The mobile version of MedlinePlus that was released by the National Library of Medicine last week is an elegant example of what I’ve been talking about in recents posts on libraries making their sites mobile-friendly. Mobile is a great opportunity for libraries because the overriding consideration in creating a mobile-friendly site is SIMPLE Design — Eliminate everything but the bare essentials of the information being communicated — I think NLM has done an excellent job of this with Mobile MedlinePlus. What I especially like is the efficient use of screen space, as shown in the screenshots below — In going from portrait to landscape view, the text and picture grow larger to fit the screen (and the transition between views is very smooth, which can only be appreciated using a real device). … Simple mobile-friendly design like this comes naturally, I think, to librarians. So what are we waiting for?

Malaria – Top with Picture

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Malaria – Text

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Fifth Disease – Top with Picture

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Fifth Disease – Text

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Piercing & Tattoos -  Top with Picture

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Last evening, one day after the tragic earthquake in Haiti, I searched on my iPod Touch for mobile-friendly picture galleries of the quake, using Google Web, G-News, G-Images, and G-Blogs. I found a few traditional news sources with picture galleries (e.g. BBC, CNN), but they were not optimized for mobile, and were difficult/impossible on an iTouch (CNN employs Flash, so it’s unusable). Global Toronto, the second example below, is typical of the appearance of the traditional news sites. The Big Picture, in the third example below, does do a good job with mobile-friendly pictures, but like the Hyderabad News that’s in the first example, the Big Picture is a unique hybrid of traditional news and new,shifted media.

I had been noticing recently how good a job WordPress blogs often do with pictures. They’re especially notable because they adjust very smoothly to portrait-landscape change, resizing the picture to use screen space efficiently. So it wasn’t too surprising to find WordPress sites in my Haiti quake search. The top example below is from the Hyderabad (India) News, which seems to be a news-blog hybrid (definitely not a traditional news source, which is what I’m referring to in the title of this article). It displays pictures with smooth elegance, in typical WordPress fashion. Another WordPress source I found is the environmental blog feww.wordpress.com, which has just a few pictures, which do look good on an iTouch.

Hyderabad (India) News

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Global Toronto

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The Big Picture from Boston.com

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Marginalia — writing notes in the margins of books and other forms of user annotation — has seemed like an interesting idea that might be applied in eBooks. So I keep an eye out for examples of it in print books, and came across a new field recently — Devoted Bible readers, who, of course, make many notes and annotations of all kinds. The first one below is called a “wide margin Bible” and the second is a “journaling Bible.” …

Here’s one you can buy

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And from Flickr user J. Mark Bertrand

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

I’ve blogged before about the almost universally negative opinion of Google Books on the blogosphere/twittersphere — I found another notable example last week. On Dec 14, there appeared in NY Times a 12 paragraph article France to Digitize Its Own Literary Works, about President Sarkozy pledging $1.1 billion for book scanning. The article mentions that there has been animosity on the part of Sarkozy toward Google, but doesn’t dwell on this.

In paragraphs 5 and 6, Bruno Racine, president of the National Library, who was interviewed by phone for the article, says the project might be done in partnership with Google. I’ve followed the GBS-France story enough in the last several months that this struck me as surprising. I came across the story on Dec 17, 3 days after it was published, so that there were many links to it on Twitter –Searching in Twitter by its title I found 103 tweets — But surprisingly, only 8 of these mentioned Google. And most of these 8 tweets that did mention Google used terms like “slap at Google … in response to Google uproar … in competition with Google.” One Tweeter — @platformlead – to her credit! – did say “… with Google?”

What’s going on people! Surely more than one of the 103 people who tweeted this article must have seen the mention of a possible partnership with Google. Makes me think people see what they’re looking for. There’s been so much talk about French negativity toward GBS that maybe people just DON’T NOTICE something that shows another side.

Library Journal, to their credit, in this Dec 15 article reporting on the NYT article, did make prominent note in subtitle : “Google might still be a partner, says head of national library” …

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Surely someone will notice this in Twitter, I think. But, no, the same blindness continues — Searching in Twitter for the title of this article, I find that only seven people tweeted it. And only one @bcbiupr, mentioned the possible partnership with Google.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

My son, Brian Rumsey, studies History in Mississippi.This is an interest of mine also, so I read along with him on some of his books. We’ve been having a running discussion on the revival of narrative history writing, as discussed by Lawrence Stone, who relates it to the idea of “thick description.” More less unconsciously, I think, as this idea  has percolated in my mind, it has become “thick history” instead of “thick description.”

These ideas were bouncing around in my mind when I visited Brian recently at Mississippi State, where he studies, and especially when we got a kind invitation from a fellow grad student to share Thanksgiving dinner with his extended family. The gracious Southern hospitality we enjoyed there was the highlight of our trip, in many ways – Story-telling, food, and much more. Of course, I couldn’t resist making a connection — This is history at its thickest! The rich dimensions of a Southern family! This made me realize that my conception of “thick history” is much like family history — It’s history that takes in all “members of the family” — all dimensions, all of the context of the story. History that values the STORY, and follows it wherever it goes, without trying to fit it into an ideological framework.

As I continued to cogitate on the idea of “thick history,” of course, I turned to Google — Searching in Google Web and Google Books, I find that I’m certainly not the first one to coin the term — It’s been used especially in discussions of Keynesian economics, but also in religion and sociology.

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So I poke around more, and explore the idea that “thick history” resonates with “family” — I don’t find much in Google Web search, but then I turn to GBS and — Bingo! — Searching GBS for thick history” family, I find just what I’ve been imagining — Number two is The Genetic Strand, with the passage “DNA measures thick history …” This book, by Edward Ball — is “the story of a writer’s investigation, using DNA science, into the tale of his family’s origins.” — with his Southern family being centered in Charleston, South Carolina.

No earth-shattering find, admittedly, but a neat little trick nonetheless — Using GBS to make a surprising connection between history and biology that would have been impossible without it. The sort of connection that I’m sure makes GBS invaluable for real historians, enabling them to see history in completely new ways.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

The recent controversy about the Google Book Search Settlement seems to have taken up peoples’ Google-watching attention so much that advances in the way GBS actually works have been getting overlooked. Several notable improvements were made during the summer, for example, that got very little recognition. Another change that seems to have gotten little recognition is that Google web searches have begun to include links to books in GBS in the last 1-2 years (as in the example at left). Particularly in searching for historical topics, I’ve been seeing searches recently in which the majority of the first 10 hits are from GBS — A great advance, I think, for historical research. Up to now, my experience has been that history has been a fairly weak subject on the Web — Locked away in books, not on Web pages.

I had occasion to take advantage of the newly accessible books from GBS recently, when I was least expecting it, while having a discussion with my son David, who’s a long-distance runner, about track runners of the past at the University of Iowa. I remembered that one particular runner on the team, Ted Wheeler, ran on the US Olympic team in the 1950′s, and that he later went on to become the coach for the UI track team (I especially knew about him because while he was the coach he married Sheila Creth, the University Librarian at the University of Iowa Libraries, where I work). David knew that Wheeler had been in the Olympics, and thought that he had been an assistant coach at Iowa, rather than the head coach. So … of course I turned to Google to settle the “discussion.” It turned out to be a surprisingly difficult search. I assumed that it would be fairly easy to find records of recent track coaches at a large, Big Ten program like Iowa. But it wasn’t — I tried several search terms without success before — Bingo! — I finally hit upon the combination that turned up the page shown here, establishing that Wheeler was, indeed, the UI track coach from 1978 to 1996 — with the added benefit of a great picture!

The point of this little story: I think integrating GBS links into Google web search is a great advance, and deserves more attention. As I said above, there’s been so much negative press for Google in recent discussions of the Settlement that everything they do is interpreted negatively — I saw a link in the last couple of weeks, that I unfortunately didn’t keep track of, decrying Google’s putting GBS links in Web search results because someone thought Google was trying to unfairly boost their own content. Really?? I think there’s such a treasure in old books that the world will benefit from Google’s making them more accessible. There are questions, certainly, about the algorithm used by Google to determine which books are included in Web search results, and I hope Google will say more about that. But it’s not only Google that’s saying little on the subject — I haven’t seen much discussion at all by anybody on the integration of GBS books in Google web search results –  If anyone can find it, please add a comment or contact me by Twitter or Email.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Searching for talk on Google Books and the Settlement since Judge Denny Chin delayed the decision on October 7, I’ve been finding very little — What had been a stream of chatter in Twitter searches has turned into a trickle. I found a little example reflecting this today that I think is worth recording — The first seven hits in a Twitter search for #GBS, going back a day, are in German. … You can pretty much tell when NO ONE in the US is talking about a subject when you search in Twitter and find that the last day’s tweets are NOT IN ENGLISH! … I’d predict that in a couple of weeks there WILL be a bit of discussion in English!

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Many possible takes on this picture. What comes to my mind first is the idea of the Attention Economy –The idea that in the days of the traditional library, before the Internet, information was a limited resource. Libraries could afford to work under the assumption that “we’ve got the good stuff, and our users have to to come to us to get it.” There was little motivation to improve overly-complicated search interfaces like the picture on the right above, because users had no choice. In the new environment of the Internet, however, the limiting factor is not information, but attention. The problem of users now is not finding information, but being flooded by too much information. In this environment, users naturally gravitate to the easiest information to find, which, of course, Apple, Google et al are glad to provide.

Another take on this is the high cost of Simplicity –The simple interfaces of Apple and Google are just the tip of the iceberg, built upon the costly labor of armies of engineers. Libraries just can’t afford to compete with this sort of juggernaut. Personally, I consider myself lucky, as a librarian, to be working in a medical library — Medical libraries have a long history of generous federal support, in the interests of the country’s health, which has enabled the creation of tools to streamline access to medical information, from Index Medicus to PubMed. For libraries generally, however, it’s still hard to compete with the resources of dotcom information providers. To end on a hopeful note — It’s encouraging to see that libraries are increasingly realizing the importance of providing Google-like interfaces for their catalogs, to gain back the attention from users that they’ve lost in recent few years.

The picture above, and the title of this post, are adapted from an article by Scott Monty — Thanks!

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey