Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Pitt upgrades Zoomify interface for Audubon’s Birds of America

I wrote an earlier post about the University of Pittsburgh Digital Research Library’s newest image collection, Audubon’s Birds of America. In it, I criticized their use of the tool Zoomify to display their scans of John James Audubon’s famous set of ornithological plates. If you take a look at the collection now, you will notice that the Zoomify window can be resized by the user. Although not a complete fix, this feature certainly makes the website more useable; I applaud the DRL for implementing the change.

There has been a discussion – here and over at PhiloBiblios – about the $300 fee for ordering a print from the collection. Was Pitt using Zoomify to control the rights to their images by limiting the public’s access to the full images? The move to improve Zoomify has waylaid this fear, in my mind. If anyone wanted to, it would be relatively easy to grab an entire plate to either print (at a place like Kinko’s) or post on the internet. However, it is important to note that the University stresses “Digital files are not for sale.” [1] (The bold is theirs.)

Now the question seems to be whether the print Pitt offers is – to put it blunty – overpriced. And if so, if it is ethical for Pitt to overcharge in the name of recouping their digitization expenditures. (They do seem to have a monopoly on the business. If you take a look at eBay, you’ll find that the online auction site is flooded with small, low quality Audubon reproductions starting at about $10.)

My response to this is that Pitt claims their reproductions are near facsimile quality. (With that said, I’m sure Walter Benjamin is rolling over in his grave!) This means that, in all likelihood, printing these images does cost significantly more than one would suspect. Although I can’t offer any figures on how much materials and labor cost, I don’t think the ratio of actual to sales price is obscene. (Nothing like the markup associated with CDs.)

As for the fee helping to recoup losses, Pitt hasn’t attempted to justify the price using this trope. (Although if they were to comment on the price, I’d wager this would be the first defense they’d employ.) As I don’t think the price is exorbinant – you are purchasing a high-quality luxury good, after all – and because I like the idea of libraries branching out to become more economically sustainable, I don’t have a problem with this. There is a (mis)conception that academic libraries are black holes when it comes to money: the budget/grants go in and “nothing” comes out. I guess this could be used to accuse me of adopting a business mindset when it comes to library management. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, however.

On a slightly related note, I’m seriously considering having the little buggers on plate 134 tattooed on my flank. Talk me out of it, library folk! ;-)


1. University of Pittsburgh. “audubon_reproductions.pdf.” Audubon’s Birds of America at the University of Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh. (14 March 2008).


Open Access for Library Catalogs

LCC Numbers:
Z286.O63 Open Access Publishing
Z693.A1-695.83 Cataloging

Inside Higher Ed has an exciting article discussing the work being done by some libraries, including Oregon State, Villanova, and Rochester to create open access library catalogs.

I think open access is a wonderful concept, which is finally gaining some notoriety. Especially after Harvard’s recent decision. After dealing with numerous aggravating catalogs in my years, the idea of an open access catalog is a breath of fresh air. The article specifically highlights Villanova’s VuFind catalog which already puts many standard systems to shame. I recommend going to the site and typing in a favorite author just to see how the catalog easily, quickly, and simply displays items in a demo catalog. Another wonderful attribute to VuFind is “faceted searching” which allows user to narrow by genre, author, etc. This function can be seen on sites like Amazon or Newegg.

My favorite quote comes from Jeremy Frumkin, the Gray Family Chair for Innovative Library Services at Oregon State who says, “The more we could simplify the experience, the better people reacted to it.” Duh. That is what people want!


Cohen, Patricia. Harvard Research To Be Free Online. , Ala.: New York Times, 2008.

Guess, Andy. Open Minds, Open Books, Open Source. , Ala.: Inside Higher Ed, 2008.

Piracy Madness

Ars Technicha has a great article describing a film produced by the National District Attorneys Association in cahoots with the RIAA, titled In Trial: Prosecuting Music Piracy. Here is a link to the torrent in question.

As the article points out, this looks to be a very entertaining video along the lines of Reefer Madness.


Paul, Ryan. Reviewing the RIAA’s “Reefer Madness” for the digital age. , Ala.: Ars Technica, 2008. (21 February 2008).

Reefer Madness. , Ala.: Wikipedia.orgn.d. (21 February 2008).

Citation 2.0: How to Quickly and Easily Create Citations

At a time when concerns over intellectual property and plagiarism are (thankfully) at a fever pitch, is constructing a citation or bibliography still more of a headache than a pleasure? It doesn’t have to be! Web 2.0 and citation software has wiped away those dark times when the average student would have to consult a manual of style. (For easy-to-use, but non-authoritative manuals for ALA, MLA, Chicago, and CSE/CBE, check out Diana Hacker’s website, Research and Documentation Online.)

Web-based citation generation is one of the most prolific new ways to quickly nab a citation. In most cases, these services are free and intuitive to use. OttoBib only requires a user to plug in ISBNs and select one (of five) citations styles for output. Pros include that you can bulk generate by inputting multiple ISBNs separated by commas. Cons include the fact that you don’t know where citations are coming from, they are often incomplete or incorrect, and that OttoBib can only generate citations for books. A superior alternative to this is WorldCat. Simply find the record of the document you wish to cite. You can either copy and paste – click “Cite this Item” to select from five styles – or export to EndNote or RefWorks. (More on those big players later.) The best thing about WorldCat is that OCLC’s cataloging records (from which the citations are drawn) are almost always pristine, ensuring a quality citation time and again. Many databases, such as Credo Reference, also provide citations in a manner similar to WorldCat.

Calvin College’s KnightCite – designed in 2004 by Justin Searls – is slightly more time consuming that WorldCat, but allows users to cite a wide variety of materials: websites, journal articles, encyclopedias, images, etc. (KnightCite FAQ) Text input is manual. However, the website formats everything. Value added features include the ability to switch between styles without losing your current citation information, add more authors/editors/translators dynamically, and register (which opens “the door to creating free, accurate, and complete bibliographies that are easy to manage, organize, and export into the most popular text formats”). (KnightCite Registration)

There are two major contenders when it comes to citation and bibliography software: RefWorks and Endnote. The former, as a web-based subscription system, is popularly thought of as easier to use and has extensive online training materials. However, the latter has a strong hold on the sciences and may be the more prudent financial choice: EndNote carries a one-time fee, while RefWorks has an annual subscription fee of $100 dollars. (RefWorks) Most Universities offer both programs for free or at a discount. Once a student graduates they will have EndNote until it is outdated, but unless they start paying that subscription fee RefWorks will not allow them to add to or manipulate their bibliographies. An excellent chart comparing the two, created by Christina Woo and Susan Jones, can be found here (PDF, 32 KB).

Free, web-based bibliographic tools and for-profit apps all have their pitfalls: Neither type may be able to render an APA citation properly because of the style’s strict capitalization rules. Similarly, people generating on a citation-by-citation basis may ignore the rules of constructing a final bibliography. (Should there be a hanging indent? A dash instead of a surname? Ibid?) Often, students are at the mercy of the hidden records used to generate citations. As they say, garbage in, garbage out. (I was burned when importing sloppy MARC records using RefWorks.) Also, instructors and journals often have very specific standards for citing material; bibliographic tools very rarely have output options this specific. In the end, to create the best bibliography possible, it is important to have a firm understanding of the style in which you are working.

However, to jump easily to a half-way point, go ahead and familiarize yourself with these tools. I personally use WorldCat and KnightCite for most of my bibliographies. When I have to construct a very large bibliography, I recommend EndNote over RefWorks.