The Definition of Success

I’m quite the fan of Wikipedia. I know, I know, it’s an unreliable source of information because anyone can edit it, filling entries with all kinds of misinformation and outright vandalism. (Except, of course, that while anyone can edit entries, no one can easily skate by Wikipedia’s editors for very long.) Wikipedia isn’t written by accredited, degreed experts, so you can’t use it as a real source like you can the World Book or Encyclopedia Britannica.


I’ve spent many hours wandering through entries in the Britannica and in Wikipedia. Given the choice between Britannica and Wikipedia, I’ll generally go with Wikipedia. Why? Let’s go to chapter two of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

Here’s what the Encyclopedia Galactica has to say about alcohol. It says that alcohol is a colourless volatile liquid formed by the fermentation of sugars and also notes its intoxicating effect on certain carbon-based life forms. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy also mentions alcohol. It says that the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. It says that the effect of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick. The Guide also tells you on which planets the best Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters are mixed, how much you can expect to pay for one and what voluntary organizations exist to help you rehabilitate afterwards. The Guide even tells you how you can mix one yourself. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sells rather better than the Encyclopedia Galactica.

Substitute Encyclopedia Britannica for “Encyclopedia Galactica” and Wikipedia for “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and you’ve got my answer. (Wikipedia actually has an entry for “Pan Galactice Gargle Blaster.” Does the Britannica?)


Gorman With the Wind

The biggest irony in Michael Gorman‘s two-part blog post entitled “Web 2.0: The Sleep of Reason” (part I and part II) is that he clearly doesn’t understand how the internet (including, but in no way limited to, Wikipedia) works, or he’s willfully misrepresenting how it works in order to make his point. Whichever the case, it means that he’s not an authoritative, reliable source, and his writings on the matter cannot be trusted.

Anything else I could possibly say about his two-part essay has already been said, and much better than I could have done, by Jason Griffey, Karen G. Schneider, Jessamyn West, and Meredith Farkas.

UPDATE: Clay Shirkey has an excellent critique of Gorman’s posts here.

Dear Libraryland…

Karen G. Schneider is brilliant.

It is both ironic and poignant that librarians are still worrying about bibliographic control, after ceding so much of the same to the companies that now rent them journal access per annum at usurious rates, digitize their book collections into DRM obscurity, or sell them ponderous, antiquated management systems that on close inspection do little more than serve as storehouses for the metadata specific to the formats of bygone eras, bold days when we saw our central roles as defenders and curators of our cultural heritage.

We have moved from the librarian as information artisan a professional creating and using tools to manage information to the librarian as surrogate vendor, facilitating what is essentially the offshoring of thousands of years of information into private hands.

Read her whole piece at the ALA Techsource blog.

OPAC Sesame!

A couple of days ago, Tim Spalding linked to an announcement that Simon Spero has released a nearly-complete copy of the Library of Congress Authority Files. This data wasn’t exactly hiding, but it hasn’t been easily accessible before, not in this way.

Caveat One: In the announcement, Simon makes it clear that the records aren’t necessarily usable for cataloging right out of the box.

Caveat Two: Due to my limited cataloging knowledge, I’m not entirely sure I fully understand what all of the implications of this are.

But Simon did a lot of tedious work to get this information out, and it looks as if it could lead to more open and accessible cataloging in and out of Libraryland. I think this is a very good thing. As I’ve said before, I fail to see what the World of Libraries has to gain by hording or encumbering information.

My Current Place of Work shares a catalog with my Future Place of Work. I am not all that happy with our current OPAC situation. Linking to a particular page in the catalog is problematic. The social, Web 2.0 aspects of the catalog aren’t there. In general usage, it functions just fine, but it could be so much more. I agree with Tim, library catalogs should be Google-friendly at the very least. It looks like my libraries will be looking into the possibility of new software for our OPAC in the not-to-distant future. Boy, wouldn’t it be something if we could jetpack forward from our current OPAC 1.0 to an OPAC 2.0 (or, heck, 3.0!)? And wouldn’t it be something if we saw a tsunami of free information flooding through LibraryLand, and it led to even better services for us and our users?

Connecting the Dots

The moral of the story is this: libraries and the internet, the flow of information and the nodes that seek to connect people with–and through–this information, are changing, and these changes are important and relevant and good.

Now, I seriously doubt anyone reading this blog disagrees with that. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s what the kids are calling a “no-brainer.” But when you’ve got US senators claiming the internet is a series of tubes that needs to be regulated in favor of large corporations, when you’ve got libraries closing their doors during peak hours because a community won’t help deal with unruly patrons, when you have libraries blocking computer access to sites like MySpace and Flickr, it sometimes feels necessary to remind people that the internet and libraries are important and relevant and good. Giving examples, grounding this in the Real World, can help. And so…

The story of the moral is this: My father’s biological father, Earl, was pretty good at procreating, but not nearly as good at sticking around and being a real parent. Ten years before my father was born, Earl fathered a girl named Doris. He didn’t stay with Doris’ mom, though, and eventually ended up with my grandmother, Mary, with whom he had my dad. That relationship also didn’t last, and Earl never had much of a role in my dad’s life (not a direct role, at any rate). Earl eventually got involved with yet another woman, and ten years after my dad was born (Earl seems to have spawned in decade-long increments), Earl fathered a boy named Victor. My dad always knew he had a half-sister out there somewhere, but didn’t know where to find her. He had heard rumors of a half-brother, but was never sure if the rumors were true.

My dad had decided to try and track down his half-sister, so he had registered on some genealogy websites, posting his information and who he was looking for. About two months ago, he got a message regarding his posts–not from his older half-sister, but from Barbara, the wife of the younger half-brother he’d never known really existed. My dad was stunned. He had email and phone conversations with Barbara and Vic, hitting it off with both of them. They decided to intensify the search for half-sister Doris. Through a combination of research on the internet and phone calls to distant libraries, they finally found Doris, alive and (relatively*) well in Michigan.

My dad has been in a state of profound amazement and joy for weeks now. In a recent phone conversation, he said to me, “It’s like I lost an arm when I was nine, and it was recently found, and the doctors told me it could be reattached.” He also said, “I could not have done this without libraries and the internet.”

Real people. Real information. Real connections. Real stories. And a moral.

* Pardon the pun. It was unintentional. Honest.