Libraries and our information society

Libraries are the cornerstones of our information society. It is very important to have accessible independent information resources available to preserve our knowledge. National Libraries like the Dutch Koninklijke Bibiotheek have an important task in the long-term preservation of national cultural heritage. Internationally (for English-oriented resources) does the the US Library of Congress have a good record; for example the facts for 2007:

Total of 138,313,427 items in the collections, including:

  • 20,854,810 cataloged books in the Library of Congress classification system
  • 11,478,022 books in large type and raised characters, incunabula (books printed before 1501), monographs and serials, music, bound newspapers, pamphlets, technical reports, and other printed material
  • 105,980,595 items in the nonclassified (special) collections. These included:
    • 2,955,493 audio materials, such as discs, tapes, talking books, and other recorded formats
    • 61,432,879 total manuscripts
    • 5,317,279 maps
    • 14,833,797 microforms
    • 5,517,882 pieces of sheet music
    • 14,364,982 visual materials, including:
      • 1,204,781 moving images
      • 12,520,442 photographs
      • 92,960 posters
      • 544,142 prints and drawings

The Budget is the largest wordwide (to my knowledge). They operated with a total fiscal 2007 appropriation of $600,417,000, including authority to spend $42,108,000 in receipts. In comparison: The Koninklijke Bibliotheek in the Netherlands spend about €53,871,000 in 2007 according to their annual financial report. Some facts about The Koninklijke Bibliotheek:
3,5 million items = more than 68 km of library materials, including 49 km of books (2.5 million), 18 km of periodicals (including 15,000 current periodicals) and more than 1 km of microforms
The deposit collection grows by an average of 40,000 books and 120.000 electronic publications annually. The research collection grows by an average of 19,000 items annually
Special collections
The KB also houses some 30 special collections including: medieval and modern manuscripts, old and rare books, pamphlets, book bindings, marbled papers and books on the history of paper, chess- and draughts, newspapers, cookery books and children’s books

Personally I have always had a thing with libraries and bookstores. The wealth of potential information is immense. Knowledge and wisdom stored in all those books and media.
The last 10-15 years Internet has been filled (or better: connected to webservers) with websites containing documents, pages and data from several sources including unreliable ones. The need to find good reliable information becomes higher and higher. Truth and reality becomes popularized and personalized in Blogs as Truthiness (“the quality by which one purports to know something emotionally or instinctively, without regard to evidence or intellectual examination.”) and Wikiality (“together we can create a reality that we all agree on — the reality we just agreed on.”). See more discussion about the Truth on Internet in the VPRO documentary Wiki’s Waarheid (Dutch subtitles).
Besides the trustworthiness issues, strictly speaking, searchengines like Google and Yahoo have taken over the initial information exploration function of conventional libraries and may as such be considered a fully digitized library. In this new situation does not the content itself, but the way this content (within a automatically interpreted context) is linked, indexed and categorized defines how it shows up in search results.

Google also made an effort to scan, OCR and index books from libraries to make full text search possible, this is what conventional libraries until recently couldn’t do. This service is called Google Book Search. An extension of that is starting your own Google library.
I already have a selection of my library online as an exported list: Toine Fennis Bookcollection with currently 521 books. I just looked into importing my library into My Google Booklibrary [my example] to enhance searching possibilities within my books which gives many benefits for research.
From the 521 books on my list, 51 were not recognized, so I guess it is safe to say roughly 10% gets lost. This might be due to the fact that a large part of the list is in Dutch but since I can find the info elsewhere on the Internet through library catalog’s and my catalog software MyGoogle Library still needs some tweaking.

I made my initial booklist with Bookcollector Pro which supports the Flic barcode-reader (now sold as ROV) and other barcodereaders, to scan the ISBN on the back of most books. The program automatically searches in online libraries and bookstores and downloads most meta-data including the cover (if you use Amazon as a source). I did have to classify the Categories and Subjects from most books, it would be nice to also have the UDC or other classification or subject oriented keywords (automated) added to these books.

Since information becomes more and more important in our network-economy, online libraries (and of course searchengines) will become our guides in finding reliable data and resources. For the future innovation is to be expected as full-text searching and content-analyzing within books becomes available through services like Google Book Search. Optimizing connections between databases of conventional libraries with loads of meta-data stored and search-engines will not take long. New Internet applications including community created content is to be expected for searching and finding books and documents. Personal reviews, ranking and keywords combined with Web 2.0 namely Tagclouds, semantic webs, and shared booklists within a community setting including data mining (find similar books, related books, and booksuggestions) will become common practice.

Online Bookshelf’s
On the low end you will have pure commercial initiatives like Shelfari* which has some nice Gadget-plugins with Networking sites like Hyves with a business model based on Google Ads and Amazon affiliate sales. Shelfari only imported 226 of 521 books, = 43% from my original booklist (due to the fact they only use Amazon [upd. aug. 28 2008 Shelfari was acquired by Amazon] ). Other online bookshelf’s are with only 214 books imported in my Goodreads library (sorry, this is not good enough). I got pleasantly surprized by with 451 imported books [see My Collection] (same number as Google!?). aNobii is more community oriented and does good suggestions about new books to investigate, it is also about what books you are reading at the moment.
On the high-end (very promising) you have which imported 471 books [my Librarything booklist]. Librarything is free till 200 books or membership based; I bought myself a lifetime membership for $25. Librarything is really about the love of books and libraries and it shows: lots of community features like comparing booklists, interestgroups, and lots of external connectivity. There is even a keyword tagmirror based on keywords others gave to the books in my list (it’s like a 360 degrees keyword feedback based on my booklist). In the near future I would like to see a combination / connection of the features seen in MyGoogle Library, Google Book Search and of course Librarything, if the full-text search and keyword features of these online library webservices synergize this would make my research library heaven….

Finally some general resources about libraries for librarians or information professionals:

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