Alexa, Jelly, and Web 3.8

Forget Web 2.0! That is so 2005! Now we have Web 3.8. Wow!

What is that? Remember ‘six degrees of separation’? Well, according to Biz Stone, the guys who came up with that theory have done more research and found that in this digitally connected era, the degrees of separation have reduced to just 3.8.

Rich Roll interviews Biz Stone in an intriguing interview where Biz explains his newest website and system – askjelly. Biz Stone is one of the guys who co-founded Twitter. Oh – that Biz Stone!

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Askjelly is a systemised knowledgebase that uses people for answers instead of text-based information on the Internet. As Rich and Biz spoke I realised that Librarians might finally be out of a job. The famous quote by Neil Gaiman: ‘Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.’, might finally be defunct. Biz has found a way to crowd-source the subjective questions.

So I put askjelly to the test and posed the question: “What will happen to Librarians in the age of knowledge-bases, ‘jelly’ and AI?

And shortly thereafter I received two thoughtful replies:

From CallKathy:

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And from Chris:

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Biz’s theory is that there are not really unique questions, and that someone on this planet will have the answer for you.

He then went on to show how this technology works with Amazon’s Echo and Alexa and it evoked similarities to the AI robot in the movie Her.

Rich Roll has kindly listed a lot of the relevant articles and links in the show notes of his podcast information and it’s well worth a look.

As for the success of #askjelly and the future of Librarianship – only time will tell.

 

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Back to busyness

I have been back working in public libraries for a few weeks now and it’s great to feel useful and able to help people with their questions. In general the level of sophistication in regard to technology related questions is notable. Many in our population have become quite adept at using and navigating the Internet and all of the associated technologies. The days where it was assumed that the older generation did not ‘get’ this stuff are behind us. Many people are curious about things like ebooks and will ask about them, even if they decide not to give them a try – just yet.

The busy libraries where I work require an agile mind that can handle a day of mental gymnastics, able to negotiate the barrage of unique questions in quick succession.

portsea_pier_01042014This week I was lucky to work some shifts on the mobile library truck. I took this photo near one of our stops, during a short break.

I have been reacquainting myself with the different Library Management System, as well as the different procedures and work-flows associated with a large and multi-branch public library service. I feel very much welcomed back and I am appreciative of that.

More information please

Three questions in one day had me at a loss recently:

1.    “I am looking for a particular book about the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I can’t remember the title and I don’t know the author. It was mentioned on a TV show I was watching recently but I can’t remember what show it was. Can you find it for me?”

2.    “I want to read a book I saw mentioned in a newspaper a while ago. I don’t know the title or the author. It is written by a roadie of a big rock band but I can’t remember which band.”

3.    “I want a book about living with a spinal cord injury with Australian content. I don’t have access to the internet at home and I won’t use it here at the library!”

Now I will do my best to try to help these people: I will do subject searches of the library catalogue; I will search probable TV show websites and newspaper resources; I will search Amazon and Google. I will think laterally trying to come up with some way to find what these people are looking for.

Of course I found many books about Sydney Harbour Bridge but not the one sought by this particular individual. I found many books written by roadies of rock bands but not the one the man wanted. I found many relevant and detailed websites pertinent to Australians living with spinal injury and these listed books that may have been of use, but since this person flatly refused to look at the internet this avenue of information was not an option.

It really does help to have a title or an author to begin the search. In each of these cases I sent the person away to perhaps find more information to help with the search. I felt like a failure. I continued to think and search long after they had gone trying to find the elusive book they sought. But it is really a lost cause without a little more information.

It is amazing how often someone will come in asking for a particular book saying “I don’t know the title or the author but it has a blue cover.” Or something similar. More often than not, through questions asked in the ensuing conversation, I can discover the book they mean and find it easily.

Juggling people

Working in a public library in a coastal beach community 80 kilometres from a major city means that during the summer holidays we are inundated with people wanting all sorts of things from us. When the weather is bad the campers take refuge in the library for some amusement. When the weather is too hot they still come to once again get some respite in the air-conditioned comfort and shade.

Here is a snapshot of the questions we get every day:

“Can you find me a book with the Australian citizenship questions? I have to sit the test before they take away my pension and deport me after living here for 50 years.” pleads the 80 plus year old lady with the walking frame and a plastic aqua wallet covered in scrawled pen notes to herself.

“I need more time on the computer!” stammers a smelly long-haired and balding unkempt 30-something male who visits every day.

“Have you got information about the XXth battalion of WW2? I fought there back in 19XX and I remember…..” reminisces the elderly digger with tears in the corners of his eyes as he settles in to recall the events.

“I have a few new titles I’d like to order.” asserts the well-dressed elderly woman as she unravels a long list with beautiful handwriting.

“I want to email photos directly from my camera. Can I use a computer?” says the holidaymaker with no identification and questionable IT skills about how to do that exactly.

“Can we join the library?” choruses the family group of mother, father, and four children as they swarm the counter en masse.

“Have you got the Twilight series? I want to order the first book. And the next one, and the next one…” rambles the young girl at the end of the telephone.

“I’ve lost a book. We’ve just moved. I must have returned it….” already on the defensive, the woman on the telephone has effectively jumped the queue of four people patiently waiting for attention in front of me and now she wants to persist with her excuses before anyone can get a word in.

“Can we use ze internet please?” a backpacker politely enquires in stilted English with some divine European accent, while showing a well-worn passport.

“I want information about dioxin and the effects on humans. I’d like references to the incidents of this in Vietnam and Northern Italy. I’m worried about the proposed pulp mill planned to be built on the Tamar River in Tasmania. Can you find this for me please?” asks a polite regular with a keen curiosity and social conscience.

I try to give my full attention to each and every customer and not only help to give them what they want, but also always try to give them that little bit extra whenever I can. It can be a challenge sometimes especially during summer when the people and questions come thick and fast. But I love it.

I regularly read a light-hearted comic strip about libraries at Unshelved. At present they are loaning out ukeles to the public and I suppose this reflects some of the crazy gimmicks that we have to embrace from time to time.

The unanswerable

As a Reference Librarian in a busy public library I help people find the answers to their questions every day. I help them with questions big, small and everything in between; everything from research into medical conditions, to the location of the photocopier. Often the most urgent need is to know their placement in the reservation queue for the latest best seller.

 

In the last two weeks I attended a 90th and an 80th birthday celebration. These parties were both fun and emotionally moving occasions. Digital photo stories on display fleshed out the lives of these individuals and gave appropriate eminence to each. It is amazing what you learn about people at an event like this. It makes me realise how important each person is within their sphere of influence.

 

I joked about the fact that I went to these parties for old folk, but in truth I feel privileged to have been invited and present at these enjoyable and momentous events. The 90 year old lives independently, is relatively mobile, and in full use of their mental abilities and sense of humour. The 80 year old is a friend who cycles in the group I also cycle with, and also swims in the sea regularly, runs, and much more.

 

Meanwhile the person in my life who has cancer was hospitalised. As someone who never smoked it seems ironic they have cancer in their lung. Bad luck perhaps. Is there no logic to living a long and healthy life?

 

These experiences help make me better at my job. I am more accepting, inclusive, and non-judgmental towards everyone. Paradoxically, all questions become both irrelevant and significant at the same time. Our shared mortality is the only defining characteristic. The meaning of life blurs in and out of focus.

 

The big questions remain unanswerable.