Welcome to Online Insider ...
... the editorial blog by Marydee Ojala, Editor of ONLINE: Exploring Technology & Resources for Information Professionals. ONLINE Insider intends to extend the reach of the print publication, presenting a more timely commentary on the products, people, and events that shape today's online world. It explores new technologies as they impact the working lives of information professionals, explains resources for specific topic areas, and expounds on information management tools and techniques.

Ebooks, Google and Otherwise

Marydee Ojala @ 6:16 am

The opening session of Computers in Libraries yesterday made me very happy that I wasn’t the conference organizer. The keynote speaker, James Crawford, Engineering Director for Google Books, was delayed. Apparently, he’d decided to take a redeye from California, which was to arrive in Dulles less than 3 hours before he was scheduled to speak. And Dulles isn’t all that close to the Washington Hilton. His flight was delayed. The result: He landed at Dulles about the time he was supposed to be addressing some 2,000 people at CIL.

Jane Dysart, CIL conference organizer, swiftly pulled together a panel of ebook and industry experts to fill in. They did this admirably. Kudos to Roy Tennant, Dick Kaser, Stephen Abram, and Marshall Breeding. For a full transcript of their remarks, see Don Hawkins’ report at Information Today’s LibConf blog.

While listening to them, some random thoughts flashed through my mind. The comment about libraries’ digitizing local and personal collections caught my attention and I’m wondering if this presages closer cooperation between public libraries and local museums. This type of intersection could benefit both institutions, particularly in times of limited funding for both.

The changing technological nature of ebooks, particularly the introduction of HTML5, set me wondering if ebook technology will fundamentally change the definition of a book. If you think of a book as a bunch of chapters strung together (I’m thinking non-fiction here, not fiction) that can be read out of sequence, you’ve got a research tool not that much different from a journal with articles strung together. Plus, when you can embed video, audio, images, and possibly more exotic technologies in the future, books become dynamic rather than static.

Today there’s an entire track devoted to ebooks. That’s likely where you’ll find me. I’ll be interested in learning more about the emerging technologies of ebooks.

Computers in Libraries

Marydee Ojala @ 9:04 am

It’s the week that Computers in Libraries comes to Washington DC — and this time it’s actually in Washington DC rather than Crystal City, which is in Virginia. I know at least one person who’s coming to CIL for the first time in years, since he was boycotting Crystal City.

I’ll be doing some live blogging here, but the main source for blog coverage of the conference will be at ITI’s conference blog site. There will probably be lots of tweeting as well. Follow the hashtag #cil11 (although I notice that #cil2011 is also being used).

Pre-conference workshops are today. If you’re around this evening, don’t miss the Gaming & Gadgets Petting Zoo from 5.30 to 7.30 at the Washington Hilton.

Statistical Threats

Marydee Ojala @ 8:48 am

I find it inconceivable that the US government would decimate its statistical reporting to citizens. Yet this is what seems likely to happen if funding for the Statistical Compendia Branch along with the Federal Financial Statistics Program of the US Census disappears. It’s not just the Statistical Abstract, it’s other important titles as well: State and Metropolitan Area Data Book, County and City Data Book, Consolidated Federal Funds Report (CFFR), and Federal Aid to States (FAS). The Department of Commerce’s 2012 Congressional Budget Justification document (pp. 82-92 are the critical ones) suggests that the plan is to shift funding towards some new program that will deliver the data in a different format. Several posts, here and here, at FreeGovInfo provide more information. Note that the new program, whatever it might be, is a very hazy concept and that the government would first do away with the publications that now exist before thinking about a replacement.

I think about it this way: We’ve got a road. We can drive on it. Maybe it’s not state of the art, but we can use it to get from point A to point B. So, we want a better road. We dynamite the existing road, leave it impassable for a few years, then start considering a new road. Meanwhile nobody got from point A to point B. And if the new road is never built, nobody ever goes from point A to point B.

The Statistical Abstract (affectionately known as Stat Abs to many of us) has been published annually since 1878. The other titles are instrumental in guiding informed decisions, not just of business people, but also of the general public. As I understand this, this isn’t a situation of “let’s replace print with online,” which I could live with. Instead, it’s “let’s just not tell anybody about the data we’ve collected.” In this age of Linked Data, how could the US government take such a backward step? What happened to transparency in government?

OK, maybe there’s a plan somewhere to replace our “old standbys” with new data dissemination methods, but with no funding, I don’t understand how this can realistically happen.

Ray Matthews, Government Information Coordinator, Utah State Library, has posted an excellent presentation on the issue. He suggests we look at “perpetual trusts or endowments for government agencies, libraries and archives to fund access to document collections, databases and datasets.” He also wonders about “legal corporate structures for governmental libraries and archives to independently maintain and operate online archives with immunity from political and economic influences.”

The funding cessation is not yet final. Only input from citizens to their elected officials in Washington will sway legislators to restore the money needed to create these important government publications.

I’m pretty sure this is going to come up as a hot topic at WebSearch University.

Cairo Public Libraries

Marydee Ojala @ 8:51 am

I wrote about the Egyptian people protecting the Library of Alexandrina a month ago on this blog. I also wrote an article for Information Today that was published in the February 2011 issue. My optimism about Egyptian libraries has been somewhat dampened by recent revelations that 2 public libraries in the Cairo area, the Al Bahr Al A’zam Library and the Shubra El-Kheima Library, were burned and looted during protests against the Mubarak government. It is absolutely counter to the spirit of democracy to destroy public libraries. Photographs of the Al Bahr Al A’zam Library are posted at the Cybrarians: Arabic Portal for Librarianship & Information Science and are truly shocking in the scope of devastation.

The Integrated Care Society operates a network of public libraries in Cairo. The website is in Arabic and still features photographs of its patron, Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of deposed president Hosni Mubarak.

Queens Library, which has a “sister” relationship with Cairo libraries, has put out a call to help the Cairo libraries. It is asking for financial donations to rebuild these very important cultural institutions.

Talis Information Sold to Capita

Marydee Ojala @ 10:01 am

Talis Information Limited, which constitutes the library division of Talis Group Ltd, has been acquired by outsourcing firm, Capita Group plc. The transaction is valued at £18.5m with an additional £2.5m due, based on performance over the next 12 months. Talis Information Ltd has a range of around 100 academic and public library clients based in the UK and employs 42 staff, all of whom are based in Birmingham. Information Age had a good article about the acquisition here.

Talis Group’s other portfolio companies including Talis Education Ltd, Talis Systems Ltd, and Talis Inc. aren’t part of the deal, so it looks like the SaaS-based semantic web platform stays with Talis, along with Talis Aspire, a resource list management solution for higher education customers. Talis recently opened a U.S. office (in Virginia) with its first customer the Government Printing Office (GPO). At this point, I’m not sure whether the US office stays with Talis or goes to Capita. I’m guessing it’s part of the systems group, so will remain as Talis.

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