Current Cites

December 2008

Edited by Roy Tennant

Contributors: Charles W. Bailey, Jr., Keri Cascio, Warren Cheetham, Alison Cody, Leo Robert Klein, Roy Tennant,

"Big DataNature  (4 September 2008)( - This special focus is interesting even if you aren't the proud owner of petabytes worth of data or more. In fact, as the owner of considerably less than that, it is the very contrast that I find fascinating. How can such a large pile of data be managed? What are the particular issues faced by data centers that manage such data (on this point, Cory Doctorow's piece "Welcome to the Petacentre" was particularly enlightening). Clifford Lynch also has a piece. We were uncharacteristically late to the game on this one, so the issue has long since disappeared from the newsstand. Check it out online or at your local library. - RT

Askey, Dale. "We Love Open Source Software. No, You Can't Have Our CodeCode4Lib Journal  (5)(15 December 2008)( - Open source software seems to have nearly achieved the level of overall righteousness formerly reserved for Mom and apple pie. We can detect this by how often libraries that write software want to tack the "open source" label onto projects without actually releasing the code. It may happen eventually, but either it is or it isn't. In this piece, Askey skewers the motivations he perceives as contributing to this problem: "perfectionism -- unless the code is perfect, we don't want anyone to see it, dependency -- if we share this with you, you will never leave us alone, quirkiness -- we'd gladly share, but we can't since we're so weird, redundancy -- we think your project is neat, but we can do better, competitiveness -- we want to be the acknowledged leader, and misunderstanding -- a fundamental inability to understand how an open source community works." - RT

Berman, Francine. "Got Data?: a Guide to Data Preservation in the Information AgeCommunications of the ACM  51(12)(December 2008): 50-56. ( - Interesting discussion of trends and approaches concerning digital preservation. The world is "awash in digital data". In fact, we produce way more than we could ever possibly preserve. Determining what gets saved and how is comparable to strategies for dealing with infrastructure in the physical world. The approach must be "useful, usable, cost-effective, and unremarkable". Conceptually, the author discusses the 'Branscomb Pyramid' model where data is tiered off according to its value, whether personal (eg. photos, tax records) or more widespread (eg. government data or irreplacable cultural artifacts). Each level requires a different solution and different body in charge. The author concludes with a helpful 'Top 10 Guidelines for Data Stewardship' which boil down to planning ahead, being organized, and being ready for change. - LRK

Boyle, James. The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind  New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.( - James Boyle, William Neal Reynolds Professor of Law and co-founder of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University, is a well-known intellectual property expert. Like Lawrence Lessig, he has a talent for making arcane aspects of IP law clear, and he is a critic of ever more restrictive copyright and other IP laws. Here's a brief excerpt that describes The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind: "This book is an attempt to tell the story of the battles over intellectual property, the range wars of the information age. . . . I try to show that current intellectual property policy is overwhelmingly and tragically bad in ways that everyone, and not just lawyers or economists, should care about. We are making bad decisions that will have a negative effect on our culture, our kids' schools, and our communications networks; on free speech, medicine, and scientific research. We are wasting some of the promise of the Internet, running the risk of ruining an amazing system of scientific innovation, carving out an intellectual property exemption to the First Amendment." In addition to the print version, the book is freely available in PDF and CommentPress versions. - CB

Brown-Sica, Margaret. "Playing Tag In the Dark: Diagnosing Slowness in Library Response Time"  Information Technology and Libraries  27(4)(December 2008): 29-32. - This article summarizes the steps taken by systems librarians at the Auraria Library in Colorado to diagnose and resolve slow response time when users queried proprietary databases. As the authors point out, many factors play into the speed (or lack thereof) of library databases, and many of those factors are outside the control of the library itself. Systems librarians at Auraria set out to improve the response time, which they defined as "the time it took for a person to send a query from a computer at home or in the library to a proprietary information database and receive a response back, or how long it took to load a selected full-text article." Librarians began by testing bandwidth on library computers, and by consulting the university's IT department to determine if anything they were doing could potentially be impacting the library's traffic. Both investigations led to dead ends. The next factor up to be checked was the proxy server (III WAM); perhaps unsurprisingly, testing revealed that the response time was better when traffic was not routed through the proxy. As a result, the library stopped routing in-library traffic through the proxy server, leading to some gains in speed for those inside the building. Next up was an investigation of the proxy server hardware; A switch and some cabling were replaced, leading to additional gains in response time. In addition, specifications for a new server (already scheduled to be purchased) were changed: the new server will feature additional memory and a second processor. Overall, the article offers a specific roadmap for diagnosing and resolving response time problems, and as a bonus it is written in approachable language that should be easy-to-follow for those systems-librarians-by-default among us. - AC

Dietrich, Dianne, Jennifer  Doty, and Jen  Green, et. al."Reviving Digital ProjectsThe Code4Lib Journal  (5)(2008)( - Building new digital applications is often exciting and fulfilling, but grinding out voluminous documentation for them is not. The only thing that is worse is trying to maintain or migrate an old system only to find that the inner workings of said system are, in the words of Churchill, "a riddle wrapped in a mystery cloaked in an enigma." Of course, this isn't new: computer specialists have been wrestling with this problem since there were computer specialists. However, each new generation rediscovers this problem afresh, and it bears repeating. In this paper, the authors describe their travails reviving the University of Michigan Library's Online Atlas of Michigan Plants and offer cogent guidelines to consider when contemplating reviving other abandoned systems. - CB

Fang, Jiaming, Peiji  Shao, and George  Lan. "Effects of Innovativeness and Trust on Web Survey ParticipationComputers in Human Behavior  25(1)(January 2009): 144-152. ( - Web surveys are increasingly used by many organizations -- including libraries -- to gather data from users and potential users. Given their popularity, it is important to understand how people react when they encounter a survey online. The authors of this study looked at how much two factors impact a web surfer's decision to complete an online survey: trust in the organization behind the survey, and the surfer's own comfort level with web-based technology. The article provides an in-depth overview of the literature behind these two factors, and the results of a brief survey given to "university students in a computer practical course." The authors found that those who are more willing to try out new technologies on the web were more willing to take a web-based survey. They also found that trust in the organization behind the survey is important -- a more reputable organization gives the surfer a measure of confidence that the answers they give will be kept anonymous. Of course, the limitations of the study are obvious -- college students may not be representative enough for the results to be considered applicable in every circumstance. Overall, the article provides some good background material and points to consider before setting up an online survey. - AC

Solove, Daniel. The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet  New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.( - Daniel Solove, a lawyer and blogger, takes a look at the long term effects of the Internet on personal privacy and the legal ramifications of a loss of reputation. People often struggle with the fine line between privacy and free speech on the Web. You can share personal information about yourself or a friend on a blog, not realizing that it will be there for anyone -- including future employers and dates -- to see. Solove looks at a libertarian approach to leave things as they are, and an authoritarian approach that would restrict personal expression and finds neither a good fit for keeping free expression on the Web and regulating rumors and gossip. He suggests that the law take into consideration that when we expose information to others, we do expect a certain limit on accessibility. The examples in Solove's book serve as a cautionary tale to anyone who thinks their Facebook and MySpace life is limited to friends and family. Solove says: "We need to spend a lot more time educating people about the consequences of posting information online... Teenagers and children need to be taught about privacy just like they are taught rules of etiquette and civility." The book is available in print from Yale University Press and for free online at - KC

Souders, Steve. "High-Performance Web SitesCommunications of the ACM  51(12)(December 2008): 36-41. ( - Kind of geeky but worth looking at for those interested in making their web pages load faster. The author makes clear from the get-go that you can have as powerful a 'back-end' as the big boys (i.e. Google, Yahoo, etc.) and still suffer from slow loading times when the web-page hits the browser. Among the tips he offers: put the CSS at the top and the scripts at the bottom. As the author puts it, "Life's Too Short, Write Fast Code", or in other words, every milisecond counts. - LRK

Springer, Michelle, Beth  Dulabahn, and Phil  Michel, et. al."For the Common Good: The Library of Congress Flickr Pilot Project  (October 30, 2008)( - In January of 2008, the Library of Congress launched a pilot with Flickr by posting 3,000 out of copyright images for viewing and tagging. This pilot now has over 4,000 images, is logging 500,000 views a month, and crossed the 10 million view mark a few months ago. The larger Flickr Commons site grew out of the original pilot, with other institutions adding their images for the public. The strength of the Flickr project was the minimal amount of staff time involved, and the enormous contribution from the general public to tag and comment on the images. At the time of the report, 67,176 tags were created by 2,518 Flickr users. Even more impressive, 4,548 out of 4,615 photos had at least one tag created by the Flickr community. An unexpected bonus of the pilot was that the collections increased in their Google rankings, leading more users to the site. This report shows that a small step into the world of Web 2.0 rewarded the Library of Congress with information about images in their collection that would have been difficult to achieve otherwise. At the same time, it opened the field of digital library collections to a vast array of new users. The report lays out recommendations for moving forward from a pilot to a program, concluding that: "The benefits appear to far outweigh the costs and risks." A summary of the report can be viewed at - KC

Waller, Vivienne, and Ian  McShane. "Analysing the challenges for large public libraries in the twenty-first century: a case study of the State Library of Victoria in AustraliaFirst Monday  13(12)(1 December 2008)( - Don't let the words "large public libraries" and the specific location of the case study put you off. This paper has something of relevance to most people grappling with strategic planning while questioning of the role of libraries in the current information ecology and information economy. The debate about the role of libraries and the use of physical library spaces is nothing new, and these debates have carried over into the role of libraries in the online world. Having a thorough knowledge of the nature of this changing online environment is one of the biggest challenges facing large public libraries. To this end, the authors identify a significant research gap in the area of understanding the changing nature of information-seeking and information-provision, and are currently engaged in research to address that. However they contend that the usefulness of that research data could be enhanced by the "development of a library policy framework that clarifies and re-evaluates institutional goals". - WC