Life is a Mystery

27 February 2011 . Comments Off on Tweets of the Week

Tweets of the Week

20 February 2011 . Comments Off on Tweets of the Week

Tweets of the Week

19 February 2011 . Comments Off on Ten Minutes at Carleton

Ten Minutes at Carleton

Well, to tell the truth, I spent more than ten minutes at Carleton, it just felt like it flew by. I had a wonderful time, and speaking out loud with engaging partners really helped my mental gridlock begin to break. Toward the end I was asked to share a few thoughts, and I wanted to capture the kernel of those thoughts here for future reference as well.

Why am I a librarian? The value of sharing. The value of organization. The value of considering context and the boundary of the question.

Part of what brought me to librarianship was the artifact of the book. The joy of paper and ink and glue binding together a conversation across time. Yet I am also a child of the digital age, sneaking onto a campus much like Carleton to learn to code on a PDP 11/70, going to a public library in Ohio to write software for a computer much like the PET I in a downtown Northfield shop window. I feel the joy of electrons, code, and protocol bringing together a conversation across not just time but space. What Tim Berners-Lee launched from his NeXT machine at CERN is only beginning to unfold. That we all agree to let people into our computers from a world wide network expresses the same value of sharing that drew me to libraries.

I believe in the mission of the library, but rather than that mission being to share the resources of the world with our community, it will be to share the resources of our community with the world. Oversimplified in all sorts of ways, I acknowledge, but in essence true, I think.

I believe in the mission of the academic library as a home for everyone on campus, a place to reach beyond the bounds of your own domain. A place that respects an intellectual journey taken in community.

I believe in the mission of the librarian to make resources discoverable, help the enquiring mind find purchase for it’s questions, to ensure faculty have the tools of their research and the fodder for their teaching.

I believe at least these three missions endure whatever rapids lie ahead for the institution of libraries, but we must grab them, own them, and help our patrons understand the value that they represent.


15 February 2011 . Comments Off on The Next Ten Years

The Next Ten Years

My mind has been buried in minutia these past few weeks, working off the details of a few client projects that involve a wonderful descent into the details of CSS and HTML. I must admit it has been fun, but one item did break through my concentration, a posting from the ARL looking for candidates for a new program for “Transforming Research Libraries.”

The past few decades have been an amazing ride, and I’ve been lucky to spot a few trends as they emerged. I remember implementing a cataloging resource site on the 1993 internet in both Gopher and Web protocols, realizing the web was much easier to work with, and sensing it would “win” the net. I remember encoding and listening to my first MP3’s in 1998 and realizing that CD’s were history when Apple brought out iTunes and made “rip, mix, and burn” a simple proposition. But until recently I have not agreed that libraries faced an existential threat. Today, I am beginning to think we will see big changes in the next decade.

I always had the sense that librarians were unafraid of technology. Maybe that comes from working at the MIT Libraries! Still, from scrolls to codex, from chains to card catalogs, from circulation cards to computers, librarians have always been ready to adopt the next appropriate technology. This facility with adapting the best that new technology offers to the job we do kept me confident of the library’s place. The challenge we now face, though, is that the very material we are here to share is evaporating into the ether. Once “books” are no longer, what is our work? And how long do books and journals still have with us?

This is a much longer story than I have time to type tonight, but let me just say that I since I’ve started using the iPad over the past year, I’ve concluded that we don’t have as long as I thought. Reading is really fun on these devices, and I think adoption will skyrocket as the tools get better. On top of that, reading is different on these devices, more interactive, more collaborative. These are things that paper can’t duplicate and they will spell the death of paper, at least in academe. And worst of all for libraries, this medium changes the economic dynamic that makes lending feasible. What happens when the cost of the item becomes less than the cost of circulating it?

So if libraries are to have a role in the future academy, it has to be a new role. In the 1990’s I began talking about “libraries turning inside out.” By that I meant that libraries, which had collected the worlds resources so that a community could make efficient use of them, were now in a position to collect the output of the community so that the world could find it. This is why we created DSpace at MIT. And this is the conclusion of Eli Neiburger’s wonderful “Libraries are Screwed” talk (see the end of part 2).

Libraries turning inside out still feels right to me. This is the heart of the task that will face the ARL’s new Transforming Research Libraries program. This is the heart of the issue facing every academic library large or small. This may even, as Neiburger points out, be the issue facing all libraries. Our job is to apply our skills, those things we have inside us, to serve the constituencies who fund us, those on the outside. If we don’t find a way to do that in the next ten years, then I fear it may be too late.


13 February 2011 . Comments Off on Tweets of the Week

Tweets of the Week

6 February 2011 . Comments Off on Tweets of the Week

Tweets of the Week

5 February 2011 . Comments Off on Colors without a profile

Colors without a profile

I learned something new about trying to match CSS colors with images this week. It turns out that Chrome, Firefox, and Safari differ in how they reproduce the colors of images. If you are trying to match an RGB color defined in CSS to the color of a particular image, this difference may haunt you.

Chrome (9.0.597.84) appears to automatically apply a color profile matching the device displaying the image to images without a color profile while Safari (5.0.3) and Firefox (3.6.8) appear to display such images with a generic profile. If you want colors in an image to match RGB colors you define in CSS, you must assign the image a color profile matching the device on which you are doing the designing.

Yeah, I know, hard to visualize. I’ve set up a color experiment page to show this effect. Enjoy!


2 February 2011 . Comments Off on Off by one pixel

Off by one pixel

I’ve been working on a theme for WordPress and ran into an interesting CSS positioning bug in WebKit today. For some reason an background image I was positioning with “center” was not lining up with a div being centered by “auto”. No problem in Firefox, but in WebKit the two would jump out of alignment with one another as I changed the window size. They would pop in and out of alignment by a single pixel.

Luckily I found a brilliant post about the problem that contained a simple demonstration. Even better, the author offered this suggestion:

In some cases, realizing what causes the problem is a clue towards a workaround. For example, you could use a wrapper div that has the background image, and is exactly as wide as the background image itself. Center it with auto margins, and there should not be any offset bugs.

That took me a few readings, but it resulted in this change to my own CSS code. Since I already had a “wrapper div” I just changed it so that instead of positioning the background image like this:

   background-image: url(images/rea-back.png);
   background-position: center top;

I used an explicit width and auto like this:

   background-image: url(images/rea-back.png);
   width: 1020px;
   margin: 0px auto;

Problem solved! Gotta love the web! Oh, and yes, the bug has been reported to the WebKit project.

one pixel

Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 /