Code4lib Day 1: Seattle Public Library

We got a tour of the Seattle Public Library Central branch. It’s interesting that people still think of it as new because it’s been talked about a lot, especially in design classes, but it’s actually 8 years old now.

Warning: It’s 23 pictures so it may take a little time to load.

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These pictures only got a rough edit. Proper edited versions will come later on my flickr account.

Code4lib Pre-Conference: Microsoft Research (MSR)

Future Technology

So the first half of the tour was the non-disclosure, confidential part but the group that I was part of basically got information on how Microsoft research trends and some of their results. We then got to play with some of the prototypes they have been working on, which is technology they see as coming into the market in 5-10 years. To get a general sense of what might have been included, take a look at the Future Productivity Vision video they released recently:

Microsoft Research (MSR) at Building 99

The research division focuses on core computer science research of fundamental aspects of computing. A lot of the products of their research include papers, patents, and prototypes. They supplement staff and resources with scholarly research by partnering with academia. The focus is mostly on applied projects.


  • to be released in March
  • working with Berkeley and a couple of other universities
  • prototype to help in research and teaching cross-discipline
  • no details beyond that as we were told to keep this one under wraps, but check out the link for more information


  • practical, functional-first programming language that allows you to write simple code to solve complex problems
  • in the .NET family, fully supported by Microsoft Visual Studio
  • multi-paradigm: can used different models, e.g. object-oriented
  • interoperable: doesn’t work in isolation, can use all of .NET framework

Simplicity: Functional Data

  • simple code, strongly typed
  • Example 1: let swap (x, y) = (y, x)  vs. (in C#) Tuple<U,T> Swap<T,U>(Tuple<T,U> t) { return new Tuple<U,T>(t.Item2, t.Item1) }
  • Example 2: let reduce f (x, y, z) = f x + f y + f z vs. (in C#) int Reduce<T>(Func<T,int> f,Tuple<T,T,T> t) { return f(t.Item1) + f(t.Item2) + f(t.Item3); }

Simplicity: Functions as Values

  • can define function inline
  • can define own units of measure, and enforce conversions


  • type Command = Command of (Rover -> unit)
  • let BreakCOmmand = Command(fun rover -> rover.Accelerate(-1.0))
  • let TurnLeftCommand = Command(fun rover -> rover.ROtate(-90.0<degs>))

Some Other Features

  • built-in run parallel and asynchronous
  • can use traditionally, compile and run OR interactively, execute on the fly
  • x |> f – apply f to x

There was more, but I honestly couldn’t copy that quickly and didn’t understand every detail, but if you’re interested you try F# through a browser which includes an interactive tutorial, or download it from tools and resources. To learn more about what people are doing with it, take a look at F# Snippets.

F# 3.0

While 2.0 excels at analytical programming, solving computationally complex problems, 3.0 is an accelerator for data-complex problems by bringing information to your fingertips.

Basically, you can load a database (through URI) and while you program, you can see a full list of all the data elements that are available.

For example, after defining a type by loading the netflix database, in typing “netflix.” you would at this point get a list of the fields (e.g. Movies) from the database


  • geoscience tool
  • can download and run for free
  • have the ability to bring a lot of time-sensitive data and use GPU to create visualization
  • talk to worldwidetelescope (WWT) through API
  • also has a custom ribbon plugin for excel to view in WWT for non-programmers
  • can also create custom tours including text and audio, which then exports into videos. Note: The data is included in the tour so that people can see the data – check out the Seismicity Samoa and Tohoku example video we saw (requires Silverlight)

Microsoft Audio Visual Indexing Service (MAVIS)

  • keyword search in audio/video files with speech
    • speech recognition technologies used to ‘crack’ audio files
  • Microsoft Research technology: world-level lattice indexing
    • 30-60% accuracy improvement over indexing automatic transcripts – right now, 80% of content, 85%+ accuracy
    • can provide closed caption which can also be edited later
    • index word alternatives – robust to recognizer errors
    • index timing – navigate to exact point in video and provides timeline of where the phrase is spoken
    • tune-able – queries from ‘give me something’ to ‘dig deeper to find it’
  • computer intensive speech recognition done in Azure
  • no need to invest in H/W infrastructure
  • front end user search integrated with SQL server
    • search infrastructure is the same as full text indexing in SQL
  • SOAP based API
    • allows integration of media search results in other applications e.g. text search
  • need at least 500 hours of transcribed data in order to train the program for other languages

MAVIS Architecture

Great for library and archives in order to pull content from digitized audio and video of formats becoming obsolete or degrading.

Microsoft Academic Search

  • free academic search engine
  • structure unstructured data
  • 38+ publications including non-public data
  • can search or browse by domain to see top authors, publications, journals, keywords, organizations
  • for recognized terms e.g. Bone Marrow can see term occurrence, definition context from full text indexes, top authors, conferences, journals, etc.
  • can search for person and see their publications, but then with disambiguation, and then a profile with list of publications, citations, visualization of coauthors, citers
  • can see organization profiles and how they compare to others including Venn diagram of publication keywords
  • can pull most of the visualizations and embed into a website
  • RSS feed for each element
  • full API also available and get results in JSON or XML via SOAP
  • site interface allows crowd sourcing to edit information e.g. if disambiguation of publications is wrong (though right now, only with Live account, working on OpenID)

This strikes me as Google Scholar but with more functions, visualizations, and linked data. Right now, not a lot has been indexed, but I can see this as a much better version of Google Scholar.

Being Green > Swag You’ll Probably Throw Away

Finally, at the end of the night, one of the staff presented on why he’s anti-swag, so instead of giving MS swag away, we got the opportunity to take home an epiphyte complete with care package. Unfortunately, I can’t take it home across the border so I found someone to adopt it.

Epiphyte complete with care package

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) – Burnaby Regional Office

Yesterday, I got a chance to visit the Burnaby LAC office as I worked with a couple of the archivists there while at NRCan. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures, but the tour wasn’t the focus of my visit.

The office is made up of about 5 staff members on the archives side and a few more for the records management side of the facility. The warehouse is pretty big, but stores mostly inactive files still in the custody of the originating department, managed by the records side of the office.

Apparently, the big area of interest for researchers and the public are the Indian Affairs documents including residential schools records.

While the building and facilities are much less impressive than the Ottawa ones, it was really nice to see that everyone knew each other and considered the team their “little family”. I must admit that there are always pros and cons to working in any work place, but it seemed like a more inclusive environment.

New UBC Law Library Tour

We went to visit the new UBC Law Library as part of our planning and design class, and the librarian involved with the building project was also kind enough to give us a talk on the process.

Gone with the Old, In with the New

It was great to see the new law building, especially having visited the old one. The old building was called a “Concrete Bunker” because it really did look like one. The building was in such poor state. The roof was leaky, the water would run on the inside walls, and the building was famous for having buckets lining the halls! So, a new law building has been a long time coming, and it’s definitely a big improvement.

Collection Development

Moving is always a good opportunity to weed. Other than weeding, the staff also took on the big project to reclassify a lot of the material that was not already in LC classification.


Some might consider shelving boring, but the details that goes into making such a simple choice is quite interesting. For one, a careful choice was made on the type of compact shelving to use. The chosen one is very easy to use, manual, and seems to be magnetic (and having used electronic ones, I prefer manual). Careful measurements were also made since they were smaller than regular shelving (33″ as opposed to 36″) in order to accommodate all the books with fill space.

The open stacks shelving was the standard 36″ in a nice wood with lighting that went across (perpendicular) instead of in between (parallel) the shelves. The shelves were also filled with approximately a 50% fill, but of course it differed depending on the section from 20-70%. You can see how neat it looks right now because of the careful calculations done by the librarian.

The reference area also has shelves with a built-in mini-table at the end of each end for convenience.

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Reading, Study, & Computer Spaces

There are various areas for reading and studying. There is the big reading room and each floor also has a couple of smaller areas with lower reading love-seats. The top floor primarily has study carrels, but the open type instead of the closed ones (divider on three sides). On the second floor, there is a computer lab area with a print room, next to the teaching room. The reference room also has long tables with chairs where you can study.

Making a Space Pleasant

A lot of what I liked about the library was the pleasantness of it. The lighting was nice (it points towards the ceiling so it’s not direct), the high ceilings with the stained glass, the stairs (are kind of a shiny granite) and the artwork. There are no paintings or sculptures, but there are the stone backgrounds to the signs for example. My favourite piece was the donor “wall” just in front of the entrance which was actually made of glass balls with names written on them.

Overall, it was just a very pleasant space with some nice views whether looking back in the building or to the outside.

Canadian Police College (RCMP) Library Tour

This week’s tour was to the Canadian Police College Library at the RCMP compound and college campus.


As you would expect, the collections are focused on law enforcement, particularly the investigative component with only a minor amount of materials on criminology. Other than books and journals, they also have microfiche (most has been weeded though), audio/visual materials, theses, studies, and reports.


Standard services of reference, ILL, specialized bibliographies, training are available. It’s not a very big library, but is specialized in supporting all police agencies and organizations across Canada (and some international) as well as the students attending the college. It’s a nice, quiet space with a reading and working area open 24/7! Reference and A/V are only available during regular hours naturally.

Sorry, no pictures this time. Camera ran out of batteries and out of spares! The website has a Virtual Library Tour though.

Stables Tour

As part of our tour of the library and campus, we got to go on the stables tour. Having seen the musical ride, it was interesting to learn about how things work behind the scenes. Sadly, they only tour Saskatchewan and east of it. The most interesting part was learning that they have 8 months to train (that includes learning how to ride if they have no experience!) and then get to stay for (usually) 2 years. No touching the horses unfortunately, but for anyone who has any interest in horses and/or the ride, I would encourage them to go. It’s a public and free tour.

War Museum Research Centre Tour

This week’s tour was to the War Museum‘s Research centre. The research centre is an amalgamation of the library, archives, and photo archives. All of their collections are searchable online and you can get in-house access to them. Borrowing of library materials is also available through interlibrary loans.


The library provides all the usual services including reference and ILL. There is always a staff member on the reference desk whether it be a staff who works on the library side of things or the archives.

The library collects materials relating to military, history, biographies, cartoons, technical manuals (e.g. carrier pigeons, bugle songs), newspapers, etc. with a focus on Canadian materials (many of which are self published), but also materials from/on countries that had a lot of interaction with Canada. Much of their collection (library and archives) is acquired through donations.

The space is nicely furnished with a reading room (which is for the viewing archives and rare books), Canadian war art, mix of regular and compact shelving, and a study area with a wonderful view of the river. Just outside the windows is a landscape model of a battlefield where a family of groundhogs live.

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The Archives

The archives area is divided essentially into two areas. One is the work room and the other consist of three vaults (books, maps, photo). The work room is used for basic conservation tasks while anything extensive or complex is contracted out. The vault itself was the usual temperature controlled area with shelving for storing materials. The 3D maps shelving was interesting in that it included rubber pieces (each piece is kept in a bag in case the temperature control breaks and it starts to melt), and very large pieces (the shelf has extra large stoppers so that the pieces do not hit the wall since they are wider than the shelving).

The archives collects a lot of different old and current/contemporary materials including rare books (pre-1900 or significant/interesting one offs), letters, maps (smallest of which is approximately 4″x6″, largest of which is the NORAD map approximately 8’x10′), blueprints, records, scrapbooks, photos, and video/film. Generally, official records are collected by the national archives while the war museum collects more personal ones. As mentioned, most of the acquisitions are done through donations (some of which is from people cleaning out their attic), while a few are purchased.

Some interesting pieces that were shown to us (see pictures in slideshow) including silk WWI postcards, letter of mourning (with the king’s real signature), WWII war time logs, WWII terrain model (made of cotton on cardboard), colour uniform book, treatise on artillery (the oldest book from 1628),  book on uniforms’ lace patterns, photos from the Afghanistan war, military man’s scrapbook including his medals of award.

Short Reflection

The tour was great since we got to see both the library and archives, particularly how they work together. The staff’s enthusiasm really showed and made it seem like a great place to work (which I am certain it is) beyond working with interesting material. The materials were also carefully chosen by staff (and volunteers), so it gave it a more “personal” touch. Finally, the tour was nicely timed on a Thursday afternoon so that we could enjoy the museum for free afterwards. This was definitely one tour not to be missed!

Industry Canada Library and Knowledge Centre

This week’s tour was to Industry Canada‘s Library and Knowledge Centre. The library at Industry Canada focuses on meeting the needs of their users through partnerships, providing easy access to content, and providing a space for collaboration and sharing of information.


Much like any library, they provide:

  • reference services through e-mail, telephone, and in-person at the desk
  • in-depth reference services  provided by portfolio (subject) librarians
  • online resources, such as subject and research guides
  • current awareness, such as weekly Radar (news), news in departmental newsletter, blog (events, resources, news)
  • access to print (via catalogue) books and serials (in-house and interlibrary loans), subscription databases, etc.
  • training and learning (which helps employees fulfill their personal learning plans), such as orientations for the library and research, viewing and participation of external webinars

Much of the development of their services is based on feedback and the needs of their users, focusing on the subjects you would expect at Industry Canada (business, economics, statistics, management, etc.) and information that is very current. For example, one area they focus on for new articles and resources are what they refer to as ThinkTanks, information coming out of organizations such as universities and research councils, since this is an area that people are generally unfamiliar with and perhaps where alert tools are not as readily available.

Library Space

The library has also just moved to a new physical space (last May). Library staff worked with a designer to improve on the old space based on staff comments and feedback. The focus with the new design was on creating an information commons, and more areas for people to use the space rather than having it taken up by shelving. As a result, the library has a mix of compact and regular shelving, but much less of it. An estimated 29% of the print material was weeded.

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When you enter, you are immediately greeted with promotional materials on the side and the front desk always staffed by a librarian. It is amusingly dubbed the “hotel desk” as it was purposely designed with a different set of lights and lettered wallpaper to make it feel more approachable and welcoming.

The new space also has an additional training area so that more than one training session can be done at once, and a few study carrels were added based on user feedback. A nice reading area includes cushy chairs, magazines, journals, new books, and a couple of TVs on news channels.

Personally, the best part of the tour really was seeing the difference between the old space (which we got to see pictures of in a video) and the new one, and hearing about the considerations that were put into why and how design considerations were made.

National Resources Canada (NRCan) Libraries – Booth Complex

I actually went to tour the NRCan libraries 2 and 3 weeks ago, but haven’t gotten around to getting pictures off my camera. After the other two tour posts though, I don’t feel like there’s much to say. Still, some neat things, especially at 615. Hopefully I got it all correct. I forgot to take notes, and two of them were on the same day…

555 Booth

The library at 555 takes care of Minerals and Metals sector, namely CANMET (and related areas). Since there’s a new CANMET facility out in Hamilton though, a chunk of their collection went over there. They also sport a “dungeon” (the basement) with lots of compact shelving. They have a few different numbering systems though depending on whether it’s a report, serial, etc. (Sorry, no pictures because I didn’t have my camera with me.)

580 Booth

580 takes care of Energy, and Policy and Management. Not much to say beyond that. Standard compact shelving with a small meeting area and some nice art. It has a nice reading area with cushy chairs!

601 Booth

Half of Earth Sciences resides at 601. They do have a large collection of physical materials, particularly serials, with different numbering systems as well for material catalogued before and after Library of Congress was in use.

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615 Booth

In terms of things to show off, the 615 Booth Library probably has the most. As the other half of the Earth Sciences collection, they have all the Geomatics related material, the maps collection, the photo collection, and the books archive. They have some great photos going back to the first photographically documented geological surveys. There also a ton of maps as well as some interesting globes, including a tectonic plate globe with moveable pieces! The books archive has a number of pieces written by Logan himself.

All the NRCan libraries are open to the public, so feel free to visit and browse the collections physically or virtually!

National Research Council Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (NRC-CISTI)

Yesterday (Wednesday), we got not only a tour, but also a big talk on the various services and projects that NRC Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI) is working on. For those who don’t know who they are, most people would know them as the National Science Library.

The Library

The library itself is fairly standard, except that it’s not open even to staff. They have three floors of closed stacks (which are fairly narrow to save space), so only library staff are generally allowed in. Any access is done through digital scanning of articles or by providing an electronic source. Generally, what they have in print is the older material, and newer material is electronic only (that’s my understanding anyway).

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The artwork in the building was nice. One wall on the ground floor is a 365 plexiglass boxes wall (sorry, no picture, it turned out blurry). The other notable piece is the waves design (by a Japanese artist), one which is turbulent (picture in slideshow), the other which is calm. So, depending on your mood, you might go and look at one or the other.


They provide a lot of services to both internal and external clients. Mostly through document delivery. Interestingly, they currently have a partnership with Infotrieve, whereby Infotrieve can use the facilities in return for doing the day-to-day operational services, such as circulation and document delivery (including scanning). This has allowed CISTI to provide better, faster access to their information, and its more financially sustainable. They also have partnerships with other libraries, such as Health Canada, and they are participating in many national initiatives. Obviously, they provide reference services as well, mostly in terms of more complex questions with a focus on “actionable” information.

Data Services

Staff members also provide analysis and reports on trends based on text and data mining (using VantagePoint and TouchGraph) among many other data services, including:


Maybe because I’m a techie, but I think some of the coolest stuff they’re doing at CISTI is shown on CISTI Labs. The recommendation search (Sarkanto) is pretty neat, and so is the coloured cluster searching (Ensemble). The problem, of course, is the uptake and getting people to use it. Still cool.

Recently, they also launched their mobile site. The number of GC sites that have a mobile version are few and far between, so it was great to see. They even have a parred down version of their link resolver page for their internal mobile users. Great job!

Library of Parliament – Parliament Block (Part 2)

So I briefly talked about the Library of Parliament in my Doors Open (Part 2) post, but Tuesday, I got to go on a private tour (it was just me and my coworker) getting more history and information on the library.


The library provides a lot of services, primarily reference and news collation, but the research department also create internal reports, briefs, and publications for House and Senate members. More on their services can be found on their website.


As to be expected, a large portion of their collection are legislative and legal in nature for federal and provincial, as well as other commonwealth nations, particularly the UK. Obviously, there are also a lot of parlimentary documents including committee decision and evidence, and copies of MPs’ Questions and Answers. However, since they don’t have a lot of space, in terms of more contemporary reference material, they only have a specific range (E-L? I thought) with the rest in storage or at other locations (which apparently total 8).

Most of it was kept on the main library floor or in the basement using compact shelving. Most of it was pretty standard, but they had some neat shelving for microfilm.

You will also notice that some books have new binding and some old. We were told that that’s because they are focused on preserving content and not necessary the book itself, so if the book is brittle (especially if it was printed on pulp paper), they might even photocopy the pages and bind them into a new book.

Rare books are probably exception to this. The library has some really interesting pieces including old books about Canada printed in Europe in the 19th century, and early copies of exploration books. Their rare books has very restricted access though so we unfortunately didn’t get to see it.

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The Library

I previously mentioned that the library is the only surviving part of the original building, but on this tour, we got much more information on some of the smaller details. Due to remodelling, renovations, and whatever else over the years, the library was changed a few times. However, in most recent years, they have been trying to restore the library to the original look.

The railing was painted almost all black in the 50’s, but they now sport a bit more colour. The glass floors and on the tower-looking structures were also ‘put back in’ so to speak since in the 50’s they had made them all wood. Can you also imagine how bland the ceiling would look if it was all beige? Well in the 50’s it was, so they repainted it with the blues. The library also has square wood cuts along the walls, each of which is unique (100+). The reading room is an addition though, since the original reading room is now the largest party’s gathering room.

Additions were also made to make sure the building was following building codes and to help with overall maintenance/survival of the library and its books. So, brass windows were custom made for all 100+. Apparently in the past, the windows didn’t always keep out the rain especially during high winds, so they had to use tarps to keep the water off books! Some of them have evidence of water damage now. Ventilation and fire sprinklers were also added, but in an inconspicuous way so that they aren’t really noticeable (took me 2 minutes to spot a sprinkler even when it was pointed out to me).

The one thing that was removed was the card catalogue along with one wall of drawers in each area, which is a bit strange though since they left the side walls intact.

It was a great tour and if people get a chance, I would highly recommend it!