Current Cites (Digital Library SunSITE)

Volume 11, no. 5, May 2000

Edited by Teri Andrews Rinne

The Library, University of California, Berkeley, 94720
ISSN: 1060-2356 - http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/CurrentCites/2000/cc00.11.5.html

Contributors: Terry Huwe, Michael Levy, Leslie Myrick, Jim Ronningen, Lisa Rowlison, Roy Tennant

Austen, Ian. "Study Reveals Web As Loosely Woven" New York Times (May 18, 2000) Section G, p.8. - In a review of a new study of the web, a picture emerges — one which has been clear to librarians for a while — of a phenomenon "less like an elaborately interwoven community and more like the vast bureaucracy in Kafka's Castle: a mountain of disconnected information, lost files and frustrating dead ends." The study was presented at recent conferences in Amsterdam and Dallas and focused on web links. The study concluded that when trying to reach a specific destination if one only uses links this fails about 75% of the time; only 28% of web sites are strongly connected to the web, i.e have a substantial number of links to and from other sites. Another interesting consequence of the "weakly linked sites" is that many web crawlers determine the value of a site based on the number of links on it. By graphing their results the researchers drew a map of the web that looks less like a spiders web and more like a bow tie with pages in the center knot linking to pages on the right side. More recent sites (on the left side of the bow) link into the center but the center does not generally link back out to them. In an interesting comment, the author of the study under review, Raymie Stata, suggests that the average user wouldn't find the web compelling if it didn't have links because it would resemble a database such as Lexis-Nexis. What is forgotten in this comment is that Lexis-Nexis is a highly structured and well-organized collection of databases making it actually much easier to find relevant information. - ML

Blume, Harvey. "Open Science Online" The American Prospect 11(10) (March 27-April 10, 2000):44-47. (http://www.americanprospect.com/archives/V11-10/blume-h.html) - Blume uses the example of PubMed Central to discuss the issue of electronic scholarly publishing. PubMed Central was supposed to be an electronic archive administered by the NIH to give free access to biomedical research in the form of full text articles and research reports even before they appeared in a final printed form. The project came under fire from the New England Journal of Medicine as threatening "the evaluation and orderly dissemination of new clinical studies." In other words the dissemination of unreviewed research and the ability of traditional publishing outlets to adapt to new technological possibilities. Comparing this type of scholarly electronic publishing with the open source movement, ie. Linux, Blume suggests digital projects such as Pub Med Central will still allow traditional journals to frame and interpret data, and that this expertise will be the equivalent of an open source business making profits from documentation and customer support as opposed to the sale of sofware. - ML

Carvajal, Doreen. "Four Giants Set to Embrace Electronic Publishing" The New York Times (online edition) (http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/00/05/biztech/articles/23books.html) - With the digital publishing market predicted to reach critical mass in two to three years, three major publishing houses and Microsoft have decided to catch the wave that has already launched hundreds of smaller dot.com ventures. Carvajal outlines the details of an e-publishing partnership between Microsoft, Simon and Schuster, and Random House that hopes to propel itself to the wave's crest with the giveaway of an e-version of Crichton's popular time-traveling thriller Timeline, followed by the publication of a series of Star Trek titles. On a less than "tubular" note, these texts will be accessible only through Microsoft's proprietary reader software. Meanwhile, with an eye to tailoring its product to the quirks of modern-day reading and readers, Time Warner's iPublish site is poised to capture the Palm- and Rocket-book-wielding commuter-train market by proposing a series of shorter works of fiction and non-fiction, condensed works, and serialized pieces by known authors. Aiming primarily at an under-40 readership, iPublish's sister site, iWrite, will tap the burgeoning "Who Wants to be a Writer?" crowd, accepting and vetting manuscripts without a fee from undiscovered hopefuls. - LM

Coffman, Steve and Susan McGlamery. "The Librarian and Mr. Jeeves" American Libraries 31(5) (May 2000): 66-69. - Coffman is well-known for stirring the pot (see his previously cited articles, http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/CurrentCites/bibondemand.cgi?query=coffman ), and this piece is no exception. Coffman is ably joined by Susan McGlamery, another forward-thinking librarian who shares Coffman's (and others) vision of 24x7 reference service. In this piece they look at existing commercial web reference services like Ask Jeeves and Webhelp, and wonder why we should abandon the unsuspecting public to companies with a commercial interest which have access to only web-based information and that possess only the most superficial understanding of how to go about helping people find what they need. They assert, "if we hope to continue to serve as honest brokers and offer a viable alternative to the Ask Jeeveses and Webhelps of the world, then we must adopt the tools and strategies of our competitors and join our patrons on the web." Coffman and McGlamery go on to describe an innovative project they are managing in Southern California, funded in part by grants, to do just that. The project is using Webline (recently bought out by Cisco Systems) software, which provides sophisticated tools well beyond "chat" to enable librarians to interact with patrons. If you work in a library, this project is clearly one to watch. - RT

Desmarais, Norman. The ABCs of XML: The Librarian's Guide to the eXtensible Markup Language. New Technology Press, Houston: 2000. - - Desmarais has written a clear, concise guide to XML that should be of great use to not just librarians, but anyone interested in this important standard. In fact, the only chapter focusing on potential uses for XML is inexplicably given over to e-commerce — a rather strange choice for a book aimed at librarians. I would much rather have seen "XML and its Potential for Libraries." But that is a minor quibble, and even completely skipping the chapter does little to diminish its substantial worth. What makes this book so good is not how big it is, but how little. At around 150 pages of text (and less than 130 if you don't count that useless chapter), Desmarais has done you a serious favor. He has boiled down a complicated topic to its essentials, and doesn't waste your time with the stuff and bother that plague many XML books. This will not be your last book on XML, but it would be hard to do better than this for your first. - RT

Goldman, Roy, Jason McHugh, and Jennifer Widom. "Lore: A Database Management System for XML" Dr. Dobb's Journal (April 2000) (http://www.ddj.com/articles/2000/0004/0004i/0004i.htm). - XML is clearly taking the world of business by storm, if not the rest of us. Microsoft is into it bigtime, and in Silicon Valley you couldn't chuck a stone without hitting some dotcom that is betting the farm on it. So given this stampede, wouldn't you think we would be awash in database products optimized for structured text? Well, mostly what is available tends to be legacy database systems such as Oracle and Sybase that are being re-engineered in some way to accommodate XML. Lore, a research project at Stanford, is unique (as far as I'm aware) in that it is engineered from the ground up for XML. For example, you don't create a structure into which to load the XML data — a typical SQL thing to do — you don't create a structure at all. Lore does not assume any particular structure — the data defines the structure for you. Lore, in other words, was constructed with XML in mind, not tweaked to accommodate it. If you're working with XML, or hope to, you should check this out. - RT

Hitch, Leslie P. "Aren't We Judging Virtual Universities by Outdated Standards?" Journal of Academic Librarianship 26(1) (January 2000): 21. - An interesting look at the role of distance learning in the context of traditional university values. What it means to be learner centered and how we define the role of faculty in "teaching" or merely "training" students in the online environment, the outmoded concept of the credit hour as a means for defining and translating completed student work among and between institutions, as well as a good chunk of library issues - where the most significant appear to be not how and when to provide distance learners with information, but how to provide them with the necessary information literacy skills to help them plow through the ever growing quantities of information available to them online. Intriguing for the implications of library technology in contributing to the developing definitions of library user services in the increasingly online context of higher education. - LR

King, David, "Specialized Search Engines: Alternatives to the Big Guys" Online 24 (3) (May 2000) (http://www.onlineinc.com/onlinemag/OL2000/king5.html) - The May edition of Online Magazine, which regularly features Greg R. Notess' excellent monthly column(s) on what's happening under the hood of various search engines, offers a slew of articles on different aspects of web searching. As a group they are sure to make riveting reading for the wireless palm-wielding, train-commuting information technologist, along with the rest of us. As a representative sampling, I will single out David King's article on specialized search engines which focus on a particular subject, file format, region, and so on. Despite the touted filtering success of killer sorting algorithms on the millions of pages being indexed by the Big Guys' robots and crawlers, some searchers are increasingly availing themselves of engines that are more tailored to their own needs, and that appear to some extent at least to have benefited from human vetting and annotation. As King puts it, why founder in the vast reaches of Super Wal-Mart searching for that special item, when you can find it quickly and painlessly in the specialty shop on the corner, and perhaps even get some trusted product information from a knowledgeable clerk in the bargain? King next outlines some of the features of nearly a score of specialized engines in the fields of Health Care, Law, Science, and Multimedia. In the library of Babel that the web is fast becoming, if you wish to find a specialized search engine to suit your needs you will have to leap into the mis-en-abyme, so to speak, of proliferating search engines to locate search engines ... ad infinitum. A few are listed in the article, e.g. Search Engine Guide at http://searchengineguide.com; Search Engine Watch: http://www.searchenginewatch.com/links/; and Invisible Web: http://invisibleweb.com/. - LM

Lynch, Clifford. "From Automation to Transformation" EDUCAUSE Review (January/February 2000): 60-68 (http://www.educause.edu/pub/er/erm00/pp060068.pdf). - This piece summarizes the recent transformation of academic libraries from bastions of print to highly computerized bastions of print, with a layer of digital on top. Anyone who has lived through these interesting times will likely both recognize his descriptions and be amazed at what we have accomplished. Those who haven't been a part of it may be surprised to realize just how long and how thoroughly libraries have been involved with computerization — first to automate existing procedures, then to create or use new ways of providing collections and services. For example — slowly, quietly, and thoroughly, librarians around the world have created a monolithic union catalog of library holdings using a computer standard created by the library community in the 1960s — long before most people had ever come in contact with a computer. But far from resting on these laurels, Lynch suggests that "[academic] libraries must now turn their attention to defining their missions and activities in relationship to their transforming context — the information technology revolution in teaching, learning, and research." - RT

Moen, William E. and John Carlo Bertot. "Interoperability for Information Access: Technical Standards and Policy Considerations" Journal of Academic Librarianship 26:2 (March 2000): 129. - Moen provides a brief look at the role of standards in libraries, from MARC to TCP/IP. Bemoaning the somewhat limited activity of the library community on national and international standards making groups such as the Internet Engineering Task Force and the World Wide Web Consortium, Moen asks whether standards development (such as with XML) is moving on a course which is compatible with future library directions. A brief discussion of the common role of Z39.50 in system interoperability is provided. However, larger and more interesting questions of the role of system interoperability in the face of unified user gateway interfaces such as those variously termed "My Library" or "My Gateway," in addition to the policy and technical questions surrounding interoperability in a environement of continued proliferation of databases and other online tools, are not addressed. - LR

Sherman, Chris. "The Future Revisited: What's New with Web Search" Online 24 (3) (May 2000) (http://www.onlineinc.com/onlinemag/OL2000/sherman5.html) - As the author himself is well-aware, to prognosticate about web futures is a risky business. However, Sherman dares to look at the daily onslaught of web developments and pick out some important signs of what's to come: convergence (access with content, with that mix popping up in new devices), massive search engines which can take bigger bites from the smorgasbord of web pages, more sophisticated human/machine-compiled directories, systems adaptable to personal needs, browser-free searching, search input capability increasing from phrases to large chunks of text, and a few AI gee-whizzes. Each idea is clearly explained and related to real-world examples. Includes a complete list of relevant URLs. - JR

Shneiderman, Ben. "Universal Usability" Communications of the ACM (http://www.acm.org/cacm/) 43(5) (May 2000):84-91. - There's been a lot written about achieving universal access, so computer technology becomes as ubiquitous as TV, but "there it is, use it" doesn't work as the final step in the process when a significant percentage of the public can't take advantage of it. Shneiderman advocates a research agenda for making universal usability the goal, and focuses on three challenges for attaining it: adapting to technology variety, accepting the fact of user diversity, and bridging gaps in user knowledge. With a realistic attitude about the technology enthusiast's fear that accomodating low-skilled users will result in a lowest common denominator system, he cites cases which demonstrate success in multi-level implementations, and the unexpected universal benefits of innovations which originally targeted only those who needed a little extra help. Though the primary audience for this article is software designers, those of us who are information providers for a broad spectrum of people will find this article thought-provoking and encouraging. - JR


Current Cites 11(5) (May 2000) ISSN: 1060-2356
Copyright © 2000 by the Library, University of California, Berkeley. All rights reserved.

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