Monday, March 26, 2007

New tutorials from RefWorks now offers more tutorials with their latest release:

Advanced Searching and Lookups
Viewing, Sorting and Printing References
Editing Multiple References
Advanced Searching and Lookups
My List
Checking for Duplicates
Using The Output Style Preview Utility
Working Offline
Importing From RSS Feeds
Capturing Data From A Web Page
Backing Up Your Account

They also now offer a RefShare tutorial. [LIBlog]

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

RSS Chocolate in the SFX Peanut Butter

I was curious whether anyone had created an SFX menu option to drop a citation into and so I consulted The Oracle. Didn't find any such thing but did inadvertently find out that the MIT libraries have added RSS feeds into their SFX options:


I like the idea of making a journal's RSS feed available in this venue and I'm not the only one as evidently other libraries have expressed interest in the code MIT used to do this. I haven't inquired myself because I suspect that it may involve maintaining a database of RSS feeds.

But since Ulrich's is now providing information about RSS feeds in their Periodicals Directory, I think it would be ideal to use the SFX menu to look up potential RSS feed info from Ulrich's.

Ulrichs and RSS

Not sure whether its possible or feasible. Right now I'm just considering it.

Oh yeah... MIT's LibX Firefox Toolbar looks dead sexy. I'm definitely considering working towards our own LibX Firefox extension.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Filtering out the boolean searches

There's something about PubMed's filtering function that I love...


Essentially, registered users of PubMed can create up to five customized filters that immediately narrow down your search to either the type of research you are interested in (randomized control trial, review articles) or by access (free full text, your library) or by some other means you devise.

What appeals to me is that the filtering is that it occurs automatically post-search.

In the days of yore, librarians used to try get students to stop and consider alternative keywords and how to construct a proper Boolean search and so on before they searched. But now, even random words generate something vaguely useful in the Googlesphere or the scholars portal. So rather than encouraging the user to revise the search, I think we should try to build the tools that allow the user to refine results.

With every search in Pubmed, I can immediately see the impact of five different refinements. And of course, now I want more filters.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Should we open a Socratic Reference Desk and other Questions

Last week a co-worker and I joked about setting up a Socratic Reference Desk where the librarian seated would only respond with questions.

Then this week I had a fabulous coffee break (more productive, enjoyable and inspiring than a year's worth of meetings) with a couple of other co-workers in which the topic of questions came up again while we were thinking of possible library displays.

Over coffee, I brought up The World Question Center. This year they asked 160 scientists and 'public intellectuals' (for lack of better phrase) this question: "What are optimistic about? Why?"

The very first question the center put forward in 1998 was, What questions are you asking yourself? That seems to be the starting point of the website that Alec introduced us to: The Dropping Knowledge site.

I've only just started browsing their dropping knowledge 'commercials'. I first started with Laurie Anderson, since she is a hero of mine, and what I found endearing is that she did what so many professors do: strongly recommend a book but give a slightly wrong author name and a slightly wrong book title. (BTW, she means this book)

As librarians, we are consumed with answers, but as teachers, we should be consumed with questions. One way of describing Information Literacy is the encouragement of having questions in mind while searching and re-searching. (Would that make, 'critical thinking is having questions in mind while reading?')

As much as we were kidding around when we were talking about the Socratic Method Reference Desk, I think we may have been on to something there.

There is a deep human need in times of trouble to consult someone with answers. I don't think its a coincidence that the sources where humanity has referred to in the past (and in the present)- tarot cards, the i ching, and the oracle - all answer us in vague poetry.

When I was in library school one of my friends had a tarot deck. She didn't believe that the deck possessed any particular magic or personal energy claptrap. To her, the magic was in its randomness and how it encouraged the her to consider her situation in a new light.

And with that I have a new project. To create desk of oblique strategies for researchers. Should they all be in the form of a question? I drew a card and it said, " Lost in useless territory".

Monday, March 05, 2007

Learning not to say Learning to Learn

With the power of hindsight, its easy to look at the library's online catalogue and lament the fact that the original OPACs were designed to mimic the paper-based card catalogue, rather than to imagine itself anew to take full advantage of the online medium's inherent benefits.

What's not so easy is to look at the array of online databases that libraries subscribe to and ask ourselves, are we just trying to mimic paper-based indexes, rather than to imagine the scriptorium anew to take full advantage of the online medium's inherent benefits?

That question came to mind after I had a conversation over coffee with a colleague of mine. We are both librarians at an academic library and when we are at the reference desk, most of our advice is given to students who are there only because they have been instructed by their professor to use "X" number of peer reviewed articles in their soon-to-be-due research paper. He and I share the same misgivings over the disconnect between 'find x recent peer reviewed articles' and the act of learning (we, of course, are not the only ones).

Keeping up with the most recent scholarly literature is a daily task for experts in their field but it isn't the way that one that one becomes an expert. At least not easily. If I wanted to learn about [insert something here... bone structure, castle construction, criminality], a very bad way to go about it would be to read 'x' number of recent peer reviewed articles on the topic.

So how would someone create an genuine online tool for learning? Would it resemble Wikipedia? A collection of textbooks? Or it would be simply a collection of annotated reading lists?

Now, it is commonly understood that learning is a constuctive process and a social process as well. The student pieces together bland writing in the textbook looking for emphasis and key themes brought out by the lecturer and then applies the concepts through writing and testing. The natural habitat of learning is in conversation and debate, in writing and argument, and in serious contemplation of ideas fueled by observation and by text. So now I am asking myself this: is there some form of social software that will emerge as a natural online tool for learning and will make us look at our array of online library databases and lament?

Or will the natural location for learning be where it always has been: right between the ears.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Radical Mistrust

According to the recent Pew report called "A Portrait of 'Generation Next' : How Young People View Their Lives, Futures and Politics", more than 4 in 10 "Gen-nexters" have created a personal profile on a site such as Facebook or MySpace.

Contrast that fact with this one: out of the twenty libraries of the OCUL consortium, only one library provides profiles of all their liaison librarians on their website. McMaster, Guelph, Waterloo and Windsor have only two or three librarians who share a little information about themselves. This leaves the vast majority of Ontario academic librarians with only a email address and phone extension to endear themselves to their faculty and student constituencies.

One of way of reading this situation is to suggest that there is a serious lack of radical trust going on. That being said, it may also may be simply the result of web designers being consumed with connecting users with resources. Luckily, this is one technological problem that can be resolved with some attention.