Apples and Oranges

So I was completely wrong about the iPad sporting a nifty ZUI. Reading some of the “expert” commentary regarding the newly announced Apple tablet, it appears that there is a great deal of disappointment in the device due in large part to a seeming lack of innovative technology. Steve Jobs didn’t convince a lot of folks about the need for the iPad – he positioned it as being better at a variety of things, but I believe people were wanting it to be great for at least one thing, and it’s not clear yet if it is (or will be).

That being said, I think the potential is there with the tablet, but that a lot will depend on the user experience (no surprise there) and how Apple improves the product over time (both through software updates and hardware enhancements). My biggest disappointment is that there is no camera – it seems a little bewildering that Apple would push out such a device without the capability for video chat and conferencing, not to mention the use of a camera for recording presentations and other imaginative uses. Otherwise, I’m actually enthused about the device, if the user experience lives up to expectations. Beyond the cool factor, a few things stand out as important:

* Apple has managed to work a carrier deal that doesn’t lock you into a contract. Sure, it’s AT&T, but I’ll take AT&T without a contract over anyone else if they are going to require me to be locked in. At least for now.

* eBooks – Yes, the books are priced higher than Amazon, but still in the paperback price range. The important thing here, I think, is that Apple is supporting the ePub format. While it remains to be seen if they allow other ePub content to be uploaded to the device (using music on iTunes as a precedent, I’d guess they will), this is a win for consumers and for libraries. I believe the integration of the iBook application and bookstore into the device itself is enough advantage for Apple that they do not have to look at locking users into a proprietary format as well.

* With the iPhone and iTouch, Apple found success in building an integrated function device. The leap they are taking with the iPad is that they can replicate that success with a different combination of functions. This isn’t a Kindle killer (or a Nook killer or a netbook killer); in fact, this isn’t really even about the hardware itself – the hardware is just the gateway to the real prize, and that’s the app / music / movie / eBook distribution channel, i.e. the App store. I’ve stated in the past that Amazon’s goal with the Kindle wasn’t to have the best eBook reader out there; it was to produce a good enough device to move the eBook industry forward and to allow Amazon to become the majority or sole provider of eBooks. In Apple’s case, I believe they do want to make the best device, and use their hardware as leverage to the real cash cow, the App / iTunes store. The most important announcement in yesterday’s Apple event wasn’t the iPad; it was the fact that in 18 months, over 3 Billion apps had been downloaded from the app store. Even if 3/4 of those are free apps (and I’m guessing the percentage isn’t quite that great), that’s still huge. That’s beyond huge, actually; it’s stunning.

* Finally, as much as many pundits expressed disappointment in regards to the iPad’s features, lack of innovation, name, etc., I’m still left with the feeling that people want this. They want this bad. Even if Apple doesn’t come out of the gate with it quite right, there is no one else out there who’s anywhere near as close.

So, my verdict? I’d love to have one, but I’m a gadget guy. That being said, even if I wasn’t, my money’s on Apple on this one.

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Wild Guess: New apple tablet will have a zoomable 3D UI

So, just for fun, I’m going to step a little bit out on a limb and predict that the new apple device that will be announced tomorrow will have a true 3D zoombable user interface – where you can zoom in on (and out of) content. The ZUI (Zoomable User Interface) approach has been around for awhile, and seems a perfect match with a large (larger than iphone) multitouch device.

So, am I good at this prediction thing? We’ll know tomorrow 🙂

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PIL report on how college students seek information

The iSchool at the University of Washington has released a report entitled “Lessons Learned: How College Students Seek Information in the Digital Age”. This is a very interesting report, and provides a number of facets to consider in relation to both the role of libraries and librarians (and faculty and courses) in the information seeking process. Well worth the time to read.

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JISC guide to microblogging

JISC has posted a guide to microblogging – what it is, why you might want to, and how you should. Excellent stuff.

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To purposely restrict internet access

Lorcan posted a video from JISC regarding the library of the future (a nice video – worth 9 minutes of your day, IMHO). One of the interviewees in the video mentions that she goes to the library to do research and to study because it is a more conducive environment for work than her room. This brought to mind again the idea of how our digital services can work coherently with our physical environment; in this case, I wonder if there is an opportunity for libraries to provide specific work areas where internet access is purposely restricted, the intent being that this would help a researcher, student, learner, etc. cut down on the opportunities for distraction and therefore provide a more supporting working environment. I am not suggesting that libraries restrict internet access as a whole; I am proposing that it would be interesting to see what sort of uptake rooms or areas set aside for ‘distraction-reduced’ internet access might have. I am also not talking about terminals that are used only for catalog access or the like – many libraries already have these. I am talking about setting up wireless (or wired) access so that in those pre-defined areas, only access to library-provisioned resources are available. Obviously, this would restrict internet search engine queries, which would work against research, but depending on where someone is in the research process, this might not be such a big issue.

I’d be interested in hearing what others might think of this concept – I should note that there are tools available for writers that already have a ‘reduced-distraction’ feature, such as WriteRoom.

Mobile Access to the Library at Oregon State


Oregon State University’s Library continues to impress with it’s web presence. This morning I discovered they are providing a mobile version of their web presence. Check out the announcement on their main web page and the very nice Mobile Libraries page they have put up – and if you have a mobile device, try out the mobile version.

(NOTE: One thing that is missing is a mobile search. Since Oregon State runs LibraryFind, and since LibraryFind has a mobile version, I anticipate that this might be added sometime in the near future)

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Installing Django on Leopard

Here are the steps I went through to install Django on Mac OSX Leopard:

First, I followed the steps on this page to get IDLE support (which I may or may not use, but I figured couldn’t hurt).

I then downloaded the latest official version from

and followed the instructions for installing from the tarball.

And that seemed to work. The tutorial works fine – I can create a new project and run a development web server. I can synchronize the database using SQLite3. However, when I try switching to MySQL, I get some nasty errors when running ‘python syncdb’. So, I found this page, which gives the precise steps needed to get python talking to MySQL correctly on Leopard.

After that, everything is apparently working! Not too horrible – just getting the MySQL connection working was a bit tricky, but otherwise, I’m now able to start working with Django.

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Open Library Data and OCLC

OCLC has announced that it is moving forward with a strategy to provide most if not all of the services that current integrated library systems provide (i.e. circulation, acquisitions, license management, etc.). I won’t go into the details (you can read them yourself), but for a little more information beyond the official announcement, see Andrew Pace’s blog as well as Marshall Breeding’s.

As Marshall Breeding relates in his blog post, some will view this announcement with great applause, and others will be worried that OCLC may be moving into such a leveraged position within the library community that they will wield too much power and control. I happen to feel a bit of both; the timing is right for providing our traditional ILS functions as “Software as a Service” (SaaS) – this in essence is what OCLC is meaning when they talk about providing library management functions at the network level. OCLC and others should be moving in this direction, and it is to OCLC’s credit that they are indeed doing so. I will be interested to see how the current players in the ILS arena respond to OCLC’s intentions.

While I have many thoughts about the actual services OCLC proposes, the approach they are taking, and other bits related to technology (pun fully intended), I believe it is critical to come back to the issues surrounding OCLC’s proposed changes to its record use and transfer policy. There has already been much discussion and concern around the proposed changes; OCLC has slowed done the process of implementing what it originally proposed, and has now formed a review board to gather feedback as part of the process. My concern here is that this latest OCLC strategic announcement adds some very important context to how the proposed record use and transfer policy changes could affect the library community, and that a great deal of feedback has been provided to OCLC prior to this news. The prohibition in the latest record use policy on “commercial” transfer is broad and ill-defined; now that OCLC is extending its range of services into library management functions, the current records use / transfer policy could prohibit others from providing ILS functions that directly compete with OCLC’s offerings. If another company wants to provide network-level ILS functions, this could be interpreted as a commercial use of WorldCat records as per the new policy, as in essence a library would need to transfer their catalog records to that company’s network-level ILS services.

I am all for OCLC providing network-level services that support libraries, but I don’t believe it is in the library community’s best interests to relinquish control of our data to OCLC or any other single institution. We cannot afford an environment where our future is defined or controlled by a single entity. We need a robust technology ecosystem. To ensure a balanced playing field, we as a community need to not let OCLC dictate the policies of use of our catalog records; we need to let OCLC know that we believe it is our best interests for these records to be openly accessible and usable by all. And if OCLC decides to pursue a policy that does not reflect the wishes of the library community, then the library community should pursue appropriate legal actions if necessary to protect our interests and our data. While OCLC has been and continues to be a great steward of our records, these are not OCLC’s records, these are our records.

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Code4Lib Journal article on OAI-ORE

The latest issue of the Code4Lib Journal has an excellent article by David Tarrant et al detailing the use of OAI-ORE to enable the transferrence of repository objects from one repository solution to another. This, IMHO, is the first write-up of a compelling use case for OAI-ORE; the ability to migrate repository collections from one repository solution to another is critical in the long-term for most institutions, and having a standard mechanism for doing so would be a huge win. This is a must-read.

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Trip Report – CNI Spring Task Force Meeting

Last week I attended the CNI Spring Task Force Meeting in Minneapolis. I look forward to CNI meetings, as generally the programs are quite strong and diverse – usually there are at least two or three sessions that I find extremely useful, and this time was no exception.

Clifford Lynch, the Executive Director of CNI, usually kicks things off with his views on technology and technology policy current events and trends. However, this time there was an opening plenary by David Rosenthal on digital preservation. I really enjoyed David’s talk, as he provided a good context to some important digital preservation work over the last 10-15 years, and though many of his conlcusions and opinions can be argued, I believe his main intent was to spark conversation and thinking, which I believe he did quite well. Usually when I hear someone speak about digital preservation, it is at a very technical, how-to level; David’s talk brought the level of conversation up a notch, at a level I felt bridged the philosophical and strategic with the hands-on pragmatic. One bit I found interesting about David’s talk is his promotion of open source software as a preservation strategy; while I agree that OSS can make preservation easier, I don’t know that OSS by itself guarantees the future ability to render or emulate a particular document format. However, again, David’s use of strong statements can be seen as a strategy for engaging a conversation about the topic, and more conversation at this level is needed.

A couple of sessions of note that I attended at this meeting. First, there was a very good session on Shared Leadership for Transforming Information Technology Organizations by representatives from the University of Minnesota. The University of Minnesota has engaged in a transformation process for supporting IT throughout the entire institution. The presenters, all from their central IT group (I am including their CIO’s office as part of central IT, though that may not be entirely accurate) talked about various aspects and challenges with their IT transformation process. UMN has something now called “The Common Good”, which are a group of centrally-supported services provided to the entire campus. In general, the services in the “Common Good” are mandated; in other words, if you are going to use email, and the Common Good provides the campus’ email service, your unit is mandated to use the email service in the common good (unless you go through a rigurous opt-out process that forces you to justify why you are opting out). By implementing the “Common Good”, UMN has been able to reduce overall IT spending from 6.55% of total expenditures in the institution to 6.39%. At the same time, individual units on campus reduced their IT expenditures from 4.14% to 3.6%. Overall, this has saved UMN $18 million a year. Another metric they stated was that units could show that for every dollar now spent on IT (via central services, I assume), they get two dollars worth of IT returned. I’d like to see some additional details about this last metric – if accurate, that’s a great measurement in support of their efforts. I would point you to their presentation, but unfortunately at this time it isn’t available from the CNI website.

The second session I would point out was on the Open Annotation Collaboration. This is an effort that is just getting underway – the intent is to explore how annotations can be standardized and work across scholarly systems. The project goals, specifically, are:

  • To facilitate the emergence of a Web and Resource-centric interoperable annotation environment that allows leveraging annotations across the boundaries of annotation clients, annotation servers, and content collections. To this end, interoperability specifications will be devised.
  • To demonstrate through implementations an interoperable annotation environment enabled by the interoperability specifications in settings characterized by a variety of annotation client/server environments, content collections, and scholarly use cases.
  • To seed widespread adoption by deploying robust, production-quality applications conformant with the interoperable annotation environment in ubiquitous and specialized services, tools, and content used by scholars — e.g.: Zotero, AXE, LORE, Co-Annotea, Pliny; JSTOR, AustLit, MONK.

Over the years, there have been a number of efforts that have looked at how to properly deal with digital annotations. This project is interesting because it appears that even the definition of annotation may be explored – for instance, when I think of an annotation, I think of some comment or note that is associated with a particular object. However, this effort is abstracting the idea of object to look at annotations of collections, compound objects, similar works, annotations of annotations, etc. In other words, they are in essance extending the definitional reach of the term. This approach is likely influenced by RDF and work on the OAI-ORE effort; my sense is that this particular project is in part a response to testing out the standards developed by OAI-ORE. As such (and even if I’m wrong on that), there should be some very interesting work produced through this research. The project website can be found at

Hopefully, the presentations from this CNI meeting will be made available soon on the CNI website, as there were a number of presentations I was unable to attend (one of the frustrations of the meeting having 8 concurrent tracks).

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