About Al Stevens

Al Stevens has spent his career applying advanced information technology to solve complex problems. His expertise includes open source technologies, cloud computing, network architecture, complex web hosting, data bases, XML, semantic modeling and technology sourcing.
Author Archive | Al Stevens

If you care about school libraries, contact your senator

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee voted out of committee ESEA (also known as No Child Left Behind) on October 20, 2011 without including school libraries. No date has yet been set for a Senate vote, but the American Library Association believes that it may come up after January 23, 2012. ESEA reauthorization, will determine federal education policy for the coming decade.

The Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations (ALTAFF) and the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), along with the American Library Association’s Office for Library Advocacy and the Washington Office, is asking that everyone in the US who cares about libraries contact their Senators in Washington at 202-224-3121 or at their local offices in your state about the importance of including school libraries in the reauthorization of ESEA.

So let’s help. Call or email both of your Senators now! Let them know that ESEA must include a specific authorization for an effective school library program. Ask your senators to tell both Senator Tom Harkin and Senator Mike Enzi that they support including an effective school library program in ESEA.

And, help spread the word. Ask your spouse, your friends, and your acquaintances to act now.

More details, along with suggested talking points are on the I Love Libraries website.

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Moving into the cloud

Cloud ComputingThe number of vendors in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) segment of the Cloud Computing market is now estimated to be over 2,000. This is one of the statistics in the NetworkWorld Insider Report, “Cloud Computing Changes Everything“, modestly titled and free to download (if you register first). Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) has more than 30 current vendors and platform as a service (PaaS) as a service has more than 40. The differences between these three services are described on our Cloud Computing page, but simplistically, SaaS refers to shared applications like Salesforce.com, PaaS refers to shared web platforms like the Google App engine and IaaS refers to virtual servers created on-demand. All three of these areas are rapidly changing as new vendors enter, innovate and compete.

While there’s still a lot of hype, cloud computing is now regularly delivering real benefits that include increased flexibility, reliability and responsiveness while lowering costs — often substantially. But, the lack of an experience base and missing skills can make cloud computing, like other new technologies, difficult for an organization to effectively use.

Moving to cloud computing often reveals benefits that come by having computing and software resources delivered as services instead of provided by an internal IT department. Organizations switching from traditional products like Office to Google Docs have often been motivated by cost savings but found major additional benefits from increases in productivity that come with the collaboration features and the transparent upgrade process. Organizations with in-house application development groups have often been motivated by easy access to a supported development platform but found that the ease of creating test and staging servers on demand has vastly decreased the time it takes to develop, test and deploy new applications. Organizations that provide a hosted service have often been motivated by capital costs but found that the increased flexibility allows them to easily respond to demand changes.

There are pitfalls. Adopting cloud computing can be disruptive to established departments. IT may need to give up control to other groups. Current applications, especially if they’ve been customized may not run in the cloud. Some things may actually be more expensive in the cloud — like storing large amounts of data. Moving data in and out of the cloud can be costly. The vendors themselves don’t always help. Pilot programs designed to get an organization started are often too short and result in commitments that are difficult to undo.

Despite these pitfalls, we firmly believe that small to medium sized organizations, especially those in the information industry can effectively use the cloud today. We advocate a process that starts with an analysis of the current IT and IT-supported activities in the organization. From that analysis, one or more activities are selected for a cloud-based trial. The results of the trial are then used to determine how to move forward. Our experience is that by taking small, but real steps, the organization quickly gains experience, confidence, learns to deal with the issues and is able to see the benefits of cloud computing in a short period of time.

If you would like to discuss how cloud computing could benefit your organization, please contact us.

Contact Unlimited Priorities to learn how we can help your business excel and grow.
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Cambridge University puts Isaac Newton material online

Cambridge University Library has just released a new website with more than 4,000 pages of its most important Isaac Newton material. The Library plans to upload thousands of additional pages over the next few months until almost all of its Newton collection is available to view and download anywhere in the world.

Isaac Newton’s own annotated copy of his Principia Mathematica is among his notebooks and manuscripts being made available. In addition, the site includes Newton’s Trinity College Notebook acquired while he was an undergraduate at Trinity College and used from about 1661 to 1665. One of the most interesting works is the Newton’s Waste Book a large notebook where he developed much of his important work on calculus which he began using in 1664 when he was away from Cambridge due to the plague.

The Newton collection was photographed over the summer of 2011 at about 200 pages per day. All of the works are presented in high resolution with an interface that allows users to zoom in to each page to explore the text, diagrams and annotations in detail. In addition to the high-resolution facsimiles, the site also links to the Newton Project to provide transcriptions of many of the pages.

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NFAIS Email Marketing Webinars

We recently attended two webinars on email marketing that we found outstanding. Run by the National Federation of Advanced Information Services (NFAIS) the sessions were hosted by Mitch Lapides, President, of FulcrumTech. The first covered ways to improve results and return-on-investment with the second following up with a deeper dive into improving open, click-through and conversion rates.

With tens, sometimes hundreds of daily email messages landing in each recipient’s inbox, it’s getting much more difficult to stand out. The two webinars were about standing out in a positive way. Mitch built on a few themes: build high quality lists, segment them, be as personal as possible, keep each mailing to a single point, use a landing page, and test everything. He offered five secrets: measure everything, build a powerful list, drive up the open rate, drive up the click-through rate, and implement test plans. Each of these was backed up with tips and techniques to determine where an email program is effective and where it needs to be improved.

The first two webinars are over, but there is one more upcoming, focused on social media. Registration is still open: Building your social media plan. There’s also a comprehensive set of email newsletter resources available on the FulcrumTech website.

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ACRL releases 2010 Academic Library Trends and Statistics

The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) has announced the publication of “2010 Academic Library Trends and Statistics“, their latest annual publication that describes the collections, staffing, expenditures and service activities of academic libraries. The three-volume set includes associate of arts institutions, master’s colleges and universities/baccalaureate colleges and research/doctoral-granting institutions.

The 2010 survey includes data from 1,514 academic libraries in six major categories:

  • Collections (including volumes, serials, multimedia)
  • Expenditures (library materials, wages and salaries, other operating)
  • Electronic Resources (including expenditures, collections, services, usage)
  • Personnel and Public Services (staff and services)
  • Ph.D.s Granted, Faculty, Student Enrollment
  • Faculty Rank, Status and Tenure for Librarians

The 2010 data show that the median unit cost of monographs increased slightly over 2009 for all types of academic libraries, while salary and wages expenditures as a percentage of total library expenditures remained unchanged for baccalaureate and comprehensive institutions, slightly decreased for doctoral institutions and increased almost 3 percent for associate degree-granting institutions.

Serial expenditures as a percentage of total library materials expenditures increased for all schools except doctoral degree-granting institutions. The percentage of student assistant staff as a percentage of total staff increased over 2009, ranging from a low of 20 increase at associate degree-granting institutions to a high of 32.14 percent at baccalaureate institutions.

The 3-volume set and individual volumes are available for purchase at the ACRL Store.


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Google and the Evolution of Search

In August, Google posted a video, Another look under the hood of search, that shows some of the things they do to make changes and improvements to their search algorithm.  They followed up up last week with new 6-minute video on the evolution of search summarizing key milestones from the past 10 years and ending with a brief taste of what’s coming next:

The highlights include:

  • Universal Results: finding images, videos, and news, in addition to webpages.
  • Quick Answers: including flight times, sports scores, weather others.
  • The Future of Search: Their goal, to make searching as easy as thinking.

The full post is here:  The evolution of search in six minutes

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Pick up the phone

At Unlimited Priorities, we make it a point to talk a lot with each other and with our clients. We use the phone or Skype to call each other, have frequent conference calls and get together as often as possible.  With the convenience of email and increasingly other forms of electronic communication, making live conversation part of an organization’s culture isn’t  always easy.

We recently came across a blog post, by Anthony Tjan on the Harvard Business Review blog network that we’re all reading: Don’t Send That Email. Pick up the Phone! His advice is summarized in the final paragraph:

The next time you experience an issue over email, ask yourself if it is something that would be better served by a real conversation. Then have the courage to stop emailing and pick up the phone. Or even better: have a meeting.


We encourage you to follow the link and read his post.

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Google’s new “Freshness Algorithm”

Last Thursday, Google announced major changes to the way they present search results. The changes are expected to affect up to 35% of all searches. While relevance and currency have always been important in how high web sites appear in search results, this makes them even more so.

As explained by Amit Singhal in a post on the Official Google Blog, Google is making these changes because:

Even if you don’t specify it in your search, you probably want search results that are relevant and recent. If I search for olympics, I probably want information about next summer’s upcoming Olympics, not the 1900 Summer Olympics.

Google is basing the new search on their Caffeine web indexing system, introduced last year, which allows them to crawl and index the web in near real time.

These changes are obviously good for users. The implications for website owners will become clearer after some more usage and the algorithm will likely be tuned by Google, but several things are already obvious. Fresh content, including frequent updates, will be even more important. RSS feeds of your content and date-modified tags will help Google find the updates.

If you’ve been putting it off, now would be a good time to get a comprehensive analysis of your website.

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Digital Public Library of America Video Update

The Digital Library of America (DPLA) is a one-year old project that grew out of a meeting of 40 library leaders held in October, 2011. It’s goal is to create a large-scale digital public library to make the cultural and scientific record available to everyone. The DPLA received two significant donations last week with The Sloan Foundation and Arcadia Fund each contributing $2.5 million to the project.

Last month Maura Marx, Director of the DPLA Secretariat, was at the Europeana Tech Conference, held at the Austrian National Library, where she gave a short update on the DPLA. A video of her presentation was posted on the DPLA website on Wednesday. It’s just over 12 minutes long and well worth watching.

She describes the DPLA as an American project that seeks to provide coherent access to content from a variety of institutions — from museums, from libraries, from archives, and to do it in a way that will encourage participation from users and that will encourage innovation and new development. She goes on to say that it will do so by providing content on the most open platform possible, subscribing to the most open principles possible. The goals are ambitious. They are trying to build a useful, functioning, open digital library. By April 2013, they expect to have a working prototype.

The Secretariat is at the Berkman Center at Harvard, which coordinates the project’s activities.

The most recent developments were six awards to groups submitting Beta-Sprint proposals – code and concepts for how the DPLA might operate. The awards included:

  • Digital collaboration through one unified search tool by the National Archives, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution.
  • A search tool for the DCC’s collection of cultural and scientific heritage resources, by the Digital Library Federation and the University of Illinois.
  • A multimedia-library-without-walls through an open source, HTML5 platform by metaLAB (at) Harvard, the Harvard Library Lab, and Media And Place (MAP) Productions.
  • A coordinated effort to digitize and enhance government documents using crowdsourcing and linked data by the University of Minnesota, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, and HathiTrust.
  • A web-based platform to enable the aggregation of diverse cultural heritage content and metadata by MINT at the National Technical University of Athens.
  • ShelfLife, intended to provide users with a rich environment for exploring the combined content of the DPLA, discovering new works, and engaging more deeply with them via social interactions by the Harvard Library Innovation Lab and multiple partners.

More detailed descriptions of these projects are here: DPLA Beta Sprint Results

The momentum surrounding the DPLA is increasing and we expect to see many more developments in the near future as they move forward on these and other projects.

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Library Linked Data Final Report from the W3C

One of the organizations that we pay attention to at Unlimited Priorities is the MIT-Based, World Wide Web Consortium (often referred to as the W3C). This is the group that oversees standards for the Web. The W3C has several incubator groups working on new and emerging standards. Their Library Linked Data Incubator Group, which includes people from OCLC, LYRASYS, the Library of Congress, Talis and several major universities, has the mission to help increase global interoperability of library data on the Web.

This group has just published a final report in which they characterize the current state of library data management, outline the potential benefits of publishing library data as Linked Data, and formulate next-step recommendations for library standards bodies, data and systems designers, librarians, archivists, and library leaders. These recommendations are focused on helping make the information that libraries create and curate more visible and re-usable outside of their original library context on the wider Web

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