Monthly Archives: June 2011

Crowdsourcing – A New 21st Century Library Skill

In a June 20 article in The Atlantic, “What Big Media Can Learn From the New York Public Library”, Senior Editor Alexis Madrigal reviewed the New York Public Library’s evolution, writing;

The library isn’t floundering. Rather, it’s flourishing, putting out some of the most innovative online projects in the country. On the stuff you can measure — library visitors, website visitors, digital gallery images viewed — the numbers are up across the board compared with five years ago. On the stuff you can’t, like conceptual leadership, the NYPL is killing it.

The library clearly has reevaluated its role within the Internet information ecosystem and found a set of new identities. Let’s start from here: One, the New York Public Library is a social network with three million active users and two, the New York Public Library is a media outfit.

The library still lends books, but over the past year, the NYPL has established itself as a beacon in the carcass-strewn content landscape with smart e-publications, crowdsourcing projects, and an overall digital strategy that shows a far greater understanding of the power of the Internet than most traditional media companies show.

Everywhere you look within the New York Public Library, it’s clear that the institution has realized that its mission has changed. It’s no longer only a place where people take out books and scholars dig through archives. The library has become a social network with physical and digital nodes.

That’s probably not news to many who have their head up and looking around for ideas and success stories from libraries. What struck me most about this article was the casual use of the term ‘crowdsourcing’, as if it is one in common use today. Actually, it isn’t that common among libraries – yet – and you’ll even have to Add ‘crowdsourcing’ to your spell checker.

As usual, I searched the Internet for leads to ‘crowdsourcing’ information, and our good friends at Wikipedia didn’t disappoint. “Crowdsourcing is the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a “crowd”), through an open call.” Wikipedia also has an alphabetical list of about 80 crowdsourcing projects provided for the person interested in researching the possibilities. The page lists everything from “Australian Historic Newspapers provided by the National Library of Australia encourages members of the public to correct/fix up/improve the electronically translated (OCR) text of old newspapers.” to “Zooppa is a global social network for creative talent that crowdsources advertising. Founded in 2007, Zooppa partners with companies to launch brand sponsored advertising contests.” and lots more interesting applications of crowdsourcing.

Coincidentally, I recently met Ellen Forsyth, a librarian from Australia visiting the USA. She is a library consultant with the State Library of New South Wales, and she told my colleagues and me about this crowdsourcing project and how it had proven highly productive and a catalyst for public support for the library.

The term was “first coined by Jeff Howe in a June 2006 Wired magazine article “The Rise of Crowdsourcing“” as a combination of ‘crowd’ and ‘outsourcing’. But, the concept of crowdsourcing has been around since at least the turn of the century [I love saying that.], unless you count Project Gutenberg’s distributed proofreaders crowdsourcing, which has been around longer.

The point is that incorporating this technique into library offerings is a new 21st Century Library skill that more libraries need to adopt. We have heard and read that libraries must evolve from passive providers of access to books to something more. Fall 2009, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) launched its 21st Century Skills initiatives with a 40 page report titled “Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills” [Citation: Institute of Museum and Library Services (2009). Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills (IMLS-2009- NAI-01). Washington, D.C.], in which the Institute provided this appeal to the library profession.


    • Evaluate how its current mission aligns with the goal of helping the [library] and community respond to the challenges of the 21st century;
    • Assess where the [library] sits today on the continuum of supporting the development of its audiences’ 21st century skills;
    • Become increasingly embedded in the community in order to create lasting partnerships that address 21st century audience needs; and
    • Design new programs and strategies to help individuals meet the new and more demanding challenges of 21st century life.

The collective leadership of the … library community can play a major role in setting and implementing this new strategic direction. It is our hope that the conversations sparked by this report and tool will invigorate meaningful collaborations among [libraries] and other stakeholders to help every community embrace its 21st century challenges with enthusiasm and confidence.”

Crowdsourcing is a new 21st Century Library skill from which every library and community can benefit.

However, crowdsourcing is not without its potential pitfalls. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported June 14 that Civil War Project Shows Pros and Cons of Crowdsourcing.

The University of Iowa is the latest to use crowdsourcing to let anyone online help do work once reserved for scholars and archivists—in this case, inviting volunteers to transcribe a trove of Civil War-era diaries.

… traffic spiked suddenly last week, when the project was featured prominently on Reddit, a popular blog in which users post and vote on interesting Internet links. The site received over 32,000 unique hits—30 times its usual traffic for the week … the rush of users crippled the Web site for a day. “Once the site started to get that much traffic, pretty much you couldn’t get to anything in the digital library,” Mr. Prickman said.

Staff members have spent more time checking the work of volunteers than they would have had to do if they had hired professional transcribers, Mr. Prickman says. But it has not been an excessive amount of time, and the cost-savings have made the project possible, according to Mr. Prickman. “I think we’ve also come to recognize some ‘power users’ who transcribe in great quantity with high accuracy,” he wrote in an email.

… Sharon Leon, director of public projects at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, who is conducting a similar crowdsourcing project in which volunteers transcribe handwritten documents from the now-defunct U.S. War Department of the 1800s.

“I don’t think anyone believes that there’s going to be a wholesale replacement of an awful lot of paid staff labor by crowdsourcing projects,” Ms. Leon said. “It gets the public involved, but it makes new kinds of work for existing staff.”

Sounds like a problem most libraries would love to deal with – too much help.

Crowdsourcing is a new 21st Century Library skill from which every library and community can benefit. Find good examples and ask for advice from those who have tried it and succeeded at getting their community involved in their library.

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ALA Finally Catches Up?

ALA FINALLY has recognized what I have been professing and writing for almost 18 months, and many others for longer. [The wheels of bureaucracy churn very slowly.] The ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, Policy Brief No. 4, June 2011, “Confronting the Future: Strategic Visions for the 21st-Century Public Library has been published. Author Dr. Roger E. Levien, is a fellow of the Office for Information Technology Policy of the American Library Association, working on the America’s Libraries for the 21st Century Program since 2008. “Dr. Levien graduated with highest honors from Swarthmore College and holds M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University in applied mathematics (computer science).” Of course it comes with the required bureaucratic disclaimer; “The opinions articulated in this policy brief are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funders.”

In the Summary section that begins the Policy Brief, Levien’s Conclusion is all there is of any note.

The changes confronting public libraries over the next 30 years will be profound, just as those of the past 30 years have been. That libraries have responded so effectively thus far is encouraging, yet it appears that they will have to face even more difficult challenges in the future. The choices described in this policy brief respond to the possible outcomes of the economic, social, and technological forces and trends that will affect libraries. Yet they all assume that public libraries will continue to exist. Unfortunately, it is not impossible to imagine a future without libraries. If that is to be avoided so that libraries can continue to fulfill their role as guarantors of free and unbiased access to information, they must play an active role in shaping their future.

ALA recognition of what so many have been saying for the past many months, years? Is this validation, or copying? Doesn’t matter as long as we all agree.

Levien goes on to elaborate in the “Challenges Facing Today’s Public Libraries: A View of the World” section that he sees “Four of these trends, already influential, appear destined to play a particularly critical role in shaping the future of all libraries: continued advances in digital media and technologies, heightened competition, demographic transformation, and financial constraints.”

Intermingled in Levien’s discussion of incredibly obvious future trends affecting libraries, is ALA’a plug for its efforts over the past three years.

Levien also spends several pages on “The Role and Functions of Public
Libraries: A View of the Library” covering collection, circulation, cataloging and providing access to it, providing reference services, public access computers, and services for children, teens and adults. Nothing new or profound here.

It was gratifying to note that Levien recognized that the future of the public library will be determined by strategic planning. His concluding section to his paper addresses “Alternative Visions for Public Libraries of the Future – Strategic Choices”.

America’s public libraries, of which there are over 9,000 (with over 16,000 total facilities), have substantial strategic autonomy within the overall policy and financial guidance set by their communities in addressing the needs of their patrons. To meet the challenges they face, they must make strategic choices in four distinct dimensions, each consisting of a continuum of choices that lies between two extremes. Collectively, the choices a library makes along each of the four dimensions create a vision that it believes will enable it to best serve its patrons and its community. The four dimensions are illustrated in Figure 1 and described below.

He goes on to elaborate on the continuum by stating “Eight Cases” which illustrate the extremes of the four continuum elements. This is one model of facing the future. Interesting but not new.

While there is virtually nothing new or profound in Levien’s paper, it is important that ALA has adopted his “Policy Brief” because it FINALLY establishes in ALA Policy what so many have been saying and writing for so long – change is here, the future of the public library is far from certain, and the changes in technology, competition and society will have profound affects on what that future will be. So, NOW it is officially time for all public libraries to sit up and take notice of their future.

Of particular value in this publication is the reiteration of what so many have written – the future of the library will be determined locally – not nationally! Better late than never!


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ALA’s Backhanded Compliment to Librarians?

In the May-June issue of american libraries, Will Manley referred to library workers who are NOT “Movers and Shakers” as “plodders and toilers”. Hardly a flattering label for “the front-line grunts who make service happen”, and are supposedly his “professional heroes”.

As I suspected, synonyms for “plod” are terms like trudge, slog, tread wearily, traipse, lumber and tramp. Again, hardly flattering terms for any hard working individual who one professes to admire and appreciate, let alone refer to as “heroes”. The synonyms for “toil” are terms like labor, work, sweat, strive, hustle and drudgery. Not derogatory, but still hardly at the level of highly complimentary.

Despite Manley’s profession of admiration for “worker bees”;

That does not mean that I think the M&Sers are the most important people in the profession. Absolutely not. That honor would go to the “plodders and toilers,” or if you prefer, the worker bees. There’s a lot of grunt work to be done in libraries and someone has to do it. There are books to be shelved, shelves to be read, books to be mended, catalogs to be maintained, storytimes to present, reference questions to deal with, and phones to be answered. These tasks may not “edgy,” but like it or not, these services are what keep us in business.

Of even greater value are the worker bees who work nights and weekends with smiles on their faces. The absolutely worst part of management is motivating library employees to work odd hours. The irony, of course, is that nights and weekends are libraries’ busiest times.

The whole opinion article reads rather condescending and somewhat contradictory to me. Why would it be the “absolutely worst part of management is motivating library employees to work odd hours” if one is managing “heroes”, and who wouldn’t want their heroes working at the busiest time? But according to Manley it is ironic to have “heroes” working at the busiest time – “The irony, of course, is that nights and weekends are libraries’ busiest times.”

When Manley goes on to point out that “To be pointed about the matter, it seems that many working librarians resent the award. I suppose that’s the case with any award. The winner wins, and everyone else goes home feeling, well, like a loser.”, it sounds as if he’s thumbing his nose at those who may be upset by the whole Movers and Shakers Award issue, and dismissing their annoyance over the award as just being sore losers.

Apparently in Manley’s opinion there are no noteworthy contributions by those who plan, manage, organize, direct, allocate, reconcile, advocate, mediate, supervise, handle daily customer issues, and cope with dwindling budgets. Apparently, librarians who are not worker bees or movers and shakers are not worthy of “hero” status, or maybe it’s simply an article by someone trying to find something to write regarding an issue that one should feel guilty about their opinions/comments, but can’t quite bring themselves to an apology. Back handed compliments are not really compliments at all.


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Who Knows What a Digital Library Will Be – NOBODY!

Recent developments in the world of digital libraries have made it evident that nobody knows what a 21st Century digital library will be – NOBODY!! According to Library Journal, June 21 Post:

The state librarian of Kansas, with the backing of state attorney general’s office, is planning to terminate the Kansas Digital Library Consortium’s contract with ebook vendor OverDrive and is asserting the bold argument that the consortium has purchased, not licensed, its ebook content from OverDrive and, therefore, has the right to transfer the content to a new service provider.

Jo Budler, the state librarian, said she is in negotiations with other platform providers, and that the state consortium will become a beta tester of 3M’s new Cloud Library eBook lending service, which will debut this week at the American Library Association’s annual conference in New Orleans. (3M announced today several other beta testers as well.).

Budler is asserting ownership of all the consortium’s content on OverDrive’s platform, which represents a $568,000 investment from December 2005 to June 2010, with one exception: the MaxAccess subscription it has with OverDrive for audiobooks. Budler refused to sign a renewal contract with OverDrive not only because it would have raised fees nearly 700 percent by 2014 but also would have rewritten the clause upon which Budler is basing her right to transfer content.

If that doesn’t spell court battle, I don’t know what would. So, ownership rights of digital materials is anybody’s game at this point. The court decision on digital ownership will have as much impact on the future of digital libraries as the recent Supreme Court decision in favor of Wal-Mart will have on the workplace.

My June 21 Post regarding the unlikelyhood of a national digital library in this digital native gneration’s lifetime elaborates on the embryonic debate over what a digital library will be.

As the models for digital libraries develop, even the advice of consultants and prolific authors like Joe Matthews, will need to be constantly revised and updated as the environment changes. In his new book The Digital Library Survival Guide, he gives some excellent advice.

• The future is digital and libraries must prepare for it.
• Digitizing unique materials in a library’s collection will improve access to that material.
• …
• Add value to digital content by encouraging crowdsourcing. [Blogger’s Note: User input of tags, comments, corrections, etc. as the National Library of Australia Digital Collection has done.]
A library’s budget is increasingly being constrained as licensing (renting) access to eResources (rather than ownership) assumes a more prominent position in the budget.
• Cooperative efforts with other libraries and other organizations will become an important strategy for a library.
• Digital resources – particularly cloud-based services – require new, standards-based tools and services for description, access, use and preservation.

While all of this is excellent advice for local libraries to get started, it appears that the “rent vs. own” issue is still up for grabs. I was all in favor of the shift From Ownership to Access, but maybe I was premature. Or, not everybody is as ready to transition.

Developments in search engines, searching algorithms, users’ preferences and other aspects of Internet and digital resources use are constantly evolving. Technology is a moving target that will not be nailed down. Nobody knows what a 21st Century National Digital Library will be – if and when it becomes reality.

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Digital Natives Want It Now? – Never Gonna’ Happen!

At least NOT through efforts of the library community, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

On May 31, I Posted Digital Natives Want It Now!, in which I linked to a YouTube video of a cute little digital native describing what she wanted in her library – NOW! I stated;
Unfortunately, there won’t be a Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) in these Digital Natives’ youth. According to Ed Summers’ Blog (he’s a computer code writer at the Library of Congress) INKDROID, the agenda of the recent meeting of DPLA in Amsterdam (not as incongruous as it sounds) was for “The purpose of the May 16 and 17 expert working group meeting, …, is to begin to identify the characteristics of a technical infrastructure for the proposed DPLA.”

I also stated: Let me reiterate – “begin to identify the characteristics of a technical infrastructure”. Begin to identify by a committee is the same as “We have no clue as to when this might eventually become reality, if ever!”

And, “Summers goes on to write in his May 25 Post, ‘The thing I learned at the meeting in Amsterdam is that this nebulousness is by design–not by accident. The DPLA steering committee aren’t really pushing a particular solution that they have in mind. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus about what problem they are trying to solve. Instead the steering committee seem to be making a concerted effort to keep an open, beginners-mind about what a Digital Public Library of America might be.’”

As if that scenario Summers described wasn’t disheartening enough to a near future of a DPLA, now we understand that “public” and “academic” librarians are fighting over the name, among other issues. Fighting over the name! How is this going to help make a National Digital Library a reality?

Posted June 18 in LibraryCity, David Rothman believes that “Even if public libraries set up their own national digital library system, as I dearly hope, I believe it should not use the P word in its name. Better that local public libraries keep the brand name to themselves. … This is no small reason why I believe that tightly intertwined but separate library systems should exist for public and academic libraries, especially as “digital” counts more and more. I’d rather that elitist academics not tell public librarians what to do; status and institutional pecking orders mustn’t prevail over the public’s library needs. The current DPLA won’t even assure an academic-public split in the future…”

Is there any question why evolution happens so slowly within the library community? or, Why on the whole libraries are still operating with 20th Century mindsets? The mainstream library community stands upon the generally accepted principals of librarianship established by SLIS, ALA, and other such “professional” organizations that now can’t even agree upon a name to call an American national digital library. SAD!! Other nations have already developed their own national digital libraries. WHAT IS OUR PROBLEM?

But, leave it to the private sector to forge ahead with solutions!’s eBOOKNEWSER blog posted yesterday that 3M has a solution to digital libraries, and will partner with cutting edge local libraries to explore and move forward the digital library effort.

The new digital library will go into beta testing this summer, and 3M has revealed the names of some of the libraries, including Saint Paul Public Library (MN), Bergen County Cooperative Library System (NJ), Maricopa County Library District (AZ), Douglas County Libraries (CO), Darien Library (CT), Richland County Public Library (SC), and the State Library of Kansas on behalf of the Kansas Digital Library Consortium.

Where would we be without entrepreneurs – private and public! A heartfelt Thank You to all who move ahead for the common good!


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Do-It-Yourself QR Codes

Ever wonder how you can make your own QR code symbol? Well, I did when I noticed that a colleague had added a QR Code sticker to his business card. I scanned it and got a “contact” for a smartphone that you would then save to your Contacts list. Pretty slick.

So, that started me doing some research on the subject of making my own QR Code with my information. According to Wikipedia [If my frequent reliance on the Wiki folks is annoying to some, too bad. I find it very useful, as does Stephen Abram.], QR Code “was created by Toyota subsidiary Denso-Wave in 1994, the QR code is one of the most popular types of two-dimensional barcodes. The QR code was created to allow its contents to be decoded at high speed”, and the scan results are amazingly fast on your smartphone.

You can read the Denso-Wave website if you’re really interested in the details of what the code contains or how, but I’m just interested in how I can make my own. There are numerous free QR Code generators on the Internet naturally. Finding the right one for my job was the time consuming part. There are ones that generate a specific code symbol, like a URL, or contact as I mentioned above, or advertisements, etc. But finding the right one to link my “symbol” with me was tricky.

There are 40 versions of QR Code from Version 1 that contains up to 25 characters, to Version 40 that contains up to 4,296 characters – so, chose your poison – part of which depends on the scanner. There is even micro-QR for very limited scanners, but the standard QR code is up to 7,089 characters – more than enough for me.

I tried that essentially only does a single URL, which is fine if that’s all you want to do is plaster your URL around where ever.

But, if you’re interested in making a “contact” type message, is a quick an easy way to generate that PNG file (or BMP file in some cases) of your QR Code basic contact information – name, title, address, phone, email, etc.

One thing that is noticeable is that the more characters of information, the more dense the symbol.

With you can generate a message…

… or a URL, SMS, email, or this less than 100 character message above.

Delivr QR Code Generator creates the “contact” information. But, depending on your smartphone configuration, it might not save all the information.

I guess the important thing about Do-It-Yourself QR Code creating is that you can find whatever application you want to suit your needs. As far as smartphone apps to actually scan and read the QR Code, that is wide open as well. Use the “app store” of your service provider and you can find free apps for your specific device, and there are numerous suppliers online as well. You just need to spend some time figuring out what works best for you. Copying the symbol to whatever media you chose is just normal word processing stuff. Copy it into a label maker, or common label printing software (like MS Word) and viola’!

And don’t forget…….


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“Inside the Box” Librarians

I have come to the conclusion that the vast majority of individuals in this profession are “Inside the Box Librarians” after all. I used to think that librarians as a whole were the most innovative, creative and adventuresome group with which I had ever been associated. And, maybe that’s still true when it comes to implementing solutions to immediate issues, or developing unique approaches to tired old programs.

When it comes to seeing where the (other than school) library fits in a future where schools are preparing 21st Century students for jobs that don’t currently exist that will use technology that hasn’t been invented to solve problems we don’t yet understand, they can not think outside their comfort zone. Their thinking is very much inside the box.

Apparently, the profession needs a few futurists who can give us some perspective in which we can believe and prepare. Minnesota Library Futures Initiative that began last October is a great start. The futurist Michael Rogers helped launch the initiative by stating in his keynote remarks, “The practical futurist is someone who thinks about the future. Then they take some practical steps toward that future.” As much as I applaud their initiative, I am highly skeptical of a committee process for seeing the future of libraries. If you read their minnesota library futures initiative website, it reads like any other bureaucratic committee effort controlled by a “steering committee” – bogged down by process.

Stephen Abram stated in a Futurist interview in 2008 that;

Abram: Reading isn’t going to go away, but it’s only one aspect. Probably, it will be some combination of reading, visual conversations, lessons. … Most of the important stuff will have been converted twenty years from now. We can convert the entire Library of Congress for $9 billion right now, which, in terms of national priorities, is only 5 weeks of Iraqi conflict. It’s doable. It used to be undoable. The corpus, the ability to create cultural context is going to change the nature of how culture is expressed when you look at culture as a cultural activity. So 50% of everything ever written in Chinese has already been converted and put into a central vault. They’re 5 years away from almost 100% of all Chinese documentation and books being converted…

Don’t forgot Mike Matas, at TED2011, who presented A next-generation digital book, “the first full-length interactive book for the iPad -with clever, swipeable video and graphics…” This has already been followed by The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot, from Touch Press. iTunes says;

The Waste Land for iPad brings alive the most revolutionary poem of the last hundred years for a 21st Century audience. A wealth of interactive features illuminate T.S. Eliot’s greatest work. This digital edition carefully respects the typography and integrity of the original yet offers spectacular new ways to explore the significance and influence of the poem.

Those are the kinds of perspectives and prospects we need to understand in order to begin to develop our 21st Century Library plans and strategies. Reading “Back to Basics” and “Digital Textbooks Slow to Catch On” type articles are not encouraging for hope of a profession oriented on the dramatically changing future. I guess too many are still trying to just keep the doors open.

How are librarians going to contribute to a future where schools are preparing 21st Century students for jobs that don’t currently exist that will use technology that hasn’t been invented to solve problems we don’t yet understand?


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