More Technology for the Rest of Us: A Second Primer on Computing for the Non-IT Librarian
Nancy D. Courtney has put together a supremely practical book that gives just enough about the latest library technologies to make you dangerous . . . and that's a good thing. If you have ever lacked the confidence to chime in on a discussion related to library technology, fear no more. This book will provide the necessary background to get you in on the conversation. It is topical and well thought out. This volume is a follow-up to Technology for the Rest of Us: A Primer on Computer Technologies for the Low-Tech Librarian published in 2005. The subtle change in the title from 2005 to 2010 is telling. Librarians in 2010 do not really have the option to remain low-tech. Those that do will be left out. So while IT or systems librarians must know library technologies inside and out, the "rest of us" non-IT librarians must be at least competent in a wide range of these technologies. [End Page 94]
The layout appears to follow a format that has worked for similar books edited by Nancy Courtney and published by Libraries Unlimited. The book is divided into 11 chapters that average 10 to 15 pages in length. Each chapter contains notes, references, additional readings, and selected web examples where appropriate. In this sense, the individual chapters work nicely as standalone quick reference resources on the topics they cover. The index is thin, even for a book that is only 172 pages, but the glossary is good and useful. The book ends with an informative set of author biographies.
Chapter 1 is a highlight of the book and sets the tone for what is to follow. Jason A. Clark provides enough background information to get going and then jumps quickly into fun, interesting examples of web services for the reader to follow and participate in. If you have never taken the time to understand what an Application Programming Interface (API) is, this chapter provides a great opportunity to start working with it first hand. It contains easy-to-follow demonstrations of working with APIs to make your own mash-ups from sites like the New York Times and Google BookSearch APIs, among others. Read the chapter and work through the examples; they are fantastic.
The concept of web services is important for many of us who are not involved directly in our library websites. As a technical services librarian, I have always felt removed from the library website and focused instead on the public interface to our integrated library system (ILS) and open URL resolver. After reading the chapter on web services, my view of these distinct systems has changed and I definitely see more possibilities for combining our own in-house data sources with other third-party web services to provide our users with a much richer experience via the library website.
The second chapter on data preservation and curation stands in stark contrast to the first. While chapter 1 was practical and the examples can be worked on by the reader, chapter 2 is more about standards, policies, and strategies for preservation. The chapter begins appropriately with a brief description of the Open Archives Information System (OAIS) framework. This is followed with a scenario of a TIFF image file that is deposited to a repository and its possible manifestations as a submission information package, archival information package, and dissemination information package. The example is a nice yet simple way to give some life to the OAIS reference model. Author H. Frank Cervone also makes [End Page 95] the distinction between data preservation and digital curation (with data preservation being a subset of the digital curation life cycle). The software section provides a succinct overview of the most prevalent commercial and open source options and is followed by a useful set of guidelines for data stewardship.
As someone who works closely with our own IT department on our ezproxy server, I found chapter 5 on authentication and authorization truly enlightening. I coordinate the staff in our technical services departments who add entries to our ezproxy configuration file. Until reading this chapter I had little appreciation for the distinction between authentication and authorization and the possibilities that authorization affords in providing personalized services to our users. Most institutions have too many logins for their students to contend with. The solution appears to reside in tools such as Shibboleth. Many institutions are implementing Shibboleth to reduce the number of logins and address the conflicting goals of providing personalized services while maintaining privacy. The trust requirements between systems within and outside institutions are also covered in this chapter. The section on ezproxy and Shibboleth exemplifies the possibilities that David Kennedy draws out for the reader throughout this chapter. He outlines a process that could ultimately allow your users to take advantage of the personalization features offered in many subscription products without forcing users to create personal logins for those products.
An area that I have never thought too much about in a library context is data visualization. From a library IT perspective, this is perhaps the most interesting and unconventional topic covered in the book. Data visualization appears to be an area in which librarians could become increasingly active in the near future. Google Labs recently released a public data explorer, and licensed data providers, such as the World Bank, have in some cases decided to release much of their data to the public. These end-user tools are making data and related visualization applications increasingly accessible to non-specialist users. In chapter 7, Steve McCann works through a very nice example of a typical data-visualization scenario involving interlibrary loans. While this example is useful, I would have liked to see more. In particular, many librarians are familiar with the LibQual+ quality assurance surveys. It would have been helpful to see an example based on sample LibQual+ data (or any other kind of assessment data). [End Page 96]
My only complaint with this book is that chapters 2 and 8 could have benefited from clearer coordination. Ardys Kozbial does a great job of distinguishing digital preservation from data backup but it would be nice to have his take on the distinction with data curation (as covered in chapter 2). I would have also liked to see the application descriptions and repository descriptions combined into single sections. This separation hampered the flow and led to a lot of page flipping back and forth within this chapter and then back to chapter 2. An expanded chapter 2 with about five pages to deal with the highlights from chapter 8 would have been sufficient.
For a technical services librarian, the highlight of the entire book was the chapter by Maureen P. Walsh on repurposing metadata using XSLT. This might be the most challenging chapter in terms of technology but the examples are so pertinent and accessible that anyone can try them out on their own, using the freely available MarcEdit software developed by Terry Reese and a simple text editor. For any institution that mandates the submission of electronic theses into an institutional repository, Walsh outlines a process to create MARC catalogue records from the simple Dublin Core stored in DSpace. This chapter is great because the XSLT portion is appropriately simple and applied to examples that are relevant to non-IT librarians.
There are many other topics covered in this book. Most librarians are familiar with the merits of using a content management system (CMS) to manage web content. I thought the chapter by Frances Rice was useful in pointing out the alternatives to commercially available CMS products. A number of public and academic libraries have used blogging and wiki software to create dynamic websites that have none of the visual hallmarks of a traditional blog or wiki. Other highlights include an entertaining and memorable metaphor by Scot Colford for free and open-source software involving Fisher-Price and LEGO toys.
The strength of this book lies in the appropriate balance between contextual background and practical examples. Each chapter on its own does not necessarily achieve this balance, but taken as a whole this is a very effective book that will empower librarians to fully participate in IT policy, planning, and implementation at their libraries. This book is a great resource for the "rest of us" and might even be useful for IT librarians who want to understand the level of IT knowledge that most of us in the profession could bring to the table. [End Page 97]