Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Computers In Libraries, Day 1 Keynote - David Weinberger

The wonderful David Weinberger, Co-Director of the Library Innovation Lab (http://librarylab.law.harvard.edu/) at Harvard University and author of Too Big To Know; Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, & Co-Author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, gave a rousing keynote on "hacking the library" to start out the 29th annual Computers In Libraries conference this AM at the Washington Hilton. You can review it now at http://www.infotoday.com/cil2014/.

(And, yes, in case you're wondering, the keynotes are -- tech gods willing -- livestreamed for free at the Information Today website - http://www.infotoday.com/cil2014/live.asp)

Because the theme of this year's conference = "hacking the library", David identified the why and what we mean by hacking the library. The why includes the cuts in library budgets occurring along with the call to raise the value proposition the library offers. David noted that we're talking about "white hat hacking", which is about adding value (vs. "black-hat" hacking, which is value negative). He mentioned that the type of value-adding (hacking) measures he's citing are easier than ever now due to increasing move toward open access resources, engagement lifecycle, and the power of the network.

While libraries were always portals to information, in the past they had exclusive importance. Today, the network itself is the portal and it allows people who connect with one another around any topics. The network even allows today's readers (library users or not) to connect directly with authors. The value of information itself is determined by the cultural uptake of the materials. In the past, average people were left out of the important conversations and such conversations were held behind closed doors. In the new networked ecosystem, libraries are wondering where they fit in and how they can get into the game. Often, librarians want to resume the position we traditionally held, of being the sole/primary information portal for a community.

The reality check for libraries seeking to return to that portal to the community's information is that libraries can't be everything to everyone. The Swiss army knife, for example, is a hack that anticipates a number of items that an individual user might need. But that hack isn't scalable. The Swiss Army knife is born of anticipation -- the idea that you might possibly need item x, y, or z, that it includes. In the pre-digital world, the publisher was a gatekeeper who only allowed a small percentage of potential titles to be published. Only those that offered mass (read: profitable) appeal were produced.

In the web world, there is no more gatekeeping - all potential titles can be published. But what adds value is the added weight of majority recommendation, for example. Items are filtered forward on the web, not filtered out. When you "curate" materials online, you are filtering those materials you which to guide users to, but the users can also go outside of your walled garden and find other materials. The curation just makes the user's path to the materials more straightforward.

Traditionally, libraries, too, have had to filter their work with physical collections. We acquire items to build collections, then catalog, shelve, circulate, and build services around them. We do that in one way, not in all possible ways. Even as we digitize materials and decide which metadata to capture / how to map existing metadata, we are filtering. David then spoke about their digitization of materials from the Tibetan Buddhist Center. There was no element in the traditional metadata schemas for the "reincarnation of" information.

So how do we build a future that isn't guided by the impossible goal of perfect anticipation? There are 3 paths:

1. The Library as Platform: you have the library as portal, as one applciation/one service, but also you offer up open data, e.g., anonymized usage data, bib data, user reviews, annotations - upon which other folks - many of them web developers, for example, civic-minded or otherwise - can build tools. Much more value can be extracted from our resources when we feed our data out in ways that others can use and manipulate. Since the library is not the only source of information in a networked world, the community doesn't have to come to you or approach in the way you imagine.

-- enables people to access this data as though it's local - so you as a library don't have to figure out which & only which services we provide; we want 14 & 15 year olds around world to do this
-- successful platforms offer up APIs (Application Programming Interfaces - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Application_programming_interface) to allow others to use their data e.g., Facebook, New York Times, Internet Archvie, OpenLibrary, Data.gov, DPLA

Harvard's Innovation Lab provides LibraryCloud - http://librarycloud.harvard.edu/ - offers up open data - an API with all 13 million bibliographic records in Harvard Libraries. Built on top of that, for example, is a visualization tool that allows you to see the coverage of topics in Harvard's libraries. It's called Stacklife - http://stacklife.harvard.edu/

David notes that a well-done platform should not only add community engagement but should also add that community-provided data back into the system. He also mentioned the Harvard Labrary design project http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/05/buildings/lbd/looking-through-the-labrary-lens/ that reimagined the future of the library. Additionally, he pointed listeners to another interesting experiment - the Awesome Box - http://awesomebox.io/ - which helps library patrons recommend books through simply returning those books to an "awesome box" next to the more traditional library return box.

2. Linked Open Data (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linked_data). David says that we can start to build core library systems with linked open data. Linked open data describes the types of relationships between data, so that computers can map meaning. It allows data to be mashed up to move their value beyond the boundaries of the rich siloes that we've been building all of these years. He mentioned the linked data for libraries project (http://library.stanford.edu/news/2013/12/stanford-cornell-harvard-libraries-awarded-grant-linked-data-project)

3. Build graphs. David talked about Facebook as a social graph and how the knowledge graph at Google builds the informational box sometimes seen on the right-hand side of the search engine results page (for example, if you search on Theodore Roosevelt). Google uses an algorithm to automatically create a meaningful representation of information on the topic you've searched. He mentioned that libraries should be the place that people come to hack their own library experience. We need to hack the future, how we address the future, and to move ahead. Relationships are crucial to this enddeavor, supported by the values of community and openness. Building a graph would allow us to provide an infrastructure of knowledge online where [libraries] are not nearly as present they should be, he pointed out.

Though roads may be built to take you just one way and we may never give up on roads, we also need to allow people the freedom to wander off the road, as needed, by offering them the library. Finally, David called on us to live "with less anticipation and more possibilities"

For more David Weinberger:


Twitter @dweinberger

David Weinberger

Finally, it was suggested that if we liked the keynote, we should go to the Tues. evening program ("Extreme Makeovers & Mindshifts: People & Places" - 7:30pm, International Ballroom East).

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