Monday, April 16, 2007

tragedy at Virginia Tech

I've been following the frequently updated coverage at CNN this afternoon of the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech. My sympathies go out to the entire Tech community.

CNN coverage

Metroblogging DC

Daily Progress (central Virginia)

Roanoke Times (southwestern Virginia)

Collegiate Times (Virginia Tech paper)

Washington Post

Thursday, April 12, 2007

purple ketchup innovation

Steven Bell has written a blog entry that in many ways I wish I had written.

In it he discusses meaningful innovation versus innovation for innovation's sake: "better, more meaningful services" versus "novel products and services." He references an article by Dan Saffer in BusinessWeek Online that brings up the purple ketchup of this entry's title -- purple ketchup is innovation for innovation's sake, and is a product "that no one needs and few actually desire." He contrasts it with the iPod or TiVo, products that no one knew they needed until they existed, and then discovered how vital they were. The products resonate with consumers.

The post basically reminds us to think twice about innovations -- are they really innovative? Will they provide a service that our users will find indispensable, or are they just 2.0 for the sake of 2.0? Do we need to develop oodles of new interface widgets, or do we need strategies to make our data more open and accessible for our collaborative partners and our end users to use our data and collections as needed? I know we need make our core service interfaces more usable, but we also need to make our underlying data more usable.

The post also references another posting on the results of the Nine Questions on Technology Innovation in Libraries survey. We were happy to see Fedora on the list of "The Top Ten Models of Technology Innovation." Steven Bell wonders if institutional repositories are innovative, as repository software appears twice on the list. First, I think that Fedora is mis-categorized as an institutional repository on the list -- it's actually an open source architecture and a toolkit that can be used to build applications of many types, not just IRs. I've seen content management systems, production tools, and preservation repositories in addition to IRs. I am hoping that Fedora is on the list because it's a successful open-source collaborative development model and flexible toolkit (F is for flexible). Second, for many institutions, IRs are still innovative, because support for open access and digital preservation is still an innovation. Even if some IR tools can be challenging to use, it's still an innovation to have a place to, at some level, preserve their output. Let's not confuse the innovative nature of the goal with issues around specific tools. And, as is pointed out, we may need to develop better communications strategies to explain why this is a vital service that our faculties did not know they needed.

in memorium, Kurt Vonnegut

I try to keep this blog dedicated to professional issues, but I cannot let Kurt Vonnegut's passing go unmentioned.

I discovered Vonnegut early in my high school career. I read everything I could easily and affordably get my hands on, and I still have those paperback editions today. I just checked my LibraryThing and I have 16 Vonnegut volumes, only one a duplicate title.

I was one of those serious, artsy teenagers who spent her senior year of high school reading serious fiction at coffee houses when I wasn't in classes or working in theater production or painting. I identified with the title characters of "Harrison Bergeron" and "Who am I This Time?". I don't know how many times I read Breakfast of Champions, which I find one of his most humorous books along with Slapstick. Cat's Cradle, Player Piano, and Slaughterhouse Five are my other favorites of his novels. Vonnegut's work is the definitive example of black humor for me. His work was my first encounter with metafiction and with non-linear narrative.

I want to take the rest of the week off to go home and start re-reading it all.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

blacklight exposed

I see that Bess has posted about her exciting Project Blacklight, where she worked with Erik Hatcher on developing an experimental interface for our MARC records. Props are also due to Chris Hoebeke for working with them on the data and mapping fields and subfields to the facets.

It's not a full replacement for our catalog yet, but it's exceptionally promising. There's a real buzz here about it, not just because it's cool, but because it started under the radar but has gone on to capture the attention of folks across the Library. Check it out.

Friday, April 06, 2007

new tool for researching copyright of published works

As we all know, books published before 1923 in the United States are most definitely in the public domain and books published after 1963 are most certainly all in copyright. Many wrongly assume that all works published after 1923 and before 1963 are also in copyright. This is not a valid blanket assumption. Some did not have their copyright renewed, as required by the process at the time, and are now actually in the public domain. Some had their copyright renewed, and are still protected. Others are “orphan works” where the process of identifying who holds the copyright following deaths of authors and mergers and cessation of operations of many, many publishers is an onerous one. Why does this matter? Because we want to digitize volumes from our collections for which we do not know their copyright status.

There have been resources available in the past to help in this quest. There was a database hosted at Rutgers for Project Gutenberg (, and the Catalog of Copyright Entries at U. Penn (

Now Stanford has launched its Copyright Renewal Database which looks to make it easier to research copyright status for books published during that timespan. Building on the Project Gutenberg database, Stanford has created a new interface to search digitized transcriptions of the U.S. Copyright Office’s Catalog of Copyright Entries that list works where copyright was renewed. The records are known to be spotty, but it's a giant leap in making the copyright status research process a simpler one.