Saturday, June 18, 2005

Notes from ATLA, Day Two

Friday was another busy day at the ATLA conference. I first went to a session titled "'Treasures Hid in the Sand': Finding Information for Religious Studies Research in Electronic Non-Theological Resources." The presenter, Judy Clarence, instruction librarian at California State University East Bay, demonstrated how to find information for religious and theological studies research in a number of different library databases, ones we might not normally think of. For example, Agricola, the primary database in agriculture, contains many citations related to church work with the hungry. CINAHL (Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health) provides access to some literature on spiritual care and chaplaincy. GenderWatch and Ethnic NewsWatch contain information about religious topics with emphases on gender issues and ethic and minority groups. (Ethinic NewsWatch is particularly useful because one can narrow search results by ethnic group.) As a final example here, ABI/Inform, the major database in business, provides access to literature on church management and fundraising. Clarence's session showed once again the importance of cross-disciplinary database/index searches in comprehensive research.

The second session I attended was a talk by Anne LeVeque, who is currently employed by the Congressional Research Service. Anne explained that librarians for the CRS work exclusively for members of Congress, not the general public. She gave examples of broad types of issues she regularly researches. Many of these are obvious: faith-based and community initiatives, church-state issues, evolution, school prayer, public displays (the Ten Commandment, for example), inaugural traditions (e.g, with respect to the Bible and prayers), demographic questions (e.g., "How many Presbyterians live in my district?"), world religious traditions, holiday traditions, ecumenical/interfaith relations, cults, and bioethics (abortion, stem cell research, and end-of-life issues). She receives everything from simple and quick ready-reference questions to those that take days to research. (If providing reference services to members of Congress sounds interesting, the CRS currently has job openings!)

I then heard Libby Peterek, a recent graduate of the School of Information at the University of Texas-Austin, speak about information retrieval strategies. She focused mostly on RSS. (Her presentation is online.)

RSS is not new to me: I've used RSS for over two years. It is my primary means of news gathering. I subscribe to over 155 RSS feeds through my Bloglines account. I won't explain what RSS is here (google it), but I agree with Libby that it is a form of information retrieval. I had previously thought of RSS simply as a form of "push" content, but I read an interesting essay today by Kevin Hale, who argues quite persuasively that RSS is actually the next paradigm in search. However, I didn't agree with everything he wrote (e.g., "Google is essentially a library").

The final session I attended was about OpenURLs. Andrew Keck from the Duke Divinity School library explained what OpenURLs are and how they are implemented. (Keck was quoted in a recent Library Journal article about the use of iPods in libraries.) For those of you who know what OpenURL is, it is now officially a NISO standard. Essentially, OpenURLs are links between electronic resources. In a library database, an article citation which may actually be included in full text in another database is linked to the full text via an OpenURL. This assumes that the two databases are OpenURL-enabled and the library has an OpenURL server. OpenURLs are big time-savers for users and greatly increase access to a library's full text holdings.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald Norman

I recently read Donald Norman's book, The Design of Everyday Things (the first edition was titled Psychology of Everyday Things). Norman is an expert in product design, and is currently Professor of Computer Science, Psychology and Cognitive Science at Northwestern University.

Why I mention this book now and in this blog is because, in the ATLA conference hotel, I became flustered with my room's clock radio. It has an "Auto / Off / On" switch and a wheel labeled "Off Buzz/Volume" with a small right triangle nearby. I spent 10 minutes trying to figure out whether "Auto" or "On" turned the alarm on. Similarly, I couldn't tell immediately what "Off Buzz" really meant and which way to turn the wheel for a loud alarm. I finally gave up and used by cell phone alarm.

Was I stupid or was this a case of bad design? In cases like this the product is almost always at fault, Norman would argue. The clock radio labels weren't intuitive (what do "Auto" and "Off Buzz" really mean?) and the clock didn't provide me with clear feedback as to whether the alarm was actually set or not.

His book illustrates a number of very basic design principles that can apply to almost any product. Consequently, I'll never look at light switches, doors, car radios, telephones, stove tops, and public restroom faucets in the same way ever again. (Yes, doors.) In fact, I'm starting to see design flaws in almost everything around me! While his book focuses on physical objects, many of his design principles can apply to computer interfaces, including library catalogs, electronic journals, e-books, and databases. Some of his principles include: provide the user with feedback, use natural mappings/mental models, use constraints, bridge the gulf of execution and the gulf of evaluation, use forcing functions, and in cases where good design cannot be implemented, use cultural standards. All of these principles are clearly defined and illustrated in the book. Recommended. It is also a title on Josh Kaufman's Personal MBA program book list.

The study and application of good, user-centered design principles to computer interfaces and products and other technology is the focus of human-computer interaction (HCI) research. Some library schools, like the School of Information at the University of Michigan, offer HCI specializations.

WorldCat and the RLG Union Catalog

Any serious library researcher has probably either used WorldCat or the RLG Union Catalog to track down the location of books in other libraries. Both WorldCat and the RLG Union Catalog are union catalogs. The Online Dictionary of Library and Information Science defines union catalog as a "list of the holdings of all the libraries in a library system, or of all or a portion of the collections of a group of independent libraries, indicating by name and/or location symbol which libraries own at least one copy of each item."

Both of these catalogs, until recently, have only been available to library users who have been fortunate enough to be members of libraries that have paid for access to them. However, substantial subsets of both catalogs are now freely accessible and searchable. Although these two tools have been available for months, only recently, in my opinion, have they become truly usable.

The first is Open WorldCat, a program that "makes records of library-owned materials in OCLC's WorldCat database available to Web users on popular Internet search, bibliographic and bookselling sites." As the program's Web site explains,

A Web user visits a site such as Yahoo! Search or Google and enters a search phrase that matches the title of a library-owned item. The returned search results include a link to the Open WorldCat "Find in a Library" interface, where they can enter geographic information that helps them locate the item at a library in their city, region or country.

However, standard Google and Yahoo! searches didn't always display the book results at the top of the list, making them hard to spot in the usual list of thousands of Web sites for any given search. Relatively new search tools make direct searching for books in these search engines easier. Of particular note are a Yahoo! toolbar for the Internet Explorer browser and a search extension for the Firefox browser.

Now, almost all 58 million records in WorldCat have been made available to Google and Yahoo! for searching.

The second tool is RedLightGreen, which I consider to be the most innovative and helpful.

RedLightGreen helps you locate the most important books and other research materials in your area of interest, and find out whether what you need is available at your favorite library.

For the longest time, I had no idea exactly what RedLightGreen was searching. Yes, it helps you locate books and other materials, but which books? Their FAQ now explains that, "RedLightGreen's database is based on the RLG Union Catalog. ... Currently, RedLightGreen's database is the books portion of the RLG Union Catalog." You can read more about the contents of the RLG Union Catalog here.

RedLightGreen provides a helpful Google-style search interface (a single box). Alternatively, a Firefox search extension is also available (click on "Information for Librarians" in the upper-righthand corner).

Why I think RedLightGreen is innovative is that it provides the familiar, single Google-style search box, but after presenting you with the results of a search, suggests subjects to search. By clicking on a subject, RedLightGreen then displays all the books categorized with that subject. I believe that these subjects correspond to Library of Congress subject headings from database's respective catalog records in the RLG Union Catalog. (Example: a search for "cookbook" suggests "cookery," which is a Library of Congress subject heading.) Searches like these bring together all works categorized by the subject, without you needing to worry about thinking of all possible synonyms that are usually required for a complete keyword search. My explanation probably does not do the subject search justice; just try it out.

Another innovative feature is that RedLightGreen will create citations out of your search results and will save the citations so that you can easily create a bibliography. You can e-mail the citations to yourself or display them in a print-friendly format. This can be a big time-saver for students and reduces a bit of stress they usually feel trying to get everything formatted correctly.

Yet a third feature is that RedLightGreen provides you links from the records to booksellers should you wish to buy the books. Links to table of contents are also available for some records.

I think these efforts to make the union catalogs freely accessible and searchable in these ways do two things. One, they make library materials more accessible than ever. No longer is it only possible to find books in a library catalog. WorldCat is now indirectly searchable through everyone's favorite and easy-to-use search engine. Not only library books in search results remind people of the value of books in research, but these tools should bring more people into the library. Librarians can feel more at ease that what they thought was a threat to the library is actually helping to bring users back to it. Two, the innovative approaches to book searching, as demonstrated by RedLightGreen, should lead to easier-to-use library catalogs. People like an uncluttered, single-box search interface. RedLightGreen demonstrates that such an interface can work for a library catalog, while providing power users advanced searching tools/options that don't get in the way of the basic user. (I asked an Endeavor representative at the ATLA conference if they were considering such an interface for their Voyager library catalog product. She said they were!)

Note: Both RedLightGreen and Open WorldCat (through Google and Yahoo!) display advertising.

Privacy and Google Print

A contract between Google and the University of Michigan released publicly on Friday contains no provisions for protecting the privacy of people who will eventually be able to search the school's vast library collection over the Internet.

Google announced plans late last year to digitize and index as many as 7 million volumes of material from the University of Michigan to make them searchable on the Internet as part of its Google Print service, a searchable index of books.


The American Library Association code of ethics recommends that libraries preserve the privacy and confidentiality of library users and recommends they ask third-party partners to retain the same degree of protection, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director for the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom. "Access should be anonymous," she said.

Read more about the exact nature of the privacy concern in this article posted at CNET.

How to Become a Librarian

A new article in Library Journal.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Notes from ATLA

Day 1 of the American Theological Library Association annual conference has just concluded. It was a good day. The opening plenary speaker was Nancy Pearl, the author of Book Lust: Recommended Readings for Every Mood and model for the Librarian Action Figure. Her talk was titled "The Pleasures and Perils of a Life of Reading." She was hilarious and kept everyone in stitches throughout her hour-long speech. What struck me as most interesting was what she identified as the perils of a life of reading. They included:

1. Never learning how to pronounce the words we read. After all, if we read to ourselves all the time, there's no pressure to check pronunciations of unfamiliar words. The examples she gave included "segue" and "fugue." For the longest time, she said, she pronounced segue as "sagooee."

2. Being too lazy to pick up the dictionary off of the bookshelf to look up unfamiliar words. When we're settled and comfortable in our chair reading a good book, who wants to interrupt the flow to get that heavy thing off of a high shelf?

3. Never knowing for sure if our memories are actually ours. She related a story in which she had told her daughter that she had gone to her junior prom. Nancy's daughter asked, "Mom, are you sure you went to your junior prom?" Nancy proceeded to explain to her daughter that, yes, she had gone to prom with a guy named Monk and even described her dress in detail. Then there was a long silence on the other end of the phone. "Mom," her daughter said, "that story is from a book we had both read." Sure enough, Nancy checked the book her daughter had said the story was in, and there was the Monk and the prom dress, exactly how she had described.

While I have yet to suffer from peril number three, I am guilty of perils one and two. It is very comforting that I can identify with someone who is an avid reader and fellow librarian.

After Nancy's talk, the exhibits officially opened. Then, I attended one of the many concurrent sessions. It was a roundtable discussion about the format/design, audience, and value of pathfinders. "Pathfinder" has a number of definitions. One of the session's handouts included three definitions. Two of the three that I most identified with included:

A guide designed to assist the user in researching a particular discipline or topic. A pathfinder identifies key subject headings related to the topic, important reference books, periodical indexes, journals and other resources available at the local library. Sources on the World Wide Web are usually also included. Pathfinders can be printed or available online.


A library pathfinder is a document that serves as a map and guide to bibliographic research on a specific topic. (See:

Participants mentioned that pathfinders seem to be most successful when they are compiled in consultation with faculty. Students like to know that the list of sources has been "approved" or "recommended" by professors, and may be afraid to use sources that they perceive as not receiving such approval. One participant explained that dropping a draft of a pathfinder in a professor's mailbox for review is like dropping something into a black hole. She instead visits faculty during their office hours to discuss sources that should be included and to develop annotations explaining each resource.

I pointed out, though, that pathfinders are both a blessing and a curse. Students like the lists (if they know about them, and can find and understand them). The lists reduce library anxiety by presenting a small, "digestible" universe of library resources with which to begin a research project. However, students may be afraid to venture off of this list, thus limiting their searches to a few resources while many potentially rich sources in the library go unused. This leads to a flaw with lists of sources that Thomas Mann pointed out in Library Research Models. People tend to forget the sources and at the same time don't learn of a constructive research process. Thus, pathfinders fail as an instructional tool (obviously) unless there is some effort to convey a procedure or method. But, as one participant wisely pointed out, librarians have to assure students that if they feel like they have a method that they should not be limited by what a pathfinder or tutorial might suggest to them.

One participant wondered if there was a compilation of particularly outstanding pathfinders. By this time in the discussion, the terms "pathfinders" and "online tutorials" were being used synonymously. I suggested that the participants check out the Association of College and Research Library's Instruction Section's PRIMO project. PRIMO "is a means to promote and share peer-reviewed instructional materials created by librarians to teach people about discovering, accessing and evaluating information in networked environments."

After this discussion, I attended a vendor product talk. In this case, the vendor was Thomson-Gale describing their resources in religious studies and philosophy, including the new second edition of the Encyclopedia of Religion. The vendor representative also addressed the criticisms of the New Catholic Encyclopedia and mentioned the upcoming update to the Encyclopedia Judaica, which is set for publication in late 2006.

This evening, I went on one of the "hosted excursions" to the Austin Museum of Art. The current primary exhibition is a series of photos by Annie Leibovitz.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

But will it get through the Senate?

House votes to limit Patriot Act rules on library records

June 16, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The House voted Wednesday to block the FBI and the Justice Department from using the anti-terror Patriot Act to search library and book store records, responding to complaints about potential invasion of privacy of innocent readers.

Despite a veto threat from President Bush, lawmakers voted 238-187 to block the part of the anti-terrorism law that allows the government to investigate the reading habits of terror suspects.

The vote reversed a narrow loss last year by lawmakers complaining about threats to privacy rights.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

ATLA conference

Professional associations provide excellent networking and continuing education opportunities. I encourage library school students to join one or more professional associations. One such organization I belong to is the American Theological Library Association. This is a particularly good association for LIS students to join. ATLA provides $500 travel grants to 10 student members every year for attendance at the annual conference. (I have been fortunate to receive one of these grants for two consecutive years.) Also, the number of annual conference attendees is small enough that it's possible meet just about everyone there. The attendees are really friendly and are very welcoming of students. Last year, I had the chance to meet ATLA board members personally and to dine with one of them at the closing banquet. I met many theological library directors and was even offered jobs!

I leave Wednesday for this year's annual conference, which is being held in Austin, TX. There are lots of interesting speakers on the program. Nancy Pearl, the author of Book Lust: Recommended Readings for Every Mood and model for the Librarian Action Figure, is the opening plenary speaker. Lindsay Jones, editor of the second revised edition of the Encyclopedia of Religion (published this year by Macmillian Reference USA), will speak on Saturday about this work, which is considered to be the foremost reference work in the field of comparative religion. There will also be sessions on everything from e-books, OpenURLs, and information overload, to information literacy, contemporary religious fiction, and the care of CDs and DVDs. It looks like it's going to be a great conference!

Monday, June 13, 2005

"What to Ask Your Interviewer"

The newest issue of was posted today. One of the article is about questions to ask prospective employers. As I had mentioned in a previous post, I had found this to be a helpful article: Biggs, D.R., et. al., Proactive interviewing [strategies for the assertive job hunt]. College & Research Libraries News no. 1 (January 1987) p. 13-17.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Recommended readings for new academic librarians

Did you just graduate from library school or get your first academic library job? Be sure to check out the article, Ten must reads for new academic librarians, in this month's issue of Reference Services Review (vol. 33, no. 2, pages 228-234).

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Giving away a book... increases sales?

From Scholarly Communication, a newsletter prepared by University Librarian Paula Kaufman:

One of the most interesting presentations at this fantastic conference was given by Eve Gray, of Eve Gray & Associates. Gray was asked to study the publishing strategy of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in South Africa. This research institution had a traditional strategy of publishing lots of research books, and selling them. Gray convinced them to change their strategy­to give away all their research books for free online, and offer a high quality print-on-demand service for anyone who wants the paper version. The result: "the sales turnover of the publishing department has risen by 300%." As she concluded her presentation, "giving away books and lead to an increase in our book sales." There's much much more in her interesting analysis. She has generously offered it for downloading. Here's the press release. Lessig Blog 5/27/05

I seem to remember that this was similar to the case with the National Academies Press. Unfortunately, I cannot find or recall a citation at the moment.

Insider Higher Ed

Today, two interesting articles about libraries appeared in the RSS feed to Inside Higher Ed, the delightful new competitor to The Chronicle of Higher Education. The first article, The Joy of the Stacks, discusses the University of Chicago's library expansion plan. The vision is to keep as much of the collection under one roof as possible. This is a notable step in the other direction in the academic library community, since remote storage facilities are all the rage these days. Those interviewed in the article talked about the somewhat romantic notion of serendipitous discovery in the stacks, which often isn't possible or allowed in remote storage facilities. (For more on one type of remote storage facility--known as the print repository--here.)

The author of the other article, Silence in the Stacks, bemoans the lack of lengthy discourse in the academic library blogosphere. Where are the voices, he asks, expounding upon the issues of the day? It is true, there are many blogs about librarianship, but the few that are most well known are generally technology-related (e.g., Library Stuff [which should be renamed RSS Stuff] and The Shifted Librarian). There don't seem to be blogs in which lively debates over intellectual freedom or classification are raging, specifically in a college or university context. Steven Bell, one of the people interviewed, reacts to the article here.


If you're wondering if librarianship might be a tad too traditional or tame for your tastes, check out what Radical Reference has going on at the American Library Association annual meeting this month.


Monday, June 06, 2005

Library Research Models, by Thomas Mann

I just finished reading Thomas Mann's Library Research Models: A Guide to Classification, Cataloging, and Computers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). It is an outstanding book, one I recommend for all library students and librarians. I wish my reference professor had assigned this as a text!

Mann, who is currently (as far as I know) a reference librarian at the Library of Congress, describes a number of different library research models, including: specific subject or discipline model, traditional library science model (classification scheme, vocabulary-controlled catalog, published bibliographies and indexes), type-of-literature model, actual-practice model, and computer workstation model. He notes the limitations and powers of each approach, and he concludes the book with a cumulative methods-of searching model that uses most of these models to account for the weaknesses of the others. If you want a comprehensive approach to your next massive research project, Mann provides it!

Along the way, he made a number of excellent arguments. The first is that most people believe that the organization of information in the library consists of the classification scheme alone. Thus, people assume the only way to access the information in a library is to find the call number or class where a certain subject might be and browse around that area in the stacks. Unfortunately, this is a deficient assumption. As Mann and critics of classification schemes point out, one book can address many subjects. So, where does a book go then? Similarly, a book addressing one subject can address many different aspects of it. Which aspect should be be brought out in its class assignment? Given these probelms, a person browsing the stacks may be missing several relevant books if he or she restricts the search to one class area in the stacks. Nevertheless, classification is important, as it provides a library user access to the full text of the library's collection. Mann provides examples of information that cannot be found through a library's catalog or various bibliographies and indexes, but only through browsing in the book's of a library's collection.

Another argument he makes is the controlled vocabulary used in the library's catalog is a powerful mechanism for providing access to information. Specifically, controlled vocabulary provides predictability and serendipity. Yes, that's right. Mann provides innumerable examples to show this. He rightly criticizes information scientists who insist that keyword/postcoordinate searches have made controlled vocabulary irrelevant. As we've discussed in this blog, "tagging" has become popular. However, tagging lacks authority control and the syndetic structure of thesauri and books of subject headings, such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings, and thus lacks the full predictability of formal controlled vocabularies.

Mann describes another aspect not emphasized in research or in library science education: the importance of bibliographies and indexes. He notes that the Library of Congress classification places encyclopedias and other guides to the literature in the A class (these works, he says, serve as a "table of contents" to everything after it, that is, works in the B through V range). Class Z includes bibliographies and indexes. These are at the end in the classification scheme; they serve as an index to everything before it. Mann explains how to find bibliographies, both in the catalog and in the classification scheme, and, again, provides illustrative examples of the usefulness of these works.

If there are powerful, traditional approaches to finding information during the research process, why don't we use them? There are many reasons. Mann speculates at length. One reason is that methods courses in graduate work tend to focus on discipline or subject specific resources (often in the form of lists), instead of library research approaches. Library science education, on the other hand, tends toward the type-of-literature model. Students in a LIS reference course, for example, learn about specific almanacs, atlases, encyclopedias, etc., without learning how to find them more generally, for any subject, using a library's controlled vocabulary. Reference course work in specific areas, such as government information or science, is actually a combination of the type-of-literature and the discipline/subject models. This has been the case, in my experience. If I were to teach a course in general reference, I would definitely assign chapters 3-5 in this book! (These chapters cover the library science model: classification, controlled vocabulary, and published bibliographies and indexes).

Another reason why many of these approaches aren't used is due to what is known as the Principle of Least Effort. Mann refers to this principle repeatedly throughout the book and wrote a chapter on it. We are comfortable chatting with our fellow students or coworkers and asking for good articles or books they may have read or seen, or simply looking at the footnotes of one or two articles we may have happened across in a simple keyword search of some particular database.

Mann's reliance on controlled vocabulary could be considered one of the book's weaknesses. Yes, it is important for finding information in the library, but it is difficult to teach. I would guess that most librarians would not feel comfortable teaching the LCSH! Also, most people loathe to consult the big red LCSH books, but, at the same time, there isn't an easy way to browse them online. Even the LOC's authorities Web site isn't as easy as browsing the LCSH books, in my opinion.

Another criticism of the book may be that it is a systems approach to research. That is, the book emphasizes the systems of research rather than the user. Well, that may be, but Mann does acknowledge the weaknesses of these research models and the systems they use. He also acknowledges that they take some learning. But, especially for print resources, how else is a user to find information in the library? There's been lots of research done on information seeking behavior, but few if any of these studies have suggested real changes to the current library organization model of classification, a vocabulary-controlled catalog, and indexes and bibliographies. If I'm wrong on this, please let me know!

In spite of these possible criticisms, this book helped me see the organization of library information as a whole (classification [browsing], vocabulary-controlled catalog, bibliographies and indexes). This book has me looking very much forward to an update of Mann's other book, which will be released later this year: The Oxford Guide to Library Research.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Browse This

Google Print finally has a site of its own. Though still labeled a "beta" version, it's only recently that the books digitized through Google had their own search page (like Google News or Google Maps). At first glance, the bulk of books are publisher-supplied, not part of their library digitization project. But so far, results suggest for now it may have a higher percentage of scholarly content than Amazon's Search Inside does.

Another interesting development - OCLC has made Open WorldCat searchable through Yahoo, Google, or Firefox toolbars. Each works a bit differently, but it means your browser can easily chase down whether a particular book is available in a local library or not.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

News items

Lots of interesting news today.

These readers are all ears. An article about audiobooks and the industry's award, the Audie. The winners are announced Thursday.

U.S. Book Production Reaches New High of 195,000 Titles in 2004; Fiction Soars. [Link courtesy of the ResourceShelf.]

A new review of Google Scholar. [Link courtesy of the ResourceShelf.]