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 mp3.com 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 MP3.com, 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 MP3.com 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 MP3.com, 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?