Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians

#20, July 30, 1999. Published every Friday.



July 30: the Bix fest, used book stores, carfree cities, cows on parade, and more.

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What IS Ex Libris?

The purpose and intended scope of this e-zine -- always keeping in mind that in response to readers, I may add, subtract, and change features.

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Archive of Previous Issues

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Part 2: What's the Best Search Engine?
Part 1: Clever Government Tricks

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My Favorite Sites on___:

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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

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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

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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, the 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: RE:SEARCHING and Favorite Sites on _____. I'll pay you the same rate I pay me: nothing.

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To subscribe to 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 then return to the page to enter the new address.
PRIVACY POLICY: I don't collect or reveal information about subscribers.

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Drop me a Line

Want to comment, ask questions, submit articles, or invite me to speak or do some training? Contact me at: marylaine at netexpress.net.

Visit My Other Sites

My Word's Worth

a weekly column on books, words, libraries, American culture, and whatever happens to interest me. For the subject index, click HERE.

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My page on all things book-related.

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Best Information on the Net

Still my favorite pit stop on the information Highway. This is a mirror of the real site, which has moved to http://www.sau.edu/bestinfo/.

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My personal page

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My resume

or, why you might want to hire me to speak at internet or library workshops or conferences, or have me consult on building your library page.


Susan Feldman, President, Datasearch.


After listening to Sue's presentation, "The Answer Machine," at Nylink, I wanted to find out more and share her answers with you.

Marylaine: How do you stay current with the technology and information resources? Specifically, what do you read, what sites do you routinely visit, what listserves or discussion groups do you participate in?

Sue: I try to read all or some of the following: JASIS, Searcher, Online Magazine, Communications of the ACM, Information Advisor, Cyberskeptic, the New York Times, Discover Magazine. I also read textbooks on information retrieval and natural language processing. And mystery and historical novels for relief.

Alerting services from: DR-LINK, Ingenius Technologies NetBrief and EgoSurf, DIALOG, various grants and proposals services such as NASA, IRIS, NIH GUIDE. I also get press releases from the web search engines and the major onlilne vendors.

Listservs: DIGLIB, SIGMETRICS, AIIP, EDUPAGE, TIDBITS, search engine standards, search-l.

Favorite sites: D-LIB Magazine, www.searchenginewatch.com, www.ingetech.com, botspot.com/. I search frequently for various subjects of current interest, and keep up on new developments in the search engines that way.

One of the invaluable sources I have is friends and colleagues who alert me to various articles I might not see otherwise. I try to do the same for them.

Marylaine: Of all the new developments in data mining and information visualization and natural language processing, which do you think has the greatest capacity to completely change what librarians do and how we do it? In other words, what should we learn next?

Sue: Librarians have so many choices these days. I do think that the regular jobs such as cataloging or reference won't suddenly disappear. If anything, being able to make sense of the piles of information available to everyone is even more valuable. But if librarians want to move up to a higher level of abstraction, they will need to develop analytical skills and learn to market them. Most of us analyze materials for content and value already. The trick is to make our clients understand that we have a talent for analysis and organization..

You asked about which new developments I feel are the most vital to learn next. There are two big developments just over the horizon. One is tools that will help people find patterns in information and data. Some of these are analytical tools like data mining or rule-based systems for decision support. Others are visual tools which sit on top of the analytical tools to allow a user to understand patterns at a glance. I think a basic, high level understanding of how search technologies work, and how Natural Language Processing works is crucial to understanding the technologies built on top of them. For instance, you can understand most of the new visualization tools if you know what the vector space model is. That sounds fancier than it is, by the way.

The second big development is intelligent agents. Agents will change information systems from static to dynamic systems. They will adapt and change as your interests or the field changes. They will work in the background and improve at each iteration so that more and more materials that would not be of interest to you are filtered out.

Both of these areas are aimed at making sense of too much information, and that is the major problem facing knowledge workers these days.

Marylaine: One of the things you talked about at Nylink is the visual display of information. Do you think librarians should be doing more with visual display to enhance our information services?

Sue: Absolutely. In fact, this is an area we have been deficient in for as long as I've been a librarian (31 years). How many displays have you seen in libraries that have taken your breath away? More to the point, how many libraries were easy to navigate 30 years ago? The problem is no different today. You need to be able to go into a real library or a cyber library and know what's there at a glance. Where are the novels? How do I get a journal article? How do I get back to the entrance? We need sign posts and cyber-sign posts, and they must be visual because there is too much text and it takes too long to read and digest it.

Marylaine: In a world where patrons want and expect full-text when they sit down at a computer, what do you think will happen with traditional databases which have only citations and abstracts?

Sue: I wish I knew the answer to that one. You aren't the first to ask it. In fact, many of the abstract and indexing services are asking themselves that exact question. What the A & I services can add to full text is better precision in searching. They also create a product which gives a summary, and summaries save people time. Most of the researchers I know would like a good summary as well as the option to see the full text. The problem is that humanly created indexing and abstracts add months to the publishing cycle. Researchers aren't willing to wait that long. Machine aided indexing and automatic categorization is one of the hottest development areas in information science these days. Possibly this can speed up the process. Good automatic summarization is much further in the future.

I do believe that traditiional abstracting and indexing services can only survive if they can at least point to full text on the publisher's site. This must be done so easily that it just pops up with a single click, though. Technically it's feasible. Will publishers be able to develop a seamless method for collecting payments and distributing royalties? More to the point, will they see that if they don't, newer electronic publishing ventures like e-Biomed will make them extraneous? I don't know the answer to that one.

Marylaine: Do you think publishers will continue to offer small, highly targeted databases, or do you think the future belongs to large aggregated databases?

Sue: In the near future, I expect--and dread--continued fragmentation. Publishers see a new market, and are intent on making sure that they have a recognizable "brand name" on everything they own. They want to grab the electronic distribution venues.

In the long run, I would hope that users will become frustrated enough so that they will make aggregation into larger information services a possibility. This can only happen if the pricing is clear, predictable and affordable. And if the payment mechanism is not onerous. Probably everyone is watching Northern Light http://www.northernlight.com/) right now to see if their model works. Certainly, it satisfies all my criteria except for the fact that I would like to be able to find even more materials in one place.

One final point about the future and librarians: we need to know what we do well. It really isn't finding information. What we do well is to ask good questions, and be able to organize and cluster information meaningfully so that we can draw useful and unexpected conclusions.

Other guru interviews:

  1. Tara Calishain
  2. Jenny Levine, part I
  3. Jenny Levine, Part II
  4. Reva Basch


From one of my all-time favorite rock bands, The Church. It's from the song "Volumes," on the album Remote Luxury. It's a nice reminder that it's not just information, internet and databases.

Volumes have secrets. Take them on holidays.
Book them a room, save them a moment.

Copyright, Marylaine Block, 1999.

You are welcome to copy and distribute or e-mail any of my own articles (but not those by my guest writers) as long as you retain the copyright statement.