Friday, April 14, 2006

MARC is dead long live Metadata

OK a little too hopeful perhaps but had a great guest lecturer in class yesterday. Dr. Moen from the University of North Texas gave a lecture on the use of metadata in libraries. He made some interesting points on how MARC 22 will be XML based and how metadata will need to be used more and more for libraries to interact with the larger information community. He also showed off his work from one of the IMLS grants he was awarded. It was shocking, of the 2000 fields in MARC only 900 fields are used at least once. You can look up your favorite fields for usage and such on the project page.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The ALA and the idiocy of Library Corps

The American Library Association is one of the largest professional organizations for librarians. They have pushed for the interests of libraries and librarians. The ALA has done some pinheaded things from time to time, but that is usually when they wander away into the larger political world.

With Library Corps, they have really screwed their newest members. The whole proposal is kind of strange since the ALA boosted the number of library students and ALA members by harping on the looming librarian shortage, which seems to loom further and further in the future.

A smarter idea than keeping retirees around in libraries with need would be using some of the graduates or soon to be graduates as interns. The students gain experience, the libraries get work done and may hire the students full time or part time. Between Library Corps and libraries using library assistants without masters degrees library schools seem like a waste of time. There is still positions in corporate, legal and medical librariesbut public libraries are getting the elderly or the untrained.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Network neutrality nixed: Libraries get ready to open your wallets

The network neutrality amendment didn't go anywhere, which isn't surprising since cable and Telecoms lobby extensively for their interests and service providers like Yahoo and Google do not. For those not following the issue, network neutrality is the idea that when you are surfing the Internet content from a site that is signed with your ISP will be just as fast as content from another ISP. For example, under network neutrality Verizon won't slow down my Google searches because Google is on another companies pipes.

Going beyond the party breakdown of who was for it or against it, partisan discussions are rarely enlightening, you'll see interesting arguments on both sides. The idea of doing away with net neutrality was first proposed by SBC. The idea goes like this why should SBC give Google a free ride on its pipes when SBC customers do a search on Google or view streaming video from them. Google isn't paying SBC for the use of the pipes so why can't SBC slow down the speed of content delivery from non customers. The problem of course is that SBC customers are paying for Internet access and expect it to be at site independent speeds.

Where someone comes out on the issue depends on what model one uses to interpret network neutrality. Net neutrality is what we have now, all content is treated the same by your ISP whether it is streaming video or a call over Skype. Customers pay the same rate regardless of who they connect to or how often. The argument that is used is the "it ain't broke" reasoning of this is the current state of affairs.

What the telcos and cable companies are proposing is that they tier the internet so that you can pay one rate (likely the same rate people pay now) to access sites on the ISP which has their account at the current speed and other sites at a slower rate. There would be another tier where customers could pay more to get all sites at the same speed as they do now but have to pay more for the privilege. The argument for this usually uses the "In" cellular model. I pay less per call to people who have the same cell phone company.

There is more than the shaking out the last quarter from the consumer motive behind this. The other parts of the bill that did pass such as E911 and the nationwide broadcast regulation of telcos are major motivating factors in the tiered Internet idea. With the easing of E911 than cable companies are free to eat the lunch of telcos by providing VoIP service to their internet subscribers who may eventually decide to do away with their tradition phones. Telcos getting licensed nationally for video delivery coupled with the fiber-optic roll out means that cable companies will lose the monopolies they enjoy in many municipalities. Add stripping states of the ability to halt municipal broadband and you have a full on price war looming on the horizon.

Price wars are great for consumers but not so good for companies. That is where the tiered Internet comes in. By allowing Verizon to slow down Comcast customers' data signal VoIP from Comcast won't seem like such a hot deal with constant static and dropped calls. Verizon's IPTV won't be that hot compared to Comcast or a satellite provider when the customer's brand new HDTV is giving a picture not even worthy of 50's era TV. The pronouncements point to the "dead beats" of Yahoo, Google and Microsoft but the proposal is aimed more at the partners for a tiered Internet.

The worst part of the tiered Internet idea is that there is likely to be less of an uptake in these next generation services and higher prices. The consumer gets screwed yet again. Where this is bad for libraries is the obvious point that Internet and phone costs are likely to go up with the tiered proposal.Institutions that are strapped for cash will be forced to provide a worse service to patrons at the same cost.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Meme: The media ignores good news

This is not a new meme per se. When Bush was gearing up for his second bid, the White House downplayed the growing insurgency with claims that the media was only reporting the bad news. This worked great with the base of the Republican party that thinks that the press is too liberal. Besides distrust of the press is not exclusive to conservatives, liberals often claim that the press is in the back pocket of right wing corporate interests.

The beauty of this meme is its simplicity. It relies on assumptions of the major media outlets' political biases that are firmly entrenched in the target audience and thus puts a filter onto their eyes. If there is a bombing reported the response of those infected with the meme will be "why aren't they reporting on the schools that have opened." In essence the worse the news gets the more one's views of the shamelessness of the media and the strides made in the war are strengthened.

It is an interesting approach to spinning the news which some are all too eager to take up. Instead of trying to make lemons out of lemonade when the Golden Dome Mosque's dome was obliterated by saying this will spur on the formation of a coalition government, now every car bombing is diminished into the same old news. The picture that the meme creates of the media is of lazy liberals drinking cocktails in the green zone waiting for the next bomb to go off so they can distort reality.

The problem with this meme and why it probably won't last beyond the November elections is for one, it ignores reality. The fact that Jill Carroll was released from captivity after several months of being threatened with murder belies the idea that reporters are completely safe to report from the streets and should focus on good news. There is an insurgency that is killing civilians, a low level civil war between sectarian militias, an internecine conflict developing among the Shia, a stalled political process and members of al Qaeda training in Iraq and traveling to parts unknown.

amongst all this there are schools and hospitals being opened which is good news. There is also a shortage of good teachers and physicians since many have left the country over security concerns, which is bad news. Very rarely does one consider the nuances involved. As it has been pointed out a reporter can look ridiculous if their positive report is aired at an inopportune time.

Yet that is another threat to this meme. One of the memes intended or unintended consequences (depending on your political leanings) is that reporters are likely to bend over backwards to do positive portrayals. In the next few weeks Fox won't be the only networks still showing pictures of the chocolate and roses era right after the fall of Baghdad media will take up this positive agenda to show they are not beholden to any agenda. It is very likely that any school they show will be targeted as happens now (part of the reason the State Department doesn't allow too many positive stories to be filmed), positive stories are going to turn negative very soon. The next meme may be the media is covering these events to tip off the terrorists.

Finally the main reason this meme isn't long for this world is the Bush administration itself. If they truly want to follow through with the Middle East transformation strategy than it will take decades of sectarian reconciliation and economic assistance for Iraq to even be a stable proto-democracy. There are centuries of old wounds and tribal conflicts to work through and basic problems of demographics and the location of oil reserves. If the meme truly took hold and its corollary that things are going far better that is being reported than there would be pressure to withdraw. Put simply Bush is in a Catch-22 if the American people believe things are going well they will see no reason to stay. If the American people think things are going poorly they may want to cut their loses.

This meme will have outlived its usefulness if the Republicans maintain control of the House and Senate if they lose control it won't matter. This meme resonates best with those who know service people in Iraq, assuming they are in relatively quiet areas. The soldiers and marines I know were in heavy fire areas and are pretty pessimistic. This also resonates with the widows, orphans and armchair hawks. The more people die the more important it is to see a positive outcome. A few people close to the family have died in this war and I am comfortable with them dying in a pointless cause. Wars have been successful in delaying future wars but have rarely prevented war. Diplomacy and communal interaction has done that. On that front there is no good news.