Fail, to Succeed

Twitter Fail Whale, redrawn as freaked out by ShannaBanan_o_rama at Deviant Art

Twitter Fail Whale, redrawn as freaked out by ShannaBanan_o_rama at

I recently read Leonard Mlodinow’s Drunkard’s Walk, one of the many recent popular texts on behavioral economics. A very good read and this quote from Thomas J. Watson (the IBM one, not the telephone one) in the concluding chapter stuck with me:

If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.

That’s a dictum that libraries, as much as any other organization, should heed. One of the things I love about working at NCSU is the willingness to try things that may or may not work, learn, and iterate.

New Means to New Ends

Here are the visuals for my recent Access presentation. When they post video at, I’ll link to it.

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I’d like to have a longer post about the topics addressed in my talk, but I’m close to working every waking moment right now, trying to keep my unit afloat during this tsunami of Hunt preparations, so instead I’m going to crawl into bed. Goodnight, world.

Quotes from Access Conference 2012

sneak peek of #accessYUL swag...
I was hoping to add some new posts before I jetted up to Access but, as has become the norm, work intervened. C’est la vie (’cause we were in Montreal–GET IT?) Instead, I offer this selection of memorable quotes, unattributed, both because I didn’t know/keep track of those responsible and since I like how they stand devoid of any context.


“Scale is the new horizon of intellectual inquiry.”

“Your diagram of your ontology system architecture consists of ontology relationships…that’s turtles all the way down”

“Personalization looks a lot like prejudice”


“URLs are your contract with the world”

“Textbook edition mishigas”

“So it’s dental DAMS”


“We can’t train our users”

“Search engine sucks”

“How might the library catalogue make the user experience feel embodied?”

“Serendipity is finding things you weren’t looking for, because finding things you were looking for is so difficult.”

I can’t overstate what a great conference Access was. Smart, engaging, fun people in abundance. By Sunday I was half-joking about starting “Access South [of the Border,]” with an inaugural session at Hunt Library. Who knows…maybe I can put a bug in the right person’s ear …

Hunt Library in the News

Here’s a local news clip about the Hunt Library, which will open in 2013. Great job by my department head, Maurice York. The mock shushing and mention of the Dewey Decimal System by the anchorpeople was amusingly appalling.

New paper: Practical Limits to the Scope of Digital Preservation

As has been noted in some far-flung corners of the internet, I have a paper in the next current volume of ITAL.  It’s currently available on ITAL’s preprint archive here.  I’m reasonably satisfied with it, considering it’s my first.  There was a period there, when I was completely immersed in everything published on the topic in recent memory, that I briefly felt like I understood the topic as well as anyone not actively involved in digital preservation possibly could.  And then I moved on to other things :)


The biggest takeaway for me was the provocative but extremely well-reasoned work of David S. H. Rosenthal at LOCKSS.  I found his work rather late in the process of researching and writing and it blew a hole through many of my early conclusions.   I rebuilt and I hope the conclusions are stronger for it.


Photo of a busy commons

A busy library with nary a librarian in sight (taken from

While preparing for a visit from Project Information Literacy’s Mike Eisenberg for the I.T. Littleton seminar at my workplace, I came across this table:

Resources Used When Course-Related Research Contexts Arise

Resources Used When Course-Related Research Contexts Arise, from "Lessons Learned: How College Students Seek Information in the Digital Age," Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg, Project Information Literacy First Year Report with Student Survey Findings, University of Washington's Information School, December 1, 2009

I tried to read on, but I kept straying back to it, until I found I was staring at it as I tried to digest this information. I feel like I need six weeks–or maybe six months–to fully mull it over. It one thing to know that Google is wiping the floor with Librarians, it’s another to see the hard data laid out like this. Then I got past that initial reaction and noticed that about half of the top ten items on the list are partly or wholly library resources.

As I discussed with Mike after his talk, there are two ways to respond to such a trend (I think it’s safe to assume that the “Librarian” category has fallen steeply from years past, though I’d like to know if it’s continuing to decline or if it’s leveled off): either it’s something to fight or it’s something to adapt to. Librarians need to re-intermediate themselves in the process or we need to divert expenditures to resources and spaces. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, as one or the other could be targeted at different aspects or stages of information seeking. Maybe I’ll have more to share about this is six weeks, or six months, after it’s worked its way deeper into my thoughts.

The Current

Boy, turn around for a minute and four months blow by. My last post was on Halloween (and noted that I have a paper in prepublication, which, to my surprise, still hasn’t seen print–is this the usual pace of professional publications?) Life here at NCSU is a blur and the pace is only increasing as Hunt is now over the horizon and looming closer and closer ahead.

There’s no end to the interesting projects I get to work on these days. A short list would include expanding our use of Google Apps, planning for the implementation of an XRM system to improve transactions and relations with our patrons, bringing in awesome communication options to minimize the issues that will naturally arise from being split across two main branches, working on virtual referrals and a unified communication workflow, and aiding our Access and Delivery Services Department with tools to bring in Lean Business Practices and systems for real-time response to demand overload and service points.

I also attended Midwinter and will be headed to Anaheim this summer. I’m looking to get more involved with LITA–I met lots of great, smart LITAers in Dallas–though finding time is obviously tricky, and won’t improve any time soon. So, we’ll see.

Life continues to be interesting–can’t ask for much more than that.

Living on the bleeding edge

So some recent marketing-type materials carried the tagline “Everything you can imagine . . . and more!” I’ll self-impose a gag rule and let you draw your own opinion about the quality (or utter lack thereof) of that line.  Today, a comment from a vendor, who had just been briefed on the tech at Hunt, was passed along to me: “There’s nothing like it in the world.”  now that’s a tagline.



Posting here has been sparse (read: nonexistent) since I moved and started my position at the NCSU Libraries.  Part of that is pure busyness, part of it is being cautious about what I post about publicly, as much of what I’m working on now is still in the early planning stages.  I can say for now that it’s really, really cool stuff and I hope to have lots more to share as we proceed.  Browsing around the James B. Hunt Library site will give some clue as to what I’m talking about, but there’s also a lot going on the back end to prepare for the awesome toys at Hunt that won’t be obvious to an outside observer.

One thing that I think is safe to post about and also currently on my mind is divisions in the libraries.  Hunt is going to feature an as-yet-to-be-officially-named central service desk, as some other academic libraries already have done.  This naturally leads to some sort of merging of the circulation and reference staff.  As I just said, other libraries have covered this ground–it’s not exactly new, though it’s still rare.  What I think is new, at least in my (limited) experience is the degree of overlap between public service staff and IT forced by the high tech public spaces within Hunt. In a way, it’s a microcosm of the larger trend in libraries for IT itself as a core public service, not just a piece of the infrastructure.

I know that’s not much of a thought, but that’s all I have right now.  I need time to think over what this means, both for my institution and in a general context.


Listening to: Dave Matthews Band, Live Trax Vol. 10

Google Books

I’m nearly done with Steven Levy’s excellent history of Google and it’s got me thinking about Google Book Search/Print/Books and the settlement with the Authors Guild and APA.  I don’t want to get bogged down in the details of Google’s initial effort versus it’s eventual settlement because I think another important element is often overlooked when discussing these issues: the untapped market of digitized books only existed because academic and public libraries fell down on a massive scale.  Sure, the project was and is expensive but it falls so clearly in the domain of what as a society we want our libraries to do.  Libraries are going to pay the price for many years to come for their repeated and continuing failure to get out in front of the changes of the digital era.