Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Tech Tips Roundup

It has been a long winter here in the mid-Atlantic where I am, which means I had plenty of time indoors to check out some great new tools and utilities for libraries and librarians. There's no theme or organization to these, but they represent some of the best things I've seen in the realm of creating and managing information. Let's get to it!

CAR Conference

This year's Computer Assisted Reporting conference by Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) was loaded with good ideas and tutorials. Chrys Wu has collected a lot of them on her blog, and many of them have applications in the library, such as:
  • NodeXL for Social Network Analysis by Peter Aldhous of New Scientist. Shows how an Excel plugin can be used to create a network analysis. Great for projects that involve keeping track of many people.
  • Google Refine tutorial and datasets by David Huynh of Google. If you ever have to clean up or standardize some information, Google Refine might make your life much easier. It runs on your desktop, too.
  • A Gentle Introduction to SQL using SQLite: slides, full tutorial and steps only by Troy Thibodeaux of the AP. If you want to get started learning databases, this is a great way to go. SQLite is most likely already on your computer.

With the rise of Wikipedia, many researchers are interested in how often and where links to external sources appear in the volunteer-edited encyclopedia's article references. Ed Summers, a developer at the Library of Congress who will be speaking at the Special Libraries Association conference in June, has a project that tracks references in Wikipedia.

Called linkypedia, the project can be set up and run on a local computer. It accepts one or more domain names or URLs (, for example) and scans Wikipedia for links in article references. Here's a screenshot of the results for a search on, which is our congressional database at The Times:

Ed is working on making a public, hosted version available for others to use, but if you have administrative rights on your PC and are feeling adventurous, you can try to set it up yourself. I'll be glad to walk anyone through the process.

New FOIA Resources

For those of us who deal with public records requests, a new site from the Department of Justice may come in handy. launched in March as a portal site for news and statistics about the processing of federal Freedom of Information Act requests. It shows percentages for full, partial and denied requests by agency along with other reports. Good reading for people who want to learn how to become a better FOIA submitter.

A few days before, the folks at the Investigative Reporting Workshop, based at American University, launched a new blog called Exemption 10 that covers federal FOIA issues. It is primarily written by Wendell Cochran, the Workshop's senior editor.

A Basketball Database

This being March, basketball is a big topic. And while it's not college-focused, the Los Angeles Times recently took the information it had collected about the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers and compiled it into a searchable and browsable database that should inform and entertain fans. It also is a great internal resource for reporters, since they'll have a single place to look up facts and refer to when trying to settle those all-important sports desk debates.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Notes from the Chair: What is the SLA News Division?

...And why should I join?

These are questions I've been answering for librarians, LIS students and many other curiosity-seekers. As the new Chair and a longtime member of the News Division, I am well-suited to spreading the word about the advantages of getting involved. When reviewing our 297 members, I've noted we have varied titles and responsibilities and regularly discuss the evolving roles.

The latter is key. News librarians -- information professionals involved in creating, managing, archiving or curation -- are some of the most versatile professionals I've known in any industry. A decade ago, when the Internet was finally being adopted in newsrooms, we were performing analytic journalism and working with data. In that spirit, Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web said in a recent speech that data analysis would be the future for journalists. It turns out the future was already here.

Many of us have been involved in creating wikis -- websites that allow the easy creation and editing of any number of interlinked web pages via a browser -- and have endured repeated questions about their practicality. In the ten years since the editable online encyclopedia Wikipedia was created, and after issues of centralizing and sharing critical information raised by the release of global intelligence information through WikiLeaks grabbed the public's consciousness, this phenomenon is slowly starting to be understood. Knowledge-management professionals know full well that information, documents or other media have to be both searchable and actionable -- something Peter Drucker, the management theorist and originator of the term 'knowledge worker' anticipated fifty years ago.

Over the past few years as these resources have become easier to use and creating and sharing information is approaching second nature, we've built such tools for our organizations -- whether for managing electronic resources or keeping details of a complex issue or news topic in one place.

Additionally, digital archiving, training colleagues and creating content directly --or more likely all of these things -- are major components of the information professional's evolving responsibilities. These are just a few examples of what many of our colleagues do. But the News Division is for anyone who belongs to SLA and is concerned with news and media in their job -- or is considering a career in this field. So here are a few reasons why you should join:

1. We need you. The Division exists because so many of our former colleagues considered joining organizations essential to training the next generation. They believed strongly in volunteering, assuming leadership positions, soliciting and circulating ideas and conceptualizing learning opportunities in the form of annual conference programs, regional events and innovative techniques of virtual education. Put simply, our group is better when it is larger, and it grows when people are curious enough to check off the box for the News Division when they join or renew their SLA membership.

2. A professional association membership is advantageous to you. Good managers look for employees who are active in their own professional development. In addition, many look for qualities that indicate a professional who's not only working to make the industry better, but who also is concerned about something larger than him or herself. It also puts your colleagues on notice that this is an important profession within the information industry. This benefits all of us.

3. Networking and community building. Joining and being active within the News Division increases the division's visibility and efforts, as well as enlarging our circle. You create connections with members who could help open a door in many ways.

4. You'll learn continuously. Derek Willis, one of our colleagues who is an evangelist for programming and database journalism, has said of the SLA Annual Conference: "It's great for learning many things in one place." We're extremely fortunate that Derek agreed to serve as the News Division's Director of Education and Professional Development. Identifying directions we should be moving in and providing practical information that can be immediately applied is our goal. (Derek's blog, by the way, is another opportunity to learn about this kind of journalism in one place.)

In coming weeks we'll be talking more about what you'd like to see. Over my term I look forward to getting to know every single one of our members, where we're headed, and what's on the horizon.

- Leigh Montgomery, 2011 Chair

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