Archive for October, 2007

Even fewer posts

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

I know, I know, I’ve said more than once that people shouldn’t need to explain why they’re not blogging for a while…but always with an explicit or implicit caveat: unless they want to.

I want to.

You’re unlikely to see any posts here for at least five days, maybe more–which is even a little more irregular than this irregular blog usually runs.

Why? For positive reasons, in this case–positive but also disruptive:

  • Tomorrow I’ll fly out to Philadelphia, and go from there to Baltimore. (This means getting up way too early to drive to SFO instead of SJC, my favorite and closest airport–because there are nonstops from SFO to PHL, even if on airlines I’ve never used before. In this case, a 7 a.m. nonstop makes the whole trip workable.)
  • What’s up in Baltimore? PALINET’s Annual Conference & Vendor Fair, at the Tremont Hotel & Conference Center, October 29-30 (with a Digitization Expo October 31, but I won’t be going to that).
  • On the way from Philadelphia to Baltimore–and much more so in Baltimore–I’ll meet the people I’m working for and with in my new (part-time) position as Director and Managing Editor of the PALINET Leadership Network. Up to now, everything (including interview and hiring) has been done on the phone or via email.
  • I’ll also get to meet some of PALINET’s members and start talking up the PALINET Leadership Network. I’ve gotten off to a running start over the past two weeks in setting out milestones and looking at the current beta wiki to see how things might proceed. We decided not to add me to the program as such–probably just as well, given how early it is in the process–but I will be meeting with most of the PLN Advisory Group to work through some issues I’ve identified.
  • Why am I flying into Philadelphia rather than Baltimore (an airport I like quite a bit)? Because Tuesday night we’ll drive back to Philadelphia–and I’ll spend Wednesday morning at PALINET headquarters before flying back home Wednesday afternoon (just in time to help deal with trick-or-treaters, specifically the older ones from outside the neighborhood who show up after dark).
  • I still travel without technology–at least for the moment–so I won’t be blogging during that period (or checking email, or reading Bloglines, or…). And chances are I’ll spend Thursday and maybe Friday writing up notes and catching up with everything. So a post prior to next weekend is fairly unlikely.
  • For my LSW Meebo friends, that also means I’ll be even scarcer over the next week, as in not there at all. Which has mostly been the case since 10/15, so no big surprise…

Not that you’re likely to notice. A bunch of bloggers at IL will cause blog overload for most avid liblog readers anyway. If experience is any guide, readership numbers will probably rise as long as I don’t actually write anything (that’s not just my experience–it’s a fairly frequent occurrence).

If you need a dose of my writing, there’s always the current Cites & Insights–you can write nasty email after reading the ©3 essay, see whether you find the 12-page “Thinking About Blogging” standoffish, and try a few Trends & Quick Takes on for size.

Better yet, if you’re in a public library or library school, buy a copy of Public Library Blogs: 252 Examples. (Or Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change, same link–both books also available at

Self-circulation and secret numbers

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

Yes! A library-related post!

Well, sort of.

Unshelved has an arc this week on self-checkout. Yesterday’s strip (which I just saw today) has Dewey demonstrating the self-check procedure.

  • First scan your bar code.
  • Then enter your secret number
  • Now scan the barcode on the front of the book

I won’t give away the punch line. I assume most of you read Unshelved anyway (right?). Some of us even own some of the collections (I have the first two, but may add later ones later, once sales of Public Library Blogs: 252 Examples go skyrocketing somewhere well beyond the current three dozen mark).

Oh, and I’m also back to being a regular user of my own public library. Which is on its second generation of self-circ machines. Both the first and second generation of those machines, at least as implemented at MVPL, make me wonder about that second bullet. And, for that matter, about how much difference there may be among these systems.

Here’s what I find and like about how they’re implemented at MVPL:

  • A video screen walks you through the process and makes it almost foolproof–starting from the point of orienting your library card correctly to put it in the holder. The old machine–as I remember it–had you put the card on the flatbed and then put books on top of it. The new one has you put the card in a separate holder; once you remove the card, you’re done and get a printed receipt.
  • Secret numbers? I don’t got to show you any stinkin’ secret number! Which is to say, there’s no such requirement at my library–and, as far as I remember (last time I was in was two weeks ago), there’s no keypad anyway.
  • MVPL puts the barcodes on the backs of the books and other materials. That may not be ideal, since some patrons probably get confused by the EAN barcodes.
  • The thermal-printed receipt identifies each book or other item by title/author, item ID, and shows the due date for each item. It also has the current date and time, the library name (technically, “City of Mountain View Public Library”) and operating hours (which I regard as quite good: 10-9 M-Thu, 10-6 Fri-Sat, 1-5 Sun). And it shows “Amount owed” if any. What it does not show: Anything that would identify me as the borrower, if I drop the receipt somewhere or leave it as a bookmark when I return the books. Three cheers for that configuration. (I seem to remember that the first-generation receipts did show either my name or my library card #, but I may be mistaken.)
  • The two machines work–pretty consistently, fairly fast, pretty well. (MVPL serves 72,000 people and has excellent circ stats. I guess two machines are enough.)

Oh, and two other things I really like, one of which is only indirectly related to self-circ:

  • Self-circ is optional. The circulation counter is staffed and the people are happy to help you. If you get frustrated, you just walk over to the counter and let them handle it.
  • A ready reference/front-line help desk, very informal and non-imposing, is near both the self-circ counter and the circulation counter, with someone ready to provide on-the-spot help to people at the most likely spot. This is only a guess, but I’m guessing the person at the front-line desk would offer to help if somebody was obviously having trouble with self-circ.

Secret numbers? Really? I guess I can see the reasoning…after all, somebody could steal my library card and check out hundreds of books. On the other hand, would they ask for photo ID at a manual circ desk? Probably not.

Convenient catch-all grumpy old man post

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

First, there’s “privatization.”

Here’s the quote (from an article that’s appeared in NYT and IHT):

“Google could be privatizing the library system by offering a large, but private interface to millions of books,” Kahle said.

Brewster Kahle’s certainly not the only one to misuse the language this way–just the latest.

I’m not in love with Google by any means. I think OCA is a great idea (although I wonder where the “alliance” has gone, given Yahoo’s almost-total silence and Microsoft’s diverging effort).

But “privatizing the library system” or, which I’ve also read, “privatizing the public domain”–I’m sorry, but horespucky.

If Google negotiated exclusive contracts, maybe.

Otherwise, that language is like saying that, if I check a book out from my library that happens to be in the public domain, scan it, and return it to the library, I’ve “privatized” the book.

Google is borrowing books from libraries (in large quantities thanks to special arrangements), scanning those books, and returning them to the libraries with the promise that the books won’t be damaged. Its deals are nonexclusive. Google’s scan does not in any way modify the terms under which the book itself can be used.

Google Book Search absolutely expands findability for books and in no way restricts anyone else from building and maintaining book-search systems. Google Book Search for public domain absolutely expands access to the text within books, and in no way restricts anyone else from providing similar access. (For that matter, Google’s silly first-page “conditions” are suggestions for use of their PDFs, not legal restrictions.)

How can expansion be viewed as contraction? How can improved access be regarded as privatization?

Want to attack Google? Fine. But is it necessary to debase the English language to do so? Or does it just make a great soundbite?

Then there are the Wesch videos. Oh, you know them: The absolute must-see videos that will transform your thinking about… whatever.If you love them, that’s fine. More power to you.
On the other hand, if you find some of them nearly incomprehensible and generally think they’re mostly form without much content…well, you’re not alone.

Hey, maybe I’m just not a visual learner, particularly with this particular kind of visual.

Not that I’m ever going to “get on the cluetrain,” but I sometimes find it amusing to read “world-changing” books and those renowned as representing the true future a few years after they’re published. (Yes, I know, the general absurdity of Being Digital hasn’t hurt Negroponte’s rep as The Man–in general, being boldly wrong seems to work as long as you’re wrong at least three years out. Now cheap computers are more important to the children of third-world countries than sanitation, medicine and actual teachers. Maybe so.)So I finally checked out the cluetrain manifesto: the end of business as usual a couple of weeks ago, fully intending to read the whole thing so I could critique it.

I gave up halfway through, since I wasn’t going to scribble notes in the margins of a library book and my notecards were filling up too rapidly. Noting the apparently self-loathing Apple marketer decrying (a) marketing (b) companies that keep their futures secret, noting the more recent history of one of the authors, noting that…well, I’m sorry, but most business in 2007 is pretty much like most business in 2000 (when the book came out): As usual. Most marketing in 2007 is marketing, again pretty much business as usual. If you think you’re having a conversation with your bank or your supermarket or your fast-food joint or at least 80% of those from whom you buy things…well, you’re welcome to your beliefs.

Of course, I never have been much for manifestos.

And just for the giggles, here’s a blast from the past, courtesy of Cites & Insights 2:7, May 2002. In addition to one of Negroponte’s famous quotes (1996: “we will probably not print many [words] on paper tomorrow,” I picked up one of Wired Magazine‘s “bets on the future” from 2002:

Here’s one $1,000 bet: “By 2010, more than 50 percent of books sold worldwide will be printed on demand at the point of sale in the form of library-quality paperbacks.” That’s Jason Epstein’s bet (with NYPL getting the proceeds); he sees PoD as “the future of the book business.” Opposing: Vint Cerf, who bets that “by 2010, 50 percent of books will be delivered electronically.”

I wonder who gets the $2,000 in the remote possibility that, two years and just over two months from now, the vast majority of the books sold worldwide are (a) physical objects that are (b) printed in large quantities using traditional methods? A remote possibility that I’d guess has about a 99% chance of being the case.

Now that this obviously Luddite individual has put together this blog post, time to go do some other work that happens to involve wikis and other web software. I don’t live on the web, but I sure do take advantage of the good tools and media available there…when they suit my purposes.

TV, critics, personal taste: 2007 early season musings

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

Yes, we watch TV. Not a huge amount (certainly no 21 hours a week). If you don’t count the weekly Netflix movie, figure anywhere from 42 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes a night, with most nights an hour or less–during the summer, just plain 42 to 48 minutes a night (the run length of great old and newer series on DVD–48 minutes for the older ones, 42 minutes for some of the newest).

Not, as it turns out, enough to justify Expanded Basic cable at Comcast’s steadily increasing rates–I figured out that we–well, I–watched a total of about 20 hours a year on channels beyond the true basic, and given the differential of $35/month, I didn’t think that particular viewing was worth $21 an hour. (Just off hand, I can’t think of any TV viewing that’s worth $21 an hour!) [A curious twist: When we dropped back to basic basic, which Comcast gave me surprisingly little guff about, the one Expanded Basic channel I was watching was adjacent to a must-carry basic basic channel, so it’s still visible. For now.]

One reason we haven’t purchased a DVR yet: Given how little we watch or want to watch, it’s hard to justify the monthly fee for a TiVo, and that’s about all that’s left on the market. (We still have an S-VHS VCR. For now, that’s good enough.)

But hey, come the new season, we’re willing to give some things a try, looking at show descriptions, local reviews, other sources. Rarely anything at 10 p.m. (I’m an early bird–we’re taping Men in Trees), no procedurals or other cop series, very few over-laugh-tracked comedies.
This season began with some intriguing and odd possibilities (heavily overlapping circles) and our big-paper local critic had definite thoughts on them, mostly similar to most other TV critics, from what I can see. For series we were at least mildly interested in, those thoughts could be summarized:

  • Reaper: The hot series, must watch, great stuff.
  • Chuck: Maybe OK, but derivative and with too many similarities to Reaper, which after all, is a sure thing winner.
  • Pushing Daisies: Quirky as all get out but an outside possibility.
  • Moonlight: It got the rare SF Chronicle #5 Little Man: The empty chair, the worst possible rating. The review was scathing even by this reviewer’s harsh standards. But, hey, we watch Angel on DVD and loved Buffy–might another “good vampire” series be worth trying?
  • Back to You: Great cast, but will anybody really watch an old-fashioned three-camera sitcom in the 21st century?
  • Aliens in America: Much more favorably reviewed as a fresh new comedy.

So Reaper was the sure thing…

Now, what follows are what we think; there’s no reason anybody else should agree. That said:

  • Moonlight: The critic was right. We couldn’t make it through 15 minutes before giving up. Without Joss Whedon’s genius, this was just a mess. Cross that one off.
  • Reaper: Strong start, but it seems to be a one-trick pony and the ensemble isn’t gelling very well. We’ve basically given up on this one. (Great Devil, though–but even there, a one-trick role.) Gone.
  • Chuck: Here, the ensemble seems to keep getting stronger and the premise allows an unusually wide latitude. We’re sold on this one, at least for now. (As always, your mileage may vary.) I’d say the critic was too enchanted by Reaper and too negative about Chuck.
  • Pushing Daisies: Yes. A mannered show (the saturated color palette, the deadpan vocal deliveries, the nature of the narration) and a completely bizarre premise (not that Chuck and Reaper have, shall we, say, everyday premises)–but the cast, writers, directors pull it off with style. Here, too, the critic was right (for our tastes).
  • And the two sitcoms are both, well, sitcoms. I screwed up taking Back to You, missing the show entirely, and we weren’t particularly upset–but the cast is solid and we’ll watch it when it’s convenient and there’s nothing better to do. Aliens in America–well, so-so.

Otherwise? I already mentioned Men in Trees We’re still enjoying Bones (although it’s certainly odd as an 8 p.m. series). Oh, and of course, How I Met Your Mother–and, with Dana Delaney added, Desperate Housewives. We’ll probably lose at least one more as the season progresses…
Is there a point here? Mostly that, when two shows have somewhat similar premises (mostly that the key characters in both Chuck and Reaper work in big-box stores), it’s hard to tell which will thrive and which will wither–and that, for us, it’s mostly up to whether the ensemble works and whether the premise turns out to be stultifying.

50 Movie Western Classics, Disc 3

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

Three more second features, albeit none with singing cowboys—and a fine full-length movie.

Phantom Rancher, 1940, b&w, Harry L. Fraser (dir.), Ken Maynard, Dorothy Short, Harry Harvey, Ted Adams. 1:01.

Apparently this flick was late in Maynard’s career of trick riding and solid acting. The acting’s solid—but the film’s gimmick doesn’t make a lot of sense. Maynard’s uncle is gunned down, and he arrives to take over, finding that his uncle was universally loathed and he now holds mortgages on most of the farms. Naturally, an evil gang is behind this; naturally, the most respected man in town is the villain. Maynard plays an odd game: Telling the sheriff to foreclose on Ranch X the next day if the money’s not there, then showing up in a mask and cloak at Ranch X that night, dropping off enough money to pay off the mortgage—while Maynard’s character is also joining the gang. Of course it all works out: It’s an old-time one-hour Western. Good enough for $1.00.

Broadway to Cheyenne, 1932, b&w, Harry L Fraser (dir.), Rex Bell, Marceline Day, Matthew Betz, Huntley Gordon, George ‘Gabby’ Hayes. 1:00 [0:51].

Truly strange: Rex Bell plays a New York cop who gets injured in a gang shootout and sent home to recuperate—“home” being a ranch near Cheyenne. One of the gangs has high-tailed it to Wyoming and is setting up a ranchers’ protection racket—and in the process, riding around in a car with a gunsel using a machine gun to kill off cattle. Naturally, the honorable cowboy/cop on his horse (and several other outraged actual cowboys/ranchers) manages to defeat the gang and their machine gun. The print’s very choppy and missing nine minutes of dialogue. George Hayes wasn’t really “Gabby” yet, just another rancher. At best $0.75.

Stagecoach to Denver, 1946, b&w, R.G. Springsteen (dir.), Allan Lane, Martha Wentworth, Roy Barcroft, Peggy Stewart, Robert Blake. 0:56 [0:53].

Allan Lane is Red Ryder in this odd story of character doubles and corrupt sheriffs and land commissioners. The sleeve says “Star: Robert Blake,” but that’s nonsense: 13-year-old Bobby Blake plays a minor (if pivotal) role as a sick child. It’s decent entertainment if you don’t look too closely. $1.00

Angel and the Badman, 1947, b&w, James Edward Grant (dir.), John Wayne, Gail Russell, Harry Carey, Bruce Cabot, Irene Rich, Lee Dixon, Tom Powers, John Halloran. 1:40.

The first full-length film in this set—and it’s a beauty. It’s also the first film John Wayne produced, and has been called Wayne’s most romantic Western, and I can believe that. I almost didn’t watch this because I’d already reviewed it in another set—but then realized that set wasn’t one of the 50-Movie Packs (it was the “DoubleDouble Feature Pack” given away with subscriptions to the doomed InsideDVD). When I reviewed that disc (C&I 4:12, October 2004), I complained about the print quality but found the movie good enough to get past the problems. Fortunately, this pack uses a much better print, with no apparent noise, scratches, or missing frames—one of the best prints I’ve seen in these megapacks.

So what about the movie? John Wayne is a fast-shooting bad man, Quirt Evans, who winds up injured and in a Quaker household. The girl of the household (Russell) cares for him and falls for him—and the way Wayne looked at age 40, it’s not hard to see why. (In one or two scenes he smiles an open smile instead of his usual hard-ass half-smile: It’s a revelation.) After a series of situations and tribulations, some of them involving other bad men out to get Wayne, all ends well. The movie’s generally well acted (although the cynical old Doctor does do a bit of scenery-chewing), with a particularly good job by Harry Carey as the sheriff who waits patiently for Quirt to screw up so he can hang.

What makes the movie remarkable, other than good plot, good acting (I’ve never been a big Wayne fan, but maybe that’s my mistake, and Russell’s excellent as well—as are Cabot, Rich, and the rest), and good filmmaking, is the gimmick. This isn’t exactly a plot spoiler—the movie’s 60 years old—but skip this sentence if you feel it will lessen your enjoyment: Wayne never once fires a gun during the picture (except maybe under the title). A fine picture and a good print—I enjoyed watching it again. $2.

Cites & Insights 7:12 available

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Cites & Insights 7:12, November 2007, is now available for downloading.

The 28-page issue is PDF as usual (HTML versions of most essays are available at the home page). It includes:

Thanks! – A note about my new position as Director and Managing Editor of the PALINET Leadership Network (and why there was no liblog extravaganza this year).

A tiny section correcting two name problems and listing the publishers who’ve disowned PRISM.

“Sometimes They’re Guilty,” a review of and commentary on the first RIAA suit to go to jury trial.

Nine trends (including a librarian winner of the Ig Nobel for Literature–and no, the article isn’t at all a joke) and eight quicker takes.

The biggest chunk of this issue–ten thousand words considering general blogging issues and library-specific blogging issues from October 2006 until recently.

Six products (including a variety of views on a certain high-profile Apple product that appears to excel at everything except its supposed primary function) and a dozen Editors’ Choices and other winners.

  • My Back Pages

Six snarky little essays. As always, this one’s only available as part of the whole issue.

I’ve revised the Word template for the HTML essays to be a little more “printlike.” If you find that it doesn’t work for you, let me know: I might change it back. If you don’t notice a difference, that’s OK too.

Next-Generation Library Catalogs (LTR): Mini-review

Monday, October 15th, 2007

ALA TechSource occasionally sends me copies of Library Technology Reports in the hope I’ll mention them here or in Cites & Insights. (I wrote an LTR issue a couple of years back.)

The July/August 2007 issue is Next-Generation Library Catalogs by Marshall Breeding. It’s short, even by LTR standards: 42 pages plus two blank pages for notes. It’s also well done, offering a fair amount of information on a range of newer catalog interfaces in a readable manner.

Unfortunately, it could be considerably more useful, if it was 53 or 54 pages instead of 42 pages. How so? Because most of the 25 figures, screen shots from catalog interfaces, are simply too small to be effective.

Twentyone of the 25 figures are full or nearly full screen shots. They’re reproduced one column wide (on a two-column page) and roughly one-third of a page high. And most of them are too small.

The screen shots should have been reproduced using the full width of the text area, which means they’d also be two-thirds of a page high. Yes, they’d be a little on the large side–but they’d also be gloriously easy to make sense of, instead of requiring a magnifying glass in some cases.

For 21 figures, making them 2/3 of a page instead of 1/6 of a page adds 10.5 pages total (half a page per figure). The way chapters break, it might turn out to add 12 pages instead of 11–but that would still be well within LTR’s normal range.

It’s a good report. (Is it worth the price? That’s not for me to say.) It’s too bad the layout people didn’t spot the problem and make it an even better report.

The future of libraries

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

Here it is, very briefly, that “final unemployed post.” And if you’re of my mind, the title is already an irritant.

As soon as you use “libraries” without qualification, you’re in trouble–whatever you say is likely to be wrong.

Qualify that with “U.S. libraries”? Not much help. Public libraries are different than academic libraries are different than school libraries. And special libraries are just different.

So does it make sense to offer punditry on The Future of U.S. Public Libraries? Less, I think, than you might imagine. (Let’s not even get started on the broad spectrum of academic libraries.)

But I’ll offer three related personal opinions, ones that I believe are backed up by most facts in the field:

  1. Most U.S. public libraries are not “at risk,” as they’re used and supported by the vast majority of the public–including most people in whatever Generation you want to generalize about.
  2. Most U.S. public libraries are rightly regarded as “places of books” that build from books to go far beyond them, and are supported as “places of books” that offer more (including book-related services such as story hours).
  3. The most damaging thing most public libraries could do is to attempt to get rid of the “places of books” core image in favor of–well, of whatever. Building on, expanding, diversifying: Great. Abandoning or trivializing that role: Suicidal.

I’ll let it go at that.

Thanks again

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

I feel as though I should write two more posts “between jobs.” This is one of them.

The last six or seven months have been interesting. For most of you, this post was the first you heard about my situation. Things actually started a few weeks earlier, but initially I only contacted a dozen (or so) people. Shortly before that post, I sent similar email to more than a hundred friends and acquaintances.

Within a week, I was overwhelmed by the extent to which other libloggers picked up on my situation, and wrote this post as a followup. I also heard from more than half of the people I sent email to. In all but one case, the responses were heartwarming (and I’ll just ignore the one remarkably heartless response–at least others who really didn’t give a damn or didn’t have anything to say simply didn’t respond).

I won’t go through the other job-related posts; you can read them by selecting the “job” category from the sidebar, if you’re so inclined. I was approached by three groups, in two cases with offers that could be small parts of a patched-together consulting-style future. (The third case is still evolving and may yet be part of what I do. Oh, and I was also approached by Marydee Ojala, editor of ONLINE, with an offer to start a new column there, where I’d written for more than a decade–a suggestion I cheerfully accepted.) Along the way, I recognized two things:

  • My respect for good consultants (and good adjunct faculty and good trainers) grew.
  • I became aware that the kind of self-promotion required to do this effectively, while entirely valid, was so counter to my basic personality that it would substantially interfere with Cites & Insights and other writing projects.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t go that route, and probably be pretty good at it–but that it’s not my style. We also looked at our budget a couple of times during the long summer (we’ve been aggressive savers for some time, we’re terrible shoppers–that is, we don’t much like shopping and acquiring, and that all makes a difference) and came to some conclusions about worthwhile balances.

In the end, as noted here, a long-time friend, Peggy Sullivan, was the key: Not in getting someone to craft a special job for me, but in forwarding a position that she thought I might find intriguing. I did indeed find it partially intriguing; after a conversation with Ann Yurcaba of PALINET, I concluded that it could be a worthwhile challenge that made good use of my skills while encouraging me to expand those skills.

You know the rest. I’ll start in as Director and Managing Editor of the PALINET Leadership Network next Monday, with a whole lot of learning and networking to come. It’s not a full-time position, and that turned out not to be what I really wanted at this point. I’ll be back in touch with two groups, probably deferring any action indefinitely. And we’ll see what happens with one other activity…another one that plays to my skills while providing new challenges, but definitely secondary to PLN.

Mostly, then, this is to say thanks to everyone who posted, emailed, commented, hung out at LSW Meebo, and otherwise supported me during this odd quest. I was deliberately vague at the beginning, wondering what would come up. I’m delighted with the way things worked out, and could not have begun to predict that course.

Thanks. I’ll see some of you in Baltimore in two weeks and a day. I’ll see more of you in Philadelphia in just under three months. And, of course, I’ll continue emailing, posting, reading blogs, and once in a while hanging out with that odd group at Meebo for a few minutes here and there–and writing and learning.

Oh, and reading: After too many months, I was back at Mountain View Public Library yesterday afternoon. Two p.m. on a weekday at a library with excellent evening and weekend hours (including Sunday hours), so the library was…not even close to being deserted, with quite a few people in the bookstacks, a bunch at computers, a group in the Teen Zone, kids in the Children’s Room, and even one or two in the media section. Because, like any good public library, MVPL cherishes books (as do its patrons) and also goes beyond them, in a way that–to my mind–pretty much assures its future.

Hmm. Maybe that’s the other post, in two sentences. We’ll see.

One postscript: If you see sentences with no space separating them, it’s not my sloppy typing. WordPress’ WYSIWYG editor has a nasty habit of swallowing paragraph breaks–sometimes even when you’ve put in the HTML. Some day, I’m sure they’ll fix that; some day, I’m sure Microsoft will fix the Vista notebook wifi problem…

Joshing, spoofing and damage

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Doing my daily blog scan, I ran into a fairly odd post at a consistently odd site, but in this case the oddity was compounded.

This post at Improbable Research (blog of the Annals of Improbable Research, the folks who bring you the recently-awarded Ig Nobel prizes for “research that makes you laugh…then think”) includes the text of a letter to The Guardian.

Here’s a bit of the letter, but you need to click the link above for the full outraged flavor (or flavour, in this case):

I’m thinking that to make fun of these efforts is to belittle them unfairly. This is hurtful and insulting to the researchers; and might possibly do actual harm by inhibiting future grants. Not funny. Not funny at all. The IG really seems to stand for the IG Norant morons who are “awarding’ these prizes without thinking their consequences through.

The writer–Mark State–says the Ig Nobel awards “spoof” research and that the group hides the “actual information” about the research papers (and researchers) it honors. Given that the awards PR accurately states the nature of each paper or research effort and provides bibliographic information and links when available, that’s pushing the truth.

The reality is a little different than this outraged letter suggests. Most Ig Nobel award winners attend the ceremony. That would suggest to most reasonable people (I believe) that they understand that the Ig Nobels are joshing, not attacks–and that, in fact, Ig Nobels help to humanize what can be pretty arcane fields by making a little friendly fun. I’d be astonished to hear of a case where a researcher couldn’t get a grant because and earlier paper had won an Ig Nobel; I would not be surprised at all to see Ig Nobel recipients include the honor in their vitas. (I’d be surprised if they didn’t!)

I mean, would you go to an awards ceremony if you felt the award was actually an attack that could do you harm?

I was going to point back to a post I’d written about an Ig Nobel-award winning paper by a librarian–and then realized that it wasn’t a post; it’s a brief section of Trends & Quick Takes in the next issue of Cites & Insights (not out yet, and the essays aren’t edited; some time in the next two weeks, for sure).

Here’s what I wrote:

The Trouble with The

Once in a while, something jumps the queue—such as a librarian winning the Ig Nobel prize for Literature. That happened this year, and Glenda Browne (of Blaxland, Blue Mountains, Australia) managed to attend the ceremonies. The award was for “The definite article: acknowledging ‘The’ in index entries,” which appeared in The Indexer 22:3 (April 2001—the Ig Nobel people need time to recognize worth).

It’s a four-page article—well, actually just over three, plus references. It’s also a legitimate article—Browne explicates some of the bedevilment caused by The as an initial word. In “indexing” Cites & Insights, I drop “The” in every case—and that sometimes yields slightly odd results. (I used to invert them, but that’s even stranger.) But…

Where does The Hague belong? (One answer: Use the proper name of the city, Den Haag—but I jest, of course.) It belongs in the T’s. And if you’re indexing first lines of poems, all those lines starting with “The” also go in the Ts—but not corporate names. Or do they? The Los Angeles Symphony goes in the Ls, not the As…see The Hague. Isn’t this fun?

Browne’s discussion of “The nature of ‘The’” is excellent and might itself justify the Ig Nobel—you might laugh, but you’ll also think. Browne suggests double-indexing as a solution and offers reasons for doing so—and also reasons for ignoring the The.

Of course, if you use most any PC-based system that sorts (for example, music organizers), there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find The Beatles and all those other groups down in the T’s—but some systems are clever. Sometimes.

I love the last sentence: “Similar arguments apply to ‘A’ and ‘An’ but these are beyond the scope of this article.” Indeed.

Of course it’s a serious paper, albeit done with some recognition that it’s a tough topic to keep an entirely straight face about.Had it not been for the Ig Nobel awards, I wouldn’t have heard about the paper. Oh, and by the way, Glenda Browne attended the awards. Somehow, I don’t believe she feels she’s been damaged or belittled.

Sidebar: The IR post can’t be sure which Mark State wrote this letter, but suggests the possibility that he’s a 2006 candidate for the Toronto Mayoralty–State signs himself as a Toronto resident. State must have run an interesting race: He seems to have come in last in a field of 30+ candidates, with 194 votes out of 584,484 cast. I guess that would leave me feeling a little peevish too…