Anythink lit up on Libhub

Following the launch of Denver Public Library and Arapahoe Library District, another Colorado library system has gone live. Anythink is the public library system serving residents of Adams County, with branches Brighton, Commerce City, Thornton and nearby. It's been fun to work with a library with sch a track record of innovation, including its 2009 rebranding looking to revolutionize how people think of libraries, and its commitment to green practices. Anythink's 216,000 or so records have become almost 1.5 million new resource pages.

And about those resources, here are some fun starting points for you.

Stay tuned for more libraries coming along soon.

Arapahoe Library District goes live and lit up on Libhub

A second library has joined Denver Public Library in going live on the Libhub project. The Arapahoe Library District is another Colorado institution, with branches in the south and east Denver area. Their Libhub landing page has a bit more detail, and most importantly links to the various sorts of the million or so resource pages generated from their catalog. Their own announcement has some more details on their participation.

But as ever, it's all about the resources, all about the data. Here are some fun examples to get you going.

With the American Libraries Association coming along, we're excited to keep the initiative expanding to put libraries back where they can be found on the Web.

Belle Turnbull, Colorado poet

This past weekend I gathered under the influence of Quandary Peak near Breckenridge, Colorado, for "Mystery and the Peripatetic", with other poets and creatives, mostly from the state. In the closing session Dr. David Rothman spoke of Belle Turnbull, a poet of enormous talent and promise who moved to Breckenridge early in her career, and thus, working away from the centers of the poetry establishment on the coasts, never got her just due, despite stellar reviews of her work. She is now nearly forgotten, even by Colorado poets, and based on the samples of her work offered by Rothman, her obscurity is a true literary crime.

I thought, said Mr. Probus, there was time,
Time by the dipperful, time lipping, flowing
Out of some plenteous spring where I'd be going
With my bright dipper, frosting it with rime,
Hoarding no more than God would a dime,
Slipping time over my palate, careless blowing
Drops off my moustache, wasting it well knowing
There would be more, more always, soft and prime.

–from "At That Point Mr. Probus: Time as a Wellspring" by Belle Turnbull, for which she won the 1938 Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize from Poetry Magazine, alongside Dylan Thomas, no less.

(Belle Turnbull in 1926)

Born in Hamilton, New York on December 9, 1881, Turnbull's family moved to Colorado Springs when she was a child. Her father, George Butler Turnbull, became the principal of Colorado Springs High School. Belle graduated from Vassar in 1904; after a series of teaching jobs on the east coast, she returned to Colorado Springs in 1910 to teach English at Colorado Springs High School until 1936. In 1937 she retired from teaching and moved to Frisco with her friend, Helen Rich, a novelist. Two years later, they moved to a cabin on French Street in Breckenridge, where they remained for the rest of their lives, living in a color that didn't go unnoticed. Turnbull died in November 1970 in Denver (i.e. in my own very month of birth).

Turnbull's most significant popular success was the1940 verse novel Goldboat, published by Houghton-Mifflin and offering drama and intrigue from a mining setting. Her non-verse novel, The Far Side of the Hill, was published in 1953. I believe her most significant poetical triumph was Tenmile Range, 1957 a book-length collection of verse, which includes the above poem as well. Her final publication was a chapbook, Trails, in 1968. Her personal papers are archived at Denver Public Library. I spent some time with these papers, from which the excerpts and images in this post (formally: Belle Turnbull Papers, WH414, Western History Collection, The Denver Public Library). Tenmile's reputation shouldn't be hard to rehabilitate, though Goldboat will be trickier because it's very much of its time in its depiction of black characters. This doesn't really bother me (my attitudes towards the moral element in judging art are very complex) but some of the book's passages will sound very jarring to most post-civil-rights-era ears.

Over the Great Divide unrolls the highway
And cars go wagging their tails among the thunders,
Range to range stitching, weather to weather.
In half a day you can hem up the watershed
And rush on the prairie or race on the desert again
Unaware of the infinite clues of legend,
The featherstitching of roads that thread the meadows,
Follow the gulches, follow the mountain pattern.

Or a man may twist his wheel where a wild road feathers
Under a range that marches on a valley,
Turn and be gone away to Rockinghorse country,
Wind through a park beside its swaggering river,
Creep on a shelf around a rocky shoulder,
Check in a pasture, by a waterpit
Under a rocksnake of cold blue cobbles mounded.

Still pond, no moving. And a wooden bird,
A squat hightailing monstrous waterwidgeon
Diving its chain of spoonbills down and under
Red-rusted in the turquoise pit.
No moving. And no sound from the grotesque
Impossible of vision.

                                    Only the wind,
The long, the diamond wind disturbs that water.

–beginning of Goldboat by Belle Turnbull. "Rockinghorse country" is the fictionalized name used in the book for the Ten Mile range area, i.e. around Breckenridge.

Sketch notes on pulling data from Libhub pages

My company's recent Libhub grand experiment is all about making library catalog information available and harvestable by for machines. The primary machines we have in mind are the search engine Web crawlers who have become the all-powerful arbiters of who can find what on the Web. But that doesn't mean others don't get in on the fun. Anyone with a yen to hack can pull linked data to their hearts content from Libhub pages. Here are a few notes to maybe get folks started.

First of all, you can preview the embedded linked data by using a tool such as the handy Green Turtle Google Chrome extension. Here is a screenshot based on the page for my book, Ndewo, Colorado.

You can pull this RDFa with your favorite tool. In the example snippet below I used rdflib in Python to show an n3 representation (similar to RDF Turtle) of the data embedded in the page.


Early progress on Denver Public Library / #visiblelibrary

So just under a week on from our big release of Denver Public Library catalog pages on the Web (in the form of Linked Data), progress is quite exciting. The Google bot is working methodically through the 3.7 million Web pages, with about 300 thousand indexed so far. The Bing bot is lagging behind a fair bit, but Google's Comscore ranking for search usage makes it our realistic priority now. A DPL Libhub page is already the #1 Google hit for the following sample searches (note, all sample searches done in an incognito window to step outside my personal Google filter bubble).

And now that DPL has taught me about this particular Vietnamese musician, Here's a Quang Dung music break. Nice in a Latin/Lounge way.

A DPL Libhub page is somewhere on the front page for the following sample searches.

As an engineer, I hate hearing stuff from people such as "I've never used algebra since grade school." Goodreads says this last book can help the innumerate fall in love with maths, so I hope a few people discover it at their local library, and actually, since it's an eBook, you can get it from DPL without even walking to the library, as long as you qualify to get a DPL library card, of course. If you live elsewhere, same applies to your local public library.

Of course none of these examples are very mainstream, but one wouldn't expect that so soon, and possibly not for a long while. However, libraries are most valuable as a resource for just such uncommon things, and you could imagine special interest and research needs leading people through Libhub to DPL, and into the habit of using their library. If we can succeed in that we'll have succeeded to our utter delight.

Update: Rachel Fewell, who has been leading this project from the DPL side, has also blogged some interesting findings and progress.

Early summer appearances for Ndewo, Colorado

The furious pace of work on my big work project has unfortunately stunted promotion of my book, Ndewo, Colorado, but with a little help from my fellow poet friends I have a couple of upcoming readings and other events.

I'll be reading with Wendy Videlock & Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer (absolutely stellar company!) in Grand Junction, Colorado the 21st of May. Our theme is "Ancient Myths & Legends." The three of us generally don't do your plain old stereotypical, angst-projecting poetry readings, so do come along for a treat if you're around the Western slope then.

From June 4-7 I'll be participating in Mystery and the Peripatetic, a poetry festival and retreat in Breckenridge, Colorado, run by the same, boundlessly energetic Wendy Videlock. The session I'll be leading Saturday late morning is titled "The Speakers:  A Look at Dialect and Idiom from Around the World."

Update: Photos from the retreat.

Denver Public Library Data Pilot Release

A few months ago I mentioned my big work project of the moment, Libhub. We had done an experiment with a selected dozen or so catalogued items held by Denver Public Library, related to Molly Brown. The experiment was a success beyond our expectations. Within three days the alpha Libhub page for 'Margaret "Molly" Tobin Brown Papers' shot from nowhere to a top 3 hit on Google and Bing for the search "molly brown papers," a likely search string by someone interested in that topic, but not necessarily having any library in mind. This page links and on-delay redirects to the DPL catalog page for that item, and within another week that DPL catalog page had become the #1 hit for most cases of searching that target term. We were pleased to see examples of records from the test set which were appearing above Amazon book sales pages in search results. This validated our feeling that the content hidden in library catalogues is enormously rich and valuable.

Today we have taken the next, exciting step by publishing all 840,000 or so DPL bibliographic records. The result is around 3,740,000 resources, each of which is a separate Web page, with dense cross-linking (7,880,000 in all) derived from relationships within the MARC. Here are a few interesting highlights.


Project: Libhub

Have you ever noticed something missing when you do an online search for a book, music or a film you want to check out? Something big? If you're anything like me you've been lucky enough to spend valuable, serendipitous, formative hours in a library. I remember walking to Cleveland Public Library at least weekly in the few years when I lived there as a child, supplementing the supply of books my father secured from thrift shops. I'm pretty sure that's where I got the introduction to atomic theory (Democritus through Rutherford to Bohr and beyond) which cemented a lifelong fascination with science. There was Luton Public Library where I went almost every day of the summer of 1986 when my Mom bought me my first computer (a ZX Spectrum Plus) and I taught myself programming reading all the books and magazines they had on the topic. There was the library of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where I gorged on African and worldwide literature, history and esoteric religions and philosophies right around the time when I discovered my love for poetry. There have been many, many other libraries dear to me in all the places where I've lived.

And now when I search for a book, multimedia or other such resource, I'm struck by the fact that libraries have become sadly obscure on the Web, which is where my children and their generation discover and learn so much of what I did in the brick institutions. Search for a book and you'll find Amazon, B&N and other bookseller listings, Wikipedia pages, film derivations and fan fiction, but you'll go pages and pages and pages into results before you see any indication that you can stroll into your local public library and borrow it for free.

I've been thrilled to be part of a project, led by my company Zepheira, to work towards rectifying this situation. We've launched Libhub, taking sensible steps towards increasing the prominence of libraries on the Web. There are several things that make this a bit more complicated than it should be (and why this visibility problem is so persistent). Libraries have very rich electronic catalogs, but they are in extraordinarily antiquated and arcane formats and conventions. We've invested a great deal of our specialized data processing expertise to develop an engine which can ingest such library data and convert it into useful web representations, including technologies such as RDFa, Open Graph, Schema.org and the library-focused BIBFRAME which we developed for the US Library of Congress. We're planning to launch this Libhub network this summer.

We've been fortunate to have some great libraries working with us through this project, led by Denver Public Library, and we're been inspired by the many-chaptered story of Denver's own Molly Brown, best known for surviving the Titanic disaster. We turned a handful of DPL records into a tiny experiment ("the Linkable Molly Brown" as named by my colleague Gloria Gonzalez) as we continue to work on our Libhub engine. If you're curious for a sneak peek, and OK looking at something still packed with librarian/technical minutiae, a good place to start a click-round is with the record of her papers at DPL. Remember, this is just a quick experiment and we have a long road ahead, but one we're more delighted to travel than Dorothy was hers in Oz, starting out arm-in-arm with the redoubtable Molly Brown, and with fond thoughts of libraries swimming our heads. We'll see you along the way.

Open Letter to the Ambassador of the State of Qatar

Superior, Colorado, USA

20 January 2013

Mohamed Bin Abdulla Al-Rumaihi, Ambassador
Embassy of the State of Qatar
2555 M. Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20037-1305

Dear Ambassador,

I write with justice in my head,
I write with all impulse of peace,
In fervent hope of Mohamed
Ibn Al Ajami's release.

Please might we find your magistrate
Well understanding of the fact
That poetry surpasses state,
Liberty trumps Sedition Act.

It will be poets who ensure
The glory of your fine Emir
And even when they do incur
Displeasure, they're his vizier.

I pray you grant your poets space
To work the profit of their mind.
Reconsider this Ajami case,
In which all freedoms are enshrined.

Sincerely,

 

Uche Ogbuji

Mohamed Ibn Al Ajami

[Crossposted]

Photos on the cloud, and your metadata

Every now and then I cast an eye about to see the state of the art on photo storage, sharing and backup.  Like most of us I have far more digital photos than I know what to do with.  For the most part we manage the lot on iPhoto on my wife's iMac.  It's getting to the point where iPhoto is struggling to keep up and I've pondered LightRoom, but it's still a tad bit of overkill, I think.  For now we just using the various tricks of the trade to boost performance.  I think the next step will be to move the iPhoto library to an SSD drive.  Time to start saving up!

Given my technical background, one of the biggest things I look for in photo management of all sorts is preservation of metadata.  If you are not familiar with photo metadata, you should really acquaint yourself.  It's also worth acquainting yourself as to why it's important to separate photo sharing from storage.  Whether it's the EXIF data recorded by the camera itself, or supplementary metadata added, sometimes out of band, by management apps (e.g. face matches, titles & descriptions you add yourself in iPhoto or other tools), it's really important that software respect what's there as much as possible, adding layers of metadata non-destructively.

Alas this is one area where cloud photo services fail miserably.  I think the most pernicious case of this is Dropbox, which is such a handy service for the most part, but I think is nothing short of evil with regard to photos.  First of all it is loud and persistent in pestering you to switch to its photo import and storage module every time you connect a memory card or such to your computer (I understand: they want to nudge people in a direction that leads to paying more for storage.)  The problem is that if you make the mistake of succumbing to their come-ons, you'll find that they happily mangle and destroy any photo metadata that precedes them.  The comments on their blog entries about the photo features are full of customers complaining about this abuse, but they don't seem to be listening.  They are not alone.  Google Picassa also mangles metadata.  Facebook surprises me by actually trying to do the right thing, and getting a bit tied up in knots as a result.

For now I'm sticking with iPhoto, and I'll copy photos from there to Dropbox, Facebook, etc. as needed for sharing.  I'm also trying out AeroFS, and hoping for good things from them, from the general perspective of meddling-free file distribution and sharing.  I hope more people get familiar with the issues here (there are real consequences to having your photo metadata mangled), and that it adds up to a voice in the marketplace for better solutions, including on the cloud.