Update from Washington, DC

I’m in Washington, DC for the American Library Association Annual Conference & Exhibition. I started an MLS program back in 1990 (Masters of Library Science), but had to drop out because my CD ROM publishing company needed my full attention. But I have the deepest admiration for librarians, particularly reference librarians, who are vastly underrated. They don’t know everything, but they know where to find the answers, probably better than any other profession.

So I’m hanging out with 30,000 librarians and service providers. (Someone told me normally 25,000 attend, but DC is a big draw, so they’re expecting more this year.) There are 1,600 exhibitors–pretty impressive. Yesterday I spent 5 hours at the National Archives listening to some of the premiere genealogists in the country talk about using the National Archives to find records of your ancestors.

I’ve been travelling a lot lately, and often getting cheap last minute fares, and I suppose because of that, my luggage was lost for the third consecutive time. What I’m learning is that if a travel site books one segment on one airline and then hands you off to another airline for the next segment, often you make the connection but your luggage does not. A few months back I used LinkedIn Answers to get about 40 wonderful suggestions on how to get cheap fairs with short notice for international flights. Now I think I need to use LI Answers to figure out ways to travel cheap without losing baggage. I used to travel with one carry on and my laptop bag, and I could go for a few days with just that, but since the ban on liquids and stuff, I just check my baggage and carry on my laptop bag. I suppose I could try the plastic bag approach and put my contact lens stuff in one of those and still carry it on. But it is such a pain.

If you wonder why I’m blogging about such mundane and personal things, check out Mark Cuban’s recent *very* personal blog post on getting a colonoscopy. (or you can just google “cuban and colon” and he ranks #1 in google. I think the Colon Cancer Testing Industry should adopt his “it’s easy and breezy” tag line for their advertising. He clearly doesn’t think personal fears should get in the way of having this important screening done.

I had my first physical exam in 20 years last year, and it was a bit uncomfortable and I never would have blogged the details–but then again, I’m not Mark Cuban, and I suppose I do still care what people think of me. I admire Mark in a lot of ways. I love the Mavs, and was sorry to see them lose in the first round of the playoffs this year.

Okay, so back to business.

This afternoon I get to hear a lecture from Google and five major libraries about how the Google Books Project is coming. I’m very excited to get a firsthand update. In various places I’ve read that it only costs Google about $10 per book to scan and OCR a book, they use some kind of modified open source OCR program. As a long time content publisher, I’m eager to know both how to keep costs down on scanning and indexing projects, as well as to see whether Google is just going to digitize all the world’s information and make it free, making it more difficult for anyone else to be an information provider.

But even if all the books in the world were free online (and they won’t be, because of copyright issues), there would still be a role for indexers, librarians, and organizers of that free information, and people would still pay for that added value, because it would save them time and make them more effective.

If open source applications commoditize some software, and force developers to work on top of the LAMP stack, then I think in the library industry, the open sourcing of the world’s books will force professional information workers to add value on top of the “stacks” of free books, as well. (There’s a pun in here somewhere with the open source “stack” and “stacks” of books.) Disruption always opens doors to new opportunities, and those who make the transition by gaining new skill sets and providing new services can do very well.

Yesterday I heard an industry leader in preservation say they now have technology to simultaneously digitize and microfilm the things they are scanning. That is cool.

This morning I hope to hear Ken Burns speak in one of the keynotes. But I’ll be late because I lost my blackberry recharger yesterday, and have to check with the hotel’s lost and found when they open at 9 am to see if they have it, and if they don’t, I have to go two blocks to a cell phone store when it opens and buy a new one. I am always losing laptop power cords and my phone rechargers. Can’t wait for wireless recharging, a technology that several companies are now working on.

Speaking of blackberries, it’s true that you see a ton of them in DC.

This week I’ve spoken with several decision makers about Facebook Platform. After my Paul Revere style midnight ride post–”Facebook is coming, Facebook is coming”–of four weeks ago, the night of the f8 launch event, one commenter called me the “hypiest” blogger he had ever read. I think the hype was legit.

In the last four weeks and one day, 945 applications have launched on Facebook, and it was reported this week that 1,000 developers per day are signing up to become Facebook Developers.

More impressive, 17 applications have more than a million users already, and six have more than 3 million users. Can you imagine getting that many users in a month, without spending a penny on advertising?

I finally signed up for Twitter last week, and hope to get in the habit of using it often. I think it will help me fill in the long (unfortunately) gaps in my blogging, because I don’t have nearly as much time to blog this year since I’m running World Vital Records. When I was in London two months ago, a little article on Twitter was on the front page of the Financial Times.

But the most interesting use, for me, of Twitter, is for parents and children to use it to stay in touch with each other. I think I’ll start experimenting with that. How often do you wonder what your kids are doing at any given time, who they are with, what their plans are? Not that kids will want to use Twitter to keep their parents up to the minute, but I think there might be some ways to pull that off. I’m all for finding ways to use technology to strengthen families, and a Family Twitter would go a long way.

Tim Russert has been promoting his book “Wisdom of our Fathers” and in an interview I saw this morning, he talked about his relationship to his father, and his relationship to his son. He told some wonderful stories (you can find the clip on Truveo) about his son, and expressed very well how family relationships are more important than anything else in life.

If you know any parents that use Twitter to keep up with their kids and vice versa, please let me know. I may write a Connect Magazine article about this in the next few months.

Predictably, my upcoming Connect Magazine article will be on how the Facebook Platform is changing everything in social networking.

I think I saw something yesterday about Ning enabling Facebook apps now.

I’m heading to London tonight and will be there for business meetings on Monday and Tuesday.

My airplane reading is a 600 page book on Germanic Genealogy that was just published this year. I have consumed books on genealogy sources in the UK, US, Germany, England, Sweden and Italy this year, and plan to do the same with every recently published sourcebook on genealogy for every country in the world, just as soon as I can.

Ten years ago, when running Ancestry.com, I had some wonderful subject matter experts to focus on acquiring genealogy records, and I focused on internet marketing and strategy. But this time around, I intend to do both, and to see what wonderful insights and product design ideas come from understanding the records of the world as well as trying to make them accessible to more people.

One more thing: two more entrants into the family social networking space, Famillion out of Israel, and Zooof out of the UK, both have funding, both are doing good things.

And finally, when I have an hour, I want to write a thoughtful post on genetic genealogy, with Google’s founder funding 23andme.com, and Ancestry.com rekindling an old business relationship with Sorenson Genomics, perhaps in response to what Google might do. More and more genealogists are talking about DNA testing these days, and I think it will become mainstream in the next few years. I’ve been interested in this subject since reading the Decode genetics S-1 back in 1999, and trying to acquire a DNA testing company for MyFamily.com shortly thereafter (I couldn’t convince others that it was strategic), so I have a lot of thoughts to share on the topic. Just not enough time.

Physical Libraries vs Electronic Libraries

The Everton Collection at the Logan Library in Logan, Utah could use more visitors.

Last September Leland Meitzler on his excellent genealogyblog broke the following news about one of the largest private genealogical collections in the U.S.:

I really feel that I’m being premature in posting this blog, but since the word is now circulating on the Internet, I’m forced into it. Yes – plans are underway for the Everton library to open in early October. I will announce the actual opening when it happens.

The Everton collection, which has been unavailable to the public for over two years now, will be opening soon. Logan Library Director Ron Jenkins has been interviewing potential librarians for the collection – and earlier this month, Jenkins hired Jason Cornelius, who is moving from Salt Lake City to Logan. Cornelius will be a full-time librarian, cataloging and overseeing the daily operations of the collection.

The books are housed in an unfinished and unused auxillary courtroom in Logan. The facility is very warehouse-like, complete with bare concrete floors. However, the bookshelves are full of an amazing variety of genealogical materials. It will be good to see the facility open to the public.

Volunteers are needed to assist with clerical work and help genealogists use the massive collection.

Read more about the “opening soon” of the Everton collection in the September 22, 2006 edition of The Logan Herald Journal.

Yesterday, a news story claims that the Library has had only 200 visits since it opened last October.

I googled “everton library logan” and “logan utah genealogy” and couldn’t readily find any information about the library, its holdings, hours or anything else. I looked at Everton.com’s home page and couldn’t find anything. Then I googled “logan library” and found the Logan Library home page with a prominent link to the Everton Collection information that visitors or volunteers would need.

If Logan officials would like more visitors to the Library, I’m sure World Vital Records can help a great deal. We have thousands of daily visitors to our web site. We could make it easy for these visitors, who are accessing some portions of the Everton Collection on our web site, to find the physical library in Logan where they can access the entire 82,000 piece collection, including the many copyrighted materials that World Vital Records will not likely put on its web site for some time.

I have wondered how physical libraries around the world will fare as Google Book Search, the Open Content Alliance, Microsoft Live Book Search, and other massive book digitization projects around the world.

(I think Microsoft Live Book Search is cleaner than Google’s. And to compare the size of the content, I did a search for my ancestor William Brewster, of Mayflower fame. Here are the 1,449 William Brewster results on Microsoft and the 3,608 William Brewster results on Google.)

Thomson Gale’s Access My Library project is a very smart effort to continue to make libraries relevant, by enabling library patrons to access huge electronic collections using their library ID.

I personally love physical libraries–there is nothing like browsing shelves and thumbing through old books. While I love the digital libraries for searching for something specific, I prefer to browse in a physical library. I have had some ideas about how RFID or Bluetooth could be used along with Smart Phones and PDAs to turn physical book collections into a wonderful experience of discovery–where the PDA knows what you are looking for and the books know what they contain, and the PDA and books can communicate as you wander around around the library, and let you know when you’re near something of interest.

I think future physical libraries could be really far out, but unless they do something radical, I’m not sure how they will survive.

What are your thoughts about physical libraries and the purpose they will serve in the coming years?