THATCamp: Libraries and Web 2.0

in DigiLib BLog
June 27th, 2009

From Digital Humanities 09 to THATCamp, or The Humanities And Technology Camp. It’s an unconference: we (well, Jeremy Boggs, to whom profound thanks) came up with the schedule first thing in the morning. It’s a bare-bones event which apparently cost about $3500 to put on, and has about 100 participants. And we have everything we need — coffee, food, and rooms with projection. And smart people around the table. Note to self: a fairly large [un]conference is possible without a $100k investment, as long as someone (or five someones) is willing to put in a lot of organizational work.

The first breakout session I’m attending is, as will be obvious from the title, is Libraries and Web 2.0. People attending include “straight-up” librarians, digital humanists, a programmer at NCSA even. Let’s see if I can capture what we talk about.

The European Navigator was originally intended to show people what the EU is, in general. But then teachers started using it in classrooms, with great success, and later began asking for specific documents to be added. The site talks about historical events, has interviews and “special files”, has a section devoted to education, and one for different European organizations. The interface is intricate yet easy to use, and uploaded documents (some of them scanned) are well captioned.

Teachers are asking for more on pedagogy/education, but the site’s maintainers feel they don’t have the skills to oblige. [vz: So are teachers willing to contribute content?] The site is having a bit of technical problems: the back end was based on an Access database exported into SQL (exporting is painful! quality control of exports takes a lot of time), and the front end is Flash (slow); they’ll be changing that. It’s made as a browser, which means a navigator within a navigator (which, Frederic Clavert says, is bad, because it doesn’t lend itself to Web 2.0 tool addition — vz: plus accessibility is pretty much shot, and they haven’t created special accessibility tools), and they have to ask users to contribute content, which ends up being too biased.

They do know who their audience is: they did a study of their users in 2008. That’s a great and important thing to do, for libraries.

They’re migrating to the Alfresco repository, which seems to be popular around the room. They want annotation tools, comment tools, a comment rating engine, maybe a wiki, but ultimately aren’t sure what web 2.0 tools they’ll want. They’re obliged to have moderators of their own to moderate illegal stuff (racist comments, for example), but for the most part it seems that the community will be able to self-regulate. Reserchers who are able to prove that they’re researchers will automatically have a higher ranking, and they’re thinking of a reputation-economy classification of users, where users who aren’t Researchers From Institutions but contribute good stuff will be able to advance in ranking. But this latter feature is a bit on the backburner, and — vz — I don’t actually think that’s a good thing. Starting out from a position of a default hierarchy that privileges the academe is actively bad for a site that purports to be for Europe as a whole, and will detract from participation by people who aren’t already in some kind of sanctioned system. On the other hand, part of ENA’s mission is specifically to be more open to researchers. They’re aware of the potential loss of users, and have thought about maybe having two different websites, but that’s also segregation, and they don’t think it’s a good solution. It’s a hard one.

On to the Library of Congress, Dan Chudnov speaking. They have two social-media projects: a Flickr project that’s inaugurating Flickr Commons, and YouTube, where LC has its own channel. YouTube users tend to be less serious/substantial in their responses to videos than Flickr users are, so while LC’s Flickr account allows (and gets great) comments, their YouTube channel just doesn’t allow comments at all.

They’ve also launched the World Digital Library, alongside which Dan presented the Europeana site. Both available in seven and six languages, respectively (impressive!). WDL has multi-lingual query faceting; almost all functionality is JavaScript-based and static, and comes out of Akamai, with whom LC has partnered; so the site is really really stable; on the day they launched, they had 35 million requests per hour and didn’t go down. Take-away: static HTML works really well for servability and reliability and distributability. Following straight-forward web standards also helps.

Good suggestion for Flickr Commons (and perhaps Flickr itself?): comment rating. There seems to be pushback on that; I wonder why? It would be a very useful feature, and people would be free to ignore it.

Dan Chudnov: the web is made of links, but of course we have more. Authority records, different viewers for the big interconnected web, MARC/item records from those, but nobody knows that. More importantly, Google won’t find it without screenscraping. What do you do about it? Especially when you have LC and other libraries having information on the same subject that isn’t at all interconnected?

Linked data, and its four tenets: use URIs as names for things; use HTTP URIs; provide useful information; include links to other URIs. This is a great set of principles to follow; then maybe we can interoperate. Break down your concepts into pages. Use the rel tag, embed information in what HTML already offers. So: to do web 2.0 better, maybe we should do web 1.0 more completely.

One site that enacts this is Chronicling America. Hundreds of newspapers from all over the country. Really great HTML usage under the hood; so now we have a model! And no “we don’t know how to do basic HTML metadata” excuse for us.

Raymond Yee raises a basic point: what is Web 2.0? These are the basic principles: it’s collective intelligence; the web improves as more users provide input. Raymond is particularly interested in remixability and decomposeability of it, and into making things linkable.

So, again, takeaways: follow Web 1.0 standards; link to other objects and make sure you can link your own objects; perhaps don’t make people get a thousand accounts, so maybe interoperate with OpenID or something else that is likely to stick around? Use encodings that are machine-friendly, machine-readable — RDF, JASN, XML, METS, OpenSearch, etc. Also, view other people’s source! And maybe annotate your source, and make sure you have clearly formatted source code?

There’s got to be a more or less central place to share success stories and best practices. Maybe Library Success? Let’s try that and see what happens.

(Edited to add: please comment to supplement this post with more information, whether we talked about it in the session or not; I’ll make a more comprehensive document out of it and post it to Library Success.

This post will also be cross-posted to the THATCamp blog and wiki, when I find my login credentials; I’ll collate from all three sources, so use whichever you want.)

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2 Comments on THATCamp: Libraries and Web 2.0

  • David’s my brother, I’m Dan. :)

    Also, Europeana is a wonderful project, but it does not come from LC. Here’s its background story.

    It was great to meet you this at THATCamp! -Dan

  • Dan, sorry about that! I claim information over[load|whelm]. Fixed on both counts. And it was wonderful to meet you, as well.

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