Data. The final frontier.
RSS icon Home icon
  • Old library, new library

    Posted on December 29th, 2009 Lukas Koster 5 comments

    Teylers museum library © Dymphie

    On Sunday December 27, 2009 I was in the opportunity to visit the, otherwise closed, library of The Netherlands’ oldest museum Teylers museum in my home town Haarlem, together with a small group of Dutch library twitter people. We were very kindly shown around by librarian Marijn van Hoorn, who explained to us the library’s history and collection.

    Now I’m not going to say something about the pleasant real life consequences of getting to know people in the virtual world (that has been done by @PeterMEvers already, in Dutch), or about the guided tour (already described very well by @underdutchskies in English and by @festinaatje and @ecobibl in Dutch). Also, none of the photos I made with my G1 phone are presentable; but you can have a look at the photos made by @Dymphie, @underdutchskies and @wbk500).

    Instead, I will try to make a comparison between the old library’s course of life and the developments that modern libraries are going through, because I see some parallels there.

    The museum was built in 1784 with money from the legacy of the wealthy banker and merchant Pieter Teyler van der Hulst, to preserve his collections and advance the arts and sciences. The museum’s library was established in 1826 to house a separate collection of books and journals in the field of natural history (botany, zoology, paleontology and geology).

    One of the objectives for the library was to have a complete collection of all journals in the area of natural history. In the beginning the library was only accessible by invitation, and the honoured guests were welcomed and assisted by the “caretaker” or “landlord” of the museum.
    By the middle of the 19th century the library opened up to a more general public, that is to say teaching and research staff members of the emerging universities.
    But from 1870 the importance of the Teylers library for university staff declined drastically, because the universities in The Netherlands started to organise academic libraries of their own. So the library closed its doors for regular visitors. The collection continued to be maintained and expanded until 1987, when it was no longer realistic to pursue completeness.
    During the 1970’s the privately funded museum and library faced the threat of closing down because of the cost of preserving the historical buildings and collections. In the written library catalog (created over time by a large number of volunteers and employees) all items were annotated with an estimated value in case of forced sale of the collection.

    Teylers library catalog © Dymphie

    Fortunately the Dutch state decided to subsidise the historically and culturally valuable museum, and now Teylers is a very popular place, with a new wing with a large hall for temporary exhibitions, an educational section and a cafe.
    The museum library is only open for visitors on request and on special occasions. The collection is not expanded anymore, but it is a very complete and valuable historical natural history collection, which is, among other things, used to organise temporary thematic exhibitions in the museum. Besides the natural history items there are also old maps and atlases and travel journals, like the James Cook journals by Sydney Parkinson that @jaapvandegeer drew my attention to.
    The museum and the library are also looking to the future. Both museum objects and library items are being digitised, there is a European project for creating a website on ornithology that uses the library’s birds images, there is a new thematic website that combines documents, images, metadata from the museum, the library and external sources, the library catalog has been migrated to an Adlib system, and there is a Ning social network.

    So, what are the parallels with modern libraries? First of all, it is clear that the influence of external developments on libraries is not something that is limited to the modern digital web age of Google. Just like Teylers library, modern public, academic and special libraries were at first targeted at a limited, well defined audience, and only accessible on location on specific times, after which their target audience and accessibility widened substantially. Catalogs and varying parts of the collection are available online to a global audience.
    The external influence from competing university libraries is currently mirrored by the world wide web itself, with Google as one of the main external threats. I have written about this in my post “No future for libraries?“.
    The two important issues here are: the effects on modern library collections and audience. Teylers library decided to stop building its own collection, but they keep using it in a number of ways: temporary physical thematic exhibitions, but also in new digital “mashed up” ways. This might be a good example for modern libraries to follow: make use of modern technologies to reuse existing collections to create virtual online thematic aggregations of data, texts, images, etc. See also my post “Collection 2.0“.
    As for modern libraries’ response to changing audiences: proceeding with new ways of using their collections will draw new customers anyway. But it is equally important to find other ways to “go where your users are”, like being on social networks like the Teylers Ning site. One of the most important moves in the near future will be mobile presence.

    Teylers library shows us that there may be a new life for old libraries.

  • ReTweet @Reply – Twitter communities

    Posted on April 27th, 2009 Lukas Koster 1 comment


    In my post “Tweeting Libraries” among other things I described my Personal Twitter experience as opposed to Institutional Twitter use. Since then I have discovered some new developments in my own Twitter behaviour and some trends in Twitter at large: individual versus social.

    There have been some discussions on the web about the pros and cons and the benefits and dangers of social networking tools like Twitter, focusing on “noise” (uninteresting trivial announcements) versus “signal” (meaningful content), but also on the risk of web 2.0 being about digital feudalism, and being a possible vehicle for fascism (as argumented by Andrew Keen).

    My kids say: “Twitter is for old people who think they’re cool“. According to them it’s nothing more than : “Just woke up; SEND”, “Having breakfast; SEND”; “Drinking coffee; SEND”; “Writing tweet; SEND”. For them Twitter is only about broadcasting trivialities, narcissistic exhibitionism, “noise”.
    For their own web communications they use chat (MSN/Messenger), SMS (mobile phone text messages), communities (Hyves, the Dutch counterpart of MySpace) and email. Basically I think young kids communicate online only within their groups of friends, with people they know.

    Just to get an overview: a tweet, or Twitter message, can basically be of three different types:

    • just plain messages, announcements
    • replies: reactions to tweets from others, characterised by the “@<twittername>” string
    • retweets: forwarding tweets from others, characterised by the letters “RT

    Although a lot of people use Twitter in the “exhibitionist” way, I don’t do that myself at all. If I look at my Twitter behaviour of the past weeks, I almost only see “retweets” and “replies”.

    Both “replies” and “retweets” obviously were not features of the original Twitter concept, they came into being because Twitter users needed conversation.
    A reply is becoming more and more a replacement for short emails or mobile phone text messages, at least for me. These Twitter replies are not “monologues”, but “dialogues”. If you don’t want everybody to read these, you can use a “Direct message” or “DM“.
    Retweets are used to forward interesting messages to the people who are following you, your “community” so to speak. No monologue, no dialogue, but sharing information with specific groups.
    The “@<twittername>” mechanism is also used to refer to another Twitter user in a tweet. In official Twitter terminology “replies” have been replaced by “mentions“.

    Retweets and replies are the building blocks of Twitter communities. My primary community consists of people and organisations related to libraries. Just a small number of these people I actually know in person. Most of them I have never met. The advantage of Twitter here is obvious: I get to know more people who are active in my professional area, I stay informed and up to date, I can discuss topics. This is all about “signal”. If issues are too big for twitter (more than 140 characters) we can use our blogs.
    But it’s not only retweets and replies that make Twitter communities work. Trivialities (“noise”) are equally important. They make you get to know people and in this way help create relationships built on trust.

    Another compelling example of a very positive social use of Twitter I experienced last week, when there were a number of very interesting Library 2.0 conferences, none of which I could attend in person because of our ILS project:

    All of these conferences were covered on Twitter by attendees using the hashtags #elag09, #csnr09 and #ugul09 . This phenomenon makes it possible for non-participants to follow all events and discussions at these conferences and even join in the discussions. Twitter at its best!

    Twitter is just a tool, a means to communicate in many different ways. It can be used for good and for bad, and of course what is “good” and what is “bad” is up to the individual to decide.

  • Tweeting libraries

    Posted on March 30th, 2009 Lukas Koster 4 comments

    Should libraries use Twitter ? Some web2.0 librarians think so, other people say it’s just a childish hype. Alice de Jong of the Peace Palace Library in The Hague wrote an article recently in the Dutch magazine Informatieprofessional (in Dutch), saying libraries should use Twitter as a means of quick and direct communication with their patrons. The Peace Palace Library uses Twitter as an automatic newsfeed .

    Library of Congress Twitter

    An interesting question is: how can an in essence exhibitionist individual social networking tool be used in an institutional way?

    What is Twitter anyway?
    Wikipedia says: “Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read other users’ updates known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 bytes in length.” Basically a Twitter user broadcasts short messages to the web. Everybody can read these through that user’s personal Twitter page, or via an RSS feed on that page. Twitter users can subscribe to other Twitter users’ tweets by “following” them. In that case all followed tweets appear in their own Twitter stream. Twitter users can also reply to other tweets; this way it becomes a social networking environment. Tweets and replies are public, but there is also the option of “Direct messages”, that are private.
    Twitter can be used via the Twitter website, or applications on mobile phones (Like Twitterfon ), on PC’s (like Tweetdeck ), or through widgets in other websites, like TwitterGadget in iGoogle .

    Personal Twitter
    Exhibitionism: that’s what Twitter originally is of course. Twitter asks “What are you doing?”. You simply tell the whole world (or world wide web at least) what you’re up to. A symptom of the egocentricity of this decade.
    But somehow egocentric exhibitionism turned into professional cooperation and friendly conversation.

    I first heard of Twitter at ELAG2008, less than a year ago. Besides the tag to be used for blog posts about the conference, there was also an announcement for a Twitter hashtag to be used. (And this at a conference where social tagging was promoted against controlled vocabularies!). There were a number of library bloggers there, who were also on Twitter: digicmb, Wowter, PatrickD.

    Since then I started tweeting too, but I did not use it much until September 2008. Somehow I really took off in February 2009, as can be seen in my TweetStats page.

    Most people I follow or who are following me, are library people. Most of these also blog. So there is a kind of library2.0 community on Twitter, like there are all kinds of communities there. Some of my Twitter friends I know personally, I have met them, talked to them. Others I have only met on Twitter, but we do have agreeable, both professional and social talks. Remarkable: one of these Twitter friends I have never met “in the flesh”, is a colleague at the University of Amsterdam, but she works in the Medical Library, a long way from where I work.

    My subjects on Twitter:

    • football (soccer)
    • what I am watching on TV – music
    • what happens to me
    • politics
    • news

    but also:

    • metadata issues
    • day to day work issues
    • my IGeLU stuff
    • interesting blog posts
    • my new blog posts (like this one!)
    • interesting websites
    • library 2.0 news

    Twitter is also the “largest virtual expert helpdesk”, as digicmb recently experienced.

    My personal Twitter experience is like having chats and discussions with colleagues at work, or with friends in a bar, but with a much larger group; or attending some library systems conference, with professional discussions, and also with social events, but then a continuous, intermittent one, and without travelling.

    Institutional Twitter
    Now, how can an organisation, and in particular a library, use a tool, or rather a community, like Twitter for its own benefit?

    Twitter has been around for three years, but it is growing incredibly fast. In The Netherlands politicians use Twitter, like our Foreign Secretary. Well known people in all areas are on Twitter, example: British writer Ben Okri started publishing his new poem “I Sing a New Freedom” on Twitter, one line a day. Newspapers write about it, popular TV shows talk about it.
    So clearly, there is an ever growing audience. Libraries, as other organisations, should contact their audience where their audience is, so Twitter is another channel for communication.

    Organisations can use Twitter as an alternative for news items on websites, RSS feeds, blogs, etc. But is there an advantage in using Twitter instead of other web2.0 channels? I am not sure. Just like surfing to websites and subscribing to RSS feeds, people have to actively start “following” an institutional Twitter account. Organisations, libraries need to actively promote their Twitter channel for it to be a success. But they also need to actively maintain their Twitter channel, just like all other web2.0 activities, otherwise it will just fade away, as Meredith Farkas notices in her blog post “It’s not all about the tech – why 2.0 tech fails“.

    One advantage of using Twitter in libraries is the fact that it is getting beyond a hype. It will be one of the main channels of communication on the web.

    Another one might be the interactive possibilities of Twitter. Institutional use of Twitter is mostly one way traffic, a broadcast to whoever wants to “follow”, as opposed to personal Twitter. See for instance the Library of Congress and the Peace Palace Library.
    But as Alice de Jong points out, a number of libraries are choosing the “personal approach”. The tweeting librarian really communicates with patrons in order to promote closer contact between libaries and patrons.
    This approach might also be a replacement for current libary chat services.

    Personal institutional Twitter accounts could also be used as a means of representing the library as actual recognisable people, as has been promoted recently on a number of occasions. Patrons then will know library staff as experts in certain fields, instead of facing an anonymous organisation.

    Conclusion: yes, libraries should use Twitter, as long as they can get a reasonable “following”, and have an official policy and staff dedicated to maintaining it.

  • Social networking high and low of the year

    Posted on December 16th, 2008 Lukas Koster 1 comment

    Last month the Dutch Advisory Committee on Library Innovation published its report “Innovation with Effect“. The report was commissioned by the Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science, the charge was to draw up a plan for library innovation for the period 2009-2012 including a number of required conditions. Priorities that had to be addressed were: provision of digital services, collection policy, marketing, HRM.
    The recommendations of the committee are classified in three main areas or “programmatic lines” under a more or less central direction and/or coordination:

    • Digital infrastructure (such as: one common information architecture, connection to nationwide and global information infrastructure, one national identity management system)
    • Innovation of digital services and products
    • Policy innovation

    Interesting report, but that is not what I want to point out here. What is very exciting: in the list of consulted sources, amidst official reports and publications, appears the social information professionals network Bibliotheek 2.0, the Dutch equivalent of This aroused much enthusiasm among the members of the Dutch library blogosphere.
    The Committee’s chairperson Josje Calff, deputy director of Leiden University Library, had started a discussion on the topic “One public library catalogue?” in this community, to which I am proud to say I also made a small contribution. The results of this discussion have been used by the committee in formulating their recommendations.

    In striking contrast to this success for web 2.0 social networking, there was a lot of outrage in the same Dutch library blogosphere last week about the ban of The Netherlands most popular social network Hyves and YouTube from one of the countries institutes for professional and adult education, reported on by one of its employees (in Dutch). Because of all the protests the school’s management is currently reconsidering their position and a new decision will be made beginning of 2009. Probably YouTube will continue to be permitted, because it is heavily used as a source of information in the lessons.

  • Antisocial Networking

    Posted on November 2nd, 2008 Lukas Koster 2 comments

    In his post “Twitter me thisOwen Stephens writes about differences in use and audience of Social Networking Sites. (Apparently at Imperial College London they had a similar kind of Web2.0 Learning programme as we had at the Library of the University of Amsterdam.)
    Owen distinguishes audiences on several, intermixed levels (my interpretation): “young” (e.g. MySpace ) vs. “old(er)” (e.g. Facebook ); “business/networking” (e.g. LinkedIn ) vs. “family and friends” (also FaceBook); “professional” (e.g. Ning ).

    And Owen mentions the risk involved here:

    I do find that Facebook raises the issue of how I mix my professional and personal life – whereas on LinkedIn everyone is one there as a ‘professional contact’ (even those people who are also friends), in Facebook I have some professional contacts, and some personal contacts. Although it hasn’t happened yet, there is a clearly a risk that in the future there could be a conflict between how I want to present myself professionally, and how I do personally – I’m not sure I’d want my boss (not singling out my current boss) to be my ‘Friend’ on Facebook.

    I recognise these differences and risks as well. In The Netherlands the most popular social networking site is Hyves, which can be compared to MySpace (according to my interpretation of Owen’s classification), but without the music angle. I have an account there, with only 13 “friends”, but my kids have 100 or more.

    On LinkedIn however, I have 80 connections (a term used to stress that these contacts are to be regarded as serious business relations), of which 99% I have met face-to-face at least once, by the way. Owen says about LinkedIn:

    “I’ve got a LinkedIn account but I don’t tend to use it for ‘social networking’, and more really as a ‘contacts’ list – while some people clearly use LinkedIn to ‘work’ their business contacts, I can’t say that I’ve ever been terribly good at this.”

    I guess I am using LinkedIn the same way as Owen does. Last week I had a discussion with a colleague/friend (!) about the use of these business networking sites like LinkedIn. We concluded that a number of people obviously use LinkedIn to show off: “Look, I have more than 300 connections on my list; mine is bigger than yours“. I must confess that I have thoughts like that myself sometimes: “I hope that this colleague has noticed that I know that famous person“….

    Now these “serious” business networks are starting to offer more social features. LinkedIn has groups, forums and “LinkedIn Applications”: integrating web 2.0 stuff like Amazon reading list, Slideshare, WordPress. In fact, this very blog post will show up on my LinkedIn Profile.

    I guess there is a lot of competition, for instance with Plaxo. Besides “connections”, which can be marked “business”, “friends” or “family”, Plaxo offers the options of “hooking up feeds” from web 2.0 services that you use, like flickr, delicious, twitter, blogs, youtube, lastfm, etc. I find this a very useful feature, because it gives me an integrated overview of all my web2.0 streams, much like SecondBrain does, which has a slightly different “connection” implementation, more like Twitter, with “followers”.
    Plaxo lets you also synchronise connections with LinkedIn, but this is a “Premium service”, meaning it costs money.

    Now, to come back to Owen’s risk assessment: in my Plaxo profile I show my professional blog (this one, that you are reading right now) to “Everyone”, but my twitter, personal blog, flickr, delicious, picasa and lastfm streams only to “Friends” and “Family”, because I think I should not draw unnecessary attention to my twitter “trivia” (as Owen calls it), holiday snapshots and non-professional bookmarks. These streams are publicly available of course, but I do not want to actually push them in the faces of my “serious” connections.

    You might argue that this kind of behaviour is not “social“, but rather “antisocial“: certain groups of contacts are excluded from information that privileged groups do have access to. And this term could also be applied to the “showing off” behaviour that I mentioned above.

    The funny thing is, that the “killer application” that won me over to Plaxo and that I use the most, is not social at all: it’s something that I have been looking for since playing around with web 1.0 “Personal Information Managers”: the option of integrating and synchronising the Plaxo Calendar with my Outlook work calendar and my private Google calendar. For me this is a huge advantage to having to consult several calendars when planning an appointment.
    But I do not share my Plaxo Calendar at all. Would you call this antisocial behaviour too?