February 17, 2018

Ross Singer | Movers & Shakers 2007



Ross Singer claims to be a dilettante. ‘I am an actor who no longer acts. I have a career in libraries, yet am not a librarian,’ he says. ‘I am a bass player who cannot get along with drummers long enough to maintain a band.’

Those who know his work as an application developer for the Georgia Tech Library and Information Center may quibble. ‘I can think of very few people I’d be as happy to have on my team as Ross,’ says California Digital Library user services architect Roy Tennant. ‘He combines a unique mix of technical brilliance with a deep understanding of library problems and potential solutions to those problems.’

Singer won OCLC’s 2006 Research Software Contest with the Ümlaut (umlaut.library.gatech.edu/umlaut), a personalizable OpenURL link resolver. He originally started writing it as part of the library’s alternative OPAC project, which lets users save items into personal library spaces. ‘We needed a means to aggregate the resources that people were gathering,’ Singer says, ‘and we thought the link resolver would be the best place to manage that (since we’d know what they were looking at, where they had come from, and where they were going).’

Usability testing had also shown that Georgia Tech’s SFX link resolver was consistently confusing; the Ümlaut helps settle that issue, too. Its working title was the ÜberResolver, ‘but I didn’t like how self-aggrandizing that sounded,’ says Singer, ‘so I shortened it to Ümlaut. Besides, that’d look cooler on a T-shirt.’

The Ümlaut goes further than other link resolvers, looking outside traditional article databases. ‘Depending on the kind of citation, it will try a variety of searches against the catalog, as well as our state union catalog,’ says Singer. ‘In the case of books, it also does an ISBN concordance search to find other editions of the same work. It then searches Google and Yahoo to see if the article might be available as a pre/postprint in an institutional repository.’

Singer’s other projects include WAG the Dog (rsinger.library.gatech.edu/localizer/localizer.html), a ‘web localizer’ extending the library into online spaces users frequent, pushing local content from searches in outside resources. ‘Rather than chastising our users for using resources like Google Scholar, Amazon, and Wikipedia,’ he explains, ‘we need to pay attention to what they find and push appropriate collections and services to them accordingly.’

Although Singer no longer acts, his theater background informs his technical work. ‘The theater stresses the notion of ‘being in the moment,’ and I think that’s valuable for bringing up services quickly and in a way that people understand. The notion of a permanent solution (especially in IT) is a myth, so working code is better than theoretically ‘perfect’ concepts.’ There’s nothing dilettantish about that.




CURRENT POSITION Application Developer, Georgia Tech Library and Information Center, Atlanta

DEGREES BA, Theater, University of Tennessee, 2000

BLOG Dilettante’s Ball (dilettantes.code4lib.org)

ECOFRIENDLINESS He owns a 1980 Mercedes-Benz wagon running on biodiesel