Three unrelated things

Look, it’s July, we’re in another un-air-conditioned heat wave (with fire-related smog to boot), and my non-work energy–what’s left of it–is going to:

  • Watching, visiting and otherwise coping with our new kitten (adopted two days before I left for Anaheim), who when we let him out for play seems to be terrorizing our six-year-old cat. The kitten’s named “Oz” (he comes and sits on the piano bench when my wife plays “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”–and we are Buffyverse people, for that matter). He can be a handful…
  • Writing some good stuff for Cites & Insights – yes, I did get back some inspiration, and I’m working on it. (After I post this, I’ll start fleshing out an essay I outlined on Sunday).
  • Working on the Big Project I’m semi-committed to. (If there’s any organization that would love to see a longitudinal followup to my two library blogs books, let me know: Without sponsorship, I don’t see expending the time and energy on that Big Project, even though the results might be worthwhile.)
  • Not melting.

Still, I couldn’t help but notice three things that deserve brief comment. You can think of this as a very early Friday post, if you like…

  • On one of the lists I follow, I’m seeing another case of someone from one fringe of librarianship dissing a big sector of the field as outdated and largely irrelevant–and revealing their ignorance of what’s actually happening in the sector. This is always such fun to watch and such a service to the field: Let’s tear down everyone else!
  • Tim Spalding–who’s already told libraries what books you should be and apparently aren’t buying–now wants an open source replacement for Dewey Decimal. He’s not offering any money–but he set up a LibraryThing group where, if you register or LT happens not to be heavily loaded, you can see the discussion. It certainly strikes me that coming up with a way for public libraries to relabel and reshelve all their books, using entirely volunteer labor, is a noteworthy initiative! (I was going to suggest the Proper! Coordinator! for this effort, one who can bring to it a sufficient level of excitement, neologisms, exclamation points, innovative punctuation, and Using Title Capitalization! Whenever Possible…but never mind. I’m in enough trouble with Tim anyway.) [A digression: If you asked 1,000 public library catalog users about sentence vs. title capitalization in OPAC title displays, I wonder whether even 1% would care--or even notice? And yes, I find sentence capitalization for titles odd-looking as well, although not as odd-looking as transcribing the actual title, so commonly in ALL CAPS.]
  • I’m hearing some commentary about vendors being overrepresented among speakers at ALA–and I’d guess you could say the same about other library conferences. I think there’s some justification to the comments… But this is a complicated area…and one probably deserving a considerably longer and deeper discussion. And this whole area gets tricky, thanks in part to the first really difficult issue: Who’s a vendor? For example: Am I? Was I a year ago? Was I two years ago? What about consultants? What about authors?

I’m staying out of the first discussion for now. I’m certainly staying out of the second one. As for the third…there’s a lot of me that wants to write something substantial here, and there’s a lot of me that wants to stay away from that one as well.

Now, back to “serious” writing (well, after an excursion to a certain Meebo room…)

11 Responses to “Three unrelated things”

  1. John Says:

    Tim Spalding does many eyebrow-raising things, some of which I like, e.g., open source APIs, and some that drop my jaw, e.g., seeking free labour from a new library student. He calls this new classification system open source, but he’s not willing to contribute substantially to it? Bizarre.

  2. walt Says:

    I would hate to be accused of misrepresenting Spalding’s intentions, so I’ll point you to the post itself.

    Read the comments as well.

  3. Tim Says:

    We are asking for “free labor” from library students willing to build a completely free, unlicensed and unlicenseable alternative to Dewey. We have already lined up a few dozen librarians for this project. Other LT projects, such as our effort to catalog the libraries of a few dozen famous dead people–Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemmingway, Sylvia Plath, etc.–have also drawn much “free” labor, mostly from librarians.

    What I find amazing is your failure to recognize this pattern. It is the pattern that build Linux, Apache, PHP, MySQL, Wikipedia, and much else. The basis of this pattern is interest and love–the idea that doing good work that helps people is itself a valuable way to spend ones free time.

    I know, I will never work!!! By the way, did you know this site runs from an Apache server, running an open source blog engine, built on an open source programming language and database? This site, like almost all others, depends upon the love and passion of computer programmers who have donated their time to make better tools. That there are librarians who are as public-minded as programmers should not surprise you.

    Incidentally, I’m not willing to run it because I think the person who does so should be a librarian, and should not have the divided attention I do. Since this pattern has succeeded elsewhere on LT—our legacy libraries are run by a librarian, not me, for example—I do not think it unrealistic to look for such a person.

  4. Tim Says:

    We are asking for “free labor” from library students willing to build a completely free, unlicensed and unlicenseable alternative to Dewey. We have already lined up a few dozen librarians for this project. Incidentally, this is not a new idea. LibraryThing’s “Legacy Library” project, cataloging the libraries of famous dead people, is run by a librarian (unpaid) and draws on the time of dozens of other librarians.

    What I find amazing is the failure to recognize this pattern. It is the pattern that build Linux, Apache, PHP, MySQL, Wikipedia, and much else. The basis of this pattern is interest and love–the idea that doing good work that helps people is itself a valuable way to spend ones free time.

    I know, it will never work!!! But yet it does. So this site runs on an Apache server, with an open source blog engine built on an open source programming language and database. This site, like almost all others, depends upon the love and passion of computer programmers who have donated their time to make better tools. That there are librarians who are as public-minded as programmers should neither surprise or distress you.

    Incidentally, I am willing to do all the programming—which will involve quite a bit of time. I’m not willing to organize the effort because I think the person who does so should be a trained librarian.

    Crazy me.

  5. John Says:

    I might be the only one misunderstands this, so I will be happy to absorb all frustration/blame for raising my points. I really would like to accept that all of this is a labour of love. I just have one issue that keeps nagging at me, and it is not really directed at Tim or LibraryThing. Many small private companies start ethically and with a community mind. But when a company is for profit, what is to stop it from growing into Amazon, along with its increasing bad practices? Just because librarians have signed on to help doesn’t mean they should. Can’t libraries do this for themselves? I would like to think they could. Maybe not, after all. Maybe they need the private sector to drive innovation. Is that the message I should be getting?

  6. Tim Says:

    I think the answer is licenses. If the license allows you to take it away—as ours does here—then you can, at final resort, do that.

  7. walt Says:

    Two notes here:
    1. Tim’s first comment fell into moderation (now that he’s had a comment approved, that’s unlikely to happen again). Thus the partial repetition between the two messages.

    2. I certainly recognize the validity and value of open source efforts. My skepticism about a DDC replacement has very little to do with open source in general and a whole lot to do with the specific effort. It’s not a question of “it’ll never work.” Firefox, Wikipedia (for all its faults), etc., etc. have answered that question (which I never asked). It’s a question of whether it’s worth the effort in this case–whether there is in fact a problem waiting to be solved. To use one possible analogy, DDC isn’t IE6.

    Incidentally, if you think institutional loyalties are involved, just check my recent career path…


    Clarification: “you” in the sentence above is a general “you” and not intended specifically for Tim S., who has never made any such suggestion. Just saying: There’s no reason I would have any such loyalties at this point.

  8. John Says:

    Wiser people than I have chided my view today, still I count the dialogue as a fruitful one, and hope I have caused no offense. Tim, I will think more on open licensing, and how it might protect library interests in long-term collaborations with the private sector. It just might work.

  9. Tim Says:

    Walt: For the record, I was replying mostly to the first comment, not to you. I very much understand the idea that it’s not worth it. I think it’s debatable. We’ll find out.

    That said, I also think “worth it” means something very different when no money is involved and the time spent is not your own. I don’t think knitting is worth it, but insofar as I am not impacted by others’ knitting, what does my opinion matter? It’s not like whether the Iraq war is worth it.

    I don’t believe I have ever insinuated an opinion was based on institutional loyalties. If I ever did, I apologize for it. I think that’s really the lowest form of argument.

  10. walt Says:

    Tim: No, I don’t think you ever insinuated that my opinions had anything to do with institutional loyalties. That was a “preventive” comment–since I was terminated by that particular institution. (There’s no reason you’d be aware of that…)

    I guess “we’ll find out” is the only plausible answer at this point. I mostly doubt that it’s realistic for more than a tiny number of existing libraries to modify all their catalog records, relabel all their books, and reshelve everything unless there’s a HUGE benefit–and the number of brand-new libraries each year (with brand-new collections) just isn’t that large. But it’s not my effort, to be sure.

  11. Tim Says:

    … since I was terminated by that particular institution.

    I didn’t know that. I’m sorry, if your sorry, and not if not :)

    I agree that it’s not realistic for libraries to switch over, not unless the benefits were tremendous. But new schemes can be tried. So it was with the Maricopa County library—which ditched Dewey in favor of modified BISAC. They were able to do it because they started a new branch with all new books in it. And they even did it although they had to personally re-classify all the books.


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