have the human resources to build a national network of community libraries on a shoestring.

That’s why the BLF funding is such good news. Although if you think about it, it’s only the tip of the iceberg really – it only caters for 58 local authorities, for a start, and it’s not really enough for those lucky authorities to transform their community-based offering right across the authority. Still, it’s a start, and success does beget success.

Addictive cataloguing by the masses

You’ve got to hand it to those Google guys for coming up with out-of-the-box thinking.

Take Google Image Labeler for instance.  The worst thing about this latest Beta from the World Domination stable of ideas is the name.  As John Battelle points out.

As John also points out, what Google call labels the rest of the planet know as tags.

I just wish Google would use the terminology the rest of the web has already settled upon. It’s not a label. It’s a tag. “Tag” means something – an intentional attribute given to an object on the web. That’s what we are doing here. How about we help Google come up with a new name?

So what is it then?  It is two things:

  • An addictive bit of simple fun.  You are randomly partnered with someone else then the two of you have 90 seconds to agree on at least one label for each of the images [from within Google Image Search] you are presented with.  If you both enter the same label, you gain 100 points and another image is presented.

    An ideal bit of fun to dip in to for a few minutes the next time you fill your coffee cup.  Be warned though, be prepared for you to be still playing it as you finally drain the cup!

  • An innovative way of building up folksonomy around the images that Google reference.  By harnessing peoples natural addiction to this sort of game, [As of the moment someone named eGrunt has amassed the staggering total of 1,324,400 points – does this person sleep!]  they are rapidly building up a human-validated set of search tags for their images – all for free.  At the moment there does not seem to be any value, other than qudos, attached to the points gained.

Google, like many of us who have tried to find relevant images from their Image Search, have identified that just scouring the page [that contains an image] for relevant keywords is not as useful as you would expect in cataloguing the image its self.

One benefit unique advantage Google have in launching such an initiative is their global reach.  They launch a new Beta, within hours the Google watchers blog about it, within a day or so thousands are playing with it.

Would something like this work for cataloging tagging your dusty collection – probably not as most players would grow old waiting for a partner.  But how long before a Google Book Search version appears? In which case the question will be, will Google see this as more secret-source or would they provide an open api to it?



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A randomly great source of ideas

Dave Pattern of The University of Huddersfield as come up with a great tool for generating new Library 2.0 ideas

The Library 2.0 Idea Generator

If you have a few spare moments, pop over there and generate a few.

Some are more extreme than others, as the image shows. But nevertheless proof that there is more in this Library 2.0 thing than initially meets the eye!

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When community and technology combine

LibraryThing logo

Tim Spalding over at LibraryThing provides a nice write-up of Richard Wallis’ LibraryThingThing extension to the Firefox web browser. A number of interesting points get raised in his post, and in the comments shared by members of LibraryThing’s community, and I thought it might be useful to offer a few thoughts in response.

Firstly, Tim writes;

“This is an exceedingly cool mashup, and a very good demonstration of all the components. To my mind, it would be more useful if it did less, telling you only if the book was in your library.”

With straightforward access to a raft of Platform APIs and a solid body of data on library holdings, it becomes feasible to slice and dice the results in whatever way makes most sense to the users themselves, rather than insisting upon any ‘one size fits all’ solution. I can, personally, think of a whole host of reasons why you might wish to view holdings from a user-selected set of libraries, and the real technology lying behind Richard’s simple browser extension is certainly capable of supporting these use cases.

I, for example, live in one place and work in another, 150 miles away. I’d like to see the library local to my home and the library local to my office. I have no interest (no offence intended!) in the libraries of North Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, and wherever else lies along my route.

Or what about the university student who wishes to see their own university library, the public library of their university’s city, the public library in the town where their parents live, and the public and university libraries in the city where their boy/girlfriend is studying?

We are also seeing a welcome (and long overdue) growth in interest around the notion of collaborative access arrangements between neighbouring libraries, which is ultimately to the benefit of all library users. Rather than conducting painfully slow and eye-wateringly expensive procurements for yet another monolithic dinosaur of a system (believe me, I’ve read some of the procurement documents!), technologies such as those behind Richard’s tool might usefully and easily be aligned with existing library systems, in order that a borrower is able to see holdings data from all the institutions participating in a particular scheme. Indeed, if nothing fancier were required, Richard’s existing code could easily be modified for deployment on top of an existing OPAC. Imagine looking for a book in the library of the university at which you are studying, finding that the book is on loan, and having a browser extension very similar to LibraryThingThing let you know that there’s a copy in the local public library…?

LibraryThingThing is a rapidly produced (one afternoon, essentially) illustration of a number of possibilities. A tool deployed to best advantage in day to day use would doubtless concentrate upon fulfilling a smaller set of purposes with greater focus. Given the open nature of the APIs behind LibraryThingThing, there’s nothing to stop any of you experimenting and producing the tool that does what you want it to. If you like the idea of wrapping the tool up for delivery as a Greasemonkey plugin or Firefox browser extension as Richard did, the source of the Greasemonkey plugin is also available for you to modify.

Tim goes on to add;

“How should LibraryThing tie into libraries. As always, your thoughts are much appreciated.

We were, actually, planning on doing something like this, and even started the code. When we bring something live it will be a lot less technically elegant—good old server-side programming—but also not browser- and extension-dependent.”

Excellent! We’d (obviously) be keen to see LibraryThing extend in this way with the help of the underlying Platform technologies that made Richard’s browser extension so easy to produce. The Platform and its APIs are neither browser nor extension-dependent; Firefox and Greasemonkey simply provided an easy way for Richard to bring LibraryThing and some of our Platform components together without needing to get inside LibraryThing’s codeline. Tim would be able to use the same Platform components, but in a way that integrated them far more closely with LibraryThing without the need for particular browsers or extensions. That sounds like a win-win to me, and one we’d of course be happy to lend assistance to…

Now to the comments…

James Darlack writes;

“Perhaps rather than having LTThing look up only a specific library, it would be helpful if it could look libraries within a preset distance of a zip code, similar to the way Open WorldCat works.”

Absolutely. Behind the scenes, one of the places that LibraryThingThing looks for data is to the Talis Directory. This can hold various details about libraries, including their postal address and their latitude and longitude. The Directory is an open repository of information about a growing body of libraries, and if your local library isn’t listed you are free (indeed hereby encouraged!) to add it. The information you contribute is governed by a flexible and permissive licence, and a growing body of Platform APIs ensure that the data can be consumed by a range of third party applications to provide the sort of capability that you would like to see. The open nature of the APIs ensures that you actually have a far greater degree of flexibility than Open WorldCat achieves by drawing you back to an Open WorldCat-controlled web page every time you use it, meaning that you could do all sorts of quite clever things with the location data if you had the will and the ability. Libraries within a preset distance of a zip code, but on a bus route? Libraries within a preset distance of a zip code, but close to a Starbucks? Libraries within a preset distance of a zip code, with convenient parking and a copy of the book on the shelf? These applications aren’t necessarily for Talis to build. We simply provide the tools to enable the community to do so.

Jonathan Cohen adds;

“When I click on the LTThing link, the only libraries it finds are British ones. Is Talis a British-only service, or is there some other reason?”

The Talis Platform, and the open and inclusive model that it represents, is a relatively recent activity for Talis and it will take time to work with the community on increasing the (already large) number of libraries represented. The holdings data visible to the Talis Platform today are predominantly those contributed to the Platform as part of library participation in a UK service we also run, called Talis Source.

The Platform itself is not restricted to the UK, and nor are the tools and applications built on top of it. If your local library is interested in contributing holdings data to the Platform (free of charge) so that it can be visible in LibraryThingThing and a growing number of other contexts, you should certainly encourage them to get in touch.

In investing in the Talis Platform, we at Talis are demonstrating our commitment to the continued development of libraries. We are also showing, quite explicitly, that library data has a value far beyond the walls of the library. Sites such as LibraryThing, complete with their significant (53,940 when I checked) communities of passionate bibliophiles offer one obvious place in which it makes sense to bring as many library-sourced resources as possible. Why make it hard for LibraryThing’s members to take the logical step into a convenient library? Why require those libraries to join some expensive club, just to make their holdings (or their very existence) visible?

Free participation. Easy contribution. Open APIs and a permissive license. It really does make sense, and every day it becomes harder to justify the monolithic technologies, closed clubs and exorbitant charges of the past with which libraries and their users continue to grapple today. There really is a better way. Come and see, then help build it.

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Blogging from Camden @ The British Library

I’m currently sat in the Auditorium in the Conference Centre at the British Library – an excellent facility being used today by the Library Service of the London borough in which the BL resides, Camden. The event is the Camden Library Service Staff Conference 2006 where I’m presenting Web 2.0/Library 2.0 – libraries do matter!

Camden Libraries have the unique advantage of having the wonderful resource of the British Library within its borders and on a day like today they take full advantages of it.

It’s not a one way partnership though, we have just seen an excellent British Library video of how libraries can aid people from ethnic backgrounds research and understand their history – all shot in local Camden Libraries.

Looking forward to what looks to be an excellent day – To those libraries who don’t have a National Library located within your borders – I bet you wish you had!

Sharing OPML – what might it become?

Mike Arrington over at TechCrunch covers the release of Dave Winer’s Share Your OPML service today, as do Dave (of course), Robert Scoble, and a growing host of others.

Anyone with a list of feeds to which they subscribe is able to share this information quite painlessly with the service, enabling it to automatically generate the Top 100 feeds (no great surprises, and now probably even more self-perpetuating than before), a list of the most prolific subscribers (Mid-way through a rather savage cull, I’m currently number 23!), and more.

It becomes more interesting when you begin to look at the number of people who subscribe to the same feeds that you do, and even to click through and see exactly who they are.

Subscriptions like mine is also useful, analysing the body of feeds to discover individuals with similar feed consumption habits. Pete Gilbert and Paul Miller (presumably he of Demos fame, given the content of his list) are closest to me, apparently. Given the size of the feeds, it would be valuable to be able to flag the differences between their feed list and mine, helping members to discover new content likely to be of interest.

The value of this service will undoubtedly grow as the number of participants rises; Long Tails, Wisdoms of Crowds and assorted other buzz terms coming into play.

More important, though, will be providing an interface that enables the data to be mined in ways that actually help the user to discover something new; sorting and ranking the feeds in various ways, clustering individuals with shared interests, allowing the differences and similarities to be exposed, and more.

There is probably also mileage in allowing the tagging of feeds – and members – to add structure to the mass of information contributed. Of my 600-odd feeds, for example, some are more ‘library’, some more ‘technology’, and some more ‘one true computing platform‘; whilst some people may benefit from the totality, others will be more interested in facets of my blog reading behaviour. Might it not be useful to come in to the site and look for the most popular ‘library’ feeds, for example?

Is there enough information in the simple fact that I have subscribed to a feed (and not subsequently unsubscribed, as I have done with hundreds over the past couple of years), or is my OPML file relatively meaningless without additional information as to why I subscribe to a given feed, and how much of my attention I tend to lend it in any given week?

It will be interesting to see where this experiment leads, and it certainly has some potential. As it stands, though, it’s of limited utility.

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Information World Review starts blogging

Information World Review logo

David Tebbutt draws my attention to a new-ish blog from UK information publication, Information World Review.

“Like the monthly print publication and IWR website, our blog is wide-ranging and, we hope, a little opinionated. Enough to stimulate thought and discussion on issues relevant to the ever-changing information industry. Enjoy!”

It will be interesting to see how this latest example of ‘proper’ journalists blogging alongside their bill-paying day job with an ad-carrying print publication pans out. I especially look forward to ‘opinionated‘.


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Big media engages with the blogosphere in different ways

Two posts squirrelled away by my feed reader for on-train consumption this morning point to some of the different ways in which traditional media companies are reaching out to engage with the continued growth of blogging.

Firstly Ben Metcalfe informs us that a perennial source of interesting execution on innovative ideas, the BBC, has launched a blog portal to draw the corporation’s ‘official’ blogs together in a single place. There aren’t many there yet, but hopefully this is the first move in a set of activities that will see both more blogs and some interesting mining across them.

Secondly, and crossing the Atlantic, the Boston Globe carries a Reuters story on tomorrow’s launch of BlogBurst, a service from Pluck which aims to offer content from 600 vetted bloggers for inclusion alongside in-house and traditionally syndicated (as this story was) content.

As Eric Auchard writes in the piece,

“Newspapers are looking to BlogBurst to provide expert blog commentary on travel, women’s issues, technology, food, entertainment and local stories, areas where publishers may not have dedicated staff, Pluck Chief Executive Dave Panos said.”

“BlogBurst has its own staff to review and edit blogs, in effect accrediting them for newspaper publishers and thereby addressing issues of quality control that have often poisoned relations between mainstream media and bloggers.”

So is BlogBurst the best of both worlds, or a compromise that removes the fresh rawness that people are maybe seeking amongst the polish and spin?

How might the model translate to libraries, their customer service points, homepages, book club websites, and more?

Update: Euan Semple, formerly of the Beeb, appears uneasy about the blog portal in a way that, I think, mirrors my own concerns over BlogBurst. So why was I not similarly concerned about the BBC’s effort? Hmm…

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HigherEd BlogCon starts today

HigherEd BlogCon logo

HigherEd BlogCon, an interesting experiment in online participation, kicked off today with a week of sessions tackling ‘the Impact of New Tools on Teaching‘.

The event runs over the next four weeks, and I’ll be contributing something in week 2.

Take their RSS feed or follow along in Technorati, and help make this event as good as or better than the more expensive face to face ones we were talking about in Friday’s outing for the Library 2.0 Gang.

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Four pillars

David Tebbutt points me to a recent post by JP Rangaswami.

Other than to quibble (as I always do) with the emphasis upon Millennials as the audience and agents of change in all this, it’s an excellent elevator pitch for the realities with which we are grappling today.

“This needs all of us, the market participants, to work differently. Take into account the impact of opensource, understand that we have to move from geographic utility to virtual global utility, from generic utility to ever-changing vertical utility. Work out what problems are unique to us and solve them, and use the community to solve community problems. Refactor our attitude before our code. See what all this means to us as vendors, as software builders, as ‘IT departments’, as telcos, as regulators, even as ‘consultants’.”

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