Friday May 11, 2007

Library as social setting

In a recent blog posting, Hal Stern asked rhetorically, "When you have Google, who needs a library?"

While his question was rhetorical, this is a very real question for us as librarians - one we face regularly. The question is really just a spin on the old "everything can be found on the Web" urban legend.

The refreshing thing about Hal's answer to his own question is that he touches on three things that people don't always think of when they think "libraries":

\* "Library" as a social setting (see also Beyond Google, The Journal of EDS Agility Alliance, Sun Microsystems' piece in The Road to Innovation issue)
\* The organization and preservation of knowledge for findability
\* Serendipity, or discovering information rather than searching for it

I'd like to say a bit more about each of these, but won't do so in one long posting. So in this posting (which in itself is a bit long), I'll address the first one: "library" as social setting.

Digital Libraries & Research recently went 100% digital. For years, we have concentrated on bringing more and more digital resources into Sun, because we realized Sun employees need digital, always-on access. Sun employees work everywhere and "everywhen". We want to make sure that as many Sun folks have access to the information they need as soon as they need it, and digital resources perform this function well.

As more and more information has become digitized, however, we've noticed two interesting trends:

1) People didn't want just digital or just print; they wanted both. It wasn't a case of "either/or" - it was "and/plus". Sun folks want to be able to get to the information they need quickly and digitally, but they also want to have the print available to them. Not a lot of people want to read a whole book on-screen - and if you're reading in bed at night, holding up a laptop can get pretty tiring (though the last Harry Potter hardback book weighed almost as much as a laptop).

2) Even though we provide digital resources online, and also used to ship print material to Sun employees wherever they were, people still continued to come into the library space.

This second piece is most intriguing. If you don't have to come to the library, if you can get what you need online, why would you come into the library?

Because it is a "space" with a meaning - a space that represents and encourages thought, research and inspiration. The library space is a separation from work space - you're away from your phone and email, you're surrounded by information, and it's very attractive to be there and know you've got the time and space to really dig into information. You can search for specific things, but you can also stumble upon information you didn't know existed - sometimes information that's key to what you're doing. For those of us who used the library in university or college, it's also reminiscent of the kind of deep research and thinking that we did there.

At the same time, it can be a social setting - a place to meet your colleagues, to work together in an information-filled space, to collaborate and generate ideas, to get things done. It's a place to run into someone you haven't seen in a while and reconnect, and it's a place to meet new people who are interested in the same work you're doing. It's a place to make connections - people to information, people to people, and information to information.

These characteristics - the library as an inspirational place, and as a meeting place - make library spaces unique, and those unique qualities will never entirely be replicated by a Google search.

But as more social networking and Web 2.0 tools come online, they begin to create an interesting challenge and opportunity: how do we create these kinds of virtual "spaces", where there is the combination of the serendipity of discovery, the atmosphere of research, and the social interaction components?

The Digital Libraries & Research team has always looked to new technologies coming online to address this kind of opportunity. That's why we're looking into opportunites for providing information and information consulting through Second Life, actively using wikis, blogs and tags, and continuing to look at new tools (like and other social networking tools) to bring new "library" experiences to life, for all the Sun Learning Services audiences: employees, partners, customers and community.

Next post, I'll talk about the importance of findability.

Scott Brown
Digital Libraries & Research
Sun Learning Services

Monday Feb 26, 2007

Access to books before they are published - Really?

Because I work in a fast-paced, high tech environment, frequently there are moments when I need information that's not easily or readily available, usually because it hasn't yet been published. So when Safari launched its Rough Cuts, I knew that this new publishing approach was going to be just what I needed.

Now I - and all Sun employees - have before-it's-published access to Safari's leading authors' books. Rough Cuts are an author's manuscript, still in draft form. The author not only wants people to read the pre-published manuscript, but is also loking for insights, comments, and critiques.

Sun employees can now view Rough Cuts titles online. Just click Add to put the title in your Favorites. The title will be updated as the author and technical reviewers make changes and you'll see new versions as they're created. Once the manuscript is published, it will be added to the regular Safari Library as a book.


\* Select Rough Cuts in the Quick Links drop down (once you are logged in)
\* Search for Rough Cuts by searching in the TITLE field
\* Provide input to authors by creating a PUBLIC NOTE (everyone can see these notes)

Check it out! Learn and stay competitive by having early access to quality technical information.

For employees, go to Digital Libraries & Research from the SunWeb KeyLinks drop down.

For non Sun employees who are interested in Safari and Safari Rough Cuts - you can check their public website and Rough Cuts site.


Monday Jan 29, 2007

Is it right? Is it reliable?

CNET News recently published an article entitled Most reliable search tool could be your librarian (which, of course, has been a great uplift to many of the librarians you know). I've blogged previously on the ways librarians could improve Google. However, this article brings a different spin to the conversation.

The author of the article states, "While the Web is good for offering quick results from a broad range of sources, which may or may not be trustworthy, librarians can help people get access to more authoritative information and go deeper with their research." I touched on this previously, but let's expand on this topic.

Google is great for the quick data point - and for finding the latest theories on the Lost TV series. But what if you need some really critical information, like market share in the server space? What if you have to present to executives and you need your information to be not only correct but reliable?

Sure, you could do a Google search and see what comes up. You can even get to press releases and articles telling you what the top market research vendors are reporting.

But what if you need the source - the full information from true authorities? How do you know what's available and what's reliable?

That is where librarians - your information professionals - who are highly skilled - can bring real value to your information search. We can locate the information, and we can point you to the most reliable and trusted sources for the information. For the example above, you can find market share information for servers from IDC and Gartner, the top two IT market research firms, on our internal Numbers Clearinghouse (Sun employees, check out our main site for links to this resource). Basically, the best information, available from the most reliable resources.

Would you be able to get those exact market share numbers - not only for Sun, but for IBM, HP and other competitors - from a Google search? No way. If, by some chance, you happened to find the IDC or Gartner site, you'll be required pay many thousands of dollars to access the information. If you know to go through Sun's Digital Libraries & Research portal (again, Sun employees, check this out), you not only get access to the information, but the information's already been funded by Sun. You win, and Sun wins - because you're leveraging the information already purchased.

Of course, the information isn't always so easy to find, even for librarians (believe it or not). Across the board, librarians are finding that search engines have reduced the number of questions they receive. However, the complexity of the questions is increasing. In some cases, the information may simply not be out there in published format.

Our goal within the Digital Libraries & Research group, Sun Learning Services, is to enable Sun employees to spend less time looking for information so they can move more quickly from searching to executing - with the most complete, reliable information available.

Got questions? Sun employees - check out our main site, under Key Links from the SunWeb page.

Not a Sun employee? Check with your organization's information experts!


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