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.

Monday, May 07, 2007

More evidence against indexes

Van Orsdel and Born report that Google has relentlessly ‘strengthened its claim as the ubiquitous front door to the web and all of its content’, including scholarly content. They found that Google is responsible for referring 56% of the users of HighWire journals, and our own study shows that over 70% of researchers use it routinely to find scholarly content. Moreover, web search engine referrals also appear to account for the vast majority of accesses to institutional repositories.

[Researchers' Use of Academic Libraries and their Services]

Friday, May 04, 2007

The end of indexes?

"Situation/problem/reality with users:
* 2% college students start w/ library website
* 89% start w/ search engines" [ access 2006]

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

OCUL Search Engine

As you can tell from my previous post, I frequently check out the other university libraries in my province. In order to make this snooping easier, I've created an Ontario University Libraries Search Engine.

That being said, I'm not completely Ontario-centric in my worldview... although many Canadians outside of Ontario would suggest that if one is from here it is impossible to be otherwise.


Originally uploaded by Mita.

I work here.