Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Another OCLC logo parody. The person who did wishes to remain anonymous—and for good reason!


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

LTFL Reviews now works with iBistro and Voyager catalogs

When we decided to add Reviews as an enhancement to LibraryThing for Libraries, we wanted to work on just a few OPACs at a time.

Otherwise, it would be 2010 before we finished Reviews (and no one wanted that). We started with Horizon Information Portal and WebPac, for a number of reasons*. Next, we decided to get iBistro and Voyager† on board.

We've had a couple of iBistro libraries add the Reviews Enhancement, but no Voyager libraries are live yet. You can check out the full list here.

* We knew the systems well, many libraries use them, and who doesn't like saying HIP?
† I can't talk about that particular OPAC without pronouncing it 'vee-ger' in my head. I'm pretty sure it's just me.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Book blogs?

I need to broaden my horizons, and pick up a few good book-industry and bookseller blogs. I don't care about book deals, but I wouldn't mind some insight into how publishing is changing, particularly when it comes to technology.

I subscribe to some 114 blogs right now—mostly library-related, with a smattering of technology, startup, web 2.0 and competitor ones thrown in. But I don't follow much in the way of publishing industry blogs—pretty much only the BookFinder Journal, Michael Cairns' Persona non Data, Eoin Purcell, BookBrunch and Joe Wikert. And I only read one bookseller blog, the recently-discovered Hang Fire Books, which I read for the pulp covers.

Does anyone know of any good blogs?

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

© Santa

Christmas 2007Christmas 2008

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Monday, December 22, 2008, RIP, Ed Summers' presentation of Library of Congress Subject Headings data as Linked Data, has ended. As Ed explained:
"On December 18th I was asked to shut off by the Library of Congress. As an LC employee I really did not have much choice other than to comply."
I am not as up on or enthusiastic about Ed's Semantic-Web intentions, but the open-data implications are clear: the Library of Congress just took down public data. I didn't think things could get much worse after the recent OCLC moves, but this is worse. The Library of Congress is the good guy.

Jenn Riley put it well:
"I know our library universe is complex. The real world gets in the way of our ideals. ... But at some point talk is just talk and action is something else entirely. So where are we with library data? All talk? Or will we take action too? If our leadership seems to be headed in the wrong direction, who is it that will emerge in their place? Does the momentum need to shift, and if so, how will we make this happen? Is this the opportunity for a grass-roots effort? I'm not sure the ones I see out there are really poised to have the effect they really need to have. So what next?"
The time has come to get serious. The library world is headed in the wrong direction. It's wrong for patrons—and taxpayers. And it's wrong for libraries.

By the way, Ed, we're recruiting library programmers. The job description includes wanting to change the world.

See also: Panlibus.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

uClassify library mashup? (with prize!)

I keep up with the Museum of Modern Betas* and today it found something wonderful: uClassify.

uClassify is a place where you can build, train and use automatic classification systems. It's free, and can be handled either on the website or via an API. Of course, this sort of thing was possible before uClassify, but you needed specialized tools. Now anyone can do it—on a whim.

Their examples are geared toward the simple:
  • Text language. What language is some text in?
  • Gender. Did or a man or a woman write the blog? It was made for (It's right only 63% of the time.)
  • Mood.
  • What classical author your text is most alike? Used on (this blog is Edgar Allen Poe).
Where did I lose the librarians—mood? But wait, come back! The language classifier works very well. It managed to suss-out Norwegian, Swedish and Dutch reviews of the Hobbit.** So what if the others are trivial? The idea is solid. Create a classification. Feed it data and the right answer. Watch it get better and better.

Now, I'm a skeptic of automatic classification in the library world. There's a big difference between spam/not-spam and, say, giving a book Library of Congress Subject Headings. But it's worth testing. And, even if "real" classification is not amenable to automatic processes, there must be other interesting book- and library-related projects.

The Prize! So, LibraryThing calls on the book and library worlds to create something cool with uClassify by February 1, 2009 and post it here. The winner gets Toby Segaran's Programming Collective Intelligence and a $100 gift certificate to Amazon or IndieBound. You can do it by hand or programmatically. If you use a lot of LibraryThing data, and it's not one of the sets we release openly, shoot me an email about what you're doing and I'll give you green light.

Some ideas. My idea list...
  • Fiction vs. Non-Fiction. Feed it Amazon data, Common Knowledge or LT tags.***
  • DDC. Train it with Amazon's DDC numbers and book descriptions. Do ten thousand books and see how well it's guessing the rest.
  • Do a crosswalk, eg., DDC to LCC, BISAC to DDC, DDC to Cutter, etc.
Merry data-driven Christmas!

*A website that tracks new "betas." Basically, it tracks new web 2.0 apps. It also keeps tab of their popularity, according to Delicious bookmarks. LibraryThing is now number 12, beating out Gmail. Life isn't fair.
**Yes, we're going to get it going for reviews on the site itself. Give us some time. Cool as it is, we're pretty busy right now. Note: You can't give it the URL alone. You have to give it the text of the review.
***We may do this with tags. We already do it very crudely, using it only for book recommendations.

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Thriller, with book carts

National Library of Australia staff Christmas party does Thriller...


Hat tip: Kathryn Greenhill, with more library Thriller videos.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Job: Library Developer for LibraryThing (worldwide search)

LibraryThing is hiring 1-2 library programmers/developers/hackers.

We want to find the best people available anywhere. Work for us in Maine, or stay where you are—in your pajamas for all we care.

LibraryThing and our LibraryThing for Libraries project are both growing rapidly. We are expanding our staff and taking on new, exciting projects. We think books and libraries are the world—and we're going to change it.

The idea candidate would be:
  • Proficient in PHP, Python and JavaScript. You need to be expert in at least one of them.
  • Willing to learn what you don't know
  • Knowledge of library systems, particularly OPACs
  • Knowledge of library standards, particularly MARC
  • Able to think globally and creatively about library technology
  • Able to self-direct or collaborate with others as needed
  • Able to communicate well with others
  • Fast
  • Hard working to a fault
  • Eager to change the world
Bonus points for:
  • An MLS
  • Driving Distance to Portland, Maine
  • Strong CSS, HTML, usability, UX skills; Perl
  • Committment and experience with Open Source and Open Data 
  • Already "out there" in terms of LibraryThing membership, or participation in similar sites
  • Willingness to tolerate my quaint dislike of OO programming
  • Experience with non-library bibliographic data
  • Bibliophilia
  • Oenophilia, tyrophilia*
The position is eligible for our $1,000-in-free-books program. Refer someone to us and we pay $1,000 in free books. Self-refer and you get the books instead.

*Not going to concede on this one.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New OCLC logos

Some genius over at the Technology Planning Committee of the SHARE Library Consortium in Washington put together a parody of the OCLC logo, incorporating Darth Vader. I'd like to think there were in part inspired by my transformation of the old OCLC logo into that of the Deathstar.

Which got me thinking. The muted response to OCLC's new Policy is enormously frustrating. The Policy is the a major shift, taken with minimal member input, which effectively transforms an expensive transfer service into a permanent data monopoly. It runs against age-old library values, and in the face of everything else going on in the information world.

There's only so many posts I can write digging into the legal language. So, maybe the time has come for humor. How about some new OCLC logos I put together?

Wouldn't they look good on t-shirts at ALA Midwinter?

Well, that was a fun couple of hours! I just wish I could get the OCLC font just right.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Libraries of Early America: Project Announcement

I've posted the following announcement on several rare book/library/American history listservs this morning as the official rollout of the Libraries of Early America project, an offshoot of the Legacy Libraries effort specifically for libraries created in America before c. 1825. Note: I've "blog-ified" the announcement here by adding additional links.

Have you ever wondered what books Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had in their personal libraries? How about 18th-century Virginia musician Cuthbert Ogle, or four generations of Mather family members? Or the most active female book collector in Virginia during the colonial/early national period, Lady Jean Skipwith?

A new project will make it possible to search, compare and study these and other Libraries of Early America. Using the book-cataloging website, scholars from institutions around the country (including Monticello, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Boston Athenaeum, the Boston Public Library, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society and others) have begun the process of creating digital catalogs of early American book collections - the project covers anyone who lived in America and collected primarily before 1825.

Is your institution home to any personal library collections or library inventories/book lists? Have you run across early American library catalogs (manuscript or printed) in the course of your research? We have begun compiling a list of collections to be added and are happy to receive further submissions.

Also, if your institution's holdings include books from any of the personal libraries already completed or underway, we would be very interested to hear of them so that the records can be added to the database. While it will be impossible to catch every single book ever owned or read by these individuals, we intend to make these catalogs as complete as possible, so every title helps.

For more information, links, and so forth, please visit the Libraries of Early America group page. Feel free to ask any questions or offer any suggestions you have on the project, and if you'd like to volunteer, we'd love the assistance.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The New OCLC Policy and Federal Libraries

This blog post attempts to show that the new OCLC Policy (blogged here) effectively anulls a longstanding principle of US law, that work performed by government officials and employees is forever in the public domain.

In a library context, this has always meant that Federal libraries are not only free but compelled to share their information with the public that pays for it.

Many continue to hold that this is still true. As one AUTOCAT poster wrote:
"I find it hard to believe OCLC would attempt to assert an intellectual property right over things such as LC cataloging, which by statute is in the public domain."
Unfortunately, this conception confuses two areas of law. By crafting the Policy as a license, which is perpetual, retroactive and viral, OCLC can effect a sort of ownership--US citizens still own it, but the don't have a right to get it (except, if the qualify, with an OCLC license around it).

Thus, OCLC transforms an expensive service--access to a repository of data that, even OCLC employees admit, would fit on an iPod, with room for 5,000 songs!--into effective ownership. This state of affairs obtains even when all the cataloging and editing was done by other Federal agencies and employees. It is only broken when the library in question itself did the original cataloging. As we shall see, that doesn't help much.

Three Federal Libraries. The OCLC affiliate for Federal libraries, FEDLINK, maintains a list of its members--libraries like the Library of Congress, NASA, Justice, the Smithsonian, the National Library of Medicine, the Supreme Court, etc.

From this list I plucked three that have public catalogs--the Department of Defense, Commerce, and Labor--and carefully examined the first ten MARC records for three common English words. I checked these against the 001, 035 and 994 fields recommended in the Policy FAQ, "How can I determine if a record was derived from WorldCat?"* The results are depressing.

Of the Department of Defense's ten books on "Freedom," zero will be free after the Policy takes effect. None were originally cataloged by the Department of Defense, and all had 035 fields showing they were at one point "derived" from OCLC. In every case, the original cataloger was the Library of Congress, and many were edited by the Department of Defense. But that doesn't count. They aren't DoD original cataloging and they bear the mark of OCLC. As far as the Policy is concerned, that's the end of the story.

Of the Department of Labor's ten "Copyright" books, zero again are free. All ten were cataloged and edited by Federal employees (mostly the LC and the Congressional Information Service). But none were cataloged by the Department of Labor, and all have fatal 035 fields.

The situation at the Department of Commerce was slightly better. Here I searched for "Openness" and got only eight results. Five are clear-cut OCLC records. Two might be free--they lack 001 and 035 fields, although OCLC appears in the 040. I think, however, that they aren't currently held by the library though, and, in an overlooked provision, the OCLC Policy prohibits transfer of records when a library doesn't hold the book. But one is free--cataloged by the University of Alabama and lacking any trace of OCLC transfer.

Don't think the OCLC Policy affects Federal libraries? Think again.

Sign the Petition (if a librarian, also see this one).

Data. Here's what I found. Prove me wrong.

Department of Defense: first ten records with title starting "Freedom."

  • Freedom by Orlando Paterson (035 has ocm; cataloged by LC, edited by Department of Defense)
  • Freedom by William Safire (035 has ocm; cataloged by LC, edited by Department of Defense)
  • The Destruction of slavery (035 has ocm; cataloged by LC, edited by Department of Defense)
  • Freedom : a history (035 has ocm; cataloged by LC, edited by Department of Defense)
  • Freedom and foreign policy (035 has ocm; cataloged by LC; OCLC edits)
  • Freedom and information (035 has ocm; cataloged by LC, edits by Baker & Taylor, Connecticut State Libray and Department of Defense)
  • Freedom and the Law (035 has ocm; cataloged by LC, edited by Department of Defense)
  • Freedom at Issue (035 has ocm; cataloged by LC and about a dozen other instittions, not including OCLC)
  • Freedom at Midnight (035 has ocm; cataloged by LC, edited by Brown, OCLC and Department of Defense)
  • Freedom betrayed (035 has ocm; cataloged by LC, edited by Department of Defense)

Department of Labor: first ten records with title starting "Copyright."

  • Intellectual property and trade (035 has ocm; cataloged by US International Commission, editded by Government Printing Office and the Congressional Information Service)
  • Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1987 (035 has OCoLC; cataloged by Government Printing Office, Congressional Information Service)
  • Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988 (035 has OCoLC; cataloged by Government Printing Office, Congressional Information Service)
  • Record rental amendment extension (035 has OCoLC; cataloged by Government Printing Office, Congressional Information Service)
  • Satellite Home Viewer Copyright Act of 1988 (035 has OCoLC; cataloged by Government Printing Office, Congressional Information Service)
  • Berne Convention (035 has OCoLC; cataloged by Government Printing Office, Congressional Information Service)
  • General oversight on patent and trademark issues (035 has OCoLC; cataloged by Government Printing Office, Congressional Information Service)
  • Copyright issues presented by digital audio tape (035 has OCoLC; cataloged by Government Printing Office, Congressional Information Service)
  • Legal issues that arise when color is added to films originally produced, sold, and distributed in black and white(035 has OCoLC; cataloged by Government Printing Office, Congressional Information Service)
  • The Berne Convention (035 has OCoLC; cataloged by Government Printing Office, Congressional Information Service)

United States Department of Commerce: first eight records starting "Openness" (only 8 records total)

  • Globaphobia: confronting fears about open trade (001 incldes ocm; cataloged by LC and Colgate)
  • Regulatory reform and international market openness (035 includes ocm; cataloged by Stony Brook)
  • Financial policies and the world capital market : the problem of Latin American countries (001 contains ocm; cataloged by DLC)
  • +A vision for the world economy : openness, diversity, and cohesion (040 includes OCL; cataloged by LC, with edits by National Agricultural Library)
  • Regulatory reform in the global economy (035 includes OCM; Cataloged by University of Georgia)
  • +Globalization and progressive economic policy (040 includes OCL; cataloged by Library of Congress, edited by British Library)
  • Regulatory reform in Spain (cataloged by University of Alabama)
  • Challenges to globalization (001 contains ocn; cataloged by University of Texas)

*The FAQs are not, however, determinative of anything. The Policy makes this clear:
"This Policy is the final, complete and exclusive statement of the agreement of the partiwith respect to the subject matter hereof."
Similarly problemmatic is the claim that OCLC will not be asking libraries to shut down Z39.50 connections. The Policy makes it clear that libraries cannot "Transfer" records to companies or for "Unreasonable use" (ie., building up a free database of library records). Since companies and entities like the Open Library aren't going to agree to the Policy, how exactly can a library avoid violating their contractual agreement if they don't shut down Z39.50 connections?

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Randolph County Public Library wins award for using LTFL

Congratulations are in order for the very hip (pun intended for you OPAC geeks) Randolph County Public Library for receiving the Outstanding Library Service Innovation Award from the North Carolina Public Library Directors Association (NCPLDA) for their implementation of LibraryThing for Libraries.

They also won the Outstanding Library Promotional Project Award for their electronic newsletter and email alert service.

Well done, Randolph County Public Library!

Coverage in the Randolph Guide newspaper.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Elusive Moose and OCLC

Over the next few weeks I'm going to try to approach this issue in a number of different ways. Here's a first try.

Thought experiment. I walk into the Portland, ME public library and look up The Elusive Moose. Who owns the database record, with the title and subjects and so forth?

Who owns it? Joan Gannij wrote the book, and Clare Beaton illustrated it. Barefoot Books of Cambridge, MA published it.

To qualify for the Library of Congresses Cataloging in Print program, Barefoot Books filled out forms and submitted the basic data. The Catalogers at the Library of Congress used that and some sample chapters and made the basic record record from that, providing the publisher with the core cataloging information it printed in the book.

Then people at three other companies improved the record--Ingram Library Services, Baker & Taylor (twice), and Yankee Book Peddler. After that catalogers at two public libraries worked on it--the Vancouver Public Library and the Southfield Public Library. Finally the Anchorage, Alaska School District added the finishing touches. No doubt they know from moose! (LibraryThing, located in Portland, ME knows about moose too!)

Whose record is it? The authors? Publisher? The companies? The public libraries? The school library? How about me, or nobody? Aren't libraries supposed to be about free access to information?

The Answer. Right now, it's unclear. Probably no one owns it. The Library of Congress did the most work, and, by law, their work is free to all. And anyway, the record is composed of facts, which can't be copyrighted.

Come February, however, it will acquire a new owner, an organization known to few Americans and accountable to fewer, the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) of Dublin, Ohio. The contribution came late--after the Library of Congress had created the base record they uploaded it to OCLC so other libraries could have access to it. And their contribution was minimal--warehousing 1k of data and sending it over the (free) internet. And for that work they were very well paid, both directly and for the services they offer on top.

OCLC's new license purports to offer carrots to libraries. But it's mostly carrots from their own gardens. And it comes at a steep legal price, transforming the legal relationship between librarians and their labor, and making everyone else come begging to Dublin for information about books. OCLC will be asserting a perpetual, retroactive and explicitly viral license over the records--as good as ownership. The OCLC policy that will cover many if not most library records in the world, even at the LC and other national libraries, and is designed to spread to derivative works.* All use will be on OCLC terms--which, of course, like any such license, they can change at any time. The terms shut down the Open Library, a giant open-data cataloging project sponsored by the non-profit Internet Archive. And they shut down all commercial use of records--including LibraryThing's, unless we go through their new owner.

Petitions. If this bothers you as much as it does me, check out the Stop the OCLC Powergrab Petition, put up by Aaron Swartz, Tech Lead at Open Library. Aaron also wrote an excellent blog post about the the issue.

If you're a librarian, check out Elaine Sanchez's Petition for OCLC to Collaboratively Re-write Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat Records.

BTW: Don't worry too much about LibraryThing. One way or another we'll get through this. More and more I'm confident either the Policy will change and OCLC will embrace and lead a future of openness and collaboration, or opposition to it will create what OCLC is trying to prevent—a free and open repository of high-quality bibliographic data.

*There are millions of "OCLC-derived" records at the LC. I think I'm going to write my next post trying to figure out what the Policy means for the LC and other federally-funded libraries.

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