Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians

#197, November 14, 2003

Or why you might want to hire me for speaking engagements or workshops. To see outlines for previous presentations I've done, click on Handouts. To see the books, articles and columns I've published, with links to those available online, go to my writing resume.

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Order My Books

Net Effects: How Librarians Can Manage the Unintended Consequences of the Internet, and The Quintessential Searcher: the Wit and Wisdom of Barbara Quint.

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What IS Ex Libris?

The purpose and intended scope of this e-zine

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E-Mail Subscription?

For a combined subscription to Neat New Stuff and ExLibris, please click HERE, complete the form, and click on "subscribe." To unsubscribe, use the same form but click on "unsubscribe." To change addresses for an existing subscription, unsubscribe from that form and return to the page to enter the new address.

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Highlights from Previous Issues:

My Rules of Information

  1. Go where it is
  2. The answer depends on the question
  3. Research is a multi-stage process
  4. Ask a Librarian
  5. Information is meaningless until queried by human intelligence
  6. Information can be true and still wrong

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Guru Interviews

  1. Tara Calishain
  2. Jenny Levine, part I
  3. Jenny Levine, Part II
  4. Reva Basch
  5. Sue Feldman
  6. Jessamyn West
  7. Debbie Abilock
  8. Kathy Schrock
  9. Greg Notess
  10. William Hann
  11. Chris Sherman
  12. Gary Price
  13. Barbara Quint
  14. Rory Litwin
  15. John Guscott
  16. Brian Smith
  17. Darlene Fichter
  18. Brenda Bailey-Hainer
  19. Walt Crawford
  20. Molly Williams
  21. Genie Tyburski
  22. Patrice McDermott
  23. Carrie Bickner
  24. Karen G. Schneider
  25. Roddy MacLeod, Part I
  26. Roddy MacLeod, Part II
  27. John Hubbard

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Cool Quotes

The collected quotes from all previous issues are at

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When and How To Search the Net

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Wanna See Your Name in Lights?

Or at least on this page, anyway? I'd like to print here your contributions as well as mine. As you've noticed, articles are brief, somewhere between 200 and 500 words -- something to jog people's minds and get their own good ideas flowing. I'd also be happy to run other people's contributions to the regular features like Favorite Sites on _____. I'll pay you the same rate I pay me: nothing.

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Drop me a Line

Want to comment, ask questions, submit articles, or invite me to speak or do some training? Write me at: marylaine at

Visit My Other Sites

My page on all things book-related.

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How To Find Out of Print Books
Suggested strategies, resources, and finding tools.

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Best Information on the Net
bestinfo/default.htmThe directory I built for O'Keefe Library, St. Ambrose University, still my favorite pit stop on the information highway.

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My Word's Worth
an occasional column on books, words, libraries, American culture, and whatever happens to interest me.

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Book Proposal

Land of Why Not: an Appreciation of America. Proposal for an anthology of some of my best writing. An outline and sample columns are available here.

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My personal page

SUBJECT INDEX to Past Issues

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Neat New Stuff I Found This Week
and more.

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My resume


by Marylaine Block

I've been wanting for some time to find out how news spreads among librarians, and who are the people whose voices are listened to, as in the old advertising slogan, "when E.F. Hutton talks, everybody listens." So for a presentation at the Internet Librarian conference last week, I set out to follow how news spread about the new ALA web site and its manifold flaws. I examined every listserv I could find that discussed it, and archives of every librarian blog, from April 4 (when ALAWON's newsletter mentioned it was going to be unveiled April 7) through July. I found additional references through Google and Alltheweb. You can see the raw data at the web page for the presentation,, where I have highlighted the items that were repeatedly cited in multiple other discussions and blogs.

In this particular case, there's no question but that the discussion was driven by the Web4Lib listserv, and deservedly so. Many librarians, like me, are not all that technically adept, and would have been unable to counter ALA's arguments that the ridiculous 250 character URLs were necessitated by the fact that the site was database driven and the URLs were dynamically generated. But the library web site managers at Web4Lib, who know rather a lot about Cold Fusion, immediately announced that this statement made no sense. Comments from those who knew and managed database programs included:

  • "No site management system worth one dime would REQUIRE those ridiculous URLs to be visible as we're seeing."

  • "Over the years I've learned that when a programmer (or other) techie says that something is impossible it usually means that s/he doesn't know how to do it or doesn't want to do it."

  • "Frankly, from the outside it looks like somebody dropped by the office and installed Cold Fusion for them--kerplunk. Another case study in why both outsourcing and shrink-wrapped solutions should be avoided, particularly when they go hand-in-hand."

  • "I do believe that the developers and ALA made some major mistakes, namely: 1) Releasing it w/o proper beta testing. 2) Releasing it w/o proper management of old domains/links/files 3) Relying too much on search engine 4) Not responding to feedback upon release"

  • "As a ColdFusion developer, I also want to say that CF in this case is clearly a misused tool, not a problem in and of itself."

    There were also many complaints about the lack of redirects and the insouciant referral to a search engine that was not remotely up to snuff, and even more complaints about the father-knows-best response from ALA staff.

    Within a day and a half of the unveiling of the new site, the site, and ALA's response to initial criticisms, had been thoroughly dissected by the knowledgeable techies on Web4Lib. Without question, the leading voice in the discussion was's director, Karen G. Schneider; her posts were immediately reprinted and/or linked on all-purpose librarian blogs, including Gary Price's Resource Shelf, LIS News, and Both Chris Zammarelli and Steven Cohen linked to T.J. Sondermann's wonderfully sarcastic T-shirt about the web site [].

    I'd read about the controversy in, and followed it up by testing all the ALA URLs in my book manuscript, which had mostly been rendered inoperative, and by searching for them on the %&(*&^( so-called search engine. That led me to write a piece on April 10, called "How NOT To Redesign a Web Site," [], which began: "I have two words for the American Library Association: beta test."

    This piece was then subsequently referred to in numerous places: LIS News (where it prompted some small discussion and was picked up by other bloggers), Library Link of the Day, and subsequent postings by Karen Schneider and Jessamyn West.

    By April 11, it's fair to say that at least within the internet librarian community, an understanding of all the problems with the ALA web site had been fully formed by April 11, though we gained a better understanding of the process that led to the web site when on April 17 Rory Litwin published a piece in Library Juice explaining how the ALA advisory committee for the new web site had submitted their specifications and then been left out of the process, not so much as invited to test the new site before it was unveiled.

    There's no question but that the traditional print resources, even in their online versions, are less nimble at picking up on fast-developing issues. Not until April 14 did Library Journal online post a news item about the controversy. On April 15, American Libraries Online finally posted a news item -- a chirpier, more upbeat one suggesting that some people actually liked the new design. [Was it deliberate satire that the URL for the news item was

    The listservs, blogs and zines spread a common body of knowledge among librarians. But influencing other librarians was nowhere near as important as influencing the ALA staff and getting them to understand how disastrous the web site was. What's remarkable here is that the folks at ALA were actually following the discussion on Web4Lib. On April 10, Robert Carlson of ALA said that he had been following the Web4Lib discussion all that week. On June 9, Karen Schneider reported on the the meeting of the ALA staff with the Web Advisory Committee.

    The best part of this discussion was that ALA get a healthy lesson on the necessity of keeping its members informed. As a result, not only are there ongoing improvements being made to ALA's site, but there is now a page charting the status of the improvement process, at

    But that's just the results of tracking one issue. I have no doubt that on other topics, the key players would be somewhat different. For instance, on the issue of information disappearing from government web sites, I'm sure that GOVDOCS-L drove the discussion. I'm equally sure that when the Supreme Court handed down its decision on library filters, the discussion was in all likelihood driven by PUBLIB-L and law librarians' listservs and blawgs (law weblogs).

    The question is whether there's a more general pattern for the spread of knowledge among us? I believe there is. Essentially, I think what happens is this: initial discussion is driven by the listservs, because that's where the people who care most passionately about the broad subject and are most knowledgeable about it, hang out.

    Then the news spreads to the more general librarians' resources, bloggers who draw on the greater expertise of the specialists on the listservs and publicize the issue to a broader range of librarians.

    The most prominent of these is probably Gary Price's Resource Shelf, which has an unusually wide and varied audience. I'd guess LIS News is second, both because the range of topics covered there is broad, and because a variety of people, with differing knowledge bases and interests, contribute to it. Other key sources are Jessamyn West's, Steven Cohen's Library Stuff, Rory Litwin's Library Juice, Library Link of the Day, and Walt Crawford's Cites and Insights. On occasion, though not necessarily routinely, my own ExLibris helps advance the discussion as well.

    That's my theory of how the news spreads, anyway. I'd be happy to have someone else do the research to test it out on other topics. Me, I have a Movers and Shakers issue to write, so I'm retiring from this particular issue.

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    Journalism traditionally assumes that democracy is what we have, information is what we seek. Whereas in the weblog world, information is what we have ó itís all around us ó and democracy is what we seek.

    Jay Rosen. PressThink: What's Radical about the Weblog Form in Journalism?

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    Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
    Copyright, Marylaine Block, 1999-2003.

    [Publishers may license the content for a reasonable fee.]

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