Tag Archives: search engines

Going back to gallery land #ndf2012

Going back to gallery land
Courtney Johnston, Hutt City Council @auchmill
This talk has been prompted by a shift: from private to public sector, from things on the web to things on walls, from Cuba Street to Lower Hutt. It will range over a group of freewheeling ideas, including the sensitised museum, the stack as metaphor, and the potential of emotional interfaces. There will also be 90 seconds on the topic ‘How to be a great client’.

Refers to article by Alexis Madrigal on “giving a shit”.

Advice for being a good client:

  • build a good relationship – trust
  • be customer-focused
  • don’t think of them as vendor but as customer
  • hard decisions are around money

Director of the Dowse Art Museum – big enough to do stuff but small enough to fly under radar. Leap from running web company to becoming director of art museum. Budget management and HR and strategy all obvious. But also experience of customer-focus, experimentation….

Lots of thinking in metaphors for transition. They’re a bridge between familiar and unfamiliar. A way of making a new kind of sense. Thought of “the stack” – visualises racks of VCRs. Old boss used to say when starting a new project should go through the whole stack. Never used to take diagrams seriously because didn’t help her think but now started drawing own – using stack metaphor.

“We should do X because it will better allow us to fulfill Y aspect of our mission by Z” (Nina Simon at NDF2009)

Realised her “stack” isn’t a straight line but a circle – realising that fans and mission aren’t two ends of a line, they’re the same thing.

Can’t afford to have visitors feel stupid or wrong, online or in physical space. No 404 or 403 pages in our buildings, and customer service people need to be our Fail Whales. Don’t hide the thing people come to place for – in art gallery the art.

Emotional response to books, art, museum spaces. Sport as “spectacle” – event designed to evoke reaction from viewers/participants. Memorable, moving. Have we become timid? Our visitors are hungry for experience. What if we had more emotion, personality, connection in our museums and galleries.


Museum of emotions – up to beginning of previous century men would have intimate relationships with each other, now seems lacking. Our language has become impoverished, fewer words for feelings. “Chivalry” reduced from whole code to “holds doors open for women”. Museum of emotions is a place you go to to experience emotions that have fallen into disuse, emotions you haven’t experienced yet. Not a place to learn about them but to experience them. Not a programme designed to evoke them, but one where exhibits radiate the emotion at you.

Emophoto – Makes DigitalNZ sets for various reasons – pulling things together and annotating; exploring ideas/thesis; to accompany blogposts; for amusement as public/private gifts to people. Currently can’t search for sets or see sets other than those on homepage – have to follow setmakers on Twitter. Created Tumblr site to aggregate some but dependent on time. Meaning accruing to images as collected in different sets. Wants to make sets collaboratively. Frustrated that can’t search sets by emotion. Let people classify images by an “emotion picker” (like a colour picker) – quality vs intensity. Both what emotion do you see in the photo, and what emotion you feel – these are different things.

[Shares descriptions of images that have moved her emotionally.]

Metadata as a way of turning looking into thinking. (@petrajane)

Hard to tweet as a director! Personal and professional smash up against each other. Risk of putting foot wrong and standing on landmine – but doesn’t want to stop because openness is powerful and scalable way of staying connected to fans.

The death of organised data

I’ve been hearing rumours that the big IT companies may be giving up on organised data. Which is kind of a big thing for the same reason that it makes perfect sense: there are terabytes upon terabytes of data pouring onto computers and servers all the time, and organising all of that into a useful format takes a heck of a lot of time.

Especially because data organised to suit one need isn’t necessarily going to suit most actual needs. If you’re a reference librarian (either academic or, I suspect, public) you’ll have had the student coming to your desk who can’t quite understand why typing their assignment topic into a database doesn’t return the single perfect article that explicitly answers all their questions.

So I think there’s two ways of organising data:

  • “pre-organising” it – eg a dictionary, which is organised alphabetically, assuming you want to find out about a given word. It has information about which are nouns and what dates they derive from (to a best guess, obviously) but there’s no way to search for nouns that were used in the 16th century because the dictionary creator never imagined someone might want to know such a thing.
  • organising it at point of need – eg a database which had all this same information but allowed you to tell it you want only nouns deriving from the 16th century or earlier; or only pronunciations that end in a certain phonetic pattern; or only words that include a certain other word in the definition.

Organising data at point of need solves one problem (it’s much more flexible) but it doesn’t actually save time on the organising end. In fact, it’s likely to take quite a lot more time.

So is humanity doomed to be swimming in yottabytes of undifferentiated, unorganised, and thus useless data? I frowned over this for a while, and after some time I remembered the alternative to organising data: parsing it. (This is just what humans do when we skim a text looking for the information we want.) So, for example, a computer could take an existing dictionary as input and look for the pattern of a line which includes “n.” (or s.b. or however the dictionary indicates a noun), and a date matching certain criteria, and returns to the user all the lines that match what was asked for.

Parsing is hard, and computers have historically been bad at it. (Bear in mind though that for a long time humans beat computers at chess.) This is not because computers aren’t good at pattern-matching; it’s because humans are so good at making typos, or rephrasing things in ways that don’t fit the criteria. (One dictionary says “noun”, one says “n.”, one says “s.b.”, one uses “n.” but it refers to something else entirely…) A computer parsing data has to account for all the myriad ways something might be said, and all the myriad things a given text might mean.

But if you look around, you’ll see parsing is already emerging. One of the things the LibX plugin does is look for the pattern of an ISBN and provide a link to your library’s catalogue search. You may have an email program that, when your friend writes “Want to meet at 12:30 tomorrow at the Honeypot Cafe?”, gives you a one-click option to put this appointment into your calendar. Machine transcription from videos, recognition of subjects in images, machine translation – none of it’s anywhere near perfect, but it’s all improving, and all these are important steps in the emergence of parsing as a major player in the field of managing data.

So yes, if I was a big IT company I might want to get out of the dead-end that is organising data, too – and get into the potentially much more productive field of parsing it.

Links of interest 26/8/10

Scandal du jour (aka the power of social media)
JSTOR’s new interface made searches default to covering their entire database – so results might include articles students didn’t have access to on JSTOR and which wouldn’t even be linked via OpenURL to the library’s subscription in another database. (Meredith Farkas describes the problems neatly.) Librarians complained loudly on blogs, JSTOR’s Facebook page, and elsewhere, and a day later JSTOR has announced that they’ll change the default while they continue work on OpenURL.

WolframAlpha has added widgets that focus on a specific kind of data and can be embedded into a webpage by copying and pasting the code. Categories cover all kinds of subject areas – some widgets might be relevant in a subject guide. (You’d need to add a new rich text box, then select the plain text editor and copy/paste in the embed code from WolframAlpha.)

Librarian as resource
University of Michigan Library’s search results now bring back subject librarians as well as relevant databases, catalogue items, subject guides, institutional repository hits, and external websites. Their blog about this links to some examples.

eBooks and compatibility
Jason Griffey writes a clear explanation about why ebook filetypes and digital rights management means that purchasing an ebook doesn’t mean you can read it on any old e-reader.

Library instruction
Cooke, R., Rosenthal, D. Students Use More Books After Library Instruction: An Analysis of Undergraduate Paper Citations College and Research Libraries (preprint)

“In Fall 2008, students from first-year Composition I and upper level classes at Florida Gulf Coast University participated in a citation analysis study. The citation pages of their research papers revealed that the students used more books, more types of sources, and more overall sources when a librarian provided instruction. When these results were compared to those produced by students in upper level classes (all of whom received instruction), it was discovered that as the class level increased, the number of citations and the percentage of scholarly citations generally increased and there was a high preference for books from all disciplines, especially history.”

(They compared classes which received library instruction with identical classes which didn’t.)

Links of interest 25/9/09

LibLime, an organisation which sells support to the New Zealand-developed open-source library system Koha, has recently announced changes to their practices that are technically legal but many feel don’t abide by the spirit of the open-source license. Library Journal has a basic summary of events with links to key discussions.

A libarian gets a marriage proposal on Ask a Librarian.

Customer service
Being at the point of need discusses placing screencasts, chat widgets, and other tutorials in the catalogue, subject guides, and databases.

Chalk notes as a valid communication format is a library manager’s blogpost about her response to chalk-on-pavement comments about the library. Her follow-up on chalk notes addresses the issue of communication within the library about public responses like this.

Tracking ILL Requests is a “wouldn’t it be neat if” post about providing more information on ILL requests to users.

The APA has an APA Style Blog with all sorts of handy tips.

10 free Google Custom Search Engines for librarians

5 sites with free video lectures from top colleges

Links of interest 12/8/09

Louisville Free Public Library, Kentucky, suffered a flash flood; a librarian there has been posting updates and photos via Twitter. There’s an interview with the library director plus photos and the Library Society of the World (a grassroots organisation based on social networking, the absence of policies, and a stringent Cod of Ethics) is fundraising US$5000 to help out – latest I heard today they’d reached $2700.

Web and search
Curtin Library have created an optimised website for mobile phones.

You can now search for Creative Commons material across various sites in a single place, to find free photos, music, and videos.

If you’ve got an image on your computer and you’re not sure where it’s from (or if you’ve uploaded an image and want to see if anyone else has stolen it), Tineye may be able to find it. Like any search engine it only indexes a portion of the web but it’s indexing more all the time.

Subject guides
Some libraries are discussing ways to use LibGuides material in other parts of their library websites.

A new edition of the Internet Resources Newsletter is out, as usual listing a whole lot of new websites in a broad variety of subject areas – many could be useful for subject guides.

Food for thought
A bunch of librarians have been writing A Day in the Life of a Librarian blog posts – interesting to see what goes on in different libraries and different positions.

Seth Godin charts media according to bandwidth/value of information vs synchronicity/speed of communication – an interesting way of thinking about the way we communicate with our users.

Links of interest 19/6/09

A bit of humour: “Dispatches from a Public Librarian“, told Twitter-style (so may make most sense if you scroll to the bottom and read upwards).

Springshare have launched new LibGuides features, including co-owners for guides (will display both co-owners’ profiles on the guide) and moderation of user-submitted links.

Newly-discovered-by-me Twitter users include Lincoln University and Humanities NZ. Increasing numbers of NZ public libraries have accounts.

Someone’s created a “search engine taste test” where you type in your keywords and it searchs Bing, Google, and Yahoo simultaneously. You can then vote for the best set of results and it will reveal which search engine it’s from.

A Swedish university library has created a simple javascript bookmarklet people can add to their browser so that if they’re browsing the web (via google or links recommended by friends) and find themselves on a subscription-only page, they can click the bookmarklet to reload the page via ezproxy instead of having to navigate back to the library website and find it again. A librarian from there suggests other libraries should “Steal the JavaScript from this page or write your own.

Non-English blog roundup #12

[Sitting around since last year…]

Bambou (French) writes about Wikimini, a Wikipedia-like project written by kids for kids: 8-13 years old. It was conceived by a teacher as a pedagogical tool.

Penser le futur (French) writes about the ease of amending incorrect data on Amazon – [not quite as immediate as Wikipedia perhaps, but] it only took clicking a button, adding details, and waiting while Amazon verified it – a few days later Amazon even sent an email explaining why some of the changes had been accepted and others left alone.

Frank den Hollander (Dutch) points to the experimental PurpleSearch (English) at the University of Groningen. PurpleSearch is a federated search engine that doesn’t require users to select which databases to search – instead it parses the search keywords to guesstimate at which will give the best results.

And if you’re interested in non-English blog posts you may be interested in LibWorld – library blogs worldwide, a book version of the essays on InfoBib.

[More recently…]

Vagabondages (French) lists French and francophone library twitter accounts and Biblioroots lists accounts for librarians, bibliobloggers, authors, editors, booksellers and more librarians as well as general information and technology accounts.

Erik Høy on Biblog (Danish), inspired by Google promoting short videos of its employees introducing themselves, suggests that librarians could do the same.

Links of interest 19/5/09

NZ On Screen gives free online access to selected NZ On Air television. (They also won the Best Entertainment Site award at the 2009 Qantas Media Awards on Saturday.) The World Cinema Foundation has digitised a selection of international films.

Professor Peter Murray-Rust says “The bit of Wikipedia that I wrote is correct.

Wolfram Alpha has gone live. This is a “computational knowledge engine” – meaning it’s intended to read and parse your question then search its index of facts and put them together to give you an answer (rather than Google which just gives you a bunch of pages which may or may not contain an answer). It’s early days so of course a lot of questions will confuse it, but it does well on things like “How old is Helen Clark?“, “Who directed Dangerous Liaisons?“, “What languages are spoken in India?“, and “What is the meaning of life?

Christchurch City Libraries has their annual booksale this Friday/Saturday.


Non-English blog roundup #8

Jeroen van Beijnen (Dutch) links to Idée Labs (English), which is playing with image recognition and visual search software. One of their neat tools is Multicolr, which searches among 10 million Flickr images for those with the colour(s) you select.
[Now, if you combined this functionality with book cover images in the catalogue… I do have to admit that my scheme to take over the world and add cover colour as a MARC field to improve searchability has a subtle yet important flaw: people aren’t necessarily any more accurate in their memory of what a book looks like than in what it’s called, who it’s by, or what the course code is that it’s a textbook for.]

Bibliobsession talks about an idea for an express computer station where readers can scan in a book’s barcode and find reviews of its contents (French): “It’s never been as easy to get hold of a book. On the other hand, it’s never been as difficult to make choices among the abundance of titles. Note that this doesn’t mean that libraries no longer have the function of providing access, but simply that this can no longer be our main raison d’etre.”

5 thoughts on blog statistics

I haven’t yet worried about stats for this blog, but for our (academic) library blog I keep a fairly close eye on what websites/websearches our readers are coming from and what they’re doing once they get here.

My favourite tool for blog statistics is StatCounter.com – it gives you huge detail on the latest 500 hits for free, and it’s invisible. A few random things I’ve discovered as a result:

  1. A google search for the name of our blog, or for the name of our library plus the word ‘blog’, brings us up at the top of the results – and people are finding us that way.
  2. A really effective way to get hits is to post information on the blog on how to research the first assignment of the first year of university for a class of 700 students, and get the lecturer to put the link up on Blackboard for them. We were getting well over 100 hits a day while that assignment ran – in the high two-digit figures of distinct visitors – about 10 times as many people as usual. And a month after the assignment was due, we’re still getting people coming from that link.
  3. Another good way to get hits is to give a tutorial, then post a summary of the tutorial afterwards, and send the link out to them. Okay, if all this did was get hits it’d be worthless – might as well just send them the summary directly – but some of the people do browse around some of the other categories, and may even return another day…
  4. Our statistics are slowly growing. We usually get 10+ hits a day now, even though I’ve weeded out as many library staff as I can identify as staff, when it used to be less than 10 a day even including staff. Sometimes it’s even 10+ people a day….
  5. The stats showed that someone had put a perfectly reasonable search term into the blog search box. I looked to see what results they’d have got and discovered it was just a dead end “0 results” results page, which didn’t seem very helpful, especially since I knew there was bound to be information about the topic somewhere on the main library website. So I wrote a hopeful email to our wonderful IT people, who wonderfully obliged me with this modification (note the “library website” link automatically brings up results for whatever search the user tried on the blog. AskLive is our virtual reference, now running on a Meebo chatroom).