Thursday, 25 February 2010

Wikipedia (again)

Over the past few years, information professionals have spent spend an inordinate amount of time discussing Wikipedia. Everyone has an opinion, and usually an example of some inaccuracy. When interviewing wannabe librarians/researchers I often throw in a 'what do you think of Wikipedia?' question as the response can reveal a lot about an applicant's approach to information seeking. Many come out with 'don't trust it' - the 'official' approach that seems to be taught in most British schools and universities. In fact, exams watchdog Ofqual recently said that children should use Google and Yahoo to improve essays, but avoid the online encyclopedia.

Students need to learn how to discriminate between sources, but the fact remains that reliably sourced articles on Wikipedia can be unbeatable. I was reminded of this the other day when reading a post about the process of updating entries on Russell Potter's Visions of the North blog. Potter, an academic and leading authority on arctic exploration, writes about adding his comments to a Wikipedia entry on the sinking of the Karluk, the flagship of the Canadian Arctic Expedition, in 1914. The finished article (for now anyway) is a model of a well researched contribution, "providing a balanced and informative reference entry where before there was only a dark corner with a few half-hearted scraps mingling with rumors and undocumented sources" (Potter).

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Bibliomancy on the South Bank

To the Queen Elizabeth Hall last night to see Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer. An enjoyable evening although for anyone familiar only with the breathy solos and beats of his 1997 album Khymer, this was challenging stuff. "A 21st-century Bitches Brew," was how Guardian critic John Fordham described the material in a review of Molvaer's new album, Hamada.

Anyway, enough of all that jazz. Rather more pertinent to this blog is the Bibliomancer's Dream, an art installation consisting of hundreds of books, situated in the QEH foyer. Inspired by the ancient ritual of Bibliomancy- the art of divining the future with books, visitors are invited to "select a book at random and pick a line or verse to learn a truth or simply inspire the imagination". It looks rather good too.

Monday, 22 February 2010

The BBC's Virtual Revolution

Saturday night saw the final part of The Virtual Revolution, a four-part series on BBC2 that has looked at how 20 years of the web has reshaped our lives. Presented by Dr Aleks Krotoski, it's investigated everything from how commerce has colonised the web, the way social networks are changing our relationships, to evidence that the virtual world is leading to a new brand of politics.

The Virtual Revolution has been a great series - intelligent but entertaining programmes that show the BBC at its best (and I'm sure Lord Reith is nodding in approval). This has been in part due to Krotoski's skill in leading the viewer through the mass of information, but also down to the high calibre of the interviewees. These have included everyone from Tim Berners-Lee, Bill Gates, Al Gore, the founders of Facebook, Twitter etc, to Stephen Fry - not to mention plenty of knowledgeable, and articulate, academics.

This week's programme, Homo Interneticus, included Professor David Nicholas of the independent research group Ciber, at University College London, who was talking about his study into the generational difference between how children and adults consume information online. Nicholas often talks about the 'Google generation' (see Digital Consumers) - young people who have grown up with the web. This group 'crowdsource' their knowledge, looking for the wisdom of their friends and networking what they know, rather than holding on to the information for themselves. Saturday's programme also included a Web Behaviour test (although according to Phil Bradley the BBC system soon crashed).

Nicholas has been looking at the changing information habits of various user groups for the past three decades. Back in the 1980s he was (probably) the first academic to start looking at the impact of online information on both journalists and news librarians. With the emergence of the internet in the following decade he conducted a huge study into how it was affecting information seeking in the media - a significant part of the research being carried out at the Guardian and Observer.

Aside from his research work, Nicholas was to be - although some would dispute this - the catalyst for the creation of the Association of UK Media Librarians (AUKML). As a senior lecturer at the (then) Polytechnic of North London, in the summer of 1986 he hosted a networking lunch for London-based news librarians that in turn led to the beginnings of the group. For more information about this see the News libraries chapter of British Librarianship & Information Work, 1991-2000.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

BBC Archive

BBC Archive offers a glimpse of the many hours of television and radio content, built up over eight decades of broadcasting. There are themed collections of programmes, documents and photographs, as well as a look behind the scenes to find out how the BBC archives are maintained.

It makes for fascinating viewing - just take a look at any of the Tomorrow's World clips. In Home Computer Terminal, Derek Cooper investigates Europe's first home computer terminal, installed into the home of industrial consultant Rex Malik. Ok, so it's from another age, but many of the predictions are remarkably accuate, and the shots of Malik's son doing his maths look very familiar.

I've also written about the BBC Archive on
Those Who Dared.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Paywalls and engagement

Library & Information Update, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals' (CILIP) magazine, is introducing a monthly publishing schedule comprising six hard-copy magazines and six Digital editions a year. This replaces the current 10 hard-copy magazines a year. It sounds like a good move and, with its state of-the-art turn-the-page technology on the digital editions, is sure to be popular with members.

Of course as Elspeth Hyams, the editor, points out: "Update is CILIP's exclusive members' magazine," and so only those with a password can actually see it. I can fully understand why CILIP have taken this decision as offering members something unique and of value is surely one way of ensuring they renew their membership.

I think though that making Update available for all to view (as they used to) outweighs this argument. Opening up the magazine's considerable archive of well-informed articles will surely draw people to the organisation. It's the perfect way to advertise their services to information professionals.

But I guess that's the topic du jour. Hardly a day goes by without someone in the media offering their views on the great free v paywall debate. Last August,
Rupert Murdoch announced he was going to put News Corp's websites behind a paywall. Other news groups such as the New York Times have made similar noises, while the Financial Times has been charging for at least a year. However, Guardian editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger recently delivered a riposte to Murdoch's plans to introduce paywalls, claiming that it could lead the newspaper industry to "sleepwalk to oblivion." The News Corp Chairman's terse reply can be seen here.

Back to Update, and they may be onto something, at least in terms of 'engagement.' That is, the "clubs, subscription services, regular visitors – that ad men can measure," as Peter Preson put it in last Sunday's Observer.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

News librarian speaking on the radio

Following being quoted in the recent Columbia Journalism Review article about news librarians, Amy Disch can be heard speaking about the value of librarians on All Sides with Ann Fisher, a local radio station show in Ohio. The discussion was based around This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, a new book by Marilyn Johnson.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Handbook for Media Librarians

The Winter 2010 issue of News Library News, the quarterly bulletin of the Special Libraries Association News Division, features a review of a Handbook for Media Librarians, edited by Katharine Schopflin. Through chapters written by leading practioners, the book explores the issues of central importance facing media librarians, archivists, researchers etc. Subjects include managing intranets, picture libraries and legal issues for news databases and archives.

The book came out in March 2008, so some of the information will be out of date. However, this is a good and honest review, with a recommendation that the handbook should be on the reading list of all aspiring news librarians. Read more here.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


The jury may be out as to how good a search engine Bing actually is, but you can't fault the stunning pictures on the front page. The current one (see left) is my favourite but you can click back to see previous ones.

Bing, which replaced Microsoft's Live Search product, was launched at the end of May 2009. To see how it, and WolframAlpha, compares with Google, see Mercedes Bunz's post on the The Digital Content Blog.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Evolution lesson

Despite the rather sensationalist headline Endangered Species: News librarians are a dying breed, an article on the Columbia Journalism Review site puts a strong case for keeping information professionals in the newsroom. As the writer, Craig Silverman, sees it:

"Now that every reporter and editor has access to Google and a wide range of search technologies and online databases, the thinking is that they don’t need to call upon the Boolean expertise of librarians. You can see how it makes sense - except then the facts start to get in the way. In fact, the modern news librarian seems in many ways more important than ever. Even those old clipping files still come in handy."

Of course this means little to the many news organisations across the globe who have closed their information centres. According to statistics compiled by Michele Quigley, a researcher at the Palm Beach Post, over 250 news librarian jobs have been lost in the US since 2007. No such data exists for the UK but I would guess that at least 30 posts have been lost over the past year or so. The media libraries that survive do so in part because their management still believe in the value of the employing researchers, plus, as Amy Disch, library director of the Columbus Dispatch, explains, they have adapted their skills and knowledge to meet the needs of a modern newsroom.

To return to the title, it's true that the days of armies of people filing cuttings are well and truly over. But, without wishing to get too Darwinian, news librarianship starting evolving with the advent of online information, way back in the mid-1980s. News groups who recognised this are now reaping the benefits of having skilled librarian/researchers on their staff.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Man slashed in pub

Contrary to popular opinion, local newspapers still exist. Take a look at Jon Slattery's posting about the Ormskirk Advertiser.