June 30, 2005

My job in 10 years -- Collections

I've divided this part into a few distinct areas: books, journals, databases and other. Databases and other are coming next.

Books. Will I still be buying anything in print in 10 years? It'll be close, but I think so. I'm pretty sure that the stuff I buy in the History and Philosophy of Science will still mostly be real monographs, intended to be read from start to finish. That stuff will certainly be still available in print format. I may buy dual format, print & online, but there will still be print versions. Technical manuals for operating systems and programming languages and the like will mostly be online only, the Safari and Books24x7 model taking over that particular niche.

Two models I like a lot that I think will become much more important in the book world are the new Safari University system where profs can cobble together course textbooks from a wide variety of existing content modules. The other model is the Synthesis model from Morgan & Claypool, where we see medium length (ie 70-100 pages) essays on various topics in depth. This is what our students really need from us -- that kind of concentrated knowledge, that they can use to get up to speed on a particular topic fast. Getting that kind of concentrated dose will be a lot easier than pulling together information from a bunch of different web sources. The key to these two models is that print is secondary with online being the primary mode of delivery.

Who needs to read an 500 page book on classical mechanics or 20 books on signal processing? The real knowledge encapsulated in these books will be broken down, recombined and focused on specific needs. Break the 500 pages down into usable chunks, extract what's really interesting from the 20 different books to make one really good one -- the one fitted to a particular student's or course's needs. That's what I think I'll be buying for my scitech collection in 10 years. Reusable, interchangable content pieces that can be really focused on both broad and niche topics. I think that these content objects will be increasingly visual and interactive, constantly updated, perhaps with blog- or wiki-like feedback loops. I think that's what the net generation will want from their scitech "books." What will happen to the 10s of thousands of books currently on our shelves? A lot of them will stay there, a lot will go into fast retrieval storage locations. Availability online (ie. via Google Print) will probably decide each book's fate. In 10 years, I'll probably only be buying a couple of hundred real print books per year, maybe even less.

Another model that I think will become dominant is the kind that Knovel has, a big database of a lot of factual information, ie. chemistry and engineering tables. This data will still be very important for students and researchers to get quality information, but these kind of databases will make the most sense.

Journals. Will I be buying anything in print in 10 years? I suspect almost nothing. Perhaps I'll still get stuff like Scientific American and Wired in print becuase they're fun to flip through while sitting in the comfy chairs drinking a latte. As for scholarly publishing itself, looking into the crystal ball 10 years into the future is very murky. By then I suspect that virtually all journals will have abandoned the "issue" model and will be article-based. Probably many will be overlay journals, providing peer review services to articles in various eprint servers. For these, I'll pay a certain amount to cover the costs of peer review and the technical infrastructure for publishing and archiving. I imagine that the scholarly societies will be heavily into this model, somehow having figured out their business model for both publishing and non-publishing society activities. I'll still also pay more traditional subscription costs to the various commercial and society publishers, who I think will still be very active in 10 years. Those publishers will continue to publish their peer reviewed journals in 10 years from now. By that point, though, the net generation will start making their influence felt as scholars. I think that this will really begin the transformation of scholarly publishing in the 10 years after that.

The rise of blogs, wikis and other social software will start to have an important impact on scholarly publishing in the next 10 years. Important articles will start virtual conversations that will bounce back and forth. Conferences will probably see the same sort of transformations. While face-to-face networking will still be important, a lot of the true exchange of ideas will happen after the conference has ended. By then, we'll probably figure out a way for libraries to contribute to the infrastructure of this process, and that will be part of my job.

In conclusion, I think our biggest challenge in 10 years will be marketing to students the resources we do purchase -- convincing them that we have something to offer that beats what they can get for free online. It will have to be much better quality and at least as good convenience. Part of this challenge will even be getting any message in front of their eyeballs at all, getting some small piece of their attention. And I guess that leads into the Instruction section next.

I am a statistic

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June 24, 2005

Reference -- a few more thoughts

I was thinking. Maybe one of the things I couldn't imagine is a kind of reference wiki. Maybe my job will be to initiate and manage wiki-like things for our patrons to use. Maybe another of the things I couldn't imagine was using threaded discussion lists for reference interactions. No reason why either of those things couldn't be possible. How about blog-like things or other kinds of social software? I think I was also sort of assuming IM would get sucked up into another service platform and would really be a unique service anymore, but I'm not sure that is what's going to happen. Maybe there are possibilities there too. It's always interesting to think about what you can't imagine.

My job in 10 years -- Reference

Reference service is here to stay. It will always be a core mission of academic libraries to help our patrons find the information they need to do their work. However, I believe the nature of the questions we get and how we deliver the answers will change quite radically.

There are a couple of factors at play here. First of all, will our patrons continue to believe that we can help them with anything? Our patrons will become increasingly comfortable with online tools, online tools will become increasingly comprehensive and comprehensible. Currently, we often see at the reference desk that students' confidence in their abilities to find information on the web lags quite a bit behind their actual ability. Will this gap continue as search tools get better or will they truly be much more successful in their self-directed information seeking behaviors? In other words, will they continue to need us? Actually, I think (hope) the answer is yes. Resources will continue to multiply, single purpose tools won't be able to keep up, relevance ranking will continue to be imperfect, integration of functionality and information from various sources into coherent documents will be a challenge. Questions will be harder and more challenging, but there will be questions. At the service point, we will still be able to help students navigate and integrate. (I think we're seeing a lot of this already -- it will only accelerate.)

Next, the continued importance of libraries as places on campus (and really, the continued importance of campuses as places to attend university). To the extent that we are still valued as places on campus to work, study and socialize, f2f reference will continue to be an important service. Whether we provide that service behind a desk, from our offices, roaming around a commons area, consulting in a group study room or from remote locations around campus such as dorms or academic departments, the f2f service will continue to be valuable to our patrons. Will in be closer to a consultants' role than a quick answer service? Probably. But the value of sitting down with someone and talking out their problem will continue to play an important role.

Is f2f the only way to deliver reference service? Of course not. There are already several alternatives to f2f reference, with phone, email and now chat reference. Chat reference is still in its infancy, with wonky software and a mixed overall experience. Its still slow and clunky, commonly with reference interactions for the simplest things stretching over 30 minutes as you and the patron multitask. Some places are moving to simple IM. Assuming phone reference won't go away and email will largely wither away, is what we currently have as VR the future or is it a blind alley, an embarrassing mistake that we'll all try and pretend didn't happen in 10 years. Probably both. What we currently offer will seem a bit misguided. But, the software will mature, browsers will become better able to handle the complex functionality and increased bandwidth will make video streaming possible. As online education becomes more popular, students will demand that online courses be richer and more varied than f2f courses, with better interaction on all levels with instructors and fellow students. Certainly interactions with research consultants (or whatever) can be part of that mix. Bizarrely, I can almost imagine that audio and video streaming technologies will make these online reference interactions strangely similar to sitting at the reference desk and having a student walk up with a question. You know, maybe with the way phone technology is maturing, phone reference and video reference will actually be the same thing too.

So, in 10 years, I will sit at a desk in a physical library and answer questions from patrons. I'll probably also roam around the library and perhaps have "office hours" some other place. Not any different than what is possible now. However, my virtual self will also be highly available in a variety of different ways which are not possible now. Are there any changes I can't currently imagine? I hope so.

Latest CACM

Interesting items from the latest Communications of the ACM (v48i7) with the ACM-provided taglines:

June 22, 2005

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine

As usual, a highly stimulating issue (v24i2):

June 21, 2005

Neal Stephenson on Star Wars

Cool article by Neal Stephenson on why we love Star Wars eventhough it's so stupid. For our purposes, though, an interesting comment refering to a scene in Episode I. I'm not completely in agreement with what he says -- I'm definately not as alarmist or negative -- but it's certainly worth reading as a comment on geeks, nerds, science, technology and society:

Anakin wins that race by repairing his crippled racer in an ecstasy of switch-flipping that looks about as intuitive as starting up a nuclear submarine. Clearly the boy is destined to be adopted into the Jedi order, where he will develop his geek talents - not by studying calculus but by meditating a lot and learning to trust his feelings. I lap this stuff up along with millions, maybe billions, of others. Why? Because every single one of us is as dependent on science and technology - and, by extension, on the geeks who make it work - as a patient in intensive care. Yet we much prefer to think otherwise.

Scientists and technologists have the same uneasy status in our society as the Jedi in the Galactic Republic. They are scorned by the cultural left and the cultural right, and young people avoid science and math classes in hordes. The tedious particulars of keeping ourselves alive, comfortable and free are being taken offline to countries where people are happy to sweat the details, as long as we have some foreign exchange left to send their way. Nothing is more seductive than to think that we, like the Jedi, could be masters of the most advanced technologies while living simple lives: to have a geek standard of living and spend our copious leisure time vegging out.

If the "Star Wars" movies are remembered a century from now, it'll be because they are such exact parables for this state of affairs. Young people in other countries will watch them in classrooms as an answer to the question: Whatever became of that big rich country that used to buy the stuff we make? The answer: It went the way of the old Republic.

via The Website at the End of the Universe.

My job in 10 years -- Introduction

Change is a constant. I've been an academic librarian for about 5 years now and I've seen things change quite a bit over that time period. Eresources have come to take on an all-encompassing role in our institutions. They've passed the tipping point from nice-to-have to only-thing-that-matters in that short period of time. Google has gone from a cute little niche search engine to the eight hundred pound gorilla. Yet, there are a lot of things we still seem to do the same old way -- we still buy an awful lot of books, the vast majority of our reference interactions are face to face, a not insignificant portion of most of our journal collections are still print + online or even (gasp) print only. This is obviously still a period of transition.

I think it's a useful exercise to try and imagine the future. If we think about where change will take us, try and anticipate the newness of the future, when it comes, we will be better prepared. It may not end up anything like we imagined, but at least we were prepared for something.

So, over the next little while I will try and imagine what my job will be like in 10 years. I'll be looking at reference, instruction, collections and scholarship in an academic science & engineering library.

June 20, 2005

IEEE Spectrum issue on China's Tech Revolution

The latest issue of Spectrum (v42i6) has a large section on China. Some of the article titles:

  • Wiring Small-Town China
  • Steal This Software
  • The Panda Connection

Joint Conference on Digital Libraries

The JCDL '05 proceedings are up on the ACM site. Something for everyone, I imagine.

June 17, 2005

ASEE blog

Jay Bhatt over on the ELD lists informs us that the American Society for Engineering Education conference in Portland has a blog. Jay mentions that the first entry in the blog is for a session by Lawrence Lessig sponsored by the Engineering Libraries Division. I've only ever attended the ASEE conference once, in 2002 when it was in Montreal; it was a great conference with ELD being a mini-conference of about 100 librarians embedded in a larger conference of about 2500 engineering profs. The friendly vibe of ELD is very similar to that in PAM. I would certainly not hesitate to attend the ASEE conference again if the opportunity arises.

And why I'll miss it

Here's hoping that the new incarnation will be just as good:

No! Please don't go!

From the most recent Scout Report on Math, Engineering and Technology:

1. Internet Scout Project Says Goodbye to NSDL Scout Reports

Dear Reader,

With this edition, the Internet Scout Project ends the NSDL Report for Math, Engineering, and Technology after four years of publication. We are very excited about our newest NSF National Science Digital Library-funded effort, the Applied Mathematics and Science Education Repository (AMSER), a new four-year project that will link community and technical colleges to online applied math and science resources via a web portal and complimentary services. Our goal is to make AMSER-- http://amser.org/ -- the same kind of high-quality source of information about online resources that the NSDL Scout Reports have been.

June 15, 2005

List of SLA 2005 Bloggers

Check out this wiki for a list of bloggers that have posted on the Toronto conference.

June 14, 2005

Recent items from InsideHigherEd

  • Joy of Stacks by Scott Jaschik. Concentrating on the humanities & social science, an article about how books are still the core of our research collections -- browsing in the stacks is still a useful research strategy. I don't think the idea applies in the same way in the STM fields, but there's still a lot of value in our stacks that we shouldn't forget about in our e-rush.
  • Report from the Academic Committee on Plagiarism by David Galef. Funny.
  • Silence in the Stacks by Scott McLemee. A fairly controversial post in the academic librarian world (lotsa comments with the article itself, plus here on LISNews). Basically, McLemee's thesis is that academic librarians haven't embraced blogging as much as librarians in other sectors, especially in regard to having a "what is academic librarianship all about" kind of philosophical, thinking outside the box kinda blog. First of all, I don't agree that such a community doesn't already exist amoung scitech librarians. We're a pretty tight bunch, to the degree that I think we've achieved what McLemee thinks we should, or that at least we're trying. Did he not research enough to know that we existed, as we would certainly be an interesting case study in exactly what he's talking about? I also don't agree that what he thinks is a problem is really a problem. If the academic librarian blogging community is a bit more distributed & diffuse that some other communities, who cares. Steven Bell, both in his comments in the article and snarkily dismissive after, adds fuel to the fire:
  • His answer came as a surprise: “When you ask specifically about blogs maintained by academic librarians,” Bell wrote earlier this week, “the list would be short or non-existent.”

    He qualified the comment by noting the numerous gray areas. “There may be some academic librarians out there with an interesting blog, but in some cases I think the blogger is doing it anonymously and you don’t really even know if the person is an academic librarian. For example, take a look at Blog Without a Library. I can’t tell who this blogger is though I think he or she might be an academic librarian. On the other hand Jill Stover’s Library Marketing blog is fairly new and pretty good, and she is an academic librarian — but the blog really isn’t specific to academic libraries.... Bill Drew of one of the SUNY libraries has something he calls BabyBoomer Librarian but it isn’t necessarily about academic librarianship — sometimes yes, but more often not.”

    But, like I said, I'm not sure they're paying as much attention to what's going on out here as they think they are. And even so, who says every community needs to blog the same way or with the same intensity. Ever heard the expression "herding cats?" End of rant.

    Update: Technorati will point you to even more commentary. One of the best conversations here.

June 10, 2005

Back from SLA

SLA was as usual a great conference, with many highlights.

  • One of the real highlights was the chance to raise a cold one with my fellow scitech bloggers at the All Science reception at the Steam Whistle Brewery. Check here for Christina's pictures. It was the first time we had all been in the same place at the same time! Last year, we were somehow never able to get more than 2 or 3 of us at a time. Philosophical conversation of the night was Randy, Christina and I musing about blogger fame.
  • The Gary Hamel closing keynote. He was inspiring to say the least. His message was that change is inevitable, that we need not so much embrace it but learn to accept and anticipate it, to challenge ourselves to survive by transforming our organizations into what they need to be. Believe me, I'm not one to go out and buy those cheesy businessy strategy books, but I picked up one of his on the way home -- Leading the Revolution. And he was funny too and a great storyteller. The story that had the most resonnance for me was about how he and his colleagues worked with some hospital administrators. First what they did was get people from all across the institution and sent them on trips. Any where they wanted, they had to choose places with the best customer service experiences. Disneyworld, First Class flight to Europe, anything. They gave the travellers digital cameras to take a picture anytime they felt that frisson of superior customer satisfaction. Then, after that stage, they took these same people and made them experience their own hospital. Crowded emergency room, lying on a gurney in the hall for 12 hours, walking the halls pulling an IV stand with your butt hanging out the little hospital robes. And they used their digital cameras there too, to take pictures when they felt awful. It really struck me. Maybe we need to walk a mile in the shoes of our students sometimes.
  • As usual, the chance to meet with and exchange ideas with vendors was great. This time around, the people at Morgan & Claypool were particularly receptive, but I also had a chance to give some good feedback to IEEE, SPIE, SIAM and others.
  • Hanging in the PAM Hospitality suite was a lot of fun, a good chance to meet & greet the fun folk from the division. The Open House on Sunday was a blast. Thanks to Barbara for inviting me onto the Hospitality Committee.
  • This was the first time I moderated a round table, this time for Computer Science. It was great fun and an interesting challenge. The CS RT is a bit different from the others in that more traditionally it's open discussion rather than a series of presentations. Check out a fine set of notes over at the PAM Blog.
  • Low lights? Well by Wednesday I was wiped. What with IATUL last week and SLA this week, by Wednesday afternoon I should have just gone home. Totally conferenced out. The other somewhat disappointing this has to do with the changing nature of the SLA conference itself. I understand completely that the conference needs to be run so it breaks even financially, if not generating a bit of a surplus to make up for ones that may sometimes end up in the red. But, and a big but, I feel sometimes that the conference is run a bit more for the sponsors and exhibitors than the attendees. More and more, the emphasis is on sponsorship opportunities and networking time with the exhibitors. Used to be that there were two plenary sessions, now with three each of the big sponsors gets that branding time with the whole conference. Used to be that there was only one "no conflict" time so everyone would have a chance to visit the exhibitors, now there are three, one each day. The two extra "no conflict" times and the one extra plenary mean that there's three fewer slots for programming. Result? Monday at 11:30 the simultaneous scheduling of the CS RT, the All Science Poster Sessions, the Standards Rountable, one of the Blogging/RSS panel and the session on Who Owns Scientific Knowledge. Again, I understand that the exhibitors pay a lot for their booths, but who's conference is this, anyway? Oh yeah, apparently the opening plenary is going to be on Sunday night next year. We'll have to see how that affects programming. I'm hoping it means another slot for sessions.
  • Rant over. More session summaries coming from IATUL and SLA both here and at the PAM Blog.

June 7, 2005

Over at the PAM blog...

Check out some extensive reports by all the various PAM bloggers.

June 3, 2005

IATUL: Opening Plenary Session: Monday, May 30, 2005

Hacking Innovations and the Impending Digital Pearl Harbor by Hal Berghel, Director, School of Computer Science, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. (http://www.berghel.net)

Hal Berghel began his talk by promising he would try to scare us all with his tales of hackers, crackers and script kiddies and he was mostly correct. Imagine, he encouraged us, that all our private information was public. If everything on our computers, in our emails, our PDAs, everything, was vulnerable. The cartoon he put up was captioned “The modern firewall” – simply a picture of a barrier in the road that all the cars are able to drive around. Internet security, he said, was mainly the art of risk management: defending, detecting intrusions, repairing and remediating the inevitable damage, but mostly just praying. Inevitable, because the real hackers out there, not the high school kids that get caught and show up on tv, are just as smart as the high-priced academic security experts. Berghel also contrasted computer forensics with internet forensics. On simple desktop computers, forensic analysis is a matter of employing a few standard tools to recover deleted files or reconstruct lost folders. On the internet, however, the situation is far more complex, with the latest generation of MALware, polymorphic and metamorphic intruders being almost impossible to detect… Rootkits are able to take over the kernals of the latest operating systems, website spoofing is very easy and, according to Berghel, all the various wireless network security protocols have been cracked. Berghel’s presentation was sobering and scary. A call to action to all security professionals at libraries and other organizations to be on our toes.

Building Scholarly Information Infrastructure through Partnership by Alex Byrne, University Librarian, University Librarian, Sydney, Australia.

Byrne’s task was simple: outline the main themes of the conference. As an introduction, he did a great job of touching on the various trends, challenges and issues that libraries face surrounding scholarly communications. His main focus was the transformation of the scholarly publishing world by various disruptive technologies. Beginning from that infrastructure itself of scholars, libraries, publishers and third party databases and indexes and their influence in the world of big science, super computers, data mining and data visualization tools, he pointed out the disruptive technologies facing that infrastructure: the internet, smart phones, PDAs, iPODs, wikis and blogs. The behavioral consequences of these technologies are profound for libraries: the movement from print to online information, the formation of internet based communities, the availability of research information to the general public, the new phenomenon of information overload, which manifests itself in ways such as “Google & grab” or overly selective browsing, the growth of multimedia content, open access publishing, Libraries can respond to these imperatives by serving our patrons 24x7, with multi-level assistance, contextual IL – by finding a way to continue to be the trusted source. We must foster collaborative communities among our patrons, move beyond text-only systems and help transform the scholarly information system.

At this point, Byrne moved on to discuss his ideas of information inequality among developed and developing economies, a term he prefers to the more standard “digital divide.” He approached from several points of view: infrastructure, hardware, software, skills, cost of content and publication system. To tackle these issues, he suggested the library and publishing communities move to a model of partnership, collaboration and cooperation, involving faculty, IT experts and other institutions such as archives and museums. Some of the global challenges this kind of collaboration would face include intellectual property issues and trade policies but that they should strive to overcome these issues. Scholarly information should be a public good; it should come from trusted souces and should be shared as if all countries are part of one world, not many.

At this point, he pointed to the declaration of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and it’s case study on open access publishing. His perspective was not that the Elsevier’s of the world are somehow evil – they are successful, in part, because they do a good job at providing products and services needed by the scholarly community. But the OA movement provides ways to look to a future where the opportunities to both produce and consume scholarly research are more equitably spread across the globe. He pointed to the practice of self-archiving and institutional repositories as a disruptive technology that could provide an interesting quick fix to some of the longer term challenges of getting OA up and running.

In conclusion, Byrne noted that this is a time of flux, with much change and uncertainty. The way forward to face the challenges of the digital divide, cost of infrastructure, finding a sustainable OA business model and finding value added services for libraries to provide is to continue in a spirit of partnership and trust. To embrace disruptive technologies, to move beyond text, embracing data and multimedia as new formats, to push for standardization and interoperability.

SLA next week

I'll be at the SLA Annual Conference here in Toronto next week. I expect I lot of my posting while I'm actually at the conference will be at the PAM Blog. Take a visit over there and see what my PAM colleagues and I are up to -- it promises to be quite a lively blog.

IATUL session summaries

I'll be posting some IATUL conference summaries over the next while. A couple today, followed by some SLA summaries followed by more IATUL. I'm obviously not doing all the sessions, just the ones I found particularly interesting or thought provoking. Eventually, I intend to post here summaries of all the interesting sessions I attend from both conferences. It may take a while, but that's the plan.