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 (nytimes.com, for example) and scans Wikipedia for links in article references. Here’s a screenshot of the results for a search on http://politics.nytimes.com/congress/, 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. FOIA.gov 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.
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