Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Three cheers for GIMP!

We get a lot of requests for obituaries, photographs, and other items from old newspapers. We have over a century of Charlotte newspapers preserved on microfilm. It used to be we would look up the article, print it out and put it in an envelope to go out in the mail. Sometimes we would place it on a flatbed scanner to create an image we could attach to an email. This process took many steps and produced images several generations of reproduction from the original.

Lately the library bought a microfilm reader that was also a scanner. It could send out images to a laser printer and could in theory send them to our branch laptop as well. Scanning, saving an image to our hard drive, then attaching it to an email promised to be much easier and greener and to produce results of higher quality. Following the salesperson's instructions I downloaded the appropriate drivers from the manufacturer's website but could go no further. I needed image manipulation software that was "Twain-compliant" and so could use the drivers to communicate with the scanner. I didn't want to ask the library to shell out the bucks for Acrobat or Photoshop, so I turned to Martin House- an erstwhile blogger. He is too busy to blog now, but not too busy to give good advice when asked.

He recommended GIMP - "GNU Image Manipulation Program" - freely available from among other places. (Which is more than the salesperson did for us, btw.) Long story short - it worked! Staff will be saved labor, researchers will get results faster, the library will get more out of its investment in the new reader/scanner.

This Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for freeware.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

"A Useful Amplification of Records That Are Unavoidably Needed Anyway" by Brett Bonfield

I just read a lengthy blog entry about five different online catalgs and how each measures up to the ideal of a universal catalog. None of them aims at that ideal, but each approaches it and so may be used that way by librarians.

Amazon - After some interesting discussion of Amazaon's business model (this guy has done his homework!) the author points that the commercial imperatives that drive Amazaon's database mean that the old and out-of-print are less likely to be found in its database.

Google - The Google Books project is just one of the many initiatives he discusses here. Google has overcome technical and legal obstacles to catalog and digitize a large number of books. Whether these remain available or not depends on whether the revenue from Google's principle venture can support it or whether the Books project can somehow support itself.

LibraryThing -- demonstrates the power of "crowdsourcing" in tagging and disambiguation. The latter is a time-consuming task and difficult for machines to accomplish. Many people addressing it at once can work wonders.

WorldCat -- not the great union of all catalogs that I supposed it was. Do not assume that all libraries are OCLC members. Small ones are less likely to belong. So, the list of libraries that own a particular item may omit a few locations and some obscure items of local interest may not appear at all. It misses the end of the long tail.

Open Library -- The Internet Archive preserved web pages and the Open Library is a further development from it that seeks to preserve the content of books. Along the way, it might also create a universal catalog. Libraries can donate their records or the Open Library could obtain them by means of some kind of spider.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I was honored that Jenny Levine gave a serious reply to a comment I made on the Shifted Librarian blog. I barely expressed the germ of an idea, but she brought out the big lesson: "libraries need to adapt to the rhythms of today’s users".

Monday, November 10, 2008

Library Garden: Giving Effective Presentations

There has been a flurry of posts in the library blogs I read about how to give good presentations. I highlight this one because the author (Peter Bromberg) does not prescribe one technique or another. He stresses that your technique should serve your purpose. Decide WHAT you wish to do first.

I would say whatever gives people a reason for being there instead of just reading your notes on their own is the right approach. The live experience makes interaction possible. Whatever my purpose is, it can be expanded or improved by the contributions of the intelligent, capable, helpful people who have come to hear me. For example, when I was talking about the PLCMC's use of online conferencing recently, I asked the attendees to indicate by a show of hands whether they had ever met with others through online conferencing. I asked next, of those who had raised their hands, how many enjoyed the experience? Almost every hand stayed up. There was a new datum that the attendees and I had created together.