October 31, 2005

Annals of Research on Engineering Education

Via the ASEE's Internation Engineering Education Digest, the Annals of Research on Engineering Education looks to be an interesting place to explore pedagogical issues.

A cool quote from A Day in the Library by Anthony Robins, Janet Rountree and Nathan Rountree:

What are the most important things I learned about doing educational research while doing this project? The old adage is true - a month in the lab can easily save you a day in the library. Or in other words, there is a lot of useful literature out there - read it!

Recently in BoingBoing

  • Stanford launches iTunes Service here. This is kinda cool. Students can download news, lectures and other stuff, including the school song. So, is the library involved?
  • Igloo making tool. Living in Canada, as winter approaches, this seems strangely practical.
  • How much is your blog worth. This is both evil and pointless (and probably lots of other things too), but somehow inevitable. You know, I know, we're both going to check.
  • Board-game based on C/C++/Java. This could probably win some all-time geekiness awards. Seeing the post made me strangely nostalgic for Fortran, the first programming language I learned and still amazingly in use by scientists and engineers all over.

October 28, 2005

Engineering &...

A new blog/newletter from the ASEE, Engineering &... "features examples of how engineering
relates to the world around us -- how engineering intersects with the economy, society, education, and national interests to the benefit of all." via ASEE Action Alert.

SciAm Observations: A blog from the editors of Scientific American

Recently relaunched, this could be a good blog to keep an eye for for science news & commentary. Subject categories on the blog include:

  • Archaeology
  • Earth Science
  • Environment
  • Ethics and Science
  • Global Warming and Climate Change
  • I.D. and Creationism
  • Life Sciences
  • Medicine
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
  • Politics and Science
  • Science and the Arts
  • Skepticism
  • Space and Cosmology
  • Technology
The feed is here.

Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage?

Ok, a totally frivolous Friday post. Take a look at The Fantasy Novelist's Exam -- it's flat-out hilarious. via Blog of a Bookslut.

Diversity is hard

Nice post from Jane.

October 26, 2005

Recently in InsideHigherEd

There's almost nothing out there I'm paying closer attention to these days than the always-stimulating InsideHigherEd. Virtually everyday there seems to be something worth reading:

  • They're continuing to publish terrific articles about the battle for science and against superstition. Engaging the Public by David Epstein and A Call to Action Against Intelligent Design by Scott Jaschik are the two most recent. InsideHigherEd are performing an amazing and brave public service by making space for this debate to take place and for coming down so clearly on the side of evolution. It would be easy for them not to court controversy and take a "middle of the road" perspective, but they're not taking the easy path.
  • We Need Humanities Labs By Gina Hiatt is a wonderful article that contrasts the warm and fuzzy lab culture in the sciences and how it is so successful in nurturing grad students with the more isolating and lonely experience of grads in the humanities and social sciences.
  • The Professor as Personal Trainer By Alex Golub is a bit old fashioned -- a "no pain, no gain" attitude towards education.
  • Joystick Nation is about using video game technology in higher education.

Patent search workshop ppts

Brian Gray of the Kelvin Smith Library at Case Western Reserve University recently posted at STS-L and other lists a PowerPoint presentation he'd used for a patent search workshop. I think it's a great presentation, full of information and tips which I'm sure we could all benefit from in our own patent workshops.

October 18, 2005

My job in 10 years -- Collections pt. 2

Back to a regular schedule for the rest of these little essays, I hope.

To recap:

My Job in 10 Years:

Databases. Publisher journal datasets, full text aggregator databases, citation databases, periodical indexes, full text historical newspaper databases. The range of databases out there boggles the imagination. What will survive and what will wither away in the face of Google Scholar? What will I have to pay for and what will be available for free? Clearly the key challenge to the creators of these databases will be to add value.

Bibliographic databases. If what you can get for free is good enough, why pay for something else? In 10 years, will Google and its successors be virtually good enough for everything, leaving no room for the traditional abstracting and indexing vendors we have today? On this I'm fairly certain the answer is going to be “yes.” I don't think it'll be too long before the database vendors will have a very hard time convincing me to lay out very big bucks for their data. It will be a huge challenge for the A&I vendors to step up and conquer the Google monster. We may not even be that far away. When Google Scholar is out of beta, presumably having taken advantage of all the free R&D feedback we librarians have given them, I predict it won't be too long before it will be good enough for virtually all needs. Sure, there will be niche areas that won't be well served at first, sure some publishers will continue to refuse to give Google their metadata (especially publishers that also own A&I databases), but I have a hard time believing that this won't all pan out in 10 year's time. Remember, these services will be in big trouble when Google Scholar starts being barely good enough, not when Google is a perfect replacement for their services. And what happens when Google starts buying up the A&I services to get their metadata? Will all those A&I services actually disappear in 10 years? I doubt it. Habit and inertia will probably continue to influence our buying decisions, but the writing will certainly be on the wall.

Their only hope? Adding huge amounts of value: better searching interfaces, alerting services, RSS, innovative data analysis tools. We're already starting to see it with services like Web of Science, Scopus & SciFinder: a huge evolutionary push to add more value, to make the products worth buying. And those three will be amongst the best placed in my opinion because they do concentrate on adding value to the data. So, in 10 years, very little of my job will be involved in A&I indexes. Unless, of course, once Google Scholar has conquered them all, it becomes a for-fee product too.

So, what will I do with all that money I'm saving...

Full Text Databases. To me this seems to be a huge growth area, one that will definitely survive and thrive. The killer app here is digitizing the vast amounts of print material that's out there and making it searchable. Newspapers, journals, magazines, everything. People already expect that everything worth reading is online -- it seems to me a good marketing strategy is making it so. This is stuff I'm willing to pay for, things that my patrons will want to be able to access and read. It's already happening: the New York Times, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, all the JSTOR journals, Google Print. In 10 years, these will be the hot commodities in our libraries, all the stuff that the students are so frustrated that they can't find online. Why not all the Canadian newspapers back to the first issue? Why not all the books in Google Print full text searchable (and readable, for a fee). Who doesn't want to license the full text version of Google Print when it's finished -- and it should have made some pretty good progress in 10 years. Lots of journals haven’t had their backfiles digitized yet. And what about digitized versions of scholar's private papers?

In 10 years, collecting and providing access to these full text collections will be a major part of my job, the money freed up from A&I databases funding massive digitization projects. As usual, just making sure all those student eyeballs know that the library has what they're looking for is going to be a major challenge.

And why just text? Why not image and digital video collections, old movies, tv series, documentaries? Audio files from old radio broadcasts? There's not much I can't imagine becoming part of our collections.

Now, some of this isn’t directly scitech related, but I think many of these resources would benefit the entire patron community and should be supported.

Other. So, what else will I be collecting in 10 years? Lots of stuff that's a bit on the fringe for your average library today will become mainstream. The biggest will be data -- climatic, geospatial, astrophysical, statistical, genomic, sensor data of all sorts. Science will become more and more obsessed with computational methods, and that kind of research both requires and generates large amounts of data. It will be part my job to make sure that the data generated at my institution is widely accessible to other scholars as well as making sure the world of data out there is known by and accessible to the scholars at my institution. Getting them to realize I can help with that sort of thing (and to deposit their data in our repository) is always going to be a challenge.

Learning is becoming more and more interactive, active learning is an oft-heard buzzword. For a generation raised on video games, learning will become more like a video game. It makes sense that the library would be in a good position to collect and make accessible the kinds of interactive learning modules that will start to become popular in the next 10 years. Just as learning becomes more interactive, it will also become more connected and shared. It also makes sense that the library will be able to play a role is setting up and maintaining connected, shared learning spaces (the ancestors of which are blogs and wikis) in which the interactive modules will reside. In a sense, I guess I'll be able to "collect" these environments; I will have to make sure other campus constituencies don't jump into these kinds of things before I'm even aware. The library has a lot to bring to the table, but it's important to know that we'll have to invite ourselves rather than waiting for someone else to think of us. Making sure library computing facilities have the software applications students need is also a form of collecting. And then, of course, is the stuff I’ll be collecting that I can’t even imagine now.

Next up: Instruction.

October 17, 2005

The World of Mathematical Equations - EqWorld

Via NA-Net, EqWorld looks to be a fine resource on equations.

The voice of academic librarianship...

...is finally here. Steven Bell notes the ACRLog that he will be contributing to. From the Why an ACRL Blog page:

ACRLog has its origins in an essay published at the Inside Higher Ed by Scott McLemee. Titled “Silence in the Stacks,” McLemee expressed his curiosity about the lack of a quintessential blog on academic librarianship. Certainly there were (are?) blogs by academic librarians on topics of interest to the academic and research library community, but nowhere in the blogosphere could one find a home for the full spectrum of issues facing academic and research libraries and those who work in them. Nor did any existing blog reflect on the higher education enterprise and how the library fits into that bigger picture.

That’s the void ACRLog will seek to fill. It’s a grand vision, and giving life to and sustaining any blog of this magnitude is work for more than one person. ACRLog is no exception. It will deliver content from a team of bloggers whose members are no strangers to voicing their opinions, tackling controversial issues, and writing about the value academic librarians bring to their academic communities. In short, they are passionate about the profession. The team approach also ensures coverage of the issues from a diversified set of perspectives.

My frustration at the narrow-minded wrong-headedness of the original McLemee article is undimmed, but I won't let that prevent me from wishing this new venture the best of luck and subscribing right away. I also hope that they expand the list of contributors to become a little more representative of the academic library experience, say including scitech, business and technical services representatives at least.

UPDATE: Scott McLemee has a profile of the new blog on InsideHigherEd.

O'Reilly podcast: Distributing the Future

Distributing the Future is a new "public beta" podcast by O'Reilly. I've listened to the most recent edition and it was a quite stimulating recap of the first day of the Web 2.0 conference. The title comes from William Gibson's quote: "The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet." (Gibson Wikipedia entry)

October 14, 2005

Recently in InsideHigherEd

Inside Higher Ed -- New Academic Programs

InsideHigerEd periodically does a brief roundup of new programs -- useful for getting an idea of what is hot out there.

October 12, 2005

Latest from the IEEE

From What's New @ IEEE for Students, October 2005:

IEEE Spectrum, the flagship magazine of the IEEE, has relaunched its website with numerous new features, including an editor's blog, RSS feeds, webcasts, podcasts, streaming audio, opinion polls, and more. Check it out at:

Not yet using RSS (also known as Really Simple Syndication) to get your daily news fix? IEEE Spectrum has a primer on this rapidly developing communication medium:

October 6, 2005

Ig Nobel's Today!

I won't be around tomorrow to be able to post the results of the Ig Nobel prize ceremony, but they're always well worth checking out. You'd better put your coffee down and shut your office door before checking out past winners.

Profile of Tim O'Reilly

Very interesting profile of computer book/Safari/etc publisher Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media Inc. The industry could use a lot more people like him. via BoingBoing.

October 5, 2005

Tangled Bank

Check out Tangled Bank, a Carnival for Science Bloggers. Current issue is #38 at Living the Scientific Life.

Update: And don't forget to check our very own Carnival of the Infosciences -- #9 is the latest.

October 3, 2005

York U Library Newsletter

The Fall 2005 issue of the York University Libraries faculty newsletter News U Can Use is up. It has a feature on my library, the Steacie Science & Engineering Library. On the feature page, I'm the one helping out the rather distinguished-looking faculty member (Paul Delaney) at our reference desk.

To Debate or Not to Debate Intelligent Design?

It's always easy to make fun of those you disagree with, to ridicule them, to belittle them and, ultimately, to dehumanize and despise them. Unfortunately, this is all too common a strategy these days in what passes for political discourse. Now, this isn't a politcal blog and I won't bore everyone with my rants on that subject. On the other hand, it's probably not too hard to guess where I fall on the evolution vs. intelligent design debate.

Rants and raves never change anyone's minds, they really only create defensiveness and a hardening of opinion. So, how to approach such a controversial and impassioned issue with the idea of changing people's minds but without creating an operatic, bombastic, inconclusive, polarizing debate?

Gerald Graff has an idea: Teach the Controversy.