Monthly Archives: June 2008

Paul Otlet in the Times

Interesting article this week in the Science section of NYT on Paul Otlet in the context of modern web design. There is even a video clip from the documentary “The man who wanted to classify the world”. The tone suggests Otlet is forgotten — maybe by CS types, but he was considered foundational to the HCI folks studying hypertext and to generations of LIS faculty interested in organization of materials. The dreams of a better knowledge world are not new and it would be churlish to complain when a leading newspaper actually take the time to learn this before committing another ‘Web-story’ to print. So I won’t!

Complaints over partisanship in university polling of political views

Clearly there is no perfect survey, as seen in some recent entries, but the design of and use of voter surveys now has a faculty member at Syracuse in the hot seat. Jeff Stonecash of the Maxwell School has conducted a variety of political polls for decades, using students as project staff, offering polls to all-comers, apparently, at cut-price rates. Following complaints from Democrats that the his recent poll was ‘partisan’, he has now been asked (told?) to stop. Clearly there are issues of appropriateness that might need to be addressed but one might also think that practical experience in conducting a poll that will be viewed publicly by a large audience could be an excellent learning opportunity for the students. Curiously, Stonecash is a registered democrat himself, and says he would have done a poll for the democratic candidate too if asked. In a wonderful example of understatement he is quoted as saying “I think it’s a very legitimate issue to ask whether a professor can do polling for candidates using university resources.” Indeed it is, just as legitimate as asking if conducting polls should be limited to profit-driven companies alone rather than allowing academics intent on exploring the process with students to participate. One wonders is the issue about paying for such a service or someone just not liking the results? The role of the university in society is about to be examined, one hopes, and not found wanting.

What book readers want…..(a few more pointed questions)

According to the latest Random House-commissioned survey of more than 8000 adults:

43% of respondents say that they buy most of their books online. Amazon is becoming the bookshop of choice for such people — not only does it outscore Barnes & Noble online site by 10:1, but independent bookstores are the most common choice of only 9%. Of course, the respondents were all online when they provided that response. Coincidence?

60% of adults spend less than $20 per month on books, and 50% of people buy fewer than 10 books a year. This sounds low but if you multiply it up by the millions of adult book buyers, this is a tidy amount. If you are somewhat cynical, you might wonder why nobody ever says ‘I don’t buy or read books’ — surely there are such people out there and you’d think a survey of 8000 random folk should probably find a few. But then, apparently everyone has a library card too and believes in God. No desirability to these responses surely.

The really interesting data is not so much the claimed spending and type of books purchased (hardcover history books bought at the airport seem remarkably popular with these respondents) but while 23% of respondents claim they spent more time reading this year than last, 65% reported increasing their time spent online (completing surveys, perhaps?) The subject of the book and its author account for over 70% of people being drawn to and subsequently purchasing a book; price and bestseller status were deemed irrelevant by most readers. More than half read only one book at a time but a large proportion (40%) report having 2-4 books on the go at once. Now that’s multi-tasking.

The survey contains a section which asks about ‘bad reading habits’ and people seem to view folding over pages or writing on the text to be serious sins. I can’t understand why if the books are your property but this could just be the survey design (again!). Of course, I admit to using corner folding systematically to reflect the quadrant of the open book I am drawing attention to (works a charm in retrieval, at least for me).

Bad news for the e-readers, it would seem – but you might think the following question was just a little leading: “Do you like to curl up with a printed book or would you be comfortable reading books in other format e.g, online, ebook etc.” — now really, is this a straight question? 82% said they like printed books (does this mean 18% have something against them?). I like to curl up with a printed book for sure, and I am also comfortable reading books in other formats. Can’t I have both?

It’s not easy to make sense of the data this survey yields, there are various combinations of results broken down by political affiliation, investment style, and general belief in the American Dream (I kid you not) but if you are the kind of respondent who provides completely off the wall answers to strangers who push surveys at you, you might recognize yourself in here somewhere. The survey was conducted online so there’s a further complication. 80% of such people say they make up answers that create a positive impression of themselves as intelligent, wealthy, well-mannered citizens. [I am making this last bit up]

BASIST issue on Genre published

A series of short articles on the concept of genre in digital environments has been published in the June issue of the ASIST Bulletin. This is the outgrowth of a successful panel session at the 2007 conference.