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Above the Fold

A weekly newsletter for the changing world of libraries, archives and museums

January 29, 2010
Vol. 3, No. 4
ISSN: 1943-1457

In this issue:


Structure? The Flatter, the Better  (External site)

The New York Times   •  January 16, 2010

Managing by getting out of the way. SunGard CEO and reformed micromanager Cristóbal Conde touts the wisdom of delegating authority and offers insight into management and corporate culture issues that all of us face at one time or another.

In OCLC Research and the RLG Partnership, we've thought and written a lot about Library-Archive-Museum collaboration (we're also thinking about elements for successful collaboration of all types-stay tuned!). I found this article to be particularly thought provoking. How can managers enable collaboration within an organization? What social structures (including technology) can be put into place to foster collaboration and break down silos created by management or project structures? As organizations grow, how do you preserve office cooler information exchange? How can good ideas and information spread from one mind to the hive mind? Oh yeah, and there's some PowerPoint bashing, too. ( Proffitt)


Reading Your Mind to Tag Images (and Work with Computers)  (External site)

Singularity Hub   •  January 10, 2010

Mind-tagging. Scientists at Microsoft Research are using EEG measurements to "read" brain activity and using the findings to help tag images. The process would take a fraction of the time necessary for manual tagging and could prove a first step toward a hybrid system merging computer and human analysis for data tagging and other tasks.

This research moves beyond detecting brain activity as a way of controlling other machines, to using the unconscious mind as the machine. The author notes that experiments demonstrated how "the conscious mind does not have to be engaged (and in fact, should not be used) to provide the tagging information"—a finding I should have anticipated from my time as a copy cataloger. ( Washburn)


How to Create Ideas that Evolve  (External site)

Digital Tonto   •  January 17, 2010

The evolution of stickiness. The most successful ideas can adapt to changing conditions just as the more robust genes do—the key is incorporating diversity, collaboration and flexibility. Read on for an interesting analogy between cultural and biological evolution.

The title is a little misleading. Rather than showing you how to create adaptable ideas, the author ends up describing a healthy environment for developing ideas. Still, the parallel between ideas and life forms is an interesting one. ( LeVan)


Will U.S. Museums Succeed in Reinventing Themselves?  (External site)

The Art Newspaper   •  January 11, 2010

Making lemonade from lemons? Sotheby Institute of Art lecturer András Szántó says North American museums are facing reduced endowments and shrinking visitor numbers, but that these challenges could force changes that ultimately strengthen the institutions. Among the recommendations are investing more in virtual presence, making the case for public funding and opening doors to nontraditional constituencies.

You thought newspapers, magazines, music, film, TV and (ahem) libraries were the only sectors with a transformative crisis on their hands? This article enumerates a wide variety of pressure points on museums and emerging attempts to cope, if not thrive. A good overview, but beware of some of the details—as one commentator already noted, the Rose Art Museum indeed did not flirt with art sales and closure (Brandeis did); underplayed is the fact that visitors actually increased during the economic downturn (see here for US, and here for UK examples), as well as the extent of the upheaval caused by deaccessioning to balance budgets (read more for some recent skirmishing). ( Waibel)


Mortgaging the Future of Universities the E-Book Package Way  (External site)

TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home   •  January 16, 2010

"Fatal attraction." Blogger Dan D'Agostino chides academic libraries for succumbing to the mass-marketing efforts of publishers, who prefer to sell all their titles bundled together in one big e-book package: "Not only can providers inflate sales of obscure titles by adding them to packages, they can also inflate prices by charging for the amount of use their e-books are predicted to get." D'Agostino suggests looking at the public library "Overdrive" model, which allows downloading e-books on a per-use basis.

Big Deal. D'Agostino sees a future where all university e-book collections look the same and high-priced digital book packages drain library resources away from the rare, special and unique titles that used to distinguish top tier research institutions. He lays the blame at the feet of university librarians who are (he claims) more concerned with acquiring a large volume of digital content than delivering on the value proposition of expert selection. Yet, the solution he proposes—on-demand licensing of content—is far from the what he describes as "the method that libraries used to build the great print collections that have driven scholarship for centuries." Libraries that license collections from OverDrive or NetLibrary aren't exercising the kind of selection pressure they once did in the scholarly publishing market; instead, they are sensibly deferring to the preferences of their users. I don't subscribe to D'Agostino's belief that university librarians are using e-book package deals to "deprofessinalize" and downsize staff. But I think he's right to imagine that existing e-book aggregations will be overtaken by Google Book Search, which offers the immense scope and familiar feature-set that scholars (and others) have come to expect—outside the library. ( Malpas)


Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up  (External site)

Wired   •  December 21, 2009

Question everything. Contributing editor Jonah Lehrer explores the dissonance between scientists' assumptions and unexpected results that don't fit in. When you have a problem to solve, it's far more productive to assemble of team of people with widely diverse backgrounds than a group of "experts" with shared assumptions.

Every time scientists chop up a bit of "cosmic shrapnel," human understanding takes an incremental step closer in time to the Big Bang. But while we wait for those "a ha!" moments that lie ahead, I think I can usefully explain reality all the way back to t>0 itself: everything is a thing. Strange but true. But as mundane as that statement may sound, it has some surprisingly powerful implications. "Everything that happens," as far as we can humanly tell, can be broken down into four fundamental operations on "some thing": create, read (in some admittedly odd ways), update, and delete (CRUD). Life-changing reminders of the efficacy of generalized CRUD operations strike us with the news of an unexpected pregnancy, security breach, corporate downsizing, or serial killing. Conversely, human society is based on the assumption that some indescribable force causes conventional and possibly even arbitrary CRUD operations to produce an occasional sense of justice and joy.

So, the moral of "generalized CRUD operations on things" for technologists is to name the things in your domain with HTTP Linked Data URIs and have those URIs behave according to the social norms of Web standard CRUD operations. You should do this even if—or should I say especially if—your ideas are unconventional. To paraphrase the article being reviewed here, assigning an HTTP URI to a screwed up concept could eventually have a profound and beneficial effect. ( Young)


French Retailers Urge National E-Book Hub  (External site)

Reuters/Washington Post  •  January 13, 2010

One to watch. A cadre of France's largest booksellers is hoping to fend off U.S. hegemony in the e-book business by urging the French government to create a national e-book platform. The move is partially inspired by a similar venture in Germany, dubbed Libreka, but the French effort is meeting some resistance from some publishers.

The comments quoted in the story point up the problems in this sort of thing. About the only reasons this might go forward are for some sort of cultural protection or, more likely, price protection by giving e-publications the sort of price protection physical books evidently have now in France. One of the best comments notes the difference in motivations of publishers and their distributors. Distributors should be even more scared of e-publishing than the publishers, and publishers should not confuse their business with that of their distributors. ( Hickey)


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Above the Fold is a Web-based newsletter published by OCLC 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. Research items are supplied by staff in OCLC Research. Please send comments and questions about this or other issues to rlg@oclc.org.
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