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Visual Impact: Worldmapper.org February 24, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Uncategorized.
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Not to bombard you with reference resources today, but I stumbled across another great site that will easily keep you occupied for a while. Worldmapper.org provides more than 700 world maps (over half of which are available in PDF form) that showcase various statistics by resizing countries to visually show the impact of such statistics. There are even a few that are animated, and thus display the way the world has changed over a number of years. All of the maps link to excel spreadsheets with detailed statistics as well as sources. The organization is run by a group of college professors. I am going to include some of the most astounding maps below so you can see for yourself what an impact these can have, but make sure to check out the whole list of maps here.

Forest Loss - Click image for more info

Malaria Deaths - click for more info

Research and Development Employees - Click for more info

Nuclear Arms - Click for more info

Dictionary 2.0: Wordnik February 24, 2010

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Recently I read a good review by Choice, recommending the free website Wordnik.com as a new type of dictionary. Their goal? “Our goal is to show you as much information as possible, as fast as we can find it, for every word in English, and to give you a place where you can make your own opinions about words known.” As a word lover, I found myself browsing this site for some time. Each entry compiles definitions from American Heritage Dictionary, Century Dictionary, GNU Webster’s 1913, Wordnet, and “elsewhere on the web”. The entries also include examples from online articles, print articles, books, etc. There is a place to tag the entries, a live Twitter feed, Flickr photos which have been tagged with the word, statistics about the popularity of the word, etymology from a number of different sites, and a chart graphing usage. While many of the links depend on public contribution like Wikipedia, there still is a wealth of good information on here.  As of today, Wordnik boasted that it is comprised of, “billions of words, 423 million example sentences, 4.7 million unique words, and over 185,000 comments, 95,000 tags, 74,000 pronunciations, 24,518 favorites and 728,464 words in 23,583 lists created by 39,849 Wordniks.” While this might not be the most authoritative source on the web for definitions, it is certainly the most current, and in times like these, that is certainly something to be taken into consideration.

Text Reference: Boon or Curse? February 3, 2010

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In a few weeks I will be (virtually) attending the Handheld Librarian Online Conference. I am particularly excited about Alison Miller’s keynote talk entitled, “Mobile Trends and Social Reference.” What most interested me about Miller was the fact that she makes a living working from home–both for the Internet Public Library, and by “responding to questions from a variety of Mobile services, including My Info Quest, Aardvark, Mosio and kgb” (handheldlibrarian.org). This led me to thinking about the changing face of reference and how many libraries are adopting text messaging as the newest form of reference. In fact, the New York Public Library announced yesterday, via Twitter, that they would be accepting text message reference questions. The quick blurb on their web site does not say whether the service is limited to those holding New York Public Library cards. One might wonder how they would even know if the questions came from card holders, as they do not require a bar code or user name. Perhaps they will look for New York area codes as they extend membership to all New Yorkers.

From Moriza's Flickr stream. Creative Commons licensed.

While I laud the attempts of libraries to remain on the cutting-edge in responding to patrons’ needs, I wonder if library reference will take a back seat to other, more widely used technologies such as Google and Bing apps on smartphones or, as O’Reilly’s Radar Blog believes, social search. Social search is different from search engines in that it queries a group of peers to find information, rather than scan web pages for keywords. (Six and a half in one, a dozen in the other, if you ask me.) One of the best known sites for social searching is Aardvark. (Others include Miller’s employers: kgb, Mosio, etc.) While commenters on the O’Reilly blog disagree that social searching will cause the demise of Google, I found myself wondering if social search was proven to be nearly as fast and more reliable than search engines if it could conquer such a feat. And just what could make social searching fast and reliable? Well, librarians of course! (And free, as well, since public librarians are paid through taxes.)

Text message referencing, as an emerging trend, could either be a boon or a curse to libraries. Clearly, the curse would be if people use social search sites instead of using the library. But it could be a major boon if the library is just as easy to access as these sites, but with more reliable results. Text message referencing once again resurfaces the fears librarians felt with the emergence and fast adoption of the web. While librarians knew their services couldn’t be replaced, they were afraid that their patrons wouldn’t understand why. Thus, we are once again called upon to prove our relevance. [1] We must outreach! Let people know the service is available. And, [2] teach information literacy! Make people understand why text messaging a librarian will get you far more reliable answers than social search!