MacArthur Foundation funds ‘Reference Extract’ to draw on librarians’ expertise and add credibility to Web search experience

DUBLIN, Ohio, USA, 6 January 2011—The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has awarded $350,000 to fund researchers and developers from OCLC, the information schools of Syracuse University and the University of Washington and Zepheira LLC to continue work creating a more credible Web search experience based on the unique expertise, services and input from librarians worldwide.

The goal of the Reference Extract project is to make it easy to find credible information in the digital age. Researchers and developers are expected to have initial practical analysis and models of this “credibility engine” to share with the community in early 2011. Details of this work can be found through the Reference Extract home page at

Reference Extract is designed to capture Web site URLs and references that librarians and other experts use in answering questions. This information, including data used to determine the most credible resources, is harvested, processed and then made available through a variety of Web environments. For example, Reference Extract will use a Web-based architecture that allows information to be embedded into existing and new Web sites and applications.

The Reference Extract system links the questions of users to Web sites referenced by librarians and other experts as well as to the resources used to answer the questions. This approach varies from traditional Web search engines that represent only a single type of relationship—a Web page that points to another Web page. Reference Extract adds another relationship—linking to resources that librarians and experts point to and use.

“The best search engines are great for basic search, but sometimes the Web site results lack credibility in terms of trust, accuracy and reliability. So, who can help? Librarians,” said Dr. Mike Eisenberg, Dean Emeritus and Professor at the Information School of the University of Washington and a lead on the project. “If a librarian recommends a Web site, you can be pretty sure that it’s credible. Reference Extract will take hundreds of thousands of librarian recommendations and use them to help indicate to end users which site is credible. We’re extremely fortunate to have the MacArthur Foundation’s support bringing together the right team to start to actively develop and showcase this work.”

Zepheira, a professional services organization with extensive expertise in Semantic Web standards, Linked Data principles, Web architecture and collaborative solutions, is working with OCLC, Syracuse and Washington to create the piece of Internet architecture that will make it easy to embed credible information in Web-based experiences.

“The computational machinery behind the Web is today somewhat like a small child in a shopping mall; it has no mechanism for distinguishing what sources of information to trust,” said Eric Miller, President of Zepheira. “Building a general architecture that makes it easy to re-use credible information on the Web is one thing; populating this architecture with trustworthy information is another. Building upon librarians’ expertise and existing virtual reference service offerings is a powerful way of offering new means for accessing credible information in a range of different online experiences.”

Reference Extract leaders say the project will work best if the entire library community gets involved to create a Web-scale effort to support this cooperative innovation. QuestionPoint, the OCLC virtual reference service supported by a global network of cooperating libraries and an infrastructure of software tools and communications, offers a starting point for building the service. QuestionPoint has more than 6 million reference transactions collected in a central knowledge resource and more than 10,000 librarians worldwide participating collaboratively to test the principles and impact of such a dynamic utility.

“The only way this will work is by making a project of an entire community,” said Dr. R. David Lankes, Director of the Information Institute of Syracuse and Professor at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies. “Web searchers get to tap into the incredible skill and knowledge of the library community, while librarians will be able to serve users on a whole new scale.”

In November 2008, the planning and research phase of Reference Extract began through a $100,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation. The MacArthur Foundation has continued to fund the project for the pilot development phase. Reference Extract work follows on previous credibility work supported by the MacArthur Foundation, most notably the Credibility Commons.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society. More information is available at

The School of Information Studies at Syracuse University
The School of Information Studies is The Original Information School in the nation. It is a leading center for innovative programs in information policy, information behavior, information management, information systems, information technology and information services. The nationally ranked school (U.S. News and World Report) has professional degree programs at the undergraduate and master’s levels and a research degree at the doctoral level. The school offers its master’s programs in campus and distance learning formats. For more information, visit

The University of Washington Information School
Each year, the world creates more than 161 exabytes of new information—enough to fill 2 billion 80GB iPods. So much information can be overwhelming. Rigorous study of the users and uses of information conducted at the UW Information School helps answer important questions. By tackling key social and technical problems in the information field, the UW iSchool has become an important link between users of information and designers of information systems, connecting society with the information it needs. For more information, visit

Founded in 1967, OCLC is a nonprofit, membership, computer library service and research organization dedicated to the public purposes of furthering access to the world’s information and reducing library costs. More than 72,000 libraries in 170 countries have used OCLC services to locate, acquire, catalog, lend, preserve and manage library materials. Researchers, students, faculty, scholars, professional librarians and other information seekers use OCLC services to obtain bibliographic, abstract and full-text information when and where they need it. OCLC and its member libraries cooperatively produce and maintain WorldCat, the world’s largest online database for discovery of library resources. Search WorldCat on the Web at For more information, visit the OCLC Web site.

Zepheira is a US-based professional services firm comprising leaders in web architecture, semantic web standards, and linked data principles used to achieve integration of data stored in multiple systems and formats across organizations. Zepheira experts have a long history of leading Internet standards initiatives and delivering solutions founded in open standards and open source software. These solutions apply social computing principles and focus on allowing communities to collaborate around the analysis and curation of their data. Zepheira’s solutions benefit a broad range of industries including memory organizations, manufacturing, financial services, medical research and life sciences. The company is privately held and has offices in Virginia, Ohio and Colorado. For more information, visit:

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Beyond the Bullet Points: New Years Resolution 2011

A year ago I wrote about resolving to make 2010 the year of the librarian. I think we did a pretty good job. I talk to more and more librarians who feel, as I do, that the tide of self-loathing and questioning our future is (slowly) subsiding. It is being replaced by a sense of cautious optimism that libraries and librarians will continue. The very real fear remains that there may not be as many of either, or that budgets will continue to be cuts to be sure. But the more existential crisis seems to be settling. The question of “will there be librarians” is being replaced by “what will we do in the years and decades to come?”

Some focus on the tools we will use (“what is the impact on libraries of ebooks?”), some focus on the skills we will need. Still others, like me, focus on why we do what we do (it’s all about learning).

In the coming year you will hear many ideas and “certainties” about our future, and our needs. You will hear the inevitable backlash and conservatism of those who fear change. You will read blogs and tweets and Facebook updates full or quotes and links and videos. Some things will scare us, some appall us, and some inspire. But if all you do is hear them, or watch them, or read them, then we all have failed – both the progressives, and the conservatives. For words, images, and all the media in the world that does not lead to action is useless.

The true test of the future of librarianship is not in my presentations, or the words I write, but in the actions I perform and enable. Inspiration without execution is a false drug – it deludes us into thinking ourselves involved.

If all I do is preach and then return to my ivory tower, then I am a fraud. And Ii you hear my words and yell “amen,” but do nothing then you too are a fraud. Agree, disagree, yell, fight, prove me wrong, prove me right, try something else just do something.

If there is anything that this past year has shown us it is that there is a bright future for librarians, but it will not be delivered to us. We break usage records and they cut our budgets. We show up in the newspapers and on TV and some still question our value. No, we cannot simply continuing our current path and expect salvation and restored budgets. We must act – change – improve.

So here is our resolution for this year – act. Make one positive change every day. Start small: fix the signs in your library. Start small: enforce a 30 minute time limit on all meetings. Start small: replace fines with food donations for the needy. Then get bigger: read 10 blogs each day. Then get brave: map every service you spend money on to the needs of your community – kill any service that doesn’t map. Get brave: leave your buildings on a regular basis for a space in the community.

Then get active: start your website from scratch, and center it on the members not your stuff; convene a town meeting with your members. Start a community mentoring program where you loan out professors, and hackers, and accountants, and lawyers. Then hunt down every post on my blog, or that of the Annoyed Librarian and tell us where we are wrong or right.

If 2010 was the year of the librarian, then let’s make this the year of the librarian in your face. The librarian proactively helping members. The librarian holding administration to account. The librarian demanding more from LIS education. The librarian on a first name basis with the business community. The librarian doing office hours in academic departments. The librarian in the face of their community always helpful, always pleasant, always a radical agent of positive change.

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Libraries of the Future

“Libraries of the Future” Presentation to the Friends of the Dallas Public Library, Dallas, TX.

Abstract: It takes a community to raise a library.


Future of Libraries from R. David Lankes on Vimeo.

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One Last 511 Video

Here you go after its world premiere last night:

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Faculty Votes to Promote Lankes to Full Professor

Today the faculty of the School of Information Studies voted to promote me to full professor. THe case now goes to the Senate for confirmation (but the faculty vote is the big hurdle). I would like to thank those from the community who supported me in this process. I would also like to take this opportunity to apologize for all the things I let slip in the process…I’m on it.

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Libraries and Broadband: Becoming Radical Change Agents in Our Communities

“Libraries and Broadband: Becoming Radical Change Agents in Our Communities” Vermont FiberConnect: The Library Link Summit, Stowe, VT.

Abstract: And so we come to the point. Why bring broadband libraries. We don’t do it as a means to bring facebook to the masses. We wire our buildings not as points of distraction or simply another service the library offers. Broadband is not a way to bring the world to the citizens of Vermont, but to unleash the passions and potentials of the citizens of Vermont on the rest of the world. Just as the roads of previous generations bound together empires and democracies We can use broadband to bring together the farmer and the lawyer, the entrepreneur and the student, the politician and the protestor in a grand conversation on the future of the state.

Due to conference setup I was not able to capture the audio and screencast. However, the session was video taped, so I hope to add these later.

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Syracuse iSchool Prof. R. David Lankes to speak at Swedish Library Association conference

The Swedish Library association’s annual conference “Bibliotekdagarna” will feature a talk by Syracuse University School of Information Studies Associate Professor R. David Lankes. Lankes will present “The Librarian Militant, The Librarian Triumphant.”

Held for the past 10 years, Bibliotekdagarna is the biggest library conference in Sweden and includes librarians from a diverse set of working environments. Lankes will be the final of four speakers, including Prof. David Nicholas, director of the Department of Information Studies at University College London. Lankes has been invited to participate in the entire three-day conference held in Visby on the island of Gotland from May 11 through May 13, 2011.

In addition to his role as associate professor, Lankes is the director of the library and information science program at the iSchool. He also directs the Information Institute of Syracuse (IIS), and is a co-founder of the award-winning AskERIC project and founder of Virtual Reference Desk project responsible for building a national network of education expertise. He is a passionate advocate for libraries and their essential role in today’s society, and seeks to understand how information approaches and technologies can be used to transform industries. In this capacity, he has served on advisory boards and study teams in the fields of libraries, telecommunications, education, and transportation, including at the National Academies. Lankes holds a BFA in multimedia designs, an MS in telecommunications and network management and a Ph.D., all from Syracuse University.

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