Throwing Shoes In the Machinery of the World

Michael Gorman is still showing his ass to the world over at Britannica Blog. This time he demonstrates that he hasn’t got a clue how Google works:

Information retrieval systems have been studied for many decades. In the course of that study two important criteria have been developed to evaluate such systems—those criteria are recall and relevance. The first measures the percentage of pertinent documents retrieved from a database (for example, if there are 100 documents on Zambian agriculture in a database and a search on that topic retrieves 76 of them, the recall is 76%). The second measures the supposed appropriateness of the documents that have been retrieved (for example, if you retrieve 100 documents when searching for Zambian agriculture and 76 of them are actually about Zambian agriculture, the relevance is 76%).

Information retrieval systems achieve high recall and relevance rates by the use of controlled vocabularies (indexing terms, etc.) and present the results of complex searches in a meaningful and usable order. By any of these criteria, Google and its like are miserable failures. A search on those engines on anything but the most minutely detailed topic will yield many thousands of “results” in no useful order and with wretched recall and relevance ratios. However, even when the documents retrieved by a search engine are on the subject sought, the quality of the material – often community-generated material that pops up high on a hit list because the material is free and easily accessible — is shoddy or irresponsible.

Let’s unpack some of the misconceptions that Gorman is, once again spreading heedlessly.

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Gorman Rants, Again

Updated below.

Michael Gorman, self appointed Poobah of the Kranky Old Geezers of the Library World * has a new rant up about how the Internet and blogs are making us stupid at, of all places, the Britannica Blog. He starts off with a straw man so huge, the denizens of a small island off the coast of Scotland have already gathered around it, stuffed it with Edward Woodward and are fetching the torches as we speak:

The life of the mind in the age of Web 2.0 suffers, in many ways, from an increase in credulity and an associated flight from expertise. Bloggers are called “citizen journalists”; alternatives to Western medicine are increasingly popular, though we can thank our stars there is no discernable “citizen surgeon” movement; millions of Americans are believers in Biblical inerrancy—the belief that every word in the Bible is both true and the literal word of God, something that, among other things, pits faith against carbon dating; and, scientific truths on such matters as medical research, accepted by all mainstream scientists, are rejected by substantial numbers of citizens and many in politics.

Cartoonist Garry Trudeau’s Dr. Nathan Null, “a White House Situational Science Adviser,” tells us that: “Situational science is about respecting both sides of a scientific argument, not just the one supported by facts.” This is satire, of course, but hardly too broad in a time when school boards aim “intelligent design” (creationism with lipstick on) at the minds of schoolchildren and powerful interests deny the very existence of catastrophic human-caused global climate change. These are evidence of a tide of credulity and misinformation that can only be countered by a culture of respect for authenticity and expertise in all scholarly, research, and educational endeavors.

For a man opposed to Burst Culture, he sure doesn’t waste time with any long winded preambles. But take a gander at that frame: it’s so gaudy it should be around a Da Vinci painting. “Citizen Journalists” (us bloggers) are in the same category as Barber Surgeons, Flat Earthers and Creationists. Nice, huh? How he thinks Bloggers or the Internet are to blame for Intelligent Design/Creationism or the popularity of Alternative Medicine is a mystery, one he doesn’t bother to explain. These have been around far longer than the Internet, as long as his beloved “Expert Culture” has, if not longer. If the freekin’ Enlightenment didn’t drive them away what makes him think the Internet can? Or that it should?

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Season 3 of Home Improvement Was Already Out

So, librarians at the Sacramento Public Library are circulating a petition to have a Vote of No Confidence for their managers, because their shelves contain 10 copies of Jackass 2 and 6 of the Paris Hilton biography. But, as John Blyburg points out, all those copies are either checked out, on order or missing, meaning that they don’t have enough copies of Jackass 2 and the Paris Hilton biography to meet patron demand.

Quality control is one thing but Democracy, as we are told, is untidy. Sometimes, instead of hunkering down with War and Peace and The Ten Commandments, people would rather read or watch something, well, fun. And as any librarian will tell you, dictating fun is not our job. Dictating is not our job. We just provide people with the information they want. If they want lousy info, (or books or movies), well, we just smile, hand it to them and then make fun of them after they leave.

Link via

Ubuntu to the Rescue

For those who haven’t seen it yet, Jessamyn at has a video of her installing Ubuntu Linux onto three computers at a small library. This comes fast on the news from last week that Dell will be offering Ubuntu as an alternative Operating System to Windows Vista. After years of quietly percolating in the background, Linux is finally catching on in the popular imagination as an alternative to the ham fisted monopoly of Microsoft and I couldn’t be happier. That it’s Ubuntu that is making the noise is even better. It makes me almost want to buy a PC just to help the cause. Maybe I can convince my parents to switch? That might be a nifty little series, following the procedures, from talking my parents into the switch, all the way through the install process… hmm, yes…

Netflix, Unicorns and the Future!

Lori Bowen Ayre over at Mentat asks the good questions:

What if the Library Worked Like Netflix?

NetFlix is easy, personal, fast, and convenient. It assists users in finding titles they will not only enjoy but titles that they are probably very excited to find because they are surprised that they could be found or they’ve never heard of them before. Their choices are not limited to the blockbusters of the day. NetFlix makes it very easy for customers to borrow and return titles. NetFlix is to movies as libraries should be to books.

She lays out a solid argument that I agree with a hundred percent. Too bad it’ll never work.

Some of the institutionalized policies that we librarians deal with are holdovers from the analog days of card catalogs and physical browsers (people looking at shelves) rather than OPACs and web browsers. But there are still enough old school librarians around who remember how things used to work and never wanted them to change to begin with and don’t want them to change too much, at least while they are still around.

A colleague from grad school was telling me about this recently. She had a great idea to streamline her library’s ILL procedures, and all it would have cost was a piece of software that was less than the cost of one month’s ILL shipping expenses. But the ILL Librarian there didn’t want to hear it. She had her paperwork and her forms and her filing system and her two to six week turn around time and that was that. Didn’t matter if the new system would save time and money and help people better. The Netflix model of patron service probably has merit. And public librarians could save thousands of dollars switching to Open Source, and maybe one day we’ll ditch Dewey and LoC and catalog with tag clouds. But not today. Or tomorrow.

We new school librarians can’t change the world It’s going to take time. Time to either convince admin to take a chance on new technology (regardless of how well it’s proved itself in other fields) or time to wait for the dinosaurs to die off.

Checking Us Out

Librarians aren’t Sexy? Says who?:

A shake-up of Britain’s libraries has been called for by a senior spin-doctor – including a ban on the word “librarian”.

The Westminster council official said libraries should also spice up their reputation by using “good-looking” staff for press and marketing work and by stressing their range of “racy” titles.

The proposals were met with disgust by librarians, who dismissed the idea that they are not glamorous or exciting.

You know what’s not sexy? Pandering.

Look, we librarians are a damn sexy bunch, especially the up and coming generation of librarians. We’re tech savvy, in touch with the world both online and in real space, we know what’s going on, mostly because we came to this profession later, after getting out and doing other things. We aren’t your grandma’s librarians. We’re not spinsters or wilting violets. And yeah, if you want to look at the nudey books I’ll show you where they are and if you want to read banned books, I have some recommendations  in that department, too.

All this does is lower the standards of how we do our job. if we have to start altering procedures to whatever is popular this week, we’ll never get any actual work done because we’re worrying about our image. How about you just let us brainy, sexy librarians get back to work. We might suprise you.

On Long Term Loan

Theft of library materials is an unfortunate but common problem. It’s just the reality of the world I which we live in, that books that contain certain knowledge that is considered by society at large to be embarrassing or controversial will disappear from a library shelf for a verity of reasons.

Maybe you’re too embarrassed to be seen checking out a book of photos by Mapplethorpe of big black cocks. So you take an exacto knife and slice out a dozen or so of your favorite photos, set the book back on the cart to be reshelved and walk out with your head hung low.

Perhaps you don’t think that a library should have that book by Jock Sturges or Richard Dawkins. So you steal it. That way, no one will be able to check it out. As if that will make Jock Sturges or Richard Dawkins go away, stop taking naked pictures of preteens or writing about evolution.

A common practice among some church groups is for their members to go to the public library, check out all the books on witchcraft and paganism. They keep them the full amount of time possible, renewing them as often as they can and returning them, only to have another member of their Bible study group check it out five minutes later. That way, no impressionable teenager will be able to read that particular book and learn anything but what they hear in Sunday school or in their home school class.

It doesn’t work of course. Libraries will eventually replace those books. They will get in the hands of those who are curious and want to read them and appreciate them. So, stop steeling our fucking books, umkay? Or else a gang of pissed off librarians will come for you.

Return To The Lost City of Atlanta

I’m off to Atlanta for a week on business, followed by a holiday weekend in illinois visiting my brother-in-law and his wife so posting may be light to nonexistent. I should have internet access in the Hotel in Atlanta, so hopefully there’ll be no break in my sporadic and absolutely meaningless chatter here. All bets are off over the holiday, though.

In the meantime, I’ve updated Library Thing with a few more books from Library and there’s always the sidebar.