Cats and Libraries: A Symbiotic Relationship

I fall well within the stereotype of the cat-crazy librarian…I have two cats (Vlad and Chloe) who deign to live with me.

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Chloe (the dumb one) and Vlad (the aloof one).

Cats seem to be the unofficial mascots for libraries, and some cats have even managed to get steady jobs as kitty librarians (more on this later).  Cats also regularly appear in library-related memes and online image collections curated by libraries. Here are just a few examples of how cats live (both literally and figuratively) within the library collection:

I’m obviously pretty biased towards cats, but dogs also hold an important place as service and emotional support animals that are often allowed in libraries. Libraries are mainly built for humans, but that doesn’t mean our animal friends can’t occasionally visit and bring joy to patrons.

 

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What Won’t be Killing Libraries: Millennials and Robots

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Occasionally I find an article discussing what may cause the ultimate demise of libraries: the internet, search engines, e-books, etc.  These article drive me crazy…though many articles do come to the ultimate optimistic conclusion that new technologies won’t destroy libraries, just lead to changing goals, programs, and services.  The newest industry-killing culprits of the past year seem to be millennials and automation/ artificial intelligence (AI).  I personally think libraries and librarianship will be able to adapt and even benefit from these mounting threats of tech-addled youngsters and robots.

Millennials

I see differing statistics about how millennials are impacting libraries. Will Millennials Kill off Libraries? by Stephanie Cohen at Acculturated cites research from a few years ago: “A 2014 report by the Pew Research Center found that college-aged adults (ages 18-24), were less likely to use public libraries than many other age groups, less likely to see libraries as vital for themselves or their community, less likely to have visited a library recently, and are more likely to purchase most of the books they read than borrow them from a library.”

Meanwhile, One Thing Millennials Aren’t “Killing”: Libraries by Macy Griffin at Bookstr discusses how “a new study conducted by Pew Research Center has given this age group bragging rights, saying that people born between 1978 and 2004 make most use of libraries.”

Griffin’s article goes on to speculate that the cause for higher millennial usage of libraries may be free public Wi-Fi or a variety of free events and classes targeting teens and young adults like “knitting and crocheting clubs, adult coloring, and even sessions for teams to play video games and board games.”  Yes, the services traditionally offered by libraries may evolve based on the changing user needs of different generations, but that’s pretty par for the course for libraries.

I may honestly be a bit biased about the danger of millennials, since I am one myself.  But I can say at least from my own experience: we come in peace.  All we want from libraries is “somewhere to eat our avocado toast while we contemplate the houses we can’t afford to buy” (via Annoyed Librarian).

Artificial Intelligence

The risk of complete automation of all tasks done by librarians seems to be very small. There’s a great Tableau visualization from the McKinsey Global Institute that illustrates where machines could replace humans, and under the “Educational Services” section, the job family of “Education, training and library” lists automation potential for the following tasks which the job family seems to spend the most time doing:

  • Applying expertise (15% of time spent) – automation potential 14%
  • Managing others (10% of time spent) – Automation potential 9%
  • Data collection (5% of time spent) – Automation potential 40%

It seems like automation may actually help librarians, since it will free up our time from repetitive tasks like data collection to focus on more complex tasks like management.  Kristin Whitehair from Public Libraries Online writes how “libraries can capitalize on the value of AI to expedite some processes, freeing up finite resources to focus on enriching the public library experience for patrons.”

The Feral Librarian blog writes a thoughtful post asking “where can AI and machine learning be leveraged in the service of better science? And how do libraries leverage our resources and skills to ensure it really works – and is infused with and informed by values we care about (inclusion, privacy, democracy, social justice, authority, etc.)?”

Librarians can embrace AI as a valuable new research tool and work to shape that tool to meet patron needs.  That may require learning new skills and working more closely with computer and data scientists, but I have no doubt librarians will adapt, learn, and innovate.

images via Pixabay: tomb and robot

Exploring Strange (and Amazing) Collections on the Internet Archive

I love exploring digital collections, so it’s probably no surprise that I’m an enormous fan of the Internet Archive.  The Internet Archive is a non-profit library that hosts digital versions of billions of archived webpages and millions of books, texts, audio recordings, videos, images, and even software programs.  Many people are familiar with Internet Archive due to it’s Wayback Machine collection of archived webpages (about the closest we currently get to preserving the internet), but the other collections on Internet Archive also deserve attention for the wonderful, educational, and sometimes bizarre text and media artifacts they contain.

Searching the Internet Archive

The Internet Archive includes both a simple search form accessible in the upper right corner of the page (which allows you to search across metadata, full text of books, TV captions, or archived websites) or an advanced search with fielded search forms or the option to search with lucene query syntax.

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Simple search form on Internet Archive.

When exploring the collections, I personally prefer to just select the icons for web, text, video, audio, software, or images in the upper left corner of the screen and then choose to view all items for that specific media type (like All Video).

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Video collections on the Internet Archive.

I’m then able to use the side filtering options to narrow my search by criteria like subject, collection, creator, or language.  I can also search across the metadata within that specific collection or media type.

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Filtering video collections on the Internet Archive.

Strange Collections: Text, Video and Audio

I’m just going to focus on three media types in this post (text, video, and audio collections), but I hope to explore software, image, and web collections in a future post.  Here is just a quick sampling of some of the interesting collections to explore on the Internet Archive:

This is just scratching the surface of the Internet Archive’s digital collections.  Be careful about beginning to explore the Internet Archive, since once you get started, you may go down a rabbit hole that will take hours to find your way out of (like spending 3 hours listening to old-time radio shows).

Searching Databases with the 5 Senses: Beyond Searching with Words

The intellectual property search field really opened my eyes to how database searching isn’t just limited to keyword searches.  Sometimes, you need to go beyond searching only with words…you can search by drawing chemical structures to find patents mentioning similar compounds, or you can find similar designs or logos through a reverse image search.  If searching with visual elements is possible, then is there also technology that allows people to search through a database using other physical senses? Here are a few examples of tools allowing users to search by visual, auditory, tactile, taste, and scent criteria:

  • Sight – This is the easy one…reverse image searching is very common, especially using Google Images.  For Google, it’s as simple as uploading a photo or entering a URL for an image to find a list of matching or similar images.  The Pinterest Visual Search Tool has the added interesting feature of allowing you to zoom in and only search for a specific part of an image. Check out this video and presentation When image, colour and texture is content: the potential of visual search for an interesting case study of making 3 million designs from the

    UK Board of Trade Design Register visually searchable.

     

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    Visual search tool on Pinterest.

  • Hearing – Technology to search by sound also seems to be relatively established, with apps like “Soundhound (previously Midomi), Doreso and others […] using a simple algorithm to match an acoustic fingerprint to a song in a library.”  Of course, Google also has its own sound search app.
  • Touch – For tactile search to exist, first we would need computer screens that allow users to “feel” specific textures and sensations.  Haptic engineering (according to Discover magazine) “focuses on applying tactile stimulation to our interactions with computers”, and this engineering field may lead to a future where we can search for and share textures and sensations with each other online.  I was only able to find one example of actual tactile search technology in a fascinating paper describing Twech: A Mobile Platform to Search and Share Visuo-tactile Experiences.
  • Taste/Smell – I wish Google Nose really existed, but unfortunately that was just a brilliant April Fool’s joke.  Searching by actual taste and smell doesn’t seem to be a realistic technology yet, but some databases do exist where users can search for the chemical components behind flavors and scents.  For example, BitterDB allows users to search “over 550 compounds that were reported to taste bitter to humans.”  You can also search for perfumes by “notes”, like citrus smells, flowers, woods, mosses, and more.

The technology is already available for image and sound-based searching, and we may soon be able to share and search tactile sensations over mobile devices.  I still look forward to the day when I can search for anything tasting like banana pancakes through Google…I’m sure that day is closer than we expect.

Deciphering Buzzwords and Acronyms

 

question-mark-note-man-person-460868 (2)Today I came across an article on DigitalGov describing the hot new IT buzzwords for 2017, and reading it, I felt equal parts impressed and irritated.  It’s fantastic that technology is moving fast enough that we have to constantly innovate with language to describe the newest process or concept that’s taking the IT world by storm. On the other hand, overuse of buzzwords can make discussions between professionals turn into incomprehensible gibberish for anyone not fully immersed in the field.  This can hamper collaboration across different fields, if we literally can’t understand what the other person is saying. I know I’m not the only person irritated by buzzwords, since buzzword bingo and the Business Buzzword Generator exist.

And don’t even get me started on acronyms…if you’ve worked with any government organization, in academia, or in pretty much any professional field, you’re probably drowning in a SEA of acronyms. Yes, acronyms are definitely needed (who wants to constantly repeat “United States Patent and Trademark Office,” instead of USPTO?), but that doesn’t mean they don’t drive me crazy.

So how can we go about deciphering buzzwords and acronyms?  Google is a good place to start for buzzwords, and Wikipedia offers a handy article listing education, business, science/technology, political, and general conversation buzzwords.  For the library sciences field in particular, many academic LibGuides (see DTS, Cornell, Lesley) offer glossaries of common library and research terms. A great article by John Kupersmith describes best practices for translating research/library terminology for patrons, to improve service and reduce miscommunication.

For acronyms, I usually try a quick search of Acronym Finder or Free Dictionary.  A search of USPTO, for instance, on either site will immediately identify “United States Patent and Trademark Office” as the most likely meaning.  Both sites also list possible alternate definitions for less unique acronyms (like SEA, which has 114 possible meanings listed on Acronym Finder).  If you’re specifically looking for definitions of government acronyms, you also might want to try the GovSpeak Libguide from UC San Diego.

Acronyms and buzzwords are both necessary evils, since we need words for new ideas and shorthand for impossibly long agency names.  That doesn’t mean we should let buzzwords and acronyms hold us back, though…a quick online search will usually find a definition for even the most bizarre jargon.