June 29, 2007

Computing is a Natural Science

Another interesting article from the most recent Communications of the ACM v50i7, Computing is a Natural Science by Peter J. Denning (self-archived version).

The old definition of computer science—the study of phenomena surrounding computers—is now obsolete. Computing is the study of natural and artificial information processes. Computing includes computer science, computer engineering, software engineering, information technology, information science, and information systems.


Future Directions of Computing

Computing is evolving constantly. New principles are discovered; older principles fall out of use. An example of a new principle is the scale-free structure of network connectivity; an example of an out-of-use principle is the guideline for vacuum tube logic circuits. To help monitor the evolution of the field and find new principles-based connections among technologies and fields, the GP Web site contemplates a Great Principles Library, an evolving collection of materials, tools, and editorial process to support the learning, teaching, application, and cross linking of technologies and principles [6].

There is a trend in the computing field involving games. Not only is the video game industry pursuing it, but business and military organizations are turning to virtual reality simulation games as effective training grounds for various skills (as indicated in this month's special section). Dozens of universities have established BS or MS degrees in gaming. Is this a deep trend? Or just a fad?

This is an important article, well worth reading in detail to get the full weight of Denning's ideas.

Friday Fun: Rube Goldberg edition

Rube Goldberg Machines are always fun, and I saw a video for this one on a recent BoingBoing post. What caught may attention, of course, is the role a chess set played in the whole thing.

The video is pretty good, but there are quite a few jump cuts so I figure they weren't quite able to make the whole thing work in one go. No problem, it's still very cool.

June 28, 2007

Creating a science of games

Really cool looking section in the latest Communications of the ACM v50i7. Some highlights:

There's a lot of other very interesting stuff from this issue which I'll highlight in a later post.

Al Gore's Assault on Reason

Watching and enjoying tremendously a video of Al Gore appearing on The Charlie Rose Show discussing Gore's new book. via a comment at The Intersection.

June 26, 2007

Here & There

A couple of items from recent days:

  • Via Discovering Biology in a Digital World, the 10th anniversary issue of Bioinform has interviews with a number of the leading lights in the bioinformatics field, including Russ Altman, Amos Bairoch, Rainer Fuchs, Steve Lincoln, Gene Myers and Lincoln Stein. Some of the questions that were asked all of them are: What are some of the biggest challenges the field still has to overcome? What do you think are some of the most exciting research areas in the field right now? What advice would you give to a student thinking about a career in bioinformatics?

    This little taste from the interview with Lincoln Stein:
    What advice would you give to a student thinking about a career in bioinformatics today?

    Learn as much biology as you can. Learn statistics. A lot of it comes down to statistics. And don't worry too much about learning a particular programming language because they're all transient anyway.

  • Fortran is 50! I have a real soft spot in my heart for Fortran as it was the first programming language I ever learned, way back in 1981 or so. The most recent issue of Scientific Programming celebrates the language and it's past, present and, yes, future.

  • The science blogosphere controversy du jour is about the role of science journalists: are they a necessary evil? Is it worth submitting to an interview if you're misquoted? Are they really science's best hope for greater recognition and understanding in society? Bora Zivkovic of A Blog Around the Clock has his usual great summary post, with some additional links at Aetiology, where it all started.

    Me, I'm a huge consumer of science journalism. In many ways, a lot of my understanding of science and scientists is mediated by them; as readers of this blog know, I consider disciplinary knowledge and understanding to be a core aspect of subject librarianship and I rely quite a bit on journalists to get me inside the head of scientists via newspaper and magazine articles, books and a/v documentaries. On the other hand, I also know that the journalism biz is fast and furious, with lots of people writing about things tht aren't their specialty. So, I expect there to be some inaccuracies, but I do know that I can rely of some journalists more than others. Peter Calamai of the Toronto Star is pretty good as are Natalie Angier and David Quammen and others. I always make sure to read the year's best science and nature series every year to make sure I get the best of the best in science journalism.

June 25, 2007


Via A Blog around the Clock, a link to SciTalk.com, a kind of portal page for science videos. There's lots of cool stuff here which I've only become to explore. This site aggregates links to videos on other sites rather than hosting the videos themselves, so you'll encounter items that will require various bits of software to be installed before you can view the videos. You might need Flash or RealPlayer or some such.

Check out their Welcome to SciTalks blog post.

Scitalks is important and needed. In the general trend toward democratizing education, we hope that it can become an important tool for educators, home schoolers and those who are wanting to educate themselves.

In another context, science’s credibility is at the heart of a conflict where the opponent is well funded and well organized. We’re a society trained to sound-bites. Our critical thinking skills are eroding. Scientific thought is by its very nature complex and challenging to communicate to the general public. Most universities aren’t up to the task and the scientists themselves are involved in a system where the public is at the bottom of the list of the masters they must satisfy if they want to remain in research. They must publish or perish, and peer review is where they publish.

Yet there is no one else who can better convey the necessity, drama and passion of their work than the scientists themselves.


The task ahead of us is, in one sense, curatorial. We are collecting the pearls of our civilization. We encourage universities and scientists to give us their links and videos to catalog and care for. We have dreams for the site, but also know that your dreams and suggestions will likely shape it more than ours from now on. We want to hear from you. We would love your help.

The videos are at all levels, some highly technical and some of a more popular nature. Some of the subject areas covered include: astronomy, biochemistry, botany, engineering, environment, history of science, information technology, math, medicine, philosophy of science and space science.


June 22, 2007

Jennifer Ouellette on science writing

SF author John Scalzi interviews blogger and science writer Jennifer Ouellette (The Physics of the Buffyverse) about the art and science of popular science writing. It's a great interview, one that will certainly get me out and looking for a couple of her books; I already follow her blog occasionally so it's incentive to explore further.

A bit from the interview:

It’s not so much that there isn’t a market for books about science; to the contrary, it’s quite a solid niche in the publishing industry, although sometimes “popular” science books are far more technical than the term would lead one to believe. People are fascinated by science, even if they doubt their own ability to understand it. The problem is who is actually reading these “popular” books on science: author Margaret Wertheim (Pythagorus’s Trousers) conducted a survey and found that the vast majority (as in, over 70%) are white males between 40 and 60 with college degrees, usually in the sciences. So it’s a healthy market, but it’s preaching to the converted. There’s a vast untapped sector of the population who will never crack open a copy of The Elegant Universe or A Brief History of Time without being threatened with torture first. The findings led Wertheim to ask a provocative question: who is science writing for? The answer seems to be, educated white men over 40.

That needs to change. I want to reach people like my former physics-phobic self with my books: the people who resist any mention of physics. I’m not trying to make them all eager young physicists, I just think they shouldn’t be afraid of physics – and they certainly shouldn’t assume they can’t possibly understand it. So I tailor my writing accordingly, trying to present physics concepts in a real-world, everyday context, placing science back into our culture at large, rather than treating it as something separate and only for super-smart people. If someone can’t understand a concept as I’ve explained it, I always assure them that it’s not because they’re stupid. It’s because I have failed to communicate it clearly, in terms they can understand. It’s a big challenge, since everyone responds to different frameworks. Some people might love Buffy, others might be more inclined to read The Physics of Star Trek, or The Science of Harry Potter. That’s why the genre has proliferated so extensively.

However, I’m surprised at how much resistance there is to this approach by staunch traditionalists: those 40-something college-educated white males for whom popular science books have always been written. They think there is only one way of popularizing science, and it’s the way that it has always been done. If it was good enough for them, then it should be good enough for everyone else, gosh darn it, and any other approach is simply a useless watering down of a serious subject. They don’t understand that John or Jane Q. Public mostly just wants the Cliff’s Notes version, not all the nitpicky details—which is not to say those details aren’t important, they just aren’t necessary when it comes to broader communication of science.

As you all know, I'm a huge fan of popular science writing and consume a lot of it myself. Of course, I'm in the stereotypical audience that Ouellette mentions.

Friday Fun: Becoming a Cyborg Edition

It's been a while since I last did a Friday Fun post, mostly due to lack of inspiration. This very week I was thinking that I should get around to finding something cool, sciency and fun to post. Well, who ups and emails me but Jimmy Atkinson with a suggestion for his post The DIY Guide to Becoming a (Real) Cyborg over at Free Geekery.

The post features 10 cool ideas to put a little more machinery into your life, like getting an RFID implant or plugging yourself into a hand motion capture system or even becoming a human transformer.

The conclusion?

While you may suffer through horrible nightmares about machines that take over the world, progress in using technology to help others is far more pronounced. But, don't let this news lull you into thinking that you can battle a cyborg without technological help — or even without laughter. After all, how many cyborgs would dare touch you when you signal a left and right turn with your ears at the same time while wearing fuzzy dice, a pair of Powerizers, and a cape?

June 20, 2007

Father's Day post

I usually don't post really personal stuff here, mostly out of a feeling that this is a professional rather than a personal blog, but I'd like to make a bit of an exception. I received a very touching Father's Day card from my younger son (just finishing grade 6) this past weekend, and I'd like share what he wrote with everyone.

Dear Dad,

You are cool in so many ways. The first thing I remember about you, or just being with you, is kind of strange. I was in a baby seat in our car, and we were dropping off [older brother] at [his primary school] Willingdon. Right after, we walked over to my daycare. This happened every day, but it was still fun because I got to ride on your shoulders!

I still can't believe that you got a whole year off with full pay! It's so cool that you're always home, and you can pick me up early, and we don't have to leave at 7:25 am [for school in the mornings]!

You made me so proud to be your son when you got your job at York and I was really happy for you even though we had to move.

Finally, I feel I'm a lot like you. Mostly in tastes though. We both like action and horror movies and we both like spicy food. Most of all, we both like cooking.

It's makes a father proud!

WILU2007: Understanding International Student's Information Research Behaviour

(This is the last of the session summaries I originally posted on the WILU blog, so I should be getting back to my regularly scheduled blogging activities later today or tomorrow.)

(Reposted from here.)

By Patrick R. Labelle (Concordia University)


It seems that using focus groups and surveys to improve services is a persistent theme of all the sessions I've attended this year and Patrick Labelle's is no exception. This session explores the difficulties and challenges of international students at our institutions and what we can do to make their lives a bit easier through our instruction. A focus group of international students was the selected methodology.

The outline of the session includes definition, previous experiences, purpose & methodology, findings, study limitations, discussion & next steps.

Definition of international students: usually only a fairly small portion of the student body. Information research behaviour is a small but growing field of study of how one goes about finding information.

Audience question: what are some of our experiences & impressions of international students: they want to know the best information, language difficulties, important to build a personal relationship with them, they are eager to learn, reluctant to ask at first then will come repeatedly, cultural context in assignments is important, want to help themselves, very achievement oriented, want to know how to cite sources.

Purpose & methodology: Objectives to learn about past and current experiences with library and to improve instructional support. Focus groups in March 2007, 2 groups, questions on library use and research process, and a short concluding survey. Explored 6 themes, from general to specific.

Theme 1: Past experiences: all had experience with open stack systems, usually with poor study spaces; use of lib was from research and leisure purposes; online resources were limited in prev exp and not available off campus; focus on print material and books.

Theme 2: Home vs. Concordia: CU has more study spaces, better hours, more computers; better online resources and better services such as ILL and reference.

Theme 3: Difficulties with Concordia: can't really use book & video collection for leisure (magazines, novels, videos), LC organization not obvious at first; size of library is overwhelming; what are course reserves; too many options.

Theme 4: Searching for information: Few obvious differences here, mostly grads vs. ugrads. Ugrads very haphazard, trial and error, web is preferred starting point, only turn to library when the web hasn't yielded anything, all familiar with google & wikipedia, only a few with google scholar, poor understanding of eval of web resources. Not familiar with citation styles, needed to learn, Asian students needed to learn about plagiarism. Grad students realized they needed more sophisticated strategies and to use different types of documents.

Theme 5: Learning to use the library: Main methods used by more than one student: teachers, independent, friends, workshops. Other methods: web site, signs, org of library, tours, handouts, asking questions, librarian. Wish they had known sooner: off campus access, lib has more than books, ILL, using a biblio to find more refs. These observations are probably similar to non-international students too.

Theme 6: Suggestions for improving instruction: presentations with departments, info in student handbook, more portals.

Limitations: Timing of focus groups, need to get more ugrads, language issues, need to have a moderator and a note taker, need to use multiple techniques and use broader analysis.

Observations: reconsider assumptions: students are computer savvy. Avoid segmentation: not as different from other students as we think. Address reliance on web as a source. Talk about plagiarism. Use ESL, education and multicultural studies literature. Differences in learning styles across cultures. More research needed.

Posted: Handout / Slides.

WILU2007: Giving Graduate Students What They Want to Know Not What We Want Them to Know

(Reposted from here.)

By Dominic Hakim Silvio (Dalhousie University)

Full title: Giving Graduate Students What They Want to Know Not What We Want Them to Know: A New Approach to Information Literacy Sessions Design


Another session on using focus groups and surveys to help libraries design their instructional programs. This one is aimed at finding out what grad students want from the library.

On the agenda today is an intro to the project, objectives, statement of problem, research instrument and findings. Taking as our beginning spot the ACRL IL standards, we need to use user studies for the backbone of our instruction, as a way of deepening our sessions and making them more relevant. The motivation was to evaluate the instruction to grad students to get their requirements for how the library can help them, to see what the obstacles are. The objectives were to show the results and to emphasize the successes of a user-centred approach, to reinforce the importance of the library, to get a feeling for the student's perspective and to encourage a dialogue among profs and librarians.

The problem is that most IL is based on what librarians and faculty think are important, not necessarily meeting the needs of students. An assessment of user needs had not been done before. Note the dichotomy between searchers and finders. Grad students want to find the best stuff. The methodology was to do surveys and to do a focus group discussion on first year grad students and faculty.

The survey questions included: How often do you use OPAC; How often have you consulted a reference librarian. Some results: Opac 91%; Reference librarian: 75% sometimes, although it was obvious that they did not know what we do; Subject librarian: 50% never, 50% sometimes or seldom, interesting results mostly indicating that they do not know that subject librarians exist or what they do. Databases & online journals: 50% often, 12% never, indicated a strong preference for using google & finding things that way. ILL/Doc Delivery: 22% never, mostly don't know what service can do for them.

The Focus group questions: How do you get library instruction, what services do you need, how do you feel about library instruction, is an in class session worth attending?

What's next? Orientation for faculty & grad students and an advanced library research session. The basic session will include databases, reference & subject librarians and what the do, document delivery/ILL. The advanced session will have keyword brainstorming, systematic research process, subject specific resources & databases and refworks.

What are student's reactions? Increased awareness of searching vs. finding, that grad students need to find the best; increased awareness of research process, increased confidence, better citation and more use of academic resources in papers.


June 19, 2007

WILU2007: Graduate Student Library Research Skills Workshop Series: A Needs Assessment

(Reposted from here.)

By Fred Antwi-Nsiah, Vivian Feng, Kristin Hoffmann, Meagan Stanley (University of Western Ontario)


A project at the University of Western Ontario's Taylor Library focusing on grad students, using focus groups to decide what workshops they should be running. They used focus groups with grad students and faculty as well as an online survey.

The reason for focusing on grad students grew out of the UWO strategic plan; previous efforts at helping grad students included orientations, some course-based instruction and some other instruction when requested by faculty members. The Taylor librarians themselves were quite interested in increasing support to grad students and decided to use the focus groups/surveys as a needs assessment to help them design the programming.

The purpose of the needs assessment was to discover if one set of workshops would meet the needs of students in all four faculties, also to discover what students need to know and what will encourage them to attend. The needs assessment process consisted of 1 faculty focus group, 3 for grad students and an online survey (8/33/274 participants). The areas explored included demographics of survey responders, what they already know about lib research, what are the challenges they face, which workshops would be most useful, how should workshops be delivered.

There was a good cross section of students that answered the survey from the 4 scitech faculties with a good mix of Canadian students and non-Canadian born students, with some variation by faculty. Medicine & Dentistry and Health Sciences had most Canadian and Science and Engineering the most non-Canadian.

What did they learn about library research? Most did not learn what they knew from a librarian but rather a faculty member or peer. They have learned some things about using online article databases, the opac, formatting citations and doing a literature review, the message is also that they are not learning what they need to learn because it's falling through the cracks, no one thinks it's their job to teach grad students about lib research.

What are some of the student's challenges? Keyword search, too much information, where to search, online full text access issues, comprehensive searches, reliable info, materials not in collection, older materials, current awareness, time constraints. The different issues do vary by Faculty. Engineers, for example, one area is finding other types of material, such as patents. For Health and Med & Dent it's where to search and for science it's finding things in the library.

According to the grads, what will be the most useful workshops: Search strategies (selecting databases, identifying important research), Current awareness, refworks, and a general library intro. How should the workshops be delivered? Most said online but also in person and must be very relevant to student needs.

What assessment can't tell you: how to plan and schedule the workshops, what students really mean by "online tutorial" and how to coordinate registration. Some of the workshops that were ultimately offered include: intro to library research, Basic searching skills (some discipline based), Advanced searching skills, Keeping current, Refworks, Pubmed & Scifinder. Over 100 students attended the sessions with summer sessions beginning soon. Assessment phase begins in fall.

Summary Document,
Workshops webpage.
Session descriptions

WILU2007: The Information Seeking Habits of Students: Are They Really that Bad?

(Reposted from here.)

By Joel Burkholder (York College of Pennsylvania)


Yet more subtitle, as Burkholder said, so as not to sound too harsh: "or, Building on Alternate Frameworks for Conceptual Change."

A good session revolving around the behaviors that students have that we think are somewhat less than optimal and how we might organize ourselves to nudge them into a better practice using our instruction.

From the audience, some of those less-than-optimal behaviors: keyword vs controlled vocab, start with Google & end with Wikipedia, only want full text, only look at first screen of results, linear process, first hit reliance, wait until the last minute, only use recent articles, poor evaluation or results.

The background at York College is that librarians and other faculty/sessionals teach all students a 2 credit course on IL. Mostly students think this is a useless, computer skills course that's easy and skippable. The challenge is to change those ideas.

So, an alternative framework: constructivism/active learning. Students have frameworks/ideas about how the world works that do not reflect the way it really works, the challenge is to move their framework close to the world.

To get them to accept this alternative framework:

  • Any new idea has to fit into an existing framework at least a little
  • The existing framework is a standard by which any new framework is judged
  • Our job is to make them aware of the difference between the way they think the world works and the way it really does.

Internal image: all college kids have used the web; kids now 12-17, most use on a daily basis; it's an integral part of their lives. The influence of broadband can also not be ignored: can get more out of the web experience and learn more things. Some of the sources of student preconceptions: Google -- it works reasonably well even with a poor search strategy, will always get some hits.

Conceptual change, learning that actively involves students in changes to an existing preconception, this creates an internal conflict that can result in some acceptance of an alternative framework and make it easier to change. Actively involve students in method to change their preconceptions. They think "Google goes to 11" and we need to confront their perception that there is no better way. A deep understanding of the information environment with be attained when they have a deep foundation of fact, skill and tool knowledge; understand how these facts are placed within an IL framework and organize knowledge to facilitate its transfer from one task to another.

Conditions for conceptual change: preconceptions must produce dissatisfaction; new concept must be intelligible, plausible and fruitful. Dissatisfaction means that the student lose faith that the preconception solves all their problems and be motivated to change. Plausible means that students must understand the new model, analogies and metaphors, it's best to use real-world examples and be wary of jargon; Plausible means that the new model must appear to solve problems/questions that the old one cannot and be consistent with other concepts/knowledge/experience. Fruitful means that the new model must produce results that can be applied to other areas.

Implications for our teaching strategies & practice:

  • confront beliefs and reveal preconceptions
  • discuss and evaluate preconceptions
  • create cognitive conflict
  • encourage and guide conceptual restructuring
  • take your time, even if it means covering less
  • figure out what is important
  • analyze the library's role in overall information environment and in the research process

June 18, 2007

WILU2007: Google and Beyond: What Sources are Students Really Using?

(Reposted from here.)

By Don MacMillan (University of Calgary)


This was an interesting presentation about an IL evaluation project at the University of Calgary. They wanted to see what bibliographic search engines (free or fee) that students were actually using by their 3rd or 4th year. The project had some interesting and even surprising results.

The situation is one where there is long-standing integration of IL skills training in the biological sciences curriculum, including ongoing assessment. The goals of the the project was to promote student reflection on research skills and the changes in habits over time but mostly to see if IL instructional content was aligned with student needs. Hopefully the info could be use to market further IL to faculty. The subjects were 25 3rd & 4th year bio students, most with at least one IL session in the past. The survey tool used was the FAST tool: Free Assessment Summary Tool (http://www.getfast.ca). The tool anonymously summarized a 16 question survey of student impressions at the end of an IL session.

Top resources used by students, in order with percentages: pubmed (84%), bioabs (80%), library catalogue (76%), google/scholar (72%), web of science (20%) and patent search (8%). Some resources tended to have different uses with students: bioabs for exploring a topic, google for choosing a topic, pubmed for exploring a topic and finding specific info.

Some impressions from students:

  • On which resource to use first: Pubmed popular but Bioabs and Google Scholar coming up
  • What source is the most useful: Pubmed is most mentioned
  • How has research changed during studies: library sessions mentioned, as well as using a greater variety of search tools
  • What caused the change: instruction & tutorials as well as profs & TAs
  • What do you wish you'd known earlier: some details on how to use Pubmed
  • How did you learn about the various resources: mostly mentioned library sessions
  • Do you plan to pursue an advanced degree: 14 yes, 10 no

Unanticipated results: lots of positive responses regarding IL, high use of Pubmed, not much Google Scholar use, students recognize the value of research skills in finding a job.

Conclusions: students use a variety of strategies, reinforcement of skills throughout program works, students use different tools for different purposes, survey benefited students and librarian.

Future directions: incorporate Pubmed earlier, split Google & Google Scholar next survey, add Scopus next time, ask follow up question later in term.

Downloads: ppt, survey questions, results, related readings, IL web page.

WILU2007: The Faculty Angle: What our Faculty Think about the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards

(Reposted from here.)

By Shelley Gullikson (Mount Allison University)


An interesting session in which Gullikson describes a survey she's done to determine how important faculty members rank the various ACRL IL outcomes. She also talks about the disciplinary differences in the rankings and the recent emergence of discipline-based standards.

The survey questions, for each of the 87 outcomes:

  • How important is it for your students to have this skill (1-5)
  • At what level do you expect your students to have this skill (high school ... post grad)

Gullikson did this survey in winter 2004 at Mt Allison University, where she received a 21% return rate. In winter 2005 she did the survey for another bunch of universities in the Atlantic Canada region, splitting the survey into 2. This iteration got a 17% return rate. The demographics were female respondents a little higher, also a good variety of teaching experience. Split between Arts/Sci/SocSci/Professional, with professional not giving enough responses for a breakdown. Overall, the data was very encouraging. Faculty are interested in their students being more information literate.

The number 1 ranked item was the "do not plagiarize" standard, all 5 ACRL standards groups were represented in the overall ranked top 10, of the top 30 only 2 from standard 2, ie. traditional library skills, 3 of top 10 are plagiarism or citation oriented. The lowest is netiquette, and all 5 standards are represented in the bottom 10, with standard 4 the most represented. Fewer differences across disciplines in the bottom group. In terms of the academic level profs expect their students to pick up the skills, most expected in 1st year indicating that our traditional library expectation that it's best to get them early, but does not mesh with idea that IL needs to be integrated in the curriculum and delivered gradually. The top librarian responsible items are seen as important. The opportunity for curriculum integration are in those standards where profs indicated that they would expect students to get them in 2nd or 3rd year.

Some discipline-specific information: the highest importance for arts: reads texts & selects main ideas; selects info that provides evidence; communicates clearly, understands plagiarism. Highest for science: plagiarism; restates textual information & selects data accurately; records citation information. Social sci: plagiarism the most importance. We need to identify what's important t a particular discipline and act accordingly when we market IL to profs.

The trend towards discipline-specific standards. Gullikson noted that of the new standards many dropped old outcomes, combined them, added new ones. Science/Engineering/Tech: 76 included, 11 excluded, 29 added, some combined for a total of 104. Anthropology/Sociology: 63 included, 24 excluded, 8 new for 48 total. Literature in English: 18 included, 69 excluded, 5 new fro 29 total. There were lots of English-specific outcomes, such as peer review, popular vs. scholarly, texts exist in various editions. Of the three, the Scitech one had the most standards that made it from the original list to the discipline standard. The question is, should we continue to look at adding more discipline-specific standards. Many thought that discipline-specific standards give credibility to our efforts when trying to get faculty on board.

Note that there is an article version of this presentation, with many of the graphs and stats taken from the following article:

Gullikson, Shelley. "Faculty perceptions of ACRL's information literacy competency standards for higher education." Journal of Academic Librarianship. 32 (Nov 2006): 583-592.


June 13, 2007

My Job in 10 Years: Conclusion

To recap:

My Job in 10 Years:

(PDF version of the whole series, including appendices, for printing here.)

In many ways, the speculations I've given over the last many months since June 2005 are a best-case scenario, the scenario where we as librarians and as institutions are able to ride the wave of transformation brought upon by new technologies and social patterns. The interactive & collaborative web are opportunities; failing to seize the opportunities will come back to haunt us as institutions and as a profession. Engaging the net generation is also a formidable opportunity; failing in that task isn't an option. Empty buildings, collapsing circulation and usage statistics for purchased and licensed eresources aren't things I look forward to justifying to our funders.

Our patrons and the social and technological tidal wave they are riding is what is going to drive us to embrace transformation and change.

So, if my extended ramblings over the last two years have a main theme, it's that libraries and librarians have to be able to embrace transformation, to go with the flow. Where once we had a monopoly on research, back in the day when you had to come to the library to get anything done, now our students have options. And we want to remain one of those options.

Some of the transformations will be painful, some will feel natural.

We have to move on several fronts, each just as important:
  • We will have to accept and be at the forefront in changes in scholarly communications patterns. Open access, wikis, blogs, social networks, whatever, we don't want to be viewed by the new generation of scholars as behind the times. If that happens, we'll lose credibility. And credibility is going to be very important as we try to forge a place for ourselves in the new world. So, be an evangelist in your community, be it for blogs or institutional repositories or open access, but we must be at the crest of the wave or we risk going under. Really, we'll miss them more than they'll miss us. Because it's a lot easier for them to get along without us (even if with some inconvenience and inefficiency -- they won't even recognize the inconvenience) that it will be for us to get along without them. We need to use this credibility with faculty and students to encourage them to allow us to take part in their instructional activities, to help them teach their students about being scholars in their fields.

  • We need to become the social learning space on campus. This is vital. We have to transform our physical spaces to make then as collaborative and inviting as we possible can, to be the premier technology labs on campus for creating assignments. This will be a battle as labs in departments will see this as their mission as well. We also can't risk abandoning older roles for our physical space. Libraries will still have some print collections, books and journals mostly but other things as well such as archives and special collections. Magazines like Wired and Scientific American will likely not disappear and we'll have to provide them. We'll have to house retrospective print journal collections where online doesn't exist or we chose not to provide access. Our active print collections will probably be relatively small compared to today but still quite large and we'll need space for those as well. Large collections of older print material, much of which will have quite low usage but which we will not be able to discard, will also need some sort of relatively quick access arrangement. It will also be vital that we maintain quiet study space while also trying new and interesting activities to engage and encourage students to use our spaces. We will also need to be physically present in our spaces though reference and instruction.

  • As for our virtual spaces, we need to build systems that are flexible, scalable, modern, responsive, appropriate, usable, fun, social, studious. It's not going to be easy. Our virtual spaces will need to evolve into places that students want and need to come to, even if they don't necessarily associate them with the physical library. So, we have to figure out what students need from us going forward and provide those collections and services. We have to market and promote those collections and services so that the people that need them will actually find and use them. What's the use of having the New York Times archives available if students only end up using the NYT site and paying themselves for what they're looking for? Or not using news sources at all in assignments, even when it's important to do so. (How many times do we hear from profs that students don't use our resources because they claim they didn't know what was there?) We need to have an active presence in these virtual spaces to continue our reference and instructional functions in these new media.

  • We need to decide what content is worth paying for, either to purchase or to license. There's an explosion of content creation going on out there, an awful lot of it what might be called user-generated content. To the extent that we can harness both our own users and the mass of users on the web in general, that's a great thing. However, there's an awful lot of content that's being digitized or born-digital out there too that's very interesting and very worthwhile. Collections of primary documents, audio & video libraries, image libraries, ebook projects, newspaper archives, and much more -- these are all typically quite expensive to create and the organizations will want to earn back their investment quite on these. Even governments and NGOs that create these repositories may want to get some cost recovery. We need to focus on the fee-based collections that will add the most value to the educations and research programs of our patrons. And if that means participating in digitization and other content-creation projects ourselves, then so be it. If that means deciding that there are other things we've been spending a lot of money on in the past that no longer add the same value, well that's just evolution.

  • Related to the previous point, we also have to get over our obsession with container and focus on content. Personally, I'm second to almost no one as a bibliophile but I also recognize that we owe it to our patrons to give them the content they need in the container that's most appropriate. Sometimes that's going to be a real live paper book (and paper books will part of the collections mix for a good long while yet) but more and more it will be something that isn't a paper book, but that somehow exists online, be it text, audio, video, interactive tutorial, textbook wikis, data, property data, geospatial data, whatever.

What is the thread that binds all these forces acting upon us? All of these follow from the notion that we really need to figure out what we want to spend our money on. We have large budgets, mostly spent on staff and collections. We must continue to invest in the best staff with the best, most forward-looking skills. The new library I envision won't have fewer people, it will have more, they'll just be doing different things. They'll be highly professional and highly skilled in a range of areas, some generalists, some with very a very narrow focus. So, where will the money come from for the transformation? I have to think that it might be from collections. We will have to seriously look at the stuff we're buying and licensing and ruthlessly evaluate whether or not it truly meets the needs of our patrons and act accordingly. What will decline? Print books and A&I databases will decline in importance; to the extent that print books aren't just replaced by ebook packages, we may see some savings. Traditional journal subscriptions will start to transform into some sort of open access model in the 10 year time frame (perhaps to the extent that they will barely be recognizable as journals) so the savings there may just be starting to hit our budgets around then.

But, how are we going to justify spending more of our money on programmers, subject librarians, metadata specialists, software, hardware, virtual environments and all sorts of new services we can't even imagine yet and less on our traditional collections. When our funders say, "Aren't libraries really just about stuff?" what do we respond? Stuff is still important and we'll never stop buying and licensing the stuff we really need, but just like the old industrial economy has transformed into a new service economy where adding value is paramount, so too has the information economy of the library transformed from hoarding stuff to adding value to the intellectual efforts of students and faculty.

At the same time as all these forces are buffeting us, we must also avoid what I call vision drift. In our rush to embrace the new, to be all things to all people, to catch the wave, we must absolutely remember that our core mission is to serve the academic mission of the university. If we try to become a second student centre or cafeteria, then I'm not sure we're on the right track. It's great to be a social and collaborative learning space, but most of us didn't become librarians to serve coffee to teenagers.

Second Thoughts

Over the last two years, I've made a lot of predictions and assumptions. Are there any I regret? Is there anything I forgot to mention but that I think is important? Well, probably lots. But I'll restrict myself to just a handful.

  • I sometimes think I'm overestimating the speed at which print books will decrease in importance. For sure, the decline probably won't happen anywhere near the same way outside scitech fields, but even in scitech fields I'm not sure we won't be buying more textbooks and popular science than I thought before. Review/problem sets like Schaum's Outline Series may survive quite strongly as well since students seem to like them, but on the other hand if anything that seems to be a natural for the online environment. And certainly math and other fields may certainly continue to have a relatively strong monograph culture that will still manifest itself in us buying print books.

  • In the instruction section I didn't write very explicitly about curriculum integration, the idea that IL concepts will become part of what students learn in their program of study, and librarians' role in that process. I probably should have gone into more detail, but frankly it's hard to know what direction that will take. It's nice to think that it'll happen, and that it'll be our efforts to build our credibility as subject specialists that will get our foot in the door, but we'll just have to wait and see.

  • One of the things which I suspect I'm underestimating is the speed at which search & discovery will be transformed by new search tools, new OPAC platforms and the changing nature of scholarly communication. If more and more information becomes available Open Access, then more and more the tools we use to find that information will be open as well.

  • And speaking of scholarly communications, I also think this is an area where I'll be completely surprised by what happens, and surprised a lot sooner than I think. This will be one of the most fun areas to watch. I look forward to watching what happens at exciting places like Nature, PLoS (Hi Bora!), IEEE, ACM and a whole host of other places as new and old publishers forge their places in the new world.

  • The range of portable computing devices is exploding daily it seems, in ways that challenge me to keep track and assimilate. From the iPhone to the BlackBerry, these devices are going to play an exponentially growing role in the things we do and the way we deliver content.

  • Course management systems, virtual worlds, social networking systems are all in their infancy. It's hard to judge their longer term impact on areas such as reference and instruction, so I can't help but wonder if any of my speculations will even remotely resemble what happens.

  • When I started these essays, distance education was something that I really saw as outside the scope of what I was looking at -- the future of a librarians working in a physical science library serving the local student population. That was probably a bit shortsighted, as institutions of higher education are moving into distance ed in a big way. In retrospect, it's something I wish I'd incorporated more directly into each of the essays -- how we will provide collections and services to remote users. Sure, a lot of the stuff I talked about would work for them, but I also tied a lot of my ideas into the physical presence of the library.

  • And speaking of changes in the higher education environment, if I were starting this project all over, I would definitely start with an environment scan. I would look at both the trends and characteristics of the millennials as well as higher level forces that are affecting and changing the higher education environment. I would draw on the kind of things that Pew and OCLC and other organizations have been publishing in the last few years.

Closing thoughts

My sons are 11 and 14 right now. Looking out 8 to 10 years from now (ie. 10 years from when I started this series in 2005), they'll be right in the sweet spot of the generation that will be in university. What do these two data points tell me? First of all, they really do love books, especially my younger son. He'll devour a big, thick novel in no time at all. My older son is a little more eclectic, he reads novels and popular science, both with great pleasure. But for school projects, they'd rather die than use a book; using a book to get information is an unknown quantity for them. Even when I encourage them to do it, they're not that interested. They want to use the web, they want to use easy sources like Wikipedia. For good or ill, these are habits that are going to be hard to break as they get older.

So, if I'm really trying to understand how they will fit into library/information culture when they arrive, it's their focus on easy to find and easy to use. They are truly the iTunes generation, they want to want to consume bits and pieces of information/culture (buying a whole CD seems almost as odd to them as using a book for an assignment). And they can be strangely lacking in discernment too. The most recent song they bought was the old cheeseball Eye of the Tiger. Old, new, good,bad -- it's just not as important as it was too me when I was their age. It'll beinteresting to see if all that will change as they grow up -- for example, I expect as they grow older that they will be more interested in album-sized chunks of unified artistic expression rather than just quick jolts of musical adrenalin. But really, who knows. Although they really haven't gotten into social networking software that much, I think that's coming too. They've used IM a bit and the older has started to hear rumblings about Facebook among his peers. So, I like to think of these predictions as trying to imagine if my sons will be visiting their old Dad at the library one of these days.

As for the predictions themselves, I must admit to feeling a lot of ambivalence about them at this point. And that's because I find myself not necessarily committed to realizing the future I've imagined, only to bringing about a future. If I've imagined wrong, if there are things I didn't anticipate, well that's fine. I'll adjust my vision to changing circumstances and to changing knowledge and try and balance the needs to change with the needs to maintain our core values. A tough balancing act to be sure, but one that I think I'm up to. I want to facilitate a future, one that is good for our patrons but one that also has me in it. And I think that's what we should all aspire to in our professional lives, to bringing about the best future we can imagine, for ourselves and our patrons.

Thank you for your time, attention and patience. I welcome feedback either here in the comments or at jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

June 12, 2007

WILU Opening Keynote: Thinking vs. Knowing: Where Does Information Come in?

(Reposted from here.)

By Rick Salutin


A pretty typical Salutin talk, rambling, discursive, lots of digressions but interesting and engaging. Salutin starts by telling us he's going to talk to us a student, teacher, reader, writer and a parent, he's going to talk about teaching and writing, information, knowledge and understanding. He notes that he learns as much from teaching as being taught, something his teaching mentors told him would happen. You learn the most from magic moments with the profs, more than from their books. He spent a lot of time in libraries as a student and has recently rediscovered libraries and librarians with his young son. He wonders if books are a way to escape from people, because they are who we truly learn from via discussion. People come to librarians for help, as supplicants for a session of "laying on of the hands."

His great teacher Harold Innes strongly emphasized the oral tradition and practically founded media studies. Of the oral vs. the written, Innes greatly preferred the oral tradition. Written tradition has a bias towards information and facts while the oral can find truth via back and forth, round & round in an exchange that can get quite deep. The oral dialectic is the best way to discover new information and is the best and only way to truly explore the deepest ideas. But, of course, it's not the best way to disseminate those ideas. Plato's Dialogue though poorly written gave some intimation of the complexity of discussion, books are a pale shadow of dynamic, vital interaction. The Talmud also gives some idea of the vitality of oral tradition.

What's happened to the oral tradition? Has it gone away? It truly remains in two modern institutions: teaching and therapy, both of which are irreducible, which much happen live and in person (although Salutin surmises that there must be some forms of online therapy out there to go with attempts at online and correspondence education). Salutin has taught all his life, since he was a teenager. He's done a half course at UToronto for 30+ years; teaching is part of what it means to be fully human, we all do it in our lives especially with our kids. The oral tradition has no definitive model for this human interaction, it can't be formalized. He had Conrad Black in one of his recent class session and was impressed with Black's presence, the way he made a kind of presence in society real for his students in a way that contradicts all that lesson plan/methodology stuff. No one knows what we want from education, we only discover that in open ended moments of human interaction.

On the content side, the print tradition, kids can read the same book a hundred times (or watch the same movie). Perhaps we should take their example and instead of always trying to read something new we should just select the best texts and go over them repeatedly, gaining new understanding each time. We're not good at knowing, we're a lot better at thinking/pondering. Hannah Arendt said, "we mistake the urge to think for the urge to know." We should just continue to use our minds.

What kind of an institution should a university be? Should it be in the service of social wealth and power or should it be a source of criticism, thought and outside the power structure? Marcuse: the "power of negative thinking" can be a positive force. Fighting against bad things is a positive action.

It's worth noting that many of the speakers for the rest of the conference mentioned Salutin's oral/print tradition dichotomy and it's implications for instruction.

WILU Opening Plenary: Changing Learning, Changing Roles: Collaboration at Every Angle

(Reposted from here.)

By Patricia Iannuzzi (UNLV)

Bio & abstract

We as librarians are campus leaders, we are generalists and should be proud of if, we understand the connections between disciplines and are strong collaborators. The agenda for the session is first to talk about the Berkeley/Mellon project, then to talk about campus collaboration models then a little about librarians as campus leaders.

The Mellon library/faculty collaboration project at Berkeley is about a culture shift on campus and within the library, from a strong faculty governance, a highly entrepreneurial culture. The library culture is a research-based culture, collection centric with the library as yet another campus silo. Collections are at the centre with circ, reference, ILL, doc delivery and reserves as spokes from the collections hub. But there is a different model with the user at the centre, with collections, access, instruction and content creation as the spokes. "Patti's Model" sees a flow from collections connecting to users with the connection being through access, content creation, instruction and consultation. There is a shift from a collections model to a connections model, it is our responsibility as librarians to connect our collections to our users, not just building th10 them not to be used. This reflects a shift in higher education, see the Boyer commission report and the 10 principles about teaching and learning strategies.

The library role in higher ed: from centre of campus to centre of student learning, scale instruction from working with small classes to whole institution by working with faculty to get IL concepts into the curriculum. It is less about teaching students than it is about teaching faculty to do our work for us, to work with them in course and assignment design. Some a/v quotes from faculty (go to Berkeley/Mellon project web site for more videos). Law faculty member: bring ugrad research into course, get critical thinking at the beginning of the research process. A faculty fellow said ugrads should do research but that they need training, that they are not automatically good at it. Where do they learn it, who should teach it. Who is responsible for this learning?

Some partnership models: The pre-Mellon model: students related to the instructor with the library, IT, teaching centre on the side. The objectives are to support a community of faculty serving as change agents. Collaboration for campus partnerships, for research based learning, a scalable and sustainable model. They got a pilot project grant to strengthen research-based learning, to place library collections at the heart of courses through assignment design in large gateway courses. Target early adopters in faculty who are willing to give up a bit of ownership of their courses and they will influence other faculty, create habits of collaboration. To get progress, you need to get the admin on board to get resources and commitment, get the faculty of large enrollment courses on board, give them a stipend to encourage partnership, to profs as well as their depts. The new model is to get faculty researchers to encourage ugrad researchers, get faculty to pose questions and the ugrads to select among the questions, to learn the methodology that the profs model and to be directed towards the right sources.

A quote from a prof in ethnic studies: students are more likely to question the profs research and the research presented in class if they have their own experience of doing research.

Expand ownership of courses beyond just instructors to IT, teaching centre, librarians and others. Some partnership models include one where the instuctor and TA are at the centre and the teaching centre, librarians, student services, and IT are the spokes. Another is a more linear model with IT feeding into instructor/ta feeding into library. Another is teaching centre -> ins/ta -> lib. Another is ins/ta at the centre with gen ed, teaching centre, ugrad research as spokes. After the pilot project, sometimes faculty get lots of conflicting advice, lots of redundant & overlapping expertise on assignment design, instructional tech, content management, learning strategies, course design. A proposed team model is the course at the centre with instructors, design, online learning, IT, content management, student support as the spokes. collaboration must happen at various levels in the org, not just at the line level but at dean level too, you want to influence dept chairs. Objective is to create a sustainable and scalable model.

At University of Nevada Las Vegas, librarians need to engage issues on campus, how can we help these issues resolve, such as student engagement, environmental literacy, service learning, civic engagement, active learning, critical thinking: we need to speak the language, get involved in professional associations and societies. So, we need to step up to leadership roles, on campus and beyond, to speak at conferences of non-librarians, create a committee of culture of teaching and learning at our institutions. Librarians need to recognize the things that make us special.


June 11, 2007

Ok, people, it's time to organize

Chad Orzel has one of his semi-dorky polls, this one inspired by someone else's typo:

I need to disappear into a swamp of paper grading, exam writing, and committee meetings for a while, so here's a comment thread topic inspired by somebody else's typo:
Librarians or Libertarians?

I'm not entirely sure exactly what I'm asking for-- it could be "Which of these groups have done more good for humanity?" or "Which of these groups is a bigger threat to the American way of life?"

Whatever you think the question is after, pick one of those two, and leave your choice in the comments. For bonus points, state what question you're answering.

I've commented my response, so let's all represent for librarians doing good for humanity.

Update: Or, vote for the Liberians, my personal favourite typo.

WILU2007: Teaching on the Edge of Chaos

(I've got a bunch of other stuff to take care of this week, so original blogging might be quite light. So, that's an opportunity to repost my WILU Blogging entries to fill in the void! I'll try and get all the posts up this week, which means one or two posts per day. I'll be adding links to slides, etc. that might not have been in the original post.

I will be trying to get the 10 Years series conclusion finished and up, as that's connected to some of the other stuff that's going on.

This session summary is reposted from here.)

By Bryan Miyagishima and Robert Hautala (Western Oregon University)


The session started with a group discussion where we got a chance to talk with our neighbours about what student groups we work with, what a typical session is like and what we do well and what we would like to do better. They showed a typical IL lesson plan with items like Intro (5 min), how to navigate the library web page, books vs. journals, active learning activity and how to find books. Most recognized themselves in this very stereotypical IL session plan. They then talked a bit about the Madeline Hunter Model and the ASSURE Model as alternatives ways to structure a lesson. How else could it be done?

Using the example of a little kids basketball camp, the presenters showed how students can be challenged to learn a good way of doing things slowly, by starting with a variety of tasks, some easier and some harder. The example was kids using a wide range of basketballs and a wide range of heights for the nets. They keep on trying new things, starting with easy tasks that they can have some success with. This is dynamic systems theory: the tension is a pyramid with the different corners being the individual, the environment and the task. The model takes into account constraints such as the strength of 5 year olds.

The application of this model: How to you change and individual's constraints, such as physical conditioning. How do you change environmental factors such as stability, predictability and space. How to you change the task: speed, accuracy, distance, force, type of equipement. We did a group session where we can pick a skill and manipulate 3 aspects of the dynamic system, such as hitting a baseball.

The dynamic systems teaching model has 4 aspects:

  1. Establish task goal: structure the environment, give info about the task but do not demonstrate
  2. Provide choices: one size doesn't fit all, have selection of skills, movements and equipement, allow safe student decisions
  3. Modify the variables: restructure the environment, for the group and for individuals who are ready
  4. Provide instruction: only after first 3 steps, instruct about skills students have selected, instruct about teacher prefered skills

Quesitons/Problems: you need time to do this, you need to think about what students are really learning and the effectiveness of learning. How much chaos can you handle? Our question to think about during the coffee break was to find potentials for this model in IL.

We want to model a desired behavior (choose a database), a research task (find a scholarly article) and we want to change the task (on a specific topic; by a specific author; peer reviewed; different discipline). An interesting problem was to try and use this model for a desired behavior like: demonstrating an understanding of the search process. Our next exercise was to use this model for our own desired behavior. Finally, we discussed using this model over the long term, looping the 4 aspects over and over to refine our dynamic system.

I would encourage others at the session add further posts to fill in what I missed.

June 8, 2007

Skybreak, Ardea. The science of evolution and the myth of creationism: Knowing what's real and why it matters. Chicago: Insight, 2006. 338pp.

The whole raison d'etre of this book is to counter creationists' arguments against evolution. Nothing less than completely uncompromising and hard-hitting, this is a great book. It dissects all the worthless creationist arguments one by one, first presenting their point of view and demolishing it with solid scientific argument. Make no mistake, this book strongly advocates a point of view; it sets out a position and defends it. It identifies positions that it disagrees with and challenges them.

Based on a series of essays in the radical left wing magazine Revolutionary Worker, this is certainly a polemic but it thankfully avoids the highly polarizing post-modern rhetoric of many leftist critiques of science and instead clearly distinguishes the human practice of scientific research and development and the pursuit for how nature really works. She clearly spells out her position than on page 52 when she says, "All ideas are not equally true: some ideas much more closely correspond to the way things really are than other ideas." And how about, "The challenge we face is not so much to ascertain that material reality exists, but to figure out, and consistently apply, methods of scientific investigation which can best minimize our subjective distortions, and systematically uncover what's actually real." (p. 278)

Some of the things I liked about this book? It might be strident and determined, but it's definitely not dry and humourless. Take a look at page 210, where she talks about a "supposedly highly educated Supreme Court Justice, who presumably went to both college and law school, unquestioningly repeating something that is so patently false that it would cause a high school student to totally flunk a basic biology test" or on page 234, "Many creationists like to claim evolution can't be tru because it would violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Wow, are you impressed yet? This sure sounds scientific doesn't it? Only one problem: they don't know what the hell they're talking about!"

I also like that it engage creationist nonsense on virtually every page. There are a plethora of extensive, fantastic side bars on topics like "What does the science of evolution tell us about human 'races?'" and "Social Darwinism is not based on science and has nothing to do with Darwinism" and "Are humans still evolving?" In other words, the material is presented so you can quickly find a chapter or side bar to support most any point in a discussion with a creationist. The chapters are organized so that Chapter 1 provides an overview, Chapters 2 and 3 general principles, Chapters 4 and 5 on speciation, Chapter 6 on proven evidence for evolution, Chapter 7 on the evolution of humans and Chapter 8 the capstone chapter, 120 pages demolishing very specific creationist theories and positions, along with a handy taxonomy of creationists. The table of contents is extensive and detailed, making it very easy to find the information you need very quickly, as is the index.

This is a lively, entertaining and even important book. I would highly recommend it for all academic collections: college, university and even high school and middle school. Anyone that passionately cares about science and rationality could do worse than have such a book in their personal collections as well. It could come in handy during arguments at contentious dinner parties or family gatherings, for example.

(Book supplied by publisher.)

June 6, 2007

Crawford, Walt. Balanced libraries: Thoughts on continuity and change. Cites and Insights (Lulu.com), 2007. 247pp.

The library literature. I don't know about you, but those three words strike fear in my heart. When I think library literature, the word that comes to mind is, well, turgid. (And to be fair, most bodies of official scholarly literature are just as turgid, if not more so, so I'm not picking on us any more than any other discipline.) Books and articles that are basically a struggle to get through, dull, overlong, full of jargon. Just awful. For all the great ideas that can be encapsulated in the articles, the execution can often leave a bit to be desired. And the articles I've inflicted on the world are no different, I'm sure. So, what's to be done? Engage the biblioblogosphere, of course! Lively and diverse, full of opinion and debate, mostly written in a conversational, accessible style. The experimental rigor might not be there, but that's more than made up for by diversity, immediacy and accessibility.

On the other hand, wouldn't it be nice to have a shining example of a book that is well written and with ambitious, almost scholarly, intentions, well thought out arguments, deeply explored ideas, intellectually rigorous debate that seriously engages the most important professional topics of the day? Impossible, you say. I say, I'm holding that very book right here in my hands and it's Walt Crawford's Balanced libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change. And the issue it is engaging is perhaps the most important facing our profession these days: how to embrace new technological possibilities while still maintaining our core values as libraries and librarians while not going completely crazy in the process. And how does Crawford's fare in this endeavor? Pretty darn good, if you ask me. There's a lot of very profound wisdom in this book, and I would recommend it very seriously to any library professional, especially to those that are most directly engaged in building technology solutions for libraries.

There's a lot of good stuff in this book that I want to talk about, but first let's talk a little about the author for those of you who may not know about him. Walt Crawford is the author of numerous other books (including the excellent First Have Something to Say, which I've also read and which was influential in my blogging career), the important library ezine Cites & Insights and blog Walt at Random. A sage and sane voice in the biblioblogosphere, one that many have found inspiring.

And now, Balanced Libraries.

One of the best things about this book was that it provoked an awful lot of internal debates as I was reading it. You know how when you're reading a book and suddenly you're stopped in your tracks by something? It doesn't matter if you agree or disagree (and I certainly didn't agree with everything in Crawford's book), it makes you think, it makes you start a kind of virtual discussion with the author. You find yourself saying, "But, what if..." or "You know, that's not how I think that would happen..." or "Right on, and what about..." It takes a long time to read a book like that, because so much of your time is spent digesting what you've read. It often took me a day or two in between chapters to process. Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics, which I was reading more or less simultaneously, was the same.

So, what were those debates, what were the topics I endlessly worked over with my imaginary Walt Crawford? Well, let's take a look at the book more or less chapter by chapter and see what I came up with.

Chapter 1 (A Question of Balance) is the introduction. Crawford defines balance as "change with continuity," "expansion over replacement," and "continuous improvement over transformation," which is a definition I can live with. I guess you could say my first virtual debate was here, struggling with my own definition of balance. Like Crawford, I think I favour gradual, incremental change most of the time, but I do have a bit of the revolutionary in me as well and certainly this section helped me come to my own definition, even if it's a bit less than ideally "balanced." But it's a good way to start the book, to make sure we're more or less on the same wave length.

Chapter 2 (Patrons and the Library) really resonated with me. Are the "patrons always right?" Do we do what ever they want, no matter what, even if it might be outside our core mission? To what degree to we "pander" to patrons' every whim and to what degree do we use our professional judgment to decide what's best for them? A difficult question, one that I don't have the answer for -- and this this chapter provoked a lot of introspection.

Chapter 4 (Existing Collections and Services) struck a bit of a off note for me. In the discussion about existing collections there's quite a long section that romanticizes traditional book browsing on the shelves. I'm not sure the serendipity you get from browsing on the shelves is better than the kind of serendipity a good online system (with tags and recommendation systems, for example) can give you. I appreciate and use both kinds of discovery but I think that they can and should be profoundly complementary.

Chapter 6 (Balancing Generations) treats that hoary old proposition: kids today are going to hell in a hand basket/old fogies are so out of touch. Crawford struck a good balance here, talking about balancing the needs of younger vs. older patrons and the strengths of more experienced staff vs. new grads. Being a newer librarian who's not so young, I found a lot to like in this chapter, even if I sometimes seemed to find myself in both camps at once.

Chapter 7 (Pushing Back: Balance vs. Resistance) has a discussion of the dangers of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt that got me thinking. It seems that there's a challenge here, how to find a model for life-long contribution to the profession for everybody, not just the tech-savviest. Ultimately, we all get a little duller around the cutting edge (some less than others, some earlier than others), so how do we harness the wisdom and experience of those that have been-there-done-that?

Chapters 8 (Naming and Shaming) and 9 (Improving and Extending Services) were perhaps the most provocative and compelling in the book. They give the compelling and controversial story of the Library 2.0 wars, from the True Believers to the doubters to the mushy middlers. Crawford's portrayal of many of the L2 advocates is considerably less than flattering, to the point where I found myself shaking my head and remembering why I mostly stayed on the sidelines for the debate. On the other hand, Chapter 9 is an amazing exposition of perhaps what L2 is really about. I often found myself nodding my head in vigorous agreement, thinking "Gee, that's cool" or "Maybe I should try that!" The contrast between the two chapters is telling: in one librarians sound shrill and a bit mean, in the other we sound open minded, progressive and brilliant. Chapters 10 through 13 really just expand on the possibilities for embracing balanced change begun in chapter 9.

Chapters 14 (Balanced Librarians) and 15 (Change and Continuity) form a kind of extended conclusion for the book. Chapter 14 challenges us as professionals to take it easy, to use our time and energy wisely, to pace ourselves but at the same time to stop and think, to focus our concentration and really contemplate our situation. Chapter 15 brings it all together, challenging us to once again think deeply about what is worth keeping and what needs to be changed. As Crawford closes, "Whatever names you adopt, whatever tools wind up suiting your needs, I hope these thoughts will help you find a balance of continuity and change." (p. 229)

Well, you get the idea. Every chapter will make you think.

Another really interesting thing about this book was how it advanced the form of scholarship. Here's a self-published book with very serious intentions, not lightweight at all, which mostly referenced blogs in the bibliography. I find that really interesting. A book that's about how librarians should engage the most important issues in their professional practice and it's mostly propelled by bloggers and not by reams of articles in the official scholarly journals. By my quick count, 151/187, or about 80% of the items in the bibliography are blog posts. And he makes us sound pretty good too. And I'm not saying that because my blog appears three times in the bibliography. For the most past, Crawford showcases the best writing and the best thinking out there among the liblogs (except for Chapter 8, mentioned above, but even that showcases some real passion too); we are committed and engaged and thinking about the issues. If you are a liblogger and your colleagues are a bit skeptical about the the worth of what you are doing, show them this book. What we do, if we do it well, is worthy for our tenure files, for our professional CV's. Our work on our blogs should be counted the same as any one else's contributions in traditional media based on its intrinsic quality not its format or place of publication. Thanks to Crawford, we have an example of what we are capable of presented in a somewhat more traditional format and written by someone whose contributions to the field cannot be easily dismissed. We appreciate the support.

But enough of me. Go buy the book. One for yourself and one for your library's collection.

June 5, 2007

The Blessed (?) Shifting Baseline of Academic Research

Jennifer L. Jacquet of Shifting Baselines has a wonderfully ironically wistfully disgusted post WICKEDpedia, Forgotten Libraries, and the Blessed (?) Shifting Baseline of Academic Research relating some of her sister's experiences returing to academia a bit later in life and encountering the differences between her intial research experiences years ago, in her sister's "Letter to a Young Scientist":

When I was your age, if I needed to research, I had to walk uphill, through the snow, to three different libraries. I had to access different databases for medical, science, and engineering journals, using DOS and an ASCII interface. I had to print out the list of search results on a dot-matrix printer, and then I had to go dig through the stacks to find the bound books containing those articles. I had to schlep those dozens of heavy books back to a table in the library and then skim through the articles to see if they were really relevant or not. If they were, I had to copy each article, a page at a time, on a coin-operated copying machine. Many times I had to choose between copying an important article or doing laundry that week, because I didn't have enough quarters to do both! And then I had to actually read the article, and if there was something worth quoting, I had to type it into the computer. There wasn't any of this fancy "copy and paste" stuff!

Yes sir, the bad old days were pretty gruesome. Doing library research was a hard slog but there were just not alternatives. And this is from someone who's only 33, so her undergrad experiences aren't that long ago.

And now, to her musings on current research practices, working with a 19 year old lab partner:
Life is a heck of a lot easier now that everything is on the internet, hyperlinked and cross-referenced. But it also allows people to throw together a bunch of crap without really reading anything. Blame Wikipedia for the babble on the first slide. My lab partner threw that in there, for reasons I suspect are due to the basic laziness that is the default "research" method for today's college cohort, i.e., when faced with a research project of any kind, first go to Wikipedia and copy and paste the first three paragraphs written on the subject. As long as you cite the website, you don't have to think about what it actually says. I think the first time he actually read those definitions was when he was presenting the slide in front of the class. He stumbled on "resource rent" and seemed to realize at that moment that he had no idea what it meant. He seemed very relieved when he was able to move on to the next slide without anyone asking him to explain it.

Ay caramba! Pretty gruesome too if you ask me. From one extreme to another, I'm not sure which story actually had the most real learning involved. Actually, I am sure.

Anyway, this is what I left as a comment to the post:
I may be biased, being a science librarian and all, but if profs want their students to use peer reviewed journal literature there's no substitute for getting some sessions set up with a librarian in a computer lab to show students how to use PubMed or whatever to find high-quality online articles, both open access and ones that are paid for by the library's subscriptions.

I think the key is for profs to require the use of at least some real articles and reward students in the marking of the papers. Wikipedia is great, I use it every day, but in an overwhelming information environment, we shouldn't expect students to know how to find the right mix of the best stuff in the easiest way without actually showing them.

If profs want their students to have good research habits, they must reward good behaviour and punish bad behaviour. And by good research habits, I mean being able to use a wide variety of sources (including books, journals, Wikipedia and appropriate other web resources), understand the roles each kind of document can play in the process and integrate them all into a coherant whole. And libraries and librarians can be the source of much of that learning.

I guess the challenge is convincing profs that something should be done, something can be done and that we are the right partners in that endeavour.

June 4, 2007

Sometimes the search logs just kill me

Checking the keyword search logs provided by Extreme Tracking, I came across something really hilarious. Somebody (ie. ip68-100-76-98.dc.dc.cox.net, you know who you are) somehow found this humble blog with the following Google search:

changing the words on a purchased term paper beat plagiarism software

Really. I couldn't make this stuff up.

June 2, 2007

Blogging WILU (and a note on CiL too)

Finally, I'm done recording all my session notes on the WILU blog. It was a hard slog at the end to get it done. I've had quite a run of conferences in 2007 and doing the session notes got tough at the end. In any case, I did notes for 9 sessions in all, including one set for a session I also convened. That's the Patrick Labelle session I blogged last. Karina Douglas also presented at that session but she blogged her own session, so I don't feel the need to add anything to what she's done.

In terms of overall impressions, I though WILU was a great conference, very well organized. And I'm not just saying that because all the organizers are my York University colleagues; they did a truly wonderful job making the conference a smoothly enjoyed, intellectually engaging couple of days.

And for the intellectually engaging part, I thought it was a really interesting experiment going to both WILU and Computers in Libraries within the same few weeks of each other (Mita Williams also did it, and maybe a couple of other that I don't know about, and I'd be interested in hearing their reactions as well). Now I'm about to engage is some massively unjustified generalizations, but I think there is some lesson to learn from oversimplifying in this case. Several times in sessions at WILU I was struck that the general theme of the conference is bending students to the will of the library. Getting them to understand how the library works, how scholarship works, how our systems work. At CiL I was struck several times in sessions how the whole focus of the conference is to bend the will of the library to the needs, habits and whims of students and the latest technofads. Now, I don't think either extreme is a good way to go. We definitely do have a role to play in making students more aware of good information seeking behavior. On the other hand, we also need to come to grips with the fact that it ain't 1991 anymore and the Google cat is out of the bag. There were a couple of times when I thought that my head would explode from the internal contradictions, sort of like Nomad in that old Star Trek episode (yes, I am that old). In any case, it's a real tension we face, one that's important to understand and try to reconcile, one that I think is going to be at the core of the profession going forward.

So, go on and check out the WILU blog and see all the good stuff there. The session materials have also been posted. As I repost my session summaries here over the next week or so, I'll update them with links to the available session materials.

Oh yes, one "small world" note. As I said, I convened the session where Patrick Labelle of presented. Now Patrick is at Concordia, where I studied computer science way back when. So, we got to talking about Concordia, about Montreal, you know, that kind of stuff. Anyways, it seems that Patrick used to live in the same building in Montreal where my Mother lives (and has lived for about 10 years). Patrick obviously couldn't remember meeting my Mother, but it's strange to imagine them passing each other in the hall!