Monthly Archives: July 2011

Unit 11: Course Retrospective

This (SIRLS 672) was my first course in the DigIn certificate program, so I did not quite know what to expect of myself or of the program, especially because I do not have professional experience in a library or with collections, except as a frequent user. Although I have a technical background, I had not worked as a programmer or database administrator in years. I discovered that although the course was more technical than I had anticipated, it was still within my capabilities. The examples of digital collections and the library-specific assignments were enlightening as to the scope of the kinds of projects involved and the kinds of skills needed to manage digital collections in a library or archival environment. 

I have learned new technical concepts and skills in this course that will form the basis of a new and expanded conceptualization of digital collections. For example, I knew little about the inner workings of the internet before taking this class; now I understand the various data protocols and standards used, and the procedures used to get data from one node to another. I also did not know anything about the component parts underlying a digital collection (except a little about databases): now I understand, using the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stack as an example, the basic relations between the operating system, the web server, the database management system, and the scripting language underlying a digital collection. I already knew some HTML but I learned a little more, and I learned about XML as a way of describing and structuring data, which was completely new to me. I had professional experience with the concepts underlying relational databases and database design, but it was a good review; and I was introduced to the specifics of MySQL and the scripting language PHP.

In addition to the technical aspects of the course, I learned about the controversies and issues surrounding digital information, such as the argument for open-source software, and the advantages/disadvantages of various system interfaces, such as the CLI  (command line) versus a GUI (graphical user interface). I especially appreciated the opportunity to try tasks using a variety of methods and interfaces so that I could come to my own conclusions about my preferences.  I also learned skills and methods related to project management, the importance of a technology plan, and a little about how technology projects are funded, especially through the e-rate program.  Through the examples and the discussions, I learned about how all of these issues affect libraries, and the issues surrounding the creation and maintenance of digital collections in a library or archival setting. I have also learned about some of the initiatives in the digital humanities.

I especially have a new appreciation for the technical aspects underlying digital collections, and the prodigious amount of work that goes into designing, creating, and maintaining such collections. This knowledge gives a counterweight to the arguments in favor of free access for digital collections: while I agree that access should be as free as possible, I realize that digital collections do not come into being without a large price tag in terms of people-hours and expertise. I think that librarians will have a increasingly large role to play in creating and maintaining these collections, especially in this era of financial constraints.

As I write this I am impressed with how much I have learned, yet I feel a little trepidation because I’m afraid I may have learned just enough to be dangerous.  I realize how far I am from being really proficient in any of these areas; but since the course description states that “this is not a course in network administration, web development or programming!” I feel a little better. I feel that I have achieved the stated goal, which is to learn “about server technology supporting digital collections in libraries, archives, cultural heritage organizations and other institutions.”  I think I have indeed “gain[ed] confidence in [my] ability to learn new technologies as they are developed” and I have come to “understand basic information management architecture.”  I hope and expect that this course will prove to be a firm foundation to build upon as I pursue my future in the digital humanities.

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Filed under Digital Humanities, LAMP architecture, Library science, Project Management, SIRLS 672, Ubuntu Linux

Unit 10: SQL and relational databases

Learning SQL was not conceptually difficult for me, mainly because of my past experiences with relational databases. The different kinds of joins are also not difficult for me because I understand set theory. The inner/outer/full joins are really references to a Venn diagram. See the above diagram, which is based on the exercise Bruce had us do in the Images database.

The left (red) oval is the table images. The right (blue) oval is the table photographers. As the diagram shows, some images have no associated photographer. Some photographers have no associated images. The part where the two ovals intersect consists of those images that have associated photographers (or those photographers that have associated images).

So an INNER JOIN between these two tables would return those rows in the overlapping (inner) part of the diagram: those rows that have both a photographer and an image. A LEFT OUTER JOIN contains all the image records in the left (red) oval, including those that do not have a photographer as well as those who do. A RIGHT OUTER JOIN contains all the photographer records in the right (blue) oval, including those that have no images. A FULL JOIN will return all the records in both ovals.

Getting the syntax right is the hardest part of SQL, and getting the right results is mainly dependent upon having normalized tables and understanding the table structure in a database.

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Unit 9: Relational Database Design and MySQL

In  your  blog  this  week  talk  briefly  about  what  concepts  in  this  unit  you  found  most  difficult.  Are  there  still  things   that  are  unclear?  How  might  you  go  about  furthering  your  understanding  of  these  topics?

The topic that was most complex was the process of normalizing relational databases. Fortunately, it was mostly review for me, since I worked for a few years designing and managing databases for research projects and small businesses. Since I was a math minor in college, the math was much more accessible to me then; I have forgotten much of the math I once knew, so the equations are much harder now. Fortunately you don’t need to understand the math to understand the concepts. This has been a good refresher, and of course the theory has progressed since then.

MySQL was pretty straight-forward; since I have used database queries and programmed them before, (although in older PC-based DBMSs like dBaseIV and rBase) the concepts are quite similar. I also had no problems setting up some sample tables on my virtual machine and running through the tutorials.

I plan to continue studying this topic (since I see myself probably creating and working with databases in the future) by trying out different database designs on my system and continuing to read about and do tutorials about MySQL. I would eventually like to end up making the ultimate database of George Eliot resources available on a webpage called Everything Eliot (or something like that). She is one of the few remaining major Victorian figures lacking a major web portal.

A George Eliot knowledge base would be very interesting. I wonder about making it wiki-based, though; I did a little exploratory research about open source knowledge base management systems and there seem to be a few available that are based upon wikis rather than tables. I have an interest in expert systems and knowledge base design  from long ago, especially developing heuristic models of knowledge rather than statistical.

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My assessment of Arizona’s LSTA

This was supposed to be turned in to the d2l dropbox, but d2l seems to be down, so I’m posting it here for now.

A Brief discussion of the LSTA plans for Arizona and for Colorado
            I read both the LSTA plan for Arizona and the one for Colorado.  In general, the library system in Colorado is not nearly as developed as Arizona’s, and the plan mainly consisted of adding infrastructure, as many schools and rural libraries lack basic equipment and interconnectivity.  In contrast, Arizona’s infrastructure is much more complete and sophisticated, so that the LSTA is focused on staff development, with the goal of equipping “librarians with the skills and resources to identify, assess and address the needs of today and tomorrow, thereby expanding their capacity to be responsive leaders in shaping the future of their Arizona communities” (1).   Arizona’s plan is much more complete, and does a better job of connecting concrete and measurable goals with desired outcomes; but this is also the result of having a much more developed library system with better resources for development (more money, more expertise).
            Arizona’s plan does an excellent job of describing the needs of its constituents, identifying the growing disparity in educational outcomes for varying demographic groups and the challenges presented by Arizona’s growing population, diversity, and economic climate. From the needs assessment, the Arizona LSTA identifies four areas of need: Lifespan Learning Continuum; Virtual Access; Training, Education & Consultant Support for librarians; and (because of the upcoming Arizona Centennial), support for Arizona Centennial projects.  The LSTA also identifies five goals for serving the community, and then identifies desired outcomes for each goal in each of the four areas of need. These outcomes are further specified by describing projects along with measurable results for evaluation purposes. These goals seem to meet three of the five e-rate criteria: they are clear, measurable, and describe a realistic strategy for producing the desired outcomes; they include a professional development strategy to insure that librarians and support staff have the skills they need; and they include an on-going evaluation process.
            The two areas where Arizona’s plan seems to be lacking is an assessment of the telecommunication services, hardware, software, and other services that will be needed to improve education or library services; and a budget. However, the budget is not required after FY2011; and as far as an assessment of the infrastructure needs, Arizona seems to have more than adequate infrastructure. The plan states that its goal is mainly to focus on the training and equipping of librarians, so perhaps the plan does not dwell upon the other areas in as much detail. 
            However, the plan does describe specific projects that seem to imply an expansion of certain services, necessitating equipment and software. For example: on page 16, the plan describes a project in which  “state library staff equip a mobile digitization lab to train rural community library staff on digital collection basics” (16).  The equipment and software are not specified, but many of the technology planning articles we read this week suggest that these descriptions should be a vague as possible to avoid being tied down to specific technologies and software, since new technologies keep becoming available. Thus, Arizona’s LSTA chooses to imply technology acquisition in the project descriptions rather than specify it. This could be a problem for e-rate approval, but Arizona hired two consultants to help write the plan, so presumably it passes muster.

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Unit 8: Technology Planning

I found the readings useful–but repetitive–although the repetition reinforces the idea that a current technology plan is crucial to an organization’s strategic future, especially in terms of cost-effectiveness and user impact. Poor project planning, unrealistic time-lines (and resultant vendor failure), lack of management buy-in, and ineffective training of staff/users could all be addressed by the use of a solid technology plan. 1   And a technology plan can also curb either technophobia or its admittedly more fun opposite, “technolust.” 2  In the mid-80s I worked for a boss that had technolust, and it was indeed fun to always be exploring the latest software and technology, especially with the rise of PCs; but my time was spent moving our data from program to program, and machine to machine, always in search of the latest and greatest software/ hardware, rather than actually DOING much with the data in terms of writing articles/reports or influencing policy.

Since I’m new to library science, the readings about technology funding and e-rates were basic information I need to know, so I’m glad to have read it. I did not realize the government had made such an investment in technology for libraries. 3

As far as this week’s reading, the idea of “environmental scanning” was the most interesting and helpful to me, although the term was new to me — I guess I would have thought of it as “market research” or contextual analysis. I found the “2003 OCLC Environmental Scan: Pattern Recognition (Executive  Summary)“, Alane  Wilson,  ed.  OCLC   Online  Computer  Library  Center  Inc.  (2003)  to be the most interesting and useful of the readings. I thought the report did an excellent job of breaking down the environmental scan into categories or “landscapes”: social, economic, technology, research and learning, and library social/technological trends.

The social landscape describes the new technology user who is: self-sufficient, satisfied, and wants a seamless information experience. I definitely see this in the college students I teach.

  1. They are self-sufficient (or want to be): They do not want to go to the library and ask a reference librarian for help; I beg and plead with them to do so for their research projects, but they rarely do. Actually, I am the same way: I rarely ask a reference librarian for help, even with my Ph.D. research, unless I am at a special collection archive.
  2. They are easily satisfied.  It is hard to get them to drill down into research results or searches to find the exact data that would make their argument; they take the first results they find from a google search (often Wikipedia). I have to require them to use the library databases, and they seem frustrated by the process; they lack the perseverance to pursue good data.
  3. They want a seamless experience; they want to cut and paste info into their paper; they want to be able to search lots of databases from one search box (and even have the computer figure out which databases to use); they will not click through more than about 2 levels of menus; they will, I notice, use a live chat with a librarian (or me) if it is available at the moment they are looking for something. They are as likely to query other web resources as they are to use library resources. My students would rather use their smartphone or their ipad for their work than a computer at the library.

The economic landscape shows that staff (knowledge workers) may be the the primary asset of libraries, rather than their collections. I thought this was an interesting point. Knowledge is getting interconnected/created in ways that make the limits of the physical collection somewhat arbitrary. The knowledge workers that make the data accessible to many different users in many different forms are the most important resource libraries currently have (and presumably why I’m in this DigIn course). Along with that, the technological landscape is moving toward interconnected, open-source software that enables this intelligent knowledge creation. The research and learning landscape is also evolving, as digital repositories of data and on-line publishing of results supersede the traditional hierarchical channels of peer-reviewed journals and academic publishing, and as adults continue to be life-long learners outside of academia.

The challenges of these changing landscapes to the library culture are manifold. Having a technology plan that takes these shifting landscapes into account is really important if the library is to continue to evolve to meet the needs of its users rather than becoming merely an artifact and repository of print culture.  I especially see this as an issue in the humanities; although we obviously value book culture, there are other cultural artifacts that need to be considered as we study cultures and histories; and as the humanities become less valued (and less funded) in our business-oriented market-driven culture, moving archives and data to the digital realm makes sense since the information is thus seen as more accessible, more useful, more quantifiable, rather than arcane and magical.

1. Whittaker,  Brenda. “What  went  wrong?  Unsuccessful  information  technology  projects.”    Information   Management  &  Computer  Security  v(7)n(1)  1999  pp.23-­‐30).
2. Stephens,  Michael.  “Technoplans  vs.  Technolust.”  Library  Journal,  November  1,  2004.
3. Bertot, Carlo et al. “Study  Shows New Funding Sources Crucial to Technology Services.” American  Libraries.  March  2002  v(33)n(2)  2002. 57-­‐59).

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Amazing web sites providing technology for non-profits!

 I learned about  and from my readings for class this week:

TechSoup is a nonprofit with a clear focus: providing other nonprofits and libraries with technology that empowers them to fulfill their missions and serve their communities. As part of that goal, we provide technology products and information geared specifically to the unique challenges faced by nonprofits and libraries.

TechAtlas is a technology planning tool that helps non-profits do a technology assessment and come up with a technology plan. 

I am really excited, because our family is involved with refugee resettlement in Tucson, and my husband has been trying to provide tech support to newly settled refuges. These sites will make a huge difference, I think, in our efforts to help refugees get technology resources, training, and equipment! The need is overwhelming, and the resources are so stop-gap; the various refugee resettlement programs in town are reliant mainly on volunteers, and the case workers are overloaded. I can also think of some local literacy groups that could use these resources.

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Unit 7 – learning XML and getting web site up and running

Discuss briefly how you went about learning XML and which resources you used. Comment briefly on helpful they were (or not), and indicate any intermediate or advanced modules you reviewed. Provide a brief status report on the installation of your optional practice system, if you have one.


I learned XML by reading the lecture notes and links provided by Bruce and using the W3Schools XML tutorial  I found the tutorial adequate for my needs, especially since I can try out examples live. I also looked at two books I own called XML by Example, and XSLT: Working with XML and HTML. I did not watch the videos, since I don’t generally find videos helpful. The site was fascinating. I also began the tutorials on DTD and XML schemas. I learned more about XML by reading about the TEI guidelines for digital humanities, including the “Gentle Introduction to XML” provided by the site.

My practice system (VM) status: operational and up to date. I was able to connect remotely and run “headless” using a terminal session and opening a secure shell.  I set up my server’s website, and when I went to change the permissions, I found I had already added the group webdev and changed the permissions when I set up the practice system (I followed all the installation directions from the standard install document, which included this, I think). I continued by using fugu to transfer the website and XML files onto my new web server, and I was able to display it properly in the web browser.   I made a personal web space for user mebell on my server, and was able to find it in the browser successfully as well.

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