Friday, October 23, 2009

Useful critical evaluation rubric

Lately I've been working on ways to get more thinking about and doing of critical evaluation into my library research workshops. Rob Weir's discussion of using reviews as a critical evaluation exercise includes a rubric that could also be useful to librarians, even if writing a review is beyond the scope of most one-shot workshops.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Admittedly, I do own a cardigan. One.

From 100 Scope Notes, Things Librarians Fancy.

(Mind you, I haven't worn that cardigan in several years...)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

An instructive perspective on the scholarly publishing process

Many are familiar by now with the details surrounding the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science's publication of a highly controversial article in July. This article from Inside Higher Ed helps make this entire affair an instructive example to students of how the peer review process is supposed to work, ways that it might fail (or be circumvented), and some of the characteristics to look for when evaluating research.

I find it especially instructive because it's pretty clear that Margulis's contention that PNAS's editors "don't like" the Williamson paper, while probably true, is beside the point. The article fails as research and should have failed to pass peer review.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

a brief thought on the 80/20 rule

This article from Inside Higher Ed doesn't specifically mention information resources, but it got me thinking about a study I read earlier this year about Wikipedia being around 80% right in a given subject area.

If that's true, it's another potential data point explaining why traditional reference sources are getting spanked.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

the wave of the present, part deux

This morning's Inside Higher Ed brings the news that starting in 2011, current University of California Press journals will be available via JSTOR along with the backfile.

The article mentions the Ithaka report from 2007 that libraries have to get more involved with scholarly publishing. I'm inclined to agree, but we also need to recognize that small libraries like mine have limited capacity to do that.

On the other hand, if our acquisitions budget went more toward directly supporting the infrastructure of scholarly communication, and less toward lining publisher pockets, that money would go further for greater good. That makes me really happy that it's JSTOR doing this.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

the wave of the present

Kind of old news at this point, but ACS going online-only is still news.

If not exactly unexpected. At my university, science faculty and students had been asking pretty much since I started here (and probably before) when we'd be getting core publications like Science and Nature online. (We now do, after considerable budget reshuffling.) We'd been getting ACS's journals online for quite awhile, and I can't remember the last time I saw anyone looking at a scientific publication other than American Scientist in print.

If ACS passed the cost savings of this move on to its subscribers? THAT would be news.

Monday, June 29, 2009

and the Librarian Clue by Four of the Day Award goes to:

Chris Anderson, author of Free and The Long Tail and editor in chief of Wired.

Plagiarism? Lame.
Plagiarizing from Wikipedia, which openly grants re-use of its content as long as you follow straightforward Creative Commons licensing rules? Lamer.
Using this as your defense: "All those are my screwups after we decided not to run notes as planned, due to my inability to find a good citation format for web sources..."

That's beyond lame and into actively stupid. There does not EXIST a recognized citation format that DOESN'T address web sources; if the Modern Language Association has taken to assuming online as the default (which it has) then there really is no excuse.

(Okay, "good" is subjective. But good god, man. The citation formats for web sources are no more egregious than those for print. If you can do one, you can do the other.)

(On the upside, this'll make a great object lesson in library instruction sessions for freshman writing seminars.)

Friday, June 5, 2009

newsbit: Zotero suit dismissed

As per this post from one of the project's directors. Excellent news!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Badda-bing!: an experiment

A friend of mine in the dev biz has done some quick-n-dirty comparisons between Google and Bing (Microsoft's LiveSearch, re-branded and apparently substantially redeveloped as well) and been surprised by the results--in Bing's favor.

So much so, that he's switching to Bing for a week to see if the bloom on the rose lasts. I think I might give that a try, too. As he says, no matter how much we might love Google, competition is healthy and ensures a robust ecosystem.

Aesthetically, I'm not sure that I'm crazy about the background image, even with the embedded links. It does save the page from basically looking like Google with a different logo on it, though.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Notes on the invisible library

One of the things I think about a lot is how the library is changing as the physical facility decouples from the collections it has traditionally housed. In my own personal taxonomy these thoughts group under the heading "Invisible Library", largely because I occasionally encounter students who use the library without knowing it--discovering a journal we subscribe to while using Google, for example. I gave a presentation on campus around this topic last fall and one thing that came very clear to me is that, somehow, we have to stop treating our digital resources in a way equivalent to our physical resources. Publishers do this, but libraries do, too, and it's in danger of killing us.

An article in the latest Journal of Academic Librarianship addresses this issue, adding a third dimension: namely, the people providing library services. It also highlights the phenomenon I mention: patrons can discover library resources through avenues other than the library, and often do. (This is one reason why it would be really nice to somehow handle library patron authentication at the vendor's end, rather than the library's. If there's a nice big banner across the top of the e-journal index page that says "SUBSCRIPTION PROVIDED BY PACIFIC LUTHERAN UNIVERSITY", does it matter whether they got there through the library website or through Google? I submit that it does not.)

A lot of what it talks about here--transformation of library space, digitization of information resource, and a service emphasis on outreach, information literacy, and value-added technology--is already happening; according to long-range plans at some institutions, by fits and starts at others. Some of the technological dimension was addressed in my MLIS program, especially the information architecture side, and some of the Web development and resource management components. But much more, such as data mining, scripting, and technology-dependent aspects of information use (I've been asked how to make charts in Excel so many times in the past month that I've lost count) was not.

The article makes it sound like MLIS programs should become computer science lite degrees, and I'm not entirely convinced that they shouldn't. I love our IT crew, but if certain parts of what we do pass into their domain, it'll be frustrating for them, tragic for us, and a loss to the institution as a whole.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dear LITA:

I just added you to my ALA membership renewal for the first time last month. For, I might add, a pretty penny. (Although ALA's maddeningly useless membership renewal confirmation does not tell me how much I actually paid for the package deal. Dear ALA: some of us itemize our tax returns. What kind of receipt doesn't include an amount paid?)

So, when the very first bit of communication I receive from you is, first of all, close to a month later, and secondly, includes "Former ALA member ID" in the header, and thirdly, is a solicitation for me to RE-JOIN a division I joined FOR THE FIRST TIME less than four weeks ago, it doesn't fill me with confidence.

THIS is the ALA division chiefly concerned with technology in libraries?

I'm still waiting to be impressed.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Back from ACRL...

...which seems weird to say, since it was held in the city I've called home for almost 13 years. But still. I didn't come to the library for those days, I went to the conference for a different kind of work. I made a new friend, got nostalgic for the days I'd go to Pike Place Market for lunch every day, ran right into the St. Patrick's Day parade, and came away with a short list of ideas for things to do.

This was my first ACRL, and I got about halfway through posting talks and presentations of interest to my Google calendar before I gave up and decided to wing it, aside from a couple of firm commitments (not least of which was hosting the Washington chapter dinner, which was held in a restaurant where the University Bookstore's downtown branch used to be).

Best idea of the conference: the Cyber Zed Shed (but, uh, how to put this delicately: the "cyber" prefix is so very 1990s), despite a couple of participant no-shows. Which is a real pity because I'm starting to get my hands dirty with Voyager's new interface and it would've been nice to pick up some ideas. Lots of stuff about widgets in the other presentations, and not all of it was LibGuides-driven, even. The short presentations forced the presenters to stay on topic, be concise, and avoid digressions, which is something I can't really say for some of the more formal presentations.

Other things that were useful, fun, or both: the preconference on copyright, immediately relevant because of a project I'm currently working on; and the presentation on puzzles as promotional gimmicks at MIT. I like puzzles and think they could be a fun and engaging promotional tool, especially since we don't really do the once-ubiquitous library tour anymore.

The thing that interested me the most, though, is that the puzzles were presented not on the library website (where one might think at first to put them) but in the student newspaper. Because one doesn't come to the library website with the intention of engaging in a leisure activity, which is what the puzzles basically are.

Both of the keynotes I attended were stellar: Sherman Alexie, an author I've been reading since I discovered Reservation Blues sometime in the mid to late 1990s, and Ira Glass, who when speaking sets up as though he's in the broadcast booth, complete with mixing board. Both of them talked about stories. I mean, both of them talked about a lot more than that, but what struck me about both speeches was how they were centered around the concrete reality of story, and the hold it has on people. The thing that story gives you that other forms of information typically don't is context. I often think about what role, if any, storytelling plays in academic library instruction. Most of the time it seems to show up as an attempted-humorous anecdote, but when Glass talked about story structure--something I've learned about in a few writing classes, and I really wonder why it isn't taught me--it occurred to me that that structure might also be a useful way to structure lessons.

So, there. A few wee tips and tricks to play with, and one big idea to chew on. I guess that makes for a pretty good conference.

Friday, March 13, 2009

At ACRL: Cyber Zed Shed

Corny name, nifty notion. First session is totally jam-packed. Great ideas for a wannabe geek like me.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Not dead, just busy

Work has been overwhelmingly busy and I've had no time to post anything of substance, or indeed anything at all. That should change...someday.

In the meantime, you can read my latest article for Info Career Trends, To MLIS or not to MLIS? Enjoy.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Jason Griffey's Top 5

This is actually from December, but check out Jason Griffey's TechSource post on the top 5 most influential technologies of 2008.

As I said there, it interests me that three of the five are devices--hardware.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thoughts on Source Evaluation: Acknowledge Popularity

I've been reading a lot lately on evaluating information, especially Web sources. Much of the literature on evaluating Web sources predates the level of sophistication and richness of content we're seeing now: open-access journals, government reports, newspapers, Google's Life magazine image archive, and so on. But one article I skimmed again recently discusses why popularity and relevance, which seem to be (so far as outsiders can determine) two of the major criteria in Google's ranking algorithm, aren't valid for evaluating an information source.

Tell an undergraduate student this and watch the confusion crawl across his/her face. I also happen to think that it's not necessarily true.

What's really going on here is that there are two parts of evaluation. One is, "Is this good information?" The other is, "Should I use it?"

There are scenarios where one might have a valid use for information that one knows is of poor quality, after all. But that's not really my point.

My point is that while popularity is not a good sole indicator of quality, it's worth considering because first of all, it probably put that search result on the first page for you, and secondly, one would do well to think about why so many people are looking for, clicking on, and linking to this think.

Might even be because the information in it is good.

The real criticism here, I think, is of popularity as an authority indicator. A few months ago I came across an article in the computer science literature, from the late 1990s or early 2000s, that suggested exactly this as a search engine algorithm.


Wouldn't that be an interesting idea to get students to unpack?

It's times like these that I wish I had entire semesters, instead of maybe one hour over the course of four years, to get this stuff across.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Arresting Image

Like a lot of librarians and writers (I happen to be both), I have a habit of privileging text over image. Partly it's upbringing, partly it's preference; however vivid and absorbing an image, I'm habitually more drawn to text, both for information and for entertainment.

In the past month, though, I've twice been pointed to the Boston Globe's The Big Picture. As MediaShift puts it, the Big Picture is "a large-format photo-blog" that "has created a way to display powerful images in a user-friendly manner". Simply put, it does this by making the images really, really large, and captioning them. The result is beyond attention-getting; it's far more absorbing than the images that typically accompany online newspaper stories, which often seem to be stuck in as an afterthought, or a way to balance the page layout. (Some of these, to be fair, link to larger pop-up versions of themselves--the Big Picture's images are still larger, though.)

This week I'm thinking a lot about the presentation of information, as my library website is about to go through a minor bit of redesign. We won't be changing the site architecture, but we will be doing some aesthetic rearranging. A few months back I asked, here and elsewhere, for examples of library websites that showed particularly good design. The response was mostly resounding silence. Library websites tend to be ugly, for the same reason that a lot of online newspaper sites are just the print version ported to the Web, often to a visually cluttered result: we're not used to thinking about how to make what we offer appealing to the eye in this medium. Larger monitors help; I read online a lot more since I got my 17-inch Macbook. But you can't count on that, not with mobile technologies taking off the way they are.

Now that I've been in the library field a few years, I'm thinking seriously about what aspects of the field interest me, since there's not enough time to try or do everything even in this little disciplinary slice of the world. We pay a lot of lip service to the necessity of good online service, especially usability, but rarely talk about what that means in terms of aesthetics and presentation. The Big Picture shows why these things are important.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A timely essay on Wikipedia

I'm in the reading/musing/planning stages of an article that pertains to Wikipedia. Actually, it's about cognitive authority and how Wikipedia pertains to that. I think. As I often tell student researchers, your topic has a way of trying to morph on you when you're doing your lit search.

So there's this article on Alley Insider, appropriately titled Who the Hell Writes Wikipedia, Anyway?, and although it's not a robust study of the subject, it's worth looking at simply for raising the question in a way that suggests that there's an answer. A lot of faculty (with complete justification, I emphasize) disallow Wikipedia because anyone can contribute, but we don't spend a whole lot of time talking about what that means and why it can be problem, especially since for a lot of needs (not necessarily those of the classroom or the assignment), Wikipedia is just good enough.

The ongoing core argument about Wikipedia continues in the comments, which are more interesting than comments on news stories typically are, in my experience. This is in part because a lot of the commenters are Wikipedia contributors--often disaffected former contributors. Which means that they, like most sources, should be read critically, of course.

Sometimes I think the most interesting thing about Wikipedia is that it has created this debate, one that honestly I think is overdue.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

News, blogs, and community

I live in Seattle. My city--hell, my entire region--has been in the news a lot lately. Snow and ice! Buses dangling over the interstate! Torrential downpours! All major roadways closed! (They are, too--right now, the only way to get out of western Washington is to fly.)

Yet for all the news coverage, the kind of local, community news--is that major arterial out of my neighborhood closed? Is there a hardware store anywhere in West Seattle that still has snow shovels? When is Public Utilities going to get around to collecting trash again, anyway?--that people find most useful during even minor crises was frustratingly hard to get ahold of. City news channels got some of it, but they cover the entire city. Two major sources of frustration--city utilities and transportation--were either impossible to reach, even by phone, or were unable to provide useful information.

Enter the West Seattle Blog. It came to prominence during a previous bout of wild weather--a massive windstorm two years ago that knocked out power to some parts of the city grid for over a week--but I'd been following it for awhile because I happen to live in West Seattle and, to be honest, had found the community newspaper rather lacking.

The blog has a number of cool features and interesting characteristics, but the most intriguing thing about it, which is key to its success, is that it's run by a couple of traditional-media veterans who encourage and capitalize on active community participation. Would the site be quite so popular if the 2006 windstorm hadn't happened? Probably not. But it's an excellent example of a virtual community serving a geographic or physical one, and as such, it has a number of characteristics that libraries would do well to emulate.

It's also an object lesson for traditional media: namely, to dismiss it because it's hosted on a blogging platform (which some sources that traditionally communicate with newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations have done) is to miss the point and miss the boat. It's a handy demonstration of how a blog CAN be a perfect community news and communication venue. Other community resources, libraries included, would do well to take heed.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Design on my mind

Last fall, a group of students in a market research class did a research project for our reference department. It was the sort of thing that we'd wanted to do for awhile, but lacked the wherewithal: surveying literature and students to gauge perceptions and get ideas and recommendations regarding our service. One advantage to being at a university is that you have all this brainpower at your disposal--not just the (considerable) faculty brainpower, but the students too, to whom you can provide opportunities for class projects and learning.

Anyway, among the recommendations--several of which we are implementing--was a redesign of the library website. I was a little tempted to skip this one at first, since we just did a redesign a couple of years ago: it was my first major project after starting here.

But I have to admit that while our library website is pretty good from an organizational and IA perspective, the design is, well, less visually interesting than it could be. And as I started looking at other library websites to get some ideas, I saw that for all we talk about the importance of making our Web presence engaging, easy to use, maybe even (dare I say it?) a little bit fun, most library websites--not to put too fine a point on it--suck.

I've never been a Web designer and have only a smattering of development experience, but I've been on the Web since 1995 and to be honest, most websites suck. Why is this so hard to get right?

Well, for one thing, there are a lot of different elements that go into making a good website. As librarians, we're really good at organizing information--that is, after all, a cornerstone of our profession--but most of us are not designers and we have an ongoing problem with presentation, which also manifests in our instructional settings and the physical layout of our buildings. A library doesn't have to look like a nightclub, and our websites need to resemble neither Google nor Facebook. But in addition to being well organized and functional, they should also be well designed.

This isn't only or even principally about aesthetics. I've seen some beautiful websites whose designs are entirely unsuitable for libraries--but I've also seen some exemplifying principles that library websites would do well to emulate. CSS Zen Garden provides plenty of examples of both, and is especially useful because it shows how many different ways you can display the same content. Some of those displays would work very well with the kind of content libraries provide.

So for the next while I'm going to be thinking about design. In a way, it's easier this time around because I know that the underlying organization of my library's website is solid, which wasn't necessarily the case before. It's also worth thinking about design as distinct from (though obviously necessarily related to) content, information architecture, technological feasibility, and implementation.

If you're contemplating a similar project, the best suggestion I can make at this point is to look beyond other library websites. Most of them suck, and most of them suck in the same ways, for a reason.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Happy new year?

I came back to work today to the news that EBSCO is launching an integrated search service sometime this year.

...anybody NOT see that one coming?