Archive for the 'Miscellanea' category

Little Nuggets

Nov 18 2010 Published by under Miscellanea, Open Access, Praxis, Uncategorized

Little nuggets of information are swirling around in my head. I'm just back from two meetings, in two different cities, and each one had some interesting ideas about the future of library services, collections, and technology.

Meeting #1 was the 2010 SPARC Digital Repositories Meeting in Baltimore. The last time this meeting was held, 2008, the landscape for institutional repositories (and digital repositories) was focussed on how libraries could create and/or host them and convince others of their value. I would say that with a few exceptions, not much has changed.

Just like everyone wants to get married in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, everyone in libraryland seems convinced if the right marketing approach/language is used, the perfect match will be made with respect to people contributing and using IR/DR content. Unfortunately the current IR/DR infrastructure isn't conducive to this. You need to establish relationships before (or while) you build the network, and there're few easy tie-ins to the existing infrastructure.  The keynote speaker, Michael Nielsen, made this point with respect to use and adoption of science online networks and the same is true for libraries. The current reward system isn't set up so scientists can show the value of contributing to social networks outside of the peer review process. I would agree this is true for IRs/SRs/DRS also, although of the three subject repositories have been the most successful.

As you can tell from the program, there was emphasis on collecting and curating open data, which I think showed there is a desire for libraries to find a better match. While this may create a niche for libraries, it's going to take some work between the "data nerds" and the collectors, as this friendfeed discussion shows.  

While several presenters mentioned the need for preservation, there was suprisingly little talk about the importance of having policies, infrastructure, technology in place to do this. In fact these two communities are almost completely disconnected. There's also been very little attention to assessment issues such as identifying if the money and staff time devoted to projects is worthwhile given the continuing recession and shrinking library collections budgets. I see both of these ideas impacting work on IRs/DRs/SRs, although since neither topic is "sexy" it may take some before we see much attention devoted to these issues.

The plan is to have this conference again in two years, and if this happens I predict we will see further shifts in focus or perhaps this program co-sponsored or linked with another organization.

Meeting #2 was a joint ARL/SSP workshop, Partnering to Publish: Innovative Roles for Societies, Institutions, Presses, and Libraries. This should have been a session or part of the schedule for Meeting #1, because it became clear as the meeting progressed that working in the publishing infrastructure is a natural way for libraries to make their repositories and/or preservation efforts tie into the existing promotion and tenure environment. In most cases the speakers at the event were able to show this in easily quanitfiable ways, like sales figures, enhanced content and features in books and journals, as well as stronger relationships with administrative units and campus faculty.

I also attended yet another conference in the last month: the 2010 Library Assessment Conference. Not much of this conference addresses issues in BOT but I will say this - there were twice as many attendees at this meeting than the SPARC meeting with many more presentations and ideas generated. This is currently a hot topic in librarianship and I predict we will see more programming devoted to all areas of this topic in the future.

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MAD LIBRARY SCIENCE!!!!! The story of Melvil Dui

Oct 29 2010 Published by under Miscellanea

It's MAD SCIENCE!!!!! day on Scientopia, so I thought I'd go a little steampunk-horror on you and talk a bit about the early far-from-halcyon days of American librarianship.

If you ask me (which you didn't), early American librarianship was an excuse for younger sons of Boston brahmins to proclaim that they were too doing something appropriately genteel and productive with their lives. Some of their names live to this day: Bowker, Barnard (as in "College"), Cutter (as in "number").

Yet the most famousest of them all wasn't a Boston brahmin. In fact, the Boston brahmins of the time spurned him repeatedly as just too gauche and moneygrubbing for words. His name? Melvil Dewey.

Er, Dui. One of the bees in Dui's bonnet was English spelling reform. He, er, didn't get very far with that one. But it was terribly mad-scientist of him. So was his dogged evangelism of the metric system—we all know how far that's gotten. He did invent and successfully shepherd to broad adoption a couple of monsters that stalk librarianship to this day: the Dewey Decimal System (never "Dui Decimal" for some reason), and the card catalog.

His idea of labor (in marked contrast to his oversea contemporary William Morris) was unsentimental to an extreme, even rather dehumanizing. If he'd had Igors or Oompa-Loompas, he would have loved them. He tried to start the first temporary agency for unemployed Boston-brahmin types, all in the name of "efficiency." (It didn't go well, leaving him in serious debt.) He started the first library school specifically for women, his argument being that women were nice and worked cheap. Of course there would be a man leading the library, because how could it be otherwise? but the worker bees could all be women, and that would be wonderful.

Here's the thing, though. Women swarmed all over sexist-pig Dewey, er, Dui. His college landlady financed one of his first ventures. He won his wife over the active courting of another man, and she stayed faithful to him even when he, er, didn't return the favor. There's all kinds of suspicious-looking stuff in his life history, often involving his secretaries. (If you're interested, I recommend Dee Garrison's Apostles of Culture. Very good book, very readable.)

I can think of only one explanation for all this.

Dui was a vampire. Of course.

I, of course, am a zombie:

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Friday foolery: This is a blog post about a news article about a scientific paper

Oct 01 2010 Published by under Miscellanea

In the first sentence I link to the article, making sure not to use the verboten "click here" as the link text. I also make a meta-remark on why the linked-to article is worthy of notice, and summarize it if I have not done so already.

A piquant quote often follows:

In this paragraph I will state in which journal the research will be published. I won't provide a link because either a) the concept of adding links to web pages is alien to the editors, b) I can't be bothered, or c) the journal inexplicably set the embargo on the press release to expire before the paper was actually published.

And I end with a one-line zinger.

8 responses so far

Friday foolery: classification and thesaurus follies

Sep 10 2010 Published by under Miscellanea

So I've talked a lot here about classification in libraries, why libraries do it and how it works.

Sometimes, though? Really, truly doesn't work all that well.

I've librariansplained thesauri too. At some point in very complicated thesauri, following the chain of broader/narrower terms can lead to patent absurdities. Ah, well. Human systems are imperfect.

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The Tip of the Iceberg

Aug 30 2010 Published by under How Libraries Work, Miscellanea

The end of the summer and beginning of fall (for academics) is the busiest time of the year - I'm swamped!  A second reason for my silence is that I've been thinking more deeply about some other issues within the academy. Recently I became part of a team appointed to look at our internal assessment activities in the libraries and also determine the scope, depth, and impact of our organization to the campus administration and beyond. In a word - ROI. We must show it and we must prove it to others.

Now I know a lot of academics think assessment and ROI is a dirty word, rife with assumptions that curricula and teaching pedagogy will be micomanaged and misinterpreted by souless bureauocrats, and perhaps even altered at whim to meet fictitious benchmarks, much like Winston Smith in 1984. I'm not denying this can and does happen. Assessment is a popular buzzword today in the academy, and as long as the recession lasts I suspect it will stay high on the radar screen.  

In libraries assessment has generally been a numbing and jumbled mixture of circulation transactions, budget and financial data on products, usability studies with patrons on technology interfaces, products and services, and the occassional collections analysis or technology inventory. In short, a lot of things are measured but not necessarily considered holistically or even determined if the measure is worth the time and effort to maintain. Coupled with this phenomena is the requirement that libraries provide statistics to the member organizations to which they belong, such as ARL, ACRL,  and the like. In many cases the reporting requirements change yearly and libraries must anticipate how to best answer these questions. Inherent in all of this reporting, of course, is the desire to have the numbers provided show your library in a positive way: rank highly on the ARL list, high ILL lending to other institutions, or any other measure.   So this assignment I've been given is going to be very interesting, because it will go to the heart of many of the things we do and how much of our time, staff, and money we spend on them.   

This development dovetails nicely with the recent discussion on blogs and in the science 2.0 community on the future, purpose, and access to supplemental journal materials and the decision by the Journal of Neuroscience to stop accepting journal supplemental materials. Martin Fenner has a great blog post summarizing recent activity on the subject. I agree with him this decision brings up larger questions, like what is the concept of a scientific paper in the 2.0 (and 3.0) web environment? What should a paper contain? What is most important? What do researchers need to duplicate (or ignore) in their competing and complementary work? How should it be made available? And how will it be preserved or changes tracked to ensure proper attribution and recognition?  This concept of the scientific article, just like the current state of assessment workflow and methodology I describe for libraries, will need to determine what researchers need most and if the material is successful in meeting needs or generating funding or other support. 

This is a big challenge indeed, given the current state of disagreement among science disciplines about the use and deposition of materials in preprint repositories, practices and expectations for open shared data sets, the lack of well-defined standards for describing  data, and the need to archivally preserve materials for future generations. Plus as we look more broadly, will this new(er) concept of the research paper, assuming there's consensus on the result, work outside the sciences in  the social sciences and humanities? It's well-known there's already a difference of opinion today in how each of these areas create, disseminate and evaluate peer-reviewed content. Can a new model be created that works for all disciplines?

So in my opinion supplemental data is only the tip of the iceberg, just like the circulation or other operational data collected in a library. There's a lot more to consider, and no easy answers at this stage of the game. Other qutions are likely to emerge. What will the basic unit of research become? Will funded research continue to assume greater status than unfunded work? Can collaborative work be assessed fairly and acurately to determine the contribution and effort from each member?   These questions will need to be answered.

My library perspective tells me that ROI will not go away, and is likely to take on an even larger role in decision-making as technology becomes more data-driven and academics continues to require direct evidence of meeting specific measures to show success of programs and curriciula. We may all become our own Winston Smiths someday.

6 responses so far

Friday foolery: Batman and libraries

Aug 27 2010 Published by under Miscellanea

Many geeks already know that Barbara "Batgirl" Gordon is a librarian. But did you know that Batman solved the Dewey murders, back in the day? Well, now you know.

For more library-themed superhero, check out Rex Libris. I'm not a huge fan, myself, because there's not enough library in the superheroics for my taste, but it's still a good comic. For library- and archive-themed online comics generally, try Shelf Check, Derangement and Description, or the venerable Unshelved.

Incidentally, nobody took me up on my challenge to guess Pleione-the-bicycle's color. Pleione is purple ("matte eggplant" per Electra's own description), and Wikipedia explains the science behind her name if you scroll to the bottom of the entry.

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The delicate recruitment dance

Aug 24 2010 Published by under Miscellanea

This is actually the second recruitment letter I've gotten from North Carolina State University for a repository-manager position. Mostly this is a statement of how long I've been doing this; turnover in repository management is (in my anecdata-fueled estimation) quite high. A five-year repository manager is a rara avis indeed. (There's an article there for a motivated Ph.D student. My hypotheses would be that "maverick managers" are most likely to leave, and that turnover predicts turnover: a repository that loses one manager is more likely to lose the next than would be predicted by normal turnover numbers in the library profession.)

I'm impressed by how delicate the letter's wording is. See, employee-poaching is rude, so the letter can't actually up and say "we hope you'll consider applying." Instead, it asks to have qualified candidates referred to them (wink-wink-nudge-nudge) and assures me that they'll be discreet about their applicants: no sneaky reference-calling, inquiries to be kept confidential, and so on.

Anyway, no, I'm not a suitable candidate and I'm not applying, nor do I have a suitable candidate at my fingertips just at present. (My top students are all doing nicely, thank you; I'm very proud of them. Days I think they are my impact on the world, not anything I've said or written or done. There are many, many worse legacies.) I'm not a suitable candidate because five years of repository work is enough for me; I want to do other things now. (Not to mention that this position leans toward the technical end of repository management, and I'm not as techie as they want—certainly nowhere near as techie as the position's previous holder.)

There's a brief job squib on LISjobs, and going to their jobsite and searching "repository" will turn up the full position description and application instructions.

I have a lot of respect for NCSU Libraries. They get stuff done. I don't know anything much about the work environment, I admit, but if you're a firebreathing techie sort, you could do much worse than giving this a look.

There. I hope I have returned the courtesy of the letter sent me.

7 responses so far

For lo, it is an article

Aug 13 2010 Published by under Miscellanea

My latest article, "Retooling Libraries for the Data Challenge," is now online. Ariadne is fully open-access, so read away.

If it sounds familiar, that probably means you were at Access 2009 or a UKOLN meeting in Bath earlier this year, at both of which I gave the talk on which the article is based. (If video is your thing, there's video of both these talks about. Check Vimeo.)

My thanks to Ariadne editor Richard Waller for an exceptional job of turning around this article in a really short time. This sort of thing is time-sensitive—I will be shocked if things haven't changed beyond recognition in a couple of years—so I'm extra-glad to see quick publication; I seem much less of a dork that way.

Anyway. Comments and critiques welcome. Mine is never the last word.

5 responses so far

Friday foolery: Save us, Digiman!

Aug 13 2010 Published by under Miscellanea

I am a huge nerd, I love cartoons, and I couldn't get by in life if I didn't laugh at myself and what I do a lot. (You may have noticed.) For those reasons, the über-colorful, über-cheeseball Team Digital Preservation series from Digital Preservation Europe is one of my favorite things ever.

The latest in the series was just announced, though it turned up on YouTube a couple months ago:

But don't just catch the latest; watch them all!

And while you're at it, why not take a few moments to think about your individual historical legacy and what you might want to do to preserve that?

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Friday foolery: The Dude abides (and seeks information)

Aug 06 2010 Published by under Miscellanea

One genre of academic literature in information science is the "information-seeking behavior" genre, often with an "of X" attached. I find this literature beyond useless for the most part, though some early work on underserved communities had its place, and I do know people making very sharp observations on changes in information seeking among researchers.

Despite my distaste for the genre, though, I have to love this preprint, if only for the utterly puerile amusement of seeing the PDF filename in my browser bar…

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