Sunday, August 29, 2010

On metadata, Google, and why we still need librarians and libraries

This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education takes Google to elaborate task for its inadequate metadata.

What is metadata?  It's a word that I was utterly unfamiliar with up until about 6 months ago.  And my grasp of its meaning is still that of a non-expert.  My definition of "metadata" is:  the descriptive data attached to the electronic records of library materials, be they books, articles, or other documents/items, that allow for search engines to find those materials.  (I am sure my colleagues here will correct me when I am wrong--or elaborate on that definition if they find it inadequate).  In short, if there is bad or incomplete metadata, the best materials for the searching patron may never turn up, when they type in subject categories, author names, book titles, or publication dates.

Google's massive book-scanning project inspires a great many alarmist conversations among academics, and I have my own reservations about the Google-ization of academic publishing.  But it seems clear to me that, if Google is going to do this, with the purpose of making nearly all of academic publications accessible and searchable, they should at least do it correctly.  This article points to the errors already embedded in Google's metadata, and highlights the potential trouble for scholars if those errors are allowed to persist.

Do you expect to be able to find useful information when you Google things?  How can you expect it, if there are such serious flaws in their methods?  Perhaps this is a hint that Google is not actually the be-all end-all of academic search, but remains just a starting point.

Among the messages I take from the article today is the one that states: Google should be employing actual metadata experts in their books project.  And also that, for now, the need for librarians and their expertise is not going away anytime soon.

Friday, August 27, 2010

They're not just for feedback (updated)

The whiteboards in the library were never intended to primarily be vehicles for feedback (although they are occasionally used for that, and that's fine).
They are there, fundamentally, so that people can use them while they're studying in the library.  They are on wheels so that you can move them to a space that works best for your group.  We know that the whiteboards in the study rooms are tremendously useful to the study groups that use them, and when it's midterm or finals time, we want it to be possible for the entire library to be one huge study room.

So, not only are there these portable boards, but there is a new set of whiteboard surfaces along the wall of the Atkins ground floor, just outside of the cafe downstairs (used to be Ritazza, now it's Peet's).

Here's an example of what someone did with one of the whiteboards on the second floor.

And there are whiteboards on the ground floor now, and people are using them, too (thanks to Donna Gunter for this picture):

What else helps you study in the library?  How are you using the spaces in Atkins?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A New Year, in the Fall (updated)

I've been an academic for my entire adult life, and so New Year's for me falls in late August.  It was fitting that the weather changed just enough today to make it feel like Fall was really just about here.

Today was the Atkins Library's Week of Welcome day, and we were out in force, giving students "smart pills" with our latest brochure, and connecting students to the resources they need to do their work here on campus.  We also had up the ever-present easels, and people wrote on them. 

We asked four questions.  I'll post the first one now, and update as we get the pictures ready.

Where do you like to Read and Write ?

Question 2:
What do you think  Librarians DO?

Question 3:
Who do you talk to about assignments?

Question 4:  What do you need from the library?  We got two sets of responses, because we erased the full board and started over about halfway through our WoW session.

What are your answers to these questions?  Are they different than the ones above?  Answer in the comments!