Top Tech Trends for ALA Annual, Summer 2009

This is a list of Top Tech Trends for the ALA Annual Meeting, Summer 2009.

Green computing

The amount of computing that gets done on our planet has a measurable carbon footprint, and many of us, myself included, do not know exactly how much heat our computers put off and how much energy they consume. With the help from some folks from the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Research Computing, I learned my laptop computer spikes at 30 watts on boot, slows down to 20 watts during normal use, idles at 2 watts during sleep, and zooms up to 34 watts when the screen saver kicks in. Just think how much energy and heat your computer consumes and generates while waiting for the nightly update from your systems department. But realistically, it is our servers that make the biggest impact, and while energy consumption is one way to be more green, another is to figure out ways to harness the heat the computers generate. One trend is to put computers in places that need to be heated up, like green houses in the winter. Another idea is to put them in places where cool air is exhausted, like building ventilation ducks. What can you do? Turn your computer off when it is not in use since the computer electronics and such are not as sensitive to power on, power off cycles as they used to be.

“Digital Humanities”

There seems to be a growing number of humanities scholars who understand that computers can be applied to their research. See the Digital Humanities Manifesto as an example. With the advent of all the electronic texts being made available, it is not possible to read each and every text individually. In an effort to analyze large copra more quickly, people can create word clouds against these documents to summarize them. They can extract the statistically significant words and phrases to determine their “aboutness”. They can easily compute Fog, Flesch, and Flesch-Kincaid scores denoting the complexity of documents. (“Remember, ‘Why Johnny can’t read’?”) These people understand that humanities scholarship is not necessarily done in isolation, and the codex is not necessarily the medium of the day. They understand the advantages of open access publishing. For our profession, it is difficult to overstate the number of opportunities this trend affords librarianship. Anybody can find information. What people need now are tools to make information easier to analyze and use.

Tweeting with Twitter

Microblogging (think Twitter) is definitely hot. In some situations it can be a really useful application of computer technology. Frankly, I think the fascination will wear off and its functionality will become similar to the use of cellphone photographs at news-breaking events. Tweet, tweet, tweet.

Discovery interfaces and mega-indexes

If I were to pick the hottest trend in library technology, it would be fledgling implementation of large, all-encompassing indexes of journal and book content — integrating mega-indexes into the “discovery” interface. This is exemplified by Serials Solutions’ Summa, hinted at by an OCLC/EBSCO collaboration, and thought about by other library vendors. Google Scholar comes close but could benefit by adding more complete bibliographic data of books. OAIster worked for OAI-accessible content but needed to be indexed with a less proprietary tool. The folks at Index Data created something similar and included additional content, but the idea never seemed to catch on. Federated (broadcast) search tried and has yet to fulfill the promise. The driver behind this idea is the knowledge that many data silos don’t meet the needs of our users. Instead people want one box, one button, and one data set. Combine journal bibliographic data with book bibliographic data into a single index (not database). Sort search results by relevance. Provide a set of time-saving services against the result. In order for this technological technique to work each data set must be normalized into a single data structure and indexed (probably with an open source indexer called Lucene). In other words, there will be a large set of core elements such a title, author, note, subject, etc. All bibliographic data from all sets will be mapped to these fields and what doesn’t fall neatly into any one of them will be mapped to free text fields. Not perfect, not 100 percent, but hugely functional, and it meets user’s expectations. To see how this can be done with the volumes and volumes of medically-related open access content see the good work done by OpenPHIand their HealthLibrarian.