Archive for July, 2006

Libraries & Wikis

Overview: Wikis are used for a number of tasks in libraries and library communities.  Several wikis, such as that used by the University of Connecticut and St Joseph County public library are location-specific, talking mainly about resources and information at one particular location.  St Joseph County’s wiki, furthermore, is only editable by staff of the library.  Other wikis have a topical theme rather than a location.  LISwiki is an attempt to create a general encyclopedia about library and information services.  Library Success is a Best Practices resource.  Butler Wikiref is a review of reference materials in wiki form.  I’m going to review several specific resources, and then take a look at the different approaches to wikis being used by different resources.


LISwiki is a resource dealing with all aspects of libraries and information science.  Much of the information on LISwiki is in an encyclopedia form, providing definitions.  These articles range from the in-depth (such as ones on advocacy) to stubs (banned book).  LISwiki acts as an easily searchable directory , and much of its utility comes from its links to outside content.  The banned books page, although a small definition on LISwiki, links to Wikipedia’s list of banned books and the Open Directory Project’s banned book pages.  One of the good things about LISwiki is that it has dedicated users who read through any article edited or created to verify its content.  When I started using the resource, I submitted an article on roving reference.  Within half an hour, two people had edited it to add more information and fix categorization.  This is a great resource and one that it is good for librarians to know about, but the most PLCMC could do with this resource is to know about it and contribute to it.


Library Success is a resource bringing together best practices information for library activities.  This includes program ideas, success stories, recommended reading for different groups.  This has a very different feel to LISwiki, as instead of being an attempt to gather together definitions and policy information, it is an attempt to gather helpful resources.  Taken together, these identify very different needs and purposes to library wikis.  LISwiki is in many ways more informative than Library Success, but does not have much of a sense of community.  Library Success, as a collection of ideas, suggestions, and anecdotes feels more like a community or a brainstorming session.  This is a great resource, and one that it would be of value for PLCMC staff to read and contribute to.  It could also be of use to copy this style of wiki when compiling department-specific resources.  The current Youth Services area on PLCMC Central, for example, could benefit from a wiki format so that the resources could be more easily edited and updated, and more easily searched.

Library For Life Subject Guides

Unlike the last two links, which were intended primarily as resources by librarians for librarians, this is a resource aimed at the public.  This is run by St Joseph County Public Library as a subject guide, maintained by librarians as a reader’s advisory aid for the public.  These range from legal guides to pets to The Da Vinci Code.  The guides mix reader’s advisory, links to outside resources, and also contain links to St Joseph County’s catalog.  Close links between the catalog and the wiki mean more traffic between the two areas.  A possible disadvantage of this wiki is that it can only be edited by staff.  This means that the public are observers rather than participants, and renders the wiki as a tool for putting up encyclopedic websites quickly rather than an open-source collaboration.  If the public were involved, this subject guide could easily become a social networking library catalog, with readers being able to edit and expand the information given about different books.  There are aspects of this design that would be very useful for the library to copy.  Searchable subject guides could help people find titles they didn’t know they needed.  However, this is hamstrung by the unnecessary restriction on who can edit pages.  The communication on this site is one way, and one of the major points of Web 2.0 and by extension Library 2.0 is that this kind of information should be a dialogue, not a monologue.


while not a library-specific resource, Wikipedia has the distinct advantage of being the most popular and well used wiki in existence.  This means that any articles on wikipedia are read by a huge number of people and edited by a huge number of people.  Thus, there are probably more librarians and library science enthusiasts reading and working on wikipedia’s library pages than any other wiki.  This does not of course mean that wikipedia will always be the most accurate resource, and it is often prone to malicious editing.  Wikipedia’s founder has publically urged students not to cite wikipedia articles in schoolwork because their veracity cannot be guaranteed.  John Hubbard, founder of LISwiki, frequently offers Wikipedia’s pages on Pope Benedict XVI as an example of the best and worst of Wikipedia.  Within minutes of Benedict becoming pope, an entry for him had been created, incorporating much of the information from Wikipedia’s earlier pages about Cardinal Ratzinger.  The page was edited hundreds of times that day to add more information, and it quickly became one of the most complete resources on the new Pope that existed on the web.  However, wikipedia articles can and will be edited by anybody, and during the first day of Benedict’s reign as pope, the page was edited several times by a prankster to swap his pictures for those of Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars movies.  The page was quickly changed back, but this served as a good example of Wikipedia’s vulnerability to malicious editing.  This vulnerability, of course, exists in all open wikis.  Obviously, the library can’t replicate wikipedia, and shouldn’t be intending to, but it would be a good idea for all librarians to be aware of the many strengths and notable weaknesses of Wikipedia so they can advise the public in its use.

Library resource wikis

These two resources have a lot in common.  Both are location-specific, one dealing with particular reference resources available at Butler University, the other being the support documentation for the use of library and information technology at the University of Connecticut.  Both are open-edit (anyone can edit them) and both provide what is in a way proprietary information.  One reviews only the reference resources that Butler subscribes to.  The other supports only the technology that Uconn has on its computers.  These are interesting uses of the wiki software.  Butler’s site is a little more what you would expect, giving users the chance to rate and give tips on how to use different online resources.  Uconn’s is a little more unusual, as it is in a way letting the users edit the manuals for their equipment.  This could be an interesting way of quickly discovering what bugs and issues come up in the use of different programs, and what ways people uncover of solving or working around them.  A problem both of these sites have, though, is that they don’t seem to be updated with much regularity.  Butler’s wiki had only had one change in the last thirty days.  Uconn’s had had more, but most editors were keeping to their areas of interest and the main page had not been updated for a year.

Having looked at a variety of the wikis out there, I’m going to try and look at some of the options open to a library wanting to build a wiki as an information source.

Location based versus subject based:  A location-based wiki has a lot of advantages.  You can tie it in to other aspects of your site.  You can assume access to your library’s facilities and use the wikis to socially network existing site content (the catalogue, the reference resources, and so forth).  The disadvantage is that a PLCMC-specific wiki will not have much interest for non-PLCMC patrons.  While PLCMC patrons are our priority, it should still be possible to create a resource that helps all library patrons.  Reader’s Club is in some ways location-based, as each review links back to the catalogue.  However, it is also of use to patrons outside of the library system, as the information is not proprietary.

Open versus Closed: Restricting editing privileges to your wiki is a good way of stopping your wiki from being vandalized and ensuring the quality of information within.  Unfortunately it’s a bad way of keeping people interested in the site.  One of the points of a wiki is the democratization of information.  Anyone with knowledge about a subject can add their knowledge to the pool.  A good middle ground between wide-open access and staff-only access might be to require users to log in, creating a username and password.  This also makes edits easier to track.

July 13, 2006 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment

The Future of the Catalog and Librarything

I looked at what other libraries were doing with their OPAC’s to make searching more precise and patron friendly, my favorites were NCSU’s custom-made Endeca OPAC ( a great example of a precise and intuitive catalog for an academic library) and Aquabrowser which makes use of visual search techniques to help a patron “Search, Discover [and] Refine” with ease and clarity.

Lastly, I explored the free website which makes great use of Web 2.0 concepts to construct an interactive social sphere in which users can upload, share and compare books with ease and then have access to loads of long-tag data that incorporates reader’s advisory, cataloging and other ranking tools.

NCSU – Endeca
Subject breakdown by classification, quantity of hits

“Leveraging the advanced search and Guided Navigation® capabilities of the Endeca ProFind™ platform, the NCSU Libraries’ new catalog provides the speed and flexibility of popular online search engines while capitalizing on existing catalog records.. As a result, students, faculty, and researchers can now search and browse the NCSU Libraries’ collection as quickly and easily as searching and browsing the Web, while taking advantage of rich content and cutting-edge capabilities that no Web search engine can match.
-Subject Oriented
-Encourages breakdown of topic by Classification, Genre, Format – Leads patron to better questions
-Precision through progressive limitation
-Fully integrated ILS

Aquabrowser (as used by Queens Public Library)
-Search. Discover. Refine
Spelling suggestions, translations, associations (controlled vocab)
Discovery trail, Word Cloud, translations
All limitable by format
-Utilizes metadata to help formulate query
-Keyword oriented
-Visually oriented
-Encourages exploration
-Relevancy ranked.
Allows patron to shape trajectory of search. Also, documents history of search

Why library thing works –
Library 2.0 – socialization, personalized content, tagging, tag clouds, RSS, socially driven content (data pulled from Library of Congress, Amazon and other websites)
– Info is easily pulled from one easy-to-use window. The user can search by author or title keyword as well as by ISBN. Catalog is no longer simply based on the MARC record but is instead retail-relevant, containing easily searchable data.
– Maintains privacy while giving more sophisticated reader’s advisory in interactive, visual form (tagging, clouds, pooling users with similar collections, authority control is up to user i.e. you can combine disparate authors, etc) Reader’s advisory is more exact as it is based on collection owned and developed throughout lifetime, not just items purchased (possibly as gifts) in a short time.
– Accessible through RSS and mobile phone devise
– Highly interactive and personalized.

July 11, 2006 at 3:50 pm Leave a comment

Meeting Review

A great first meeting with lots of sharing and ideas. I won’t post them all here, since I’ve asked each staff member who gave a small presentation on a new technology to add a post about it on the blog. But I can recap what the presentations were:

  • Catalog Widgets & Firefox add ons – Frank Blair
  • MTI Technology Lab – Carol Myers
  • Catalog stuff (Endeca & Library Thing) – Natalie Mikysa
  • Visual Search Tools – Lydia Towery

That was all we had time to cover. More reports next time. In the meantime, check out the links provided in Lydia’s post ( There’s some neat stuff here) and I hope to see other posts from Frank, Carol & Natalie soon, so we can follow up on those as well.

Next Mtg date:  Proposed date on the table Sept 12th, 2pm  Please use comments to le me know if this date works.  Thx

July 11, 2006 at 12:23 pm 1 comment

Visual Searching Tool Links

Here are some of the data visualization tools that I will be demonstrating in our meeting today:

Notice the visual searching component of library holdings on the left.

Includes vertical relationships (subcategories), visualized as circles within circles.  Squares are the visual representation of articles.  Grokker tool works best with a controlled vocabulary.

  • Tagnautica–Explore the Flickr Tag Space (Flash 8 required)

Horizontal relationships between Flickr photos based on image tags. 

Includes synonym and antonyms, as in a traditional thesaurus.

  • Inxight StarTree at the NSDL (National Science Digital Library)

Hierarchical links to files, documents and Web pages.  Includes descriptive mouse-overs.

  • Webbrain the Smartest Place to See the Web

Connects websites with tree at the top of the screen and search results at the bottom.

I hope to add more interesting examples of Visual Search Tools soon.


July 6, 2006 at 11:16 am 1 comment

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