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.

 

My Family History

Surrounded by piles of photos, prints and digital, and indebted with family facts and stories, I struggle to shape it into a sensible narrative.

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Curating the family history is a challenging exercise and yet I am enthusiastic to weave it together for prosperity and for anyone who might someday wonder.

This is something that has interested me for many years and I have been on some previous fact finding missions that revealed things we didn’t know. I love to find out about our origins and the lives of our ancestors. I can name three ships that brought different branches of the family to Australia: The Hampshire, The Shand, and The Niagara. I love to see the photos of ancestors to spot the family resemblances that crop up unexpectedly.

Not a ‘scrap-booker’ by nature I think that ultimately a hand crafted personal creative book would be a beautiful result. In the meantime I have begun to do a simple storyboard using PowerPoint to set out my narrative. There are obvious important gaps that need to be filled somehow.

So I think about others in the family who have compiled remarkable genealogies that are relevant and interesting to my story. One of my father’s cousins has passed away now and I wonder where that wealth of knowledge is now. Another cousin of my husbands father must be very old now if not also passed away – where is her lovely story and impressive pedigree charts now? Another – my cousin is contactable, but that branch of the family story is well documented already, so not as pressing.

Some of the old photos are gorgeous but without captions the identities are a mystery. ‘A picture tells a thousand words’ but also presents many questions; such a who, where, when, why.

This historic photo for example is of the family of Smiths who lived in Portland Victoria Australia. One of the boys is my paternal grandfather.

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Family members who knew them previously identified the others in the photo. A scribble on the back of a print states that this photo was taken in 1920 in Portland, just prior to the family being ‘separated’. The father and mother of this family are not in the photograph because they had both passed away. I know the story and it is a tragic tale that I will include in my personal family history when the time comes.

Meanwhile my investigations continue and I try to wrangle this precious pile of pictures into something interesting and useful.

Reading fiction

Reading fiction is not my preference. I prefer true stories; epic adventures; personal quests; travel, and description of place. Fiction has to grab me in the first ten pages; otherwise I become bored and abandon the book. After all, life is too short and there are too many books to read.

For me, a good fiction story is a page-turner that makes me keen to know what happens next. I hate reverse chronology. Often I find a story has hooked me in the first chapter, and then the following chapter takes me back to some point in the past. And that’s where I usually abandon the book.

I like a good story, told from the beginning to end with some unobvious point of focus that gradually unfolds to a satisfactory close. It is disappointing to say, “ I liked the story, but I didn’t like the ending.” I loathe nihilistic tales of woe with hopeless and detestable characters that seems to be a current popular theme.

But is reading fiction a waste of time, as some people suggest? After all it is just someone’s imaginary tale. And why bother when our world is full of amazing and interesting real people, lives, places and situations?

Research provides interesting reasons that support reading fiction as a valuable activity. Not only does this pursuit provide insight into situations and ideas outside of our everyday life, but there is evidence to suggest that it has positive effects on our brains by making new neurological connections that remain activated long after the reading activity is over. This heightened activity called a ‘shadow activity’, similar to muscle memory, by scientists working on the Emory study.

We reiterate the idea that there are only seven basic plots:

  1. Overcoming the monster.
  2. Rags to riches.
  3. The quest.
  4. Voyage and return.
  5. Comedy.
  6. Tragedy.
  7. Rebirth

Typically though our bookstores and libraries arrange fiction into genres of:

  • Romance
  • Relationship
  • Humour
  • Horror
  • Mystery
  • Thriller
  • Adventure
  • Historical
  • Classic
  • Western
  • Chick Lit
  • Paranormal romance
  • General
  • And others.

My fiction reading sometimes follows a typical pattern of author trails. I discover an author I like, then I am keen to read more by that person; until I am satiated with their voice, style, and ideas. Elizabeth Gilbert and Joanne Harris are two authors I enjoy reading. I loved The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is stunning with its unique story and intelligent prose. I like to follow a trail of reading that is unique to my interests at that time.

Many librarians use website tools such as Fantastic Fiction, Literature Map, LibraryThing, GoodReads, and others to find the next great read for ourselves and our customers.

But there is more to be said and understood about the activity of reading fiction and how it impacts and influences our community and society. Librarians get a very real sense of this phenomenon when working with library users. Some book titles seem to grab hold of the attention of the populace and there is a groundswell of interest that seems to defy understanding. The Slap by Christos Tsolkias is an example that comes to mind. It was an uncomfortable book to read. Not everyone liked it. One incident provides the focus for a masterful portrayal of multi-cultural suburban Melbourne in current times. The slap itself – right or wrong – receives attention and opinions from different generations and cultures, and ultimately judged in politically correct times. This resonates with a culture where this experience is known, shared, and debated. We all have an opinion and all are valid.

“Texts affect readers on many levels – emotional, ethical, intellectual, sensual, spiritual. Consequently, two readers can respond very differently to the same text.” ~ Robert Beardwood

But this book had its time and that groundswell of attention is past. Did we learn anything? How has the experience of reading this book of fiction influenced our society? You will still find this title in the bookstores, libraries, and on Book Club lists, but it has been read, discussed, made into a TV series. Why have we gone past that particular book when there would still be many people who haven’t read it? We could apply the analysis of this phenomenon to many new and popular fiction titles. It would be an interesting study.

Fiction of this type leads our collective conscience. We read, we think, we learn, we discuss, we grow, we evolve. I think that this is key to the function and popularity of Book Clubs in our communities. But we know that.

Now relieved of my requirement to read bureaucratic reports and academic articles, I have been trying to catch up with some fiction reading. I have just read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks. And now, like so many others at present, I am immersed in the book The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and I am thoroughly enjoying the voice, the story, the situation, and the intelligence.

Too many clicks

How much does a click cost? How much are you prepared to pay per click? What is your information worth?

Public librarians find ourselves with a dilemma: do we continue to pay for expensive information databases that don’t get used despite consistent, clever and targeted promotion? As information specialists we appreciate the value of these types of information resources, but our customers don’t seem to be easily converted.

I feel treasonous to my profession by even asking this question. At a recent meeting of librarians who work in public libraries to discuss this topic, this question did not even arise. The academic peer-reviewed scholarly articles that are stored in these locked databases and therefore not freely available on the internet are gold, in the view of librarians and academics, and therefore beyond question.

People doing formal study have access to hundreds and thousands of these databases through the libraries of their tertiary education institutions. Victorian residents also have access to hundreds of these databases freely via the State Library of Victoria with a free membership.

To access one of these information databases as a public library member all you need do is have a current library membership, go to the library website, find the webpage where the online databases are located, select the database you want, put in your membership details, then hopefully you will arrive at the search screen (but not always – there may be a few more clicks yet). The search screen is often unlike a well-known Google key word search box; you may have to think a little to put a sensible search together. In regards to Boolean searching, Librarians know that Google assumes “and” when putting in keywords while most information databases don’t so you will need to add your own “and” “or” or “not”.

OR you can go to Google and put in the key words and cross your fingers. So ONE click compared to a likely minimum of FIVE. And many of these information databases are slow to load so you also have to wait.

Ask most librarians how they search online and many will say that depending on what they are searching for, they might first go to their own library catalogue, then Google, maybe Wikipedia, (or vice versa),and then delve deeper into the information databases once they have defined the information needs fully and if it is required by the customer.

There are a few information databases that the public customer does ask for and get real value from and these are Ancestry for family history research and perhaps a newspaper archive such as Newsbank. There are also some really great free information databases available online such as Picture Australia, the Better Health Channel, Law 4 Community, the Internet Movie Database, and dare I say Wikipedia.

So as a member of a public library what do you think? What do you want? Are these expensive but valuable specialist information databases a necessary resource that public libraries should be buying and offering with your free membership? Or are you happy Googling away, taking your chances with information that needs verification? Where should we be spending the public funds responsibly?

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.