Thursday, February 19, 2009

Reporting from London; thinking about library access in comparitive terms

This week, the Accidental Archivist has been visiting the United Kingdom. While here, AA has taken the opportunity to visit such august institutions as the Bodleian Library and (tomorrow!) the British Library. There are striking contrasts to be found everywhere, most notably in architecture.

In thinking and reading about these institutions, I wonder if anybody out there has ever thought of making a library equivalent of a certain business index I had heard of. This business index compares how long (in days/weeks/months/years) and how difficult (measured by number of steps and/or organizations one must interact with) it takes to create a business. There is a general sense that it is easier and faster to establish a business in the United States than in many western European countries, for instance.

A comparable library index might measure how difficult it is for a user to become registered in order to access library services. Such an index may need to be seperated out by sector, or there would be significant distortions (e.g. public libraries are, by virtue of their mission, more open than other libraries as a general rule), but it would stillSome libraries seem to simply make themselves easier to access than others. There may be reasons for that, but it would understanding how access works would become more interesting in comparitive terms.

One final note before I conclude today. On the Tube, there are frequent advertisements for the British Library. However, all of these ads focus on this Library's business centre. It strikes me as very interesting that a) a National Library has a business centre at all and b) that this particular service is the one that is being advertised. I wonder if other National Libraries (or Archives, for that matter) have considered opening a business research/support office. I'm not sure what I think about it as I know very little about it, so I shall suspend judgement for the time being.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Why isn't there DOI for the popular media?

For a course I'm taking, I periodically have trouble accessing journal articles online (e.g. today there was a problem getting a 2004 article from Library Quarterly). However, most of the time everything works smoothly. I can simply click on a link in my course syllabus and automatically be sent to a PDF of the article.

This automatic system works since most academic articles are assigned a unique identifier called a DOI, or Digital Object Identifier. Using a DOI for articles saves the time of the reader, one of Ranganathan's five laws of librarianship.

Well, I'm irritated that this practice isn't used in popular media. I'll illustrate the problem using comedy. Lots of Canadians enjoy The Colbert Report and The Daily Show, and enjoy discussing said programs with each other. However, not all Canadians enjoy these programs by watching broadcasts on TV. Some see clips referred to in blogs... However, woe be to you if you imagine that you can simply play one of these clips. For if you do, you will encounter the following result:

If DOI was used properly, an automatic link to the appropriate content should be found and the user shouldn't have to think about any of these technical questions. The above example comes from a blogpost by author Neil Gaiman.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Databases and archives

I have been fascinated to read about the various open government and Web 2.0 government efforts in the US and UK. The UK has the interesting They Work For You; information on MPs and their actions. Open Secrets is a great American project likewise dedicated to providing information about elected officials.

I can see a future where archives deliver new services through databases, automatically post all Freedom of Information / Access to Information responses online and I look forward to that day. The existing service model is only going to get more and more difficult to explain. Even though archives are generally perceived as being concerned with the past, the only way to thrive in the future is to build out new services like this. Maybe databases of the type suggested here wouldn't work, but let's get some innovation happening!