September 28, 2007

Friday Fun: Random Stuff Edition

  • From Critical Mass: "I moved to the village and began frequenting Three Lives and witnessed how a well-merchandised bookstore can cause you to lose all sense of reason." Yep, a good bookstore can certainly make me lose all sense of reason. A perfect quote.

  • From Robert Scoble: The 10 rules of Twitter (and how I break every one). I never have and probably never will use Twitter. I have a cellphone but barely use it and barely even turn it on. Somehow, though, this post on twisting technology to our own uses and abuses struck a chord with me:
    Don’t assume other people are having the same experience you are. My experience with Twitter? I get 20 new Tweets inbound EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY DAY. It’s like a 24/7 chat room for me. But for you? Most of you only follow 30 people, so to you it’s more akin to instant messaging with just your friends. If you subscribe to a noisy jerk, like me, you’ll get overrun. Me? I just tell my friends who complain that they don’t have enough friends.

  • The Annoyed Librarian just kills me. Fundraising Tip: Sue Google!
    Google has done irreparable psychological damage to plenty of librarians who loved being the tightfisted and anal retentive guardians of information. And they have to hear "Google" used as a verb all the time. No one ever made a verb of "librarian," and if they did it probably wouldn't have anything to do with search. Now that Google's around and it's so popular, these poor damaged librarians should sue Google for something or other. Maybe they could even handwrite the note.

    What kills me even more, of course, is the comments. From those who take her too seriously to those that don't take her seriously enough. Really, she's meant to be taken seriously, like porridge, just right.

Update 2007.09.29: Scoble link fixed. Thanks, Andrew!

September 27, 2007

Interview with CJ Rayhill, Senior Vice President at Safari Books Online

Welcome to the latest installment in my occasional series of interviews with people in the scitech world. This time around the subject is CJ Rayhill, Senior Vice President of Product Management and Technology at ebook company Safari Books Online. I've long been a fan of Safari's ebook model which allows participating libraries to choose content on a title by title basis rather than having to commit to a large and expensive complete collection. So, when I met some Safari people this past spring at Computers in Libraries I enlisted them in helping me find someone internally at Safari to interview. Eventually, CJ's name bubbled to the top. To say the least, I'm very happy with the results and very grateful to CJ for agreeing to be interviewed and for giving such insightful answers. Enjoy!

Q0. Hi CJ, would you mind telling us a little about your career path to this point and how you got to be Senior Vice President of Product Management & Technology at Safari.

Most of my career has been in software development and technology management within the financial services and healthcare industries. Back in 2000, I joined O'Reilly Media as their CIO, which was my first job within the publishing industry. I worked on the first incarnation of Safari Books Online when it was just an O'Reilly offering. Later in 2001, we re-launched the service as a joint venture with Pearson. So I've been involved with Safari Books Online (SBO) in some form or another for the last 7 years. SBO now represents the third largest sales channel for O'Reilly Media and is one of the fastest growing products for our publisher owners. I wanted to have the opportunity to help influence what the next generation of SBO will look like and have therefore taken a position at SBO as the SVP of Product Management & Technology.

Q1. Would you mind telling us a little about what Safari is all about?

Safari Books Online is simply the best online source for technical content available today. When you look at the computer trade book market, there are only four publishers that make up 81% of the titles offered (Pearson = 30%, Wiley = 26%, O'Reilly = 15% and Microsoft Press = 10%). SBO offers the full technical libraries of Pearson, O'Reilly and MS Press. And when you look at it in the context of the most popular books based on actual sales data, 65 of the top 100 books in almost any computer book category are available through the Safari Books Online service. There is simply no other service that offers the kind of quality technical content that SBO does. And SBO offers plenty of ways to access the content. You can choose to subscribe to the entire library or you can choose a bookshelf option which allows you to have a certain number of titles available and then rotate them off and choose new titles every 30 days if you wish. You can download chapters in .pdf format for off-line viewing. You can access videos and short-form content (Shortcuts) and you can even subscribe to books as they are being written (Roughcuts) on hot technical topics where people are hungry for information. You can search across the full content of all titles within the service and find excellent answers quickly. I think every developer, sysadmin or creative professional can increase their productivity by a minimum of 10% with this service.

Q2. Is there and all-digital business model for a book publisher? Or should I say "book" publisher?

I'm not sure what you are referring to here but if you mean is there a possibility of just distributing content through a digital service like SBO (vs. printing books) then the answer is yes. But I don't think publishers should be looking at their products as all digital or all print. I think the goal of publishers needs to be the creation of good, quality content that is offered in any way that customers want to consume it and find it useful. There will always be content that is better to be read cover-to-cover in a printed book. Other content might be more useful in digital form only. It's the combination of all of these possibilities that will create the best experience for customers.

Q3. How do you think the structure of your content will evolve? Is the collection going to ultimately rely less on adding electronic versions of paper books and instead add more targeted content that's designed to be digital rather than adapted from a different medium? Like the PDFs product for example?

I think that all forms of content will remain relevant for many years to come. Whether it is scanned images of paper books, XML, pdf's, audio or video (with or without transcription) -- they all have a place well into the future.

Q4. Safari U. is a really interesting product that seems to really take advantage of the digital, remixable, mashupable nature of your content. How's the uptake been? And what's the future of the text book? Do you think this model would apply to other disciplines as well? Physics, marketing, philosophy?

The future of the textbook market is clearly shifting. You have products like SafariU, iChapters, and CourseSmart beginning to emerge to solve a difficult issue -- the high cost of textbooks. In addition, most higher-education courses involve exposure to content from multiple sources which makes the cost of purchasing all of the required and recommended reading for students out of reach. So what happens is that students end up not even purchasing required content which must diminish the value of their educational experience. I'm not sure which model will emerge as the clear leader in this space, but SafariU was O'Reilly's initial attempt to provide a better value for both instructor's and students within the computer science/information technology disciplines.

Q5. What do you see as Safari's biggest competition, other ebook publishers or free stuff on the net?

Both! Our biggest partners (Google, Amazon, etc.) can potentially be our biggest competitors. And the balancing act is not getting any easier. Especially for technical reference-type books, how much do you give away for free on Google Book Search before it eats into your revenue stream possibilities? Does the exposure help or hurt sales? I think free content is great -- but I also think that there is a place for being able to search across and access good, vetted content from trusted sources. The next 3-5 years is going to be one of the most revolutionary periods for publishers in my opinion, especially in our space.

Q6. How does usage of a typical book on safari compare with the number of copies sold of the physical book?

I'm not sure how I would even begin to compare those two things. Online usage is a very different thing than book sales. You may buy a book, but we may never know if you read it or not. But when you access content online, we have a lot of information about actual usage of the content. This can be very helpful in informing us on what our customers are interested in and what they find most helpful. As I mentioned above, on a larger scale, SBO is the third largest sales channel for O'Reilly today, only behind Amazon and Barnes&Noble. So that's a lot of access!

Q7. Safari has mostly concentrated on the computing/software application/development side of the spectrum so far. Any chance of more engineering or other content down the road?

We are very interested in expanding the Safari offering into other disciplines and are actively pursuing other genres. It's an excellent platform and business model that we think works well for many subject areas.

September 26, 2007

Latest in ACM & IEEE

September 24, 2007

Check out my new blog for York Computer Science & Engineering students

This post is aimed a little more at the Engineering & CS profs and students out there; I'm interested in what you might think about this project.

I've created yet another blog, this one I'm aiming at Engineering & Computer Science students at my institution. I have two main ideas for this blog: first, as a place to locate my IL related links and other information. In the past I've used static web pages and was pretty happy with them. However, over time (and mostly over my sabbatical) I thought that I might want something a little easier, a little more flexible, a little more interactive and mashupable. And I saw an example of what could be accomplished at Heather Matheson's OLA presentation.

It took me a while, but I think I've got something I can live with. It uses WordPress instead of Joomla; but it also incorporates some rss feeds like my linkblog and the new book lists from my library. It has Meebo so students can touch base with me directly. Mostly I like that I've been able to move over the old IL instructional pages I did in FrontPage with relatively little fuss and bother. The classes I've used it for so far seem to like it and the reception from faculty too has been positive. It just looks cooler.

Second, as a place where I can highlight York science profs in the news and post some interesting links to engineering/CS stuff I think is neat, useful or interesting. I plan on using the WordPress pages feature to add digested versions of the full blown pathfinders we have. As well I want to create a list of all the different IL pages so anyone can find them without scrolling or searching.

I've also used the blog for some non-Engineering/CS classes, explaining that the current blog is just a prototype for future blogs in other areas. For example, I do a lot of Science & Technology Studies and Natural Science (NatSci are breadth courses for non-science students) courses and the posts don't really belong on the CSE blog. I would like to eventually create one for Nats/STS but I don't want to commit to it until I have a better idea of how successful the idea is. If you were a non-CSE student, would you be ok with your courses web page being hosted on a CSE blog?

I'm also particularly interested in what other librarians out there have done with IL or subject-focused blogs, how you've done things differently or the same. If you've preferred WordPress or Blogger or if you think that a more sophisticated CMS like Moodle or Joomla is the way to go. As usual, either drop a comment here, Meebo or email at jdupuis at yorku dot ca. Feedback, suggestions, ideas, pros, cons are all more than welcome; the blog is plainly a work in progress and I full expect it to evolve some more in the coming months.

September 21, 2007

Here & There

Some recent items of interest, some related to some of my common themes, some not.

  • Wayne Bivens-Tatum and Brian Matthews get it exactly right about academic libraries getting "student centre envy." It's something I written about before and something I feel very strongly about: as libraries on diverse, lively and changing campuses, we have to make sure that we serve the core mission of our institutions and at the same time care about giving students the kinds of physical spaces nobody else will.

  • As usual, lots of great stuff in the most recent ISTL. Two items in particular I'd like to highlight are Scholarly Communication: Science Librarians as Advocates for Change by Elizabeth C. Turtle and Martin P. Courtois. This one is about the role librarians can have in promoting awareness and adoption of newer modes of scholarly communication. It includes a number of resources, areas where librarians can make a difference and suggestions on how to proceed. Interestingly (and ironically) they don't recommend as resources any of the numerous blogs (librarian and otherwise) that focus on scholarly communications such as OAN, CavLec and Open Access Librarian. I occasionally post on these topics.

    Also interesting is Library as Laboratory: Computer Science Students Practice Usability Engineering in an Academic Library by by Margaret Mellinger. Cool stuff: engaging computer science students to work on usability projects for the library as part of their course work.

  • The Hard Science of Making Videogames: See the top ten hurdles facing game designers today, and the cutting-edge tech that will soon make them relics of the past by Jacob Ward, Doug Cantor and Bjorn Carey. Lots of interesting stuff here, relevant to software development as a whole and not just video games. In particular, embedded systems, immersive worlds, ubiquitous computing all face similar challenges: processing power, simulating water, human faces, light and shadows and many others.

  • The Traditional Future by Peter Brantley
    A prominent U.S. sociologist and student of professions, Andrew Abbott of the University of Chicago, has written a thought-provoking thesis on what he terms "library research" -- that is, research as performed with library-held resources by historians, et. al, via the reading and browsing of texts -- compared to social science research, which has a more linear, "Idea->Question->Data->Method->Result" type of methodology.

    The pre-print, "The Traditional Future: A Computational Theory of Library Research," is full of insights about library centric research, including intriguing parallels between library research and neural net computing architectures; a comparison that made me think anew, and with more clarity, about how the science of history is conducted. Armed with a distinctive interpretation of library research, Abbott is able to draw some incisive conclusions about the ramifications of large repositories of digitized texts (such as Google Book Search) on the conduct of scholarship.

    Really cool post and paper. I'm certainly looking forward to reading the paper in detail as I've just scanned it so far. I'm not certain how what he's done applies to the scitech fields but I like what Brantley says about serendipity.
    Google Book Search is a wonderful thing. But it not so wonderful that we should assume it will transform education and research. Nor should we assume that in the future we might not be able to generate architectures that make books live more intelligently amongst each other - and more freely - than anything that Google might envision. As libraries who might be participating in digitization: let us challenge the fundamental assumptions we are handed - that must seem so dangerously obvious - and rethink the landscape of our profession, and how we might best support our real work of learning.

    Now, Google Book Search is my new best friend as far as research tools is concerned, but I think we need to be aware that the research systems we build for our patrons probably need a little chaos built in. I'm not entirely convinced of Brantley's (and Abbott's) points (and the comments on the post are often equally skeptical), but it's something we need to think about.

  • Three vantage points from which to view patents by Andy Oram and Patents and Scientific Peer Review by Tim O'Reilly. Lots of discussion about software patents and such. Very stimulating and worth reading in its entirety.

Friday Fun: LOLCthulhu Edition

I'm generally not a big fan of LOLcats or any of those LOL-this, -thats or -theothers, but this one is just too hilarious for me to ignore: LOLCTHULHU! For the Lovecraft fans among us (and I know you're out there!), this is priceless.

See some previous Lovecraftian Friday Funs here, here and here.

Via BoingBoing

September 19, 2007

Profile in YorkU Magazine

Like most universities, York has an internal magazine that they send to alumni, faculty and staff as well as just placing around campus for anyone to pick up and read.

The blog and I were briefly profiled on page 11 in the most recent issue, October 2007. It's not online yet but when it is I'll link to it from here. It's interesting that I've already made a new contact with another blogger on campus via the profile. Online version of the issue is here.

Here's my bit:

Free Software and Open Source Symposium 2007

The 2007 Free Software and Open Source Symposium is upcoming October 25-26th, 2007 at Seneca College's York Campus. I attended last year and it was a fabulous conference. Unfortunately, this year I'll be in New York for the IEEE Library Advisory Council meeting so I won't be able to make the conference.

However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't attend. The Agenda's here and it looks to be as lively and interesting this year as it was last year (recordings of last year's presentations). The bonus is that this year it's two days instead of one. There is also a day of workshops.

You can download the pdf version of the conference poster here. Spread the word.

September 18, 2007

Thomson attempts to predict the Nobels again

Last year I chided Thomson ISI about their attempt to predict that year's Nobel Prizes in the various subjects based on their citation data. Since they didn't get a single one of the prizes right, I thought that they should probably give it up. After all, citation count doesn't really measure impact all by itself. Right?

My hopes were in vain as they're at it again this year. From the press release:

Each year, data from ISI Web of KnowledgeSM, a Thomson Scientific research solution, is used to quantitatively determine the most influential researchers in the Nobel categories of chemistry, economics, physiology or medicine, and physics. Because of the total citations to their works, these high-impact researchers are named Thomson Scientific Laureates and predicted to be Nobel Prize winners, either this year or in the near future. Of the 54 Thomson Scientific Laureates named since 2002, four have gone on to win Nobel honors. (Bold is mine. -JD)

Yes, 4 out of 54 is nothing to brag about.

So, let's see how they do this year. The Nobel Foundation will start announcing the true Laureates October 8th here.

Below are the ISI predictions; check the press release and the ISI Laureates Predictions site for details about the individual scientists ISI is mentioning.

Samuel J. Danishefsky
Dieter Seebach
Barry M. Trost


Arthur B. McDonald and Yoji Totsuka
Sumio Iijima
Martin J. Rees, F.R.S.

Physiology or Medicine

R. John Ellis, F.R.S; F. Ulrich Hartl and Arthur Horwich
Fred H. Gage
Joan Massague


Elhanan Helpman and Gene M. Grossman
Robert B. Wilson and Paul R. Milgrom
Jean Tirole

Of course, I have nothing against the scientists and economists that Thomson nominates nor do I want to cast any negative light on the work that they have done. I only want to point out the folly of the methodology that Thomson is using.

We'll see how it goes this year. I'll update this post as the Nobel's are annouced. Oddly, I find myself rooting for Thomson to get a couple of them right this year.

September 17, 2007

York University -- Digital Initiatives Librarian

This is the latest new job posting from York. It is a brand new tenure stream position and is an example of a position that was previously filled on a contract basis but that was deemed important enough to make permanent. It's a terrific opportunity to work at a great institution. The ad is online here. Please fell free to spread news of this posting far and wide.

York University offers a world-class, modern, interdisciplinary academic experience in Toronto, Canada's most multicultural city. York is at the centre of innovation, with a thriving community of almost 60,000 faculty, staff and students who challenge the ordinary and deliver the unexpected.

York University Libraries are seeking an innovative and energetic librarian for the position of Digital Initiatives Librarian in Bibliographic Services. This is a tenure-track position and is appropriate for a librarian with up to five years post-MLIS experience. The Digital Initiatives Librarian will play an integral role in the development of digital initiatives within York University Libraries. The successful candidate will provide leadership in the creation of digital collections at York University through the promotion, planning, implementation and evaluation of digital projects such as institutional repositories, open journal and conference implementation and other forms of scholarly communications. He/she will assist in establishing a strong digital library environment by supporting the acquisition, capture and conversion of digital objects having significant content of enduring value. Collaborating with colleagues, the incumbent will ensure that appropriate digital and metadata standards and procedures are established and followed. The Digital Initiatives Librarian will be a member of the Digital Initiatives Advisory Group. Some original and complex copy cataloguing may be required.


  • MLS (or recognized equivalent) from an ALA-accredited program:
  • up to five years of post-MLIS library experience;
  • experience planning and implementing digitization projects or other complex digital library projects;
  • demonstrated experience with XML, metadata standards and schema;
  • demonstrated experience with web development technologies;
  • demonstrated excellence in project management skills;
  • knowledge of emerging trends in scholarly communications, library and information technologies, and cataloguing;
  • knowledge of cataloguing and authority control in an online environment;
  • excellent oral and written communication skills; evidence of interest in research activities;
  • flexible attitude and ability to adapt to a changing environment; ability to balance multiple responsibilities; demonstrated time management skills;

Librarians at York University have academic status and are members of the York University Faculty Association bargaining unit ( Salary and benefits are competitive. The position is available March 1, 2008. All York University positions are subject to budgetary approval.

York University is an Affirmative Action Employer. The Affirmative Action Program can be found on York's website at or a copy can be obtained by calling the affirmative action office at 416-736-5713. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadian citizens and Permanent Residents will be given priority.

Campus resources include an on-site daycare centre, a women's centre, a race and ethnic relations centre, a sexual harassment centre, initiatives in support of sexual and gender diversity, and a wellness centre. York University encourages attitudes of respect and non-discrimination toward persons of all ethnic and religious groups, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Preference will be given to applications received by January 2, 2008. Applications, including a covering letter relating qualifications to requirements of the position, a current curriculum vitae, and the names of three referees, should be sent to:

Chair, Digital Initiatives Librarian Appointment Committee
York University, Scott Library, Room 310
4700 Keele Street, Toronto, ON M3J 1P3

Fax: (416) 736-5451

Applications should be sent by post or fax with original copy following. We do not accept applications sent by e-mail.

Surveying the science blogosphere

A few months ago, Meredith Farkas surveyed the librarian blogosphere and is reporting the results here. She's also currently running a survey to discover what her readers' favourite blogs are.

Now there's a similar project within the science blogosphere as several ScienceBloggers are surveying their readership to discover what people think about science blogs in general and how they are seen within the scientific establishment. As yet there is no attempt to rank or rate individual blogs.

The bloggers who have mentioned it include A Blog around the Clock, Aardvarchaeology, Adventures in Ethics and Science, Aetiology, The Loom, Omni Brain and Retrospectacle.

The survey itself is here.

From Aetiology:

This survey attempts to access the opinions of bloggers, blog-readers, and non-blog folk in regards to the impact of blogs on the outside world. We're examining the impact of science blogging and this survey will provide invaluable data to answer the following questions:

Who reads or writes blogs?
What are the perceptions of blogging, and what are the views of those who read blogs?
How do academics and others perceive science blogging?
What, if any, influence does science blogging have on science in general?

The survey itself will likely take ~10 minutes, and a bit more if you are a blogger yourself--and thanks in advance.

September 14, 2007

Friday Fun: WorldCon Edition

One of the things voted on at the most recent World Science Fiction Convention is the site of the 2009 con. As it happens, the 2009 edition is in Montreal!

The guests are:

Neil Gaiman - Guest of Honour
Elisabeth Vonarburg - Invitée d'honneur
Taral Wayne - Fan Guest of Honour
David Hartwell - Editor Guest of Honour
Tom Doherty - Publisher Guest of Honour
Julie Czerneda - Master of Ceremonies

Which looks great. In particular, it's nice to see David Hartwell (one of publishing's good guys, btw) recognized for his contribution to the development of Canadian SF.

Congrats to all the organizers, including the long serving members of Montreal fandom who I worked with so often back in my Concept days.

September 13, 2007

Friday Fun: Let's get ready to RRRRRRRRumble!

(Ok, it's a day early, but I have my reasons.)

So, today begins the World Chess Championship tournament in Mexico City. Photos of the opening ceremony yesterday, list of participants and round schedule here. A good preview is at The Week in Chess, with chattier discussions at ChessNinja here and here.

The participants are Viswanathan Anand, Levon Aronian, Boris Gelfand, Alexander Grischuk, Vladimir Kramnik, Peter Leko, Alexander Morozevich and Peter Svidler. Kramnik is the defending champion. The rather complex explanation of what happens next is to be found at the TWIC link above.

What's going to happen? Well, Kramnik is champion but tends not to do as well in tournaments as in matches, except in tournaments of all highly rated players in which he can eek out a +2 and still win. Anand is the highest rated player, but he sometimes seems to lack the killer instinct to win the big tournament. Aronian is the second youngest in the field but may be the one most poised for another big breakthrough, like the one he had a couple of years ago to break into the top 10. On balance, I would say Anand 50%, Kramnik and Aronian 20% each and 10% one of the others.

It should be fun.

The Internet: the best worst thing ever

Or is that the worst best thing ever?

Via LISNews I see that there's an online debate between Andrew Keen of The Cult of the Amateur fame and Emily Bell of the Guardian's Comment is Free. The topics is Is today's internet killing our culture?

It's quite the heated debate and, as you can imagine, both sides get in some pretty good shots. On the whole, however, I have to give the debate to Bell, who argues on that the Internet is enhancing our culture more than it is damaging it. Bell definitely gets in the better points.

I'll give a good point from each side:


The end result is disastrous for both the creator and consumer of culture. The internet is producing the cult of the amateur, a dumbing-down of culture, in which innocence is replacing expertise as the determinant of value. Worse still, as the copy loses its economic exchange value, the only way artists will be able to make a living will be through the live performance of their work. So the end result of the so-called "democratised" culture will actually be a shrinkage in both the size of the cultural economy and in the number of professional artists. That means fewer professionally-produced books, movies and recorded music. Only the rich will be able to afford to physically access the artist in an economy where value will be increasingly determined by physical presence. Instead of more cultural democracy, therefore, the internet will create more cultural inequality and privilege.


The internet challenges us all to up our game - it exponentially increases our audience, but it exposes frailty. It creates noise of deafening volume and, yes, it threatens copyright. But as Larry Lessig says, there are now more layers of extended copyright on pieces of creativity than ever before - and the net result of this is to actually stifle creativity rather than preserve it. Why should Disney own The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and every future iteration? Wealth in the worlds of music, art, film, television, publishing, is greater than it ever has been, but it is not evenly distributed. This is not the problem of the web or the internet but the problem of those creative "industries".

The shift in the way artists and other cultural workers get compensation for their efforts is certainly changing. The changes may not be entirely fair (as in other times of social change) but that doesn't make them any less inevitable. I think that the changes are mostly for the good but that doesn't make, for example, abuses of intellectual property any more justified.

On the other hand they both make indefensible statements as well, which I think are more interesting to comment on:

You accuse me of "golden ageism" and suggest that nobody under 25 would agree with me. Interesting, and perhaps a fair point. But is that a compliment or a critique? Why should I trust people under 25 to determine the future of culture and information? I don't see a lot of under 25-year olds writing for the Guardian Online (which is why I read it). Today's under-25 generation should be more focused on the laborious work of learning about the world than in expressing their often inchoate and ill-informed opinions. What, exactly, have you learned from the under-25 generation about the war in Iraq or the media business that you didn't already know?

Even Keen acknowledges how dumb this is later on. It seems to me that the old can learn a lot from the young, perhaps as much as the young can learn from the old. Perhaps Keen's better point here would be to point out how the popular culture isolates the two groups, leaving young people in the grasp of an increasingly infantilizing, shallow, envy-driven, consumerist youth culture (sorry, the film festival is in town and I'm just sick to death of celebrities). Perhaps the Internet plays a key role in this, perhaps it doesn't, but it's a good way to approach the age divide on the web.


On the one hand we might rail, quite rightly, against the tabloid mania for ripping away every last vestige of privacy and turning it into news. On the other hand we think full disclosure on the web will help to raise standards. I think the difference would be marginal. Anonymous bloggers who really have any influence are always surfaced, by volition or investigation, in any case. Let me draw a couple of analogies: peer reviewing academic papers is done anonymously, for good reason; voting is done under the cloak of anonymity. Better that than the nightmare of validation - how do you know someone is who they say they are?

This, of course, is just dumb. Neither peer review nor voting are in the least bit anonymous. They are partially anonymous in the sense that identities are not known to all parties. The people that are allowed to review papers must absolutely prove who they are and that they have proper credentials. They are not anonymous to the editors of the journals or conferences.

Similarly, when we vote, we must absolutely prove that, first we are citizens with the right to vote and second, that we are who we say we are when we go to the ballot box. The fact that no one person knows who we voted for is not at all related to anonymity but to privacy. I'm surprised that Bell didn't discuss the well-known concepts of constructive vs. drive-by anonymity, which are the relevant issues here. I'm even more surprised that no one seemed to call her on it.

In any case, the debate is challenging and invigorating, well worth reading the whole thing.

September 11, 2007

What comes after the information age

An interesting and provocative post by Andy Oram documentation. But still very relevant to libraries and librarians in the coming decades.

In an age of Wikipedia, powerful search engines, and forums loaded with insights from volunteers, information is truly becoming free (economically), and thus worth even less than agriculture or manufacturing. So what has replaced information as the source of value?

The answer is expertise. Because most activities offering a good return on investment require some rule-breaking--some challenge to assumptions, some paradigm shift--everyone looks for experts who can manipulate current practice nimbly and see beyond current practice. We are all seeking guides and mentors.

Hmmm. It seems to me that in the future, with information and data so ubiquitous, what we have to offer to our students is expertise. But expertise in what? Perhaps a topic for another post...

Oram Continues:
But a combination of technological support and user commitment could promote more online learning. We should have rich media that allow people to differentiate themselves through avatars or other indications of personality, and technologies for forums that mix the immediacy of chat with spaces for posting and manipulating files. Culture change is also required: experts have to be willing to guide a new user step by step during explorations of a problem, and the new users have to take correction in good humor.

Finally, I am convinced that professionally written and professionally edited documentation will maintain its usefulness. A text, as English professors have long said, is one half of a conversation, and the reader provides the other half. (Famous texts become the focus of a multi-reader conversation that can continue for thousands of years, but that's another issue.) So a learner who can engage with a text as well as with a human trainer has a chance to benefit from a very concentrated form of expertise.

In a sense, a justification for the existence of the company he works for, O'Reilly. But still some good points. In an age of abundance, will we pay for quality. Of course, the comments has some lively discussion too.
Vincent van Wylick [09.05.07 06:44 AM]

It's a nicely written argument, but I'm sorry, I don't agree with you. Expertise is something that has always been valuable, before the information-age, after, and in-between. We will certainly need it to shift paradigms and transverse to a new age, but it does not, in my opinion, represent an age in itself. And with the age of free information, it is also doubtful whether expertise will have a high ROI for very long time either. For instance, I would feel fine developing expertise, using it for my own business, and publishing what I learned for free on my / a blog.

Ah, the problem of people giving away their expertise. Hard to compete with free. The idea that there are "knowledge workers" out there who are willing to donate their expertise is fundamental to many concepts, such as free and open source software.

Tim O'Reilly himself chips in (a long comment, heavily edited by me):
Tim O'Reilly [09.05.07 08:48 AM]


I'm not sure I believe your premise that information is becoming free. Just because some kinds of information are becoming widely available for free doesn't mean that all kinds are. In fact, I think there's a kind of law of conservation in this area, in which as some kinds of things become free, others become valuable and hoarded.


And while I do believe in the value of expertise, it seems to me that it's incorrect to say that it comes "after" the information age. Expertise has always been key to the information age.


What we're facing today in the collective intelligence era (which is what I'm going to start calling Web 2.0) is the rise of new forms of computer mediated aggregators and new forms of collective curation and communication.

These do, in many cases, replace the kind of expertise that I outline above.

But there's another kind of "expertise," which has more to do with intuition, insight, and application of knowledge. It can be enabled by knowing lots of stuff (the traditional definition of expertise) but it is far more than that, and in fact, sometimes benefits from knowing less. When all the experts agree, it's often the outsider with a fresh point of view who shakes things up.

Knowledge vs. information vs. expertise, the issues that are driving a lot of the conversations going on in the profession these days.

Oram has a series of posts on computer documentation and many of the concepts he explores are relevant.

September 7, 2007

Advice to new students

This one is from Notes of a Neophyte, addressed to "brainy, neurotic liberal arts college students, and especially frosh" but I think much more widely applicable (in spirit if not in detail) to new students of all types, science, arts, business, grad and ugrad. I'll just excerpt some of my favourite parts, but it's well worth reading the whole thing. Some of it's pretty amusing, so I was actually considering it for Friday Fun but decided that there's enough serious advice in here to make for a regular post.

2. Do not be afraid of your professors. (One good way to go about this is to read academic blogs.) They are not scary, and if they try to seem so, they are jerks. The beginning of their year is as stressful as the beginning of yours is. Many of them are (almost) as worried about what you think of them as you are about what they think of you. If you are interested in what these people have to say (and don't be afraid, either, to find some of them totally uninteresting -- it's probably not just you), go to their office hours. That, friend, is why office hours exist -- go!

5. Learn your way around the library or system of libraries and its resources NOW. Your future life as a writer of research papers will prove much easier and more efficient. Even if you're not crazily studious, you'll be amazed what it can yield -- but those recordings of T. S. Eliot reading the Four Quartets are also for after your work is done.

7. Do your work. On time would be good, too. Do it. You'll thank me later.

Friday Fun: My Blog is Bigger than your Blog Edition

I think some bubbles are about to be burst: Top Three Library-Related Blogs Survey.

Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

September 5, 2007

Woohoo! I'm number 13!

I noticed yesterday on Walt's blog that The Online Education Database has compiled a list of the top 25 librarian blogs. By some miracle, CoaSL comes in at #13. Due to the appallingly poor methodology (browse around Technorati for reactions), OEDb has left a good chunk of the most prominent blogs out: Library Stuff, Information Wants to Be Free and Tame the Web to name just the ones that come immediately to mind. The main problem is that they used the DMOZ list of library bloggers, which is incredibly limited and out of date. Of course their other sources of data, such as Google page ranks and Technorati rankings, are suspect as well.

In reality:

  • I have no idea if I'm in the top 25 librarian blogs
  • There is probably no good way to define the reach/popularity/importance of a blog anyway
  • Even if you could, I imagine I might actually be in the 50-100 range
  • On the other hand, it's driving a ton of traffic here so I'm not going to complain (ok, a ton by my standards is a few dozen hits in the last couple of days)
  • It's also nice that some of us non A-listers get a moment in the sun, something that we should all enjoy.

So, to all of you here for the first time, welcome! My most famous posts so far have been the My Job in 10 Years series, some book reviews as well as my series of interviews with people in the scitech world.

Update 2007.09.07: Somehow this has ended up being a way bigger deal that I expected. Or maybe I should have expected, as the whole ranking thing seems to appeal to our pride and vanity, failings I'm certainly as susceptible to as anyone. For every unjustly happy there's an unjustly disappointed. I sympathize with the real #13, whoever that may be in a ideal world with a proper set of criteria. On the other hand, the OEDb has directed over 120 readers this way, many presumably for the first time, so perhaps we can think of it as a case when the real #13 is just sharing the love a little ;-)

As usual, Technorati has a bunch of links, Google Blog Search a bit of a different set. It was even a hot topic on Uncontrolled Vocabulary last night (great show, by the way, I try and catch it every week).

Walt's comment to this post reminds me that he did attempt some metrics in C&I the last couple of years: Investigating the Biblioblogosphere and Looking at Liblogs: The Great Middle. I should have linked to them in the post initially, but was too lazy to google up the links. He mentions some of his more recent efforts in that area here.

September 4, 2007

New Carnival of the Infosciences

Carnival of the Infosciences #78 has been posted at DIY Librarian. The list of past, present and future Carnivals of the Infosciences can be found here.

2008 Science Blogging Conference

Be there or be square!

After last year's incredibly successful inauguaral edition of the North Carolina Science Blogging Conference, the organizers are holding another this coming January 19th.

Unlike last year when I couldn't get my act together, I will definitely be attending the 2008 NC Science Blogging Conference. The program looks great. You can also see who's offically registered as well as who's expressed some interest on FaceBook.

And just like last year, there will be a companion volume of 2007's best science blog posts. Submit your favourite posts here.

September 2, 2007

Thanks, PRISM!

Given my post from a few days ago, you wouldn't think I'd be grateful to the PRISM guys for anything.

Well, you're wrong. As it happens, a few other blogs have linked to my PRISM post and, through the wonders of Technorati, I've discovered a few new blogs!

Bora Zivkovic and Peter Suber also linked to the post, but them I know already.