Monday, December 17, 2007

Scholars Portal Day Presentation

Stacy Allison-Cassin and myself gave a presentation / daytime talkshow chat on our Scholr 2.0 paper last week at the George Ignatieff Theatre, University of Toronto as a part of Scholars Portal Day : slides video stream (37 min)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Information Literacy Literature Review 2006

For the last handful of years, the journal Reference Services Review has published an annotated round-up of articles on Information Literacy and continuing this tradition, its most recent issue (Volume 35 Issue 4 2007) has the 57 page literature review, Library instruction and information literacy 2006.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Reading List for PSAG

I recently volunteered to come up with the beginnings of a reading list for the OCUL Public Services Advisory Group to help start our brainstorming on an upcoming user/usability study that OCUL will be commissioning. Here it is:

First and foremost, we need a vision

We suggest clients look five or ten years into the future and ask the question, "What will using our site be like on that date? What experience will the user have?" Team members from the best organizations can answer this question. They have a consistent, clear idea what the user's experience will be like in the future. Having a clear vision lets the team chart a direction for their design, helping identify if any design idea is moving them closer to the vision or farther away... It's critical the vision not focus on future technology but instead on future experience. What are the steps in today's process that makes things cumbersome or frustrating? How could the experience become more delightful? [Thinking in the Right Terms: 7 Components for a Successful Web Site Redesign]

We need to understand our users

"The University of Minnesota Libraries received support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop a multi-dimensional model for assessing support for scholarship in the context of a large research campus. The project team explored discipline-specific needs for facilities, information content, services,tools, and expertise in the humanities and social sciences. The goal was to develop a model for bringing greater coherence to these distributed resources through physical and virtual means, and also a research support environment that could be modeled, prototyped, and evaluated." [A Multi-Dimensional Framework for Academic Support: Final Report]
"Our first task was to identify one trenchant research question to guide the project. The question we developed was, What do students really do when they write their research papers? Between the assignment of a research paper and the finished, submitted product was a black box that largely concealed the processes undertaken by the student. We wanted to take a peek into that box to see what we could find." [Studying Students: The Undergraduate Research Project at the University of Rochester (pdf)]

We need to build something better
"The author seeks to answer the following questions: What characterizes the queries that end users submit to online IR systems? What search features do people use? What features would enable them to improve on the retrievals they have in hand? What features are hardly ever used? What do end users do in response to the system's retrievals? Are end users satisfied with their online searches?" [Markey, K. (2007). Twenty-five years of end-user searching, part 1: Research findings. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 58(8), 1071-1081.]

"Reading and synthesizing Marcum, Calhoun, Bates, Mann, Hildreth, Borgman, Anderson, etc., should be mandatory for everyone who cares about the future of the online library catalog. The next steps must be to engage all interested parties in serious dialogue, system prototyping, decision making, and action so the online library catalog of the future hits the ground running just as mass digitization projects end." [The Online Library Catalog: Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained?]

"Richard Wallis of Talis suggested during his Access 2007 presentation that if the catalogue knew a bit about you, it could present better search results to you. Using the example of the keyword lotus, an engineering student would get items about the car of the same name while the botanist would get items about the genus Nelumbo. Mark Leggot, using his metaphor of the search box as Lego brick, suggested in his Access 2007 presentation that it shouldn't be difficult to embed a library search box into a course-specific page that was already constrained to the sources that were relevant to both the subject of the course and the course level." [Access 2007 Wrap Up Part Three - The Importance of Being Relevant]

We need to get into the places where our users are
For me there are five parts of a strategy for maintaining the library as a vibrant enterprise worthy of support from our campuses...
4. Reposition library and information tools, resources, and expertise so that they are embedded into the teaching, learning, and research enterprises. This includes both human and, increasingly, computer-mediated systems. Emphasis should be placed on external, not library-centered, structures and systems.
5. Migrate the focus of collections from purchasing materials to curating content. [A Strategy for Academic Libraries in the First Quarter of the 21st Century]

"We suggest three main areas, with specific recommendations for each, where our institutions can help to alleviate these pressures.
  • Enhance and improve the user interface
  • Connect the citation network to user workflow
  • Embrace standards and technologies that will allow present and future network discovery systems to make use of what we offer" [Scholr 2.0]

Monday, November 26, 2007

Trying on a new look

Darwins shoes..., originally uploaded by Norma Desmond.

I've updated this blog's template to something more readable. This won't make much of a difference to those readers who take in these words via an RSS reader, but just over half my visitors come to the site directly or stumble in here through search engines, so they might like the change.

The banner photograph is part of this image called Darwins shoes taken by Norma Desmond. The statue of Darwin can be found by the Shewsbury public library.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Blood on the Stacks

This year marks the second time that the Trinity University's Coates Library in San Antonio has run Blood on the Stacks, an alternate reality game that helps new students to get familiar with the school's library. According to this entry at the SHU - Blogcause07 blog, 'anecdotally the library and support staff reported feedback from students of feeling more familiar, less alien in the environment, the library was associated with fun and the staff were more approachable.' This appears to be yet another neat way that people are using ARGs to assist in a social environment.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

One Library Per Child

I had heard about the One Laptop Per Child Project (aka the $100 laptop) before May of this year, but it wasn't until I heard Rochelle Mazar's presentation at the WILU Conference at York that I picked up on the connection between it and the mission of libraries and of its possible educational opportunities for both here and abroad.

Fast forward to today. While the library blogosphere has been weighing in on Amazon's Kindle reader, I've noticed scarce mention of the OLPC's XO laptop. Ah, but there's still time for this to happen, because it has just been announced that the XO laptop will extend commercial sales through its GiveOneGetOne program until the end of the year. (So you should check it out.)

I'm glad for the extension for a number of reasons with one being that it was only today that I finished setting up a display in my library on the One Lap Per Child Program (and what it has to do with libraries).

There are other events that I'm hoping will develop from this. Hopefully more about this soon!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Access 2007 Wrap Up Part Three - The Importance of Being Relevent

Peter Binkley did a simple and elegant comparison of a number of online library catalogues to begin his presentation, Searching the OPAC - The State of Play. He did performed the same search in all the library catalogues he examined; he did a keyword search for the word canada.

Its a ingenious example. You see, if a user types in a one word search in a catalogue for, say, dogs and gets results in which all the books that are entitled 'dogs' came up first, you would be hard pressed to say that those results weren't relevant.

But if you search for the word, canada, in say in most university library catalogues, you don't get books entitled Canada coming up first. Instead, the first result you get will likely be a document with a long name like Emergency food service : planning for disasters (U of A), Post-war Canadian housing and residential mortgage markets and the role of government (University of Windsor), or Progress report by the United States. Environmental Protection Agency. Great Lakes National Program Office and Environment Canada (University of Toronto).

This is because these library catalogues use a scoring system in which search and item word matches are used to assign points to items in order to determine relevancy. So a book by a Canadian government agency (which will frequently have the word Canada in its name twice - once for the English version and one for the French) about something Canadian, will tend to outscore the single word titled books.

Discovery layers don't correct this problem: La sécurité humaine et les femmes autochtones au Canada is the first result from McMaster's library catalogue; NCSU's first response is Compendium of plant disease and decay fungi in Canada, 1960-1980.

Librarians have largely left the responsibility of the library catalogue's search algorithm to the commercial library vendors who (putting this delicately) don't dedicate as much development time to it as, say, Google. But with the advent of open source indexing software such as Lucene some librarians are beginning to tinker with relevancy rules. Is it just coincidence that library catalogues that are running either the open-source Koha or the open-source Evergreen both pass the canada keyword test?

Another means of improving relevancy is to put the most popular items at the top of the list, like Amazon does. Bibliocommons and Koha use circulation counts in their relevancy rankings while WorldCat Local uses the number of global holdings in theirs.

But relevancy is too difficult a problem that can be solved by the simple tinkering of the numbered weights in the search algorithm.
A fundamental shortcoming of the library catalog is that it doesn't (and as currently designed can't) know the why for any given search. A search for the subject "breast cancer" in PVLD's catalog results in over 40 distinct subject headings listed in alphabetical order from the simple "Breast – Cancer" through "Breast – Cancer – Religious Life" to "Breast – Cancer – United States". The catalog doesn't know that one person is searching for books on this subject because she has to write a term paper, and another because his wife has just been diagnosed with the disease – and therefore it gives no clue as to which of these subject headings is most relevant to each person. [PVDL Director via Everything is Miscellaneous]

One of the means by which Bibliocommons addresses this issue is through the resorting of items so that highly rated items by trusted sources appear on the top of the list. This is one way of informing the library catalogue of who you are, at who you are as defined by who else you find trustworthy. Richard Wallis of Talis suggested during his Access 2007 presentation that if the catalogue knew a bit about you, it could present better search results to you. Using the example of the keyword lotus, an engineering student would get items about the car of the same name while the botanist would get items about the genus Nelumbo. Mark Leggot, using his metaphor of the search box as Lego brick, suggested in his Access 2007 presentation that it shouldn't be difficult to embed a library search box into a course-specific page that was already constrained to the sources that were relevant to both the subject of the course and the course level. Addendum: As Shibboleth allows for some attribute-based authentication to be passed to an online source, there may be a potential to tailor the interface or search results based on the user's subject specialty or readership level [Scholr 2.0: 3.2.2 Shibboleth].

That's the last of my Access 2007 wrap-up blog posts. Sorry for the irrelevant ending.

If ebooks light your fire

Why spend $400 for Amazon's new Kindle ebook reader (with a DRM that would kiss libraries good bye) when you could buy 2 great ebook readers for the same price that is open source. Oh yeah, and one of these laptops goes to a child in a developing country. But you need to act fast!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Thursday, November 08, 2007

True story about a library journal that is so sad its funny

So a colleague of mine who has recently graduated from library school recently learned that she had a paper approved for publication in a peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the work of library science students on subjects of general interest to librarians. This week she received a 'proof' of her article which looked good except one thing: the article was dated as if it was from the year 2004.

We talked about this on the phone and I tried to reassure her that it*must* have been a typo because it could not be possible that a publication from a library school would back date their publication to a such an extreme. It couldn't happen.

But being curious, I checked the Library Literature and Information Science Index to see when this organization had published their last issue and was horrified to see that it was "Spring/Fall 2003". I urged my colleague to email the editors to see if the 2004 was in error - perhaps the result of some archaic publication management software?

She got an email back yesterday. It wasn't a typo. At one point, she was told, there was a delay in publishing and in order "to avoid confusion over any missing years" they decided to keep the years consecutive.


But it gets worse. MUCH worse. Guess what that name of this journal is? Come on! Guess!!


(wait for it)


You just can't make this stuff up.

In the literature - Librarians and Scholarship

    Fox, David, 1948-

  • Finding Time for Scholarship: A Survey of Canadian Research University Librarians

  • Abstract:

    More than half the participants in a survey of Canadian research university librarians indicated that scholarship activities were required or encouraged at their universities, yet most university librarians have year-round schedules of assigned duties that present challenges to the engagement in sustained, meaningful scholarship. Full-time librarians reported spending an average of 47 hours per week on all of their responsibilities combined, but most librarians devote less than five hours per week to scholarly activities. Ideally, librarians would like to spend 15 percent of their time on scholarship. Strategies for increasing time and support for scholarship are considered.

  • portal: Libraries and the Academy, Vol. 7, No. 4 (2007), pp. 451–462
  • University of Windsor link to article

Monday, November 05, 2007

Conversations in LibraryLand

Jon Udell of LibraryLookup fame is not a librarian but he has great talks with those from libraryland as part of his podcast series, Interviews with Innovators. Last week, he spoke with Beth Jefferson of Bibliocommons. Other interviews with direct library-content include chats with Stuart Weibel of The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, Art Rhyno of the University of Windsor, Geoffrey Bilder of CrossRef, and Dan Chudnov on OpenURL.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Access 2007 Wrap Up Part Two - The Importance of Being Open

(This is the second of what I hope will be three wrap-up posts on Access 2007. Rather than a chronological recount of the days' events, I've chosen to highlight three themes and threads that I picked up. The first one is here.)

The Importance of Being Open

Jessymn West began Access 2007 with a talk that reminded the audience of the rural population that libraries serve and some of the challenges one faces in order to serve them with proper technology. As an aside, she said that a state-wide union catalogue would go a long way to ease some of these challenges.

We learned the next day that the province of British Columbia is pursuing such a project. Ben Hyman spoke of the history and the goals of the project. It was decided that the best means to provide a common interface for all the public library branches of BC would be to first provide a common back-end. And so they have decided to use Evergreen, an open-source library catalogue. They made the same conclusion as the panel of Associate University Librarians did in their panel, ILS Options for Academic Libraries: choosing open-source software is no more risky than investing in a commercial software solution. As if on cue, Laurentian University announced at Access that they would making the shift to Evergreen.

Recognizing that only strengths of library catalogue technology are the 'backend' or inventory functions, many librarians are creating their own front-end interfaces to go over top of the library catalogue. If this interface can handle non-book materials like articles, this interface is frequently referred to as a 'discovery layer', perhaps incorrectly as it is still providing a 'search' function. There are still no usability studies that demonstrate these new layers provide any significant improvement to the user experience.

One reason why development in this area is slow is because many commercial library catalogues are difficult to 'skin' in the first place (in computer parlance, this means adding a layer as opposed to removing a layer) and one of the Access "Thundertalks" was dedicated to the extensive workarounds performed in order augment the interface of the library catalogue. The inability to freely access and remix one's own data hosted in commercial software is clearly frustrating to many librarians.

Joshua Ferraro of Liblime, a company that provides service and support of open source software, believes that much of the friction that occurs between librarians and vendors is a result of a larger problem: that software is largely a service industry operating under the persistent but unfounded delusion that it is a manufacturing industry. He suggests that a closer partnership between commercial vendors and libraries based on open tools, standards, and data could improve this relationship and, presumedly, improve the library experiences of our users. I believe that Biblicommons is an example of this next generation enterprise.

Beth Jefferson of Bibliocommons spoke at Access and at its pre-conference and shared some of her research dedicated to improving the improving library catalogues in the public library sphere. Bibliocommons has developed an interface with partners in the public library community, that integrates with a library's existing catalogue software. One way that Bibliocommons is different from the other library catalogue interfaces and 'discovery layers' that I have seen, is that it has made the effort to integrate the tagging and ranking of items at the user account screen (books out, when books are due, books on hold, etc.) since it is at this point when the reader is 'ready' to share what they felt about what they've read.

There are several implications to how they've done this but I just want to highlight one: library catalogue interfaces will have be able to seamlessly communicate with the information at the back-end (such as circulation data and patron information) and this means that library catalogue must have open data channels. The longer the commercial vendors resist opening up access to what is *our* data, the longer the opportunity for open-source library catalogues like Evergreen will have to make into the library marketplace.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Adding print holdings to the SFX menu

This is most likely going to be of interest to those librarians part of the OCUL consortium, but I thought you should know that Art Rhyno has written up a description how to Add Print Holdings & ILL Links to the SFX Menu in SPOT-DOCS.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Canadian Academic Library webpages

I captured and collected these screenshots of a subset of Canadian university library websites because I had the feeling that there were archetypes of such sites. I've tagged some elements that I thought were interesting and you are welcome to tag and make notes yourself.

In some cases I was interested in language (catalogue vs books, for example) so added tags of the exact wording used and in other cases, I added a more general tag (e.g. site map) if a particular element was present. I'm going to continue to work on the tagging and the markup in the next few days as I haven't finished all the libraries yet.

I also included a set the top 10 websites in Canada according to Alexa because it's important to remember that while librarians may take their cues from other library sites, our students do not.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

One profession, one book

The recent AskMetafilter question, What single book is the best introduction to your field? [waxy] should be required reading for the reference and collection librarians among us (hint: the LibX toolbar makes the title lookups not so painful)

I wonder if there is anyway to add these directly into a library catalogue's relevancy engine?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Check it out

Threadless T-Shirts - November Was A Good Month by Mike Sayre

Access 2007 Wrap Up - The Context of Objects

I can't remember whether it was Martin Holmes or Chris Petter but one of the speakers of the presentation, "Image markup and Web applications" at Access 2007 made a statement that resonated with me: "Archivists care as much about context as they do about content." For example, a photograph of a soldier is an object and the scrapbook that contains it provides a context. A scrapbook of a major is an object and other pieces of other veteran's collections provides a context. And so on.

Ray Siemens spoke about creating an "Professional Reading Environment" with tools that allow scholars to annotate, link and otherwise provide context to a collection of digital objects. Such work currently requires considerable efforts and Shawn Martin in the David Binkley Memorial Lecture, wondered out loud whether such specialized, single topic, grant-funded projects are sustainable in the long term.

One alternative model to these separated digital projects is UPEI's Virtual Research Environment as introduced by Mark Leggott. Using a common environment created with Drupal and Fedora, the VRE hosts a number of different research communities where scholars share data, use tools for analysis, and of particular note, can seamlessly upload their material into a institutional repository. (reminder to self: suggest an Access Conference digital repository for next year's hackfest)

I was thinking about the context of digital objects and collections while I was listening to John Durno and Martha Whitehead debate the importance of place in the definition of the library. One point that I think was missed by both speakers was this: what makes a library different from a collection of objects, digital or otherwise, is that a library is a *commitment* to a collection. My personal collection of books is not a library unless I make efforts that it will exist over generations. More than being a collection of objects or contexts, a library is essentially a promise to the future and librarians are a profession of eternal hope.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A giant now off my shoulders

I have been reading, thinking and writing lots about academic librarianship and information technology as of late but you won't see the results of this work at this here blog.

That's because I, along with my Scholars Portage partner, Stacy Allison-Cassin, have just released a white paper called Scholr 2.0 on its very own blog to take advantage of the commenting goodness from the CommentPress WordPress theme.

While the purpose of the paper is to generate discussion among the librarians in the consortium that we both belong to, the conversation is open to anyone. Please join in.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Collection Development Secret

Some years ago when I began ordering science books for my library, I asked a colleague of mine for some advice on what I should be selecting. He gave me some suggestions and he also told me a story.

My colleague was visiting a friend of his who was a senior researcher in one of the sciences at a prestigious university and while they were talking in his friend's office, the phone rang. After the researcher and the other person on the line exchanged short pleasantries, the researcher told the person, who was evidently returning a previous call, that he had been made editor of a forthcoming book on ___ and he asked whether the caller had a paper to submit. The answer was affirmative, quick arrangements were made and the call was shortly finished.

So while some scholarly monographs reflect years and years of sweat and toil, you too should be aware that there also exists a set of scholarly books that are merely collections of recently published or never-published articles.

In a possibly related aside, I have noticed when I have reviewed the circulation counts for the science books that I am responsible for, that there is a tendency for books with very vague titles not to be borrowed as many times as books with very specific titles.

Take these two points together and now you know why I very rarely order books that have titles like these:
  • key topics in ____
  • frontiers in ___ research
  • ___ research advances
  • ___ research trends
  • new aspects of ___
  • perspectives on ___
  • new research on ___
  • focus on ___ research
  • new topics in ___ research
  • new frontiers in ___
  • ___ research frontiers

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Who knew it would be so tasty

After months of resistance, I finally decided to try out Now I regret that wait.

Consider this the raw feed of the New Jack Librarian.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Open Library (Open Library)

"Imagine a library that collected all the world's information about all the world's books and made it available for everyone to view and update. We're building that library" []

Thursday, July 12, 2007

ticTOCs - Tables of Contents Service | Project Homepage

ticTOCs - Tables of Contents Service | Project Homepage:
"The aim of the ticTOCs project is to develop a service which will transform journal current awareness by making it easy for academics and researchers to find, display, store, combine and reuse tables of contents from multiple publishers in a personalisable web based environment. JISC is the primary funder of the ticTOCs project, which will run for two years from April 2007."

Monday, July 09, 2007

Leddy Library Has A LeddyLibraryThing

We haven't advertised it on campus yet, but the staff of the Leddy Library have listed some of the books that they have enjoyed on LeddyLibraryThing.

Give me five or give me ten

One of the more ingenious techniques I've picked on that has helped me better prepare for teaching, is the simple method of breaking down a class session into 5 or 10 minute sections and then dedicating the effort to effectively teach *one* concept within that time.

It's a great way to ensure that one doesn't overwhelm the audience with too much information as most people, including myself, tend to over-estimate what one can cover in 5 minutes.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Librarianship and cosines - Who knew?

Did your mind ever drift while sitting in that mandatory trigonometry class and you wondered, when will I ever need to know this in the real world?

For me, those daydreams just met their match as I read about the Vector Space Model:
Vector space model (or term vector model) is an algebraic model used for information filtering, information retrieval, indexing and relevancy rankings. It represents natural language documents (or any objects, in general) in a formal manner through the use of vectors (of identifiers, such as, for example, index terms) in a multi-dimensional linear space...

Documents are represented as vectors of index terms (keywords). The set of terms is a predefined collection of terms, for example the set of all unique words occurring in the document corpus.

Relevancy rankings of documents in a keyword search can be calculated, using the assumptions of document similarities theory, by comparing the deviation of angles between each document vector and the original query vector where the query is represented as same kind of vector as the documents.

In practice, it is easier to calculate the cosine of the angle between the vectors instead of the angle... A cosine value of zero means that the query and document vector were orthogonal and had no match (i.e. the query term did not exist in the document being considered).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Authority 3.0 tomorrow and 5th gen search today

Michael Jensen of the National Academies Press has written a thought-provoking piece about scholarship and web 2.o in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled The New Metrics of Scholarly Authority [ACRLog]

From it, I learned of NAP's ReferenceFinder:
designed to take a large block of text (from an article, a rough draft of a paper, a book chapter, a news story), and use it intelligently to "find more like it."
I tried it out using my last NJL post and from that text, it extracted key terms for searching Google Scholar and other sources and presented me with books and reports related to the text I gave it.

The National Academies Press is not afraid of web 2.0. Their business is publishing scholarly works in the sciences, engineering, and medicine and they do this all while making these same resources freely available page-by-page on the web.

RefWorks and the Workflow of Research

One common experience shared among librarians that support RefWorks is that of the student who approaches with a list of citations that he would like to have formatted ‘automatically’ by RefWorks. The student is disappointed to learn that the most efficient means of inputting citations into RefWorks is to export the citations into the database as one discovers them in such sources as PsycINFO and PubMed. More often than not, once the student realizes that he has to type each of his citations into a RefWorks form or has to “re-search” his citations in a database and then export them into RefWorks, the student follows the path of least resistance and decides to format the reference list without RefWorks.

Research, it is said, is a reiterative process. Ideally, one does research then reads, writes, and repeats, as necessary. The task of formatting a final paper is generally the last step in the process. So is it any wonder why so many students come to RefWorks when it’s too late?

RefWorks is not a bibliography-creation tool. It is promoted as a “an online research management, writing and collaboration tool" and "is designed to help researchers easily gather, manage, store and share all types of information, as well as generate citations and bibliographies” [RefWorks]. Faculty and graduate students generally understand the need for collecting and organizing papers and citations for future use but undergraduates tend not to, either because they don’t share this need or because they don’t recognize it.

I am thinking about services like RefWorks because I am trying to build a case for using an academic library’s indexes instead of using any number of search engines, including Google Scholar.

Ask yourself this question: if every journal you are interested in has its table of contents available on the web, why would you bother using a library’s index?

One reason we could give is that library indexes present structured data that can be easily repurposed to be added as footnotes in papers and become formatted bibliographies, make up course reading lists, be shared between scholars at different institutions without violating copyright agreements, and be used to develop citations trails that can tell us about flow of research from one scholar to another.

Except we can’t deliver this. Not yet anyway. We can do some of these things with the combination of OpenURL (SFX) and RefWorks but it’s not easy or pretty.

If citation collection tools like RefWorks are going to be the bridge between library resources and library services then we need to rethink how RefWorks can be re-purposed and how it can be introduced earlier in the research process. Perhaps RefWorks could be integrated with a social bookmarking service because individuals may be more inclined to ‘bookmark’ a paper that may want to revisit instead of deciding to ‘save’ research for future use (its the same function, but different language triggers different possibilities in the mind of the reader).

It struck me that I have no idea what percentage of my library’s users save their research on disc versus printing the articles versus emailing the articles to themselves. If we don’t understand how students and faculty use the resources we help provide, how can we develop the services to support these resources?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Library as content provider

At MPOW they are getting ready to launch a new LMS and a campus portal. At this point, I don't know exactly how the library where I work will fit into these systems. But I'm getting ready just the same. Both systems will be able to handle RSS feeds and so I'm considering committing the time and effort to create library-related subject-specific (e.g. Biology, Earth Science) RSS feeds.

Right now I'm trying to determine how feasible this project is. On first glance, one would think it shouldn't be too hard a project. For example, there a multitude of sources of online book reviews. Trouble is that there is frequently a lag in time between when a book is reviewed in the press and when it is found on the shelf of an academic library. So to supplement the book reviews, I'm considering these other forms of content:
If and only if I can maintain said blogs, then I can consider using them in the creation of widgets and gadgets.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The long tale from to myspace

I am currently reading Chris Anderson's The Long Tail and was struck by this particular passage.
If you just have the products at the Head, you find that very quickly your customers want more and you can't offer it. If you just have products at the Tail, you find that customers have no idea where to start. They're unable to get traction in the marketplace because everything you're offering them is unfamiliar to them...
And you, dear reader, may be thinking - yes yes, I get it: bookstores have "products at the Head" and libraries have "products at the Tail". Ah, but then consider this aside:

A good example of why this is so necessary is the story of, one of the early online music services... It let anyone upload music files that would be available to all. The idea was that the service would bypass the record labels allowing artists to connect directly to listeners... But although grew quickly and soon had hundreds and thousands of tracks, struggling bands did not, as a rule, find big new audiences and independent music was not transformed...

...(As an aside, it's worth wondering why MySpace, which has a free independent music model that is very reminiscent of, is such a success. The answer at this point appears that it is a very effective combination of community and content. The strong social ties between the tens of millions of fans there help guide them to obscure music that they wouldn't otherwise find, while the content gives them a reason to keep visiting.
I consider this evidence why we need a social library catalogue.

On that note, if you have any readings or research you would like to recommend on the social nature of academic research, please let me know.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

U of A catalogue is social

social bookmarks in the catalogue, originally uploaded by Mita.

Why don't libraries collectively host their own social bookmarking service?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

My new mantra: Discover. Gather. Share. Create.

Through a Mellon Grant, the University of Minnesota developed a model for assessing support for scholarship and research on a large research campus. The framework focused on three broad components: information resources, infrastructure services, and research behaviors .

The model is, in essence: Discover. Gather. Share. Create.

This model begins at slide 17 (pps) and then it blossoms as research behaviors are mapped upon it and then their research findings. Then at slide 25, you can see how they've used to model to create a mock-up of a research portal called MyField which looks much more appealing than any of the other portals I have seen. [via]

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

We need to raise our standards

In the year 2000, at 8:15 AM on a beautiful Saturday September morning in St. John's, Newfoundland, I first heard about the OpenURL standard. What was once strange, new and exciting on that early early morning has now, seven years later, become somewhat commonplace as most North American academic libraries now have an OpenURL server which does the job of resolving which online service should be used when a user requests a particular journal article. An idea materialized.

After reading the 135 lides [pdf] of Dan Chudnov's 2007 NASIG Keynote address called A New Approach to Service Discovery and Resource Delivery (or as I have described it to co-workers, "some steps to make the library more like iTunes"), I plan to learn more about the following standards:
To me, standards are part of a bridge-building process with each part, reducing the distance needed to bring our users to the things they want to read. Until that connection is seamless and sound, most folks won't even notice that there is even a bridge being built, much less appreciate the efforts that are being made to reduce the gaps. But the gaps are getting smaller...

Advanced Search is Bad For Users

A couple recommended reads [via]:

Twenty-five years of end-user searching, Part 1: Research findings

Karen Markey
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology
Volume 58, Issue 8 , Pages 1071 - 1081

This review summarizes quantifiable evidence on end-user searching. Some findings:

  • mean number of queries per search session (most between 2 and 4)
  • the use of boolean operators (less than 15% use AND; less than 2% use OR)
  • most end users accept default values for searching
  • when end users use advance search features in their queries, they use them incorrectly about one third of the time
  • the vast majority of end-users are satisfied with their searches

Twenty-five years of end-user searching, Part 2: Future Research Directions
Karen Markey
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology
Volume 58, Issue 8 , Pages 1123 - 1130

Discusses research findings about end-user searching in the context of current information retrieval models.
"When researchers analyse end-users' failed searches, the number one problem is their initial choice of search terms (Debowski, [2001], p. 377; Hsieh-Yee, [1993], p. 169; Lucas & Topi, [2002], p. 105; Sewell & Teitelbaum, [1986], p. 241; Wildemuth & Moore, [1995], p. 299). Instead of using a database's controlled vocabulary, users search for the first terms that come to mind. Failing to use the controlled vocabulary has an adverse effect on the precision of their searches and makes it impossible for users to enlist the vocabulary's special search features such as exploding terms, listing subheadings, and displaying term relationships."
This article brings together two personal interests - user interfaces and improved information literacy practice in libraries. They dovetail nicely here: let us create simple user interfaces that suggest better search terms to our users. Let's concentrate on teaching thinking about language and ideas and end the teaching of boolean searching and if we dare, let's get rid of the advanced search screen.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Foxy Leddy - the LibX Toolbar

Leddy Library has a LibX Firefox extension. Its called Foxy Leddy!

Ideally, our website should have a loop of Jimi Hendrix singing,
I've made up my mind,
I'm tired of wasting all my precious time
You've got to be all mine, all mine
ooh, Foxy Leddy
Much thanks goes out to Annette Bailey and Godmar Back, creators of LibX. They have done, and continue to do, fantastic work with LibX.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Review Articles Are Your Friend

The following text is from a set of committee recommendations for MPOW on the matter of promoting review articles in subject guides:

"A subject guide is not an annotated list of indexes. When we start learning a new discipline, we do not dive into the most recent scholarly research on the topic.
Fister has shown that undergraduates typically have a hard time getting started on their research papers primarily because they do not know how to narrow either their reading or the topic. (Leckie GJ. Desperately seeking citations: Uncovering faculty assumptions about the undergraduate research process. The Journal of Academic Librarianship 1996;22(3):201-8.)
There are a number of reasons why we should be recommending review articles when applicable to the discipline. Review articles cover a topic over the course of decades and not just the most recent developments in the field; they tend to be written a more general manner; they are likely to mention scholars that a student would recognize from their previous lectures or course readings; and, they provide a rich citation source for further reading.

Finding tools are not always the best route to good evidence. Our search strategies quite often describe the information-seeking process as one in which tools--reference works, bibliographies, catalogs, indexes--are used successively and systematically to locate information, with the implication that most of the information used in research is located through finding tools. In fact, students (and other researchers) find the most direct and efficient route to sources through the citation network. The students interviewed used finding tools, browsing, and the citation network all to good purpose. They used finding tools chiefly as a method of browsing the field in the first phase of research, but relied more on citations in the later phase, once the research question was thoroughly defined. If students find much of their material through the citation network and through serendipitous browsing of shelves, we should point those out as factors in the search strategy rather than emphasizing the use of privilege bibliographic tools as the correct way to locate information. (Fister B. The research processes of undergraduate students. Journal of Academic Librarianship 1992 07;18:163.)
Furthermore, there are faculty expectations in the science, health and engineering disciplines that review articles should be a part of an undergraduate’s research:

Faculty members were also asked what types of literature they expected students to use in doing assignments… Somewhat more surprising is the expectation that undergraduates should be using review articles (67%), which are rather specific types of articles that are not easily found unless one is already familiar with the purpose and occurrence of review articles. In relation to this, several of the faculty interviewed observed that students did not seem to understand what review articles were or how they should be using them, which is problematic if more than two-thirds of the faculty expect students to use them.

Types of Literature Faculty Students to Use

Types of Literature

Faculty Expecting

Scholarly journals




Review articles


Electronic indexes / abstracts


Handbooks, manuals


Government documents


Print indexes / abstracts


Encyclopedias, dictionaries


Statistical data


Popular Literature


Note: “Science” includes Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Earth Science, Mathematics, Statistics, Nursing, Medical Science, Kinetics, Occupational Therapy, Computer Science, and the Engineering departments.

(Leckie GJ. Information literacy in science and engineering undergraduate education: Faculty attitudes and pedagogical practices. College and Research Libraries 1999;60(1):9 )"

I think review articles are a sadly underutilized resource in the library. Outside of the library, they get their due: PubMed creates a tab of 'Review Article' results as part of their default search interface.

More How To Guides

When I was doing a literature review on subject guides, I learned that most users would prefer more of what's known as the 'how to guides' (e.g. how to find a book, how to find an article)
Faculty Interest in Other Library Instruction Options
Percentage of Faculty “Interested” or “Strongly Interested”





More subject guides, bibliographies





More how-to-guides





(Leckie GJ. Information literacy in science and engineering undergraduate education: Faculty attitudes and pedagogical practices. College and Research Libraries 1999;60(1):9)

Recently Memorial University reviewed their web server logs and found that their most popular guides are the ‘how to’ guides:

Table 8 from "Gettting to the source"

Goddard L. Getting to the source: A survey of quantitative data sources available to the everyday librarian: Part I: Web server log analysis. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice 2007;2(1)

Notice that the most popular 'how to guides' pertain to the mechanics of formating a paper.

Do students understand discipline?

In my last post, I suggested that we are overwhelming our users with too many choices of periodical indexes and cited research that suggests that doing so actually encourages people to make poor choices and, to boot, makes them feel bad. There's another reason why libraries should rethink how they present their online resources.

Last month, I was on a committee in my library that was charged to make recommendations on the future of our research guides and subject guides. While I was doing a literature review on the subject, I stumbled upon some research that has made me re-consider how our library's website should be organized. This research suggests that undergraduate students lack an understanding of an academic discipline: 

A study at Bucknell University Library concluded, “Students do not understand the subject categorization or organization of pathfinders… For instance, when seeking research material on bioterrorism, which subject guide should a student use: the biology guide, the political science guide, or the medical anthropology guide? … This blending of disciplines is not usually reflected in the categorization of subject guides, only adding to students’ confusion about how to address their information needs within the context of discipline-based subject guides .

Reeb B, Gibbons,Susan (Susan L.) Students, librarians, and subject guides: Improving a poor rate of return. Portal: Libraries and the Academy 2004 ; 4 (1) : 123-30.

Citing the growing interdisciplinary nature of research, the increased expectation of personalized online services, and recognizing that “undergraduates’ students’ mental model is one focuses on courses and coursework, rather than disciplines”, the University of Rochester set a goal for creating course-specific subject guides and course-specific navigation to discipline-level subject guides. A number of OCUL libraries are working in this direction and offer ‘course resource’ pages, including The University of Guelph and Carleton University.

How about course-specific lists of indexes?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The index re-mixed

Once upon a time, there were three ways to find an article on the topic you were interested in.
  1. Browse the journals until you found something relevant and then use that article's bibliography to find other articles
  2. Ask someone well-read if they know of an article on your topic
  3. Use a periodical index
Nowadays there is an additional option
  1. use a search engine like Google
It is very difficult to determine how many academic library users are using Google instead of library-licensed periodical indexes in their researching. HighWire reported that Google is responsible for 56% of the referred traffic to their journal publications. (if any of you out there know of similar evidence, could you let me know via a comment or email?)

At the same time, libraries are now offering more indexes than ever before. But how many index choices are enough? And perhaps more importantly, are we offering too many alternatives? There is a growing recognition that we are scaring many of our users away with too much choice. To solve this problem, we have been investing in metasearch. It's a compromise that allows librarians to keep all their expensive, specialized indexes while offering only one interface to their users.

So why not allow users to customize and save their own metasearch engine not unlike Google's customizable search engines?

And what if recognize that we have a track record of not being able to match our users needs with periodical indexes and be done with them completely? Let's dive down another level of granularity and create a platform that allows users to create their own customized index that searches just the subjects and / or the journals that interest them. Why are playing tens of thousands of dollars for someone else do this for us?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Prelinger - the post-digital library

The May issue of Harper's Magazine has a 'Letter from San Francisco" called "A World in Three Aisles" about The Prelinger Library. The Prelinger Library is, according to its blog, "an appropriation-friendly, image-rich, experimental research library. Independent and open to the public" and it was partly inspired by the Warburg Institute Library. (I don't recall hearing about the Warburg Institute when I was in library school. The first I remember learning about it was from this book. )

Here's a quote from it that I liked very much:
The executive director of the digital-library initiative at Rice University is quoted as saying that "the library is not so much a space where books are held as where ideas are shared." This is odd. Most people might suppose, to the contrary, that a library is exactly a space where books are held. There are many, many places on a college campus where ideas are shared: lecture halls, seminar rooms, computer clusters, dorm lounges. The library happens to be the one where ideas are shared precisely because books are held.
I'd recommend reading the article because the Prelinger Library - though special, small and unscaleable - makes one consider a serious rethink of libraries, communities and collections, searching and browsing. (Prelinger certainly made my head spin). Thinking about it again brought up a particular memory from library school. In a seminar course, I made a presentation to my class on the matter of zines and libraries. After I spoke, my professor started off the question and answer portion with a dismissive, "isn't this just really about ephemera?"

So its not altogether unsurprising that the most exciting library projects as of late - like the Prelinger Library and LibraryThing - have originated from non-librarians.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The opposition of teacher and student

"It's not about empty minds waiting to be filled, not about flatulent teachers discharging hot air. It's about the opposition of teacher and student. It's about what gets rubbed off between the persistence of one and the resistance of the other. A long hard struggle against a natural resistance." -- Graham Swift, Waterland

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Technology at its best - Without Power

A couple days ago, the University of Windsor held its first annual Campus Technology Day (*sigh* what's so wrong with using the word, inaugural?) and what made the day particularly memorable was that for most of the day, the university was without electricity due to an outage off-campus.

Most presentations went ahead anyway, including the excellent keynote address by Dr. Charles Severance, Executive Director of the Sakai Foundation. The Sakai Project develops free/open source educational software - most notably, collaborative learning / course management applications. I'm very proud of the University of Windsor for joining this community. An mp3 file [approx. 1:56:00] of Dr. Severance's keynote address is available - but the audio quality is unfortunately not so good.

The presentation that myself and Peter Zimmerman gave ("The Inside Out Library"), sans computer, screen and powerpoint, was also available as an mp3. I heard it this morning but for some reason, it seems to have disappeared. Was it something I said?

Involuntary proofreading

One of the hallmarks of good social software is that the person using it benefits the community unintentionally while performing a personal task. For example, by tagging this photo with kermit, not only can I easily find this photo from my collection of over 2000 images on Flickr (which considers it my most popular photo), but other people can find photos of our favourite frog.

I never thought of a CAPTCHA as a piece of social software but now I do ever since being introduced to reCAPTCHA vis reddit:

reCAPTCHA improves the process of digitizing books by sending words that cannot be read by computers to the Web in the form of CAPTCHAs for humans to decipher. More specifically, each word that cannot be read correctly by OCR is placed on an image and used as a CAPTCHA. This is possible because most OCR programs alert you when a word cannot be read correctly.

But if a computer can't read such a CAPTCHA, how does the system know the correct answer to the puzzle? Here's how: Each new word that cannot be read correctly by OCR is given to a user in conjunction with another word for which the answer is already known. The user is then asked to read both words. If they solve the one for which the answer is known, the system assumes their answer is correct for the new one. The system then gives the new image to a number of other people to determine, with higher confidence, whether the original answer was correct.

Currently, we are helping to digitize books from the Internet Archive.

I'm so impressed!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Is Google Dead Without Metasearch?

When Roy Tennant spoke to the 2005 SMUG Annual Meeting, the title of his presentation was Google Scholar: Is Metasearch Dead? And I remember that during his talk, Roy searched for the word hamlet in Google Scholar and the first hit returned was Hamlet and the Holodeck.

Now if you search Google Scholar for hamlet, you get this article: Partition testing does not inspire confidence [program testing]. Why? Its by D. Hamlet.

Search plain-vanilla Google for hamlet and the first entry is not surprisingly, from Wikipedia. What's amusing, although not together unsurprising, is the the Spark Notes for Hamlet outranks the actual play. What was surprising to me is that if you search for Hamlet in Google Book Search, you get only 6 hits returned. The University of Windsor has 95 titles that begin with that word. Search WorldCat for Hamlet and you are offered over 13,000 items.

Far from being dead, it looks like Google needs Metasearch.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

With Information Literacy Understanding - Loose Ends

Well, I think a measure of a conference is how long your ToDo list is at the end of it.

Here are some of the items on my WILU 2007 list:
  1. read REINVENTING UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION: A Blueprint for America's Research Universities by The Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University [pdf] (as recommended by Patricia Iannuzzi)

  2. spend more time with PubMed (most used source identified by Don MacMillan's survey) and become more familiar with patents as a source of biomedical information

  3. fundamentally change the way I teach RefWorks. Be conscious of creating a specific context for the instruction (Ryerson teaches RefWorks in the context of academic integrity) because context is very important even when using software.

    And keeping in mind Miyagishima and Hautala's admonition not to begin teaching with a demonstration and Joel Burkholder's technique of asking students to articulate and argue their preconceptions before any attempts to change them - I have an idea on how I would like to start my next RefWorks class. I am thinking about starting the session by asking the audience what qualities and options they would want in their dream research-related software. I would write all them down on the board or computer and then let the audience know which things RefWorks can help them with and which things it cannot. This way I have an idea what expectations the people in the room have and what they are interested in and can teach accordingly.

  4. Also inspired by Joel Burkholder, I am going to try to articulate particular reasons why Google is not sufficient for academic research. I think many of the reasons that we think are self-evident are not that convincing and that they are few in number. Try it at home!

  5. Inspired by the models used to create a general tutorial that can be specialized and tailored by faculty by the University of Calgary and Carleton University, I am going to investigate whether we can do something similar through Windsor's Sakai-powered LMS system (after the work of Sakaibrary is released)

  6. Find a new contest to enter

With Information Literacy Until - Now Context Sensitive

One of the most pleasant surprises of the WILU conference for me was the session, Student-Driven TURNITIN as a Teaching-Learning Tool. Like many folks, I came into the session with some strong misgivings about Turnitin. But I left the session a different person.

This presentation began with an introduction to the community of nursing that these teaching faculty were a part of. They told us that it was regulated community that places ethics and caring at the heart of the profession. And more importantly, they told us that they told their students the same thing before they spoke to them about plagiarism. They told them that use of Turnitin was voluntary, that they could see their paper's status within Turnitin, that they could re-submit their paper as many times as they wanted, and that could always come to them for help in writing their paper. This is so important because many students do not intentionally plagiarize - they simply don't understand when it is necessary for them to paraphrase or to quote their sources. The end result was that students submitted their papers in earlier, felt good knowing that they submitted original papers, and they sought help when their Turnitin reports showed a high percentage of unoriginal work. The faculty had less crying students to deal with and thought that Turnitin saved them considerable work in their pursuit of plagiarism. The difference that context and implement made in software implementation has really stuck with me (and it has made me hate this poster even more).

And then I got to thinking: what if every paper that a student submitted was signed and made available online for all to see and link to. How would that corpus of work take a life on its own? How would this change affect how students wrote their papers? Would students argue back and forth? Would student disagree with their younger selves? Why is it so important that students develop their undergraduate writing and learning in private? Is it that important?

I got infected with this notion sometime after listening to Rochelle Mazar speak on Making Coursework Matter. She told a great story of students rising to surprising and impressive levels through an assignment that had them editing and improving articles in the Wikipedia for the sake of the rest of the world (ha! I just wondered if I had paraphrased her abstract enough to satisfy Turnitin). She reminded us that students want their work to matter and challenged us to work on ways to make it so. Again, how work is situated is fundamental to how it is pursued.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

We're Information Literacy. Understand? Do not Demonstrate

The W in WILU stands for Workshops and I attended one entitled, Teaching on the Edge of Chaos. In it, Bryan Miyagishima and Robert Hautala put forwards a model for teaching that recognizes three elements in play: the student, the task and the environment. They suggested that since you can't change the student, you should concentrate on changing the task and/or the environment for better learning.

Joel Burkholder started his presentation by asking the audience what exactly are we librarians, for lack of a better word, trying to 'fix' in our students research habits. Some of the answers (in short form) that came back were:

keyword searching
starting with Google / Wikipedia
full text only
browse few
linear process
first hit reliance
only recent articles
reliance on one source
giving up
don't check scope notes
no plan
no or poor evaluation skills
don't ask for help

Joel then asked the audience, how many of these could we 'pin the blame for' on Google? He suggested that the habitual (and largely successful and satisfied) use of search engines in our students' lives are responsible for their searching 'framework' that they take into the classroom lab or library. Since this framework is working for them, they see no need to change it no matter how many times librarians tell them that there are better ways to research. Burkholder believes that asking students to perform mechanical skills that illustrate a new searching framework is also not sufficient to make students change their ways.

Instead, he suggests we should :
  1. find ways to make the student confront their beliefs and reveal preconceptions
  2. discuss and evaluate these preconceptions
  3. create cognitive conflict
  4. offer an intelligible, plausible and fruitful alternative framework
At this point, I realized that Joel was teaching the use of a framework for teaching by using that very same framework for teaching. Coincidently, I found it intelligible, plausible and fruitful.

Where Information Literacy Unfolds - Bad writing

So I returned from WILU 2007 yesterday and I know myself well enough to know that if I don't properly expand upon the scribbled notes that I made during the conference right now, then by Wednesday (the long weekend + Tuesday's Campus Technology Day) all the gossamer thought will have floated away. I'm not going to write summaries of the sessions I attended. I'm planning to write about how sometimes disparate presentations came together in my mind, to me.

I think one of the most important things that happened to me during the conference was that I was finally able to reconcile a particular misgiving I had towards active learning. It used to be that I would cringe every time I heard or read someone promoting active learning because people have multiple intelligences and not everyone can handle listening to a sage on the stage give a lecture. While I understood and appreciated the value of active learning, I just couldn't completely banish the lecture - the currency of teaching that pre-dates the university back to the days of Plato's Symposium -- on such a flimsy excuse.

Rick Salutin brought up Plato's Symposium during his keynote address, Thinking versus knowing: Where does information come in? Like a great lecture, Rick's talk touched on a number of themes that revealed themselves through his stories and conjecture. One of major themes was Salutin's preference for the oral tradition over the paucity and mechanical tyranny of the written word. Conversation can achieve a vibrancy and a deepness that can go beyond teaching and enter the realm of healing (through therapy) .

The richness and the visceral immediacy of dialogue can't be captured in print - which is why Plato's Symposium reads so badly. Later on in the conference, the topic of bad writing came up again. Richard Sims in his presentation Critical Reading: Doing More introduced me to Leo Strauss's idea that the 'bad writing' of ancient thinkers and philosophers should be thought of as encrypted writing, done so that the author could convey dangerous ideas to a few without persecution by the majority. Such writing (and the university lecture) is worth the additional effort.