Current Cites

July 2009

Edited by Roy Tennant

Contributors: Charles W. Bailey, Jr., Alison Cody, Susan Gibbons, Peter Hirtle, Leo Robert Klein, Roy Tennant

Alexander, Bryan. "Apprehending the Future: Emerging Technologies, from Science Fiction to Campus RealityEDUCAUSE Review  44(3)(May/June 2009)( - This survey article identifies a range of techniques often used to try to predict the future. Included are environmental scans, the Delphi Method, prediction markets, scenarios, and crowdsourcing. But, Alexander readily admits, "Futurological methods are still, at best, partial works in progress. No method has yet succeeded in accurately predicting the future...Perhaps the gravest challenge to any approach for apprehending the future is what Nassim Nicholas Taleb has memorably dubbed 'The Black Swan.' Taleb uses the phrase to refer to unlikely events, either unperceived in the present or determined to be statistically improbable -- until they occur and have enormous effects." To counter this, Alexander cites J. Scott Armstrong who suggested nine high-level best practices for predicting the future: "1) Match the forecasting method to the situation, 2) Use domain knowledge, 3) Structure the problem, 4) Model experts' forecasts, 5) Represent the problem realistically, 6) Use causal models when you have good information, 7) Use simple quantitative methods, 8) Be conservative when uncertain, and 9) Combine forecasts." - RT

Ashenfelder, Michael. "21st Century Shipping: File Transfer at the Library of CongressD-Lib Magazine  15(7/8)(July/August 2009)( - "Between 2008 and 2009 the Library of Congress added approximately 100 TB of data to its digital collections," Ashenfelder states, "transferred from universities, publishers, web archivists and other organizations." Much of this, he writes, was transferred over the Internet rather than being shipped on hard drives. This is hardly surprising, but the accompanying details in this article are interesting. Among the techniques they use are a file transfer utility that can start and manage multiple downloading threads and a simple packaging protocol called, aptly enough, "BagIt". This may all seem rather mundane stuff, but it is upon just such mundane procedures, carried out on a regular basis, that today's digital libraries rest. - RT

Baker, Nicholson. "A New Page: Kindle vs. the BookThe New Yorker  (3 August 2009)( - Nicholson Baker is back! (In case you don't recall the name, Baker caused quite a bit of controversy with Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, when he accused libraries of neglecting cultural heritage by discarding materials, newspapers in particular, once they had been microfilmed). In this entertaining essay, Baker shares his early experiences with a Kindle. As one would expect, Baker does not find reading from a Kindle to be as good an experience as reading from a paper book. He criticizes the Kindle's "dark gray on paler greenish gray" palette and includes a litany of important literary titles that are not available in Topaz, the proprietary encoding format used by Amazon. But, interestingly, in the last few paragraphs of this essay, Baker admits to experiencing that wonderful state when we are fully immersed in a story and "Poof, the Kindle disappeared, just as Jeff Bezos had promised it would." - SG

Cascio, Jamais. "Get SmarterThe Atlantic  (July/August 2009)( - This is a thoughtful piece on the various ways in which humans are getting smarter. Cascio touches on evolution, technological aids, and drugs as potential avenues. Lest you imagine that the author is one who believes in the "hive mind" aspect of the Internet and the eventuality of it becoming smart enough to think (Google "singularity" if you must), he specifically discounts this. "My own suspicion," he states, "is that a stand-alone artificial mind will be more a tool of narrow utility than something especially apocalyptic. I don't think the theory of an explosively self-improving AI is convincing -- it's based on too many assumptions about behavior and the nature of the mind." As a futurist (he is an affiliate at the Institute of the Future and a senior fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies), he is considerably less starry-eyed (or perhaps googly-eyed?) than many of that calling. And that helps to make this down-to-earth and yet up-to-date assessment of our future all that more compelling and believable. - RT

Dougherty, William C. "Managing Technology During Times of Economic Downturns: Challenges and Opportunities Journal of Academic Librarianship  35(4)(July 2009): 373-376 . ( - The big story for a while now has been the economy; so it's only natural to start running into articles on how to cut costs in IT. In this article we have a number of suggestions including looking at this as an "opportunity to shake up the status quo". While that might sound off-putting at first, the author continues, "These are the times to summon the courage to suggest eliminating ineffective systems, services or processes, and making changes that may not have been considered previously. Practices that may have been sacrosanct can be reviewed and even questioned during times such as these." If there is any benefit to be derived, this in fact may be the way. - LRK

Fischer, Karen. Author Addenda, SPEC Kit 310  Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries, 2009.( - This survey provides a rare glimpse into author rights in practice. Fischer got 70 responses from ARL libraries to her author addenda survey (57% of ARL member libraries). Fifty percent of respondents reported that authors at their institutions were using author addenda, and 52% said that "an author addendum had been endorsed by administrators or a governing body at their institution or by their consortia" (institutional endorsement was under consideration by another 12%). The SPEC Kit's table of contents and executive summary are freely available. - CB

Hadro, Josh. "Michigan Deal a New Twist on Access to Scanned Book ContentLibrary Journal  (23 July 2009)( - The University of Michigan will offer print-on-demand paperback editions of over 400,000 digitized books in over 200 languages via BookSurge and Amazon for between $10 to about $45. According to Michigan's press release, the service offers books digitized by Michigan's partnership with Google as well as books digitized solely by Michigan. University Librarian and Dean of Libraries Paul N. Courant said: "This agreement means that titles that have been generally unavailable for a century or more will be able to go back into print, one copy at a time." - CB

Jansen, Bernard J., Mimi  Zhang, and Carsten D.  Schultz. "Brand and its Effect on User Perception of Search Engine PerformanceJournal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology  60(8)(August 2009): 1572-1595. ( - In this study, the authors investigated whether or not the branding of a search engine has any impact on the user's perception of how the engine performs. Study participants were presented with four different results pages for four different queries (medical, entertainment, travel and housing questions). Each results page showed the same links (curated by the researchers ahead of time) in the same order and using the same formatting (the default Google format). The top and bottom of the page was replaced with branding for Google, Yahoo!, or MSN's search engine, as well as that of an in-house search engine (AI2RS), called No Name for the purposes of the study. The researchers ultimately found that searchers placed quite a lot of trust in the ranking algorithms of the search engines with which they were familiar: on those search engines, users tended to click on more search results, but overall those results were of a lower quality. On those with which users were less familiar, they appeared to become more discriminating about which links they selected, and those links were of a higher quality. The researchers noted that users also felt more confident using their preferred search engines, and were concerned with the performance of those with which they were unfamiliar. The study brings up some interesting points for instruction librarians to consider, as it seems to indicate that it may be possible to force users to be more critical of search results simply by requiring them to use an unfamiliar or unbranded search engine. - AC

Tanner, Simon, Trevor  Muñoz, and Pich Hemy  Ros. "Measuring Mass Text Digitization Quality and Usefulness: Lessons Learned from Assessing the OCR Accuracy of the British Library's 19th Century Online Newspaper ArchiveD-Lib Magazine  15(7/8)(July/August 2009)( - Given the importance of OCR in mass digitization projects, it is surprising that more attention has not been paid to it. How can we tell if the OCR used in projects is useful, or which OCR engine would work the best with a particular type of text? This article proposes a methodology for measuring OCR effectiveness on multiple levels, but with special attention paid to what would matter to users: namely, the ability of the OCR engine to transcribe accurately proper names and places. It then tests that methodology against several newspaper databases. The results are surprising and somewhat discouraging. Only 63% of proper names were correctly identified in the 19th-century newspapers; the figure drops to below 50% for 17th- and 18th-century papers. This might be acceptable in projects that make images and uncorrected OCR freely available, but seems substandard for expensive commercial projects such as the British Library's newspaper offerings. And even the users of free sites might unknowingly assume too great an accuracy in the underlying text. Let's hope that the authors receive further funding to characterize the appropriateness of different OCR engines for different projects, and commercial image databases start providing figures on the accuracy of their OCR using this methodology. - PH