March 2011 Archives

Back last June, the OCLC Innovation Lab announced the availability of a Twitter-based service called Ask4Stuff. The idea (in a nutshell) was to let people tweet a request for information on a particular subject to the service using the #Ask4Stuff hashtag. The service would then return a link to a set of resources based on a search of that subject. Later, we added a more complex multistep analysis of the request matching to various classification and ranking schemes. It was an experiment in developing a more "social search".

The experiment was a success... in that we learned about many things, including:

  • Creating this new type of social search has a measurable positive impact on search engine ranking
  • Getting library services to work and play nicely with mainstream consumer applications can be done
  • The switch to Twitter's OAUTH authentication from their basic authentication was painful and time consuming
  • The usage of a social media service linked to library materials needs more thought
  • Users outside the library community participated in the experiment with as much vigor as those inside our community
  • Some natural language processing mapped through classification systems such as Dewey produce improved results 
What we also learned, though, was that while people found the Ask4Stuff service very interesting, in the long run it wasn't deemed to be sufficient as a standalone service. It wasn't "sticky" in consumer terms. In the days immediately following the announcement of the service, we saw 200-300 tweet-requests per day, excluding the hundreds of tweets about the service. That leveled off, and for the next month we saw below one hundred requests per day. The average user only used the service one time. The highest usage for a single user was 17 tweets. Recently? Well, let's just say that we have dropped well below a "per day" measurement. All in all, there were around 1500 tweet-requests from just under 500 Twitter-ers. More than a fourth of the users that tried the service also followed the Ask4Stuff twitter account. Again, an interesting service but not sticky enough to sustain usage.

This kind of "failure," though, is just the kind of project the Innovation Lab is set up to run and observe. We hope for successful adoption in every project but we don't go into experiments like this one thinking, "This will take the world by storm!" We go into it thinking, "This sounds interesting; but we have more to learn before we commit to a direction." Which is exactly what happened. one of the goals for the Innovation Lab: "Go out there and learn from everything you do, even when it fails." As long as we're honest about our goals, and scrupulous about transparency, we really can't fail. We just kind of succeed... sideways ;-)

To conclude: as of April 1, 2011, we won't be supporting the Ask4Stuff Twitter account/service. We'd like to very much thank all the folks who tried it out, provided feedback and linked-to/friended/followed the project. One of the most pleasant things we learned from this is that there are a *LOT* of people who like to play with things like this. We'll be counting on that for future Innovation Labs projects.

If you can think of any interesting uses for the service that we didn't touch on, or want to know more about how we did the experiment or what our specific results were, please feel free to shoot me an email at One of the other things we're dedicated to at the Innovation Labs is sharing our work. If you think you've got a home for Ask4Stuff (or a related step-child application), don't hesitate to let me know. We are continuing to incubate ideas for libraries' participation in social services.
Recently, the OCLC Cooperative Blog team got a chance to interview Joan Mitchell, Editor in Chief of the Dewey Decimal Classification. The 23rd edition of the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC 23) will be available soon (preorder by July 1, 2011, and get a 10% discount), and we thought a look behind the scenes with the person in charge of updating the world's most popular library classification system was in order.


OCLC Coop Blog Team: Why update Dewey?

Joan Mitchell: The short answer is, to keep pace with knowledge that evolves every day. That can mean everything from representing developments in fast-changing technical areas such as computer science to expanding and updating historical periods and geographic areas to reflect political and geographic changes. We also update the DDC to reflect shifts in viewpoints and terminology. In addition, we make structural changes to the system motivated by requirements for machine display and retrieval, and to support user convenience.

Blog Team: How often is Dewey updated?
It depends on what you mean by "updated." The underlying database is updated daily, and we push those changes out to users at the same time in WebDewey 2.0. Every month, we feature one of the changes on the Dewey Web site. The DDC is also extended virtually through mapping controlled vocabularies, and through the large amount of categorized content associated with the system. In recent times, we have published a new print edition every 7-8 years. DDC 22 was published in 2003; the print version of DDC 23 will be available in North America starting May 1. The new print version of DDC 23 is a snapshot of the underlying DDC 23 database. Right now, we're on a six-week hiatus for issuing updates in WebDewey 2.0 as we prepare to make the switch from the DDC 22 database to the DDC 23 database. Once we make that switch, updates to DDC 23 will begin to appear in WebDewey 2.0 starting in May.

Blog Team: Who does the editing? How many people are involved?
The DDC is continuously developed and updated by the Dewey editorial team: the editor-in-chief (me) and four assistant editors: Giles Martin and Michael Panzer, both based at OCLC in Dublin; and Rebecca Green and Julianne Beall, both based in the Dewey editorial office at the Library of Congress (LC). The Dewey editorial office has been headquartered at LC since 1923, and is physically located in LC's Dewey Section. Classifiers in the Dewey Section are the primary assigners of Dewey numbers to LC bibliographic records. Having our office in close proximity to this key user group assists us in monitoring emerging topics and shifts in viewpoints and terminology.

Blog Team: What is the process for a major update like this?
We use a variety of approaches. We study the distribution of topics in WorldCat, we monitor the literature in subject areas, we look at discipline-based knowledge organization tools, and we read newspapers and news feeds. We are in close contact with DDC translations teams around the world and receive many useful suggestions from them. We also get suggestions and advice from our users. Our editorial rules specify thresholds based on literary warrant (the existence of a certain level of literature on a topic) for introducing new topics or classes to the DDC. All proposed changes to the schedules and tables are reviewed and approved by the Decimal Classification Editorial Policy Committee (EPC), a ten-member international advisory board whose main function is to advise the DDC editors and OCLC on matters relating to the development of the DDC and strategic directions for the system.

Blog Team: We heard that this edition is being dedicated to the users of Dewey... can you give us some details about that?
As I mentioned earlier, we get a lot of suggestions and advice from our users. At last count, the worldwide Dewey community spans 138 countries. The fact that the DDC continues to flourish as a knowledge organization system is in no small part due to the contributions of the Dewey community. First and foremost, EPC brings the voice of the user to the table. The proposals that we send to EPC for advice and recommended action are distributed simultaneously for comment to representatives of our active translation teams plus national libraries around the world. Several national library associations have committees that review DDC proposals; we also have an active user group in Europe (the European DDC Users' Group) that has several working groups involved in the development and review of proposals for changes to the DDC from a European perspective. We have also solicited feedback on proposals from subject experts in computer and information sciences, religion, sociology, linguistics, criminology, medicine, fashion design and graphic arts.

Blog Team: In what ways has Dewey fundamentally changed since "the beginning"?
If Melvil Dewey purchased a copy of DDC 23, he'd recognize the general outline of his system at the top level and the structure of the Relative Index, but he'd be really surprised to see how his system has expanded. It's been translated into over 30 languages since its introduction, has been mapped to numerous controlled vocabularies, and has been associated with metadata for millions of works in physical and digital collections. I think he'd be delighted by WebDewey 2.0, (our prototype linked data effort), and OCLC Research's DeweyBrowser and Classify. He would probably be intrigued by our MARCXML and SKOS representations of DDC data.

Blog Team: Any particularly interesting changes since the last edition?
That's a difficult question to pose to an editor, because I think just about everything we add to the system is interesting! You can watch a sneak preview of DDC 23 from a webinar earlier this month in which I highlighted major changes in the schedules, including those in religion, law and education; new numbers ranging from cloud computing to the end of the Mubarak administration; and the major overhaul of the representation of groups of people in DDC 23.

Blog Team: Thanks so much for chatting with us about the roll-out of DDC 23. We appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule during this busy period.
My pleasure!

library_map.jpgAs Director of the OCLC Library, I get to see lots of information about libraries from many different sources. Sometimes it's in a more narrative format that lends itself to reading, thinking and reviewing. Sometimes it's straight-up "numbers" about libraries. Our library often gets requests for combined statistics of this second kind that don't take into account the fact that there is no one, single global repository of library data. In order to help provide that kind of comparative information, we've created the Global Library Statistics page for the use of the entire library community. The service was originally a joint project of OCLC Research and the OCLC Library, and Research has contributed to its development.

Just choose a region and then a country from the drop-down menus or click on the map arrows to narrow your search. Then click on the tabs at the top of the table below the map for information about a specific category.

The page has information about (as much as possible) the total global library universe. It includes data for the total number of libraries, librarians, volumes, expenditures, and users for every country and territory in the world broken down into the major library types: academic, public, school, special and national. These figures do not represent OCLC membership, although the information is broken down into three regions  that represent those used by the OCLC Global and Regional Councils: the Americas (North and South America), EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and India), and Asia Pacific (Asia, Australia and Oceania). The statistics also include available data for languages used, and the number of library schools, publishers, and museums.

The staff of the OCLC Library extracted data from respected third-party sources, both electronic and print, that in their judgment are the most current and accurate sources to which they have access. For many countries, data were either unavailable (indicated in the charts as NA) or sporadic. Also, for a lot of the world, the data were not as current as we would have liked. We felt, though, that a fairly recent figure was better than none at all.

Because of these and other issues, it is possible that the figures represent an underestimate of worldwide totals in all categories; other more current and accurate sources may exist that we're unaware of. If you know of, or can recommend additional sources, please send an email to us at

While challenging, putting together this resource was also a great exercise in data exploration and combination. We had a lot of fun working on it, and hope that you find it interesting and useful in your work.

Larry Olszewski

Director, OCLC Library