Must the library live in perpetual beta to achieve agility

By reeset / On / In MarcEdit, Programming, Readex

An interesting question brought up by David Seaman here at the Readex Digital Institute.  David provided the opening keynote for the conference and in it, discussed a process that Dartmouth College went through this year to consider how the library can become more nimble within our networked world.  How the library can be given a license, if you will, to allow the library to release services that aren’t perfect and are iterative in their development cycle.  And while I can certainly get where David is coming from, I don’t think that the logical outcome is a service model that lives within perpetual beta.

I think that part my objection to this phrase comes from my development background.  As a developer, I’m a firm believer in a very iterative approach to development.  Those that use MarcEdit can probably attest (sometimes to their dismay) that updates can come with varying frequency as the program adapts to changes within the metadata community.  Since MarcEdit doesn’t follow a point release cycle in the traditional sense, could it be a beta application?  I guess that might depend on your definition of beta — as it certainly would seem to meet the criteria that Google applies to many of it’s services.  However, there is a difference I think.  While I take an iterative approach to development, I also want to convey to users that I will support this resource into the future and as beta, that’s not the case.  My personal opinion is that services that languish in beta are doing two things:

  1. telling users that these services are potentially not long-term, so they could be gone tomorrow
  2. giving users a weak apology for the problems that might exist in the software (and deflecting blame for those issues, because hey, it’s beta).

So, I don’t see this as the road to nimble development.  Instead, when I heard David’s talk, I heard something else.  I believe libraries fail to innovate because as a group we are insecure that our users will leave us if we fail.  And when I hear talks like David’s, that’s what I’m hearing his organization say.  They are asking the library administrators for permission to fail, because what is technological research but a string of failures in search for a solution.  We learn through our failures, but I think that as a community, our fear of failing before our users can paralysis us.  The fear of failing before an administration that does not support this type of research and discover can paralysis innovation by smart, energetic people within an organization.  A lot of people, I think, look at Google, their labs, their beta services and say, yes, that is a model that we should emulate.  But they don’t fully understand I think that within this model, Google builds failure as an acceptable outcome into their development plan.  If libraries want to emulate anything from the Googles or the Microsofts of the world, they should emulate that and engender that type of discovery and research within their libraries. 

I am actually very fortunate at Oregon State University in that I have a director and an administration that understands that for our library to meet the needs of our users now and in the future, we cannot be standing still.  And while the path we might take might not always be the correct one, the point is that we are always moving and always learning and refining our understanding of what our users want today and tomorrow.  What I’d like to see for David’s library is that kind of environment — and I wish him luck in it.


ALA 2008 Report and Impressions

By reeset / On / In Conferences

So another ALA annual has come and gone and it’s time to jot down my notes and impressions from my time here in Anaheim.  Of all the events I attend during the year, ALA is the one that I have the most difficult time quantifying what I actually get from the organization.  One the one hand, the Summer ALA meeting is different from Mid-Winter in that there are actual presentations, etc. that can be attended, but in general, it’s still very much a business meeting focused on the actual divisions, interest groups, etc. to do the business of keeping ALA and it’s many component parts going.  It’s the latter, the business meeting component, that compels me to attend ALA.  Like many, I have committee responsibilities that require my attendance — and like many, I try to fit other content around those responsibilities.

Actually, now that I think about, I didn’t mention the most prevalent aspect of the ALA annual conference — the every growing and encroaching vendor component of the conference (in the 5 years I’ve attended, it’s always had this component — but lately, it seems to be like an octopus, extending it’s reach into everything).  ALA has always had a very robust exhibitor area for attendees looking to speak with vendors or find out some information about a particular set of vendors.  And this is an important part of the conference (though, I’m finding it gets less important each year as vendors attend now attend so many conferences and have become so much easier to contact and research) — however, in recent years, vendors have started to put on more of their own product driven presentations.  In fact, take away the ALA events related to ALA, I would guess that vendor presentation make up the lion’s share of today’s ALA conference, and that I think, is a little bit sad.  So, it’s always with mixed feeling that I attend ALA’s annual meeting — torn between my responsibilities to the organization and my own aversion to presentations that feel more like Amway meetings.  It’s with that backdrop that I write this review — because for the first time in years, I’ve made a conscious decision to forgo any presentations/events that were vendor driven save for my limited interactions with exhibitors in the exhibits area. 

So how’d that turn out?  Surprising nearly impossible to do.  Before attending ALA, I had a handful of presentations that I wanted to attend, two being There’s no catalog like no catalog:  the ultimate debate on the future of the catalog and Creating the future of the Catalog and Cataloging.  These ended up being pretty representative of sessions that I attended where vendor representation was 1/2+ the makeup of the forums.  Not a bad thing, just an observation.  Another thing that I found about these two presentations is that they were mixed in that there was a lot of overly general comments (fluffy) and a few interesting nuggets.  This was especially true of the future of the catalog forum.  I’m not sure if this topic has just run it’s course (we all agree that library catalogs need to change) or what — but many of the observations are becoming tired.  Libraries today have more options that ever before — open source, vended and quasi-vendor solutions (OCLC) available to them.  At this point, choices are limited more by dollars (what you can spend), in-house expertise (what you can implement) and organizational philosophy.  Either way, I think it might be time to stop talking so much about our dinosaur ILS systems.

Throughout it all, the one reoccurring theme that did emerge from many of the sessions is the need to move more and more information and workflow to the network level.  On the ILS side, a case was made for leveraging a large master aggregation of records to provide local and more global record discovery side by side.  While on the cataloging side, the idea of moving authorities verification up to the network level in the form of URIs to help facilitate the management of authorized headings struck a cord with many attending in the audience.  I think that the library community is ready to forgo workflows that over-inflate the importance of localized content in favor of much more integrated workflows that allow them to instantaneously take advantage of work done by colleagues around the globe.  I know that Code4Lib doesn’t necessarily try for themes when they set their conference schedule each year, but here’s hoping that the 2009 conference includes a robust component dedicated to programming and building services that work at the network (rather than local) level.

The RDA update was interesting.  It’s nice to see that this work will be wrapping up soon.  I still have no idea how it will be any more than an update to AACR2 (maybe we’ll call it AACR2 1/2) in terms of practical application to the library world, but I guess we will see in a year or two.  From talking to a number of vendors (I won’t say who), I’ve been told by most that RDA could potentially represent a radical change or no change at all.  When pushed for their opinion — all are betting on the latter, at least for the foreseeable future.  I myself, am taking a wait and see approach.  At some point, I’ll need to take a look at RDA and figure out how (if at all), it will affect how I develop MarcEdit into the future — for now — I’m just waiting for the fog to clear a little bit more. *grin*

So ALA for me was filled with a few sessions (I ended up attending 7), some committee work, some time down in the exhibitor area chatting with reps and browsing books for the kids and then catching up with colleagues who have moved on from OSU or that I haven’t seen in a while.  I even found some time to go to Disneyland for a little while on Monday (I may even post a picture or two later) to scout out rides for a trip that we’ve been planning with the kids later this fall.  So, all and all, I think that it was a good trip.  I’ve certainly come away with a few more ideas related to the WorldCat Grid services tests I’ve been performing as well as a few odds and ends for both LibraryFind and MarcEdit development though maybe the value of this ALA annual conference isn’t something I will be able to really answer until some more time has past.



Summit libraries share (and share some more) records with the Open Library

By reeset / On / In Code4Lib2008, Open Library

On Tuesday, I’d mentioned that I’d been spending my evening working on approximately 6 GBs of data and mentioned that I’d explain later.  Well, it’s later, so I probably should explain. 

Some background…Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive (among other things), was the opening Keynote speakers at Code4Lib.  We’d had some trouble thinking of a good speakers gift for him, but in early Feb., Jeremy and I had the opportunity to visit the Internet Archive and an opportunity to speak with Brewster and the folks from the Open Library.  While there, he told a great story and the idea kind-of got rolling from there.  Basically, Brewster talked about a visit that he’d made to Japan, and on the visit, he presented as a gift the entire Japanese domain from 1996-2001ish.  While of course, gave me an idea.  I wanted to do the same with Summit, and give Brewster a snapshot of the 12 million MARC records found within Summit. 

So, from the idea, I sent a message out to a number of libraries in the Summit consortia making a request for records.  There were questions, some excitment, and in the end, we got a number of libraries that contributed close to 5 1/2 or so million records (~3 million unique).  Specifically, OHSU (and their members), Lewis and Clark, Portland Community College, Washington State University and Oregon State University provided me copies of their catalogs.  I did some data processing (to translate data to Unicode, remove some records that people didn’t want contributed, etc.) and put the records on a jump drive.  We presented the records to Brewster after his talk (a great talk by the way), and I think it was something that he didn’t expect and genuinely appreciated.

But the story won’t stop there.  A number of libraries in Summit that were not able to provide there records before Tuesday still want to contribute their data.  In fact, tonight, I’m processing close to 1.2 GB of data from Western Washington University — removing some requested vendor records and processing the data into Unicode and will hand deliver these records to the folks at the Open Library on Feb. 29th at the Open Library Developers meeting.  Once these records are contributed, it will bring the total number of institutions that have made a decision to share records to 8 with more coming in the very near future.  I’m still hoping that at some point, we will be able to contribute the entire Summit database (which will make us almost the single largest contributor of bibliographic data to the project), but for now, I’m just grateful to be in a consortia with members willing to be experiemental and a little bit a head of the curve. 🙂  Way to go Summit!




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Code4Lib 2008 begins

By reeset / On / In Code4Lib2008

And so it begins.  Well, actually begins yesterday.  Yesterday Jeremy, Tami Herlocker and I gave a LibraryFind preconference.  Kindof an installfest that didn’t turn out that way thanks to Parallels on my laptop.  That’s ok — lots of good questions afterwards and now we have a very good install document — but still a little disappointing. 

Afterwards, I got to spend a good deal of time chatting with folks before retiring to my room to chew on 6 GBs of data (I’ll post why later).  Anyway, I think my favorite part of this get together is, that I get together with folks that I have seen for a while.  Anyway, I’ll periodically post during the day as the conference unfolds (at least, that’s the intention :))



Summer ALA 2007

By reeset / On / In ALA Summer 2007

This years Annual ALA conference was in Washington DC and was a first for me in that this was the first year that I brought my oldest son, Kenny with me on my travels.  For Kenny, ALA was an exciting trip.  This represented the first time that he has really left Oregon (outside of going to Washington) and was the first time that he’s been on a large airplane. 


Before the trip, I had to take our youngest son down to the grandparents (which he enjoyed immensely).  Anyway, on the way down, we stopped at the go-carts.



Kenny and I getting ready to start


Nathan and I getting ready to take off.


Kenny loved it.  I couldn’t make the car go fast enough.  Nathan almost didn’t get to ride because he wanted to sit on my lap and drive and that just wasn’t allowed. 🙂


Anyway, I have pictures from the trip, but before I get to the fun, let’s talk about ALA.  My ALA trip is nearly always focused on committee responsibilities and time with vendors.  Saturday, I spent the better half of the day speaking with vendors that we work with.  Innovative Interfaces, Index Data, Marcive, Lexis Nexis, Serials Solutions and OCLC.  Generally, these conversations are related to products that we have purchased from these specific vendors.  This year, however, because of LibraryFind, many of my conversations with content providers were related to ways in which we could search their content.  Ideally, I’d like to see LibraryFind use as few Z39.50 targets as possible, in part, because vendors that provide webservice search interfaces tend to make these interfaces natural language api.  This makes building search queries much easier since normalization across different search targets no longer becomes necessary.  Also, I’m not a big fan of Z39.50 in general, in part because most implementers provide only the most basic implementation of the protocol.  Probably the most useful part of the conversations that I had this year was that most content provides that we work with do provide rest-based API with natural language support.  While most don’t advertise these api, I found folks willing to talk about them and provide documentation on their use.

Sunday, I attended LITA’s TER committee and ALCTS Publication committee meetings.  Surprisingly, this took up nearly my entire day and probably isn’t of that much interest to those outside of these two committees.


So what about the fun stuff?  Well, Kenny and Alyce were able to see lots of stuff while in DC.  Kenny got to see the White House, the Washington Monument, the Zoo, the Air and Space Museum at the Mall and the Air and Space Museum near Dulles, the Capital, the Archives, the World Kids Festival, the Museum of Natural Sciences and the Library of Congress.  They visited a number of other things, but these were the highlights.  All and all, I think he had a great time.  Here are a few of the pictures from the trip.

Kenny in front of the Lion’s area at the zoo


More Lions


Kenny and Alyce in front of the Lion statue at the zoo.


Standing in front of the Capital (I have one with just Alyce from 10 years ago — now I just need to go back and get one with Nathan).




Kenny at the World’s Kids festival


Kenny and I in front of the Lincoln Memorial (this is one of my favorites)


Kenny and I in front of the Enterprise Shuttle


Kenny and Alyce in front of the Enterprise Shuttle


My attempt at an artistic photo at the Botanical Gardens in DC.



Finally, in Athens

By reeset / On / In Code4Lib 2007

So Kyle and I finally made our way from Oregon to Athens, Georgia for Code4Lib.  Apparently, we missed a big storm in the Valley.  Apparently, the wind is blowing 30-45 mph with cold, slushy rain falling off an on.  I was told that it hit hard around 5 am.  Fortunately (depending on your point of view), I was up at 2:30 this morning to drive up to PDX for my flight — so I basically missed it. 

Flight was uneventful — though the drive to Athens was fun.  Got into the Airport and picked up a car from Enterprise.  I originally hadn’t planned on driving, but my flight home is early enough that I didn’t want to trust the bus to get me there.  So, picked up a car and got the full treatment of Atlanta Rush-hour, fighting my way up 85 N.  Thank goodness for the car pool lane.  Kyle and I were able to skip a lot of the traffic by using the carpool lane. 

Found Athens, then lost our way to our hotel, then found it.  So bring on the conference.


Fun at the space needle

By reeset / On / In ALA Midwinter 2007, Travel

III had their ALA get together at the Space Needle.  It’s a very cool place and they had my usual favorites — the chocolate fountain with chocolate covered strawberries.  Actually, the strawberries were covered in white and dark chocolate — with the strawberries looking like they are wearing tuxedos (I loved it).  And they had chocolate sculptures, etc.  Love these get togethers.  I may disagree with some of III’s business decisions — but they know how to throw a party. 🙂

Oh, and when I travel to conferences, I run into a lot of folks that use MarcEdit and like to have a quick chat.  Its fun.  I like to hear that folks find the program useful and generally get some good suggestions for future features or projects.  But I think that this is the first time that I’ve ever been told that I have someone that considers themselves a “fangirl”.  Who knew you could have fans and still work in a library. 🙂


Goodbye Ottawa

By reeset / On / In Access 2006

So for me, Access 2006 has come to a close.  Thank you Ottawa for the night terrors (courtesy of the ghost walk :)), the Art Center, the gorgeous weather (the rain made me feel like home) and a fantastic group of speakers and topics over the past 3 days.  There was Roy’s talk on the “last mile” to encourage us, Tito Sierra’s talk on the NC State’s Endeca catalog giving us a picture of some of the things that can be done in spite of our current ILS systems and then Peter Hickey’s talk on the lack of privacy in the digital environment (btw, I’ll make the tin hat to protect myself from the satellite waves when I get home Pete :)).  Great conference, lots of fun.

Being my first Access conference, I really didn’t know what to expect.  I’d been told by many that Hackfest was a must, but that the conference would offer some things that we don’t see quite so often at many U.S. conferences.

  1. A very international flavor — well, for me, international 🙂
  2. Pretty laid back.  Dan had commented to me that Access, and particularly Hackfest, is a real social event where you will find very little competition between individuals, etc.  I’m a competitive person — I take that into a lot of what I do, but it was really nice to simply get to kick back and socialize a bit. 

So a couple of closing thoughts from the conference.  

  1. If we send this many people for OSU again (5), we are going to have to co-sponsor the conference in Victoria :).  No really…we had 5 folks from OSU make the trip — the most from any one institution I believe.  Which was actually pretty cool because we had a real cross section from the library attend.  We had John, our AUL for public and innovative services, we had Jane and Anne-Marie from our reference services group and then Jeremy and myself.  So a real cross section — which will make reading the trip reports for this particular event interesting since they will likely be colored by our different perspectives (mine of course being the most unbiased and entertaining :))
  2. With so many laptops in the room, it was refreshing to see zero battery fires 🙂 
  3. Cool gadgets.  One thing I love about technology conferences is the cool gadgets the people bring and this was no exception. 
  4. Canadian money!  Its like a rainbow in my pocket.  I love foreign currency — so many colors.  And I love the coins.  When I traveled to London a few years ago, one of my favorite parts was the coins I got to bring back.  I’ve always been a bit of a coin collector (though I don’t do it quite so much any more).
  5. Snow — why didn’t we get any. 🙁  I actually got a little excited when I seen how much snow the folks in Buffalo and the north of New York were suppose to be getting last night.  I’d hoped that maybe, just maybe, I’d get to see some snow flakes — but no.



Access 2006, Day 2

By reeset / On / In Access 2006

Sadly, I think I’m starting to wear down a little bit from all the travel this month.  Morning sessions (and morning bike ride) — great.  But its 5:30 now and I’m definitely tired.  If it wasn’t for the Ghost Walk, and a chance to chat with a few folks tonight, I’d probably just grab my slippers, a cup of tea and relax the rest of the night. 

Anyway, day 2.  Roy Tennant led off with his keynote ( followed by a pretty cool talk by Anne Christensen from the library in Hamburg Germany.  Anne talked about library chat bots and talked a bit about what they learned in creating their own chat bot (  If enter Ottawa in the stella chatbox, you get a response and then a page (in German) giving more information about the project.

Next, Annette Bailey talked about LibX — the Firefox toolbar extension.  This is one of those projects that I think most libraries could make use of within their own buildings, but not sure what kindof uptake one really would get outside of the library building — realistically.  I think that Dan’s right (from his Thundertalk) — we really need to move in the direction of zero installation.  I realize that’s impossible on systems we don’t own — but I think its the reality.  But what do I know.

Next were the thundertalks.  Lots of interesting stuff going on.  This was the first time I’ve heard Ross formally talk about Umlaut and I’m very impressed.  There are some things that you see, and think, “Dang, I wish i would have thought of that.”  This is one of those projects.  I would have never considered binding together the wide variety of services as found in umlaut.

Other highlights for me…getting a peek and a little more information on Rochesters XC Project and I enjoyed listening to Paul Miller’s talk — though I’m not sure if there was much offered that was new (outside of seeing some of the talis development products — which I’d never seen before).  Oh, and Pete Hickey — someone I can relate to.  I found out that he cycle’s all winter.  So do I — though not in the snow and junk that he must ride in (Ottawa).  Anyway, he had a great quote:

Privacy on the net is like virginity.  Once its gone, its gone. –Pete Hickey

So true.


Hackfest 2006

By reeset / On / In Access 2006

So this has been my first year attending the hackfest and my first impressions has been, pretty cool.  Hackfest, for those that weren’t able to attend or have never attended, is a social outing (my opinion) that brings together a number of folks interested in technology to address a group of common problems within libraries.  Few groups got to actually put down much working code (though there were some) — but I’m not sure that’s all that important.  In most cases, simply sitting down and getting the conversation started will be enough as these types of things tend to snowball and gain traction if interest is there.

I’m not sure if Dan and Ross are going to keep this URL active or not, but for now, folks interested should take a look at the presentations (and suggestions) that were generated out of the Hackfest, which can be found at: