In order to better integrate my blog with my website, better manage comment spam, and reduce my dependence on Google, this blog has moved to In order to avoid broken links I won't be deleting content from here, but no new content will be added, so please update your bookmarks and feeds.

Thursday 27 March 2008

A bit of colour

My not-so-secret desire is to add cover colour as an official MARC field and allow users worldwide to search the library catalogue by colour. (See the New England School of Law and University of Huddersfield mockups.) It'd be brilliant: you could go to the advanced search screen and select:
  • title: Mechanics of Materials
  • location: Restricted Loan
  • colour: oh, about there on the colour circle
Green Eggs and Ham
In the meantime, I'm working up to total World Catalogue Domination by subtle steps. The other day I forwarded "Getting Books to Move" from Stephen's Lighthouse to a colleague, who came up with this display.

Click through to see it on Flickr - we had fun adding notes linking each book through to its catalogue record. (Not the sort of thing I'd want to do for a weekly display unless there was a definite market for it - but lots of fun.)

Wednesday 26 March 2008

Not having a good Web 2.0 day

It's my late night tonight so, thrust straight onto the busy desk at 1pm after a quiet weekend I was already suffering from first-day-back syndrome. Between requests for "Mechanics of Materials" (my new canned catalogue tutorial introduction now begins with "Do you mean the 'Mechanics of Materials' by Hibbeler, Gere, Craig, Riley, or Beer and Johnston?") I've been trying to catch up on a couple hundred blog posts. I've got a good system for this which combines Google Reader, Firefox's tabs for the interesting ones, and the generally excellent Diigo's bookmarking for the keepers.

Today Diigo wanted me to sign in. I figured this was because I'd been gone several days over Easter, so I complied and went back to bookmarking. It kept wanting me to sign in, but (between requests for "the blue Mechanics of Materials" - this narrows it down to either Gere or Beer and Johnston) I found it easier to keep complying and bookmarking than to stop and wonder why. Only after a few hours of this did I notice that one of my bookmarking attempts was giving me a small error message. And only half an hour later did I realise that nothing I'd bookmarked today had in fact been saved.

Half an hour later I worked out the reason: Diigo has been upgraded to Diigo 3.0. I had read about this earlier in the day (some guy reviewed it and complained that other reviews missed the point - but it being a bad Web 2.0 day I can't find the review anymore) and put it on my "investigate tomorrow maybe" list. I hadn't realised that failing to immediately download the new toolbar completely broke any functionality the old toolbar had had.

That? Not User-Friendly.

I now have the new toolbar, and it is indeed cool, but not cool enough to assuage my bitterness at having to wade back through a couple hundred blog posts and rebookmark everything of interest.

Oh - maybe I got the news about Diigo by email; that'd explain why it's not in my Google Reader results. I can't check right now because my institution's email system seems to be on the blink.

Thursday 20 March 2008

Overdrive to offer 3000 DRM-free books

Via walking paper scraps, OverDrive Breaks the iPod Barrier for Downloadable Audio - by the end of June 3000 audiobooks will be available in mp3 format with no "digital rights management" (aka "crippling") - so they can be played on Macs, iPods, etc. They're also apparently going to release an "OverDrive Media Console for the Mac" which presumably lets their normal range of audiobooks be played on Macs (but not iPods etc).

This is great news, and hopefully one more sign that DRM might be gradually going out of fashion. It's not just that it's nasty to restrict how a person can listen to something that they've paid for; it's that making it hard for people to listen to your music (or watch your videos or read your books) is a great way to induce them to look for alternatives - like piracy.

And DRM does diddly-squat to prevent piracy. Codes can be, and regularly are, broken; there's free software all over the internet to extract audio and video from 'protected' files, and even if there weren't there's still audio capture and video capture programs (just like screen capture but more so).

So DRM a) doesn't prevent piracy, and b) induces your potential customers to consider turning to piracy. So what was the point again?

Fortunately a lot of people are starting to realise that not only is DRM fairly useless, but giving stuff away entirely free can make you money. In the science-fiction world, for example:
  • the Baen Free Library (Eric Flint writes in 2000, "Dave Weber's On Basilisk Station has been available for free as a 'loss leader' for Baen's for-pay experiment 'Webscriptions' for months now. And — hey, whaddaya know? — over that time it's become Baen's most popular backlist title in paper!");
  • Tor's "Watch the Skies" promotion (sign up! the editors are nice people who won't spam you, and this week they're giving away Jo Walton's Farthing, which is a stunning murder mystery set in a 1940s England where Britain made peace with Hitler. Jo Walton is also nice people, and the book is brilliant. Having a pdf of it is really nice -- and I'm still going to buy it in paperback).
A huge number of books on my bookshelves are there because I first read them in a library; or I first borrowed them from a friend; or I first found a sample chapter or the entire thing free on the internet. I wouldn't have taken the risk on them otherwise. So this is money I paid because -- and only because -- I could use things in ways that DRM actively prevents.

So what was the point of DRM again?

Wednesday 19 March 2008

Database RSS alerts

A few months ago, a colleague and I discovered a certain database (which I shan't name because I've forgotten which it was) had RSS alerts, but try as we might we couldn't get them to work on Google Reader.

I got curious again recently - and more importantly I got time - so I sat down with a list of engineering databases and started checking them one at a time to see what kinds of search alerts they each had. My results so far:

  • weekly
  • search alerts
  • by email or RSS
  • daily, weekly, or monthly
  • search alerts, topic alerts, contents alerts, and citation alerts
  • by email or RSS - but the RSS link has to be manually edited if you're using the database through a proxy server
  • daily, weekly, or monthly
  • search alerts and citation alerts
  • by email or RSS - but the RSS link has to be edited as above
Web of Science
  • weekly or monthly
  • search alerts, contents alerts, and citation alerts
  • by email or RSS - but the RSS link has to be edited
Standards New Zealand
  • when a standard is updated
  • email only
What's this manual editing I'm talking about? Well, the typical rss feed from these databases looks approximately like:
The stuff allows me to access a database from anywhere in the world - but it requires me to authenticate when I do. Google Reader, obviously, doesn't know my login details, so when it tries to follow that link it fails. (Sometimes it tells me it's failed - "no feed found" - and sometimes it tells me it's subscribed but there's nothing on the feed itself.)

If I delete the gunk, Google Reader subscribes quite happily and shows me everything on the feed. But I shouldn't have to delete the stuff manually - the database should give me the correct feed url to start with. As Compendex does.

Monday 17 March 2008

Report on EPA library closures

"The Environmental Protection Agency's plan to reorganize its network of 26 libraries is plagued with serious managerial problems, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office."

The article at Chemical Engineering News gets more scathing from there...

Friday 14 March 2008

The downside of fixing library jargon

As I was checking some broken links, I came across a sentence that puzzled me. Guess what seemed like a good idea at the time but produced such gems as:
  • "National Aeronautics and SLibrary Cataloguee Administration"
  • "the imLibrary Cataloguet of its research on economic and environmental issues"
I think this problem is limited to just a couple of our webpages... but how to be sure? To the best of my knowledge, Google doesn't have any "search this site for places where the string library catalogue does not belong" function; that requires some serious regular expressions.