February 4, 2009    |   Vol. 2, No. 5    |   ISSN: 1943-1457
Above the Fold
A weekly newsletter for the changing world of libraries, archives and museums

In this issue:

Google & the Future of Books  (External site)

The New York Review of Books   •  February 12, 2009

The promise and peril of Google's digitization project. Harvard professor Robert Darnton provides a cogent discussion of the pros and cons of Google's recent legal settlement, which has the potential not only to turn it into the world's largest library, but also "the world's largest book business—not a chain of stores but an electronic supply service that could out-Amazon Amazon."

"How can we navigate through the information landscape that is only beginning to come into view?" Darnton deftly avoids getting mired in the Google Books Settlement minutiae en route to the bigger issues, highbeams on the future, while keeping a watchful eye on the rearview mirror. He makes sidetrips to revisit copyright legislation and the wrong turn we took with regard to scholarly journals, but doesn't venture far off course on his trip from "the realm of Enlightenment [to] the hurly-burly of corporate capitalism" with an ultimate goal of the Digital Republic of Learning. Libraries are held accountable for the road not taken. ( Erway)

Web 2.0 Represents a Fundamental Rethinking of Business, and the Theory of the Firm  (External site)

Strategic Heading   •  January 20, 2009

Building on the value of community. We've heard a lot about Web 2.0, but economist G. Oliver Young offers interesting insight into the ongoing shift occurring now from a closed toward an open value creation system and what that means for our business: "Firms that embrace the community will harness vast amounts of community value at almost no explicit cost." We need to think about how best to embrace our community in ways that create value.

It's nice to know that we've got help! According to G. Oliver Young, the winners of 2.0 will be those who can harness their customers' "preferences, ideas and reactions" every step along the way. In this vision, customers help create value by sharing their opinions, and "the firm" becomes the enabling platform. What will you do with the crowds who expect to tinker with your processes until they like the result? ( Waibel)

Leading with Agility  (External site)

Change This   •  January 14, 2009

Overcoming fear of change. In order to successfully manage change in organizations, we must learn to master change in ourselves. As "survival of the fittest" becomes "survival of the most aware and adaptable," there are coping mechanisms that help make change a positive experience, both personally and for the organization.

For those of us who have been through changes that didn't go well, this piece has some good advice on avoiding such disasters. But breeze past the introductory verbiage to get to the essential bits, starting around page 12. As our work with the RLG Partnership indicates, getting better at handling change in our organizations is a solid investment in the future. ( Tennant)

Playing Favorites  (External site)

CFO Magazine   •  January 1, 2009

Divide and prosper. While we don't necessarily look at our customers as income-generators, the argument for de-emphasizing service to the most demanding (and least rewarding) patrons makes sense. How can you focus your staff's energy on meeting the needs of your "high value" customers while formulating an energy conservation strategy for serving the rest?

We're used to thinking of market segmentation as a strategy for customizing the library value proposition for different audiences—but in tough times, libraries and other cultural heritage institutions will need to rethink how many constituencies they can effectively serve. As this article suggests, a dispassionate assessment of where service investments are generating real value should drive resource allocation. For libraries, those dividends may be measured in terms of increased research productivity, rising literacy rates or improved civic engagement, but we should be as attentive to our margins as any other enterprise. ( Malpas)

Netflix Prize: Will the $1 Million be Won in 2009?  (External site)

The New York Times   •  January 21, 2009

The Next Big Thing in recommendation engines. Much of the value we offer our patrons is based on our ability to provide shortcuts to ideas they're interested in or information they're seeking. The power of "affinity recommendations" is clear—just look at any Amazon page—and Netflix is upping the ante with its $1 million prize for a new algorithm that results in a 10% baseline improvement over the company's current recommendations engine. Check out the contenders and think about how we might leverage recommendations to create more value.

While offering insightful recommendations has been an integral part of library services for a very long time (e.g., the reference librarian), this practice seems to be more honored in the breach than the observance in many discovery systems. This article provides a brief and helpful overview of the motivations behind recommendation services and the capitalization and effort required to make incremental improvements.. ( Washburn)

Crowd-Sourcing the World  (External site)

Technology Review   •  January 21, 2009

Leveraging the power of text. One entrepreneur sees a future in distributing simple tasks, such as short translations or transcriptions, to mobile phone users in developing nations. The venture could provide much-needed income for an underemployed workforce while at the same time broadening the reach of mobile technology to languages not currently supported. This innovative idea begs the question--are there ways we could be preparing now to reach out to underserved populations via mobile technology and texting?

The new txteagle project's tag line is "empowering the largest knowledge workforce on Earth." It combines two common themes—reaching out to user populations through mobile devices and leveraging social networking—to tap expertise in underserved areas. Because the number of languages and scripts available on mobile phones is currently limited, providing additional localization for some of the 100 languages used in Kenya alone eventually could expand audiences for resources that libraries, archives and museums manage. The types of translations envisioned (say Swahili to Maasai) could have a side-benefit for African studies, while providing revenue to some of the world's poorest. ( Smith-Yoshimura)

OCLC Programs and Research advances exploration, innovation and community building for libraries, archives, and museums.

Above the Fold is a Web-based newsletter published by OCLC Programs and Research. It has been developed to serve a broad international readership from libraries, archives and museums. News items are supplied weekly under contract by Suzanne Douglas, Ibis Communications Inc. Programs and Research items are supplied by staff in RLG Programs and OCLC Research. Please send comments and questions about this or other issues to rlg@oclc.org.
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