Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Amazon Mechanical Turk

File this under crowdsourcing (or the "wisdom of crowds"), virtual reference, or "digital sweatshop"...

A fascinating article explicates a new "crowdsourcing" tool called Amazon Mechanical Turk. The company ChaCha, which provides a type of virtual reference service, employs Turk workers. The author of the article tried out ChaCha, and observed that, crowds are "no more intelligent than their smartest members."

Anyway, read the article. I am not sure how to explain the concept pithily...

Collecting of self-published books

Here's an interesting snippet from the April issue of College & Research Libraries News:

Print-on-demand publishing continues to rise in popularity. has published more than 320,000 titles, created by people in more than 80 countries, with more than 5,000 new titles added each week. offers a similar service via its CreateSpace, which also produces film and audio on DVDs and CDs. makes available 11,000 self-published titles. The interfaces on these Web sites now make it easier than ever to publish and make changes to books without cost to the author. Candice Choi, Associated Press Writer, “Got a manuscript? Publishing now a snap,” The Boston Globe, January 1, 2008.

So, the question is, how do libraries collect these self-published books? A lot of librarians depend on published reviews or approval plans for collection development, neither which really cover this market. I suppose one way would be to look at these sites' best seller lists (1, 2) as a starting point.

Librarians have an obligation to consider these sources if they hope to develop diverse collections.

"Library budgets, open access, and the future of scholarly communication"

For those interested in the future of academic librarianship, you may find this an intriguing article. David Lewis argues that the increasing costs of scholarly journals are not sustainable and that the changing landscape of scholarly communication mean that libraries cannot continue offering the same old services.

He offers three ways libraries can ensure a place in this changing landscape and five-point budget strategy for the future. Read the article and let me know what you think, especially of his budget strategy.

Depressing Article of the Week

Read this article at Inside Higher Ed. While this may seem like a digression from the central theme of the blog, the implications for libraries and librarians are enormous.

This article paints a bleak picture for the future of the humanities. The increasing privatization of education, the adoption of corporate values by administrators, the high cost of education, and students choosing schools and majors in hopes of being offered a high-paying job are all contributing to its demise.

I wonder why we are giving up on education for education's sake: to free ourselves from ignorance and to free ourselves for exploring the world and serving others. I, like everyone else, like to get paid for my work at the end of the day, but how can we convince students and parents there is more to life than this? How can we share our passion for discovery, knowledge, and community?

I may delete or edit this post in the future, but these issues have been weighing heavily on my mind for some time now.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Kindle making waves

Amazon's e-book reader, the Kindle, has been making waves at BookExpo America.