Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Addicted to Data

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Addicted to Data

Article excerpt

I've never been one to do things in a small way. It seems for the last decade I've been obsessed with creating databases on the Web and working to fill them up. That common thread weaves itself through the projects that I gravitate toward in both my work at the library and in my personal time at home. While some enjoy video games as a diversion, my Type-A personality drives me to spend at least some of my leisure time plugging away at something productive. When I'm not pounding out my next column or frantically finishing up an article that's due, you're likely to find me at the computer working with one of my database projects. I'm not complaining--I find it relaxing and enjoy the challenge of ferreting out information and stashing it into a database.


In previous columns, I've mentioned some of the databases that I've created as part of my work at Vanderbilt. These include the technical systems that underlie the Vanderbilt Television News Archive, an image management system for our photographic archives, an interface for displaying and comparing art images in the classroom, an oral history repository, and many others. They all rely on a common infrastructure that I developed in Perl for Web-accessible databases.

In this month's column, I'll talk about some of the projects I do at home on my non-Vanderbilt time. I'll discuss some recent work I've done on my Library Technology Guides (LTG) site, additions I've made to the lib-web-cats online directory of libraries, and applications I created for managing my family's photographs. Much of the development work that I do for my personal collections benefits my Vanderbilt projects, and vice versa.

Library Technology Guides

I've mentioned Library Technology Guides ( in previous columns. While the site resides on a server in the library, I work on its content almost entirely on my own time. LTG includes several database components. All of these, including a directory of the companies that produce library automation software, a bibliographic database of literature of the field, and a full-text archive of news releases and announcements from all the automation companies, are related to library automation in some way. lib-web-cats functions as a standalone directory of libraries, but its primary purpose is to help me track the automation systems used in libraries throughout the world. Each of the components of Library Technology Guides supports my research interests in library automation and provides the raw data for the articles I write and the studies I conduct in this field. I'm also interested in making sure that this information is widely available to anyone else that might be interested. Last month's column, "Designing Sites to Distribute Content via Various Mechanisms," included a description of how I added an RSS feed to the site's current news feature to better disseminate the industry announcements that I add to the site practically every day. In 2005, I posted 427 news releases to LTG.

Library Technology Guides gives me a chance to manage a Web site with a great deal of freedom. While I try to make sure that it's always up and operational for all the users that have come to rely on it, I can make changes without the organizational complexities that apply to a Web site for a large university library system. For example, I recently implemented a redesign that went away from using tables to manage the layout of the site to using an all-CSS (cascading style sheet) approach. While it's not perfect, it gave me a chance to try this technique out on my own before we tackle such a change at Vanderbilt.


The lib-web-cats component of Library Technology Guides has been one of my pet projects for many years. I've been working on this database of libraries for about a decade, and it has grown steadily. I initially focused on making sure that the largest and most prominent libraries were represented, and while lib-web-cats includes libraries from throughout the world, it definitely has a slant toward those located in North America. …

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