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Open This, Open That, Drink Me: Get Real!

(Originally posted to Web4Lib in slightly different form)

With all the biblioblogbuzz about OpenWorldCat, folks on Web4Lib brought up RLG’s RedLightGreen. So I walked it around the block once or twice.

I was impressed with the theory behind RedLightGreen, and with many of the features. I really liked the related subjects, ability to scope within a search, etc. (Though I wondered in passing, what am I scoping by? LCSH? Local thesaurus? Phases of the moon?)

However, in addition to the need for zip code scoping (brought up by Jerry Kuntz), as a researcher, I’m not sure I’ll reach for RedLightGreen the next time I fire up the brain-pot for a research session. I found it frustrating to locate a promising title, put in my city (knowing I have two other cities in this area), click down to the library, and then find that the library didn’t carry it. Now I have nowhere to crawl up the chain, so I look for a browser window… o.k., maybe that will work… no, that’s not it… etc. Shampoo, rinse, repeat; I’m slipping in the tub. It seems backwards and not smooth. Is it working for most users?

On a related note… well, actually as a major digression…it’s interesting we were discussing RedLightGreen on Web4Lib, since it is OpenWorldCat that has been all the chit-chat on the usual librarian blogs. This is NOT, repeat NOT to criticize OCLC, and I think OpenWorldCat is important for us to talk about. But I have noticed that PR departments in many organizations have figured out who the key bloggers are and forward posts to them. I’ve seen new services, goodies, etc. promoted uncritically on major library blogs, almost verbatim from whatever flack sent it to them. I would expect librarians to take solicitations with a grain of salt, or at least to put their announcements in context with other services, but as someone who receives a lot of these “invitations,” I know otherwise.

Not too long ago I was sent an announcement in the form of “Gee, special person, take a look at this resource, what do you think of it?” Well, I took that as a literal solicitation for input and flailed away at the keyboard, earnestly organizing my thoughts. In the hour or two I spent doing this, the person who sent me the announcement had publicly posted the resource all over hell and back, and bloggers were indeed posting it left and right, verbatim, without noting any of the issues I had encountered. I was annoyed and dismayed; obviously that was not a real request for input, but a way to flatter me into posting about the item. (Note: I never said a word about the resource, for other reasons.)

Next time I get a message asking for my “input,” unless I know the source well enough to know otherwise, I’ll assume it’s just pro forma flack flattery, and I’ll save my breath for the blog posting.

After a decade of writing for the library press, I’m aware of the value of the intervening voice, as indeed are those approaching us with their spins and flack attacks and huckstering. Without that intervening voice, how easy it is to be swept up in the moment, ready fire aim, and what a disservice to our readers when we do so. I’ve referred to blogging as the literary version of barebacking: alluring, all too easy to do, and dangerous. Are blogs wonderful? Of course. Like sex: wonderful, and in the heat of the moment, without enough protection, sometimes dangerous.

We as blogging librarians, as information specialists with very large pots of ink at our disposal, ought to be very careful in what we promote, how we promote it, and how we analyze what we’re sent. As na´ve newsmakers, we’re fodder for all kinds of music-men–and that can be dangerous.

And while I’m at it, I am pleased to see that some of the more prolix bibliobloggers have finally made the acquaintance of Mr. Apostrophe and Miss Comma. I would now like us to be a little more reserved with Sir Bracket, as this device is not a replacement for parentheses. If you can post thousands of words a day, you can get those fingers up to the top row of the keyboard. Besides, you probably need the exercise.

Anyway, RedLightGreen–yup, interesting, and needs to be discussed on the same playing field with OpenWorldCat. I don’t see myself using RedLightGreen, because of that bass-ackwardness, but it’s an intriguing alternative to the latest new new thing from the Big O.

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