A few excerpts from Clive Thompson’s interesting thoughts on digitization last week:

Books are the last bastion of the old business model—the only major medium that still hasn’t embraced the digital age. … Literary pundits are fretting: Can books survive in this Facebooked, ADD, multichannel universe? … To which I reply: Sure they can. But only if publishers … stop thinking about the future of publishing and think instead about the future of reading. … Every other form of media that’s gone digital has been transformed by its audience. … The only reason the same thing doesn’t happen to books is that they’re locked into ink on paper. … Release them, and you release the crowd.

Thompson says that “the crowd” of readers is already at work transforming even print books. He reports on research done by e-Book researcher Cathy Marshall on students buying used textbooks — She has found that they examine books in the bookstore to find ones that have notes by previous readers — high-lighting and handwritten notes on the pages — and they prefer the ones that they judge to have the “smartest” notes. This rudimentary utilization of “the crowd,” says Thompson, is really nothing new: “Books have a centuries-old tradition of annotation and commentary, ranging from the Talmud and scholarly criticism to book clubs and marginalia.” Thompson cites current digital examples of the transformative use of the crowd:

BookGlutton, a site that launched last year, has put 1,660 books online and created tools that let readers form groups to discuss their favorite titles. Meanwhile, Bob Stein, an e-publishing veteran from the CD-ROM days, put the Doris Lessing book The Golden Notebook online with an elegant commenting system and hired seven writers to collaboratively read it.

Thompson closes with this: “Books have been held hostage offline for far too long. Taking them digital will unlock their real hidden value: the readers.”

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumseytemp

Just as Google Wave was announced yesterday, I was thinking of writing about the usefulness of the pictures that accompany results in Twitter Search, giving a good immediate overview of search results. I find this especially valuable in searching for Twitter users, to see how connected they are — It’s easy to see at a glance if most of the tweets listed are by the person being searched. So now Google Wave takes the idea a step further, with pictures of the people in an email thread. Below: Left: Twitter Search.  Right: Google Wave (from yesterday’s Google demo)

Facebook, of course, has similar pictures in its status updates. It’s interesting to follow how the use of pictures has progressed — In Facebook the status update pictures are relatively small. In Twitter, they grow larger, and now, in Google Wave, there are multiple pictures. This increasing reliance on pictures is smart. With the brain’s highly-developed facial recognition skills, we’re able to take in a large amount of information very quickly.

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumseytemp

Several commentors on my recent article about Salman Rushdie’s imaginative foretelling of the Web have suggested that Rushdie’s vision — of a library made up of the Stream of all Stories ever told — was influenced by Jorge Luis Borges’ story The Library of Babel — which describes the universe as a library containing all books. There certainly is a resemblance, in that both Rushdie and Borges imagine a library of all knowledge. But the nature of the libraries pictured by the two writers is quite different. Borges’ library is very much a print library, made up of physical books. Much of the description of the library (as in the quote below) involves the intricate geometry of the shelves and the exact description of the books in the library.

In Borges’ library, as in the traditional print library, the books sit on the shelf, with no suggestion of their being connected to each other, no sense of movement. Rushdie, on the other hand, imagines a library in which the books flow in a stream — twisting and stretching and weaving in and out of each other. As I’ve discussed in the previous article, Rushdie’s vision resonates with recent discussions of the growing sense of the Web’s Stream-like, flowing nature and also with the coming revolution in libraries, as books are digitized, remaking them into Rushdie’s “fluid form.” The excerpts below give a sense of the different visions of the Library of Rushdie and Borges.

From Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of stories:

[The Ocean of the Stream of Stories is] “made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different color, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity.” Rushdie imagines this Ocean as “the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead but alive.” [See previous article for complete passage and for picture credit.]

From Borges’ The Library of Babel:

“The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors. The distribution of the galleries is invariable. Twenty shelves, five long shelves per side, cover all the sides except two; their height, which is the distance from floor to ceiling, scarcely exceeds that of a normal bookcase. … There are five shelves for each of the hexagon’s walls; each shelf contains thirty-five books of uniform format; each book is of four hundred and ten pages; each page, of forty lines, each line, of some eighty letters which are black in color.” [The picture accompanies the Web version of story, and is not credited; it appears on numerous other sites.]

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumseytemp

In a prophetic passage written in 1990, Salman Rushdie paints a vivid word picture of the Ocean of the Streams of Story that I’ve suggested is an uncanny envisioning of the yet-to-be-created Web. Right now, the evolution of the Web seems to be speeding up, and two recent commentaries, one on the Twitter/Facebook world, and one on Google Book Search, suggest that the Web may be fast growing into the sort of place imagined in Rushdie’s Stream metaphor. I’ve described and excerpted Rushdie’s passage and the two commentaries in other articles, so in this article, I’ll bring the three “streams” together, by excerpting a few lines from each.

Salman Rushdie, describing the Ocean of the Stream of Stories:

It was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different color, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity … it was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead but alive.

Nova Spivack suggests that the new metaphor for the Web will be the Stream:

Something new is emerging … I call it the Stream … The Web has always been a stream of streams. … with the advent of blogs, feeds, and microblogs, the streamlike nature of the Web is becoming more readily visible.

Peter Brantley, writing on Google Book Search, says:

We stride into a world where books are narratives in long winding rivers; drops of thought misting from the sundering thrust of great waterfalls; and seas from which all rivers and rain coalesce, and which carry our sails to continents not yet imagined.

What an interesting story the Web itself is! — The Stream imagined by Rushdie 19 years ago looks like it might finally be flowing together with Spivack’s Stream and Brantley’s long winding river.

Related article:

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumseytemp

Nova Spivack, in his article Is The Stream What Comes After the Web? suggests that the new metaphor for the Web will be the Stream. He says that especially with advent of Twitter and microblogging, the streamlike nature of the Web has become more apparent:

Just as the Web once emerged on top of the Internet, now something new is emerging on top of the Web: I call this the Stream. … The Stream is what the Web is thinking and doing, right now. It’s our collective stream of consciousness. … Perhaps the best example of the Stream is the rise of Twitter and other microblogging systems including the new Facebook. These services are visibly streamlike — they are literally streams of thinking and conversation.

The Web has always been a stream. In fact it has been a stream of streams. … with the advent of blogs, feeds, and microblogs, the streamlike nature of the Web is becoming more readily visible.

The Web is changing faster than ever, and as this happens, it’s becoming more fluid. Sites no longer change in weeks or days, but hours, minutes or even seconds. if we are offline even for a few minutes we may risk falling behind, or even missing something absolutely critical. The transition from a slow Web to a fast-moving Stream is happening quickly. And as this happens we are shifting our attention from the past to the present, and our “now” is getting shorter.

The era of the Web was mostly about the past — pages that were published months, weeks, days or at least hours before we looked for them. … But in the era of the Stream, everything is shifting to the present — we can see new posts as they appear and conversations emerge around them, live, while we watch. … The unit of change is getting more granular. … Our attention is mainly focused on right now: the last few minutes or hours. Anything that was posted before this period of time is “out of sight, out of mind.”

The Web has always been a stream — it has been happening in real-time since it started, but it was slower … Things have also changed qualitatively in recent months. The streamlike aspects of the Web have really moved into the foreground of our mainstream cultural conversation. … And suddenly we’re all finding ourselves glued to various activity streams, microblogging manically … to catch fleeting references to things … as they rapidly flow by and out of view. The Stream has arrived.

Spivack’s vision of the future Web as a Stream resonates with other commentaries, as I’ve discussed in related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumseytemp

When I first read the passage below in Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the sea of stories three years ago, it struck me as a remarkable word picture of my experience of the Web. So of course I went right to Google to see if anyone else had made this connection — My searching, surprisingly, has found little since then, so I’ve thought about writing it up, but it didn’t get done. In the last week, I’ve gotten nudges (discussed below) that tell me this is the time. Here’s Rushdie:

Haroun looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different color, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and [the Water Genie] explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each colored strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead but alive.

Pow! Isn’t this a strikingly clear metaphorical description of the Web Stream that we all swim in every day? My first idea of a title for this article was “Did Salman Rushdie predict the Web?” I decided that was a bit too presumptuous  — But not by much — The passage does indeed verge on prediction. It was written in 1990 — Interestingly, the same year that Tim Berners-Lee “invented” the World Wide Web. It’s tempting to imagine the left-brained engineer (Berners-Lee) and the right-brained artist-seer (Rushdie) both envisioning the future Web in their own ways — Berners-Lee in outlining his Web ideas at CERN, and Rushdie in writing Haroun.

How has this passage and its Webishness gone unnoticed for so many years? Haroun is a story on many levels — Rushdie wrote it for his young son, and it’s often put in the category of “childrens’ literature.” I suspect this is the main reason it hasn’t been read often enough by grown-up Web users for someone to have seen Rushdie’s Stream of the Web metaphor. (Note that Haroun is on a prominent list of the 100 Greatest Novels of All Time)

How about the library connections in the passage? As a librarian, it certainly occurs to me that it could be viewed as being especially about libraries, maybe even seen as a threat to the traditional print library (“storeroom of yarns”). But I think, to the contrary, that Rushdie’s passage does the library world a great service, ushering us into the “liquid tapestry” of the digital Ocean, in which the Stream of “the library” will be able to “weave in and out” with the “thousand thousand and one different currents” outside of the traditional library world. Recent discussions of Google Book Search and orphan books show that the world is eagerly anticipating the stories in libraries being put into “fluid form.” And, in fact, library leader Peter Brantley, in commentary on GBS written in January 2009, talking about the coming age of digital books, uses language reminiscent of Rushdie: “We stride into a world where books are narratives in long winding rivers … and seas from which all rivers and rain coalesce.”

Speaking of the library world — As mentioned, there has been a notable lack of anyone else seeing a connection between the Rushdie passage and the Web. But the closest I’ve seen is in a paper co-authored by an engineer (JH Lienhard) and two librarians (JE Myers, TC Wilson), that was written in 1992, Surfing the Sea of Stories: Riding the Information Revolution (Mechanical Engineering 1992 Oct; 114(10): 60-65). This does an excellent job of connecting the Rushdie passage to the coming digital revolution, as it was seen in 1992, and contains the perceptively-done graphic in this article (above). But of course the full-blown Web was not born until 1995, so this view is limited. (The paper is summarized in the transcript of a radio program about it.)

Nudges for writing about this in the last week: First, In his blog article, Is The Stream What Comes After the Web?, Nova Spivack suggests that the metaphor of The Stream may soon replace The Web. The article doesn’t mention Rushdie, but it has elicited much discussion on Twitter, and someone would surely make the connection soon. Spivack does mention Twitter, saying that it and other microblogging systems are “the best example of the Stream,” which is related to the other nudge I’ve gotten, a blog article by Joff Redfern, Twitter is becoming the Ocean of the Stream of Stories. This is short , consisting mainly of the Rushdie quote above, but with its title it would likely be connected to Spivack’s Stream and Rushdie’s Streams of Stories sooner or later. Taken together, I think the articles by Spivack and Redfern indicate that Twitter is bringing to peoples’ minds the “stream-like” nature of the Web — The way big streams (e.g. swine flu 2 weeks ago) weave in and out with the day-to-day small streams of peoples’ lives on the Twitter ocean, with the stories constantly rewriting themselves.

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumseytemp

Two recent articles, one by a librarian and one by a publisher, talk of the growing realization on the part of both parties that they increasingly have common interests, as both learn how to deal with the the implications of electronic publishing — Librarian Barbara Fister’s Library Journal cover story Publishers & Librarians: Two cultures one goal and publisher Neil Schlager’s blog article The problem with reference publishing.

Reading these articles has got me thinking about what I’ve been writing about on this blog in the last several months — As shown in the Categories (right sidebar) many of the subjects discussed here have common librarian-publisher threads. And in fact some of these articles have drawn comments from publisher kinds of people as well as librarians (See below). Thinking further, I realize how valuable Twitter has been for connecting to the publisher community, serving as a wide-ranging forum for discussion of current topics. So I’m listing below some of the people I’ve met on Twitter who talk about librarian/publisher issues:

Jose Afonso Furtado (@jafurtado)
Peter Brantley (@naypinya)
Nancy Picchi (@islandlibrarian)
Roy Tennant (@rtennant)
Lorcan Dempsey (@lisld)
Adam Hodgkin (@adamhodgkin)
Mike Shatzkin (@MikeShatzkin)
Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly) – See more below
Neil Schlager (@neilschlager)
Kat Meyer (@KatMeyer)
Joe Wikert (@jwikert)

In her own category: Kassia Krozier (@booksquare) – Not a librarian or a publisher, but in the center of the discussion!

Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly) and his group at O’Reilly Publishing have created a unique gathering place for thinking about the future of publishing. The O’Reilly Radar blog has articles by Tim and a group of other writers, some with library connections, notably Peter Brantley (@naypinya). In addition, the annual O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference (TOC) in New York has speakers from the library world as well as the publishing world. Writers and speakers for the O’Reilly blog and TOC conference appear regularly on @timoreilly‘s Twitter tweets. Also, during the TOC conference, on-site Twitter reports are extensive. Joe Wikert (@jwikert), from the list above, also works at O’Reilly.

To read Seeing the Picture articles about issues of libraries and publishing, see the categories Publishing and TOC. Articles that have had comments/discussions with publishing people: Copyright in Google Books: Pictures & Text and Jon Orwant on Google Book Search at TOC.

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumseytemp

Why is this not being more widely reported?! Library of Congress Inspector General Karl Shornagel’s 60-page PDF report, as far as I can find, has been linked only in two short postings in non-library blogs, and in a few Twitter tweets, since Schornagel reported to the House Administration Committee on Apr 29. Surely it deserves more than that, so I’m doing extensive excerpting. Many thanks to @christinekrafttemp for bringing this to my attention.

Information Technology Strategic Planning

Report from Karl Schornagel, Inspector General of Library of Congress, presented to James Billington, the Librarian of Congress


The intent of this review was to assess the effectiveness of information technology (IT) strategic planning at the Library of Congress (Library or LC). To evaluate whether the Office of Strategic Initiatives (OSI) Strategic Plan supports and implements the Library’s Strategic Plan as it pertained to the IT infrastructure, the Library Office of the Inspector General (OIG) contracted with A‐TECH Systems, Inc. … the Strategic Planning process for IT at the Library of Congress is not well integrated with essential planning components, and is not instituted Library‐wide, resulting in the following findings.

1. STRATEGIC PLANNING PROCESS ‐ Strategic Planning for IT is not a unifying force at the Library, does not link directly to the Library Strategic Plan, and does not have a forward‐looking view.
2. IT INVESTMENT PROCESS ‐ Strategic Planning is not linked to the IT investment process, resulting in the duplication of efforts and acquisitions.
3. ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE ‐ The organizational structure of the Information Technology Services (ITS) directorate at the Library does not foster strategic planning and good IT governance.
4. ENTERPRISE ARCHITECTURE ‐ The Library is missing an Enterprise Architecture program that should be coupled with a strategy to provide a roadmap for implementing future technology.
5. CUSTOMER SERVICE – ITS customer service needs improvement.

In our opinion, all of these findings are in large part the result of an unclear sense of how IT planning fits into the Library’s mission and the roles and responsibilities of the employees, as well as a lack of linkage between the IT strategic planning processes at the Library and actual performance. Furthermore, those Library employees charged with IT planning need to adopt a holistic view of planning that incorporates and supports a clear mission view with an insight into customer goals and objectives. Although some steps have been taken towards this effort, the progress is not seen Library‐wide.

We received a formal response to this report on April 15, 2009. Library management agreed with the majority of our findings and recommendations. Although management did not feel the improvements since the LC21 report (in 2000) were adequately addressed, we believe these improvements were sufficiently addressed in the executive summary and the conclusion of this report. Management responses and A‐Tech comments are included in the report after each recommendation. The entire response can be found in Appendix E.


We found that the strategic planning process is not a unifying force at the Library of Congress and not incorporated into the organization’s culture. Specifically, we found that:

1. The Library’s Strategic Planning process was not inclusive of all internal stakeholders;
2. The Library’s IT Strategic Plan does not align well with the Library’s Strategic Plan;
3. The Library’s digitization efforts are scattered and lacking in specific focus.

[p 8] We do not agree with the decision of the Library’s leadership to make strategic planning a management‐only activity. We suggest that the Library allow line employees to actively participate in the strategic planning process. …

Lack of Buyin to Library’s Strategic Plan Below the Senior Management Level (Section headings in boldface)

In interviewing Library staff, we found that most felt they had not been active participants in the development of the Library’s Strategic Plan or in the IT Strategic Plan. Those interviewees who previously worked at other federal agencies felt that the Library’s processes for IT strategic planning were “immature” by comparison.

[p 9] Misaligned Strategic Plans and Ineffective Planning Process

[p 10] The Library Does Not Have a Focused Digitization Vision
… despite many successes, the strategy for “digitizing” the Library collections seems to lack an overall Library vision. …


We found that the IT investment process at the Library is not linked to its strategic plan.

1. The Library’s IT planning is not linked to an investment process.
2. There is duplication of costs.
3. There is no consistent Cost‐benefit Analysis (Analysis of Alternatives) done
by ITS.
4. The Library does not transparently track IT costs.

No Comprehensive Library Strategy for IT investments

Despite the MDEP process, we concluded that there is not an overall Library strategy for prioritizing and budgeting for IT investments to include new projects, replacement of existing systems, hardware, software, and services support.

[p 15] No Coordination of IT Costs across Library

[p 17] Inconsistent CostBenefit Analyses

[p 18] Lack of Transparency in Tracking IT Costs


The organizational structure of the ITS Directorate at the Library does not foster strategic planning and proper IT governance.

OSI Is Not Optimally Structured


The organizational structure of the ITS Directorate needs to be realigned to foster strategic planning and IT governance at the Library.


The Library lacks an Enterprise Architecture (EA) program. … We found that the Library has not yet implemented an Enterprise Architecture …


The Library needs to implement an Enterprise Architecture that could be coupled with a strategy and provide a roadmap for implementing technology in the future.


Customer Support Issues

Our review indicated that beyond long‐term strategic planning issues, ITS customers were experiencing significant customer service problems. We believe that this condition is related to the lack of long‐term strategic planning in that ITS does not operate on a long‐term plan to monitor or improve customer service. …

[p 31] The Help Desk is staffed by contractors, whose quality is inconsistent. Help Desk contractors will often install the wrong versions of software and the customers will reinstall the software themselves. Customers have reported that instead of fixing a problem, the Help Desk contractors will frequently replace hard drives or recreate customer accounts.


The Library needs to implement a formal process for soliciting customer feedback for recommendations, ideas, and complaints, and implement changes to improve customer service.


Many recommendations made in this report can be implemented at a low cost and can be accomplished with existing resources. …

The LC21 (2000) report made the following recommendations, which still hold true today:

“…information technology can, should, and must be taken as a strategic asset of the Library as a whole and managed strategically from the very top.“

“…there needs to be serious strategic planning. Concrete projects must be established and undertaken to make real the Library’s ability to select, acquire, preserve, and manage digital content. These initiatives must reach across the whole interlinked set of processes from copyright registration through deposit to reader services.”

[Following p 49] Response, by James Billington. [The body of the document, excerpted above, is native PDF, and can be copied, but Billington’s response is apparently scanned PDF, and not able to be copied.] Billington’s main objection to the report is that it doesn’t give LOC credit for having made progress since the last assessment was done in 2000 (LC21: A Digital strategy for the Library of Congress). But in responding to specific points in the new report, he’s mostly in agreement.

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumseytemp

Working on Swine Flu this week has been especially interesting because it makes me reflect on how much things have changed in the information landscape since I worked on SARS in 2003 and Bird Flu in 2004-05. In those outbreaks, the main source of information was lists of links found in Google. How much that has changed now, with Twitter! People use Twitter in different ways — For me the most valuable part of it is the links in tweets. In former outbreaks, when Google was the “king of links,” it was especially hard to keep up with current news stories. Now links to breaking news stories appear within minutes in Twitter.

Evgeny Morozov, in his article, Swine flu: Twitter’s power to misinform complains about the chaotic nature of Swine Flu information in Twitter:

There are quite a few reasons to be concerned about Twitter’s role in facilitating an unnecessary global panic about swine flu. … [Twitter users] armed with a platform to broadcast their fears are likely to produce only more fear, misinformation and panic. … Twitter seems to have introduced too much noise into the process … The “swine flu” Twitter-scare has … proved the importance of context — The problem with Twitter is that there is very little context you can fit into 140 characters.

Anyone who’s used Twitter knows that there’s much truth here. Especially for a new user, it’s hard to separate the Twitter wheat from the Twitter chaff. But it can be done. To show the shallow, mindless nature of Twitterers, Morozov quotes text from tweets about Swine Flu. And he’s right, they’re pretty valueless. But, clicking to look at the writers’ profile pages shows that most of them are fairly inexperienced, with relatively few updates and followers, so it’s not surprising that their tweets are bad. Which goes to show, just as with online sources in general, in Twitter it’s important to check the source! Find out who’s behind the information.

So, while I agree with Morozov that Twitter has some negatives, I think we need to appreciate the positive value it has added to our ability to exchange information rapidly, that will certainly make us better able to deal with a real pandemic if it occurs. In composing this article, I came across a good conversation in Twitter that speaks to my ideas:

@PhilHarrison: Twitter is relatively new & we’re all learning about its power to inform & misinform as well. (bold added)
@charlesyeo: During SARS, some people in Asia blamed media for not exposing cases earlier so the sick can get help!

Note that the second tweet, by charlesyeo, comes back to the point I made in the first paragraph, that lack of information was a serious problem in the SARS epidemic. Twitter has clearly improved that.

Another valuable of Twitter in the Swine Flu epidemic has been the vibrancy of its international participation — Before Swine Flu, I had learned to value the prolific and multi-lingual tweeting of Jose Afonso Furtado (@jafurtado), a librarian in Portugal who tweets mostly on library/publishing subjects. When the Swine Flu epidemic broke out seriously in Mexico, he tweeted on that, and through his tweets I was able to connect on Twitter with people in Europe and Latin America who were following the situation in Mexico.

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumseytemp